According to Aldous Huxley, an English writer and Philosopher, “all of us desire a better State of society. But society cannot become better before two great tasks are performed. Unless peace can be firmly established and the prevailing obsession with money and power profoundly modified, there is no hope of any desirable change being made.” The Southern Governors had issued a communique after their meeting in Enugu on Thursday, 16th September, 2021, and resolved, among other things, to support the position that the collection of VAT falls within the powers of the States and reiterated their earlier position that the next President of Nigeria “must” come from the Southern part of Nigeria in line with politics of equity, justice and fairness.
On the other hand, the Northern Governors Forum met on the 27th of September, 2021, in Kaduna, with top traditional rulers of the region and observed that some Northern States Governors had earlier expressed views for a power-shift to three Geo-Political Zone in the South with a view to promoting unity and peace in the Nation. Notwithstanding their comments, the Forum unanimously condemn the statement by the Southern Governors Forum that the Presidency “must” go to the South. According to them, the statement is quite contradictory with the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended, which states that the elected President shall score the majority votes and score at least 25% of the votes cast in 2/3 States of the Federation. In the case of run-up, simple majority win the election.
The Northern State Governors Forum also considered the on-going National debate on the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) and educated the public that the judgement of the Federal high Court calls to question the constitutionality of VAT, withholding tax, education tax, Niger Delta Development Commission, National Information Technology Development Agency, 13% derivation, National Economic Development Council and many other currently levied and collected by the Federal Government of Nigeria, Federal Inlands Revenue Service. That Rivers and Lagos State Government had enacted their own VAT laws and the Southern Governors Forum have expressed support for this course of action. That VAT is being confused by these State Government as a sales tax. If every State enacted its own VAT Law, multiple taxation will result in increases of prices of goods and services and collapsed in interstate trade. VAT is not a production tax like excise, but terminal tax which is paid by the ultimate consumer. Another confusion is ignoring observation above and its overall effect. The reason Lagos account for our 50% Vat collection is because most of the telecommunication companies, Banks, manufacturing and other trading activities have their headquarters in Lagos with the resultant and wrongful attribution of VAT. Until and unless the Supreme Court pronounces judgement on the substantive matter between Rivers State and Federal Government, the matter is subjudice and Northern States Governors Forum would respect this.
One can immediately see that this dichotomy is created because of obsession with money (collection of VAT) and power (2023 presidential election). Unless this mindset is profoundly modified by all the political players in Nigeria, there is no hope of any desirable change being made. It is delightful to note that the Southern Governors are asking for the post of the President of Nigeria in line with politics of equity, justice and fairness. It is also gratifying to note that the Northern Governors Forum observed that some Northern States Governors had earlier expressed views for a power-shift to three Geo-Political Zone in the South with a view to promoting unity and peace in the Nation. These two positions are perfectly constitutional. Whereas the Southern Governors position is in tandem with Section 14 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which states that “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice”, the position of some Northern Governors is in agreement with Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended which states that “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies”. Whereas the Southern Governors were talking about social justice in democracy, the noble Northern Governors were talking about the need to promote national unity which are perfectly constitutional. It then means that zoning and rotation of political offices are both constitutional and desirable because both ensure that peace can be firmly established in Nigeria.
This position is also reflected in the constitution of the major political parties. The only surviving major political party that existed from 1999 till date, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, built the party on the foundation of the resolution by party leaders “to conform with the principles of power shift and power sharing by rotating key political offices amongst the diverse peoples of the country”. The party vowed in Section 7(3)(c) of its Constitution to adhere “to the policy of the rotation and zoning of Party and Public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness”. It was on this trajectory that the APC borrowed a leaf and mandated its National Working Committee, subject to the approval of the National Executive Committee, in Article 20(v), to make Rules and Regulations for the nomination of candidates for primary elections and “All such Rules, Regulations and Guidelines shall take into consideration and uphold the principle of Federal Character, gender balance, geo-political spread and rotation of offices, to as much as possible ensure balance within the constituency covered”. Again the Southern and some Northern Governors were simply paraphrasing the provisions of their parties constitution when they expressed their support that power should shift to the South, having being in the North for eight years.
However, in a democracy, elections are won, not by brinkmanship or threats but by cohesion among your own people and collaboration with other people, especially in a diverse nation like ours. The Southern Governors have appreciably achieved cohesion among themselves on this issue, irrespective of their ethnicity and party, but this is only one leg of the process. The other leg is collaboration with the North. The Constitution of Nigeria anticipated a situation where the two sections of North and South should collaborate in producing Nigeria President when it provided that the elected President shall score the majority votes and score at least 25% of the votes cast in 2/3 States of the Federation. The use of the word “must” therefore has no place in a democracy. It is undiplomatic, unwise and undemocratic. You cannot compel anybody to vote for you, you can only persuade him to do so. I align myself with the position of the Northern Governors that the language of the Southern Governors in deploying the word “must” is unacceptable and should be withdrawn. This word is especially making it more difficult for the noble Northern Governors who voluntarily, based on principles, decided to support the quest of the Southern Governors for the Presidency, because they would not want to be taunted by some renegades among their own people that they were coerced to take the patriotic decision they took. They want to be remembered as part of a new generation of Nigerians who believe that the only thing that will sustain the peace and oneness of Nigeria is for every section of Nigeria to be given a sense of belonging and I support them on that. When the Southern Governors used this compelling tone first, Governor Zulum of Borno State, who has signified his interest in a Southern President come 2023, objected to the tone of language. I was surprised that the Southern Governors repeated this tone after the Enugu meeting, which rightly attracted the ire of the Northern Governors. I will advise that the Southern Governors, while maintaining their stand that power should shift to the South, must do it with every sense of humility, wisdom and diplomacy. The unguarded utterances of our leaders have contributed in no small way to our disunity and conflicts.
The Northern Governors assertion that the position of the Southern Governors on power shift is unconstitutional is also not right. This is like saying that the patriotic action of some Northerners, when they voluntarily relinquished power to the South in 1999, to assuage the feelings of the South West, after the cancellation of June 12, in the interest of peace and justice, was unconstitutional. For something to be unconstitutional, it has to be illegal. It is not illegal for anybody to insist that equity and justice should be the basis of sharing political offices.
On the issue of VAT, the position of the law is that whatever is not found in the exclusive or concurrent list, is a residual matter which only the state has the power to adjudicate on. It was on this premise that the Oputa panel was declared null and void and of no effect because it was not in the exclusive or concurrent list in the Constitution. The cardinal question is whether the issue of VAT is in the exclusive or concurrent list. If it is not, then only the States have power to collect it. Since the matter is in court, we will await the judgment of the court. The instructive thing about VAT is that it is revenue which quantum depends on the level of commercial activity going on in the State. All a State needs to do to increase its VAT is to create conducive business environment for commerce to thrive. The Northern States do not need the VAT from the Southern States to survive, they need to remove every stumbling block, religious or otherwise for trade to thrive. However, it is not everything that is legal, that is expedient and it’s not everything that is expedient, that is legal. Politicians should learn to sort out their misunderstanding politically and avoid taking their political destinies to the courts. Political settlements lead to a win-win situation while legal solutions lead to win-lose situation. When the Courts decided that the territorial authority of littoral states in Nigeria do not extend to offshore oil installations, Obasanjo opted for a political solution to ensure that the littoral states were not shortchanged and the Supreme Court gave its blessings to such political settlement. There’s no sacrifice that is too much for peace, for without peace, there can be no meaningful development.