Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy, said at a stakeholders’ forum on Non-oil Tax Revenue Capacity Enhancement Programme, this morning in Lagos that the recent Gross Domestic Product, GDP, rebasing exercise showed Nigeria as a more diversified economy than many people thought. The minister made this known at the forum organized by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS. She therefore urged Nigerians to pay taxes promptly to enable government improve the economy.
According to her, the rebasing showed that some sectors of the economy that were not counted before are now important and that means that the efforts of the government to diversify the economy are paying off.
She explained that the rebasing was designed to make the country correct the structures of the economy and not to make Nigerians feel good as people tend to believe. “We had to conduct a diagnostics of the tax system because the rebasing also threw up issues on taxation. For instance, we realised that about 65 per cent of companies do not file their tax returns, while about 75 per cent of small companies are not even registered at all. Another 30 per cent file the wrong returns,” said Okonjo-Iweala.
The finance minister said the federal government has now become more accountable because citizens want to see their money well used and government is now more committed to bringing into the tax net all the businesses that were not captured before. She, therefore, urged Nigerians to pay their taxes as at when due to ensure that funds are available for infrastructure projects. “We are doing 30/70 now, we need to reverse the trend to 70/30, and that can only happen when both small businesses and big businesses take up the responsibility to pay their taxes promptly so that we can improve the way that we do business,” said Okojo-Iweala.
Aliko Dangote, president of Dangote Industries Limited, DIL, said rather than reducing taxes as some Nigerians are canvassing, the taxes should be left as they are, but that government should ensure that companies that are not paying taxes should be made to pay. He said FIRS and Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, should collaborate to ensure that any company that is registered is made to pay taxes. He suggested that the government should hold an annual stakeholders forum whereby those companies that pay taxes would be honoured and then name and shame defaulters.
To him, a situation where some companies do not pay taxes and are allowed to get away with it is not good for competition. He urged Nigerians to embrace the culture of prompt payment of taxes to help the government to improve the economy.
To many experts who spoke at the forum, payment of tax is a civic duty and the relevant government agencies should carry out extensive publicity campaign to sensitise Nigerians to pay taxes. It is also expected that the federal government would drive the new emerging sectors so that they would grow to the point that they would be comfortable to pay their taxes promptly.