As some Northern states, today, join the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in its appeal against the judgment of the Federal High Court empowering Rivers State to collect Value Added Tax (VAT), the South-South Governors’ Forum, also known as the BRACED Governors’ Council, yesterday, resolved to join the suit in solidarity with Rivers and Lagos states.
BRACED is an acronym for the six states in the South-South zone: Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta states. Governors from the region declared their unequivocal support for the decision of states to collect VAT.
Chairman of the forum and Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, while reading the communiqué at the end of the meeting, which lasted more than five hours at Government House, Port Harcourt, disclosed that the regional security outfit of the zone would be launched soon.
The crucial meeting was attended by five of the six governors from the zone. In attendance were Godwin Obaseki (Edo State), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Emmanuel Udom (Akwa-Ibom), Douye Diri (Bayelsa) and the host governor, Nyesom Wike.
Governor Ben Ayade of Cross Rivers State failed to show up and did not send a representative. Sources close to the Council attributed his action to Ayade’s recent defection from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Speaking further, chairman of the forum noted that the BRACED Commission had established their state security organs and the forum has approved it as the regional security architecture.
Part of the communiqué read: “After an extensive deliberation, the Council resolved that the President and National Assembly should take necessary measures to review some unfair aspects of the recently signed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to ensure fairness and equity. It urged that the amendment should include a clear definition of host communities and that the trustees should be appointed by state governments.
“The Forum called upon the President and the Federal Government to uphold the law establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by appropriately constituting its Board. In addition, it expressed the hope that the Federal Government would make the forensic audit report public and deal justly and fairly with the report, with a view to strengthening the capacity of the NDDC to meet its obligations to the people of the region.
“The Forum regretted that the President and the Federal Government had generally failed to give reasoned consideration to requests made by the region during the dialogue with a special federal delegation led by Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, Chief of Staff to the President. Notable among the requests were the relocation of NNPC subsidiaries and IOCs headquarters to the Niger Delta and the completion of a number of federal projects in the region, notably roads.”
REACTING, the apex socio-cultural organisation of the South-South people, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), described the resolution of South-South governors to join in the VAT/FG dispute at the Supreme Court as a welcome development. National Chairman of PANDEF, Chief Emmanuel Ibok Essien, spoke yesterday in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital.
He said: “The governors’ resolution on joining the suit is a welcome development. And the implication is that when the Supreme Court makes its pronouncement it will affect all the states that joined in the suit. And if that pronouncement is in favour of the states, it means that automatically they will all benefit from the judgment of court.
“Those states will start collecting VAT, on their own. But if they are not joined as a party to the suit, they will not be beneficiary of the judgment given. It means they will now have to go to court again on their own. Therefore, PANDEF’s advice to all the Southern states is that they should join as a party to the suit.”
MEANWHILE, Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, yesterday, said the demand by federating states for a sharing formula that is just, fair and equitable is not controversial but very straightforward to reflect the contribution of states to the common purse.
He made this known at the opening of a two-day Southwest zonal public hearing on Review of Revenue Allocation Formula organised by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) in Lagos.
The governor said the states also want a revenue formula that enhances the capacity of states and local governments to deliver high-quality services and the full dividends of democracy to the greatest number of Nigerians.
To this end, the governor demanded for one per cent share in the revenue allocation formula, maintaining that the special status of the state and its prosperity directly or indirectly has multiplying effects on the Southwest region and the entire country.
Lagos State government also proposed that the revenue sharing formula should be 34 per cent for Federal Government, including one percent for FCT; 42 per cent for state governments; 23 per cent for Local Governments and one per cent for Lagos State (Special Status) as against the current revenue allocation formula, which are 52.68 per cent, 26.72 per cent and 20.60 per cent for Federal Government, 36 state governments and 774 local governments respectively.
Sanwo-Olu said the review of the current revenue allocation formula is long overdue, noting that the best way to guarantee national progress and development is by paying attention to sub-national development because the national is a summation and a reflection of the sub-national.
He said the call for a special status for the state, which has been re-echoed at different fora and at various levels and tiers of government, cannot be over emphasised, especially against the backdrop of the current economic situation of the country, aftermath of the #EndSARS protests a year ago, and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, for which Lagos has been the national epicentre.
“Lagos State is no doubt the nation’s commercial capital, and population centre. The level of funding required to service the state’s social and public infrastructure is so significant that it will be difficult to bear the burden for much longer under the present arrangement. It will actually be unfair to expect the state to bear this heavy burden on its own. It is, therefore, necessary to give due consideration to all the variables that support our advocacy for a special status.
“The call for a special status for Lagos is not a selfish proposition; it is in the best interest of the country and all Nigerians, for Lagos, which accounts for about 20 per cent of the national GDP and about 10 per cent of the nation’s population to continue to prosper,” the Governor said.
Justifying the need for Lagos State to be accorded special status, Governor Sanwo-Olu said Lagos is more than just another state in the Nigerian federation, noting that there is no tribe in the country that has no significant stake in Lagos State.
He said: “As the former capital of the country for 77 years (compared to the 30 years that Abuja has been the Federal Capital Territory), Nigeria’s largest metropolis still bears the heavy brunt of being home to all Nigerians; irrespective of age, class, gender, religious affiliation or tribe.
“Also, Lagos was the epicentre for this virus, the same way it was for the Ebola virus some years ago. The management of these unforeseen occurrences comes with huge responsibilities and financial commitments on the part of the State Government,” he said.
IN another development, governors and leaders of the Southeast zone will today gather at the Government House, Enugu State, for an emergency meeting over the high rate of insecurity in the zone.
The increasing insecurity in the area has caused several deaths, including last week’s killing of Dr Chike Akunyili, husband of the late Information Minister, Prof. Dora Akunyili, in Anambra State.
A memo sent by the Ebonyi State Governor and chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum, David Umahi, stated that the leaders would in the meeting reach some decisions to “salvage our region that is currently battling with the high rate of insecurity.”
Umahi stressed that the meeting would be attended by governors of the five states of the zone, Ohanaeze leaders and heads of religious and traditional institutions. Umahi begged his colleagues in the zone to endeavour to be present and not send representatives.
He wrote: “Your Excellencies and our highly esteemed leaders, in consultation with our governors and President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, where a decision for an urgent meeting to be called was reached, may I, therefore, invite you for an emergency meeting of Southeast governors, some leaders of Ohaneze, some of our political leaders, some of our religious leaders and some of our traditional leaders.
“Our Leaders begged that I request all governors of Southeast to be present at the time and not on representative capacity so that together we should reach some decisions to salvage our region that is currently battling with the high rate of insecurity. May I, therefore, request that you please endeavour to attend this meeting for the sake of Ndigbo.”
Giving an insight into the agenda of the meeting, a source said: “As you can see, it is very obvious that the governors have received all manner of insults for not being firm and sincere in the establishment of the so-called Ebubeagu security outfit. You will agree with me that this vacuum they created led to the formation of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) by IPOB.
“If you check around the states, the people have accepted ESN because there is no alternative to that. When we talk about the renewed insecurity in the Southeast, anybody who wants to tell himself the truth will tell you that since the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, and the governors playing selfish politics with it, we have been having sit-at-home, which has caused several deaths and arson.
“I think the governors will have to put an end to this and that is by discussing his arrest and giving assurance that he would be released. They are not happy that they only enjoy three working days in a week with no end in sight for the sit-at-home.”