Symbol of justice
The Tax Appeal Tribunal (TAT) sitting in Lagos has ruled that its composition, constitution and affiliations do not affect its independence, autonomy and objectivity in any way.
The prayers of General Telecoms Plc, asking the court to disband the tax appeal court or stop it from exercising jurisdiction on any matter involving the service and invalidate relevant sections of the Federal Inland Revenue Services (Establishment) Act bordering on the creation and constitution of the Tax Appeal Tribunal.
Ten years ago, FIRS dragged General Telecoms to the Body of Appeal Commissioners (now Tax Appeal Tribunal) over the its refusal to pay taxes in excess of N15.5 million but the company filed a preliminary objection, claiming that the body does not have the jurisdiction over cases of taxation involving FIRS.
The company argued that it was not logical for a body which was constituted and reports to FIRS to assume jurisdiction over matters affecting the service. However, the service maintained that the tribunal is independent umpire which was responsible to the Federal Ministry of Finance and not FIRS.
The Chairman of the Lagos Zone of the tribunal, Chief Kayode Sofola ruled that the composition and closeness of the tribunal to the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) does not in any way; remove anything from its independence and objectivity.
“The tax appeal tribunal, in its capacity as an administrative tribunal, has the jurisdiction to entertain this matter and similar cases brought before it for determination and this jurisdiction does not violate Section 251(1) (a) or (b) of the Constitution.
“The tribunal's empanelling does not offend the rules against bias and can decide constitutional and legal questions arising from ordinary course of its business,” Sofola ruled.
He added that the tribunal could determine its jurisdiction and that it is not a court of law within the limits of section 6, Chapter 7 as well as Section 251 of the Nigerian constitution.
The tribunal equally ruled that there was no need to join the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, the National Assembly or any other authority or persons in the matter.
However, commenting on the ruling, the service said it was a landmark decision, adding that had the court consented to the prayers of the company, the FIRS enabling Act would have been subjected to further tinkering.
“This ruling is considered a landmark ruling because it was not only a victory for FIRS but also for TAT, the Constitution, and all Nigerians and for future cases that would question the composition of the tribunal, its empanelling or constitutional jurisdiction.
“If the General Telecom preliminary objection had stood, Sections of the FIRS Act and Nigeria’s Constitution which supported the creation and empanelling of the tribunal would have been subjected to further tinkering in order to accommodate the ruling of the court. That could lead to disbanding the TAT or removing its jurisdiction over any case involving FIRS”, it said.