Wednesday, July 19, 2017 10:10 pm
By New Independence Group
As if there is collusion between the federal executive and legislature to attack Nigeria’s soul at both the moral and economic levels, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Linus Okorie (Ebonyi,PDP),have proposed a lifeline to tax evaders.
While Osinbajo has given a March 31, 2018 deadline to such offenders, Okorie is championing a bill granting full protection to the saboteurs.
Although their actions may appear different, both the Acting President and the legislator are working with the same mindset: wring arms before an all-powerful group of citizens who are above the law and before whom the instrumentality of state must bow in supplication, with the hope that the felons will, out of pity, turn a new leaf.
The New Independence Group (NIG) views both options at boosting the nation’s economy as an unfortunate lowering of ethical standards and a direct attack on the country’s justice-delivery system.
Speaking at the inauguration of the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme in Abuja recently, Osinbajo declared the nine-month grace for organizations and people who had not declared their taxable income and assets. Also to be granted the grace period, according to him, are those who had either been under-paying or not been remitting taxes at all. In the words of Professor Osinbajo, “In exchange for full and honest declaration, tax evaders will receive immunity from prosecution, forgiveness of penalty and interest that is due on unpaid taxes.They will also get the full assurance that all information provided will remain confidential”. The Acting President further assures tax evaders,
“In addition, participants in the scheme will not be selected for audit investigation for the period.” While the executive order by the Acting President, which comes with a threat of imprisonment for up to five years for recalcitrant defaulters, is unacceptable, that of the legislator, which proposes full and permanent amnesty to such felons, is much more so.
His proposed law, which has inelegantly been tagged as “Amnesty For Looters,” is entitled: “A bill for an Act to establish a scheme to harness untaxed money for investment purposes and to assure any declarant regarding inquiries and proceedings under Nigerian laws and for other matters connected therewith.”
The spirit and content of the legislator’s bill and the executive order of the Acting President are in pari material, and designed to massage the egos of economic saboteurs in the hope of getting some money, any amount, from the saboteurs.To be polite, the attitude of both the Acting President and the legislator is defeatist and portends grave danger to nation-building and social engineering.In truth, such surrendering of a nation’s sovereignty to willful criminals,in the name of possible recouping loss national incomes,is nothing short of treason
Section 3 (1) of the bill, reads: |Subject to the provisions of this Scheme, any person may make, on or after the date of commencement of this Scheme but before a date to be notified by the Central Bank of Nigeria in an Official Gazette, a declaration in respect of any income chargeable under the Income-tax Law for any assessment prior to the enactment of this Act; for which he has failed to furnish or disclose under the Income-tax Law; which he has failed to disclose or return under any law in operation before the date of commencement of this Scheme.” Shorn of its elaborate legalese, the section grants protection to anyone who has failed to “furnish or disclose” his assets for the purpose of evading tax.
Furthermore, Section 6 of the bill states: “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Income-tax Law or in any Law, the person making such a declaration shall not, in addition to tax and surcharge under section 4, be liable to penalty of such income.” In other words, the bill seeks to protect tax defaulters from any form of penalty.
Nigeria’s jurisprudence, and indeed in all parts of the civilized world, does not reward evil doers with protection if they make amends within a time frame. As the saying goes, if you cannot do the time, do not do the crime.And this becomes ridiculous and worrisome in a country where some citizens have been sent off to jail houses to suffer the humiliation and trauma of prison terms for stealing mobile phones as low in price as #20,000:00, and for stealing a goat which open market value was not more than #17,500:00.It thus seems to us at NIG that the Executive order by the Acting President on tax defaulters and the parliamentarian bill on ‘amnesty for economic looters’ have as its objective the protection of the selfish interest of the country’s propertied class.Regrettably,both policies are clear subversion of Nigeria collective interest and its cherished value system.Yet,it runs contrary to the anti-corruption war of the ruling party,a key member of whom is the Acting President.
Nationhood is a journey, not a destination. Any attempt at short-circuiting a process in a bid to derive immediate gains will hurt the state in the long run.The state does not need to apprehend all economic saboteurs – indeed no nation can – what is required is prompt, commensurate and fair action by agents of state to apprehend those who have been thoroughly investigated and found to be culpable. This is followed by due diligence in the prosecution of such persons, to achieve conviction.No doubt, this is a long journey that today’s political helmsmen seem impatient with, as they are apparently in a hot chase for money, any money.
The NIG hopes, fervently, that this chase for money – with little or no thought for the effect of the means on the soul of the nation – is not towards election war-chest, as 2019 inches nearer. This is one instance in which the end cannot, and will not, justify the means.What remains for us is to urge parliament to, through their inherent powers, reject the Executive order by the Acting President, and move in tandem with Nigerians to reject Linus Okorie’s bill on ‘amnesty for looters’
Signed: Professor Akinyemi Onigbinde, Convener, NIG