The rebuilding of assets destroyed during the recent EndSARS protests in many states of the federation requires urgent action on the part of the government and other stakeholders. The protest started peacefully in different parts of the country until hoodlums later hijacked it and destroyed many private and public of assets. Following the turn of events, the Senate has urged the Federal Government to assist states badly affected by the vandalism. Acting on a motion moved by Senators Abiodun Olujimi and Gershom Bassey, the Senate proposed one per cent of the Value Added Tax (VAT) to assist the affected states in the reconstruction of damaged assets. The gesture is in line with the current mood of the nation.
Lagos and Cross River States are among those worst hit in terms of destruction of assets. In Lagos, for instance, the hoodlums vandalised the High Court at Igbosere, some police stations, Ajeromi Ifelodun local council secretariat, the palace of the Oba of Lagos, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Terminuses at Oyingbo and Ojodu Berger, Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO), Lagos State Public Water Corporation, Shoprite, Circle Mall Lekki and many others. The state government said it would take over N1trillion to repair the damage unleashed on the state by these vandals.
In Cross River State, hoodlums vandalised similar private and public assets such as the West African Examination Council (WAEC) office in Calabar and many others. In Anambra, the state internal revenue house, Nnewi Central Police Station, and some others were torched. In Ebonyi State, the Abakaliki Central Police Station was among the public assets burnt. It is estimated that at least 71 public warehouses and 248 private stores were destroyed across the country.
The need to assist the affected states becomes more imperative considering that they are already down financially and can’t afford to bear the burden of reconstruction alone. Some of these states can’t even pay the minimum wage of N30, 000. They depend on federal allocations to survive.
Currently, the VAT is 7.5 per cent. According to the Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Mohammad Nami, the revenue target for 2020 was put at N5.776 trillion. So far, the FIRS has collected N4.178 trillion in 10 months. This represents 98 per cent of the prorated revenue target of N4.230 for the period. Nami explained that the FIRS would have met and surpassed the target, but for the tax palliatives granted to small businesses during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Thus, it won’t be out of place for the Federal Government to come to the aid of these states. One per cent of VAT may appear to be small, but it will go a long way in ameliorating the plight of these states. What is required is fair distribution and prudent management of the funds. It is important to note that it is not a windfall but only part of the healing process. Therefore, the government should consider the suggestion of the Senate.
However, we reiterate that the current clampdown on the promoters of the EndSARS protests will make a mess of whatever healing process the government has embarked upon. Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) instructed banks to freeze the accounts of some of these campaigners. Some of them also had their travel documents seized. Some of these actions could trigger fresh protests the outcome of which no one can predict.
It is gratifying to note that President Muhammadu Buhari has pledged to ensure that protests of that magnitude do not recur. Not only has he enlisted the support of all stakeholders to bring about peace in Nigeria, he has also promised to address security challenges in the country.
The Federal Government should also look for ways to assuage the youths. Providing employment is one. Encouraging young entrepreneurs with some grants as the government has done is another. We commend the state governments that have promised one form of compensation or the other. Lagos State Government, for instance, has set up N200 million compensation fund for the victims of police brutality. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has also promised tax relief to some people, whose shops were vandalised. Similarly, Oyo State Government has set aside N500 million fund to compensate victims of police brutality and injustice.
Government should do everything possible to ensure there is no repeat of the protests. This is to avoid dissipating our scarce resources on rebuilding damaged structures. We hope President Buhari follows up with concrete actions on his promise to avert such protest in future.