Chief Orji Philip Orji is the founder and National Coordinator of Association of Concerned Citizens of Nigeria on Revenue and Economy (ACCNRE). In this interview with PHILIP NYAM, he speaks on the bill for the establishment of the National Inspector General for Tax Crime Commission (NIGTCC), which is before the House of Representatives
You are the Founder/National Coordinator of the AACNRE and have been promoting the bill for the establishment of the National Inspector General for Tax Crime Commission. What is the bill all about and what is your interest?
The bill in question is a vision I got. I am a businessman and I have never worked for the government before and I don’t work for the government. I am a common Nigerian. But something crossed my mind in Singapore about five years ago.
I noticed that there was so much transparency in the system that attracted my attention. I discovered that Singapore’s tax compliance rate was the highest in the world. It was over 87 per cent. And taxation is the heartbeat of every country including, my own country.
But I asked myself, ‘why are we not operating with the same transparency as Singapore?’ Before the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, there was what the white man called tax man. The tax man was tougher than the police and they used to go round and collect taxes.
The tax man continued to collect taxes and sent it to the UK until 1938 when one person started complaining just like I’m doing today that we cannot be paying taxes to who we are not seeing. He would write a letter to the parliament but it would not get there because those who were supposed to deliver the letters never wanted the demands he was making. He decided to approach Sir Louis Philip Ojukwu, who met with the Queen.
The queen saw reason with him and this led to the establishment of the Federal Bureau of Internal Revenue Board (FBIRB) in 1939. Now, nobody cared until in 1978 when Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was Head of State. Obasanjo, through a decree appointed Alhaji Shehu Musa.
Before the coming of FBIRB, women were paying tax and women protested, which was championed by Madam Funmi Ransome- Kuti. What did that mean? Non-transparency will always cause problem, and when people don’t believe in you, sometimes they simply go into confrontation like EndSARS. So, that is a wrong approach.
So, the essence of this bill is for the National Assembly to create Government Accountability Office (GAO) that will be saddled with the responsibility of general oversight of our tax agencies, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and National Inspector General for Tax Crime Commission (NIGTCC), if enacted.
The reason to create Government Accountability Office (GAO) is for it to work with the legislature, so that the public’s confidence in government will be restored. I want to remind you also that our infrastructure did not encourage voluntary compliance of taxpayers.
The taxpayer has not been carried along; we do not have a proper tax database.
The only way we can get our tax system is to get taxation working. For example, property tax alone will give us 20 to 30 of our tax needs. I drove from Port Harcourt, passed through Calabar to Gboko in Benue, went to Jega down to Jebba to Lagos and then to East West road back to Port Harcourt. I was able to know the size of this country and the very many properties we have. But why are they not paying tax?
There are irregularities in the system. The system is wrong. So, we need a law to checkmate this. There should be a remedy in place. I must give credit to the sponsor of the bill, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, the spokesman for the House for taking up this great idea. He is doing very well and we so much appreciate his efforts.
There is FIRS, yet you are advocating for the establishment of a new body. Won’t there be a conflict?
There won’t be any conflict because the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) spelt it our clearly. I want to draw your attention to the conference of February 16, 2018 that the former Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun and former FIRS boss; Mr. Babatunde Fowler attended at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, with the intention to register Nigeria as a member of OECD, which already had 102 member countries.
Nigeria indicated her interest to belong to the organisation but lacked the data base for international collaboration on the fight against tax haven and illicit financial flow around the world; because our domestic taxation structure is an outdated one, reason: Globalisation and Electronics Service Delivery (ESD) has proven that countries no longer have the luxury to operate in isolation. In that regard, countries such as United States, United Kingdom, Netherland and Australia, have an Auditing and Investigative Independent Agencies such as the TIGTA and FATCA of United States, the House of Common Treasurer Committee (HCTC) and Tax Ombudsman of the United Kingdom and the Inspector General of Taxation (IGT) and Tax Ombudsman of Australia.
The Minister and FIRS boss are not the right persons to have attended that conference. It should have been the National Inspector General for Tax Crime Commission (NIGTCC) personnel, if it has been enacted. For instance, the Police International Collaboration is being done by the INTERPOL not the Inspector General of Police (IGP). So, the bill is for the establishment of an external examiner, a scrutiniser for checks and balances.
This is obtainable even in African countries such as Ghana, Kenya, South Africa etc. And when this commission is created, it will be reporting to the National Assembly and not the Minister of Finance like the FIRS.
Don’t you think the creation of this commission will bring additional burden on the tax payer?
There will be no burden at all. Instead, the tax payer will be the one that will enjoy it. The essence of this bill is to ensure that the taxpayers stop crying. If the tax payer tells you that he is been double taxed, it is true. My intention is to simplify this into different languages for the tax payers to understand. If this bill is passed into law and the commission set up, it will expand the tax net; the taxpayer will enjoy and the government will also enjoy. Even the FIRS will be better off.
No government can expect the taxpayers to comply willingly if the taxpayers believe that the tax structure is unfair or that revenue collected is not effectively used. The perception of the taxpayers’ is pivotal in taxpayers’ behaviours towards self-compliance. The method tax obligations are forced on taxpayers can have a negative impact in tax revenue generation. Meanwhile, the taxpayers may become discouraged, disillusioned and they will become disobedient because of lack of interpretation of the tax obligation enforced on them.
Meanwhile, our method of taxation is capable of corrupting any person appointed to head the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) because of the obvious temptation in our system of taxation. If we start today, it is still early. It is better to be late than never. I want to tell you that Nigeria stands the chance to assist other African countries if we can take our taxation seriously. I am convinced that with the great men and women of these hallowed chambers, who have held different types of offices and high positions, even former state governors that are among them here, that this country is the greatest in the whole black race, and I want to assure you that we lack nothing by the grace of God.
I I equally want to use this opportunity to tell our leaders that if the National Inspector General for Tax Crime Commission (NIGTCC) is created, it will not be a burden to the Federal Government’s recurrent expenditure. I also want to assure them that this agency after its enactment, will not only create jobs, but will also double whatever the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) is currently generating.
With the high level of corruption in the country, how do you think this commission can bring sanity in the system?
I am telling you we are going to make tax very cheap in Nigeria. We are going to capture everywhere in the urban areas. Remember, the real tax payers are the multinationals and if you don’t treat them well, you don’t expect to reap from them. The FIRS is not sharing information. TIGTA in USA is an independent agency saddled with the general oversight of IRS programmes and operations.
TIGTA took over most of the jobs of the formal IRS inspection service. So, if we have NIGTCC, it will promote economy, efficiency and effectiveness in administering their nation’s taxation system. NIGTCC will detect and deter fraud, waste and abuse in their taxation programmes and operations. It will also protect the rights of tax payers’.
These are some of the global principles that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) global forum on exchange of information on international tax fraud, demand from any country that wishes to belong should have. I would also draw your attention to a report on Channels TV on April 10, 2018.
The then FIRS boss, Mr. Babatunde Fowler, said that his agency needed a helping hand in fighting tax evaders. When he visited the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) Head Office in Abuja on April 10, 2018, he said “When tax defaulters are reported and invited to your office (EFCC) we see result; we don’t know how you do it but we are seeing result and people are complying”.
Fowler believed that the FIRS alone cannot curtail the activities of tax evaders without the collaboration of other national and international agencies such as the EFCC. He further stressed the need to strengthen the existing collaboration and synergy between the two agencies, noting that his organisation would explore every other means backed by the law to ensure that taxes are paid and not diverted.
This underscores the importance NIGCCC would bring in fighting corruption in the tax system.
The bill is before the House. What is your message to the lawmakers?
The lawmakers in the National Assembly are being given a budget of N125 billion annually but I must say this money is not enough. They need money to discharge their duties efficiently. My only problem with them is that many people don’t get the opportunity to see them.
I would also want to advise that lawmakers should not turn themselves into activists but work as parliamentarians. The Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives are very competent and experienced lawmakers, who know what a good law is. The intendment of this bill is to bring more money into the coffers of the government without stressing or punishing the taxpayer.
Therefore, I believe they will, alongside their colleagues, give priority attention to this bill and listen to what is being proposed in the bill. I want the lawmakers to know that this bill is not borne out of personal interest. It is in the interest of the common man, the taxpayer and the nation at large.