Wike: Rivers Should Expect End to Oppressive VAT Policy

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Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike,

Blessing Ibunge

Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, has expressed optimistism that the ongoing dispute between the state and the federal government will bring to an end the alleged illegal and oppressive Value Added Tax (VAT) policy in the country.

The governor stated that the over legitimate authority by the federal government to impose and collect VAT has enormous constitutional implications that should be addressed.

Governor Wike made the assertion yesterday at the book presentation titled: ‘Contemporary Essays on Law & Practice’, in honour of retired Justice Anwuri Ichegbu Chikere of the Federal High Court.

The governor stressed that the entire country was waiting for the speedy resolution of the VAT dispute now at the Supreme Court.

He also stated that in reality, the judiciary remained the ultimate guardian of the nation’s constitution.

According to him, the judiciary is the protector of the rule of law and the guarantor of the constitutional rights and freedoms of the people, which he said should play out in the VAT dispute.

“While the entire country is waiting for its speedy resolution in the national interest, the Supreme Court of Nigeria remains lethargic in hearing this very important matter thereby unjustifiably aiding the federal government to continue to enforce its illegal and oppressive VAT policy on the polity.”

Wike also pointed out that judicial independence is truncated when judges are subjected to summary trials and preconceived indictments by an all-powerful quasi-judicial agency on the promptings of persons or parties with vested interest in the outcome of the litigation processes.

He noted with dismay that the National Judicial Council (NJC) is becoming a willing tool to intimidate judges who are simply discharging their constitutional duties.

By doing so, he said, “the National Judicial Council (NJC) may be joining the league of unholy forces now assailing the independence and reputation of judicial officers across the country.

“My candid opinion is that the National Judicial Council must thread with utmost caution in matters of judicial complaints and discipline lest it wittingly or unwittingly turns itself into another bully to be feared rather than being respected in its roles as both the headmaster and guardian angel of the nation’s judiciary.”

The governor emphasised that the judiciary is the exclusive authority through which all persons, authorities and agencies are subjected to the precepts and dictates of the constitution and ordinary laws of the nation, even if it is exclusively enacted by the legislature.

He said no nation can be seen and reckoned with to be free, fair and just without a strong, independent and functional judiciary, noting that no democracy can survive, flourish and deliver social and economic progress without a courageous, efficient and effective judiciary.

Wike, therefore, urged judicial officers to relive the time when the nation’s judiciary was truly independent, manned by men and women of courage who were publicly trusted to deliver justice fairly and equally to everyone.

“There was also a time when our judges were respected the world over for their independence, courage and credibility.

“Again, time was when decisions from Nigerian courts were widely accepted and celebrated across the world as timeless models of judicial precedents.

“But today, what is your candid assessment of the character and integrity of our country’s judiciary, which is becoming more confusing and painfully contradictory.”

Speaking further, Wike pointed to the concern that ranges from case backlogs, poor case management and rampant delays in the administration of justice that have seriously eroded public confidence in the judiciary and its capacity to deliver justice to ordinary citizens.

“There are also serious concerns about the apparent lack of courage among several judges and the declining quality of judgements from our courts at all levels.

“Having succumbed to fear, intimidation and blackmail most of our judges are being compelled to tailor their judgments toward the wishes and desires of powerful political interests.”

However, he commended the few judicial officers who are keeping hope alive with their extra-ordinary courage.

The governor said their exemplary fidelity to the rule of law and strong determination to ensure that justice is not only done, but seen to have been done in matters that come before them depict that all hope is not lost.

Acknowledging the fulsome years of meritorious judicial service of Justice Chikere, Wike said, “as a judge, the celebrant demonstrated absolute independence of mind.”

He also noted that Justice Chikere exhibited excellent judicial temperaments of being calm always, courteous and compassionate towards everyone, including her colleagues, lawyers and litigants in or outside the office.