BusinessDay

Rivers sets Nigeria on course to true federalism with new laws

The journey to true federalism may have begun in Rivers State with the signing into law of three crucial bills by the state’s governor, last week.

The Bills, which were passed a week earlier by the Rivers State House of Assembly, were signed into law by Governor Nyesom Wike on August 19.

The Bills include the Valued Added Tax (VAT) Law No. 4 of 2021; The Open Rearing and Grazing Prohibition Law No 5 of 2021; The Child’s Rights Amendment Law No 2 of 2021; The Residents Registration Agency Law No 6 of 2021 and the Naming and Renaming of Infrastructure Law No3 of 2021.

The law on VAT transfers the collection to the Rivers State government; the law on Residents Registration Agency is said to create an Immigration kind of agency that would document people coming to live in the state, while the law banning open grazing has put teeth to the ban on moving cattle freely or herders keeping guns in the state.

These are seen as strong steps that take Nigeria closer to true federalism as other states may copy these laws and the journey to self-determination, resource control can begin without a constitutional review or a national sovereign summit.

Giving hint to this thinking, the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly said at the signing event: “I am tempted to believe that Nigeria, the world over, is the only country professing federalism but with a unitary constitution. Which is the very opposite of what federalism stands for.”

The governor has maintained that the judgment of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt had sufficiently addressed the illegality perpetrated by the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) on behalf of the Federal Government in the collection of VAT in States.

The Rivers State Governor pointed out that when agencies of the Federal Government are allowed to illegally demand and collect taxes meant for states to collect, they strangulate the States financially and turn them to be beggars.

“But we (Rivers State) are standing on the part of history as representatives of the state to have taken the bull by the horn to challenge the illegality of the Federal Government through the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS).

“Of course, we are all aware that the states have already been strangulated. Most states depend on allocation from the federation account. States have been turned to beggars. Hardly will any day pass that you won’t see one state or the other going to Abuja to beg for one fund or the other.”

The governor said no campaign of calumny or blackmail on the part of FIRS will make what is illegal become legal. He dismissed FIRS’ propaganda that 30 states will suffer if some states are allowed to collect VAT.

Wike pointed out that the concerns should be on establishing whose duty it is to collect VAT and the constitutionality of such a position before talking about who is going to suffer or not.

“In this (Rivers) state, we awarded contracts to companies and within the last month we paid over N30billion to the contractors and 7.5 percent will not be deducted from that and to be given to FIRS.

“Now, look at 7.5 percent of N30billion of contracts we awarded to companies in Rivers State, you will be talking about almost N3billion only from that source. Now, at the end of the month, Rivers State government has never received more than N2billion from VAT. So, I have contributed more through the award of the contract and you are giving me less. What’s the justification for it?”

Speaking further, Wike said there are plans already for FIRS to introduce Road Tax and this is likely to take away more duties from the States, and further emasculate them financially.

“Which are the roads? Are they the roads the State government is paying for or the roads the Federal Government has constructed? So, at the end of the day, they have taken over the functions of the State government, and the State is left with nothing.”

The governor remarked that the States have been so emasculated that they could barely survive without monthly revenue received from Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC).

Wike stressed that the overbearing attitude of the Federal Government impinges on attaining financial autonomy for the legislature and the judiciary since the States are not allowed to collect due to revenues as specified by the country’s constitution.

According to him, with the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) passed and signed into law, there shall be unbundling of NNPC, which means that NNPC remittance to the federation account will be less, requiring every state to look inwards on how to survive.

Wike, while thanking the state lawmakers for their courage to have given the bill speedy passage, assured that every area that the law allows the state to collect revenue will be maximised for the survival of the state.

Speaking on the Open Rearing and Grazing Prohibition law, No.5 of 2021, Wike said it is inimical to development and peace, for any state to condone opening grazing of cattle.

He said cattle rearing is an agricultural business and the law, which has specified ranching, is so intended in order to stem clashes between herdsmen who go to destroy farmland, crops, and having problems with farmers that lead to fighting and killing of themselves.

“It is no longer a story. All of us know what our people have suffered in terms of this open grazing. Today all Nigerians have come to accept the reality that open grazing is no longer fashionable. Even our brothers in the north have agreed that it is no longer fashionable.”

On the Child’s Rights Amendment Law No 2 of 2021, Governor Wike noted that with such a law in place now, family courts can become operational in the State.

Wike said the Naming and Renaming of Infrastructure Law No3 of 2021 will promote the naming of public facilities after prominent Rivers people.

The governor also said that with the Residents Registration Agency Law No 6 of 2021, every resident in the State will be registered so that the State Government can know their status, what they do, and where they reside for purposes of security planning.

On his part, the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Ikuinyi-Owaji Ibani, described the collection of VAT by FIRS as the worst form of retrogressive tax in any tax regime.

He commended the governor and the state government for challenging the constitutionality of FIRS collection of VAT in States. According to him, the signing of the VAT law will ensure that Rivers’ people are not plunged into extreme poverty.

“I am tempted to believe that Nigeria, in the world over, is the only country professing federalism but with a unitary constitution. Which is the very opposite of what federalism stands for.”

Speaking further, he said the law banning open grazing in Rivers State will serve as both cure to the symptom and the disease of herders and farmer bloody conflict.

He said lawmakers will continue to partner with the executive in providing requisite laws that will advance the state for the good of posterity.

Leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Martin Amaewhule, said lawmakers delineated and gave speedy passage to the bills because of their relevance to the socio-economic progress of the State.

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