Mama Risi, Aminu from Kano, Chinedu from Alaba, come and see something o.
Apparently, the Nigerian government is taking its drive for revenue to the next level! It is currently considering the imposition of a communication services tax (CST) on internet subscription, voice calls, data, SMS, pay per view and MMS. This CST is to be collected and administered by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).
Shebi you were complaining that DStv is too expensive? Only God can safe you now.
THE COMMUNICATION SERVICES TAX BILL
The CST Bill was introduced to the House of Representatives in 2015 by Hon. Bede Eke Uchenna. Just over 12 pages long, the gist of the Bill is very simple. It seeks to introduce a 9% tax on the use of electronic communication services including the following:
- Voice calls
- Pay per view
- Internet data subscription/usage
The only services that are currently exempted from the tax are private electronic communications. This means, for instance, that companies operating internal communications networks (for internet access and email communication) will not have the tax apply to them.
WHO WILL PAY THE TAX?
You, of course.
CST will be imposed on all users of these services but it will be remitted by all service providers, whether licensed and registered by the Nigerian Communication Commission or not.
Let us break this down a bit. Everyone that currently has a phone will have to pay the tax, so long as you make calls, browse the internet, send text messages, and God help you if you are also subscribed to Iroko TV on your phone. By the provisions of the CST Bill, the amount you will pay on each of those services is about to increase by at least 9%. A whole 9%. Inside life.
There are several weighty penalties attached to failure to remit the tax. Initial failure will attract a penalty of N50,000 on service providers and for every extra day that they fail to pay, a further N10,000 will be imposed as interest.
Service providers are also to remit the tax latest by the last working day of the month after the month that the CST payment relates to. When they fail to pay CST as stipulated, monthly interest at 150% of the average of the commercial banks’ lending rate accrues.
In addition to this, the FIRS and Finance Minister have been empowered to appoint an agent that will have full access to the internal frameworks of the service providers. They will have authority to monitor, analyse, verify and save all necessary information on the network and the providers’ billing systems. Any service provider that objects will be liable to a 5% penalty on its gross income. They will essentially be penalised for trying to protect their privacy. Wetin Musa no go see finish for gate?
THE PROBLEM WITH THE CST
Actually, the problems are legion, for they are many.
- Modern communication will become more expensive
Duh. Our country people already borrow airtime and now calls and messages are to become even more expensive. Browsing the internet may become a pocket painful venture.
Glo said “data is oxygen”, it seems a bit unfair that we have to pay extra for the air we breathe?
- Fundamental Human Rights?
Some people bring another angle to the matter. They submit that whether the government means it or not, imposing CST will greatly deter Nigerians from communicating whether personally or over social media. They say that there is a fundamental deficiency in the idea of even attempting to greatly discourage or to expressly or impliedly regulate the use of various modes of communication for any reason. They say it will amount to a violation of the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Expression as provided for by the Constitution. Could this even also be the case? Your guess is as good as mine.
A CST imposed at a flat rate of 9% on all persons in Nigeria, regardless of their varying income ranges will not exhibit Equity. It would instead be a regressive tax as it would take a higher percentage from low income earners than high income earners. It is about to become more difficult for MSMEs and poor Nigerians to access the internet. What a time to be alive!
- Economic Growth
Many may not know this, but ICT is just as important to every nation as oil, gold and taxes. There is empirical proof that every 10% increase in broadband penetration in developing countries brings about a 1.3% increase in GDP. And that’s not all.
ICT growth is linked to increase in productivity, faster economic growth and increased quality of life. Guess what a government would do that can stunt the growth of ICT, widen the digital divide and keep these benefits far from a country. That’s right. Recurrent imposition of various tariffs and taxes, especially regressive ones.
- Service providers
At some point, you really have to stop and pity the service providers. These guys already pay an assortment of huge taxes and levies.
Add to this the fact that as an industry, telecommunications companies already spend N8.8 billion on diesel every month and you may just see these companies beginning to gbe body out of Nigeria.
It’s already happening too, if these reports are anything to go by.
JUSTIFICATION FOR THE CST
We know this will be the last thing on your mind. But let us take a moment to consider the gold mine that CST could represent for Nigeria.
Mobile phone usage in Nigeria was reported to have reached 146 million people as at March 2018, with approximately 80% of the Nigerian population making phone calls and sending SMS every day. The NCC also reports that internet penetration has also drastically increased and as at March 2018, 103 million Nigerians had access to the internet.
The ICT industry was estimated to contribute almost N1.9 trillion to Nigeria’s GDP in 2016. The value-added services market alone is worth more than N300 billion.
Clearly, if the government can find a way to tap into this industry, it would bring serious revenue into government coffers. But it must be asked once again: must the government do this at the expense of the stability and growth of the industry?
THE BOTTOM LINE
There’s no question about it, tax represents a veritable way to grow the Nigerian economy. CST or its equivalent also exist in other countries.
However, no as Winston Churchill so eloquently said: “…for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.” Aka Kolewerk.
If paying more taxes was the real issue, Mama Risi asks why the 20+ different types of taxes being paid by millions of Nigerians have not already made a utopia of our country. Aminu asks why we, as a nation are still battling with megawatts of electricity that is less than that which only one airport in London consumes. Chinedu remembers the days when rice was 150-170 per derica and wonders if really, it is this CST thing that will save our lives and country.
Maybe until all these questions, and uncountable more are answered, the government should really really calm down, with the taxes.
We need to stop writing now, as we pity the money of those who will read this article after passage of the CST bill.
Ibrahim Olasunkanmi Aderibigbe just concluded his degree programme at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife Nigeria. He studied Law at the University and developed interest in the areas of Taxation and Corporate Law during his fourth and final years at school. While being an undergraduate student, he participated in differentTax events and other events that cut across corporate practice and finance like the Ife Accounting Summits, ACCA Summit etc. He was awarded 2nd Runner-up of the Olaniran Quadri Memorial Essay Competition in January 2019. Ibrodeen as he is widely known is a young, versatile and hardworking tax enthusiast.
Edited by Opeoluwa Sanni.