From Fred Itua, Abuja
There was commotion in the Senate, yesterday, over a bill sponsored by Senator Oluremi Tinubu,seeking special status for Lagos State in view of its strategic socio-economic significance to the country.
Titled “A bill for an act to make provisions for Federal Grants to Lagos State in recognition of its strategic socio-economic significance and other connected purposes”, the bill was read for the second time where her colleagues overwhelmingly voted against it.
Senators, predominantly drawn from the North, South-east and South-south led the offensive against the bill.
The bill’s fate was sealed based on Senator Olusola Adeyeye’s position on the issue.
Senate Chief Whip, Adeyeye accused some former northern governors, who are now lawmakers, of passing laws to stop the sale and consumption of alcohol.
He had also argued that such states should, therefore, not benefit from Value Added Taxes (VAT) paid by alcohol consumers in states like Lagos.
He equally made a case that like oil-producing states, Lagos should get 13 percent from taxes paid into the Federation Account.
“I don’t even believe that one percent is enough for Lagos State. But, we have to be fair to Lagos State. We must not kill the chicken that lays the golden eggs. We have a governor here who made a law that alcohol should be banned in his state.
“But the state where such a law was made should not benefit from VAT got from sale of alcohol in states where it is not banned. States who contribute should get 13 of VAT like oil producing states,” he had argued.
While his colleagues were yet to recover from his first position, Adeyeye released another salvo when he said; “the FCT is a rotten pampered child.”
At this point, the chamber became rowdy, but, Adeyeye continued and added; “in Abuja, we do not pay taxes and Nigerians subsidise everything here. I am serious. In Asokoro and other places, people do not pay taxes.”
For about 10 minutes, Ekweremadu tried to calm angry lawmakers who were, by now, engaged in a shouting match. To restore order, Ekweremadu invoked a rarely used parliamentary protocol by standing up to get the chamber’s attention. He did as the chamber went quiet.
Earlier, sponsor of the bill, Senator Tinubu tried to rally her colleagues to support the bill when she said “Lagos is of a strategic, social, economic significance as the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. Today, Lagos serves as the commercial capital of Nigeria and its major nerve centre. The strategic importance of Lagos is inherent in several sectors of the economy. Available statistics indicate that six out of 10 international passengers arrive in Lagos, while eight out of 10 depart from Lagos. This shows that Lagos is the window through which visitors travel in and out of Nigeria.”
The Lagos senator was yet to conclude when lawmakers scrambled to speak on the bill.
Senator Aliyu Wammako from Sokoto State said the timing of the bill was wrong and justified his position by saying that “many states were unable to pay workers’ salaries and meet other financial obligations, hence, the passage of the bill was wrong. I stand against this bill; if it is passed, it will make other states poorer and Lagos richer.
Senator Hope Uzodima from Imo State said: “If we approve a bill like this, states like Zamfara, Imo, Enugu and others will begin to ask for support and assistance. I think we should look at the assets in Lagos State and see how the Federal Government can assist Lagos state to augment what it is doing.”
Speaking in favour of the bill, Senator Solomon Adeola from Lagos State said: “Almost every tribe in this country is represented in Lagos State. The Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba are beneficiaries. I know that the economic situation in Nigeria calls for caution. But this bill is not Lagos as a state, but for the people living there. Very soon, Lagos will be recognised as a mega city. But for us to get that status, we need to put certain things in place.”
Barnabas Gemade from Benue State supported the bill. He said: “In my opinion, Lagos has been pushed to a point. Therefore, demanding for a contribution of one percent is not too much.”
Senate Minority Whip, Senator Philip Aduda said he would support the bill “on the condition that what will be given to Lagos State should be given to other states like the FCT. Some special allocations should be given to FCT because it is over stretched and government needs to intervene. In the FCT, we have riverine areas.”
Former governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Abdullahi Adamu argued that passage of the bill would be unconstitutional and urged his colleagues to oppose it.
Senator James Manager from Delta State, raised a point of order.
“From the onset, I am in full support of this bill, but, there is a constitutional problem. Section 164 (1) makes it clear. It states that the federation may give grants to states or local governments to supplement the revenues as maybe prescribed by the National Assembly.
“I want to say from experience, different grants have been given to different states. But we have not been able to make laws in this regard. If we are to do otherwise, it means we have to amend that aspect of the constitution,” he explained.