The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, on Wednesday insisted that the anti-open grazing laws of some states infringed on the freedom of movement as enshrined in the nation’s constitution.
Malami said this while answering questions from State House correspondents after the meeting of the Federal Executive Council at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The minister, who explained that his office had not taken any stance outside the scope of the constitution, also disclosed that the Federal Government, may at the Supreme Court challenge states that legislated on the Value Added Tax.
Commenting on the anti-open grazing laws of southern states, Malami said, “On the issue of farmers-herders clashes, no position was taken by the Office of the Attorney General outside the scope of the constitutional provisions.
“The position of the Office of the Attorney-General is about freedom and liberty of movement among others. And what the Office of the Attorney General has simply succeeded in doing is making a reference to relevant constitutional provisions and establishing a position that each and every Nigerian is entitled to freedom of movement simpliciter.
“So, the issue is whether that freedom of movement is constitutionally guaranteed, or not. And my answer is, the freedom of movement is indeed, constitutionally guaranteed.”
Also responding to his position on VAT and governors’ push for states to take custody of the tax, the minister said the Federal Government was contemplating taking the matter to the Supreme Court, which according to him, has jurisdiction over such matters.
He said, “The issue of VAT, well, as you rightly know, there were certain judgments obtained by some state governors at their jurisdiction and localities before their respective state High Courts, and arising from that judgment and the laws that were passed by those state governments, the Federal Government filed an appeal against the judgment challenging the laws that were put in place, which I feel has been determined by the Court of Appeal.
“The Court of Appeal has granted an order of stay of execution, directing these state governments to maintain status quo pending the determination of the main appeal and these matters are being considered for determination.
“And some other governors have filed an application for joinder, seeking to be joined in the matter as interested parties. But again, there is pending, equally, an application and preliminary objection for that matter, challenging the competence of the action and indeed the judgment that was obtained.
“But the Federal Government is still looking at other possibilities, all options open in terms of challenging the action, the action of the state government.
“But one thing that is fundamental that you need to know as being the issue equally being considered for determination by the court is, the Federal Government is challenging the powers of the state governments to legislate on the issues associated with collection of VAT.
“And the position of the federal government as canvassed, which is being looked into by the judicial system, is to the effect that by our laws, the powers to legislate on collection of VAT is statutorily vested in the National Assembly. And with that in mind, it is not within the scope and powers of the state government to legislate on the issue of collection.
“So, what I’m saying in essence is, just to give an insight as to the multiple contention between the parties as being determined as been canvassed, presented for the determination of the court.
“And we are indeed litigating contending this issues before the court and the federal government is looking at all options at its disposal, inclusive of the possibility of invoking the jurisdiction, the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, taking into consideration that the dispute at hand is a dispute between the state government and the federal government, in respect of which only the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to entertain taking into consideration the constitutional provisions relating thereto.
“So, this is the position we are in, as far as contention among the parties relating to the Value Added Tax is concerned.”