Owerri - The Imo Board of Internal Revenue has sealed eight commercial banks operating in the state for failure to remit two billion naira `Withholding Tax’ to the government.
The Commissioner for Internal Resources and Pension Affairs, Nick Opara-Ndudu, who made the disclosure to newsmen in Owerri on Thursday said the banks were shut following a court order.
Opara-Ndudu said a court order had authorised the board to seal the affected banks for not heeding to its repeated demands of payment.
He said the banks owed the state two billion naira and had refused to pay after several requests from the board.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the action grounded commercial activities in the state capital.
The affected banks are UBA, First Bank, Zenith, Fidelity, Diamond, Enterprise, Keystone and Ecobank.
Opara-Ndudu explained that the action was taken as a last resort following the non-compliance with the provisions of the law by the financial institutions.
He said the action would send a signal to other organisations on the need to meet their statutory obligations to the state and its citizens.
"Imo has the lowest tax compliance rate across the country because the institutions operating in it have taken the state government for granted.
"It is our hope that the affected institutions would take immediate steps to clear the liabilities owed to the state to be allowed to continue to do their business," he said.
The commissioner appealed to other institutions to ensure that they meet their statutory obligations with respect to taxes and other approved levies as at when due.
He said doing that would save them from being caught on the wrong side of the law.
A NAN correspondent who visited the closed banks on Bank Road in Owerri metropolis reports that some of their stranded customers were seen in large numbers discussing the issue.
Gabriel Abiakam, a customer of Keystone, described the situation as embarrassing, and urged the government and the banks to remedy the situation.
"I am stunned at this development. It is an embarrassment. The government should know the best thing to do because people are stranded.
"I came to collect money to send to somebody and now I can’t,” he said, while advising the banks to pay their taxes to enable the government to administer the state.
Another customer of Ecobank Plc., who gave her name as Grace, said the government should have given notice closure of the banks to prepare their customers beforehand.
"The banks are saying that the money is too much, so, government should know what to do as the customers are suffering from the closure,” she said.
"Joseph Iregbu, another stranded customer, complained that he came from a far distance to collect money only to meet the development.
"I came from a far place to withdraw some money, but now I can’t. My problem is that I don’t even have any money to go back home,” Iregbu said.
An official of one of the banks, who spoke anonymously, told NAN that he came to work but was asked to go home by government security officials detailed to the office.