Nigeria’s federal government may approach the Supreme Court to determine if the states have any constitutional right to collect the controversial Value Added Tax (VAT).
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, who spoke to newsmen after the weekly virtual Federal Executive Council meeting at Abuja on Wednesday, emphasised that the federal government was contemplating heading straight to the Supreme Court to determine the rightful authority between the states and federal government to collect the contentious consumption tax.
According to him: “The issue of VAT, well, as you rightly know, there were certain judgments obtained by some state governors at their jurisdiction and localities before their respective state High Courts, and arising from that judgments and the laws that were passed by those state governments, the federal government filed an appeal against the judgement challenging the laws that were put in place, which I feel has been determined by the Court of Appeal.
“The Court of Appeal has granted an order of stay of execution, directing these state governments to maintain status quo pending the determination of the main appeal and these matters are being considered for determination.
“And some other governors have filed in an application for joinder, seeking to be joined in the matter as interested parties. But again, there is pending, equally, an application and preliminary objection for that matter, challenging the competence of the action and indeed the judgement that was obtained.
“But the federal government is still looking at other possibilities, all options open in terms of challenging the action, the action of the state government.
“But one thing that is fundamental that you need to know as being the issue equally being considered for determination by the court is the federal government is challenging the powers of the state governments to legislate on the issues associated with collection of VAT.
“And the position of the federal government as canvassed which is being looked into by the judicial system is to the effect that by our laws, the powers to legislate on collection of VAT is statutorily vested in the National Assembly.”
He added: “And with that in mind, it is not within the scope and powers of the state government to legislate on the issue of collection.
“So, what I’m saying in essence, is just to give an insight as to the multiple contention between the parties as being has been canvassed, presented for the determination of the court.
“And we are indeed litigating these issues before the court and the federal government is looking at all options at its disposal, inclusive of the possibility of invoking the jurisdiction, the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, taking into consideration that the dispute at hand is a dispute between the state government and the federal government, in respect of which only the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to entertain taking into consideration the constitutional provisions relating thereto.
“So, this is the position we are as far as contention among the parties relating to the VAT is concerned.”
On the position expressed by his office concerning Southern states/herders crisis and the ban on open grazing, which has attracted divergent views, Malami explained that his office had not taken any stance outside the scope of the constitution.
“The position of the Office of the Attorney General, is about freedom and liberty of movement among others…And what the Office of the Attorney General has simply succeeded in doing is making a reference to relevant constitutional provisions and established a position that each and every Nigerian is entitled to freedom of movement simpliciter.
“So, the issue is whether that freedom of movement is constitutionally guaranteed, or is not. And my answer to it is, the freedom of movement is indeed, constitutionally guaranteed.”
Deji Elumoye in Abuja