By Sandra Umeh
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday, fixed March 26 to hear a preliminary objection to a suit by MTN Nigeria Communication Ltd, against the Attorney General of the Federation, over alleged N242 billion and 1.3 billion dollars import duties and withholding tax assessments.
MTN instituted the suit by a writ, dated Sept. 10, 2018, challenging the legality of the AGF’s assessment of its import duties, withholding tax and value added tax in the sums of N242 billion and 1.3 billion dollars.
The plaintiff is seeking among other reliefs, a declaration that the AGF’s demand of the sums of N242 billion and 1.3 billion dollars from MTN, is premised on a process which is malicious, unreasonable and made on incorrect legal basis.
When the case was called on Thursday, Mr Damian Dodo (SAN), appeared for MTN,, leading Messrs Tunde Fagbonhulu (SAN), Prof. Fabian Ajogwu (SAN) and Olabode Olanipekun (SAN).
Mr Terhemba Agbe, a Senior State Counsel from the Federal Ministry of Justice, announced appearances for the AGF.
Plaintiff’s counsel then informed the court that the matter was adjourned for mention, adding that plaintiff had filed all necessary papers and pleadings and is prepared to open its case.
In response, Agbe informed the court of a preliminary objection to the suit dated Nov. 5, 2018, and filed on Nov. 7, 2018, which he said had been served on the plaintiff.
He told the court that he was informed that the plaintiff had filed a reply to the objection, but that he was yet to receive same.
Justice Aneke consequently fixed March 26, for hearing of the defendant’s preliminary objection.
In its writ of summons, MTN is seeking declaratory reliefs on the following grounds:
That the purported “Revenue assets investigation” allegedly carried out by the Federal Government on MTN, for the period of 2007 – 2017, and its decision conveyed through the office of the AGF by a letter dated Aug. 20, violates the provisions of section 36 of the constitution.
A Declaration that the AGF acted in excess of its powers, by purporting to direct through its letter of May 10, a “self assessment exercise” which usurps the powers of the Nigerian Customs Service to demand payment of import duties on importation of physical goods.
A Declaration that the AGF acted illegally, by usurping the powers of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, to audit and demand remittance of withholding tax and value added tax.
A Declaration that the purported “self assessment” exercise instituted by the AGF via its letter of May 10, is unknown to law, null and void and of no effect whatsoever.
In addition, the plaintiff wants a court order, vacating the AGF’s demand letter dated Aug. 20, for the sums of N242 billion and 1.3 billion dollars from MTN Nigeria Communications Ltd.
Besides, MTN is claiming a total sum of N3 billion in damages, against the defendant, which covers General damages, exemplary damages, and Legal costs.
Meanwhile, in its preliminary objection, the AGF argues that the plaintiff in seeking redress to the subject matter, has just three months from the date of the cause of action arose, to institute the action.
It argues that the plaintiff commenced the suit in clear disregard to section 2 of the Public Officers Protection Act, which provides that any action commenced against a public officer, must be made within three months from commencement of cause of action.
AGF argues further that plaintiff’s failure to commence the suit within three months as stipulated by law, robs the court of jurisdiction to entertain same. (NAN))