In this interview with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Muhammed Nami, specifically speaks onthe Multi-Choice and NDDC tax liabilities. Except:
Presenter: Earlier in the News, I said the Chairman of the FIRS, Muhammed Nami, will be joining us to shed more light on the two decisions taken by the agency, which is quite a surprise to so many Nigerians.
FIRS Chairman: Thank you for having me.
Presenter: This week has been a sort of surprise for the nation as you took two fundamental decisions;that is the sealing of the NDDC on the ground of not paying of tax for many years, and the Multi-Choice group with N1.8 trillion which they have not paid in tax. This is quite a serious situation. Can you tell us more about it?
FIRS Chairman: Thank you very much for the comment. If you recall sometime in a April, we did some publications – one directed at the ministriesdepartments and agencies of government (MDAs), the second directed at private business entities.
In the publications, we gave the MDAs of government 60 days in which we expected that all monies, tax monies in their custodies that have been deducted from their contractors’ payment should be remitted, because the government released the money to fund their opportunity requirement. But, when they deduct, they refuse to send the remittances to the government, then government finds it difficult to fund its critical budgetary requirement. As such, government of the federal republic of Nigeria and the sub-nationals continue to borrow money in many cases to fund their budgetary requirements. And that is the foundation of the issues. We draw their attention to the requirement of law, the fact that they are just agents of collection. And, as I can assure you, this is the lack of Tax Compliance Culture of the people in Nigeria. The same agencies that should ordinarily help the government that appointed them to serve this country, have continually refused to remit necessary taxes to government.
On the part of Multi-Choice, this is a company that has been appointed in Nigeria for a long time. It is on record that for the past five years, FIRS has made all efforts in ensuring that it audits the tax returns and records of the company. But, I can assure you that they have continually denied us access to their records.
Presenter: 18 years is a long time. Why did it take so long? Why bringing it up now? And, what is the response of the two entities to these decisions you have taken.
FIRS Chairman: Thank you very much. The entities have not come up to ensure that we sit with them on a roundtable to discuss and iron-out the issues; including officials of government on levels that you least expect. So, what has happened in this case – particularly that of Multi-Choice – is that, apart from the fact that we have continuously…in the last five years, on the 16th of September, 2020, we received an intelligence on the aggressive way they have been planning their tax returns, by manipulating the FIRS Automated Tax System and the situation of subscription payment not seen on their entire system. Advertisement reported on systems show less than 50 percent of revenue collected, Input value added tax(VAT) does not reflect sales of decoders and number of subscribers. There were also issues surrounding fluctuation in the VAT remitted, despite increase in the VAT rate by Nigerian government and also increase in vertical sales and service. The most worrisome part of it all, according to the data we provided, Nigeria accounts for about 34 percent of the record that is available to us, of the customer and revenue base of Multi-Choice. One thing Nigerians have not heard from us is that because of the volume of the transactions, Multi-Choice has a dedicated server for the customer base of Nigeria. The server is located outside Nigeria: Every effort made to have access to the server has been unsuccessful and that is why we have taken these decisions.
Presenter: Ok. Indeed, apart from the Multi-Choice group, some NDDC offices, from the report I read earlier, are still open. What other measures are you taking to ensure payment of these taxes?
FIRS Chairman: What we have discussed extensively with some cabinet members as I have told you, we have reached an agreement which we will let Nigerians know the way forward, by Monday. One of the people you interviewed said we are agencies of government and should not be seen fighting. Well, we have done the stress to send a signal to any ministry department and agency of government that business is not going to be as usualin this country. You cannot keep government money and you force government whether at state, local or federal level, to go borrowing… This is why we have taken these decisions for the purpose of peace, and so the businesses may continue and for the staffs to resume office, our position will be made known to Nigerians by Monday.
Presenter: So, how would these sort of selected banks implement getting back your money to comfort of the FIRS; the de-freezing of the accounts?
FIRS Chairman: The bottom-line is that it is a crime not only an offence for any commercial bank in Nigeria to release any money belonging to Multi-Choice Africa or Multi-Choice Nigeria to any staff or service provider. Tax debt is a priority debt all over the world. So, for that purpose and the instructions we have given to them in line with the law, it will be unfair of them not to sweep all the money in the Multi-Choice account to the federation account,having received the instructions from us. We want to assure you that the banks know the implication of this. All money credited into the Multi-Choice account from the moment we gave the instruction, belongs to you and me. In other words, the money belongs to Nigerians and should not be allowed to be taken by anybody, including the stakeholders of Multi-Choice.
Presenter: Alright. Thank you so much Muhammed Nami, Chairman of FIRS.