* Action unnecessary embarrassment, says commission

Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt

Officials of the Rivers State Internal Revenue Service (RIRS) Tuesday sealed off the headquarters of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in Port Harcourt over N600 million tax debt.

The RIRS had on April 26 picketed the commission’s headquarters over the debt spanning several years and threatened to seal off the premises if the commission failed to pay up.

On Tuesday, armed with an exparte order from the court, officials of the RIRS stormed the commission and sealed off the premises.

The leader of the enforcement team and Director in RIRS, Mr Manson Endeboh, said the tax agency sealed the gates of the NDDC headquarters for allegedly owing the Rivers State Government withholding tax.

While he conceded that the commission had made some payments, he said the payments came after the tax agency had approached the court for an exparte order to seal the office.

Reacting to the incident, the NDDC expressed dismay over the disruption of activities at its headquarters in Port Harcourt.

Speaking on behalf of the NDDC Managing Director, Dr. Nsima Ekere, the Special Assistant on Media, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi, said the commission was surprised by the development, “because the commission had already begun paying the revenue service the arrears under question”.

Amu-Nnadi explained: “About two weeks ago, the commission met with the tax enforcement team and started negotiations to resolve all outstanding issues. We understand that there is a court order. But it’s important for us to state that the commission, as a responsible corporate organisation, had begun to attend to all obligations as agreed.

“Last week, the commission paid the first tranche. They will receive the next tranche this week. This is a sign of goodwill and commitment on the side of the commission to meet these obligations.”

Amu-Nnadi expressed dismay at the action of the RIRS officials, noting that blocking the premises of the commission was an unnecessary embarrassment and does not match the commission’s goodwill.

He stated: “It is very surprising that even though we have begun paying these arrears dating back to 2013, which the current board inherited, we still have to deal with this little impasse. And mind you, over the past two years, the current board has paid all the commission’s tax obligations as at when due.”

The Executive Chairman of RIRS, Mr. Adoage Norteh, had on April 26 when the tax agency picketed the commission, said the action was aimed at ensuring that the commission did the needful by paying tax to the state.

He said: “The NDDC owed the Rivers State Government withholding tax; that is taxes they withheld from vendors. They have individual vendors and enterprise. The ones for limited liability companies go to the Federal Inland Revenue Service.

“We have been on it for a very long time. They have not responded to any entreaty. We have gone round to get them to do it. They will not. That is where the trouble came from. The tax we are talking about dates back to 2013.”

The RIRS executive chairman explained that the issue had nothing to do with politics, adding that the commission was expected to pay their tax without being forced to do so.

“We are saying just pay all these money, unless they are saying the reason they didn’t pay was political. I don’t understand. I can’t explain. It has nothing to do with politics. I am not a politician.

“What they have agreed to owe won’t be less than N600 million. Withholding taxes are shared between federal government and states depending on whom is withheld,” he added.

Norteh then warned that the RIRS would not hesitate to seal off the corporate headquarters of the NDDC should they (NDDC) fail to pay the withholding taxes owed the state government.