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Wike and these times

It is another Friday. The mind naturally turns to a review of what happened during the week. There was the interesting and familiar situation in Guinea. In this particular social formation, readers may wish to recall that, once again in yet another African country, the Mai Gad has turned out to be Mai Gida. There was also the football match between Nigeria and Cape Verde.

However, these issues do not seize my mind as the rather interesting inter-play between Governor Nyesome Wike and these times. More often than not, politicians tend to be loquacious. And in a way, this Governor is not an exception. But beyond his capacity for noise, and raising the political temperature is a creative knack for resetting the variables as far as the Nigerian State is concerned. In view of the evolving realities, history will remember this man, as one individual who put up a mirror to our face.

As such matters go, we are either seeing our ugliness or beauty. Such is the situation that courtesy of the judiciary, Rivers State under Wike has managed, to address one of the vexed issues that relate to the restructuring of Nigeria.

This is because as things stand, who gets what as regards the Value Added Tax (VAT) has been decided in the court. At the moment, the current policy position is that states, as opposed to the Federal Government, should be the recipient of VAT. It does not take much to appreciate here that restructuring is on, without argument and recrimination. Invariably, such dramatics must have been amply played out in the court and the states or at least some of them are the better for it. But the privileged status quo, like anywhere in the world, is not giving up. Rather, an appeal has been lodged by the FIRS and a stay of execution has also been filed.

As regards the latter, the Wike luck continues to hold since the Court of Appeal has thrown out the motion for a stay of execution. Even non-lawyers will appreciate that, such as the importance of the issue, that this is a matter that will go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Personally, I am fascinated by it all. This is because my take on Nigeria and the current din in the land is that it is possible to reset the variables, not in one grand sweep but through pacific instruments like negotiation and the judiciary. The only fly in the ointment is that the judiciary can be funny and may wish to pander to the status quo forces.

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However, it is clear that even as we await the final outcome of this issue, Wike has been unrelenting. Since he is a state governor, he has continued to use this news-making platform to regale and remind the country about the contradictions that continue to define, or undefine the Nigerian State. Predictably, our colleagues in the media have continued to lap up the depositions of Wike. Some of these are very uncomfortable. This is clearly so for those VAT- dependent-States, which continue to see VAT as some form of fiscal life-line.

Meanwhile, some states are very elated, since it seems that, they are auspiciously placed to come into more resources in the nearest future. As if to indicate that this evolving situation defies partisan dynamics, Lagos State has weighed in on the issue by stating that it will soon begin to reap from this battle by collecting and accessing its VAT entitlements.

Beyond much of the foregoing is that there are matters arising. Predictably, Wike is in the thick of it. I had the privilege of seeing some of his contentions, which are being shared on various platforms. What becomes clear from these depositions is that, even if you do not agree with him, you cannot ignore him.

Even for those of us who are non-partisan, we really appreciate that his various statements are very relevant if Nigeria wants to take itself seriously as a nation. There is also the unconscious pay-off that, States which stand to lose from the ongoing drama, have been served a dose of reality. That they cannot depend on the Federal Government on a perpetual basis. Invariably, this gives them an opportunity to smell the coffee and in the process do some serious thinking as regards how their VAT-dependent states can acquire some level of fiscal autonomy.

In a rather perverse way, they have to thank a Wike for showing them this viable path. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to pick up the gauntlet. They had better do, if only because the day of reckoning is here. They may want to appreciate here that, Wike through his utterances, has succeeded, unwittingly perhaps, in raising the consciousness of the populace as regards where our lopsided national structure should behead.

For instance, his contentions about the linkage between VAT and the aversion to alcohol are worth recalling. With disarming clarity and logic, Wike speaks with the candour that you cannot destroy beer in your State in the name of Sharia and yet access resources from beer-derived VAT, from other States. It is hypocrisy.

This is evidently some form of call-out against the Sharia inclined States. Something tells me that they will not know how to respond to the grandstanding on their part. It is clear that Wike cannot be challenged. What becomes obvious is that the Governor is not seeking to divest any State of its belief system.

Rather, what is on offer by him is that he seeks to deepen their faith, such that they will be better and wholesome adherents. The good thing here is, and if I may reiterate, is that an opportunity has been provided for such States to look within and in the process be on the same page with their spiritual convictions. We are waiting and watching.

Even then, Wike is not done yet. For he has gone on to argue that, free money has promoted laziness. According to him, if you want to be a governor, grow your state’s economy.

Clearly here, Wike is speaking to the Nigerian state itself and components of the same. Our colleagues in political science have a way of describing what Wike has sketched above. Specifically, Wike is referring to Nigeria and its components as rentier units. They virtually depend on rents coming from oil, and as such, lack a productive base.

This, to say the least, is tragic. It cannot endure. Therefore, what Wike in an implicit way is saying is that the States should steer themselves in the direction of sustainability. However, and to be fair, Wike himself needs to reflect and absorb some of these lessons.

Rivers State itself continues to thrive on the rentier platform. Take away the oil, and what you see is just another State in Nigeria, which needs to take on board critical variables like productivity, imagination and creativity. Invariably, all of these are needed. If Nigeria, Rivers State and her peers, want to succeed in the post-oil era.

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