The Federal Government is reportedly set to proceed with its implementation of a five per cent excise duty tax on mobile telephone services, fixed telephone, and Internet services.
This is despite a recent communication by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, that the government has exempted the telecoms sector from excise duty tax.
In September last year, the Federal Government suspended the proposed excise duty on telecommunication services for the first time.
The suspension was announced by Pantami during the inaugural meeting of the Presidential Committee on Excise Duty for the Digital Economy Sector.
According to the minister, the Information, Technology and Communication sector, especially the telecom industry, is already overburdened by excessive and multiple taxations, which will likely adversely affect the sector if the government fails to take any precautions.
Pantami noted that the ICT sector has been the backbone of the Nigerian economy both in the area of its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product and taxes collected by the Federal Inland Revenue Service.
The minister said, “However, in spite of the contributions and achievements of the sector, we have been recording some challenges coming up from time to time that if care is not taken these challenges could be a barrier to the development of this sector in the next few years to come. One of them is the issue of excessive taxation and sometimes, multiple taxations in the sector.”
He further disclosed that the number of taxes from both federal and state levels paid by firms in the ICT sector rose from 39 in August to 41 in September 2022, within a period of about a month.
“The ICT sector is being overburdened with so many categories of tax,” Pantami stressed, adding, “If care is not taken, this is going to jeopardize the achievements and gains we have recorded so far in the sector.”
The Federal Government, through the Budget Office of the Federation, had earlier revealed that it would begin the implementation of its proposed excise duties on telecommunication services and beverages in 2023.
However, Pantami has maintained that he is against implementing this tax, which would increase the cost of telecommunication services for Nigerians.
The minister noted that with the increase in operating costs due to inflation and rising diesel prices, among others, there were more than 15 attempts to increase the price of telecommunication services within three years, which he kicked against.
The minister also said that he rejected the excise duty on telecoms because such a tax is usually introduced on luxury products or services.
He added that in most countries, it is usually introduced to reduce the consumption of certain things in the country, such as cigarettes.
Pantami noted that by implication, it means the government is discouraging Nigerians from using telecommunication services, which have become a necessity for many Nigerians.
He said that introducing the tax would likely destroy the sector and further contribute to more hardship for Nigerians.
The Federal Government, however, inaugurated a committee to review the possibility of introducing the excise duty in the digital economy sector and advise the presidency on the necessary steps to take.
After months of uncertainty concerning the implementation of a new tax on calls, data, and other telecom services, Pantami, in March 2023, announced that the government was concerned about the sufferings of Nigerians and has exempted telecoms from excise duty.
He said, “I am happy to report to you that President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, has approved the exemption of the digital economy sector from the five per cent excise duty to be paid and this is because of the strength of the argument presented to him by the Committee that additional burden on telecom sector will increase the sufferings of Nigerians and that other sectors that are not making as much contribution to the economy should be challenged to do more and pay the five per cent excise duty.”
However, the new Fiscal Policy Measures for 2023 via a Circular dated 20 April 2023, and signed by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed revealed that the government was set to proceed with the implementation of the five per cent excise duty on telecom services.
The circular was shared on Linkedin by the Fiscal Policy Partner and Africa Tax Leader, PwC, Taiwo Oyedele. The circular was coded HMFBNP/MDAs/CIRCULAR/2023 FP/04 and titled ‘Approval for the Implementation of the 2023 Fiscal Policy Measures and Tariff Amendments.’
It stated that the president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), has approved the implementation of the 2023 Fiscal Policy Measures.
It read in part, “The revised excise duty rate on alcoholic beverages and tobacco products in line with existing excise regime implementation period shall take effect from 1st June 2023 and reviewed upwards in line with the new regime by 1st June 2024.
“The excise duty on Single Use Plastics shall also take effect from 1st June 2023. While on the other hand, the excise duty rate on Telecommunication Services remains as approved by Mr President and published in the Official Gazette No. 88, Vol. 109 of 11th May 2022.”
Oyedele said, “The 2023 FPM confirms the excise duty on telecommunication services earlier introduced via the Finance Act 2020 and prescribed in the Official Gazette No. 88, Vol. 109 of 11 May 2022 approved by the President.
“The tax is applicable on mobile telephone services, fixed telephone, and internet services, both postpaid and prepaid at the rate of five per cent.”
Excise duty on telecom services has generated a lot of controversies since the minister of finance first announced its implementation in 2022 with telecom operators and consumers kicking against the tax. At the time, operators stated that the tax would be transferred to consumers (increasing consumption tax on telecom services to 12.5%) because of the multiple taxations that the sector was already besieged with.
To counter the implementation of excise duty on telecom services, telecommunication consumers under the aegis of the National Association of Telecoms Subscribers are presently in court to fight the legality of the government’s move.
Even after the Minister of Communications, Pantami, announced the cancellation of excise duty in March, the National President, NATCOMS, Adeolu Ogunbanjo, told The PUNCH, “We cannot withdraw our case until the law is repealed or it has the backing of the law.
“They need to give it the backing of the law because even though he has said this, the new administration can introduce it again. The next administration will be looking to increase revenue. So, until it is amended or repealed, we will still be in court. The next president can always introduce it again. We are in court already and are pursuing it.”
ICT firms pay N1.41tn
Firms operating in the Information and Communication space paid N1.41tn as company income tax between 2016 and 2022, data from the National Bureau of Statistics revealed.
According to the Federal Inland Revenue Service, CIT is governed by Companies Income Tax Act (CITA), Cap C21, LFN 2004 (as amended). It is a tax imposed on profit of a company from all sources. The rate of tax is 30 per cent of total profit of a company.
It differs from Value Added Tax, which is a consumption tax paid on goods and services supplied in Nigeria.
The PUNCH observed that the CIT paid by ICT firms rose by 144.89 per cent from N147.93bn in 2016 to 362.26bn in 2022.
The data revealed that the CIT for the sector was N147.93bn in 2016, N153.75bn in 2017, N133.62bn in 2018, N177.74bn in 2019 and N180.26bn in 2022.
It also revealed that it was N252.67bn in 2021 and N362.26bn in 2022.
Before the third quarter of 2021, the taxes paid by the telecommunications sector was categorized under professional services.
A different sector for ICT was introduced in the third quarter of 2021, and it includes the activities of telecommunications and information services; publishing; motion picture, sound recording and music production and broadcasting.
Telcos, subscribers group react
Commenting on the proposed reimplementation of excise duty tax on telecom services, the President, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria, Mr Tony Emoekpere, told The PUNCH that this move will set the industry back to its many challenges.
He said, “If it is reintroduced, the advantages of its removal will be eroded. This sets us back, we have always been complaining about multiple taxations and the removal of excise duty was a relief from the Federal Government on the challenges we were facing.
Do not forget that some of these multiple taxations we are facing are in areas where the Federal government does not have a direct impact like in the states, the FG didn’t have control over that. The removal helped the industry, but putting it back just sets us back to the challenges we have been facing all this while.”
According to the President, National Association of Telecoms Subscribers, Adeolu Ogunbanjo, the latest attempt by the government to add excise duty on telecom services will not only increase the cost of telecom services but affect businesses.
“If this new attempt succeeds, it will complicate many things. Alcohol is a luxury, but mobile phones are now companions. They help businesses and network operators are doing a lot to make access cheaper for many businesses. This new move will frustrate consumers. It will cause a lot of confusion, complicate matters, and cause the price of telecom services to go up,” he said.
Explaining the state of the association’s court case with the government, Ogunbanjo, told The PUNCH that technicalities are slowing the case down, with a couple of the respondents asking for the case to be moved to Abuja.
He stated, “They want the case in Abuja, we have filed an injunction against it. This is the situation of our case presently. We are still in court. We have a hearing in about a week.”