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ERA/FoEN files legal action against customs over tax incentives given to tobacco companies

The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has filed a suit against Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) over the agency’s refusal to honour its request to provide information on tax benefits granted to tobacco companies.

ERA/FoEN made its request to customs in a letter addressed to the Hameed Ali, NCS’ comptroller-general, and Kemi Adeosun, minister of finance.

The letter, which was delivered through it solicitor, Yinka Kotoye of Pisces and Gemini law office, and dated November 28, 2016, was titled ‘Request for information under the freedom of information act with specific reference to the tax benefit(s) in the tobacco industry’.

“ERA/FoEN is asking the NCS to make public the volume and brand names of cigarettes exported from Nigeria from 2002 till date, those imported within that period, by which company and to which country, how much British American Tobacco Company Nigeria (BATN) benefited from the EEG from 2004 to 2014 and the waivers or tax exemptions the company got from 2004 till date,” a statement signed by Philip Jakpor, head of media and campaigns, read.

“It is demanding how much tax waiver, or grants benefited by any other tobacco company operating in Nigeria from 2004 till date, volume of raw tobacco leaf imported into Nigeria by BATN and from which country and volume of shredded tobacco imported into Nigeria by the company and from which country.

“Other demands are: volumes of raw tobacco leaf, shredded tobacco, imported into Nigeria by any other tobacco company, from which country, location of cigarette factories in Nigeria, volume and brands produced from each factory.

“According to the motion exparte by the ERA/FoEN solicitors on Friday February 10, 2017, attorney-general of the federation and finance minister should mandate the NCS to comply with the mandatory provisions of the FOIA to make the documents sought by ERA/FoEN.

Akinbode Oluwafemi, ERA/FoEN deputy executive director said “This is a good development as we have reiterated that our demand aligns with the federal government attempts to track and trace every revenue that was illegally diverted into private hands or undue grants that was used to bleed our economy. We are very much interested in the economics of tobacco business in Nigeria.”

ERA/FoEN went to court after the mandatory seven day period of response from the NCS under section 5 of the FOI Act to respond, elapsed with no response from the agency.

The case was adjourned to 24 February 2017.