From viral videos to taxation: Nigeria’s struggle to regulate digital creativity

By Joseph Ekeng
In the bustling landscape of Nigeria’s digital realm, where creativity thrives and content reigns supreme, a new frontier of taxation has emerged, sparking a contentious debate that resonates across boardrooms, social media platforms, and government chambers. At the heart of this discourse lies the question: Can the government effectively tax content creators in Nigeria? To unravel this multifaceted issue, we delve into the intricacies of regulation, economic dynamics, legal ambiguity, and the global context shaping the taxation landscape for digital innovators in Africa’s largest economy.
The CAMA Controversy
The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) set the stage for this debate with their declaration to regulate and tax content creators under the auspices of the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020. The mandate of the CAC, as outlined in CAMA 2020, encompasses the registration and oversight of businesses, irrespective of their size or nature of operation. In line with this mandate, the CAC asserts that any entity engaged in business activities, including content creation, must be registered and subject to taxation.
However, the implementation of CAMA 2020 within the context of digital content creation has sparked skepticism and opposition from various quarters. Critics argue that taxing creativity stifles innovation and imposes undue burdens on individuals striving to make a livelihood through online platforms. Moreover, the legal interpretation of “business” under CAMA 2020 remains contentious, raising concerns about the scope and applicability of the legislation to individual content creators.
Economic Imperatives and Revenue Targets
Against the backdrop of Nigeria’s evolving economic landscape, characterized by a gradual shift from traditional sectors to the burgeoning digital economy, the quest for increased tax revenue assumes paramount importance for government agencies like the FIRS. With a target to boost tax revenue by 15% in 2024, aiming for N19.4 trillion, the FIRS seeks to harness the potential of the digital economy as a primary source of non-oil revenue.
Nigeria’s digital ecosystem presents a fertile ground for revenue generation, with over 154 million internet users as of January 2024, making it the largest online population in Africa. The country’s social media market, valued at $3.4 billion, underscores the economic significance of digital platforms in driving consumer engagement and commercial activity. Against this backdrop, the taxation of content creators emerges as a strategic imperative for expanding the tax base and achieving fiscal sustainability.
Global Precedents and Comparative Analysis
To contextualize Nigeria’s approach to taxing content creators, it is instructive to examine global precedents and comparative frameworks. In the United States, for instance, content creators are subject to income and self-employment taxes, irrespective of whether their online activities constitute a hobby or a full-time profession. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) mandates content creators to report their income and expenses, with self-employment taxes levied at a rate of 15.3% on net earnings.
Similarly, other jurisdictions, such as Kenya, have grappled with the taxation of digital content creators, with proposals to impose withholding taxes eliciting significant debate and scrutiny. The Kenyan example serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the delicate balance between taxation, economic growth, and digital innovation in emerging markets.
Parity and Equity in Taxation
At the crux of the taxation debate lies the principle of parity and equity in taxation. While traditional media outlets and formal businesses contribute to tax revenue through established frameworks, digital content creators often operate outside the purview of taxation, leading to disparities and revenue leakage. This lack of parity undermines the principle of shared responsibility for funding public services and distorts market dynamics.
According to data from PwC, out of the 1.2 million individuals employed in Nigeria’s entertainment and media industry, only 0.4 million are in formal employment, leaving a significant portion of the workforce outside the tax net. This disparity not only deprives the government of much-needed revenue but also confers unfair advantages on certain segments of the digital workforce, perpetuating inequality and economic inefficiency.
Challenges of Taxing Creativity
While the rationale for taxing content creators is grounded in principles of equity and revenue generation, the practical challenges of implementing such a taxation framework are manifold. Unlike salaried employees with predictable income streams, content creators derive revenue from diverse sources, including advertising, sponsorships, merchandise sales, and platform rewards.
This diversity of income streams poses challenges for tax authorities in accurately tracking and assessing taxable income. Moreover, the regulatory landscape governing digital content creation is fragmented and dynamic, with each platform imposing its reporting and payment requirements. Navigating this regulatory maze requires a nuanced understanding of digital ecosystems and robust enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance and deter tax evasion.
Legal Ambiguity and Regulatory Oversight
Amidst the clamor for taxation reform, legal ambiguity and regulatory oversight remain significant hurdles in the path towards a cohesive taxation framework for content creators. The interpretation of CAMA 2020 vis-à-vis individual content creators raises fundamental questions about the definition of “business” and the scope of regulatory authority conferred upon agencies like the CAC.
Moreover, concerns about the efficacy of regulatory oversight and enforcement mechanisms cast a shadow of doubt over the proposed taxation regime. The CAC’s track record in regulating businesses, particularly in the digital domain, leaves room for skepticism regarding its capacity to oversee the registration and taxation of content creators effectively.
Looking Ahead
As Nigeria’s digital economy continues to evolve and expand, the imperative of establishing a sustainable and equitable taxation framework for content creators becomes increasingly urgent. Balancing the need for revenue generation with the imperative of fostering innovation and entrepreneurship requires a delicate calibration of regulatory interventions and economic incentives.
In this regard, stakeholders must engage in constructive dialogue and collaboration to design a taxation framework that promotes compliance, fosters economic inclusivity, and harnesses the transformative potential of digital innovation. Moreover, policymakers must prioritize clarity and transparency in regulatory enforcement to instill confidence among content creators and ensure the integrity of the taxation system.
Indeed, the taxation of content creators in Nigeria’s digital economy embodies a complex interplay of regulatory, economic, and legal dynamics. While the quest for increased tax revenue and economic sustainability drives government initiatives to regulate and tax digital content creation, the practical challenges and ethical considerations inherent in taxing creativity underscore the need for a nuanced and inclusive approach.
As Nigeria charts its course towards a digital future, the taxation debate serves as a litmus test for the country’s commitment to fostering innovation, promoting economic equity, and ensuring fiscal accountability. Ultimately, the resolution of this debate will shape the contours of Nigeria’s digital economy for years to come, underscoring the transformative power of taxation in shaping economic outcomes and societal progress.


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