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Battle over Nigeria’s oil wealth


THE government of a state in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta region has said it would collect value-added tax (VAT) in its territory rather than leaving it for a federal agency, a move that threatens the way the nation’s wealth is shared out.

Under the political and fiscal system now, a range of taxes are collected nationwide by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and pooled centrally before being redistributed across all 36 of Nigeria’s states according to an agreed formula.

The move by Nigeria’s southern Rivers State to collect VAT risks upsetting the way national revenues are allocated, a result of political compromises between ethnic groups and regions with different economies and natural resources.

Rivers State, one of Nigeria’s richest states thanks to oil production, has been fighting a court battle against the FIRS, arguing that it should collect and spend VAT itself.

After it won the latest round in a federal court on Monday in the state capital Port Harcourt, the state government said it would press ahead with VAT collection.

But the FIRS, which has launched an appeal now going through the courts, urged taxpayers on Tuesday to disregard the Port Harcourt ruling.

“Until the Court of Appeal, or even the Supreme Court, determines the matter, taxpayers are required to continue to comply with their VAT obligations within the status quo framework,” it said.

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The move by Rivers State is being mirrored elsewhere. Lagos, the nation’s business hub in the southwest, is in the process of passing a state law that would also allow it to collect VAT.

For residents of Rivers State, who have long complained that they see few benefits from oil extraction yet have suffered from decades of pollution, the existing formula to redistribute Nigeria’s national wealth is deeply unpopular.

In other regions, particularly in the arid North which has limited natural resources, the principle of sharing wealth across the whole country is vital.

The FIRS collected revenues worth 4.95 trillion naira ($12 billion) across the country in 2020, with VAT accounting for 1.53 trillion naira.

The Rivers State government generated revenues of 117 billion naira from local taxes and levies in 2020. It received 142 billion naira in allocations from the central pot.

By The African Mirror