Paris-London club: Buhari orders fresh refund to states

•FG okays new asset, income scheme that will generate $1bn

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has directed the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun and the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, to immediately release the second tranche of the London-Paris Club refunds to the states, in order to ease their financial hardships.

He, however, insisted that states must pay outstanding salaries and pension liabilities of their workers.

The first tranche of N388 billion was paid to the states in December.

The president gave the directive while addressing the meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) made up of state governors and chaired by the vice president in Abuja, on Thursday.

“I will not rest until I address those issues that affect our people. One of these basic things is the issue of salaries. It is most important that workers are able to feed their families, pay rent and school fees, then other things can follow,” he said.

President Buhari, who went round the council chambers to greet the governors one after another, praised the unity of the forum of state governors.

He thanked them for their display of “love and respect” for him.

According to a statement issued by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the president said he was overwhelmed by his recent experience in which states, irrespective of political differences, told their citizens to pray in mosques and churches for his well-being and apologised to governors for barring them from visits to him while he took a rest in London.

“I did not want government to move to London. I wanted it to remain here and I am glad it did,” the statement quoted him as saying.

It said after narrating what he went through while on that vacation, Buhari noted the suggestion by the governors for him to add more rest, but insisted that he would remain relentless in the pursuit of the interest of the Nigerian people at all times.

This, according to him, was the only way to show his gratitude to the people who, he said “had given so much to me.  I was overwhelmed by the celebration of my return all across the country.”

The chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Abdul-Aziz Yari of Zamfara State, assured the president, on behalf of his colleagues, that they would  continue to support his policies and actions which they had adjudged as being in the nation’s best interest.

The governors of Imo, Akwa Ibom, Osun and Abia states thanked President Buhari for saving the day for states through the first tranche of the London-Paris Club refunds, while calling for the immediate release of the second one.

They also commended the trust the president reposed in Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, whom they said did not disappoint when he acted as president.

Meanwhile, the National Economic Council (NEC) has given its nod to the proposed Nigeria Voluntary Asset and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) which will take off on May 1 and expected to yield about $1 billion to the Federal Government.

The approval followed a presentation to NEC, on Thursday, by the chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Babatunde Fowler.

Briefing State House correspondents after the meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Fowler, who joined Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State and the deputy governor of Kaduna State, Bala Bantex, at the briefing said the VAIDS would capitalise on the considerable international goodwill built by President Muhammadu Buhari in his mission to rebuild Nigeria.

He said the policy was necessitated by the under-payment of tax via the use of tax havens and other evasion strategies had not been helpful to Nigeria.

He pointed out that this practice had been principally perpetrated by multinational companies and high net worth individuals, making Nigeria to have the lowest non-oil tax to GDP at six per cent.

Fowler said the policy would also capitalise on the current global movement against tax evasion and illicit financial flows and would offer a window for those who have not complied with extant tax regulations to remedy their position by the provision of limited amnesty to enable voluntary declaration and payment of liabilities.

He added the VAIDS scheme targets to increase the tax to GDP ratios to 15 per cent from just six per cent by 2020, while simultaneously generating revenue and encouraging investment and economic activity “as only 214 individuals in the entire country pay N20 million or more in tax annually.”

Explaining the scope of the programme, Bowler added: “VAIDS scheme will embrace all federal and states’ taxes such as Companies Income Tax, Personal Income Tax, Petroleum Profits Tax, Capital Gains Tax, Stamp Duties, Tertiary Education Tax, Technology Tax.