EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW BY VICTORIA N. IKEANO
Question: Apparently, the Internal Revenue Service has assumed a new role and importance for obvious reasons, due mainly to the shrinking of resources from the federal government and Nasarawa state is one of the states that get the least amount from the federation account. What new things have been happening since?
Since when we came in we have put in many things in place to ensure that we improve revenue generation in Nasarawa state. One of the first things we did was to automate our processes and procedures here; we have also stopped the usage of manual receipts, we now use electronic receipts, these are some of the areas whereby you find pilferages and leakages. We have a billing system where we generate invoices, our payments are done electronically, through all the channels – from banks to the ATMs, POS and other payment platforms that you have. Thirdly, we have also introduced the Nasarawa state Administration and Harmonisation Law 2020, whereby we have harmonized revenue collection in the state, both for the state and local government. This is a major achievement of Governor Abdullahi Sule who signed the bill into law on December 31, 2020. The board of internal revenue is now in charge of collections of revenue, both for state and local governments; we also aid the local governments in these collections. Prior to now, the local governments were doing their things separately from the state but we saw that there were so many leakages because of the crude manner in their collections so we had to introduce automated systems and electronic means of collection in order to aid the local governments because this is a period whereby we cannot depend solely on what comes from the federation account, Nasarawa State has so much potentials which we have to look into and see how we can diversify and collect such revenues, that is what we are doing and we are really seeing progress in that
Can you give me some statistics, figures in terms of comparison?
When we first came into office as at 2018. What we met as at the first month was N430 million collected monthly. So in the first month when we came in we had monthly collection of betweenN400 million and N500 million but as I speak from what we have put in place we have reached a target of N1.2 billion monthly. You can see it is almost three times what we met. Initially we were given a target of one billion naira monthly, we have hit that and a new target of N3 billion monthly has been set for us by Governor Abdullahi A. Sule, we also putting in place things that will ensure that we can meet that target. It is not insurmountable, it is something that is achievable and we know we can do it.
Can Nasarawa ever be in a position where it can depend significantly less and less on the federation account to be able to stand on its feet?
Absolutely! Nasarawa State has so much potential, they are enormous. If you look at our proximity to the federal capital territory, in fact as we speak, the FCT itself is almost dependent on Nasarawa State because about 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the workforce lives in Nasarawa state. Secondly, apart from the workforce, even the private businesses of those that do their businesses in the FCT are resident in Nasarawa State and by virtue of the residency law their taxes are supposed to come to Nasarawa state. But you see we are not even benefitting much from that. We are looking into it.
Secondly, Nasarawa state has no business relying on resources from the federation account if we tap into the resources that we have at hand. That is what we are looking at now. The area we are looking into now is the informal sector, that area is an area we have not really explored, we are looking into to shore up and increase our revenue collections from that area What I can assure you a is that Nasarawa state can survive on internally generated revenue (IGR) within the shortest possible time, we promise that we will do our best, put in our best to ensure that that happens.
So Nasarawa state has not been able to get all the income from the FCT that….?
What am saying is that about 60 per cent of those who work in the FCT live in Nasarawa State and by virtue of that their taxes are supposed to come to Nasarawa State but we are not getting up to that now and we are looking to see that that we get what is due to Nasarawa state. If you take a look at the total number of people that work in the FCT, most of them live in Nasarawa State.
There are rumours that even what was given to Nasarawa State in that regard was misappropriated by some people along the line..?
I don’t understand what you mean by that. You see, P.A.Y.E., that is pay as you earn; Now lets take a whole lump sum of 100 per cent of civil servants that work in the FCT, now we are talking of the public service, leave the private sector now, what I am saying is that out of the 100 civil service, I can tell you that 60 per cent of the 100 percent in public service that work in the FCT live in Nasarawa state and by virtue of that, 60 per cent of their P.A.Y.E is supposed to come to Nasarawa state but we don’t get up to that.
Often times, one person comes, asks you to pay this, another person comes, asks you to pay that.. What are you doing about the multiplicity of taxes?
That is the essence of introducing the harmonized law, to tackle this issue of multiplicity. Before now, the state and local governments serve different demand notice at different times and uses; now, however, we have a harmonized demand notice that we give out to tax payers. This demand notice is both for state and local government – it shows your type of taxes, what you are supposed to pay — your liabilities both for state and local government come in a single sheet of demand notice. As a tax payer you are given a Demand Notice that says ‘these are your taxes for the state, these are your taxes for the local government’, so you go and pay so that different Demand Notices will not come to you at different times. That is the essence of harmonization.
One often sees trucks, trailers carrying produce being stopped on the highway, demanding for their tax payment. What are you doing about this?
By virtue of the law, that is illegal, to block the federal highway is illegal. Nevertheless, we have technical partners that we have engaged for haulage, for produce. But what they are supposed to do is at the point of loading or at the point of offloading. These are areas we are working at so that you pay what is due to government at the point of loading or off loading. So, if you are probably coming from another state and offloading in the state, you pay for haulage and if it is for produce they do so at the point of loading.
What would you advise those who are victims of this kind of harassment to do?
They should report to us or report to the Police.
Do political appointees pay taxes?
They now pay, because….?It is taken at source, as their emoluments are being paid to them, it is taken at source and remitted.
What would you say are the challenges facing the Board?
Challenges? We have challenges of personnel, we are understaffed here, secondly, there is the issue of funding, our staff need so many things like mobility, there is the issue of furniture, internet technology (IT), whereby we need more computers and the like. These have to do with funding. And then you, see our offices, we had an incident here sometime ago; we need to put our offices in good shape, from the head office, the zonal and area tax offices need to be put in good shape. These are some of the issues we have. There also the issue of illegal tax collectors, you have them around but we are working with the Police to see how we can tackle them.
I see that you have consultants here as do some other states. Is this a ‘vote of no confidence’ on the civil servants?
That is why we don’t even call them consultants here. We call them technical partners; the reason is because we engage them on the basis of expertise. The civil servants we have here may not have those knowledge or expertise in those areas, especially when it has to do with IT, knowledge of the software. Most of them have designed their own software which we use. That is why we engage them as technical partners so that we use their software; they have patent rights to those softwares that they have developed. So, it is not that we have no confidence in our civil servants. We have absolute confidence in our staff, they are doing very well, but there aare certain areas where you experts to assist you so you can improve on your collections The technical partners don’t get involved in assessment or collection, it is our staff that do so.
Finally what advice do you have for the general public?
My advice to them as always is to pay their taxes because government will not have the funds to do what it is supposed to do if people don’t pay their taxes. It is with the tax payers’ money that government can build roads, hospitals, portable water, all the basic necessities of life so my appeal to them is to pay their taxes as and when due.
I think Nigerians are willing to pay their taxes if they will be put to good use.
If you look at the number of people that pay tax, it is not commensurate with the population in the country.
Because the tax net, you have not been able to capture everybody.
Well in a sane society you are supposed to bring yourself forward to be captured.