The tax payment requested from candidates in the forthcoming local government election scheduled for November 18th, 2017 by the Kwara State Independent Electoral Commission (KWSIEC) has attracted various comments from stakeholders in the polity. HEAD POLITICS, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM writes on the issue that has witnessed different legal interpretations.
Since the Kwara State Independent Electoral Commission (KWSIEC) announced date for the forthcoming local government election scheduled for November 18, in the state, one of the contending issues that has refused to go away is the nomination and tax levy demanded by the KWSIEC and the State Internal Revenue Services (KWIRS).
Certainly, the issue raised many hypothesis on whether KWSIEC has the legal backing to do so or was it just playing the game according to the dictates of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to disenfranchised opposition candidates as alleged. What is the place of the state laws on this, especially from the purview of the Kwara State House of Assembly?
Since the issue first came to limelight, there have been allegations and counter accusations by parties concerned about the propriety or otherwise of the action with many of the “victims” querying the jurisdiction of the commission.
Expectedly, it was the opposition PDP that first fired the first salvo, which attracted a swift response from the chairman of KWSIEC, Alhaji Uthman Abdulrahman Ajidagba.
Expressing what it described as its frustration over the matter, the caretaker chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Tunde Akindehin while speaking with Pilot Politics on the matter, described it as an absurdity.
Akindehin queried why a supposedly agency of government which the commission is, with its budgetary provision from the state government to run its affairs, should demand tax dues outside the routine one that some of the candidates have been paying. And yet, some of them have not been paid salaries.
According to him, “whatever KWSIEC has up its sleeve will not help them because Nigerians know that the history of state electoral commission has not been smooth running. Government in each of these states always ensure they don’t lose election. So it doesn’t really bother us.
“What we are after is how to mobilise our people towards ensuring electoral value where your votes counts. Manipulation or not, what we are saying is that people should be mobilised to go and vote, ensure their votes count and monitor it and whoever is announced is okay because we know that is the choice of the people.
“The people should be left to decide who they want to be their leader and true representation should come through balloting for there to be accountability.
“We are not satisfied with that conduct. The state electoral commission gave only four days for which they opened the nomination. And in an era of recession where people will have to struggle to look for money, what they have done in the first place to us is an absurdity demanding a councillorship and chairmanship candidates to pay N50 and N250,000 respectively, it’s not done anywhere.
“Then to add more insult, there is this discriminatory tax regime where councillor will have to pay a tax of N105,000 and same thing for another amount of money for chairmanship candidate for a man who is not working. If he had that money, he would have veered into business.
“There shouldn’t be any inhibition for anybody to serve their people, let the people decide who to govern them. It’s not required and necessary for people to pay nomination fee because KWSIEC is an agency of government where they are taken care of in the budget. I don’t see why they should now be looking for money from candidates at all cost in order to obtain nomination, it’s absurd”, Akindehin added.
Swiftly, however, KWSIEC boss reiterated that the nomination fee being demanded by the commission is nothing near the absurdity realm as alleged by Akindehin, adding that they are fully protected by the state statutory laws to embark on such exercise. He wondered why the hullabaloo now since the request is only being replicated by the commission from the last council election of 2013.
Ajidagba first explained that the tax receipt being demanded from the candidates is not in the purview of the commission but the responsibility of the KWIRS, adding that they are ready to meet any aggrieved party in court over the matter.
“We are not a tax collecting agency. Everybody knows that KWIRS is in charge of tax in the state, why can’t they go and complain to the agency instead of complaining to us. What we are saying is that as a statutory requirement, they have to show their tax clearance. We are not revenue agency and we don’t receive the money.
“All we ask them to pay for is the nomination forms, N250,000 for chairmanship and N50,000 for councillors, even the bio data forms were given free of charge and all political parties in the state collected it.
“This was the same amount that was charged in 2013, we didn’t increase it. And as for the issue that we are being funded by the government, who else will do that if not the government? In any case, the laws allows us to charge any amount.
“There is already a pronouncement of a competent court of law to that effect, we are only being sympathetic and considerate. This is not the first election that we will charge money, why are people bringing issues they did not raise in 2013?”, Ajidagba queried.
Already, the furore has already been tested in a law court with the commission taken to the High Court by the PDP. Although, KWSIEC got judgment against the opposition PDP in the first leg of the “hostilities”, the party had since dragged the commission to the Appeal Court over the matter.
The PDP had, through its counsel, Salman Jawondo, approached the court seeking for orders to restrain KWSIEC from conducting the poll.
The party also sought court order to nullify the nomination fee of the electoral commission and the tax clearance demanded from those participating in the poll by the Kwara Internal Revenue Service (KWIRS).
PDP hinged its claims on the alleged unconstitutionality inherent in KWSIEC guidelines for candidates participating in the council poll.
It issued an order of interlocutory injunction restraining KWSIEC from enforcing, giving effect to and/or applying some sections of the Kwara State Electoral Law, Laws of Kwara State, 2006 and the guidelines for the conduct of the forth coming local council election pending the determination of the substantive suit.
The party argued that the 2006 local government electoral law passed by the Kwara State House of Assembly is inconsistent with the National Assembly Act and the 1999 Constitution. The party further averred in its application that some requirements for candidates in the Kwara State Local Government Electoral Law and the guidelines for the conduct of the council poll are preconditions not within the purview of the 1999 Constitution as amended and the 2010 Electoral Act as amended. PDP listed such requirements as the screening and disqualification of candidates by the KWSIEC.
But in his judgment, Justice Suleiman Akanbi said, there was nothing unconstitutional by the legislation passed by the Kwara State House of Assembly and therefore ordered the state electoral umpire to go ahead with the November 18th, 2017, local government election.
According to the judge “What the Kwara State House of Assembly did constitutionally and additionally is to aid the Federal Law; the state law is not inconsistent with the Electoral law. Kwara State House of Assembly did not run foul of the constitution but rather complemented it.
“It is crystal clear that the action of the Kwara State House of Assembly is constitutionally guaranteed as regards the council elections. Section 106 of the Constitution is also emphatic on this. I therefore resolved the two issues raised by the claimant in favour of the defendants”, the Judge added.
Corroborating the court, the APC House Leader, Hon Hassan Oyeleke (Offa) in a chat with Pilot Politics on Sunday over the matter, called on the opposition PDP to desist from pursuing shadows instead of substance and challenged it to put its “so called” popularity to test in the coming council election.
“This is the time for the PDP to prove their noise and show they are on ground during the election. They should stop looking for excuses and shouting on the radio. There is no law that stopped KWSIEC from charging nomination form fees. All of us across party divide paid for INEC forms, why should that of the state umpire be different?.”
Now that the case has been dragged further by the PDP, which appealed the judgment, it remained to be seen how the case will play out in the final analysis – will the ruling APC and KWSIEC get another victory or the PDP will smile later. In any case, the Supreme Court may be called upon to adjudicate on the issue as the final arbiter.