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VAT, open grazing bills scale first, second reading at Lagos Assembly

By Olawunmi Ojo, Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos), Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
07 September 2021   |   3:54 am
The Lagos State House of Assembly, yesterday, in an accelerated reading, committed the bill on the state’s Value Added Tax (VAT) to the committee on finance and asked it to report back...

Lagos State House of Assembly

Lawmakers advocate stiffer penalties for herders carrying firearms
• Court refuses FIRS application to stop Rivers Govt from VAT collection
• Wike orders corporate bodies, businesses to comply or be sanctioned
• Miyetti Allah pushes against grazing laws, threatens court action
• Akintoye, Farounbi, DAWN DG flay Miyetti Allah

The Lagos State House of Assembly, yesterday, in an accelerated reading, committed the bill on the state’s Value Added Tax (VAT) to the committee on finance and asked it to report back on Thursday after the bill scaled first and second reading. The House also treated for speedy reading, the bill on open grazing before committing it to the committee on agriculture.

Speaker of the House, Mudashiru Obasa, described the ‘Prohibition of Open Cattle Grazing Bill’ as time and one that would ensure harmonious relationship between herders and farmers and protect the environment of the state and the Southwest region.

The Speaker also suggested that the bill should make provision for the registration of herders and prepare them for ranching. “Allocating parcel of land is not enough, but there should be a training of those who would go into ranching,” he said, noting that ranching is expensive and required adequate preparation.

Concerning the bill on VAT, Speaker Obasa said it would lead to an “increase in revenue and infrastructural development. This is in line with fiscal federalism that we have been talking about.”

Obasa said the VAT law, when passed, would help the state meet challenges in its various sectors. He also urged the Lagos State government to do everything legally possible to ensure the judgment of a Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, is sustained even up to the Supreme Court.

He lamented a situation where about N500 billion is generated from Lagos State while N300 billion is generated from other Southwest states and paltry amounts are disbursed to them in return. In Rivers State, Justice Stephen Dalyop Pam of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, yesterday, refused an application by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) seeking to stop the Rivers State Government from collecting VAT.

FIRS filed the application in mid-August against the judgment of the same court, which had on August 9, ruled that the Rivers Government, and not FIRS, is entitled to collect VAT and Personal Income Tax (PIT) in Rivers.

Not satisfied with the judgment, FIRS approached an Appeal Court to challenge the ruling. While the appeal was yet to begin, the revenue collection agency returned to the same Federal High Court in Port Harcourt to seek a stay of execution on the court’s decision, pending the determination of their appeal.

In delivering his ruling, yesterday, on the application by FIRS, Justice Pam said FIRS failed to file an application to set aside the Rivers State Tax Law of 2021, which was recently enacted by the Rivers House of Assembly and assented to by Governor Nyesom Wike on August 19, making the state law on VAT valid and subsisting.

The judge also ruled that the Federal Government already has a huge liability arising from the many years it has collected the tax on behalf of Rivers State, therefore, it may be a difficult task for the Federal Government to refund the state if his judgment authorising the state to collect the tax is upheld at the appellate courts.

The judge believes that Rivers can easily remit whatever amount it may have received within the litigation period to the Federal Government if it loses at the Appeal Court.

While the counsel to the Rivers government hailed the ruling, the lawyer to FIRS is hoping to get a favorable judgment at the Appeal Court.

Counsel to FIRS, Reuben Wanogho, said the court had delivered its ruling on the basis of how it saw the facts of the case before it, but his client would challenge the court decision.

Meanwhile, Governor Wike has ordered the Rivers State Revenue Service (RSRS) to fully implement the state VAT Law 2021, which he recently assented to, while he warned that severe sanctions await taxpayers who refuse VAT and sundry tax payments to the state in compliance with the court order. The governor gave the order in a broadcast hours after the judgment.

“With today’s (Monday’s) judgment, the way is now clear for the administration and enforcement of the Rivers State VAT Law 2021 across the entire state until otherwise decided and set aside by the superior courts,” he said, maintaining that the state did no wrong in exercising its legal right under a constitutional democracy to stop the continuing breach, denial, and curtailment of the constitutional right of states to lawfully impose and collect value-added and other related taxes within their jurisdiction.

“Consequently, I hereby direct the RSRS to ensure the full and total implementation and enforcement of this law against all corporate bodies, business entities, and individuals with immediate effect.

“Let me warn that the Rivers State government is fully in charge of the state and will not tolerate any further attempt by FIRS to sabotage or undermine our authority to freely administer our tax and other related laws in our own state. Those who play with fire risk having their fingers burnt; enough of the shenanigans,” he said.

SPEAKING earlier on the bill by Lagos Assembly on open grazing, Bisi Yusuff (Alimosho 1), had lamented the havoc that herdsmen caused in the Southwest.

According to him, farmers have continuously become afraid to visit their farms thus causing a shortage of food. He also said many farmers had become indebted as they now find it difficult to pay back loans they secured.

He said it was lamentable that cattle roam the streets causing accidents and embarrassing people. He advocated for stiffer penalties for herders caught carrying firearms.

His position was supported by Kehinde Joseph (Alimosho 2), who said open grazing in the 21st century is an aberration. Joseph said the bill would ensure peaceful coexistence, reduce crime and help to guide the activities of herders.

Gbolahan Yishawu, in his contribution, described Lagos as a cosmopolitan state and, as such, having to see cattle on the streets is worrisome. He expressed support for the bill because, according to him, it will give a level of security to the state and help reduce economic losses, adding that Lagos has 250 hectares of land in Ikorodu and another 750 hectares in Epe for ranching.

Tobun Abiodun (Epe 1) said it was common to see cattle going to school as if they want to learn, while David Setonji (Badagry 2), recalled “a time we went on oversight function in a school here in Lagos. We were embarrassed by cattle. We had to wait for the herder to move the cattle before we embarked on our oversight function.”

BUT Fulani advocacy group, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore (MAKH) has threatened court action against state governors, particularly Southern governors, who have enacted laws against open grazing. The group described as ‘satanic’ state laws against open grazing, calling it a ploy to cripple the economic activities of pastoralists, a violation of the 1999 Constitution, and a threat to national security.

Informing of the group’s decision to approach local and international courts to seek redress, MAKH said its lawyers have been put on notice about the development and would institute legal action as soon as possible against the states in question.

The organisation suggested an urgent review of the Land Use Act to accommodate the interest of all land resource users, particularly pastoralists, stating that ranching as suggested by many as a solution requires massive capital investments and is difficult to sustain.

MAKH National President, Alhaji Bello Bodejo, who addressed a press conference in Abuja yesterday, expressed concerns that Fulani pastoralists have become endangered in Nigeria due to ethnic profiling that has resulted in violence by local communities.

He called on President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly to stop the implementation of the anti-open grazing laws in the states, particularly in the south, saying it hasn’t and will not solve the herder-farmer crisis.

“Benue State is a good example. Has there been peace in Benue since the enactment and implementation of the law in the state? The governor, Samuel Ortom, only succeeded in turning his people against Fulani pastoralists and also using state-sponsored militia groups to unleash terror on our people. We advise him to withdraw the law and tender an unreserved apology to our people,” Bodejo stated.
HOWEVER, many Nigerians and groups have flayed Miyetti Allah for calling on President Buhari to stop Southern governors from implementing the anti-open grazing laws.

Among them are Prof. Banji Akintoye, Dr. Yemi Farounbi, a former Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Dr. Akin Onigbinde (SAN); and the Director-General of Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (FAWN) Commission, Mr. Seye Oyeleye.

Prof. Akintoye said: “They are jesters for making such a call. The Federal Government does not have any power over land. The power to administer land belongs to the state governments. The Land Use Act vests power over land on the governors. On what ground are they making that call? They tried the same thing with Amotekun corps, they failed because the will of the people prevailed. On this matter, the will of the people will still prevail.

“President Muhammadu Buhari must remember that he cannot be president forever. Some people were there before him. Whatever he does today will become history tomorrow.”

Ex-Oyo Speaker, Onigbinde said the group does not have any constitutional power to make that call. “Courts are constitutional institutions like the NASS and the Presidency, and all should exercise its powers in accordance with the law. The NASS cannot review judgment of courts, or prevent its enforcement. It can only make new legislations or amend existing laws following constitutional due process.

“The remedy available to any proper parties in a dispute before a court, who is dissatisfied with the outcome of the adjudication is to appeal it. Miyetti Allah is not on record to be a party to the dispute that threw up the court judgment, and cannot complain about the outcome in any appeal. No socio-cultural organisation such as Miyetti Allah can seek to use the instrument of state, like NASS or the Presidency to realise its own agenda.”

The Director-general of DAWN Commission, Mr. Seye Oyeleye, said Miyetti Allah is being unfair to the people and governments of the South.

The DG pointed out that Nigeria is not a military state where the President could just make a pronouncement, emphasising that the Land Use Act vests the ownership of land on the state governors.