President Bola Tinubu on Monday quickly moved to stop foreign oil vessel owners from fleeing Nigeria and withdrawing their services in protest against alleged excessive tax back charges.
Multiple businesses had received demands from Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), covering the period from 2010 to 2019 and range in amount from $400,000 to $1.1 million per vessel, aggregating it to reach tens of millions of dollars.
The Special Adviser to the President on Revenue, Zacheus Adedeji, led government officials in an interactive session with shipping stakeholders at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, where he warned that Nigeria cannot afford not to have vessels move in and out of the country.
Speaking to correspondents after the meeting, he allayed the fears of the stakeholders within the oil and gas sector, spelling out the agreement reached to avert vessel withdrawal so as not to disrupt the flow of products.
He said the problem arose from the demand notice to the vessel owners issued in accordance with extant tax laws to make their remittances.
The presidential aide assured that a technical committee has been set up to resolve the issues in contention.
He noted that no vessel would be arrested or detained as the committee works to reconcile the back taxes.
Adedeji, however, warned that Nigeria would not succumb to blackmail as it laws must be obeyed.
“So, we have agreed to resolve this issue and what is the issue? There was demand notice, which was issued to the vessel owners or chattered, as it were, which is in accordance with the Nigerian tax law, that they should remit the tax deal to them, for the last ten years and that there were concerns about the timing of compliance or afraid of the enforcement.
“So, we’ve now resolved within ourselves to resolve this issue as quickly as possible, just to make sure that we don’t affect the flow of the products, in and outside the country.
“We also made it clear that Nigeria will not accept any blackmail by defaulters, who are not complying with our laws. We have laws and the laws must be respected and obeyed.
“However, we will not detain or arrest any defaulting ship or vessel because this is what is causing panic.
“We’ve sent them demand notice and then they’ve also come and the agreement is that we should give them time. So, we’ve agreed to set up the technical committee to resolve these issues.
“The technical committee will comprise the regulator, which is NUPRC, NMDRA, NNPC, Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Presidency, in the Office of Chief of Staff, SA Energy and SA Revenue and the Secretariat will be the Federal Inland Revenue.
“The technical committee will look at the concerns and reconcile the back taxes and set a process that will ensure compliance going forward.
“So, we’ve agreed to give the parties three months to come to the conclusion and we will also give a grace period of six months, when we will not enforce any of these laws, just to allow for reconciliation.
“In essence, no vessel or ship will be detained or delayed. So, we give this six months break for them so that they can reconcile with this technical committee that we set up.
“Nigeria, as you know, is open for business and we are business friendly, as you’ve seen from what we’re doing and what we will do.
“So, we are open, but that is not to say that anybody will take advantage of the country. We have the law and the law must be respected”, he said.
Meanwhile, six companies have received approval to import petroleum products in the month of July.
The Managing Director of Nigeria Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDRA), Farouk Ahmed, revealed this to journalists at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Monday.
He said apart from the six, several companies applied for permit to import petroleum in due course.
Ahmed also debunked insinuation that the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) had given approval to Dangote Group to import petroleum, saying that the company has no powers to give such approval.
“There are several companies that applied for fuel importation permit. So, you can apply for importation to get access to the port. And by the way, we are open to all those who are interested in importing.
“We have guidelines which are not very stringent because we’re trying to encourage importation.
“There are six companies who said they want to import fuel in July. Of course, all the others may import in December in November, or anytime but those who expressed interest to bring in fuel in July there were six of them as of this morning.
“The beauty of it is that there are interests which means that they have been able to have access to foreign exchange in order to import.
“Now, as we go along, of course, we’ll be briefing you on the progress or the achievements so far, but the important thing is that NNPC has 30 days fuel sufficiency, so we do not anticipate any gap in supply or in distribution”, he said.