The federal government Monday said it had given tax evading wealthy Nigerians and corporate bodies 90 days to declare their taxable income and pay appropriate taxes or face the full wrath of the law.
The ultimatum came through Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo during the 57th Annual Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Lagos, where the state Governor, Mr. Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, called for a review of the country's revenue allocation formula.
Osinbajo had in June 2017 signed an executive order on Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS), aimed at facilitating tax collection by revenue collection agencies. Under the order, tax evading individuals and companies were to be given days of grace to declare and pay their outstanding tax obligations, failing which they would be prosecuted.
The order took effect from July 1, 2017 and would last till March 31, 2018.
Osinbajo had been particularly critical of wealthy individuals and private bodies he accused of neglecting to pay taxes.
"Despite having some of Africa's wealthiest people whose lifestyles are the subject of global discussion, only 214 Nigerians pay taxes of N20 million or more each year," he had said, adding: "A personal tax of N20 million implies an income of N80 million a year with majority of them based in Lagos State."
Osinbajo enjoined Nigerians to change their ways of paying tax, warning: "Tax evasion is not just a civil matter but is also a crime."
On Monday in Lagos, he reemphasised the criminal aspect of tax evasion, stating firmly that at the end of the period of grace, all offenders would be punished.
Speaking during the plenary session, "Conversations with the Vice-President," Osinbajo said that the federal government had introduced the Beneficial Ownership Scheme that would expose all tax offenders in the country, especially wealthy Nigerians.
Under the new scheme, he explained, all wealthy Nigerians, who had not been paying taxes had been given a 90-day period of grace after which they would face the full wrath of the law if they did not disclose what they owned in order to pay tax.
"We have established the Beneficial Ownership Scheme where wealthy Nigerians who have been avoiding paying their taxes have been given a 90-day period of grace after which if they don't disclose what they own in order to pay tax, they will face the full wrath of the law," he said.
He said the new approach had yielded good outcome. "A few wealthy Nigerians have approached us to disclose what they own," the vice-president said.
Osinbajo reeled out major achievements of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, noting that the administration was already setting the foundation for the economic recovery of the country.
He said the Buhari administration was progressively moving away from a mono-economy and a financial industry that was essentially opaque.
According to him, "We have set a foundation of rebuilding the economy; creating The Single Treasury Account (TSA); monitoring government spending; modified the tax system to be more efficient; and implemented executive orders. We are currently in a situation where we have cleared the mess inherited by this administration."
The vice-president restated the federal government's effort in tackling corruption as well as Nigeria's poor reputation abroad, noting that the Buhari administration spent N1.3 trillion on capital projects in 2016, saying it was the highest ever in the country.
Governor Ambode in his presentation lamented what he called the aberrations in the 1999 Constitution as amended, which he said would continue to stunt the country's economic growth and inhabit the capacity of states to harness their potentials.
He, therefore, called on the NBA to take advantage of the ongoing amendment of the constitution to support the demand for fiscal federalism and devolution of powers to states, adding that there was an urgent need for the review of the current revenue sharing formula.
Under the current revenue allocation formula, the federal government takes a share of 52.68 per cent from the Federation Accounts, state governments 26.72 per cent and local governments 20.60 per cent.
"The NBA leaders should raise their voices in support of the demand for devolution of power to states and fiscal federalism, especially the review of the current revenue sharing formula," he told the gathering of lawyers, which was also attended by Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu; his Sokoto counterpart, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal; and President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, among others.