Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, said at the weekend that the state was not at war with the federal government or any of its agencies. The clarification followed insinuations in some quarters about hostility between the two tiers of government in the wake of the legal dispute over who is authorised to collect Value Added Tax (VAT) in the state.
Wike made the explanation at a public lecture on “Taxing Powers in a Federal System.” He said Rivers and the federal government were coequals because they derived their life from the constitution.
The public lecture was organised in commemoration of the 60th birthday of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Ahmed Raji.
Wike was represented at the occasion by the Rivers State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Professor Zacheus Adangor.
The governor said, “I have heard a lot of comments been made that we are fighting federal government. There is no desire or any intention of the Rivers State government to fight the federal government, but you must remember that in a federal system, the states are not houseboys of the federal government.
“The principle of coequality is fundamental to federal arrangement, that principle leads to the principle of autonomy, autonomy leads you to fiscal autonomy and fiscal autonomy leads you to fiscal federalism, and when you put all the principles together, what it means is that each level of government, whether federal or state, is coequal because none derives its life from the other.
“They both derive their life from the constitution because they have coequality and every level of government is entitled to have access to sufficient revenue so that they can carry out its own responsibility without subordinating its will to that of a superior authority.
“That is the fundamental aspect of fiscal federalism and until we get it, we will continue this journey of talking and talking without result. But I think that the court has a role to play, the court can lay this crisis and controversy to rest when it makes a pronouncement.”
Wike explained that the taxing system being sought was one that would ensure homogenisation, adding that what operates today is not what was agreed upon at the constitutional conference.
“Can we say that the federal government has the power to impose and collect those taxes that the court struck down in Port Harcourt?” Wike queried.
“Certainly not, and so for me, we need to resolve this issue through the courts and that is what Rivers State has opted to do and we encourage as many states as possible to join us in this new revival of the Nigerian federal arrangement so that we can lay some of these issues to rest,” the governor added.
The celebrant, Raji, used the occasion to call on the Nigerian government to immediately introduce a new tax policy known as “Wealth Tax,” that would make very rich Nigerians pay tax that would be used to cater for the downtrodden in the country. He said the policy, if introduced and implemented, would make rich Nigerians to contribute meaningfully to government’s purse to bridge the gap between the affluent and super poor in the nation.
According to Raji, “It is a fact that the downturn in Nigeria’s economy are having harsh and devastating effects on the poor majority Nigerians. The wide disparity between the rich and the poor should be of grave concern to patriotic Nigerians and the way out must be found.
“The gap between the rich and the poor is so much and so offensive that it can lead to breakdown of law and order in any moment.
“It is in the interest of justice that the super-rich should shed part of their stupendous wealth to cater for the downtrodden masses before it is too late.”
The senior lawyer said he opted to use the public lecture to mark his birthday so as to use it to draw attention to some burning issues and challenges that deserve public attention, rather than engage in mere merry making.
Alex Enumah in Abuja