NIGERIAN TELCOS OBTAIN FREEDOM FROM MULTIPLE TAXATION
New found boldness by the country's judiciary in delivering landmark judgments against other arms of government re-echoed last week when a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos declared null and void a law passed by the Lagos State House of Assembly to regulate telecom operations in the State.
It was remarkable for the fact that it was another case that pitted the executive arm, which in this case was the Lagos State government and its agency, the Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (IMRA) against the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON).
IMRA was established and empowered inter alia, to "issue permits for the use of right of way to all telecommunication operators and other utility providers within the State; to dismantle and disconnect cables and other infrastructure laid or erected without obtaining the necessary permission from the agency; and authorize any officer of the agency to inspect any infrastructure for the purpose of determining whether it complies with the provisions of this law and the regulations made hereunder."
The law extensively prescribes fees to be paid to the agency by any telecommunication company seeking to erect or construct towers, masts, or lay cables for telecommunication purposes within Lagos State.
But not withstanding the fact that the case was one that involved an agency of the State government and a trade association, the High Court judge was able to muster the boldness to pronounce IMRA unconstitutional, null and void. Thus, bringing a halt to another executive lawlessness that has come to be associated with our present democratic experiment.
In delivering his judgment, Justice Ibrahim Auta held that the law passed by the Lagos State House of Assembly to regulate telecommunication operators in the state was of no effect.
According to him, no State government could legislate on telecom matters as the sector was under the exclusive legislative list of the National Assembly. The clear motive for establishing such laws, he said, was to generate more revenue for State governments. It is therefore based on the foregoing that the recent judgment of the Federal High Court should be hailed as a landmark judgment.This would remind the Lagos State government or any other State government for that matter to respect the laws of the land.