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The Rivers State VAT judgement and the “mesmerising love of Abuja”

A Cross Section Of Southern Governors

By Fola Aiyegbusi

Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, like him or not, can be brutally frank on national issues just like his colleague Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, of Ondo State. The positions of Governor Wike on fiscal federalism and Governor Akeredolu on open grazing are two major issues on national public discourse that keeps endearing these two governors to the hearts of the people they govern. Read this trending social media quote allegedly made by Governor Wike:

“You can’t destroy beer in your state in the name of sharia yet share from VAT on beer from other states. It is hypocrisy. Free money has promoted laziness. If you want to be a governor grow your state’s economy. You can’t contribute humongous numbers during elections that can’t translate to tax earnings for your state. If they can vote they should be able to work and pay tax.”

And can anyone fault the above claim by Governor Wike? Therefore, the title of this article is derived from the emphatic and unequivocal claim by Governor Wike that Rivers money is not for “Abuja people”.

It is a pure statement of fact. The Rivers State government has done the right thing by approaching a Federal High Court and has subsequently had its prayers to the court granted. The Federal High Court has again dismissed the stay of execution sought by the Federal Inland Revenue Services which makes it legally right therefore for Rivers State to execute the judgement in its kitty.

With this move, Governor Wike becomes the first ever person in government or outside government to have taken the most pragmatic step in contemporary Nigeria towards the realisation of proper fiscal federalism and resource control. It is not surprising that the Lagos State government has followed suit after Rivers.

The Lagos State House of Assembly has just passed a law to have absolute control on the VAT generated from consumption in the state. It is absolutely correct to have done so. Governor Wike does not suffer fools gladly, he is a dogged fighter, bold and brave man.

Therefore, the arrogant, self centered and boastful reaction to the Rivers State court judgement by Governor Bello Masari of Katsina State, as if he owns Nigeria, has met its perfect match in Governor Wike. And he has responded accordingly. Therefore, the matter must be thrashed out once and for all.

If not for the mesmerising love of Abuja, this matter ought to have been in the front burner of public discourse since 1999 when this current democratic dispensation took off with former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the helm of affair. And president Obasanjo and members of the National Assembly from the most affected states of this fiscal injustice must also take slices of the blames.

They were all too carried away with the “love of Abuja”, a fallacious over-emphasised statesmanship, and they forgot to do the needful. President Obasanjo even resented all arguments towards a fiscal restructuring of Nigeria, even political restructuring too, and became vindictive when the Lagos State government created additional local government areas by siezing the monthly revenue allocation for Lagos from the Federation Account despite a Supreme Court judgement against the decision.

The Act establishing the collection of VAT was promulgated to law by the military and it ought to have been reviewed long ago before now to reflect the yearnings of the people and correct a seemingly glaring injustice associated with it. Like Gov Wike has claimed, how come states in the North that have an above age 18 voting population of over five million can not capture a sizeable percentage of this figure in their tax nets? Taxes from VAT comes mostly from consumption of goods and services; so don’t they consume?

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