From Tony John, Port Harcourt
Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike has said the historic legal battle between the Rivers Government and Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) with respect to Value Added Tax (VAT), will demonstrate 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 rule of law and Nigeria’s democracy.
Governor Wike stated this when the Managing Director of BusinessDay newspaper, Ogho Okiti, led a delegation to present a letter of nomination to him as the “BusinessDay Most Impactful Governor Award” at Government House, Port Harcourt, yesterday.
The state governor commended the management of the newspaper for acknowledging the numerous projects his administration has accomplished since 2015, saying that the award conferred on him was for the entire people of the State.
Governor Wike stated that besides the implementation of physical projects in the State, another project that is dear to him is making sure that the rule of law is respected and applied in the country.
He explained that 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.
‘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 the Rivers State Government goes to court that they will say we want to divide the country,’ he stated.
‘There is nothing wrong in interpreting the law. The judiciary has been given assignment and they took the 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 the rule of law?”
The governor revealed that even the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, was among those that commended him for approaching the court over the VAT matter.
Governor Wike recalled that during the just concluded Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) annual conference, Senator Enang also commended his administration for implementing full autonomy for the state judiciary.
He said it was baffling that the same presidential aide could turn round to accuse him of treating judges badly in the state.
The governor reiterated that the Rivers government will not succumb to any committee set up by the Federal Government on the autonomy of state judiciary.
According to him, such a committee is unnecessary, since the 1999 Constitution explicitly guarantees the independence of the judiciary.
Governor Wike noted though the Federal Government tends to profess it supports the autonomy of the judiciary, in reality, it has 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 the judiciary has autonomy, would they have invaded the house of a Justice of the Supreme Court?’
The Rivers State governor said the BusinessDay award will spur his administration to do more for the people of the state.
According to him, he did not subscribe to the idea that governors should relent in service delivery in their second tenure.
‘So many people talk about when you’re in the second tenure, it is a period for you to relax, it is a period for you to take stock. I believe that it is a period for you to do more for your people, for the state.’
The Managing Director of BusinessDay, Dr Ogho Okiti, said the award was conferred on Governor Wike based on the newspaper’s observation of his achievements since he assumed office in 2015.