The fault lines of a divided nation came to the fore yesterday, with the Northern States Governors Forum, (NSGF), umbrella body of 19 elected governors of the, north signaling its determination to press its advantage and retain power in 2023, against the mood of the southern part of the country which has insisted that power must shift to the south.
The NSGF rose from a meeting in Kaduna yesterday to state its position affirming its right to stake claim to the presidency in 2023.
It condemned the position of the Southern Governors Forum (SGF), stating that it contradicts “the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended that an elected President shall: score the majority votes; score at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in two-third of the states of the federation.”
In a communiqué issued at the end of their joint meeting with Northern Traditional Rulers in Kaduna yesterday, the governors also spoke on the on-going controversy over the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT), declaring that it is “being confused by Rivers and Lagos state governments as a sales tax.”
The communiqué, which was read by the chairman of the forum and governor of Plateau State, Mr. Simon Lalong, also insisted that the position of the southern governors on power shift contradictory with the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The Forum observed that some Northern States Governors had earlier expressed views for a power-shift to three geo-political zones in the South with a view to promoting unity and peace in the nation.
“Notwithstanding their comments, the Forum unanimously condemns the statement by the Southern Governors Forum that the Presidency must go to the South.”
The communiqué stated that the meeting considered the on-going national debate on the collection of VAT, stating, “As responsible leaders, while we are constrained by the fact that the matter is subjudice, we, however, for the purposes of educating the public, make the following observations: 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 per cent derivation, National Economic Development Council and many other currently levied and collected by the federal government, Federal Inlands Revenue Service.
“Rivers and Lagos State governments had enacted their own VAT laws and the Southern Governors Forum has expressed support for this course of action; VAT is being confused by these state governments as a sales tax.”
The northern governors argued further, “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.”
According to the governors, “Another confusion is ignoring observation above and its ‘overall effect.’”
They pointed out that the reason Lagos State accounted for over 50 per cent VAT collection was because most of the telecommunication companies, banks, manufacturing and other trading activities have their headquarters in the state, “with the resultant and wrongful attribution of VAT.”
The communiqué added, “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.”
The governors also decried what they described as “the high level of conspiracies being perpetrated by some judicial officers in releasing or granting bail to arrested criminals, maintaining that, “this attitude sabotages the fight against criminality.”
The governors reviewed security situation in the North and called for a sustained synergy and coordinated efforts between the federal and the northern states governments to tackle the situation.
“The meeting also noted with concern the constraint of the security services and urged the Armed Forces to embark on simultaneous operations, and…assured of their readiness to work in synergy with the federal government in finding lasting solution to the current security challenges,” the forum added.
Furthermore, the governors commended the on-going onslaught against banditry, kidnapping and Boko Haram, especially in the North-east, North-west, and North-central geopolitical zones.
The governors called on the security agencies to live up to their responsibility and urged traditional rulers to mobilise their various communities to check the ugly trend of criminality in their domains.
The governors lamented the ugly trend in the spread of drugs and consumption among the youth and called on governments and communities to rise to the occasion and stem the tide.
The communiqué urged the federal government to expedite action on the National Livestock Transformation Programme as a springboard in transiting from the open grazing system as widely practised in the North.
The meeting was attended by the governors of Plateau, Kaduna, Sokoto, Nasarawa, Borno, Jigawa, Gombe, and the deputy governor of Kano State. Also at the meeting was the Chairman of the Northern Traditional Rulers Council, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, and the emirs of Zazzau, Bauchi, and Kano.