PRESS CONFERENCE ADDRESSED BY BARRISTER PHILIP THOMAS ILUKHOLO, NATIONAL PRESIDENT OF THE TAX PAYERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (TAPAN) AT ONEAL CENTRE, JABI ABUJA ON SUNDAY OCTOBER 27,2013

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          It is with great pleasure and deep sense of gratitude to God almighty that I welcome you all to this very important press briefing.

          Let me specifically appreciate our gentlemen of the press for honouring this invitation, despite the very short notice. That you have turned out in your numbers to this briefing, on this holy day of rest, is an indication of your commitment to duty and your resolve to always make your professional services available at all time, in the interest of our dear nation, Nigeria .

          May I also use this opportunity to commend the Nigeria media for being in the forefront in our collective effort towards building a free, united, stable and prosperous nation. You have continued to be steadfast in your role as the watch – dog of the society, and in stimulating robust intellectual and social discourse in our development efforts.

          The essence of this press briefing is to make public the views and opinions of the tax payers association of Nigeria (TAPAN). As the representatives of the Nigerian tax payers, whose primary objective is, the protection of the interest and welfare of members, we cannot but take interest in the social, economic and political affairs of our nation. In doing this however, our intention as responsible and patriotic Nigerians, is not to be partisan, but to provide free, fair and objective suggestions that would enrich the decision making process as government seeks to better the lots of Nigerian tax payers.

          It is our opinion that in a participatory democracy such as ours, there is the need to evolve platforms of constructive engagement between the government and the people; Tax Payers Association of Nigeria (TAPAN) is one of such platforms. We shall continue to work in partnership with sister organizations such as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and others in protecting the rights of Nigerian tax payers within the ambit and orbit of the law.

          Over the years, the Nigeria investment climate has suffered from the crippling effect of multiple taxation. In their effort to generate revenue for development purpose, the three tiers of government impose all forms of taxes and levies on Nigeria Investors without regards to the law. In many cases, investors are made to pay the same kind of taxes by the federal, state and local government authorities. The cumulative effect of this is that many investors have close shops while those who manage to survive pass the bulk to the tax payers who are the final consumers.

          That multiple taxation has made Nigeria investment climate very unfriendly especially the manufacturing sector, cannot be over – emphasized. It is in the light of this that we find very relieving, the steps that have been taken by the federal government to harmonize taxes and levies across the country. As a first step towards the elimination of multiple taxation in Nigeria, Federal Government has banned tax contractors in all the states of the federation. With this development, it is now a criminal offence for anybody or organization apart from the board for Internal Revenue Service (BIRS) to collect taxes or levies. Mr. President is also to issue an “executive order to all Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAS) to stop the collection of taxies in violation of taxes and Levies Act” and directed the Inspector – General of Police to ensure full compliance.

          On behalf of Nigeria Investors and tax payers, we commend the Honourable Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister of the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Eweala for championing this course which would go a long way in encouraging local and direct foreign investment. We also use this opportunity to appeal to the Federal Government to ensure that all those saddled with the responsibility of enforcing the new tax reform across the country do so without fear or favour.

          As we are all aware, education is the bedrock of national development. No meaningful development can take place in any nation if the educational system is weak and ineffective. It is in the light of this that we find the current face – off between the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the Federal Government very worrisome. For the past four months, Public Universities in Nigeria are under lock and key because ASUU and the Federal Government have not been able to come to an agreement on the way forward on the challenges in our University. We agree with ASUU in totality that there is a pervading Infrastructural decay in our academic institutions. We are also of the conviction that a conducive environment need to be created for teaching, learning and sound research work in our universities. However, it is our candid opinion that trading blames will not solve the current impasse between ASUU and the Federal Government. Both parties must shift ground and come to a compromise on the best way forward. We therefore join all well meaning Nigerians in appealing to Federal Government to meet with the terms of agreement signed between it and ASUU as it will be tantamount to wasting of tax payers money when salaries are paid for service not rendered.

          Gentlemen of the press, ladies and gentlemen, let me make one or two comments on the ongoing debate about the National Dialogue.

          In her 53 years of her socio – political evolution, Nigeria has gone through series of challenges in her search for national development. The events leading to the Nigeria civil war have left with us the scars of inter – ethnic discord and disaffection which have made national integration a great challenge. There have been hues and cries about marginalization, resource control, revenue formula, devolution of power and equitable power sharing, among others. The clamour for a national conference where all ethnic nationalities will come together to discuss the Nigerian Project has been on for a very long time.

As an association, we believe that the time has come for all Nigerians to come together to discuss the future of the nation. Let us freely air our views on issues agitating our minds; the fears and frustrations we have; and the kind of nation we aspire to have. It is only by so doing that we would be able to collectively find lasting solutions to our problems and forge ahead as a nation.

          It is unfortunate that some politicians are orchestrating a campaign against the national dialogue. We find it strange that even those who once mounted vociferous agitations for a national conference are now singing in discordant tunes. We are aware that some political parties are planning to influence the boycott of the conference by some states for selfish reasons. For  the avoidance of doubt, the National Dialogue, as conceived by Mr. President is neither a political party nor politician’s affairs alone. It is a platform for all Nigerians to come together for a discussion irrespective of sex, status, ethnic background, religious or political affiliation. We therefore use this opportunity to declare our full support for the National Dialogue and invite all Nigerians to come to the dialogue with open minds, setting aside primordial ethnic and religious sentiments and suspicious.

          We would like to advise that while the report of the National Dialogue Advisory Committee should be sent to the National Assembly for a legislative backing, the final outcome of the dialogue should be subjected to a referendum by the Nigeria People.

          This is because the dialogue is for the people and would be funded by the people, who are the tax payers.

          Gentlemen of the press, we have the awesome responsibility to constantly ensure that those in position of responsibility conduct their affairs in line with laid down rules and in the interest of the masses. Public funds belongs to the people and public officers must be held accountable to the people on how such funds are appropriated or utilized.

It is for this reason that we are greatly worried by the ongoing public scandal surrounding the purchase of two armored vehicles for the Honourable Minister of aviation by the Nigeria Civil Authority (NCAA), with a whopping sum of two hundred and twenty five million naira N225 million ! We are worried, not just as citizens of Nigeria who are concerned that things should be done rightly, we are also worried because we are the voice of the voiceless tax payers whose mandate we carry. This allegation is particularly mind – boggling because it centre’s on financial impropriety, arrogance of power and sheer profligacy. That such a huge sum of money could be used to purchase two vehicles is a pointer to grand connivance between some public officers and unscrupulous contractors to loot the nations treasury. The questions begging for answers are: who authorized the purchase of the vehicles? Was there a budgetary provision for the vehicle? Given that there was, did the purchase of vehicles follow due process? Is the Honourable Minister of Aviation entitled to such security vehicles in the face of the decay in the Aviation industry?

          It is heart – warming that Mr. President has waded into this controversy by instituting a three man probe panel. It is also interesting to note that the National Assembly is conducting a public hearing on the matter. We must get to the root of this monumental national embarrassment and sanction every culprit appropriately to serve as a deterrent to all those who think that appointment to a public office is a call to reckless and senseless squandering of tax payers money.

It was Gandhi who warned every society a long time ago, against what he called the seven social evils. These social evils are politics without principles, wealth without work, commerce without morality, pleasure without conscience, education without character, science without humanity and worship without sacrifice. Therefore fellow Nigerians, we must constantly seek to promote politics with principles, wealth with work, commerce with morality, pleasure with conscience, education with character, science with humanity, commerce with integrity and worship with sacrifice. It is only by so doing that we would be able to build the Nigeria of our dream.

Let me use this opportunity to call on all Nigerians to be part of the effort to build a new Nigeria. The nation belongs to all of us and it is our collective responsibility to make it work. This again brings to mind the saying by Gandhi: ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ if you do your part and I do my part, Nigeria will go.

Thanks you very much for listening and God bless.

Philip Thomas Ilukholo LLB, BL

           President.         

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