By Francis Ekpone & Okechukwu Onuegbu
Anambra residents are still counting their loses following the recent closure of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) over tax evasion in the state.
Millions of customers, including traders, civil servants, students, politicians, among others could not do any transaction with the bank since last week when the bank was sealed by the Internal Revenue Services.
The Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) in the over 20 branches of the bank in the state, were also shut down by the revenue agents.
It would be recalled that the Legal Enforcement Unit of the Anambra State Internal Revenue Service, last week, sealed off branches of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) across the state following tax remittance irregularities.
A business mogul and politician, who pledged anonymity, told Orient Daily that the bank closure has affected him adversely, following a separate account he opened in the bank for his businesses and that of his wife, which are the verge of bankruptcy as a result of the situation.
“As we speak, I am considering going to a nearby state, either Enugu or Delta state to withdraw all I have in that bank. Nothing is going on in my wife’s shop right now because the money we use to do business in that bank is in UBA and now that they are facing this challenge, I can’t allow my business to fold because of their problem.
“Initially, I thought that this imbroglio will end in few days but we are now in the second week and still counting. We cannot continue that way and I won’t venture into my other count to fund the business, I don’t do that,” he said.
The Media Relations Officer, National Orientation Agency, Mr. Anthony Obiora, said that the closure is a serious trying moment for some customers of the bank.
He appealed to the bank to resolve their differences with the government to ease the tension already created.
“It is a very difficult moment for some of us that bank with UBA as we cannot presently lay our hands on anything except you move to nearby states which is also risky on its own.
“I have savings account with the bank before now wherein I receive my salaries but before the incidence, I moved my salary account to another bank for personal reasons.
“I am surprised that a big bank like UBA cannot pay their tax. Tax evasion is a serious crime. As a big bank, they ought to pay their tax, instead of cutting corners, which is now affecting them adversely. You can imagine the amount they lose daily since the incident occurred last week,” he said.
However, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Human Rights, Legislature and Judiciary at the Faculty of Law, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Comrade Timothy Nwachukwu, said the closure of UBA by the Anambra State Internal Revenue Services is wrong and ought to be reviewed. According to him, it is quite unfortunate that the bank was sealed on the orders of the court and since them, it has been affecting my transactions with the bank, though, I have been using the online platform for such transactions.
“UBA is our preferred bank, let them expedite action to ensure that the banking activities commence as soon as possible. To me, this issue can be blamed on the government for multiple taxation. A situation where lots of revenue agencies collect taxes for the government. There ought to be a review of revenue collection and activities in the state in the interest of our economy.
“I believe that UBA cannot ordinarily evade tax payment. They know the law and they have legal department. So, I suggest we streamline the revenue activities into one for better service delivery.” Meanwhile, the management of the bank has apologised to its numerous customers in Anambra state for the seal of the institution, calling on them to make use of online banking for their services.
The SMS sent on the morning of September 4, 2018 by 8: 56:08am reads: “You can now carry out transactions with ease and convenience with Leo on WhatsApp. Get started, from UBA”
The bank is also said to have launched a legal war to evade the N6 billion tax slapped on it by the Anambra State government.
In a move that is being seen as hardline stance, the bank on Monday filed a counter motion pleading an Awka High Court to set aside the exparte order it granted the Anambra State government in June this year authorising it to shut down the bank’s 25 branches in the state for failing to pay taxes.
Following the order duly obtained from the same High Court, agents of Anambra State Internal Revenue Services had swooped on all UBA branches in a dawn raid, sealing all the outlets last week and grounding its operations in the state completely.
A source within the bank revealed that UBA was duly aware that Anambra State government had a right to sue and recover any debt under Section 50 of PITA as amended, pointing out that both parties had even held a meeting to resolve the matter on August 29, 2018 but negotiations had deadlocked because the state insisted that the bank must specify what it was willing to pay since it had obtained judgement in the sum of N6,938,355,200.97.
The bank’s decision to file a counter motion to quash an existing relief granted by the same court is seen as a legal oddity since no self-respecting court can overrule itself. Speaking on the issue in Awka on Monday, Ogbuevi Mike Anumba, a legal practitioner, described the bank’s counter motion in the same Awka High Court as absurd.
According to him, “what the bank should have done is to go to a higher court and appeal the judgement. I think they are wasting their time. The state has a right to invoke Section 50 of PITA as amended and demand for the payment of taxes or exert some physical pressure if that fails. I am a little disappointed that UBA has not read the sign on the wall clearly. The fact is that other corporate organisations are actually striving to show themselves as responsible corporate citizens. But I think UBA is moving in the opposite direction.”
Calling on the management of the bank to sit up, Anumba chided the bank for lack of sensitivity to its operating environment, asking “what has UBA ever given back to Anambra State.
“A bank that has 25 branches in one state should at least execute one visible corporate social responsibility project in that state. Sadly, in the case of UBA, I can’t think of anything the bank has done as a give-back gesture to this state. CSR is a globally acclaimed practice that socially sensitive organizations pay attention to. UBA has not shown Ndi Anambra that it is aware of this ennobling corporate practice.”
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