The Federal Government has deployed 1,700 Community Tax Liaison Officers (CTLOs) to 33 states in the country to raise tax awareness in those states.
Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, revealed this, explaining that the officers were part of the 2,190 recruited and trained under the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS).
A statement by the minister’s special adviser, media and communication, Oluyinka Akintunde, said the CTLOs were deployed to Adamawa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Enugu, Kaduna, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun and Oyo, among others.
The statment said the minister spoke at a workshop organised by the Federal Ministry of Finance, Federal Inland Revenue Service and Joint Tax Board for lawyers, accountants and other professionals advising clients on participation in the VAIDS scheme.
She said: “The unique cooperation between the various arms of Federal Government, state governments and foreign governments has provided an unprecedented level of data that allows the Nigerian Government to profile taxpayers accurately and identify those whose lifestyle and assets are not consistent with their declared income.
“A lot of data mining is going on daily, both locally and internationally, on property ownership and other items. Data is an extremely powerful tool that is now being utilized. For instance, we have reviewed all companies that received major payments from the Federal Government in the last five years and found that even those who made money from the government, under-declared.”
Adeosun added that the government’s tax compliance team had also looked at import records and compared the value of goods imported to the tax declarations of the importers, but the discovery was worrisome as “the variance was disturbingly wide”.
“On personal income taxes, we reviewed property and company ownership as well as registration of high-value assets and foreign exchange allocations, which gives us a sense of the lifestyles of the persons.
“But again, we found major non-compliance. In some cases, people declared as little as N10 million as income but purchased expensive property overseas and in Nigeria, registered high specification vehicles and funded luxurious personal events costing multiples of the declared income.
“We have blocked a major loophole by using data to profile taxpayers. Thus, someone owning properties across multiple states and overseas can selectively declare knowing that tax authority had no means of cross-checking.
“This is especially the case with overseas assets and income where State Governments lacked jurisdiction. But with the centralisation of data under Project Lighthouse within the Federal Ministry of Finance, a major loophole has been plugged,” she added.
She reiterated the willingness of the Federal Government to prosecute tax evaders after the tax amnesty period had elapsed.
She further told the gathering of professional advisers that the Federal Government had compiled a list of 500 prominent Nigerians with property and trusts abroad in order to determine their tax compliance status at home.
Accordimg to her, the 500 prominent Nigerians will receive their letters beginning from this week asking them to take advantage of the tax amnesty to regularise their tax status and avoid prosecution and fines.
“It is premature to call such persons tax evaders as there are many reasons that taxpayers may have failed to comply. We will only label people as real tax evaders when the amnesty deadline expires and they have failed to regularize. Such persons can then legitimately be called tax evaders, as their non-participation in VAIDs indicates that they are willful tax evaders. We will then proceed to apply the full weight of the law”, she said.