Recall that on the 4th of October, 2021, Premium times, one of Nigeria’s daily news paper agency had published a report from the Pandora Papers indicting Ex-Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, stating how he allegedly broke the law. While we do not intend to constitute ourselves into a court that has the powers to determine his guilt or innocence in the light of the presumption of innocence that inures in his favour, it is important we turn on our search light on the provisions of the law on tax evasion and declaration of assets by public officers.
ON TAX EVASION:
Tax Evasion simply has to do with when a person illegally refuses to pay his or her tax or under pays. By section 26 of the Value Added Tax Act, 1993, any person who participates in tax evasion or take steps with a view to evade payment of tax by himself or another person is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of N30,000 or two times the amount of the tax being evaded, whichever is greater, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years.
The practical implications of the above stated principle is that a person is liable for tax evasion where he or she illegally refuses to pay tax or even if such a person pays, that the person under paid. The contention on the article published on premium times against the former governor is that he carried out businesses in haven in order to evade payment of taxes in Nigeria. It is the contention of the author of this work that such an allegation is unfounded and does not hold water in law, given that the law does not bar a business man from choosing how and where to do his business provided that such a business is legitimate. The law is settled that for a person o be liable for an offense, such an act must be declared by a written law to be an offense and the punishment expressly stated.
This age long principles has statutory backing in the provisions of section 36(12) of the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 as Amended. I hereby submit strongly that it cannot be said that the former governor had committed the offense of tax evasion of which he is capable of being tried for merely because he is said to be carrying out business outside Nigeria.
ON DECLARATION OF ASSETS BY PUBLIC OFFICERS:
The law also mandates public officers to disclose their assets and liabilities including those of their unmarried children under the age of 18 years upon assumption of office, at the end of every four years, and at the end of the term in office. See section 11(1) (b) Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 as Amended.
The purport of the above stated principle is that a public officer upon assumption of office is expected to declare his assets three months after coming into office, at the end of every four years, and at the end of his tenure in office.
The provisions of the law as right stated above requires the public officer to declare his own asset and not assets jointly or partly owned by him. This argument is strongly fortified by the fact that by requiring Peter Obi to declare assets wherein he is not the sole owner of the business will expose the other persons who are joint owners of the business, that ordinarily do not have a responsibility to disclose their assets and should generally enjoy the right to privacy granted them by the provisions of section 37 of the 1999 Constitution as Amended.
It is further contented that there are legal procedures for bringing Mr. Peter Obi to answer any question as regards the allegations leveled against him and same hasn’t been complied with. By sections 12 Part 1 of the Fifth Schedule to the Nigerian Constitution, 1999 as Amended, and Section 16 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, any allegation that a public officer has breached or has not complied with the code of conduct shall be made to the Code of Conduct Bereau.
Despite the allegations leveled against the former governor of Anambra State, we are yet to be abreast with any complaint level against him to the code of conduct bureau, hence we further contend that any action in furtherance of the allegations that doesn’t comply with the provisions of our extant laws will be a nullity. The law is settled that where a statute provides the means of doing a thing, any attempt to do otherwise will make such a thing a nullity. See the case of INAKOJU & ORS v. LADOJA & ORS (2006) JELR 48066 (SC).
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