The sealing of Benin Airport

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The recent sealing of Benin Airport by officials of Edo State Inland Revenue Service (EBIR) over the alleged failure of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to remit personal income tax deducted from its workers’ salaries to the state government is unfortunate.

Benin Airport

The closure of the airport’s administrative office disrupted flights and other commercial activities. Hundreds of passengers who were billed to fly out of the state were reportedly locked out of the airport, while those arriving from other states could not leave the premises, as both the entrance and exit gates were locked.

Reports indicated that some passengers had to break through the barbed wire fencing of the airport to leave the facility. Since that sad incident, officials of FAAN and the Inland Revenue Service in Edo State have been trading blames over the avoidable standoff.

The Chairman of EBIR, Chief Oseni Elemah, explained that the sealing of FAAN’s administrative office was due to its failure to remit N15 million Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) tax to the state government.

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He alleged that previous entreaties to FAAN to pay the tax did not yield fruitful results. However, FAAN’s spokesman, Yakubu Dati, described the action of EBIR as an invasion, stressing that the tax agency should have explored all avenues to resolve the matter instead of engaging in activities capable of threatening safety and security at the airport. Dati lamented that the action led to loss of huge revenue by the airlines, the airport authority as well as the airspace management agency.

The face off was, however, resolved after the Managing Director of FAAN, Mr. George Uriesi, visited Governor Adams Oshiomhole in his office. Reports indicated that the reconciliation of the agency’s remittances showed that all personal income taxes due to Edo State government had been paid up till June 2013.

However, a sum of N11 million which reportedly came up after FAAN’s reconciliation of its accounts with its tax consultants was said to be outstanding for 2011, the cheque for which was ready.

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The breakdown in communication between EBIRS and FAAN that led to the unpleasant incident at the Benin Airport is regrettable. This is a matter that the two parties could have resolved through dialogue, without breaching the peace and security of the airport. The payment of taxes, especially income tax which is mandatory for all workers in the country, should not be toyed with. Government agencies should even lead the crusade for prompt remission of due taxes. They should not be found wanting in this regard.

The importance of internally generated revenue to the finances of state governments cannot be over-emphasised. Therefore, all taxes due from government agencies, including FAAN, must be promptly remitted to state governments to avoid conflicts of this nature.

FAAN should not wait for Edo State Government to close its offices before fulfilling its statutory obligation. If the deducted taxes had been remitted when due, the ugly incident of July 30 could have been averted and the country saved from the attendant odium.

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It is, however, lamentable that Edo State government, in trying to get due taxes, hampered activities at the airport and left air passengers stranded over a matter that should not involve them. Its closure of the FAAN office disrupted flights and breached the security of the facility. Passengers should not suffer such discomfort because FAAN failed to remit its taxes.

The Benin Airport is a public place that should have been spared this kind of embarrassment. The poor image of the country painted by the ugly incident is an embarrassment to all Nigerians. FAAN and all government agencies should pay their taxes promptly, while Edo and all other state governments should find better ways of collecting taxes without disrupting activities in public places, especially sensitive facilities such as airports.

Effects of actions such as the one that EBIR took at Benin Airport goes well beyond our borders. All arms of government and their agencies must avoid actions that are capable of tarnishing the nation’s image.

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