Following the landmark decision by Justice Stephen Pam of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt to throw out the stay of execution suit brought before the honourable court by the Federal Internal Revenue Service(FIRS), News Direct can exclusively reveal that plans are being made to move the case file from Port Harcourt to Abuja, the nation’s capital.
We are told that there is panic in the seat of power following the order of court that granting the request of the FIRS was akin to committing murder and the fact that Lagos State which is the largest contributor to the Value Added Tax (VAT) pool is already on the verge of passing a new law like Rivers State to start VAT Collection.
News Direct learnt from very reliable sources that though the FIRS has kept insisting on its legal right to collect the said tax and actually held a press conference today after losing the suit against the Rivers State Government, panic-stricken top functionaries of the federal government are designing plans to frustrate the implementation of the judgment because it will not only lead to serious revenue shortfall but throw FG’s financial projections overboard.
It will be recalled that on August 9, 2021 the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt had declared that it is the Rivers State Government and not the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), that should collect Valued Added Tax (VAT) and Personal Income Tax (PIT) in the State.
The court, presided over by Justice Stephen Dalyop Pam, had also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Attorney General of the federation, both first and second defendants in the suit, from collecting, demanding, threatening and intimidating residents of Rivers State to pay to FIRS, personnel income tax and Value Added Tax.
Justice Pam made the assertion while delivering judgement in Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/149/2020, filed by the Attorney General for Rivers State (plaintiff), against the Federal Inland Revenue Service (first defendant) and the Attorney General of the Federation (second defendant).
The Court, which granted all the eleven reliefs sought by the Rivers State Government, stated that there is no constitutional basis for the FIRS to demand for and collect VAT, Withholding Tax, Education Tax and Technology levy in Rivers State or any other State of the Federation, being that the constitutional powers and competence of the Federal Government is limited to taxation of incomes, profits and capital gains which does not include VAT or any other species of sales, or levy other than those specifically mentioned in items 58 and 59 of the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution.
The judge dismissed the preliminary objections filed by the defendants that the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the suit and that the case should be transferred to Court of Appeal for interpretation.
Justice Pam, who also dismissed objection raised by the defendants that the National Assembly ought to have been made a party in the suit, declared that the issues of taxes raised by the State government are issues of law that the court is constitutionally empowered to entertain.
He declared that after a diligent review of the issues raised by both the plaintiff and the defendants, the plaintiff has proven beyond doubt that it is entitled to all the eleven reliefs it sought in the suit.
The court agreed with the Rivers State Government that it is the State and not FIRS that is constitutionally entitled to impose taxes enforceable or collectable in its territory of the nature of consumption or sales tax, VAT, education and other taxes or levies, other than the taxes and duties specifically reserved for the Federal Government by items 58 and 59 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 constitution as amended.
Also, the court declared that the defendants are not constitutionally entitled to charge or impose levies, charges or rates (under any guise or by whatever name called) on the residents of Rivers State and indeed any state of the federation.
Lead counsel for the Rivers State Government, Donald Chika Denwigwe (SAN), who spoke to journalists after the court session, explained that the case is all about the interpretation of the constitution as regards the authority of the government at the State and Federal levels to collect certain revenue particularly, VAT.
“So, during the determination of the matter, some issues of law were thrown up like, whether or not the case should be referred to the Court of Appeal for the determination of some issues.
“The court noted that the application is like asking the Federal High Court to transfer the entire case to the Court of Appeal. In which case, if the court so decides there will be nothing left to refer back to the Federal High Court as required by the constitution.”
Speaking on the implication of the judgement, Denwigwe said it is now, unlawful for such taxes as VAT in Rivers State to be collected by any agency of the Federal Government.
FIRS has revealed to journalists today that it has begun the process of appealing the judgment, but from all indications, the agency which is now beginning to fight like a wounded lion is bent on taking unusual steps to continue with what the high court has termed an illegality.