Trust and Efficiency in Tax Administration: The Silent Role of Policy-Based Legitimate Experience in Nigeria

Okanga Ogbu Okanga


The interaction between tax administration, discretion, and legitimate expectation has been widely explored. However, the subject has traditionally been approached from the perspective of legality and deeply focussed on how courts adjudicate cases bordering on the frustration of legitimate expectation by tax authorities. This is unsurprising, given that legitimate expectation evolved as a judicial remedy to check administrative unfairness and to provide certainty and trust in public administration. Cases show that this remedy is rarely accorded by the courts, which makes its efficiency questionable. Using Nigeria as a case study, this doctrinal paper explores the prospects of taking an alternative approach; one that focusses on what tax authorities, rather than the court, can and, perhaps should, do when confronted with claims of legitimate expectation, and how what they do potentially impacts public trust in the tax system. The concept of “trust” has played a useful role in shaping the jurisprudence of legitimate expectation. Some authors, likewise, advocate trust as the core underlying principle or justification for the protection of legitimate expectation. It is, however, the view of this author that, regarding taxation especially, adjudication is not a plausible way by which to engender trust between taxpayer and tax authority. Rather, only an approach that sees the tax authority leading positively on claims of legitimate expectation can engender trust. This approach will be more successful at making the taxpaying public trust the tax authority, since trust is more likely to derive from a symbiotic interaction between interested parties than through the actions of an intervener.

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