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Human right lawyers may sue FIRS over plans to freeze tax defaulters’ accounts

There are strong indications that should the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) put paid to its recent threat to freeze accounts of tax defaulters, a set of Human Rights lawyers may approach a court of competent jurisdiction to challenge the move, saying it infringes human rights.
It would recalled that FIRS Chairman, Tunde Fowler recently made it public that the agency is concluding plans to go after the bank accounts of defaulting taxpayers, who are raking in billions of naira in Nigeria and are not paying taxes.
In an interview, one of the lawyers who pleaded anonymity argued that it amounts to blatant abuse of citizens’ financial privacy to infringe on their banking rights or have illegal access to their bank accounts.
The human right activist stressed that “The meaning of the move by FIRS is that it failed in the so called VAIDS that was recently concluded”.
“Besides, the law on forceful freezing of accounts or personal property is very clear in explaining that it must be from an order from a court of competent jurisdiction.
According to him, “FIRS should follow due process to collect taxes as we are no more under the colonial tax policy when peoples properties are confiscated at will because of one or two default”.
Fowler had explained that through all banks in the country, would do substitution on the accounts, Fowler said, adding that over 6,772 of such defaulting billionaires had been identified by the agency through bank data.
Fowler, who disclosed this at a stakeholders’ meeting, according to a statement, stressed that most of such taxpayers, who had between N1bn and N5bn in their accounts, had no Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), or had it but were not filing any tax returns.
Fowler further noted that “What we have done is what we call substitution, which also is in our laws, and which empowers us to appoint the banks as collection agents for taxes. So, all these ones with TIN and no pay, and no TIN and no pay, totalling 6,772 will have their accounts frozen or put under substitution pending when they come forward.
“First, they refused to come forward in 2016; they refused to come forward under VAIDS and are still operating here. So, we are putting them under notice that it is their civic responsibility to pay tax and to file returns on these accounts.”
According to him, “We looked at all businesses, partnerships and corporate accounts that have a minimum turnover of N1bn per annum for the past three years. First of all, the law states clearly that before you open a corporate account, part of the opening documentation is the tax ID. From the 23 banks, we have analysed so far, we have 31,395 records, out of which effectively, minus duplications, we had 18,602.
“We broke those into three categories. Those that have TIN tax ID; those that don’t have TIN, and of course, no TIN no pay; and those that have TIN and have not even paid anything.
“So, on a minimum, every company or business included here over the last three years has had a banking turnover of N3bn and above. Some of them have had banking turnover of over N5bn and have not paid one kobo in taxes. Now, the total number of TIN and no pay is 6,772,” FIRS boss averred.