*Court order not binding on state – Lagos
* PANDEF asks Rivers to appeal 

*Ruling will deepen democracy – Afenifere

By Dapo Akinrefon; Ikechukwu Nnochiri,  Olasunkanmi Akoni; Samuel Oyadongha

The verdict of the  Court of Appeal, Abuja which stalled the move by the Rivers and Lagos State governments to collect VAT instead of Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, has elicited mixed reactions from stakeholders across the country even as Lagos state government has vowed to implement the law, saying the court order was not binding on it.

A regional organisation, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF on its part urged the Rivers State Government to appeal against the ruling while Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere said the court ruling on VAT would deepen democracy

Delivering its verdict on the matter on Friday, the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, ordered both Rivers and Lagos States to maintain status quo on the collection of Value Added Tax, VAT, pending the determination of an appeal that was lodged before it by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS.The appellate court said the order was to preserve the ‘Res’ (subject matter) of the appeal before it.

Specifically, it ordered all the parties that have subjected themselves before it to “refrain from taking any action to give effect to the judgement of the Federal High Court”, which gave Rivers State Government the right to collect VAT revenue, instead of the FIRS.A three-man panel of Justices of the appellate court led by Justice Haruna Tsammani made the order after it deferred hearing of an application Lagos State filed to be joined as an interested party in the matter, till September 16. 

Lagos State had through its Attorney-General, Moyosore Onigbanjo, SAN, protested against the issuance of an order for the maintenance of status quo, insisting that such order could not be binding on it, since it was yet to be joined as a party in the appeal by FIRS.

FIRS, in its appeal marked CA/PH/282/2021, is praying the appellate court to not only set aside the High Court judgement, but to also stay its execution.

It applied for an order of injunction to restrain Rivers State from interfering with its rights, duties and obligations, pending the conclusion of the appeal.

Meanwhile, when the matter came up on Friday, Lagos State, brought an application to be joined as a co-Respondent alongside Rivers State.

Whereas both Lagos State and counsel to Rivers State, Mr Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, urged the appellate court to hear the joinder application first, counsel to FIRS, Mr. Mahmud Magaji, SAN, and that of the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Tijjani Gazali, SAN, opposed the request, insisting that the substantive appeal should be heard first.Immediately after the ruling was delivered, counsel to the FIRS, Magaji, SAN, made an oral application for an order directing all the parties to maintain status quo with respect to the subject matter of the appeal.

“My Lords, in view of the circumstances of this case and in view of the fact that this matter borders on revenue of this country, we will be urging this court to invoke its inherent powers in section 6(6) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, and order that status quo be maintained pending the hearing and determination of our motion”, Magaji submitted.

While counsel to the AGF, Gazali, SAN, supported the application, both Rivers and Lagos States vehemently opposed it.“This application is strange.

The stay of execution would have been for the purpose of staying the enforcement of the judgement. My Lords, as it stands, that judgement is now the established status quo. It is common knowledge that the mere filing of an appeal does not constitute a stay. We submit that there is no basis whatsoever for this application.

The judgement was clear that the Appellant has no legal or constitutional right at all. No material has been provided for this court to make an order with respect to the application”, Ukala argued as he urged the appellate court to refuse the request for order of status quo.

Lagos State AG, while adopting the position of Rivers State, contended that the High Court verdict remained valid and subsisting until it is set aside.

Besides, Lagos State stressed that such order for maintenance of status quo could not be binding on it since its joinder application has not been heard.

However, the appellate court panel said it saw the need to preserve the ‘Res’ of the appeal before it, noting that “the case is of very serious national importance”.Before adjourning the joinder application by Lagos State for hearing, the appellate court gave both the Appellant (FIRS) and the Respondents (Rivers and AGF) two days each to file their responses.

Lagos vows to go ahead with implementation

Reacting to the Court of Appeal order to maintain the status quo on the collection of VAT, pending the determination of an appeal that was lodged before it by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS,  Lagos State Government yesterday vowed to go ahead to implement the newly signed  VAT Law in the state, saying the order was not binding on Lagos. Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso maintained that the order was not binding on the state as it has not been joined in the suit by the Court.

According to Omotoso: “I’m not a lawyer though, but by my understanding from my colleague, the state had only sought to be joined in the Rivers ‘ state suit and up to this moment Lagos has not been joined in the suit, so how does the order concern Lagos. We have not been joined in the matter, so the order is not binding on Lagos, it doesn’t concern Lagos. Lagos State only filed an application to be joined as an interested party in the matter”.

The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice,, Moyosore Onibanjo, SAN, who also spoke in a similar insisted that such order could not be binding on it, since it was yet to be joined as a party in the appeal by FIRS. 

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State on Friday, signed into law the State VAT Bill “to impose and charge VAT on certain goods and services”.

PANDEF asks Rivers to appeal the ruling

Speaking on the development, a regional organisation, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, through its National Publicity Secretary, Hon. Ken Robinson, urged the Rivera State government to appeal the verdict.

He said: “PANDEF expects the government of Rivers State to appeal the ruling. Governor Wike rightly inferred that they cannot be destroying certain items in some states and continue to benefit from the Taxes and VAT on those items in other states.”But, Eric Omare, the immediate past President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) worldwide, sued for calm urging the contending parties to abide by the rule of law. 

He said: “Legally, the court of appeal is empowered to make an order staying action on the judgment of the Federal High Court empowering states to collect VAT pending the determination of the substantive appeal.

For me, I knew that the judgment of the Federal High Court would not be the last on this matter. I don’t also think that it would end up at the Court of Appeal.

This matter of the tier of government constitutionally empowered to collect VAT would definitely end up at the Supreme Court irrespective of the outcome of the court of appeal judgment. And in my view it is good for our democracy and the rule of law because at the end of the day our democracy and rule of law would have been enriched. “The only thing I will advise parties involved is for parties to strictly adhere to the rule of law and not resort to self help under any circumstances. Since there is a stay of execution, the affected states have to wait for the outcome of the appeal by the court of appeal.”Iniruo Wills, President, Ijaw Professionals Association (Homeland chapter)  said: “the parties will have to abide by the court order. It will be in the public interest for the court to expedite hearing, so that taxpayers, especially corporate bodies, don’t stay in the crossfire for too long.”

Ruling on VAT will deepen democracy—Afenifere

When contacted, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, said yesterday that the Court of Appeal judgement would deepen the country’s democracy just as it urged the parties involved to respect the court verdict.

Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Jare Ajayi said: “What the Court of Appeal has done is still normal. It is part of the process in a democracy, it is part of testing our laws. We, however, urge the court to expedite action and we advise the parties involved to respect and obey the laws. It will help deepen our democracy.”

Ortom commends Rivers, Lagos

Meanwhile, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue has said he would embrace the constitutional provisions concerning the Value Added Tax (VAT) whether they affect his state positively or negatively.Ortom made this known in an interview with newsmen on Friday in Makurdi.

He commended the Rivers and Lagos States governors for the step they had taken by domesticating the VAT law.Ortom said he had already directed the Benue Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice to study the law and tell him the implication or otherwise of it.“I have asked the Attorney-General and commissioner for Justice to study the law and let me know its implication. I don’t think there is anything wrong in embracing the law as long as it conforms with the constitution, whether it affects states positively or negatively.“I support the governors of Rivers and Lagos States for what they are doing.

Anything that is in tandem with the rule of law I will accept, but if anyone thinks otherwise the best thing to do is to go to court.“I heard they are in court and if the case is decided otherwise by the Supreme Court we will accept it,” he said.

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