Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, has said the historic legal battle between the Rivers State Government and the Federal Inland Revenue Service with respect to Value Added Tax will prove whether the country respects the rule of law or not.
The governor said the decision of the state government to seek judicial interpretation on VAT collection was aimed at strengthening the rule of law and Nigeria’s democracy.
Wike stated this when the Managing Director of BusinessDay newspaper, Dr Ogho Okiti, led a delegation to present a letter of nomination to him as the ‘BusinessDay Most Impactful Governor Award’ at the Government House, Port Harcourt on Monday.
The governor in a statement issued by his media aide, Kelvin Ebiri, said the award conferred on him was for the entire people of Rivers State.
He stated that besides implementation of physical projects in the state, another project that was dear to him was making sure that the rule of law was respected and applied in the country.
According to him, when the legal issue on VAT collection between the Rivers State Government and FIRS came up, some people had accused him of trying to divide the country, even when they had not bothered to take a look at the 1999 constitutional provisions regarding the collection of VAT.
He said, “I am happy today that the Attorney General (of the Federation) has gone to the Supreme Court to sue Rivers State Government over VAT. Now, that Attorney General has gone to court, we are happy.
“But, nobody wants to talk about him dividing the country. It is only when Rivers State government goes to court that they will say we want to divide the country.
“There is nothing wrong in interpreting the law. The judiciary has been given assignment and they took oath of office to interpret the law.
“If you don’t go to court, how will we know the position of the law? How will democracy thrive? How will we know that this country respects rule of law?”
The governor revealed that even the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, was among those that commended him for approaching the court over the VAT matter.
Wike recalled that during the just concluded Nigerian Bar Association annual conference, Enang also commended his administration for implementing full autonomy for the state judiciary.
The Rivers State governor said it was however baffling that the same presidential aide could turn round to accuse him of treating judges badly in the state.
He reiterated that the Rivers State government would not succumb to any committee set up by the Federal Government on autonomy of state judiciary.
According to him, such committee is unnecessary since the 1999 Constitution explicitly guarantees the independence of the judiciary.
Wike noted though the Federal Government tend to profess it supported autonomy of the judiciary, but in reality, it had deliberately stifled that arm of government.
“Fake autonomy which they are brandishing for the judiciary is not true. If the judiciary has autonomy, go and check the status of the federal courts. If judiciary has autonomy, would they have invaded the house of justice of the Supreme Court?”
The Rivers State governor said the award would spur his administration to do more for the people of the state.