Olayiwola Afolabi, is Senior Partner, Olayiwola Afolabi and Co. He is one of the vocal lawyers in Edo State. In this interview, he spoke on the Value Added Tax, VAT war which has shifted to the courts, the recently passed Petroleum Industry Act, PIA, amnesty for repentant Boko Haram members, the introduction of stamp and seal by the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, for members, among others.
What is your take on the raging Value Added Tax issue?
The constitution is very clear on what the Federal Government should take; company tax, petroleum tax, and others, Value Added Tax is never part of it. The law is clear and that is why the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Division held that VAT is for the states, it is not for the Federal Government to collect. The court made a very fine distinction on what states should collect, it is not the FG that should collect it.
Well, the matter is now before the appellate courts, but for now, the law is that states should collect VAT and I am wondering why the Edo State government has not followed suit. And to show that the court is right, the chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS, is now trying to lobby the National Assembly to put it in the Exclusive List. If he knows that it is not true, why did he go to the National Assembly for a change of who collects it, demanding that it should be included in the Exclusive List?
So, the Federal High Court is right and the process will bring more development to the states. Look at the allocation from VAT, you are giving a state that is not contributing anything more than the states generating the income; that is illegality. Some states are very lazy, they are not creative and they wait to just collect money. Allowing the states to collect VAT will also create more room for employment and crime reduction.
Some people believe that the VAT issue is a pointer to the call for restructuring that has been on. Do you agree?
I agree. Go to countries all over the world, you will see Nigerians there producing great things. A young Nigerian recently designed a drone and he has been taken by the Finnish government. Why we are not growing is because some states and individuals don’t want Nigeria to be restructured; they are afraid that if we restructure, they will lose. So, this VAT controversy is a step forward for us to restructure the country and we will get there.
Look at Niger, Katsina, and Zamfara states, they have been overrun by terrorists and jihadists. Recently, Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna State kicked against giving unequal cut-off marks for admission into universities in the country because it was making the north to be lazy. Despite these preferences, the North has remained backward in education.
What is your take on the open-grazing ban?
I want to commend the governor of Benue State for his stance on this issue of open grazing. At a time when other countries are conquering space, bringing all manner of innovation; China, for instance, is producing gas from waste but in Nigeria, we are still talking about cattle and how to rear them, we are not talking about inventions and developments say in 25 years, where are we going to be as a country.
Some countries are projecting where they will be in the next 20 years but here, we are still talking about cattle. The problem of Nigeria is leadership. I commend the states that are putting in place anti-open grazing laws, but I don’t know why Edo State has kept quiet about this anti-open grazing issue. Every state should enact that law. It is a simple matter if you want to rear cattle, buy a piece of land, and put them there rather than move them up and down and mess up everywhere.
Look at the kidnappings, most of the kidnappers are known to belong to a section of the country which is Fulani. Look at the recent killing of Omoyele Sowore’s younger brother, the killers are suspected to be criminal Fulani herdsmen.
What is your take on the issue of conflicting court orders that led to the Chief Justice of Nigeria summoning some states’ chief judges?
Most of the judges of some of those states have the backing of their governors because the issues affected are mostly political matters. You see some of these governors and their agents going in the night to beg these judges for these conflicting rulings. But I am happy the Chief Justice of Nigeria has taken a position on the matter because when there are conflicting rulings and judgments, it causes problems and confusion and even the litigants get confused and don’t know which ruling to believe.
I agree with the CJN because even the image of the judiciary is at stake. I agree with the CJN that those judges involved should be punished so that a standard will be set for others who want to follow suit.
What is your position on secession agitations symbolized by Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and Sunday Igboho?
I will not support Nigeria to break up. For instance, I am from Ekiti State but I have found myself in Edo State. The agitation for a break-up is louder during this administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Go to many government agencies such as Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, before the coming into being of the Petroleum Industry Act, PIA, and others, you will see that only people from a particular section of the country are in charge of all the sensitive positions.
This was not the situation when Goodluck Jonathan was the president but that is the situation today and that is why many of these people feel marginalised. If positions are shared to take care of the interests of all sections of the country, I don’t think we will have this level of secession agitations everywhere.
When Olusegun Obasanjo was president, he made sure that all this sectionalism did not happen but Buhari’s bias in appointments is too obvious and it has contributed to the secession agitations. Despite his action, it has not also helped his people. Look at Katsina where we were told that more than half of the local government areas are in the hands of bandits, the same thing in Niger, Zamfara, and Borno States.
You see people commit offenses and they are not prosecuted because they belong to a certain ethnic group. Where is such done in the world? There is no justice but I will not support secession, it will cause war and we know the effect of the civil war we fought.
What do you think is the way to check the insecurity in the country?
I will still blame the president for the level of insecurity in the country. National Security Adviser, Major General Magashi Mongunu said that money was budgeted to buy weapons, and he mentioned names, yet we don’t have the weapons. Have the people he mentioned been prosecuted? Are our armed forces and police well equipped?
The other day, I was in Edo State CID when the issue of the killing of Sowore’s brother happened and I saw police mobilizing to the scene in a Sienna SUV with only four of them. Assuming they meet the hoodlums, are they well equipped to confront them? They are not well equipped to face the criminals. I was there and I saw them.
I don’t want to mention their names. How are they motivated to face these criminals who are also well-armed? So, the policemen are also scared of their lives, they have families. Go to our police stations and look at the very unfriendly working conditions and the environment they work. Some police stations are without restrooms, the police are not well dressed and kitted. That is why you can’t stop the issue of police collecting money on the roads. How much is their salary? The buck stops at the president’s table, so he should take the blame.
What is your view on the report of repentant Boko Haram members being allowed back to society?
It is a really bad idea. It is only in this country and during this administration even as a lawyer that I have seen that someone will kill and after he has killed, the court convicts him and he will be pardoned. It has never happened before. Somebody commits the offence of killing people, rape women, and then kills them, and then they will say he has now repented. It is a bad idea and suggestion.
If anybody commits an offence and has been proven guilty, let the law takes its course. How can somebody kill and you say because he has repented, he should not face the law, I don’t subscribe to that. That is the way of Afghanistan. They were able to defeat the American-backed forces because they were with them and studied their tactics. Also, this idea of repentant Boko Haram members is quite different from the militants of the Niger Delta who enjoyed amnesty.
The South East is agitating to produce the president of the county in 2023 just like the South West. What is your take on this?
It will be fair if the South-East is allowed to produce the next president. The Igbo have been marginalised. Go to any office, they are there. These people are very brilliant and well-read. Why can’t you allow them to produce the president? Igbo have not been president since after Major General Aguiyi Ironsi and that is one of the reasons you see this agitation. Allow them to produce the next president. Are they not part of the country, why should some people say that the Igbo should be allowed not to attain certain positions in the country?
What is your reaction to the none-inauguration of the NDDC board?
I think it is a denial of the rights of the Niger Deltans and it is because of a leadership problem. The board can be inaugurated and the audit will still be carried out. You can carry out auditing at any time. Why should the president refuse to inaugurate the board and so many things are happening in the Niger Delta. The region produces the oil for the country yet it is not developed the way it should. Not inaugurating the board is a bad idea, there is no excuse for the board not to be inaugurated, more so as the forensic audit report had been submitted.
Look at the issue of the Petroleum Industry Act, the law is not well thought out. I agree with Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, that it is ridiculous. The said three percent host community equity stake is even a Trust. Why not give them 30 percent or even more as derivation, considering that the region has suffered so much pollution and environmental problems in the course of oil production, which by the way is what is sustaining the country?
You recently honoured some young law students and former NBA president, Austin Aleghe. What was the motivation?
First, since I was called to the bar, I have given out over 500 wigs and gowns. I started it in Edo State when the law school would send students to do court attachments. I will donate wigs and gowns in all the courts to them. I have been doing that every year and recently, I was invited to the University of Benin for their law week and there I promised the exco, 12 of them that I will give them wigs and gowns which I have done.
I have given gowns to the University of Benin Law Students in Kwara State. I have given wigs and gowns to NBA Asaba for young lawyers. I have donated more than 500 to date and this year’s award is in recognition of Austin Aleghe, our former national president. Before he came, we had issues of fake lawyers everywhere, every day; they are still there but he was able to reduce it by the introduction of stamp and seal and now you hardly hear of fake lawyers.
Even the Supreme Court has affirmed that without proper seal, your processes will be null and void. He is from Edo State, so we have to honour our own. So this year, we dedicated our annual lecture to him. This has enhanced the legal profession. When it started, I and some others criticised it as a ploy to make money but later, I started seeing the idea behind it.
Before now, you will see some people who will write agreements claiming to be lawyers but now, you must put your stamp to confirm you are a lawyer. Your name will be on the stamp and your call to bar number will also be there. Even police now will ask you where is your stamp and seal?