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Nigeria turning page in ties with private sector investors say

There is a rare praise from Nigeria’s private sector after what appears to be a cooling off in the face off between the government and the telecoms giant MTN over a controversial two billion dollars tax claims levied by the attorney general and justice minister.

“It appears to me that I am walking back into a Nigeria I did not expect,” one foreign private sector operator just returning from vacation told BusinessDay Friday.

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This followed reports that telecoms giant MTN Nigeria has withdrawn its case against the attorney general and minister of Justice after the latter sent a letter referring the government’s two billion dollars tax claim to the appropriate tax authorities as well as the Customs department.

The letter from the Justice minister was received by MTN lawyers who are believed to have advised that the case which MTN brought challenging the tax claim be withdrawn, given the good faith shown by government.

BusinessDay understands that directors of MTN Nigeria held a special board meeting Friday morning at which it was agreed that the case be taken out of court while the company prepares for engagement with the Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Customs service on the matter.

Several business leaders interviewed by BusinessDay spoke of a number of positive developments which have been roundly welcomed by the private sector.

These include the ability of the government to have 2020 federal budget ready form implementation before the end of last year, the emergence of a progressive tax regime, the push by the electricity regulators, NERC to enthrone a market determined tariff and the resolve of the President to push back the shock sackings of two CEOs of parastatals which were ordered by the minister of power in December.

Bismarck Rewane, leading economist and member of the new established presidential advisory council told BusinessDay, “all these moves are positive for the economy and I think it is part of a good trend.”

A senior MTN Nigeria Plc official told BusinessDay that the withdrawal of the case was a logical follow up to the action of the Justice minister, saying, “by this action taken by the minister, the case seemed to have fallen off anyway.”

He added, “we are grateful for this and we know that this might not be end of the matter but we now look forward to dealing with the appropriate tax authorities.”

The tax claims brought by the government had set alarm bell ringing among investors it is believed to have damaged investor confidence in Nigeria.

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