Finance Bill to use banks as agents to tax Nigerians

Businesses in Nigeria are now more than ever exposed to payment of taxes, according to provisions of the Finance Bill currently being debated by the National Assembly.

In October 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari submitted the Finance Bill 2019 to the National Assembly, seeking a sweeping change to Nigeria’s outdated corporate tax laws. The bill, if signed into law, is expected to address most of the challenges with Nigeria’s corporate tax laws, ease payments of taxes, and ultimately increase government revenues.

Whilst the bill has largely been received positively by most stakeholders, a critical look at its provisions outlines the significant roles which commercial banks will play in widening the tax base and reducing tax evasion.

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Role of Banks

According to Section 2 of the Finance Bill, Every person engaged in banking in Nigerian shall require all companies to provide their tax identification number as a precondition for opening a bank account, or in the case of an account already opened prior to September 30th 2019, the bank shall require such tax identification number to be provided by all companies as a precondition for the continued operation of the bank account. 

What this means 

  • Banks will be required to request Tax Identification Numbers (TINs) before opening accounts for individuals while existing account holders must provide their TINs to continue operating their accounts.
  • Emails are to be accepted by the tax authorities as a formal channel of correspondence with taxpayers.
  • Banks in Nigeria currently demand TINs; however, this was under the instruction of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) mandating banks to demand the TINs.
  • With this law, the TIN is now a critical KYC information required by banks, which inadvertently gives the FIRS access into the banking transactions of taxpayers.

Implication for taxpayers

The Finance Bill gives the FIRS and the State Inland Revenue Service complete access to transactions in the bank accounts of businesses. The provision is obviously aimed at increasing the government’s revenue, giving them unfettered access into the bank accounts of millions of Nigerian companies. According to an analysis of the Finance Bill by accounting firm, PWC, “there is also a deliberate effort to ensure that the sector contributes to revenue generation without excessive financial burden. An area of focus for the government would be to formalise these businesses through the TIN project in collaboration with the banks.”

Before now, Nigerian business owners had often complained that their bank accounts had been frozen by banks on behalf of the FIRS. With this bill, it is unclear how the FIRS will utilize the access they have to bank accounts by leveraging on the TIN.

What experts say 

As far as Managing Partner, Prime Consult, Dr Gbenga Adebayo, is concerned, the primary objective of the bill is the generation of additional revenues for the government to potentially partly finance the deficit in the 2020 Budget of the FGN.

He explained that requesting TIN connotes that the Federal Government is determined to ensure that everyone pays tax, and would be ready to enforce remittance from the source or ask the bank to freeze the account of defaulters.

Adebayo said, “FIRS has been freezing the accounts of tax defaulters, and insisting on TINs of both new and existing account holders is a drastic move to enforce compliance. The TIN could be used to monitor/track people’s accounts and curb default.”  

FIRS, VAT, Tax, Dangote, FHC faults FIRS using banks as tax agents  
Executive Chairman of Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr Tunde Fowler

Another tax consultant, Tayo Oluwole, agreed that the bill seeks to promote fiscal equity by mitigating instances of regressive taxation, reform domestic tax legislation in line with global best practices, and introduce tax incentives, particularly for investments in infrastructure.

“It will no longer be business as usual regarding tax collection. Banks are being used as agents for both tracking and collection,” she said.

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