By Gabriel Enogholase
Lawrence Atsegbua, SAN, is Professor of Law at the University of Benin. He is also a former Dean of the University’s Faculty of Law.
In this interview, he discussed the inheritance turmoil in parts of the country and the factors that fuel them.
He also spoke about the VAT controversy between federal and state governments, the anti-open grazing law and other miscellaneous issues.
The issue of who should collect value-added tax, state-to-state VAT, and the federal government is currently the subject of litigation in court. As a law professor, what is your position on the issue?
Value added tax, VAT was introduced in 1993 by Decree 102. The 1999 Constitution, as amended, does not refer to VAT.
Therefore, it is a residual element which falls within the competence of the States to legislate on the basis of Article 4 (7) of the Constitution of 1999, as amended.
Under Article 7 of the VAT Act, the federal government’s share of VAT is 15%, that of states is 50% and that of local authorities is 35%. Statistics show that in 2020, 1.53 trillion naira was collected as VAT.
Why should the federal government charge VAT on goods that are consumed in states?
This dispute over who should collect VAT shows that we have a dysfunctional federal structure. My point of view is that states should collect VAT.
Recently, Kaduna state governor Nasir El-Rufai criticized anti-open-air grazing laws passed by some southern states, saying they were not enforceable. Do you agree with El-Rufai?
Governor El Rufai’s opinion that anti-outdoor grazing laws passed by some states cannot be implemented is based on the fact that almost all law enforcement agencies in Nigeria are scrutinized by the federal government.
The police, armed forces, Nigerian security and civil defense society are all controlled by the federal government.
However, states that have passed anti-open grazing laws should also set up enforcement agencies to enforce those anti-open grazing laws.
Amotekun is expected to enforce the law in the Southwest, just as Hisbau enforces anti-alcohol laws in Kano.
These anti-open grazing laws can be implemented in states that have adopted anti-open grazing laws.
If federal enforcement agencies refuse to enforce these laws, states that have passed anti-open grazing laws should create enforcement agencies to enforce them.
Nigerians are worried about rising insecurity in the country. What advice would you suggest for getting out of the challenge?
The federal government has failed to protect the lives and property of its citizens. It is a constitutional responsibility.
The Boko Haram insurgency has not abated. In addition, we now have uncontrolled banditry and kidnapping for ransom in many states, particularly in the North; Kaduna, Katsina, Bornu, Zamfara and others.
Criminal activity by shepherds is now a daily occurrence in many southern states. Yet the federal government has taken no concrete and effective action to put an end to this crime.
How many terrorists, bandits and kidnappers have the security agencies apprehended and tried?
Our armed forces and police are not motivated to deal with these criminal activities.
They lack equipment. I sincerely suggest that our security agencies be reviewed and that compensation be paid to them quickly.
What do you think is responsible for the agitation for self-determination in some parts of the country?
The agitation for self-determination in parts of the country is due to poor leadership and a dysfunctional federal structure.
We currently have a leadership structure that is inept, corrupt and submissive. This leadership structure can be attributed to our ineffective and ineffective electoral laws.
The clamor of restructuring is also well placed. We need to restructure our system of government.
If the restructuring leads to the break-up of the country, so be it. The 1999 Constitution, as amended, does not reflect the wishes of the majority of Nigerians.
Recently, the Chief Justice of Nigeria threatened to sanction some judges for improper granting of exparte orders and contradictory judgments. What is your position on the subject?
We need to lift the veil and look at how judges are appointed. Are judicial appointments based on merit?
If you are appointing a judge on the basis of extraneous considerations and not on the basis of merit, why should you expect him to follow the principle of Staris Decisis (judicial precedent).
Of course, he or she won’t. We need to re-examine the way we appoint our judges and make sure that merit plays a key role in appointments.
Do you see a serious implication for the federal government’s appetite for borrowing?
There is nothing wrong with borrowing money from the government. However, what is the money used for? We borrowed money, but what is the money for?
We borrow to pay huge salaries and allowances to policy appointees.
We fund recurring expenses instead of capital expenses. In other countries, borrowing is done to finance infrastructure, but the reverse is the case in Nigeria.
If we continue to borrow, we will not be able to finance development projects in Nigeria. We will remain indebted to financial institutions in perpetuity.
Should repentant terrorists be absolved in society without facing the law?
If they repent and give up their old ways, then they should be absolved in society.
However, those who refused to repent should be faced with the law. They should not, however, be granted amnesties.
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