Nigeria 2019 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

In addition to providing tax-related assistance to both large companies and wealthy individuals, Andersen Tax also helps high-net-worth families protect their remaining wealth for future generations.

Olaleye Adebiyi
Olaleye Adebiyi is Managing Partner at Andersen Tax in Nigeria. He is a renowned tax expert with about 30 years’ experience in tax planning, M&As, advisory, and compliance transactions. His practice started from Arthur Andersen, where he rose to the position of Group Head. He was with a leading law firm for several years before leaving to set up WTS Adebiyi & Associates. He joined Andersen Tax in 2017. He is the current Chairman of the Taxation Committee of the Section of Business Law of the Nigerian Bar Association. He has also written many articles in law journals and regularly speaks at various tax seminars and conferences.

Have your expectations for the Nigerian market been met over the past year, and what services have you brought to it?

We re-entered the market in 2017, after having taken over a practice that had been around for 12 years. Returning to Nigeria was like coming home. We came at a time when the government was launching new ideas. People were volunteering to declare their income for tax assessments, and we helped our clients find the most efficient way to manage their tax obligations. In addition to helping the wealthy address their tax issues, we are also helping them protect their remaining wealth for future generations. Many of Nigeria's wealthy families are unknown, and our main focus is to provide services to wealthy families to retain their wealth past the second generation. We attract clients because we offer best-in-class services and work for the best interests of our client. The market has been good for us, and we have tripled in size compared to our former local practice. The Andersen brand has helped us, and we were able to bring in some Andersen alumni who have been working at various positions around the world.

Do you work with local corporations?

We work with a few local corporations that have chosen to adopt world-class standards. We work with individuals who have companies and undertake all tax-related matters for them and their companies. About 70% of our clients are multinationals, and 30% are local. We have some local high-net worth private clients, but they do not make up a sizable part of our portfolio.

How do you contribute to improving the tax system in the country?

The big problem is not so much corporations, but wealthy and not-so-wealthy individuals who are not paying the appropriate taxes. Personal income tax is based on the principle of pay as you earn. So, whether one is wealthy, rich, middle class, or a farmer, they are required to pay taxes as a percentage of their earnings. The problem thus far is that the tax authorities have chosen to focus their efforts on those in regular employment and those living in urban and semi-urban areas.

How would you assess the current level of awareness regarding income and corporate taxes?

There are more people within the tax net now than four years ago. More business are paying taxes. People are also increasingly using ATM cards, and are therefore traceable when not paying taxes. Nationally, tax collection is rising. For example, if Lagos state was a country by itself, the average collection rate would be higher than South Africa. All the government needs to do is bring more people into the tax net. More individuals should be participating. Corporations should be more involved too, but much of this will come from individuals.

How do you get people who have never paid taxes before to start?

We have to be realistic. All the government has to do is make sure each state is enforcing the law. Collection in villages is difficult, but in place of bricks-and -mortar banks, mobile payments are an option simply because they require a tax ID number. Many people who are not in the tax net work in trade associations. One way to get them in the net is to go through the trade associations. It is also a good idea to show people what the government has been doing with the taxes collected and future projects that will benefit taxpayers generally.

What is your outlook for 2019?

Building on what we have achieved in 2018, our plan is to continue to grow and make sure we are working in the interest of our clients. As well as being a catalyst for taxation in Nigeria, we also want to help our clients succeed.