At Tax Appeal Tribunal, we don’t entertain Delay, Technicalities like regular Court – Oniyangi Bolanle
It was Winston Churchill, considered arguably by many to be the greatest Briton of all times and the most famous British Prime Minister who noted: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
For Bolanle Oniyangi, her affinity to stand out is not only defined by the niche she has graciously carved for herself in the civil service prior to her appointment as the coordinating secretary of the Tax Appeal Tribunal, but a determination to make the business environment feel the essence of establishing the tribunal and to dispense justice without any iota of delay to improve the economy of the nation and to ease the task of doing business.
Green with the vision on how to turn around the aims of the founding fathers for establishing the agency 11 years ago to serve as a nation’s veritable window for tax dispute rsolution across the federation is putting on a new gown of technological innovation towards building a dynamic tax dispute resolution centre, worthy of public trust and confidence.
Upon assumption of office, this virtuous legal expert, perfect specimen of humility sees solution where there is a challenge, and where others see a mountainous obstacle, she sees a reason to surge on, having her eye on the goal and with a promise and commitment to live the tribunal better than how she met it.
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In the aftermath of the launching of the first-ever electronic Filing Application software and case management deployed by the tribunal, our media team had an interview with her.
Bolanle Oniyangi hails from Kwara State, Ilorin South Local government, a graduate of law from Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto, attended the only Nigeria law school then Lagos, and was called to the Nigerian Bar as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in 1993; LLM in legislative drafting from NIALS. SHE worked as practicing lawyer, before joining Federal Ministries of Justice, Defence to name a few as a prosecutor and a defense Attorney before her appointment as the coo-ordinating secretary.
She had numerous professional qualifications from home and abroad to her legal credits.
Read the excerpt of our interview with her below.
Can we meet you ma?
I am Bolanle Hajara Oniyangi, the coordinating secretary, Tax Appeal Tribunal.
When did you resume the office as a coordinating secretary?
I was appointed the coordinating Secretary in November 2020.
What does Tax Appeal Tribunal do?
Tax Appeal Tribunal was established to settle disputes between the Tax Payer and the Tax Authority. As part of the financial reform Agenda of the Federal Government, It was established newly in FIRS Act 2007 but did not take effect until 2010, that was when the first set of commissioners were appointed to promptly and efficiently settle the dispute on matters relating to the Tax Laws. Some of the Tax Laws listed in the first schedule in the FIRS Acts include; the companies income tax, personal income tax, petroleum profit tax acts, capital gain acts, stamp duties, list of collections amongst others.
Are you holding sittings only in Abuja Zone?
No, we have a total of eight Zones of the tax appeal tribunal. Six are in the six geo-political zones of Nigeria, and one in Lagos and the other in Abuja.
How long do you settle a dispute?
We have a timeline; the rollover for cases in the Tribunal is not more than 6 months, which is a quick, effective and efficient process compared to what is obtainable in the regular court cases. The process is not dependent on us; The establishment act prescribes times for all actions to be before the tribunal for instance, a tax payer is required to file their compliant/process 30 days after the tax authority issues an assessment. If dissatisfied, they have 30 days within this to file your process at the Tax Appeal Tribunal.
So, you don’t entertain delay?
YES! we don’t entertain any delay; we do not dwell on the technicalities that hamper a quick dispensation of justice in the regular court. In Tax Appeal Tribunal, the tax payer is at liberty to file his or her case and defend himself or herself. One does not necessarily need to engage a lawyer, you can bring in your professionals, accountants, entrepreneurs, or staff to stand in for you as witnesses. We do not entertain all those technical claw backs of the court.
That means one does not need to be a lawyer to defend his/her case
Exactly, you can present your case yourself. Accountants, Tax practitioners and Auditors can appear before the court to prosecute their cases for themselves or on behalf of their clients.
Since your resumption in office can you tell us the most prolonged case?
Well, you know there was a covid19 pandemic; throughout last year Nigeria was more or less on lockdown. So, we have some cases filed within 6 months that have been successfully dealt with and even less than that but some cases have dragged on just as I mentioned earlier because of covid19, but with the advent of our electronic filing system and virtual tribunal proceedings, all the challenges would soon become A thing of past with the embrace of new technological innovation.
When the Tribunal gives a judgement, can it be appeal and does the appeal get to the Supreme Court?
Yes, we have some cases that are at the Supreme Court. After the Tribunal gives judgement, the Appeal from Tribunal goes to the Federal High Court, from Federal High Court it goes to Court of Appeal, from Court of Appeal it goes to the Supreme Court. We have few cases that are still pending in the Supreme Court.
Is there a scenario where the matter goes to the Federal High Court and was it referred back to you?
Yes. Federal High Court has affirmed that Tax Appeal Tribunal is the first point of call in the cases involving Tax Administration. In Ocean and Oil, the former Chief Judge of Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta held that if there is a dispute between the tax payer and the tax authority, they are supposed to file an appeal at the Tax Appeal Tribunal and that If a law has provided the procedure for doing a thing, you have to follow that procedure, you don’t have to jump the System.
Therefore, the law says that when you are dissatisfied with the decision of the tax authority, you have 30 days to file an appeal at Tax Appeal Tribunal. The same law also said that if the tax authority has issued an assessment and the tax payer fails or refuses to pay; the tax authority too can approach the tribunal for the tribunal to affirm their decision.
Who and who make up the Panel?
The Panel has five (5) members; the chairman who must be a lawyer, the other panel members include an Accountant, Public Administrator, Entrepreneur, and Tax Expert. As I said, it is a fact-finding solution, the Tribunal is not like the regular court, and we are here to make the atmosphere conducive for all. You definitely cannot compare the five members because we have looked at their antecedents; they have experience in Taxation, Law, Accounting, Entrepreneurship and Public Administration.
Is the Tribunal under the FIRS?
No, the enabling law that established the Tax Appeal Tribunal is section 59 of the FIRS Act. Tax Appeal Tribunal is not an appendage of the FIRS but under the clear supervision of the Minister of Finance. In future, the tribunal may also get its independence as a specialized superior court of record.
Why did you adopt e-filing?
Like I earlier said, the advent of covid19 affected all aspects of the economy, and we all know that the economy is mostly dependent on taxation. It is the taxes that people pay that is used to run the nation and if a tax payer has a matter before the tribunal or the tax authority, the money they collect is what is being used in developing the nation. Everything was put on hold, the tribunal could not sit for many months, many pending cases were on the docket of the tribunal but, nobody could go out due to the lockdown. If there was to be a provision for virtual sitting, all those matters that were pending would have been determined. With e-filing, we would have done that in the comfort of our homes.
Is this the main reason you adopted e-filing for the tribunal?
The main reason why we embrace and adopt e-filing for the tribunal is to promote ease of doing business and for people to be able to have access to the tribunal within the comfort of their homes or their offices at any given time without having to travel many kilometers. A lot of matters hanging are running into millions of dollars, trillions of naira and luckily for us the Finance Acts have now made a provision that the tribunal can conduct virtual hearings, this is the trend all over the world and we don’t want to be left behind.
It is common in most government agencies that after six months or one year of starting a project, you will not hear about it again. Do you think that it is something that won’t last or something that will cease once you leave the office?
Yes, we are the first. Electronic filing is A digital concept and as a responsible agency of the government, we should not be left behind. Immediately I assumed office, I had a zoom meeting with the commissioners and I told them of the possibility for us adopting e-filing and e-sitting because most tax payers have complained that the reason, they have not come to the tribunal was because of the distance. I have had cause to attend Joint Tax Board meeting where we have the state’s chairmen in attendant, all of them have complained. This tribunal is a national one for all the states of the federation, including the FCT and the Federal Inland Revenue Service
What is your advice to your commissioners and do you intend to carry them along?
I have always discussed with my commissioners and chairmen that this is a new reality and we cannot be left behind, let us be part of this history-making moment. Through this, we are contributing to the nation’s building. My advice for them is to embrace these technological innovations towards building a dynamic Tax Dispute Administration Centre, worthy of public trust and confidence.
Do you have anything to say that we have not asked?
Lastly, I will like to inform the general public that there are many benefits of coming to the tribunal as an individual or company and to have it in mind that the tribunal is for everybody, we decide people matters professionally in line with the international best practices. We are proud of ourselves as an institution with people of integrity and honesty.
TAT, …building confidence in our tax system.