The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court has barred the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from filing criminal charges against a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Godwin Obla, pending the determination of the substantive suit against them.
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu gave the preservative order after granting an exparte application for judicial review against the FIRS and EFCC.
The leave so granted, according to the court, ”Shall operate as a stay of proceedings to which this application relates. That is to say the administrative actions of the respondents to wit; the filling of criminal charges against the applicant, subject of the substantive application, pending the determination of the substantive application.”
Justice Ojukwu after listening to Dr. J. Y. Musa (SAN), who moved the motion Ex-parte, said she was convinced by the oral submissions and material evidence placed before the court to grant the prayers sought therein.
”After a careful consideration of the averments in the affidavit in support, exhibits attached and written address of learned senior counsel, the court is of the opinion that it is in the interest of justice and in tandem with the law to grant this application,” Justice Ojukwu ruled.
While ordering that the interim order and processes be served on the respondents, the court adjourned the matter to August 9 for hearing of the originating summons.
Meanwhile, in an originating summons marked FHC/ABJ/CS/762/2018, Obla formulated nine issues for the determination of the court as well as some declarative reliefs.
The suit which is supported by a 66- paragraphs affidavits posed the following questions for determination:
* Whether, having regard to and upon a combined interpretation of the provisions of sections 2(1) (a), 3 and 54 of the personal Income Tax Act (as amended) 1993 and sections 8, 27 and 29 of the Federal Capital Territory Internal Revenue Service Act 2015, the 1st defendant (FIRS), has the vires and/ or jurisdiction to assess, levy, charge, administer, enforce, demand and /or collect personal income tax from the plaintiff who is resident and conducts business within the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja?
* Whether by virtue of the clear and unequivocal provisions of sections 2,8,22,27 and 29 of the Federal Capital Territory Internal Revenue Service Act 2015, it is not the Federal Capital Territory Internal Revenue Service that possesses the vires and jurisdiction to assess, levy, charge, administer, enforce, demand and /or collect income tax on residents of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja?
* Whether the issuance of Tax assessment by the FIRS in respect of the plaintiff’s personal income tax and not an usurpation of the powers and functions of the Federal Capital Territory Inland Revenue Service?
Whether, having regard to the provisions of section 85 of the personal income tax Act (as amended) 1993 and section 31(8) of the Federal Capital Territory Inland Revenue Service Act, the issuance of a tax clearance certificate by the 1st defendant and the Federal Capital Territory Inland Revenue Service in favour of the plaintiff is not conclusive proof of assessment and payment of income tax for the years covered therein?.
Should the court answered the questions in his favour, the lawyer is seeking an order of court declaring that the relevant tax authority with the power and mandate to assess, levy, charge, enforce, demand and /or collect personal income tax from residents of the FCT, is the Federal Capital Territory Inland Revenue Service.
The court is also asked to declare that the issuance of tax clearance certificates by the Federal Capital Territory Inland Revenue Service in favour of the applicant is conclusive proof of assessment and payment of income tax for the years covered by the said certificates.
An order declaring that the respondents cannot lawfully take any steps to initiate or undertake any criminal prosecution of the applicant on the basis of a notice of tax assessment issued by the 1st respondent, without undertaking a revision of the applicant’s objection to an assessment.
An order that the body with the jurisdiction and /or power to recommend or initiate the criminal prosecution of any person to the Attorney General of the Federation or State or any other relevant law enforcement agency in respect of any tax assessment is the Tax Appeal Tribunal.
The plaintiff further asked for an order of injunction against the respondents from harassing, intimidating or humiliating him by preferring a criminal charge against him, without undertaking a revision of his objection to the notice of tax assessment issued by the FIRS.
In his supporting affidavit he personally deposed to, Obla chronicled alleged acts of intimidation, harassment and incarceration against him by the EFCC culminating to his detention for a period of 20 days.
Besides, he averred that in November 2016, the anti graft agency maliciously initiated untenable charges against him before the High Court of Lagos in charge No. LD/3671C/16, between FRN V. Hon. Justice Rita Ofili Ajumogobia and Godwin Obla (SAN), wherein upon arraignment the court released him on bail.