Tuesday, 7 December 2010
On the 30th of July 2010, the Rivers State House of Assembly invited the public and private sectors and other Civil Society Groups of which Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (IHRHL) was among, to participate in a Public Hearing on the Rivers State Social Services Levy Bill.
The bill among other things intends to establish a fiscal regime to levy residents of Rivers State for the provision of social services. Social services which the bill, now passed into law tends to provide are “education and health services”.
The IHRHL and members of the public and private sector, submitted their various Memoranda, and advanced a very serious argument, pointing out the fact that the Bill, if passed into law will amount to double taxation and would therefore, negate the provision of the Taxes and other levies (Approved List for collection) Act Cap T2 LFN 2004. We left with the belief that the opinions of representatives of both public and private sectors will give credence to the State House of Assembly to reject the Bill in their report to the executive, in view of its serious socio-economic and cultural effect on the citizens.
Our belief was further strengthened when the House Committee on Social Services; Chaired by Hon. Jones Ogbonda strongly recommended to the Rivers State House of Assembly that the bill should be jettisoned as it does not represent the interests of majority of Rivers People.
The euphoria became short lived however, when the Rivers State House of Assembly, having been cajoled by the Governor, passed the bill into law and the Governor assented to it on the 2nd of September 2010. The inescapable resolve therefore, was to bring an action against the Social Services Levy Law, by reason of the fact that it is disproportionately harmful to the poor citizens.
The suit is public interest litigation, essentially for the purpose of sustaining the Rule of Law and for the furtherance of the cause of justice and to accelerate the pace of realization of the defence of human rights and reduce socio-economic inequalities in the state.
IHRHL duly registered under Federal Charity Laws, has actively been working in the field of Human Rights Protection and Public Advocacy in the Niger Delta region and the entire nation since 1988, and it is in the interest of rule of law and justice that we instituted this suit.
The IHRHL, as a socially conscious and public-spirited institution, is of the view that if we allow it or fail to approach the court on behalf of the public for enforcement of their rights, the very aim of our institution or the scheme of the constitution will be frustrated.
To this end therefore, the IHRHL insist that the Rivers State Social Services Contributory Levy Law No.9 Of 2010 among other weaknesses;
*Amounts to double jeopardy on the already impoverished citizens
*Amounts to double taxation and is against the extant provisions of the Taxes and other levies (approved list for collection) Act CAP T2 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
*It is anti-social and democratically deficit.
*It is an apparent instrument of fiscal exploitation of the already impoverished citizens of Rivers state.
*The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights grants that the welfare of the people, access to medical and educational facilities are the function of the government, and in spite of huge monthly federal allocation and internally generated revenues, the government has failed to introduce a feasible policy aimed at reducing poverty and meeting the needs of a vast majority of the people for a better standard of living, yet, it still intends to continue milking the poor for the betterment of officialdom.
*The government of Rivers State received over N506, 724, 791,890.21 (Five Hundred And Six Billion, Seven Hundred And Twenty Four Million, Seven Hundred And Ninety One Thousand, Eight Hundred And Ninety Naira, Twenty One Kobo ) from October 2007—June 2010 as monthly allocation from the Federal Government.
*Put side by side what is received as federal allocation and internally generated revenue by the Rivers State Government and what is actually done, the government has no justification to demand more from the deprived masses
*That the schools and the health centers are mere ‘window dressing’, a whole lot of them are not equipped.
*The social services levy law makes no provision for transparency and accountability of the funds acquired, and purports to shroud or blanket the collection and expenditure of this fund in secrecy. Transparency implies that the public has unfettered access to information about government fiscal activities and clear understanding about what the government is doing with pubic funds.
*The essence of the social services levy law is aimed at ejecting more money into the government which will afford them live as if there is a boom, a boom on double taxation and debt, and not a boom based on production. And the net effect is inflation.
*What the government of Rivers State needs is a task on the level of poverty, violence and corruption in the state and not multiple taxation.
The central issue here is ‘the general will of the people’. The people are the sovereign body of the state; it is their general will which is the law. The government is the servant of the people; they are to enact the general will of the people. The legislators possess no independent sovereign authority of their own but that of the people, and the people have in unequivocal terms rejected this law. But because the legislators swayed by their private interest, acquiesced to the whims and caprices of the executive and quickly passed the bill into law, refusing to view it from the perspective of the whole. They failed to see its long term economic consequence on the people thy represent.
The IHRHL is of the standpoint that even if each member of the State Assembly alienates himself, they can not alienate the rights and future of the Rivers people; we are born free and our liberty belongs to us.
It is on this basis that we are constrained to bring this suit, and we are therefore, elaborately praying the court for the following:-Reliefs/Orders;
1. A DECLARATION that the Rivers State House of Assembly in enacting the Social Services Contributory Levy Law No.9 Of 2010 acted contrary to Section 4(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
2. A DECLARATION that the Rivers State Social Services Contributory Levy Law No. 9 2010 is inconsistent with Part II in the Schedule, Taxes and Levies (Approved List for Collection) Act (Cap T2, LFN, 2004) and Item 8, Part II, Second Schedule, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and therefore, ultra vires, null and void to the extent of its inconsistency.
3. A DECLARATION that the Rivers State House of Assembly does not have the power and capacity to legislate, determine and demand whatever taxes and levies it deems fit outside the provisions of Part II in the Schedule, Taxes and Levies (Approved List for Collection) Act (Cap T2, LFN, 2004) and Item 8, Part II, Second Schedule, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
4. A DECLARATION that the Rivers State Social Services Contributory Levy Law No. 9 Of 2010 leads to double taxation as the levy it seeks to impose is already covered by the Schedule of Taxes prescribed by the National Assembly in the Taxes and Levies (Approved List for Collection) Act (Cap T2, LFN, 2004) and Item 8, Part II, Second Schedule, Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
5. AN ORDER OF INJUNCTION restraining the Defendants, their agents, representatives and assigns, however described or constituted from collecting Taxes and Levies under the Rivers State Social Services Contributory Levy Law No. 9 Of 2010 pending the determination of this suit.
6. AN ORDER OF INJUNCTION restraining the Defendants, their agents, representatives and assigns, however described or constituted from carrying out any act to wit; Appointment of members of Board of Trustees, employment of Staff of the Secretariat, and any other act under the Rivers State Social Services Contributory Levy Law No. 9 Of 2010 pending the determination of this suit.
7. AN ORDER OF PERPETUAL INJUNCTION restraining the Defendants, their agents, representatives and assigns, however described and constituted from collecting Taxes and Levies under the Rivers State Social Services Contributory Levy Law No. 9 Of 2010 as same is ultra vires, null and void.
Chieme Chinweikpe, Esq.
Programmes Officer, Access to Justice
Nkasi Wodu, Esq.
Programmes Officer, Economic, Social and Culture
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