The political rhetoric in the contest for the presidency ahead of the 2023 election continued yesterday after political and traditional rulers in Northern Nigeria rejected the insistence of Southern governors that the presidency should return to the South after the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Northern leaders held that the demand that the North yield the presidency to the South in 2023 negated the 1999 constitution which provides that the winner of the election will emerge by garnering the majority votes in the poll.
The Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) met in Kaduna yesterday with traditional rulers during an emergency meeting to discuss major concerns of the region, and one of the major decisions they reached was to reject the demand of the Southern governors that power must shift to the Southern part of the country in 2023.
Chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum and governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, had earlier said the 19 governors would discuss some new national issues that had emerged recently with a view to coming up with positions that would enhance the peace, progress and development of the region and the nation as a whole.
He added that collection of Value Added Tax was among the key issues to be discussed.
In a communique read by the chairman of the forum after its closed-door meeting, Governor Lalong said notwithstanding Southern governors comments on power shift, the northern governors unanimously condemned the statement by the Southern Governors Forum that the Presidency must go to the South.
Lalong added that Southern governors’ statement was 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; score at least 25% of the votes cast in 2/3 States of the Federation. In the case of run-off, simple majority wins the election.”
The Forum also appreciated the ongoing onslaught against banditry, kidnapping and Boko Haram/ISWAP, especially in the North East and parts of North West and North Central states and encouraged the armed forces and other security agencies to sustain the tempo to enable the security challenges to be permanently addressed in the shortest possible time.
On the VAT war, the Northern governors called for caution, stressing that as responsible leaders the forum was constrained by the fact that the matter is sub judice.
It could be recalled that the Southern Governors Forum (SoGF) had met twice this yeardurjng which they demanded that the next president of Nigeria must come from the South after the two-term tenure of President Buhari in the spirit of equity and fairness. They also banned open grazing of cattle and supported states’ collection of VAT, among others.
Also, a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, had on August 9 issued an order restraining the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) from collecting VAT and personal income tax (PIT) in Rivers State, saying the powers to collect the taxes reside with the states and not the federal government.
The court directed the Rivers State government to take charge of the collection.
Lagos State also joined Rivers in the suit on VAT collection but an appeal court ordered a stay of execution following an appeal by the FIRS.
The Northern governors also deplored the ugly trend of drug abuse/consumption among the region’s teeming youth and called on all levels of governments and communities to rise to the occasion by stemming the tide.
They also called on the federal government to expedite action on the well established National Livestock Transformation Programme as a springboard in transiting from the open grazing system as widely practised in the North.
Parts of the communique read: “The Forum reviewed security updates from the region and observed the need for sustained synergy and coordinated efforts between the Federal and Northern States Governments while noting success of recent measures.
“The meeting also noted with concern the constraint of the security services and urged the Armed Forces to embark on simultaneous operations and resolved to share the plans of frontline states with others in the Region; and assured of its readiness to work in synergy with the Federal Government of Nigeria in finding a lasting solution to the current security challenges.
“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 Northern State Governors Forum considered the ongoing national debate on the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT). As responsible leaders, while we are constrained by the fact that the matter is sub judice, we however, for the purposes of educating the public, make the following observations: ‘the judgment 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 taxes currently levied and collected by the Federal Government of Nigeria’s Federal Inland Revenue Service.
‘Rivers and Lagos State Governments had enacted their own VAT laws and the Southern Governors’ Forum have expressed support for this course of action.
‘VAT is being confused by these State Governments as a sales tax. If every state enacted its own VAT Law, multiple taxation will result in increased prices of goods and services and collapse 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 the observation above and its “overall effect”. The reason Lagos accounts 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 sub judice and Northern States Governors Forum would respect this.’
Meanwhile, the Traditional Rulers Councils appreciated the efforts made so far by the NSGF in addressing the key areas of challenges facing the Northern States and expressed their willingness, solidarity and collaboration with the governors’ in addressing these challenges, particularly the issue of security.
The Northern governors equally resolved that perpetrators of crimes should be dealt with irrespective of their status in the society.
The communique added: “The Forum decries the high level of conspiracies being perpetrated by some Judicial Officers in releasing/granting bail to arrested criminals. This attitude sabotages the fight against criminality; therefore, the need to develop good and robust intelligence mechanisms amongst states was identified as a panacea.”
Earlier, in his welcome address, the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai had said that insecurity had destroyed the rural economy of the Northern region.
The Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, said the traditional rulers will partner with northern governors in curbing insecurity in the region.
The governors at the meeting are the governors of Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Katsina, Borono States and others.