Human rights lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), says the last Friday ruling of the Abuja Division of Appeal Court empowers Rivers State to collect Value Added Tax (VAT) pending when the court rules otherwise.
The appellate court, ruling on an appeal by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) challenging the judgment of a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt empowering Rivers to collect VAT, had ordered parties in the matter to maintain status quo.
Some reports have claimed that with the order, Rivers has been temporarily stopped from carrying out the ruling of the lower court empowering it to collect VAT.
But in a statement on Saturday, titled ‘FIRS & Rivers State Government: Who Should Now Collect VAT?’, Ozekhome said the ruling means Rivers can go ahead to collect VAT until the court decides otherwise.
He said, “Clearly, the status quo ante bellum was before the breakout of the hostilities.
“The hostilities broke out when the FIRS dragged the Rivers State Government to court, arguing that it cannot collect VAT based on its law. The said law was already duly passed and made operational by Rivers State House of Assembly that it has the constitutional competency under section 4 of the Constitution to do so.
“The FHC, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, had earlier held that it was the Rivers State Government that was competent to collect VAT, not the FIRS.
“The law was already therefore in operation before the FIRS challenged the validity of an FHC judgement, PH, that had given the Rivers State Government the power to collect the VAT.
“So, the status quo is that it is the Rivers State Government that has the power to collect VAT, until perhaps, the Court of Appeal rules otherwise and set aside the FHC judgment.”
Ozekhome, meanwhile, called on the parties in the matter to “avoid unnecessary bickerings and needless head-on collision” in the matter that is “already subjudice” and “cease hostilities” by “maintaining the status quo until the Court of Appeal finally pronounces on the matter.”