FG targets wealthy Nigerians in new tax drive

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The Federal Government is planning to overhaul the nation’s tax system to shift more of the burden to wealthy citizens while cutting corporate taxes.

The move — part of President Bola Tinubu’s reforms to overhaul the beleaguered economy – aims to lift the country’s tax take to 18 per cent of Gross Domestic Product within three years from 11 per cent now, according to a Bloomberg report.

A tax amnesty to encourage compliance is also under consideration.

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The plan is to make “the rich pay what is fair and those who are too poor can be protected,” said Taiwo Oyedele, who is leading a panel appointed by Tinubu to drive the changes.

“We also envisage a reduction in the corporate income tax rate,” to below the current effective rate of more than 40 per cent to help boost business, he told Bloomberg in a recent interview. The new rate should be benchmarked against Nigeria’s peers, he said.

In Africa’s most populous nation, where a tiny minority enjoy vast wealth while two thirds of its 200 million people live in extreme poverty, the numbers suggest widespread tax evasion.

Nigeria’s tax revenue as a share of GDP is a third of the 34 per cent average for members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Among four million registered firms, less than 250,000 actively pay tax, while fewer than a quarter of the 41 million registered people pay income tax, Oyedele said.

The country’s tax system is bedeviled by overlapping local, state and federal jurisdictions, which helps the wealthy to slip through the cracks. The high number of different taxes, which he put at almost 70, also adds to complexity.

“We will find a way to create structures and systems around what taxes can be imposed, how it can be collected, who can collect it and how it should be accounted for,” he said. The goal is to slash the number of taxes down to single digits.

“We just identified the top eight giving us 99% of the taxes, so we keep them and the rest we get rid of,” he said.

Boosting tax collection is vital for a country which, despite its immense oil wealth, has had to borrow heavily to fill the gap between government spending and the revenue shortfall.

Since 2015, the nation’s public debt has increased almost eight-fold to 87.4 trillion naira ($112.6 billion), according to the debt management agency. Servicing those obligations consumed 96% of government revenue in 2022.

A tax amnesty will be introduced to provide a relief on old debts and prepare the mind of the people to meet future obligations.

“If people know that government knows their income, where they are; if they haven’t been paying their taxes, if we declare an amnesty they will show up,” he said.

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