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Economy, Government

President Muhammadu Buhari has authorized ministries, departments, agencies and business enterprises to grant access to the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to their systems for the purposes of tax collection nationwide.

President Buhari gave the order on Thursday while delivering his address as the Special Guest of Honour at the First Annual National Tax Dialogue organized by the FIRS at the old Banquet Hall, Aso Rock Villa Abuja. The theme of the dialogue was “Taxation in a post-Covid Economy”

The President also mandated the FIRS to “speedily put all measures in place to fully implement programmes to stamp out Base Erosion and Profit Shifting in all of its ramifications and generally automate its tax processes.”

In addition, President Buhari urged the FIRS to fast-track its digitalization of the tax collection process.

The President said: “I have directed all government agencies and business enterprises to grant FIRS access to their systems for seamless connection. We all are now living in a fast digitalising world. As such, business transactions are continually being migrated from “brick and mortar” locations to digital places or spaces.  It is therefore incumbent upon tax authorities to adopt digital means to efficiently track taxable transactions for the purpose of collecting taxes.  In order to provide the necessary legislative framework for the adoption of technology in tax administration, we also made necessary amendments to the FIRS Establishment Act in the Finance Act 2020.”

Also, President, African Development Bank (AfDB), Mr. Akinwunmi Adesina, who delivered the keynote address at the Tax Dialogue, gave assurances that the AfDB would support the FIRS to modernise the tax collection processes in Nigeria through capacity building.

In her opening remarks at the Dialogue, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Shamusuna Ahmed, highlighted some provisions of the Finance Act 2020, stating that a number of these provisions were enshrined in the Act in order to help businesses, especially SMEs, recover from the adverse effects of COVID-19.

 She said tax compliance was key to national prosperity, stressing that government was determined to minimise the incidence of tax dodging through suck leakages as cross-border transactions through maximum use of technology.

The Finance Minister urged the audience to generously contribute their ideas during the dialogue in order to improve the nation’s tax system.

In his Welcome Address at the event, Executive Chairman, FIRS, Mr. Muhammad Nami, underscored the importance of the dialogue, saying: The universal collapse of traditional government revenue sources and the consequential resort to tax is a testimony.  The well-known arms race among nations is gradually giving way to “tax-race”.  The international struggle for and against digital services tax is just the beginning of the tax race.  It is a race for all nations – developed or developing.  And for Nigeria, it is “a must-win” race.”

Mr. Nami stressed that the FIRS would match on to digitalise the tax process fully and canvassed the cooperation of the three tiers of government, the citizens and corporate organisations in the country for the success of the digitalization drive.

His words: “The FIRS started the journey to automation several years ago when it launched “Project Fact”.  Several other initiatives were launched to further take advantage of evolving technology in taxpayer registration, online payment platforms, remote filing of returns, etc.  However, there was very limited success with the various initiatives due to inadequate statutory framework. 

“A quantum leap was achieved with the 2020 Finance Act which copiously provided legal grounds for deployment of technology in tax administration.  The Service is grateful to the President, the leadership of the National Assembly, the Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning and all other stakeholders that worked together to enact the necessary laws.

“The Service is taking advantage of the new law to embark on studies (with the assistance of friendly tax authorities and international tax organisations) with a view to developing a robust digitalisation roadmap.  The roadmap will enable the Service to digitalise its whole operations (end-to-end) in a systematic, coherent and efficient manner.

“There is so much to look forward to in the coming years.  The FIRS is starting this decade with the resolve to leapfrog tax administration into the digital age. Ladies and gentlemen, we are banking on your continued support as we embark on this onerous journey.”

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ICT

The third generation (3G) and fourth generation (4G) base transceiver stations (BTS) deployment in Nigeria has increased from 30,000 to 53,460 while Fibre Optic Transmission cables expanded from 47,000km to 54,725km in the last five years, resulting in improved broadband/telecoms service delivery to Nigerians.

These were parts of industry growth data reeled out by the Executive Vice Chairman of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta at a briefing for the new Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, Engr. Festus Yusuf Daudu, on the functions and regulatory activities of the Commission in Abuja on Tuesday.

In the comprehensive briefing, the EVC spoke on NCC’s enabling laws, mandates of NCC, structure of NCC, implementation approach of its mandates and methodology, key focus and targets, scorecards, the new soon-to-be-unveiled Strategic Management Vision (SVP), NCC’s contributions to the economy, various regulatory frameworks aimed at improving service delivery, challenges confronting the sector and proposed solutions, among others.

According to Danbatta, the effective regulatory regime emplaced by the leadership of the Commission has resulted in increased deployment of  infrastructure by telecoms operators, which in turn, helped to improve broadband penetration and other related service delivery in the telecoms industry.

“The BTS, fibre optic cables and other related infrastructure are central to the provision of improved service experience for Nigerians by their respective telecoms service providers,” he said, adding that the licensed Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) are also expected to add 38,296km to optic fibre cables when they commence fully operations.

According to the EVC, as at November, 2020, active telephony subscribers stood at 208 million with teledensity standing at 108.92 per cent while active Internet subscriptions were 154.9 million and a broadband penetration of 45.07 per cent, among others.

He also talked on various initiatives undertaken by the Commission to ensure consumer protection and empowerment. These, according to him, include the Declaration of 2017 as Year of the Telecom Consumer, introduction of the 622 Toll Free Line for lodging and resolving consumer complaints and the provision of the 112 Emergency number and activation of 19 Emergency Communications Centre (ECCs).

Other such consumer-centric regulatory measures intervention, according to the EVC, include, issuance of various directions to mobile network operators (MNOs) to protect the consumers from being short-changed, ensuring smooth transition of Etisalat to 9Mobile, consumer outreach programmes, introduction and enforcement of mobile number portability (MNP) as well as introduction of the Do-Not-Disturb (DND) 2442 to check cases of unsolicited text messages.

The EVC disclosed that the number of subscriptions to DND service has hit over 30 million as the service empowers Nigerians to be able to protect themselves from the menace of unsolicited text messages.

In recognition of the tremendous economic growth opportunities afforded by the deployment of broadband and its associated technologies, Danbatta said the Commission has positioned itself in government’s drive for a digital Nigeria, as contained in the Nigerian National Broadband Plan (2020 – 2025), the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (2020 – 2030) and the Strategic Management Plan (2020 – 2024) of the Commission.

“The Commission will continue to put in its best in the discharge of its mandates, especially in facilitating the deployment of broadband, which is central to diversifying the Nigerian economy and national development. Also, it is our belief that the communications industry, under the leadership of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, will experience more quantum leaps and retain its current leadership role in the telecommunications space,” he said.

In his reaction, the Perm Sec commended the leadership of the Commission, acknowledging the upward growth attributed to the effective regulatory regime, the central role NCC is playing in the digital transformation of the Nigerian economy as well as the impressive contribution of the sector to the country’s Gross Domestic (GDP)

“I want to thank NCC for its contribution to the Nigerian economy so far. I am not exaggerating about the achievements of NCC, in terms of contribution to GDP and how NCC’s effective regulatory role has been helping the economy in so many ways,” he said, adding that NCC leadership also contributed to his success as the Chairman of the World Radio Conference in 2015.

Engr. Daudu urged the Commission on the need for increased collaboration and teamwork with the Ministry, other agencies and industry stakeholders towards achieving the Federal Government’s objective of a digital economy. He also promised to support the Commission in whatever ways possible towards achieving its regulatory mandates.

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Education

Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved an increase in the retirement age of teachers across the country from 60 to 65 years or 40 years in service as against 35.

Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu revealed this when he briefed State House correspondents on the outcome of the Council meeting, which was presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja on Wednesday.

According to him, the new retirement age for teachers is now 65 years or 40 years of service.

He said the Federal Executive Council also approved that bill to be known as ‘Harmonized Retirement Age for Teachers in Nigeria Bill 2020’ be sent to the National Assembly to give legal backing to the approval.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that prior to this development, the retirement age of teachers in the country was 60 years or 35 years in service.

The minister said government decided to increase the years as a reward for teachers’ dedication to duty and also to attract more people to the profession.

He said: “This memo that was approved for the Ministry of Education is a giant step towards what we set out to do last year, with the approval of some special packages for teachers by the President.

“So, at the meeting today, Council approved that a bill which will be called harmonized Retirement Age for Teachers in Nigeria Bill 2020 be sent to the National Assembly for enactment into law so that all the promises made by the president and all the approvals he had given to me will now begin to be put into effect because this is the legal backing that is required for it.

“The essence of the bill actually is to give legal backing for the approval of a new retirement age of 65 for teachers and then the service period being extended to 40 years.

“The intention is to attract the best brains to the teaching profession and for that, the president approved the reintroduction of bursary awards, improving teacher quality, funding teaching practice from TETFUND, enhanced entry point for teachers.’’

Adamu announced that the president also approved that there should be some special allowances, like rural posting allowance and science teachers’ allowance to boost teacher education in the country.

Minister of Industry Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo, who also spoke on the outcome of the meeting, said the Council approved N1.4 billion for the upgrading of electricity facilities at the Calabar Free Trade Zone Area.

He said: “On behalf of one of our parastatals, the Nigeria Exports Processing Zones Authority, we brought a memo for the award of contract for the upgrade of the electricity component in the Calabar Free Trade Zone Area.

“The contracts were initially awarded in 2018 to upgrade the electrical facility in the Area but it was not completed so we brought a memo today and council approved the sum of N1,000,484, 000 for the completion of electrical upgrading at the Calabar Free Trade Zone Area.”

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Sabo Nanono, also disclosed that the Council ratified Nigeria’s membership of the global treaty on the Genetic Resource for Food and Agriculture.

According to him, this will enhance the capacity of agricultural scientists and agricultural production in the country.

He said: “This memo which was approved today was a treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture.

“The import of this treaty is for the advancement and enhancement of the agricultural resource base of the member countries.

“Nigeria has signed the treaty for a long time but it is only today that the FEC approved the ratification.

“We will now become a full-fledged member of this treaty and it will enhance training and research of our agricultural scientists and so on and so forth.

“In short, the entire treaty is meant to boost agricultural production in the country as it affects other countries, 167 of them.’’

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