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By Tordue Salem ABUJA
A bill seeking to stop the federal government from spending recovered funds by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, without appropriation by the National Assembly scaled second reading in the House of Representatives yesterday. The bill seeks to amend sections 14, 20, 21, 22, 26, 29, and 31 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Act that allows the Federal Government to appropriate properties, funds and proceeds of crimes against known and identified victims of crime. The sponsor, Ugonna Ozuruigbo (Imo-APC) said the EFFC Act was in contravention of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 and the United Nations (UN) declaration on equity, fairness and natural justice.
The CEOs, a few days ago, ignored an invitation extended to them by the House Committee on Finance probing revenue leakages. Section 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution gives the National Assembly quasi-judicial powers to invite anyone, issue bench warrants and prescribe penalties and fines, for contempt offences. The House threatened to wield the big stick, after adopting a motion by James Faleke(APC-Lagos), In taking the piece of legislation, the House noted the precarious economic situation Nigeria currently found itself, heightened by global economic recession, driven in part by the Novel coronavirus pandemic, and the unfortunate crash in international oil prices.
The House in adopting the motion, observed that the current price of crude oil in the international market was below $29 per barrel, P/B, approximately 50 per cent down from the budgetary projection of $57P/B, raising concerns that the continued dependence on oil revenue to fund programmes and projects of government wasnot sustainable. The lawmakers, however, expressed worries that the existing corporate tax revenue leakages are hindering the diversification of the nation’s revenue base. They observed the huge revenue leakages of over $30billion attributable to corporations which systematically evade the remittance of the appropriate taxes, despite public declarations of exhorbitant revenues and profits. The motion recalled:
The House at its sitting of March 5, 2020, acting in line with the provisions of Sections 62, 88 and 89 of the Constitution, empowered, via a resolution, its Committees on Finance, and Banking and Currency, with assistance from other relevant government agencies to conduct in-depth Investigative hearings into all incidences of corporate tax revenue leakages. “The sole objective of these investigations by the House is to ensure that Nigeria’s tax regime remains fair and competitive, and expected tax revenue by any organization and/or individual is paid appropriately and accordingly into the government treasury. “The Committee on Finance and Banking and Currency, in furtherance of its obligations as directed by the House, issued letters of invitation to various corporations to submit documents of their full compliance with the Laws of the Federation, but was amazed that some of these corporations, particularly telecoms operators, under the aegis of Incorporated Trustees of Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, upon the receipt of the letters of invitation, chose instead to file cases in court.’’
The House noted with shock that a judgment in favour of the National Assembly was delivered on March 13, 2020, by Her Lordship, B.F.M. Nyako J, which reiterated that ‘the National Assembly is empowered by sections 88 and 89 of the constitution to invite any persons for investigative purposes. The House said yet, the telecoms operators, under the aegis of Incorporated Trustees of Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, have contested the powers of the National Assembly, and have filed an appeal, seeking an injunction to restrain the National Assembly from “investigating [their] business, operations and policies, summoning [them], requesting any documents or books from [them], conducting any investigative hearing or meetings against [them], making oversight visits to [their] offices or premises for the purposes of investigating or demanding information.” In his adopted motion, Faleke explained: “The injunction being sought in the Appeal, is nothing but an attempt to tie the hands of the National Assembly, and render it useless and incapacitated in carrying out her constitutional and legislative roles as assigned to it by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).