Expert warns against FIRS’ move to continue VAT collection in Rivers

By Henry Okonkwo

A Public Affairs Analyst and Lawyer, Liborous Oshoma has warned that the insistence of the Federal Inland Revenue Service to collect the Value Added Tax was an invitation to anarchy.

Oshoma said this when he featured on a television show on Thursday.

He said the FIRS and Rivers State Government should approach the raging crisis between them over who collects consumption tax in the state with tact.

Oshoma also urged Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike not to use the state task force to compel people to pay their VAT as he vowed on Wednesday.

He said rather than use a state-funded task force, Wike should use the police “even though the commissioner of Police in the state reports to the IG (Inspector-General of Police). Yet, we have never seen situations where state governors will say that they requested for police support in time like this and such request was refused by the commissioner.”

In his advice, Oshoma said Wike should consider the effects of whatever option he would use to collect the VAT on business owners in the state.

He further noted that the FIRS had been collecting VAT wrongly because the country’s policies reflected the monarchical system “where the king can do no wrong.”

According to him, there was no law backing the collection of VAT by the federal agency.

He said the Federal High Court invalidated Section One, Two, Three and 12 of the VAT Act, which gave Rivers State the powers to collect VAT, on the ground that the sections conflicted with some positions of Section Four of the 1999 Constitution.

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He said realising previous court judgments in favour of individuals, and against the FIRS, the agency had secretly written a letter to the National Assembly asking the lawmakers to amend the constitution to include the VAT.

“But, unfortunately, that issue has not been dealt with by the National Assembly before the Attorney-General of Rivers State and the FIRS (began their current feud). What I think the states should do is: let all the attorneys-generals join in that suit.

“It ought to ordinarily should have started with the Supreme Court, being a constitutional matter and interpretation. All the state attorneys-generals should have joined in the suit and then challenged that Act vis-à-vis the provisions of Section Four of the constitution.”

Oshoma added that the restructuring that different nationalities are clamouring for might not come from amending the constitution but from interpreting the nation’s laws.

He also appealed to courts to be unanimous in issuing orders, stop making conflicting judgments and “refuse to be used by the Federal Government to do dirty jobs.”

Reacting to Wike’s allegation that the Federal Government was attempting to move FIRS’ appeal on the ruling by the Federal High Court on VAT from Rivers State to Abuja, Oshoma said available evidence showed the FIRS lacked the power to collect the revenue.

“Any attempt to move that matter from where it is to a court that will be favourably disposed to granting judgment to one party will automatically take away the already non-existence or the whittled-down influence of the judiciary, in as much as the democratic practice is today in Nigeria,” he cautioned.

He, nevertheless, expressed faith in the President of the Court of Appeal Monica Dongban-Mensem to do just justice to the matter.

He called on all the state governors to resist the FIRS’ effort to defy the court’s order on the matter.

According to him, the impasse implied that any governor coming to office must be ready to work.

He said many states had become lazy because they collected free monthly allocation from the Federal Government.

He said he had expected the Buhari government to correct the ‘anomaly’ in how a state like Kano would destroy bottles of beer and other alcoholic drinks, yet collected VAT paid to other states on the same products at the end of the month from the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee.

 

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