Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s foreign minister, has clarified to PREMIUM TIMES why he did not directly pay his income taxes to Nigerian coffers.
Mr Onyeama was an executive at the United Nation’s World Intellectual Properties Organisation (WIPO) prior to his appointment as minister by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.
PREMIUM TIMES found in a review of taxes paid by Mr Buhari’s cabinet members before their appointment that Mr Onyeama did not fully disclose how much he earned or paid in taxes, although he indicated he had declared his income taxes under the pay-as-you-earn scheme.
Our review focused on the three years’ tax clearance often demanded of political appointees prior to confirmation. Like political appointtees, public works contractors are also expected to present evidence of tax payments for the preceding three years to stand a chance of getting their proposals scrutinised or approved.
Ministerial nominees are usually expected to fulfill that requirement as proof that they are responsible citizens worthy of being trusted with government positions.
While the PREMIUM TIMES’s assessment discovered some anomalies and outright non-compliance by some ministers, it was the claim of Adebayo Shittu, the communications minister, that was perhaps most shocking.
Mr Shittu, who is representing Oyo State in the federal cabinet, presented a receipt of N5,000 payment he made to Oyo State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development for undisclosed services as evidence of his three-year tax compliance.
Mr Shittu’s N5,000 is 0.01 per cent of the N52,877,303.47 declared by Ibe Kachikwu, the minister of state for petroleum, in the same three-year period.
Mr Onyeama, who seemed to be amongst the highest earners amongst ministerial nominees at the time, declared 177,354,551 in earnings between 2012 and 2014, but only clarified a N50,000 payment as part of his taxes.
The foreign minister said the N50,000 was the fee tax authorities advised him to pay for a tax clearance form he submitted to the Senate, and not his income tax payments proper.
“As a United Nations official living and working outside Nigeria during the period, I was not subject to pay tax on my income in Nigeria. The UN deducts an amount of money on a PAYE basis that is paid to each employee’s country. That is between the UN and the countries,” Mr Onyeama was quoted as explaining in a statement to PREMIUM TIMES by his spokesperson, Ibrahim Musa.
“For Senate screening when we were nominated as ministers, we had to include three-year tax clearance certificates, but as I was not liable for tax in Nigeria during that period, I was asked by the tax office to pay 50,000 Naira for a tax-clearance form to submit for my Senate screening,” he added.