- As EFCC arraigns Justice Nganjiwa for $260,000, N8.6m unlawful enrichment
The Bayelsa Board of Internal Revenue (BIR), on Friday sealed off the Bayelsa office of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), over alleged non-remittance of N336million Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax liability.
The BIR enforcement team served a court order on the staff before they ordered them to leave their offices.
The Director of Compliance, Mr Robert Lokoson, who led the enforcement team, said the state government took the steps following fruitless efforts made to recover the outstanding tax deducted from workers’ salaries since 2014.
Lokoson said the operation was part of renewed efforts to boost the internally generated revenue of the state.
“This operation is part of efforts to recover tax revenue owed to the government by Niger Delta Development Commission and pursuant to Section 104 of Personal Income Tax Law, 2011.
“The debt has been owed since 2014 and we have written series of letters to them to pay, but no response from them.
“Four weeks back, we came and persuaded the management of NDDC to pay, but when it became obvious they were not ready to pay, we had to approach the courts to get the orders to seal their office.
“So, we have to take this last resort of getting court orders, after we had exhausted other options ’’ the director said.
He said at the expiration of 14 days, if the tax liability was not settled, the revenue board will be compelled to liquidate assets of NDDC to recover the tax debt.
Meanwhile staff of the NDDC who were forced out of their offices, wondered why the commission could not remit the taxes deducted from their salary.
The Bayelsa representative on the NDDC board, Prof. Nelson Brambaifa, was not available when the team visited for the tax drive.
In the meantime, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Friday arraigned a serving judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, for alleged unlawful enrichment to the tune of $260,000 and N8,650,000.
Justice Nganjiwa, who is attached to the Bayelsa Division of the Federal High Court, was arraigned on 14 counts before the Lagos State High Court in Igbosere.
His arraignment followed the dismissal of a preliminary objection he filed to challenge the jurisdiction of the court to try him.
Justice Nganjiwa’s lawyer, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN), had contended that by virtue of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution, only the National Judicial Council had the power to deal with the kind of allegations brought against the serving judge by the EFCC.
But counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, had, in opposition, contended that despite being a serving judge, Justice Nganjiwa had no immunity from criminal prosecution.
Oyedepo stressed that Section 308 of the constitution, which specified government officials who had immunity as the President, Vice-President and state governors, did not include a serving judge.
He also argued that though Section 158 of the Constitution vested the NJC with administrative power to discipline an erring judicial for misconduct, the NJC did not have the power to look into criminal allegations against judges.
He urged the court to dismiss the preliminary objection and order Justice Nganjiwa to proceed into the dock for his arraignment.
In a ruling on Friday, the presiding judge, Justice A.A. Akintoye, upheld Oyedepo’s argument and dismissed Justice Nganjiwa’s preliminary objection.
Justice Akintoye held, “This court, having been properly constituted, has the power to try this case. The notice of preliminary objection, I hold, is therefore misconceived and same is hereby dismissed.”
After the ruling, the charges were read to Justice Nganjiwa but he pleaded not guilty to all the 14 counts.
In the charges, the EFCC accused him of unlawfully enriching himself as a public official by allegedly receiving a total of $260,000 and N8.65m through his bank account between 2013 and 2015.
The EFCC claimed that the judge could not explain the source of the funds, adding that he acted contrary to Section 82(a) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, No. 11, 2011.
Justice Nganjiwa was also accused of giving false information to operatives of the EFCC, which, the prosecution said, amounted to an offence under Section 39(2) of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2014.
But the accused judge denied all the allegations.
Following the arraignment, Clarke urged Justice Akintoye to admit his client to bail on self-recognisance being a serving judge.
But Oyedepo pleaded with the court not to grant Justice Nganjiwa bail on self-recognisance but to impose “serious conditions” that would compel his appearance in court for his trial.
Additional report from Punch