With the apparent use of the rotation of power by the northern governors to blackmail their southern colleagues over their position on Value Added Tax, Iyobosa Uwugiaren writes that the ongoing debate should be an opportunity for the restructuring of Nigeria along true federalism to enthrone fairness, equity, justice and rule of law, instead of politics of ethnic domination and blackmail
Those who knew about the agenda of the recent meeting of the Northern Governors’ Forum said the meeting was urgently convened to respond to two burning issues: The statement by the Southern Governors’ Forum that the presidency must go to the South in 2023, and the ongoing national debate/legal process on the collection of the Value Added Tax (VAT).
The northern governors, emirs, and other leaders of the region hid under their continuous efforts to address the challenge be defining the embattled region to convey bedeviled punchy messages.
True, at end of the emergency meeting at the Council Chamber of Sir kashim Ibrahim House, Kaduna, the forum said that the southern governors’ position that the presidency must go to the South is “quite contradictory’’ with the provision of the constitution and that the judgment of the Federal High Curt calls to question the constitutionality of VAT.
The forum observed that some northern state states governors had earlier expressed views for a power shift to three geo-political zones in the So intending to promote unity and peace in the nation. Notwithstanding their comments, the forum unanimously condemns the statement by the Southern Governor”s Forum that the presidency must go to the South.
The statement is quite contradictory with the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended – that the elected President shall: Score the majority votes; score at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in two-third states of the federation. In the case of run-up simple majority wins the election,’’ the forum stated in its communique read by Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau State.
Responding to the controversy enveloping the collection of VAT, Lalong who doubles as Chairman, Northern States Governors’ Forum, claimed that the judgment of the Federal high Court calls to question the constitutionality of VAT, withholding tax, education tax, Niger Delta Development Commission, National Information Technology Development Agency, 13 per cent Derivation, National Economic Development Council and many others being levied and collected by the federal government through the Federal Inlands Revenue Service (FIRS).
The forum claimed that VAT is being confused by the Lagos and Rivers states as a sales tax, saying that if every state enacts its own VAT law, multiple taxations will result in increases of prices of goods and services and collapse in interstate trade.
The argument of the northern governors is that VAT is not a production tax like excise, but a terminal tax, which is paid by the ultimate consumer. The forum, however, said that until the Supreme Court pronounces judgement on the substantive matter between Rivers State and the federal government, the matter is sub judice.
Before the meeting, the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) had also rejected the position of the southern governors that the 2023 presidency should be zoned to the southern part of the country, insisting that the presidency is a democratic office and not a rotational position.
In a statement by its Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the self-styled elders said that the North would not be threatened, intimidated or blackmailed into giving up its right to a democratic office, saying the region should not be compelled to give up a democratically elected office.
Indeed, the positions of both the northern and the southern governors have generated hash and rash comments in the past few days.
While some legal experts said that the northern governors were right in their position – within the context of law, many believe that what is at stake in the current political discuss is a political compromise that is urgently needed to douse political tension – arising from the nepotism that has dominated the socio-political and economic policies, as well as programmes of President Muhammadu Buhari-led government in the past six years.
The argument is that if the political elite want a country where everyone will feel a sense of belonging, the political arrangements have to be fair and just to save the country’s fragile unity
Other ethnic groups have accused the North of playing with the unity of the country.
A prominent leader of one of the minority tribes in the Middle Belt has argued that the ancestry of some of the northern leaders stoking fire in the country by their utterances could be traced to Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Mauritania.
So, they have other homes where they will relocate to when Nigeria starts burning. That is their Plan B. They are not true Nigerians. Other true Nigerians have no other country of their own to run to in the event of crisis,” he said on condition of anonymity.
On his part, the Leader of Pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, has faulted the position of the northern governors, stating that “they don’t want us to be together.
I am not surprised. If they have to continue to rule forever, that means there is no Nigeria. They want to continue to rule us. They are pushing us out of the Nigerian federation. It means that they don’t want us to be together and we cannot to be underdogs.
We don’t accept their rule forever. The basis of staying together is not there. We won’t accept to be in a Nigeria where you would dominate us”, he stated emotionally in an interview with Arise News recently.
Also responding to the vexed issues, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), has also picked holes in the position of the northern governors that their Southern counterparts did not make a valid request for the presidency to go to the South in 2023.
The constitution cannot be read piece-meal. It must be seen as a whole. The section quoted by the governors relates to how to win election, and choosing and agreeing on candidate. Drafters of the constitution envisaged a situation when a section of the country may want to dominate others and provided for provisions against it’’, the senior lawyer stated.
His argument is Section 14 (3) forbids domination of political space or occupation of office to the detriment of others; and promotes national cohesion, loyalty to the country and spread of offices, including the presidency.
Adegboruwa explained that if the north has been in power since 2015 and after exhausting eight years, the constitution expects the South to produce the next president.
His submission: “Zoning is lawful and constitutional. And there is precedent. In 2006, they (Northern governors) made similar demand for power shift, if they check their records.’’
For the pan-Igbo socio-political organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the resolution of the northern governors portends a depressing future for the country with precarious omens.
The apex Igbo body wondered why the North is undisturbed that Nigeria is fast collapsing under its leadership.
Let it be made abundantly clear that if presidency is a panacea to people’s problems, the North would have become the Netherlands of Africa. This is because the North had Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsalam Abubakar, Musa Yar’Adua, and Muhammadu Buhari, yet the problems of the North are on the increase,” Ohanaeze declared.
Ohanaeze said from the Obasanjo presidency to the Jonathan presidency, the South consistently honoured the principle of power shift that culminated in the Buhari presidency.
The group added: “Therefore, the least that is expected from the North is a show of profound gratitude to the entire South for their large heart, equanimity and sportsmanship.
Furthermore, it is in the interest of every Nigerian that there should be a paradigm shift to governance techniques. Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide unequivocally stands with the 17 southern governors and any black leg among them will incur the wrath of history.’’
The Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) has also described the opposition of the northern governors to the call for power shift to the south and states’ collection of VAT as irresponsible.
Northern governors’ opposition to power shift to the South is most ridiculous, cowardly and irresponsible. Their opinion on the issue of the southern presidency is preposterous and parochial; they have enjoyed massive support from the South for President Muhammadu Buhari to attain power,’’ PANDEF’S National Publicity Secretary, Hon. Ken Robinson stated.
On the issue of VAT, PANDEF said it wholly supported the position of Rivers, Lagos and the southern governors that states should collect VAT.
On its part, the Middle Belt Forum said that the core North had no moral right to contest the 2023 presidential election at the end of the tenure of President Buhari. The president of the group, Dr. Bitrus Pogu, said the North was wrong to plan jettisoning power shift after having its turn in power.
According to him, “We in the Middle Belt stand for power shift; it should be among three zones: that is North, South and Middle Belt, not just between North and South. We in the Middle Belt have severed ourselves from the core North. For the sake of the unity of Nigeria, power cannot remain in the North under any guise in 2023.
It is wrong for the North to rule back-to-back. Unless they have something they want to hide and are afraid of power leaving the North, there is no justification for the North to say power shift is unconstitutional.’’
On VAT, Pogu declared that the matter is in court, arguing that the court will determine its outcome.
It is a signal to those who are destroying beer through Hisbah, that they cannot eat from the proceeds of alcohol and then be destroying the product. It is unfortunate that it is the same North that is clamouring for VAT money. Let us be sincere with ourselves and call a spade a spade; the court will determine the outcome of VAT,” Pogu explained.
Many senior lawyers described the position of the Northern Governors’ Forum against states’ collection of VAT as a blackmail tool for power rotation.
The main issue before the court on VAT, is whether under the 1999 Constitution the National Assembly has powers to make laws on VAT to enable the FIRS to centrally collect VAT. If the different competent courts of law have held that the National Assembly lacked power to make laws on VAT, the focus should be on how to empower the states to collect the taxes.
In other words, claiming that it would be easier to be centrally collected as canvassed by the Northern Governors’ Forum, against constitutional provisions, will not augur well for true federalism.
Therefore, restructuring Nigeria along true federalism – where fairness, equity, justices and rule of law will reign should be a collective effort, rather than any subtle blackmail for ethnic domination.
However, Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai’s clarification that his colleagues never opposed to the presidency going to the South in 2023, but were only against the language used by their southern colleagues, is reassuring in the ongoing conversation.