How N50b is tearing Rivers, NDDC apart
The controversy generated by last week’s sealing of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, headquarters in Port Harcourt by Rivers State government over N50billion tax allegedly outstanding against the NDDC has escalated with the All Progressives Congress, APC, asking the Federal Government to relocate the agency to Edo State.
NDDC, rivers, tax
Rivers State government claimed it acted in good faith and that its action was in response to a court order.
Rivers State Internal Revenue Service, RIRS, halting of operations, since Monday, at the Port Harcourt head office of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, over N50billion alleged tax default was not the first time the state government would move against the agency.
In April last year, under the immediate past management, the NDDC had suffered the same embarrassment when an RIRS enforcement team picketed the NDDC head office, disrupting operations for days before pulling out after intervention by influential mediators with a promise that it (NDDC) would pay then-outstanding tax liability.
Chief Thankgod Adoage Norteh, Executive Chairman, RIRS, recalled, “At that time, they (NDDC) had admitted owing over N600million. That amount was collected over a period, from 2014 till that point we sealed last year.”
Norteh said the commission did pay N600million as part settlement of the tax before RIRS backed down on the sealing of the Harold Dappa Biriye House along Aba Road, Port Harcourt.
While both parties alluded to amicable settlement of last year’s sealing of the NDDC, the repeat sealing by the RIRS, a year after, has not gone well with, not only with the agency but also many stakeholders who are particularly shocked at the claim of N50billion tax liability by the RIRS.
Against the backdrop of the doubt expressed on the huge tax liability claim, however, Norteh told Sunday Vanguard that RIRS was acting in accordance with due process, saying it has a court order on the N50billion liability and the sealing of the NDDC premises.
He said, “Last year, if you recall, we had sealed the NDDC, even on more than two occasions. At that time, they had, themselves, admitted owing over N600million. That amount was collected over a period, from 2014 till that point we sealed last year. That N600million had resulted from NDDC’s self assessment, meaning the commission has not been audited since then.
“However, on paying that money, we decided to let them sit and reconcile. And that we will go and look at their records. We have since been asking to look at their records. They have refused repeatedly.
“We had no option than to put up a Best of Judgement, BOJ, assessment which is what they are agitated about now. We reasoned that these people are not allowing us access to their records, so let us give them a BOJ.
“When we did that, they had the right to object, to say they were not indebted to that tune, or they were not indebted at all. This they did not do, they never objected. And when you don’t object, it means you have admitted it is correct, until the statutory period for objection passed.
“When that happened, it now became final and conclusive, to the tune of that N50billion. And they are not making any payment. “Remember also that the N600m they paid when we sealed last year had accrued interest on penalty.
“If you deduct money on behalf of government and you do not remit it, you keep the money, it attracts interest on penalty while the money is in your hand in default of remitting it as and when due. It is the law. “Neither have they even paid the court expenses while we litigated. They are bound to pay.
“So if you look at it from all sides, they certainly owe. They could have said they were not indebted to the tune of N50billion. But if so, they would have opened their records for us to see. They were not responding to that and not giving the RIRS access to their books.
“I spoke with one their officials the other day and the impression he gave was that they had the Auditor General of the Federation coming to look at same records, so that they could open same books to us, since 2014.
“Now I understand they are calling for reconciliation from their tone in the media, but we have gone past that.
“Having been frustrated, we approached the court, narrating the experience we were having with them. On the strength of that, the court gave the order for us to collect our money, N50billion, based on BOJ assessment.
“We now had to go their (NDDC) head office, to seal it up because, at the moment, as it were, it means NDDC belongs to Rivers State government.
“That seal you see in the office is an order of the court. We didn’t wake up to do it without due process”.
Relocate NDDC to Edo – APC
Taking pills for NDDC’s headache, the All Progressives Congress, APC, accused Governor Nyesom Wike of frustrating the developmental efforts of the NDDC. The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Yekini Nabena, alleged political undertone in the action of the Rivers government.
Nabena said, “Wike, hiding under a bogus N50billion unpaid tax, is using the RIRS to harass the NDDC in a bid to frustrate the commission’s developmental activities in the region.
“It is disheartening that Wike has chosen to sabotage NDDC to score political points against President Muhammadu Buhari government.
“Wike should know that an attack on NDDC’s operations is an attack on the South-South and other oil producing states the commission was established to develop. I call on stakeholders in the Niger Delta to call the governor to order since he has decided to take his executive rascality to new heights.
“The interest of the Niger Delta is bigger than any individual. If this issue is unresolved and persists, the Federal Government must consider relocating the NDDC head office to neighbouring Edo State for ease of operations”.
No politics in impasse, RIRS just acting in bad faith —NDDC
NDDC’s management, which feels the heat of the sealing, would, however, not buy APC’s meddlesomeness which the commission described as “spurious media speculation”.
Charles Odili, Director, Corporate Affairs, NDDC, nevertheless, maintained that the agency, at all times, meets its financial obligation, accusing RIRS of acting in bad faith.
Odili had earlier said, “NDDC has not defaulted in meeting its tax obligations to the RIRS. The commission is surprised that the state revenue agency is claiming an outstanding N50b. Our records show that this is not correct.
“It is rather curious that the RIRS would rush to seal gates of the commission, disrupting activities at its headquarters without any notification. We have had cause to discuss our tax obligations with the RIRS in the past and all grey areas resolved amicably.
“It is therefore an act of bad faith for the revenue agency to begin to take actions that impugn on the reputation of an interventionist agency serving people of the Niger Delta region. For avoidance of doubt, the commission had, as recently as January this year, settled its outstanding tax obligations to the RIRS.
“We have cleared all Withholding Tax (WHT) on enterprises and Pay As You Earn (PAYE) up to March, 2019, including arrears. If there is any other issue of outstanding tax obligation (underpayment), it will only come up after reconciliation.”
He further said, “We can under the circumstances safely say that the RIRS came to seal off our premises without due process as notice of non-compliance was neither issued nor served on NDDC before the RIRS action. We therefore call on the RIRS to remove the sealing order on our premises to enable both parties enter into dialogue and agreeably resolve our differences.”
On the reliance on court order, Odili said, “The commission was also not served the court processes to enable it defend itself. It is equally curious that the court order was obtained from a provincial division of Rivers State High Court sitting in Omoku.
“As a Federal Government institution operating in Rivers, the NDDC will always pursue the sacred creed of harmony and good conscience in its operational modalities. There are ongoing efforts to resolve this matter amicably in the overall interest of the entire people of the Niger Delta.”