The Federal Government has granted tax defaulters a grace period of nine months to regularise and pay their true tax positions or face stiff penalties at the end of the amnesty window.
This window is offered through the Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) launched by the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja yesterday.
Osinbajo said VAIDS is a one-off opportunity for evaders to avoid the full force of the law. Thus between July 1, and March 31, 2017, tax evaders can regularise their tax status in exchange for immunity from prosecution of tax offences and a tax audit, and be absolved from penalty charges and interest.
He said, “The scheme will be operated from July 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018. It will be supported by an executive order, which I will sign into law today to offer a once in a life time opportunity to those in default to regularise their tax affairs.
“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.
“In addition, participants in the scheme will not be selected for audit investigation for the period. We understand that some tax payers may have problems raising cash and for that reason, we have built in a system that will allow those owing to pay over a period of time,” Osinbajo explained.
As a part of the policy, over 75,000 young Nigerians would be engaged as Community Tax Liaison Officers (CTLO) to drive tax awareness in the rural communities.
The Minister of Finance Mrs. Kemi Adeosun said through this, government will increase tax awareness and compliance, and grant tax payers a time-limited opportunity to regularise their tax status without penalty.
The anticipated funds to be raised, according to government, are at least $1 billion (over N300bn) annually, which will reduce Nigeria’s borrowing needs, allow investment in vital infrastructure and spur development.
The minister noted that the initiative became necessary as Nigeria’s tax revenue contribution to GDP is a miserable 6 per cent, one of lowest in the world.
With the window, evaders who refuse participation after the period will be liable for interest on overdue tax balances and even risk criminal prosecution.
Upon conviction, the defaulter risks imprisonment of up to five years and or severe extra penalties of up to 100 per cent fine of the outstanding tax due, compound interest at 21 per cent per annum, and forfeiture of assets.
The Nigerian Senate also supports the initiative.
In a goodwill message, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, represented by Sen. John Owan Enoh, said the Senate is in full support of the initiative, adding that the initiative has the capability of getting the country out of the woods.
He described the scheme as a bold move to enforce tax compliance, noting that non-oil revenue should be the main driver of government budgetary expenditure and not oil revenue.
The chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum and Governor of Zamfara State, Alhaji Abdul’aziz Abubakar Yari, pledged the states’ support for the scheme and the willingness of the states to drive the process.