Private schools in Nigeria are choking under heavy tax burdens imposed on them by various agencies of government across the country. These taxes range from business premises, yearly renewal fees, waste management agency fees, local government levies to emblems for school buses, merriment levy, parking fees, radio and television fees and signage or billboards, among others.
The taxes are paid yearly to agencies of government sent to enforce them, at times, with the aid of thugs. Investigations showed that the taxation of schools is usually based on their sizes. The fees they paid could be anything between N200, 000 and N500, 000 depending on the owner’s approach to enforcers.
It was learnt that these taxes are demanded irrespective of the length of time the schools had operated and were expected to be paid within seven days the demand notice was served.
President, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Yomi Otubela, lamented that there were so many taxes and levies paid by his association members, which was taking a toll on them. “We pay radio and television levy, parking fees, merriment levy, even when we are having career day for our students, fumigation fee, which they insist must be done with them, annual renewal fees, which may be as high as N500, 000. We see this particularly as extortion because we believe such should be paid maybe once in five years, not for revenue generation but for maintaining standard in these schools.
“Apart from radio and television levies for school buses, we pay levies for loading and offloading of children. There is also what is called “all local government fees’ by school buses, which is N100, 000 per bus. So, if a school has five buses, such a school will pay N500, 000. “What NAPPS members would like to see is a situation whereby the government will collapse all levies and taxes into one major tax to avoid multiple taxation.
“We are hoping the governments – state and local – would harmonize all these taxes and levies into a one-stop office where our members would know all they are supposed to pay and make payment there and then,” the president said. He said the government could then withdraw money from its Treasury Single Account (TSA) and distribute it to the different bodies that make up the tax groups.
He said some of the levies involved ministries, agencies and governments at state and local levels. “We have the Ministry of Health coming to demand for one levy, while the Ministry of Transportation asks for signage permits. We have the Ministry of Education, itself, asking for yearly renewal. We have a vehicle-licensing body asking for a special permit for students’ carriage. We have what we call radio and television levy. There is also a sanitation levy,” Otubela lamented.
Otubela described the levies and taxes as ‘needless replication,’ of taxes, which come in different names that he described as multiple taxation. “We are appealing to the government to justify some of these taxes where they cannot be expunged. It is necessary for the government to harmonize these taxes under one body so we can get this done and move on to other demands of running our schools. But it is important to note that we have limited resources to fund our schools,” he stated.
“We have written letters to the government over the years, committees were set up by the state to harmonize these fees, we did our report and submitted but till date, nothing has been done, while the levies have continued to increase,” Otubela said.
NAPPS is made up of about 40,000 private schools scattered all over the country, who came together over 15 years ago to harmonize their diverse operations and coordinate academic curriculum; to achieve the singular objective of generating an educational system guided by global best practices.
National President, Association of Formidable Education Development (AFED), Orji Kanu, said cases of multiple taxes involving private school owners in Lagos and other states call for concern. Kanu listed such levies to include parking, bus and sewage permits, tenement rate, land use charge, borehole charges, business premises, development levy as well as Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA) fees.
While some charges like development levy are constant and cut across members of staff, Kanu said there are those that come arbitrarily. Such, according to Kanu, can be about N500, 000 and the school owner would start negotiating with the officials. “The ones handled by local government councils like fumigation, officials just slam charges and you pay, forgetting that when you fumigate your school, others in the neighbourhood do not fumigate and ultimately, those things you were running away from by fumigating would still find their way there. In some cases, these officials charge for radio and television, between N10, 000 and N50, 000. Sometimes, they take us to court and the magistrate would just rule. We are helpless,” Kanu said.
For low-cost schools, Kanu explained that members pay between N100, 000 and N300, 000, apart from Personal Income Tax, depending on the location. His words: “There was a research work done by Developing Effective Private Education Nigeria (DEEPEN), an innovative programme initiated by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) to improve learning outcomes in Lagos’ private schools. For five years, they conducted research around what we were doing and discovered that AFED was saving the government over N300 billion by absorbing the number of children that were supposed to be in government schools.
“Just as the government was paying WAEC fees and providing infrastructure for those in public schools, they should also be taking care of those with us, but we have saved the government from those hassles and levies by accommodating them in our own schools, collecting stipends from parents. On that note, we are not in the business for gain. We are just doing it because it is our passion.”
The AFED president called on the government to consider low-cost schools as extensions of its own public schools and spare them from multiple taxes. Besides, Kanu urged the government to see their effort as a form of social service. “For any government, the provision of education is compulsory for the citizenry. And if there is anyone assisting the government in doing that, they should be encouraged and given a free hand, possibly a good atmosphere and an enabling environment in which to operate,” he added.
For Mrs. Aderemi Olaojo of Kiddies Academy, Ketu, operating a private school was no longer an easy task. Olaojo noted that most of the time, she had to invest resources raised from other areas into the school to keep it going. “This is our eighth year in operation, but I have never received the slightest support from the government. Thank God the land is my personal property acquired specifically for the purpose. We put up the structures among other facilities for the children. We employed teachers and by September of that year when we kicked off, more than five demand notices were lined up for me.”
She continued: “It did not end there. Every week, somebody will come from the directorate for inspection. They complained of every little thing and threatened to close the school. At each visit, I parted with something. A year later, in an attempt to boost students’ population, I acquired a school bus. They came back and demanded emblem fees. That year, we did not pay because there were no students to carry. One afternoon, the driver went out with the bus, came back, and parked outside the school compound. But officials of the government traced the bus to where it was parked and removed the tyres on the ground that we defaulted in emblem fees. How?
“Some classes have 10 children, some less than that. You pay a teacher and a nanny. Some students don’t pay or pay late because of poverty. You pay other fees like electricity, run a generator and provide teaching materials among other facilities. There’s no subvention from anywhere, yet there’s a government that you are helping to provide jobs and training for children. They don’t support you in what you do, but use you to make money. That is not how a society should be. Do you know that they give scheme of work to public schools free of charge, but private schools pay? They give the text and notebooks free of charge but we must buy and on each occasion they visit, they ask you to show everything or risk being closed.”
Director of Excel Group of Schools, Fatima Ogunjobi, said multiple taxations in private schools are a big problem for operators. Ogunjobi said private school owners pay tax to government and tax officials. “It is like paying tax to two masters,” she said. Apart from trumped-up taxes from officials at the tax office who see schools as money-making machines without considering that there are so many overheads like salaries, maintenance, electricity bills (that are as high as N1 million a month), diesel purchases and others, Ogunjobi added that schools also have to pay the Ministry of Education an annual renewal fee based on how many children you have in school and without paying this fee, a school cannot operate.
“We also have imposed levies by the local council. For example, we have to pay the council every year, running into hundreds of thousands for parents to be able to pack in front of the school when dropping or picking up their wards. Failure to do this leads to their cars being towed,” she said. Ogunjobi said school buses have to carry radio and television licenses, local council mobile advert documentation and multiple official papers.
Similarly, the proprietor of Tiny Tots Academy, Ojodu, Mrs. Angela Nwosisi, expressed concern over continued payment of multiple taxes. According to her, “the school pays renewal tax to the state government to the tune of about N130, 000 for the College, N40, 000 for primary and nursery schools alike. Apart from that, proprietors pay personal income tax to the government, while teachers pay PAYE to the government and other sundry levies such as signage and mobile advert rates,” Nwosisi said.