By Sunny Ikhioya
IT is clear that no matter how court cases pan out in relation to VAT and others like stamp duties, our federation will never be the same again. We run a Federal Government consisting of independent states; that is, if we are to follow provisions in our Constitution.
But, all these while, we have been carrying on as if we are operating a unitary government. This is excusable because of the various military interventions that gave rise to military rule.
With the return of democracy, things were expected to run according to the letters of the Constitution or statutory provisions. This did not happen because people had become used to the military might to secure advantages to themselves, which they are not ready to concede in the democratic process.
We all know that there is no perfect democracy, with every system trying as much as possible to move in the direction of perfection, and the closer it gets to perfection on the scales of measurement, the better the peace, stability and prosperity in the society.
But the people must first be enlightened on how the system works. With better enlightenment, the policies are easily sold to the people. In my opinion, it is not who collects the VAT payment that is the issue, it is the sincerity and fairness accompanying the distribution.
The law is that the Federal Government gets 15 per cent, states get 50 per cent and local governments, 35 per cent of collections respectively. Is the distribution, as it is presently, being done according to the laws setting up the VAT? If no, why the default?
If the states were getting what they believed was their due, I do not believe the governments of Rivers and Lagos states would be going to court. In the same light, we must begin to question why the 35 per cent belonging to local governments are not being remitted directly to them; for he who he seeks equity ‘must come with clean hands’. Are they being fair to local governments in the distribution of revenues?
You see, if everyone conforms to the relevant laws, there will be no feeling of marginalisation from any quarter. If we are running a true federation, individual nations within the union must be respected and properly accommodated no matter how their population or land space might be.
Some cultures are indigenous to the people; same with religion; the secularity of the nation must be seen to be working for the overall good and not only for a section of the union. You cannot disrespect a people’s culture and religion and expect them to respect yours.
There is a very important need for leaders to come together and begin to let their followers realise that this country is made up of multi ethnic nations that are interdependent on each other.
No one is superior to the other. It is, therefore, a bad situation to drag someone that is not of your religious stock from the highway and parade him before your Sharia court when he is not of your religion. Such situations are not allowed in a federated democratic structure where individual rights and religions must be respected.
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In the colonial days, it was the individual’s right to choose which court of law he or she wanted to be tried in. Why we are pandering or subscribing to fundamentalism in the 21st century is mind-boggling. Even the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, took recourse to the conventional courts when he found out that the Sharia court judgement in his own Sokoto Emirate did not rule in his favour.
If he did not succeed in the conventional court, he wouldn’t have had the privilege to be recorded in history as the first and only elected premier of the Northern Region of Nigeria.
Alcohol consumption is a secular and personal matter. There are places in the country where its consumption is not allowed, and that is well known to people living in such places. But to go on the highway and other quarters to confisticate and close down businesses of people selling alcoholic beverages is taking it too far. You do not go about killing businesses relating to alcoholic beverages and be expecting to collect VAT taxes derived from such businesses.
It is not right for state governments to keep quiet when the Hisbah police or other para- military outfits are acting beyond their constituted boundaries. The Gombe State government reaction to actions taken in Rivers State is a very interesting one. It is their opinion that the states that are favoured in the VAT collections should consider the less fortunate ones as all of us are brothers. How I wish that this could be taken in all of its ramifications.
When we claim to be Nigerians, there should be no limit to our aspirations within the context of the union. We should not seek to take everything available because we are favoured to be in control of the armed forces of Nigeria. Why, for example, should the army be building a naval base in the North without any noticeable ocean and sea facilities?
Why should we site all the strategic military institutions in one part of the country? Why should the hierarchy of leadership in the armed forces be from one particular section or religion? Why are the leadership of political parties finding it difficult to cede the 2023 presidency slot to the South, when it is now their turn to produce one?
These are issues that must be looked into if we are hoping for a peaceful and secured future for our country. Why must we allow religious fundamentalism to take root in our country? We have seen how Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his Islamic Movement of Nigeria were handled with iron fist and brutal force.
Why is the same not happening to Boko Haram, bandits and killer herdsmen from the North? We have seen the swift and brutal manner Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho were tackled over their seccessionist declarations. Why the hesitation in the case of foreign criminal elements in our lands?
The biggest challenge we face in this country today is that of trust and this is so because of the different standards applied to similar situations, depending on ethnic and religious backgrounds and connections. It has got to the extent that people are finding it difficult to be patriotic to the nation’s cause; that is why we must critically examine the situation.
The governor of Rivers State the other day pointedly and rightly queried why people in the North cannot translate the advantage of their claimed high population that continues to benefit them in elections and allocation of resources; that enables them to occupy top Federal Government parastatals and ministries; that enables them to dominate the armed forces, to improved revenue collections.
I cannot fault Wike’s logic in this regard. It is time for everyone in this union to come out clean; let us know our true population figures, so that the authorities can properly plan for the future. If we continue to live with the lies, I am afraid our situation will remain the same.
Ikhioya wrote via www.southsouthecho.com