Following the closure of facilities belonging to the Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services Limited (EMTS), trading as 9Mobile, by the Rivers State Internal Revenue Service (RIRS), the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), an industry body of all licensed telecommunications operators in Nigeria petitioned the State Government and the RIRS to unseal the premises of the telecom operator in order not to further disrupt telecom services in the state.
In a letter signed by the Chairman of ALTON, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo and copied the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC); the National Security Adviser, (NSA); Minister of Finance; Minister of Trade & Industry and Secretary, Joint Task Board (JTB), ALTON requests RIRS and the State Government to desist from any acts inimical to the normal operations of its members in the State and to unseal EMTS Premises immediately to enable it to continue its operations to offer Rivers State the usual world-class services, while also granting EMTS audience for a reconciliation meeting at which the Association believes the matter would be finally resolved.
EMTS (9Mobile) had earlier petitioned the Association to intervene in the imbroglio after entreaties by the telecom firm to the RIRS for a reconciliation was rebuffed. The RIRS has compelled EMTS to make a payment of thirty percent (30%) of the alleged sum amounting to N32,387,561.088 as a pre-condition to unsealing EMTS regional office, which was shut down on Tuesday, June 26, 2018 based on an alleged 2014-2015 tax liability, amounting to N107,958,536.96, arising from the Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) of expatriates erroneously believed by the RIRS to be on EMTS’ payroll in spite of the fact that EMTS is not indebted to the Government of Rivers State for the alleged tax since EMTS does not have any expatriate(s) on its payroll who were residing in Rivers State.
According to a letter jointly signed by EMTS’ Acting Director, Regulatory & Government Affairs, Oluseyi Osunsedo and the Acting Head, Public Policy and Corporate Affairs, Murtala Baloni, EMTS had, at several meetings and by various correspondence explained and maintained that it is not indebted to the Government of Rivers State as alleged by the RIRS as it has never had expatriate staff working or residing in the state, and provided relevant documents in support of our position.
“We wish to categorically reiterate that EMTS is not indebted to the Government of Rivers State and that the sealing of EMTS’ Premises is illegal and was carried out without a court order and without adherence to the due process of law. More so, the act by the RIRS is in clear contravention of the ONSA directive that no government agency should seal any BTS site as they are designated as part of Critical National Infrastructure. The RIRS in this instance ignored this directive and went ahead to seal EMTS regional office where a Critical Hub Site is situated and as such the site has become inaccessible thus making it difficult for EMTS to maintain the site, the attendant security implications cannot be overstated,” Osunsedo maintained.
Confirming this stance, ALTON noted: “Based on our findings, we wish to categorically reiterate that EMTS is not indebted to the Government of Rivers State and that the sealing of EMTS’ Premises is illegal, especially as it was carried out without a court order and without adherence to the due process of law. The conduct of the RIRS in this regard, apart from being a clear contravention of the law, goes against the efforts of Government at improving Nigeria’s position on the global Ease of Doing Business index, to encourage foreign investment. Also by applying self-help remedies especially in a situation where the claim is erroneous, the RIRS has portrayed the State in a very bad light as unfriendly and not welcoming of investors.”
The Association further noted that it is common knowledge that PAYE obligations are to states in which the employees reside, therefore, since EMTS did not have any expatriate(s) on its payroll who were residing in Rivers State within the assessment period, EMTS is clearly not indebted to the Government of Rivers State for the alleged tax.
It further drew attention to the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) directive that no government agency should seal any BTS site as they are designated Critical National Infrastructure. In this instance, the directive has clearly been contravened by RIRS in sealing 9Mobile Premises where a Critical Site is also situated, which has become inaccessible with the attendant security implications.
Due to the sealing of its premises, EMTS says it has suffered incalculable financial loss as the sales outlet which is within the premises has remained closed, preventing it from serving its customers. EMTS also said it has suffered severe reputation damage from the bold display of the sealing order on EMTS premises, creating the erroneous perception that EMTS is a tax defaulter. EMTS staff have suffered untold hardship due to this wanton act, as staff have been unable to resume at their duty posts for over three weeks.