Nigeria’s South-south Governors Forum, on Monday, declared support for states’ collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) as ordered by a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt. The forum, comprising governors of the six oil-rich Niger Delta states of Rivers, Edo, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, and Delta, made the declaration after a closed-door meeting at Government House, Port Harcourt.
The governors’ decision to join the suit currently before the Supreme Court was contained in a communiqué presented to newsmen by Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa.
The forum urged that in constituting the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the federal government should follow the law establishing the commission. They demanded that the NDDC forensic audit report should be made public.
The governors regretted the federal government’s failure to honour an understanding regarding the relocation of the headquarters of subsidiaries of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the international oil companies (IOCs) to the Niger Delta. They called for the completion of federal projects in the region.
The governors said they had established a regional security outfit that would be launched soon, adding that the National Assembly, in amending the Petroleum Industrial Act, should seriously consider the interest of the communities hosting the oil and gas activities.
In a related development, governors and leaders of the five South-east states scheduled an emergency meeting today to address rising insecurity in the zone. That was as former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, decried the level of insecurity in the zone, describing the situation as disheartening.
But former National Publicity Secretary of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party
(PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh, said the South-east leaders should demand at their meeting the release of detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, saying this is a sure step towards tackling the security challenges in the zone.
The situation in the zone remained tense yesterday, as gunmen enforcing a weekly stay-at-home order set ablaze a tricycle in Enugu State for disobeying the order.
South-south Governors’ Forum met at the conference room of Rivers State Government House, Port Harcourt, and the meeting was chaired by Okowa, with the governors of Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo, Bayelsa, and Akwa Ibom in attendance. The governor of Cross River State, Professor Ben Ayade, who recently defected from PDP to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), was absent at the gathering.
The communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, and read by Okowa stated, “After an extensive deliberation, Council, bearing in mind that most of the BRACED states have established their state security organs, approved the regional security architecture, which would be launched soon.
“Unequivocally supports the decision for states to collect Value Added Tax (VAT) and resolved to join the suit before the Supreme Court.
“Urge the president and the National Assembly to take necessary measures to review some unfair aspects of the recently signed Petroleum Industry Bill to ensure fairness and equity. It urged that the amendment should include a clear definition of host communities and that the trustees should be appointed by state governments.
“Called upon the president and the federal government to uphold the law establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission by appropriately constituting its Board. In addition, it expressed the hope that the federal government would make the forensic audit report public and deal justly and fairly with the report with a view to strengthening the capacity of the NDDC to meet its obligations to the people of the region.
“Regretted that the president and the federal government had generally failed to give reasoned consideration to requests made by the region during the dialogue with a special federal delegation led by Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Chief of Staff to the President. Notable among the requests were the relocation of NNPC subsidiaries and IOCs headquarters to the Niger Delta and the completion of a number of federal projects in the region, notably, roads.”
Meanwhile, the South-east governors and leaders meeting holding today at Enugu State Government House would be expected to discuss measures to address the lingering security challenges in the zone. Recent escalations in the security crisis had led to several deaths, including the killing of renowned medical doctor and widower of the late Professor Dora Akunyili, former director-general of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Dr. Chike Akunyili, in Anambra State. The governors were also expected to discuss the prolonged incarceration of Kanu.
A memo sent to newsmen by the Ebonyi State Governor and Chairman, South-east Governors’ Forum, David Umahi, showed that the leaders would reach some decisions to salvage the region currently battling high insecurity.
Umahi appealed to the governors and other leaders from the zone to endeavour to be present and not in a representative capacity.
He wrote in the memo, “Your Excellences and our highly esteemed leaders, in consultation with our governors and President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, where a decision for an urgent meeting to be called was reached, may I therefore invite you for an emergency meeting of South-east governors, some leaders of Ohaneze, some of our political leaders, some of our religious leaders, and some of our traditional leaders.”
Obi, worried about the situation in the zone, said there was need for an urgent stakeholders meeting to discuss salient issues pertaining to the wave of violence in the region. In a news release by his media aide, Mr Valentine Obienyem, the governor called on the different political, religious, traditional leaders, and other stakeholders of South-east to come together and tackle the monster of insecurity currently contending with the peace of the region and the unity of the Igbo.
The statement said, “We can no longer sit and wish away the unacceptable killings and violence raging through our region. We, Igbos, are not known for violence and disrespect for human lives and must not allow the urge for bloodbath to creep in among us. The sit-at-home order that has persisted in the South-east heavily bears down on the regional economy.
“The urgent need for stakeholders meeting is, therefore, inevitable. This is the time for every leader in the region to unite and, in unity, address the challenges of insecurity facing us, before we are all consumed.”
Obi reminded south easterners that crime fighting required collective efforts, urging them to remain committed to the peace and development of the region. He encouraged them to eschew crime and pursue productive ventures that will better their lives and bring development to society.
On his part, Metuh submitted that the release of Kanu would not only douse tension in the region but also put an end to allegations and counter-allegations regarding those behind the escalated insecurity in the zone and give the security agencies a clearer cue to track down the perpetrators.
A statement by Metuh said, “This call is coming on the backdrop of denials by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) of involvement in the recent killings, arson and other acts of violence in the South-east; and particularly in the face of allegations that the attacks were being sponsored by external, political and criminal interests.
“The authorities should, therefore, use the release of Nnamdi Kanu to eliminate the current puzzlement and complications as well as a political solution for situations that constitute unrest in the South-east.
“It is, therefore, imperative for our governors and leaders to use this meeting to impress it on the federal government to adopt a political approach by releasing Nnamdi Kanu.”
Metuh reiterated that Kanu, “an Igbo man and our son, has not stolen nor has he killed anyone and, hence, we must stand for him as our son.”
However, Metuh urged the youth in the zone not to allow themselves to be used by criminal and political elements to destroy the region for their selfish interests.
“We must all be vigilant, circumspect in our utterances and place our hands on the deck for solutions,” he said.
The stay-at-home order continued in the South-east, though, IPOB had repeatedly said the exercise had been suspended.
Streets and major roads in Enugu were deserted in compliance with the order, which many residents have condemned and told IPOB to seek other ways of protesting the detention of Kanu. The threat driving the order was intensified yesterday, when some gunmen set ablaze a tricycle, alleging that the owner flouted the order.
Chuks Okocha in Abuja, David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka, Gideon Arinze in Enugu and Blessing Ibunge in Port Harcourt