Adebiyi: With Effective Tax System, Nigeria Will Overcome Recession



Mr. Olaleye Adebiyi, Country Managing Partner, Andersen Tax is a consummate tax expert, with experience spanning several decades in local and multinational companies. In this interview with Raheem Akingbolu, the Obafemi Awolowo University graduate of Law speaks about what Anderson Tax is bringing to Nigeria and the need for government and other stakeholders to champion the cause of enlightening Nigerians to cultivate the culture of paying their taxes. Excerpts:

It was recently announced that former Partners of WTS ADEBIYI & Associates, a well established tax firm in Nigeria, of which you are a partner has adopted the Andersen name. Considering the current economic situation, especially as it concerns the recession, is it deliberate to take that bold step at this time?

Well, we can say it is designed; like my former boss used to say, Chinese symbol for threat is also for opportunities, depending on the way you view it. To start with, we should first look at what caused the recession in Nigeria and how far it has eaten deep into our economy. The recession was caused primarily by economic mismanagement, coupled with the drop in the price of oil at the international market. If we look back in the last few years, Nigeria solely depended on revenue from oil and when the price crashed; we had nowhere to run to. At this stage, it is now dawn on the economic managers to look for ways through which the bar can be raised economically.

However, when we look at it, the easiest and the most accessible source is tax. To this end, our coming this time is not only to help government raise more money but to also help the government to determine the companies they are going to tax as well as helping the concerned companies manage their tax administration. With this, we will be able to put both the government and the tax payers on the same page. If approached from this perspective, I will say is both deliberate and strategic at this time that we come in for the rescue mission.
As I speak, with the adoption of Andersen name, the collaborating firm that was instituted in May now has locations in both Lagos and Abuja. Recently, we became a member firm of Andersen Global and will operate under the name Andersen Tax.

What will the adoption of the new indentity do for the brand?

The adoption of the Andersen name is the logical next step in our expansion efforts in this key African market. Nigeria’s demographics make it one of the fastest growing economies of any country in the world and it is considered to be the gateway to Middle and Western Africa. Our growth here is part of a larger strategy to increase our footprint in the region. Our partners have seen the dedication to premier client service, which we have demonstrated since we joined the global brand a few months ago, and they believe this truly embody the values the international firm represents.

Under the name Andersen Tax, the firm will continue to provide tax and legal services for international, multinational and individual clients in Nigeria, West Africa and globally. I look forward to further strengthening our connection with the Andersen team as our relationship becomes more formal. As a former Arthur Andersen professional, I appreciate the importance and impact of working with like-minded partners around the globewith whom we share a commitment tostewardship, transparency and providing seamless service internationally.
Let me quickly add that Andersen Global is an international association of member firms with over 2,000 professionals and a presence in more than 64 locations worldwide.

Agreed, both firms are strong but then, there are many tax firms globally, what informed the choice of Andersen Tax? What is the chemistry of the attraction and what do you share in common?

Like you have rightly pointed out, WTS ADEBIYI & Associates is a well recognised brand in Nigeria with understanding of both local and the international trends. And for Andersen Tax, it is also a supper brand with its indelible global footprints that have helped governments and many multinaltionals to manage their tax system very well. So, coming together at this time to explore the African market will rejig the continent and enshrine better tax culture among the people.

Can you please shed more lights on what to expect, I mean your area of focus, bearing in mind the competition in the market?
We are not unaware that we have other practitioners in the market but as things stand, we are no 5. Presently, we have structured our products in such a way that it will help government and companies in Nigeria to weather the storm at this stage of the nation’s economy. We see opportunities and potentials in Nigeria that will make it possible for the economy to bounch back and becomes stronger and we decided to key in, to navigate the way. Having said this, our target will be in six major areas; these are;Tax Advisory & Regulatory Services, Transfer Pricing, Energy & Infrastructure, Consumer & Industrial Markets, Family Wealth and Private Clients, and Tax Adjudication/Litigation.

Let me emphasise a little on the private client/ wealth transfer management for the rich. Through this, we will be able to nurture businesses and grow equity from generations to generations. We have discovered that in Nigeria, wealth hardly transfer beyond second generation. To bridge the gap, we are going to work with the rich to help them manage their wealths more efficiently and in such a way that they can pass the wealth to generations yet unborn. If we look around, we will discover that companies that were strong in the market decades back are no more in existence. This is so because the wealth were not properly managed. Now, we are here to shape things and advise business owners professionally.

In the area of capacity building and expertise, how can the partnership deepen professionalism?

Right now, we have three partners, myself, my partner Mark Vorsatz and then Mr. Emeka Onwuka, he was the Managing Director of Diamond Bank. Onwuka is an expert in wealth transfer. We are also bringing in more partners from different parties but I cannot mention those ones now since we are yet to conclude the process. Beyond that, we have in place experts; both at the top and middle level to drive the operations. By the time we hit the ground running, we are going to create a seamless platform that will be beneficial to our clients and the economy in particular. Again, as experts in different fields, things are well structured in a way that there will be no friction of any form.

In a country like Nigeria, where attitude to tax payment is abysmal, what measures are you putting in place to educate potential tax payers as well as guiding the government in management of revenue?

First is the issue of enlightment, which you have rightly alluded to, government should endeavour to institute a well enthrenched enlightment campaign that would ginger Nigerians and educate them more on the importance of payment of their taxes. On our own at Andersen Tax, we have developed a well documented enlightment books on personal income tax to educate Nigerians on taxation. We move a bit further by domesticating and translating it from English Language into four local languages; Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and Pidgin. With this, we are sure that the knotty areas will be addressed and the people will be acquainted with all the intricacies of tax payment. As part of our preliminary works, we are working with state governments in Nigeria to see how we can impress it on them on the need to share the books with their people for enlightment.

Meanwhile, while they are educating them, there is also the need to enforce tax payment because experience and records have shown that people’s attitude towards tax payment is poor in this part of the world and there is urgent need to change this. We should begin to let our people know that by paying their taxes, government will have funds to excute social and infrastructural projects in their domains. Besides, at Anderson Tax, we have also developed Anderson Tax App to simplify the payment. Through this, the moment you know how much you are paying, you only need to click your tax ID and pay online, the state governments get the money immediately.

Under this arrangement, you don’t need any tax officer or tax office; all the process will be completed within two minutes. It is as simple as that. We believe that if tax payment is made simple, people will be willing and be encouraged to pay. With our apps for instance, payment can be made either on weekends and during the week; it is not necessary that banks should open before you pay. On the part of government, it is also important that leaders become more responsible and accountable to the people so that those who pay tax will not see it as if they are being shortchanged or extorted unnecessarily. Take Lagos State for instance, in the last 10 years, the people have seen changes in number of areas and this is like a propeller for them to be more responsive as to payment of taxes.

As it is, one doesn’t need to convince Lagosians that tax money is working because they see it everyday. Former Governor Raji Fashola started and Ambode is consolidating on it very well. Today, we see good roads in all the places, we see Lekki bridge, we see Abule Egba bridge and we see it working in Epe, Ikorodu and other parts of the state. Leaders should be able to stand shoulder high and convince the people that the tax they paid last year, this is the result. When that is being done, everybody will be awake to his or her responsibility in the area of contributing their quota through effective tax payment.

Beyond Lagos and considering the economic recession, do you think a proper tax system will help the nation’s economy get back to its feet?
I absolutely think so. Recently, I was discussing at a forum and I said 75 percent of Nigerians are outside the tax bracket. Forget the government, let us look at the individuals; what the law says is that Pay As You Earn. If I earn N10, my tax will be determined by N10 and if you earn N100, you will pay your tax on N100. In that case, you don’t have to be millionaire to pay tax. It is our responsibility to pay tax and contribute our quota to the country’s development.

Through this, even farmers in the village that make N1000 from their farm products will pay tax based on that. Nobody will enforce you to pay tax on N6000 when your earning is just N2000. That is the position of the law that everybody should follow accordingly. Like I have said, what the government needs to do is to sensitise the people. Currently, we are working with Benue State Government on this book and what the government there needs to do is to work with their people in a way that they will buy into the culture of paying tax. We are moving from cities to villages to sensitise them. In those days, loudspeakers will be on vehicles to create awareness and by the time this continued to echo and re-echoed, everybody will understand and accept the message. In those days, through this process, we were able to achieve a lot. But by the time the oil boom started, we relaxed and derailed. That was what brought us to this level of economic misadventure.

Let us focus on Andersen Tax, can you dwell a little on the profile?
Arthur Anderson used to be in Nigeria but went comatose following the purported infamous criminal handling of the energy company Enron. Anderson was convicted in the high court and the rest is history. The case was however overturned by the Supreme Court and that made Anderson innocent. The legal entity was exonerated and pronounced innocent by the Supreme Court of the United State of America. By the time this was happening, the company had closed and it was difficult to unwind what had happened. At the beginning, it was difficult to come back but it is back now. The partners at Anderson came together then to form a company called WTAS, which is now Anderson Tax globally.
It is the same company that has come to Nigeria. Before 2002, it was a leading firm in Nigeria but the crisis frustrated the growth. Today, it has bounced back; the brand is strong and well respected globally.

Finally, you studied Law, did you choose to be a tax consultant from day one or was it by happenstance?
Yes, I went to Obafemi Awolowo University to study Law. On graduation, I lectured for a year and went further to do my masters on scholarship. In 1991, I joined Arthur Andersen. From day one, I have always wanted to be in a corporate environment and so it was not by accident that I pitched my tent with Andersen. Again, from the word go, tax has always been part of me. My role is to advise clients in most critical ways to minimise their tax. This is necessary for them to pay the appropriate tax and I have been doing that for 26 years. When I left Anderson in 2003, I joined a law firm called Aluko and Oyebode, where I was a partner in charge of tax.

When I left there in 2005, I set up WTS ADEBIYI & Associates, a tax firm based in Nigeria. Like I said, we have constantly striven for the best and when the opportunity came to join the best tax firm in the world, we embraced it. Let me conclude that under the new arrangement, companies will have the best advice in the area of tax because it is our special area of focus. Nothing else is taken away from tax and we are not distracted by any other obligation that will make it difficult for us to give clients our best. At Anderson Tax, we have experienced people who are deep in various fields to advise clients professionally.