By Donu Kogbara
THE Forum for Ethnic Nationalities of Niger Delta, FENND, is a newish advocacy group that represents peoples who existed long before Nigeria was created and believes in non-violent pushback against forces that sabotage the interests of the region.
Some of you will be wondering how FENND differs from other Niger Delta groups, including the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, which has the highest profile and famous leaders like Chief Edwin Clark?
I belong to FENND. But I’ll leave it up to Dortimi Kester Tawari, FENND’s Ijaw convener to explain our raison d’etre and ethos: “PANDEF is playing in the political space. We are not playing in that space because we believe that our goals can best be achieved by mobilising indigenous nationalities of the Niger Delta to put pressure on political actors and, when appropriate, support them…
“…For example, there are security challenges in the Asaba area caused by open grazing; and we are urging Okowa, the Delta State governor, to urgently take action and quickly set up structures that will enable him to effectively implement the recently passed law…
“…The current composition of the National Assembly makes it virtually impossible for Niger Deltan legislators to pass or block laws that promote or undermine our collective wellbeing. FENND aims to rally ethnic nationalities – the masses – to protest when necessary…
”…And I for one I’m fully in favour of Amotekun, the security outfit in the South- West. We all have a right to defend ourselves against existential threats; and I hope that the South-South will soon establish something that is very similar to Amotekun.”
FENND objects to certain aspects of the Petroleum Industry Act and Water Resources Bill. And here is an excerpt from a recent communique regarding the hot topic of VAT collection: The Federal High Court Port Harcourt Division, recently gave a landmark judgement in a suit brought against the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, by the Government of Rivers State, which determined that: both the Value Added Tax, VAT, is collectable by Rivers State. The FIRS has appealed against the said judgment and secured a stay of execution to that effect at the Court of Appeal, Abuja.
The FHCourt, grounding its decision on the provisions of Section 4 and the Legislative Lists contained in Parts I & II of the Second Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, (Fourth Alteration), Act 2010, granted all the 11 reliefs sought by the Rivers State Government. It stated that there was no constitutional basis for the FIRS to demand for and collect VAT, Withholding Tax, Education Tax and Technology levy in Rivers State or any other State of the Federation, being that the Constitutional powers and competence of the Federal Government was limited to specific taxes specifically mentioned in items 58 and 59 of the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution.
The summary of the decision is that: VAT are taxes collectable by the Government of the State wherein they are generated. Following this development, the Rivers and Lagos State Houses of Assembly proceeded to pass the State Value Added Tax Laws 2021, which have been signed into Law by the respective State governors and which takes immediate effect.
Prior to this development, the FIRS (an agency of the Federal Government) has been the sole agency collecting VAT throughout the 36 plus one States of the Federation; and deposits the proceeds into the Federation Account, FA, from whence it is subsequently distributed in accordance with the following formula:
*Federal Government: 15 per cent
*State Governments: 50 per cent
*Local Governments: 35 per cent
*FIRS: for percent retention.
Clearly, this distribution formula had greatly favoured the Federal Government, the FIRS itself and made some states with low productivity in the arena of Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, complacent(if not even parasitic).
The previous arrangement which this landmark judgement intends to cure clearly works injustice on states like Rivers and Lagos who must have lost trillions of naira in the intervening decades, and who really need these revenues to provide necessary infrastructures and amenities for their teeming population, and is as such not sustainable.
For instance, as recently as in the month of June, 2021, Lagos and Rivers states generated N46.4 billion and N15.1 billion respectively in VAT; however, Lagos received a paltry N9.3 billion(-20 per cent of what was generated from it).
This proactive step will entitle the states to collect, retain and administer VAT generated within their domain a hundred percent (100 per cent) for the benefit of indigenes, residents and people doing business in the states from whom the proceeds are generated to begin with, and to whose benefits it should logically be administered, for the enhanced development of the State itself.
Though now before the Court of Appeal, it is for the above-stated reasons that we at FENND hereby nevertheless which to convey our unequivocal support for the steps taken by the people of Rivers and Lagos State and support the call of Southern Governors Forum on all Southern States to enact laws and initiate necessary actions to bring the laws into immediate effect.
FENND considers this a right step towards achieving real fiscal federalism, harmonious intra-ethnic co-existence leading towards sustainable peace and stability for development. FENND also notes the wide interests and support which this action enjoys amongst professional bodies such as the NBA, and the civil societies, and urge the States to follow the blazing examples of Rivers and Lagos states.
FENND urges the Southern States through their Attorneys General and Commissioners for Justice to commence intensive review the 1999 Constitution and immediately undertake to legislate on the items it has powers over including Water Resources. This is the pragmatic and sure way to restructure Nigeria.
FENND is also using this medium to urge upon the FIRS to tread carefully in its urge to convert for itself authority and revenues that legitimately belongs to other tiers of governments. We are not unaware of the subtle move being made by the agency to coerce the National Assembly into smuggling VAT into the Exclusive Legislative List, a fact which in itself gives prima facie proof that: the FIRS had always known that it is wrongful of it to collect VAT and sundry taxes.
We urge the National Assembly to remember its oath to be true representatives of the people and reject all subterfuge aim at luring it into acting against the will of the very people it has sworn to protect.