Lessons as Wike’s Gambit Stirs Nigeria VAT Debate
By Emeka Uzoatu
Thanks, no thanks to Nyesom Wike, the indefatigable governor of the Rivers State Government of Nigeria. Depending on the side of the divide you belong to, he’s either a villain or a godsend. Any which way, though, it’s gladdening that at last our much touted federalism has at last been put to a legal test.
For the unaware, the governor had gone to court to challenge the legality of the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) in the state by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). An aberration that has held ever since the consumer tax regime was introduced by ‘President’ Ibrahim Babangida in the dying days of his reign.
Apparently, Wike’s sublime gambit was undertaken discreetly. Perhaps, to hide it from the umpteen ‘wise and prudent’ overpopulating the land. But, in no time, its success was revealed to even the babes and the suckling. All the more so as Wike had subsequently signed the VAT bill passed by the state assembly into law without hesitation.
But rather than douse the tension like some expected, things only started to happen following the assent. First, the embattled usurper agency quickly filed for a stay of the order’s execution. But much to their chagrin, their request was rejected by the court.
It was rumoured that they had next attempted to head to the National Assembly through the back door. The aim: to amend the constitution to put the collection of VAT under the exclusive legislative list. They have since denied the anomaly, though. But we gather that they haven’t slept with closed eyes ever since.
Anyway, much to their relief, the Federal Government has since won a reprieve for them. Like reported, an appellate court to which they ran has called for a return to the status quo ante.
A development unfavoured by the Rivers State Government which has vowed to commence VAT collection in their domain this month. In fact, at press time, the Rivers State Government is said to have dragged the FG to the Supreme Court with the FIRS and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) cited as respondents.
While the legal fireworks tarries, Nigerians as always have upped the ante in their usual media trial. This has seen learned and unlearned ladies and gentlemen putting words into the matter.
Expectedly, the most intriguing of these voicings have come from the high places. None more virulent than Governor Wike himself.
According to him, the time was over-nigh to address the abnormality. With well-articulated statistics, he has been able to prove that some states were being robbed to pay others.
For instance, he posited that in June 2021, his state generated a total VAT of about 15 billion naira, only to receive a paltry sum of 4.7 billion. This as opposed to a state like Kano that generated 2.8 billion and received the same amount from the FG.
Interestingly, some of these robbed states have joined Rivers. Notably, Lagos, the other notable cash cow in the perfidy. What with them being paid only 9 billion after generating a whopping 46 billion! Also, they have since had their state assembly enact laws to that effect; and, more gratifyingly, they have also applied to be joined as a respondent in the pending suit.
However, what is most preposterous about the whole mess remains the fact that the only voices of dissent to the move appear to be coming from the robber states. A sympathiser of theirs even had the animal bravura to mourn out loud about how they could cope if the law took its due course. Not unlike President Buhari had upon a time asked Middle Belt farmers to accommodate marauding herdsmen whose animals were destroying their crops.
All said and done, what one finds is a situation where sundry presidential aides have been let loose to defend their principal. In what appeared no less than endless filibusters, they have made vacuous prejudicial claims fashioned from their avaricious maws.
But Wike’s argument cannot be less compelling. In issue here is what the constitution says. No more no less. After all, over time there have been endless calls for the amendment of the junta-bequeathed document. And all had fallen on deaf ears.
In all these, they have often arisen where the states are on the receiving end. Like the beleaguering revenue sharing formula. And suddenly, now that Abuja’s neck is at the end of the noose, all manner of armchair experts have risen to their defence.
And like everything Nigerian, it has since morphed into a tribal war. The north that is unarguably the chief benefactors of the heist have since marshalled their attack forces.
Overnight, Wike has suddenly become a villain out to wreck our ship of state. Like has also become de rigueur, any call for the rule of justice and equity is seen as an attack on the status quo.
Meanwhile the people at the helm of affairs do everything to aggravate the situation. Armed militias bent on overrunning the state are treated with kid gloves while agitators for genuine causes are branded terrorists. When the former are granted amnesty at the blink of a lid, the latter are ordered to be shot at sight.
The sad thing is that a foreseeable end to the conundrum is difficult to imagine.
Perhaps, by the time the courts are through, the FG is bound to beat a retreat to the National Assembly. And one wonders how all the contingencies pending afore will be swept aside to give this one the expedited attention they’ll desire.
No doubt, they are bound to resort to the already-advertised filibustering techniques. However, it’s expected that the needful will be done for the continued peaceful existence of the nation. Yes, it’s hoped that the leadership of the house will cloture their shenanigans by putting the matter to vote urgently.
Emeka Uzoatu, a seasoned journalist and writer, is the editor of Nairaweb.ng. He writes the occasional column, Penny Wisdom.