Reports that senior lawyers have faulted Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice’s stance on the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) is enlivening. It is on record that, since he became the Justice Minister of Nigeria in 2015, Malami has continued to turn the nation’s jurisprudence upside down; his obliquity to laws of the land is depressing.
Even when the law is clear on a particular issue, Malami will apply an unprofessional bent to it, all to suit the atrocious agenda of the federal government. Take for instance, his supposition on open grazing; his defence of the continued pardon of terrorists nicknamed bandits by the Muhammadu Buhari regime, the grazing route, the VAT issue etc; in all of them, the nation’s Attorney General hasn’t left anybody in doubt of the immensity his bias.
The Attorney General defends any obnoxious and heinous policy of Buhari’s government with indignity to the extent that the man in the street is now expressing concerns over the qualification of the supposed chief law officer of the federation as a lawyer. Recently, the nation’s number one law officer pointedly said the resolve by Southern Governors to ban open grazing of cattle in the south is equivalent to prohibiting spare parts trading in the north, adding that the decision does not align with the provision of the Constitution.
To him, it amounts to the denial of one’s freedom of movement. “Freedom and liberty of movement amongst others established by the Constitution, if by an inch you want to have any compromised over it, the better approach is go back to National Assembly to say open grazing should be prohibited and see whether you can have the desired support for the Constitutional amendment”. What an insensitive approach to the incessant destruction of farms, raping and killings by killer herdsmen!
On the clamour that the government ought by now to publish the names of Boko Haram sponsors, Malami said “time is not ripe for holistic disclosures (of Boko Haram sponsors) so as not to pre-empt the investigation process. The prime object remains the attainment of peace and security of our dear nation”.
Does Malami know that peace would only be attained if those pulling the strings on insecurity are exposed, arrested and prosecuted? Recall that the United Arab Emirate (UAE) penultimate week, accused the Nigerian government of sponsoring terrorism in Nigeria. Now, compare this allegation with Malami’s drab response to exposing and arresting sponsors of Boko Haram and bandits.
Juxtapose this with his latest position on VAT. On August 9, Justice Stephen Dalyop Pam of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt, declared that it was Rivers government and not FIRS that should collect the Value Added Tax and Personal Income Tax.
The landmark judgment was hailed by eminent Nigerians and groups. Afenifere, the Yoruba socio cultural organization, described the judgment as a landmark ruling, pointing out that the manner of distributing VAT revenue is ‘patently unfair, unjust and is pitched against the hardworking while rewarding the indolent”. Ohanaeze, on its part said the judgment is victory for true federalism.
Shockingly, Malami, in an interview with Channels Television on Friday, said collection of VAT in the country was on the exclusive legislative list, adding that only the National Assembly had the power to make laws on VAT. “As you rightly know, the issue of the Value Added Tax is an issue on the exclusive legislative list. And the implication of being on exclusive legislative list matter is that only the National Assembly can legislate on it”.
However, some senior Nigerian lawyers have faulted the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), over his recent claim on the collection of Value Add Tax (VAT). Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), and Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), in their comments, disagreed with Malami.
Ozekhome said contrary to Malami’s claim, VAT is in the residual list, and is strictly within the purview of state governments. His word: “He (Malami) is dead wrong. There is nowhere VAT is reflected as a matter within the exclusive or concurrent list in the Constitution of Nigeria.
“If anything, it is residual and is strictly within the purview of state government in our federal set-up. As of today, there is a judicial pronouncement on it by the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, to the effect that only states can collect and administer VAT.
“That remains the legal position today. Until that judgment is probably set aside, that remains the law of the land. The mere statement of the Attorney General cannot alter this truism.”
On his part, Adedipe warned that VAT is a serious constitutional issue and should not be politicised. Said he “Is this in the 1999 Constitution or a new one? Which number or section? Let him state it. It is not enough to say it. I am not aware that VAT is on any exclusive list of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Second, he is a defendant in the case; he should come to the court and put this across. It is not something he should give a press statement or side comments about. It is a very serious constitutional issue and therefore should not be politicised. Since we are before the appellate court, let us leave it there.”
Mr Femi Falana SAN said the constitutional powers and competence of the federal government “is limited to taxation of incomes, profits and capital gains which does not include VAT”, pointing out “in both EC Ukala versus FIRS and Attorney General of Rivers State, the Federal High Court held there is no constitutional basis for the FIRS to demand and collect VAT, withholding Tax, Education Tax and Technology Levy in Rivers State or any other state of the federation.
“In 2020, the total VAT collected was N1.53trillion. Apart from the allocation of 15percent to the federal government, FIRS deducted 4 percent as a collection fee while Nigeria Customs Service deducted seven percent from import VAT. Said Adegboruwa, “VAT is not in the exclusive list; all states across the federation are thus entitled to make laws on VAT through their various Houses of Assembly. The federal government has no power in law to dabble into any matter that is not within its competence”.
For example, Lagos State generates 55percent of its revenue and receives less than 10 percent. The sum collected by FIRS is shared amongst the three tiers of government; with the federal government taking 15percent states 50percent, local government 35percent.
Actually, if not Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, whose government dug this out, many states in the south would have been walloping in ignorance and would’ve continued to be ripped off over this matter. A situation whereby some state governments in the north unrelentingly destroy millions of cartons of beer and other alcoholic beverages (which are some of the major sources of VAT) in the name of enforcing sharia law only to turn around to collect huge sums from the same VAT is hypocrisy in its zenith. It is an irony, double-face and deceit in spirit and in outward appearance.
When 50 percent is shared by the 36 states, what each state gets is paltry sum, so also the 774 LGAs. Like Afenifere observed, this is now the right time for the states, particularly those in the south to assert themselves in all political and economic areas and sectors for true federalism. Therefore, Abukakar Malami should, in unmistakable terms, be told to serve Nigeria and not his Fulani tribesmen of northern Nigeria.
And I, Uche Nwosu, add: states, particularly those in the south, should resist the plan by the federal government to establish Farm Estates in all the 109 Senatorial Districts. This is RUGA in another camouflaged form.
Uche Nwosu is a two time Shell Petroleum PLC award winner in the year 2000;
He won the Shell Award on Investigative Journalism and Environmental Cleanliness.