By Henry Umoru
FOR the second time in three years, the Senate, yesterday, rejected proposals to grant Lagos a special status, in view of the avalanche of socio-economic challenges it is facing as former political capital of Nigeria. The state is still the economic capital and nerve centre of the country.
Indeed, the Senate Chambers was thrown into a rowdy session as senators deliberated on a bill for an act to make provision for a special Federal grant to Lagos State.
The Bill, titled A Bill for an Act to make provisions for Federal Grants to Lagos State in recognition of its strategic socio- economic significance and other connected purposes, was sponsored by Senator Oluremi Tinubu, All Progressives Congress, APC, Lagos Central.
The said Bill was first presented to the upper chamber in the 7th Senate, but the lawmakers turned it down at the committee stage.
Specifically, on June 5, 2013, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu-led Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Review, in its report, ruled out special status for Lagos. It said: “On Special Status for Lagos, while the Committee appreciates the peculiar needs and challenges of Lagos, it is our considered opinion that according such special status should be a matter of political decision, which should be kept out of the Constitution.”
Yesterday, while opposing the move, Senators Gershom Bassey, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Cross River South, and Philip Tanimu Aduda, PDP, FCT, said the same provision being asked for by Senator Tinubu, be provided for Calabar, being the first Capital of Nigeria and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
Aduda, who said he would only support the bill if FCT got similar attention and special funding from the Federation Account, said: “I will support it (bill) on one condition, that what will be given to Lagos State should be given to other states like the FCT. Some special allocations should be given to FCT. The FCT is over-stretched and government needs to intervene. In the FCT, we have riverine areas.”
Senator Aliyu Wamakko, APC, Sokoto North, who also kicked against the bill, said the timing was wrong because while other states are finding it difficult to pay salaries, Lagos State that was the richest state, asking for special grant, adding that if granted, it would make other states poorer and Lagos richer.
The rowdy session started when Senator Olusola Adeyeye, APC, Osun Central, in his contribution and apparently referring to what Aduda said, stated that the FCT was like a pampered and spoilt child. He demanded for 13 percent derivation on tax proceeds generated from the state, arguing that one percent was too small.
Senator Adeyeye’s description of the FCT as a pampered child elicited sharp and rancorous reactions from many legislators.
The statement angered Senator Aduda, who immediately asked Adeyeye to withdraw the statement. Senator Aduda had the support of most senators from the Northern part of the country who stood up demanding the withdrawal of the statement.
It was at that point that the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, asked Senator Adeyeye to withdraw his statement.
Adeyeye withdrew the statement but then the harm had been done, given the commotion and bitterness it caused on the floor of the Senate.
It was, therefore, not surprising that the senators unanimously rejected the bill when it was put to vote by Deputy Senate President, Ekweremadu, who presided over yesterday’s plenary.
Senator Adeyeye, in his contribution to the debate had said: “I rise to support most of this bill and to oppose an aspect of it. The aspect I oppose is the same aspect that James Manager attempted to highlight. But in doing so, I want to point out that…I don’t even believe that one percent is enough for Lagos. I think what we need to do is to be fair to every part of this country and to say that we must not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. And we have already from Independence and subsequent alteration to the Constitution, say whatever revenue you get from oil by the principle of derivation, a certain percentage must belong to that community.
“By the same token, whatever you get from VAT, a certain percentage should belong to that community. We have among us a governor, who made a law that banned the consumption of alcohol. That’s what the people want. I supported it. He has the right to make the law. However, if my own people consume alcohol and pay VAT on it, he should not take a penny of what my people have for VAT on alcohol.
“In Lagos, all of us are paying tax. And all of these VAT is taken to Abuja. What we need to do is to say whatever is good for the goose is good for the gander. If it is 13 percent for Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers for oil, let it also be 13 percent to Lagos for the VAT paid there.’’
On what he meant by FCT being pampered, Adeyeye, who is the Senate Chief Whip, while withdrawing the statement and tendering an apology said: “Mr President, you led us to Washington DC on fiscal federalism. We were told that when we see federal roads in the US, it’s federal only in name. It is federal only because the Federal Government of the US provides 80 percent of the money and the state government provides 20 percent. But all of the money is given to the Federal Government on that road.”