Update: Buhari, Igbos talk as Wike’s VAT hunt gathers steam
President Muhammadu Buhari has held talks with Igbo leaders in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
The meeting took place behind closed doors. Reports say the President urged Igbos to remain in Nigeria, saying it is unthinkable that they would want to leave.
He is quoted as saying that he would want to be remembered as the President who stabilised Nigeria.
There are however strong indications that the Igbos may have presented certain demands of their own to the President.
Prior to the President’s visit to the East, some IPOB supporters had asked for the release of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu who was arrested about two months ago.
Igbos were similarly divided over the visit from what we have heard.
While Ohaneze insisted Buhari should be given a rousing welcome, others who may be linked to the separatist movement even said the President has no business visiting anywhere in Igbo land.
No less than 200 leaders drawn from Eastern Nigeria were present at the meeting. They comprised state governors, politicians, leaders of Igbo socio-economic – cultural groups, traditional fathers and religious leaders.
The President obviously laid out his plans for the Igbo nation, and seized the moment to urge them to step boldly into the future, side by side with other Nigerians.
The Owerri meeting which coincided with his maiden visit to Imo State would be remembered for a long time to come.
Earlier, the President had commissioned some dual carriageways and a massive drainage system built by the Imo State Government, designed to reduce the impact of flooding in Owerri.
According to the President, “Seeing is believing…If there are no roads; if there is no security; what will the people do?”
He assured his administration would support Imolites and their government which has shown that it is detetmined to transform the State.
Until the President was due to arrive Owerri, the Imo State capital, not many across the country were conversant with the actual reason behind the one-day visit.
In Port Harcourt where some callers on a phone-in programme on Wazobia FM Wednesday urged the President not to visit Imo State, contributors wanted to know why Buhari has decided to visit the East.
Imo State has been a hot bed of unrest, following the Biafran uprising led by Nnamdi Kalu and IPOB.
Umahi who was at the Villa Tuesday had lauded the President for embarking on development projects in the East, saying the second Niger Bridge is one of the most critical.
President Buhari dressed in popular Igbo attire
IPOB declared Thursday a sit-at-home day. Reports say most streets were deserted as Igbos, afraid of reprisal attacks, obeyed the order to stay at home issued by Nnamdi Kanu’s organisation.
The President was expected while on the visit to commiserate with families whose loved ones have been killed as a result of the uprising in the East.
Igbos who have faith in Nigeria are distancing themselves from the anti-nation posture of the separatists led by IPOB and MASSOB.
Governor Hope Uzodinma while speaking reaffirmed the faith of mainstream Igbos in ‘project Nigeria’.
He thanked President Buhari for his magnanimity, saying the Imo people were happy with him.
Most of the East have been cut off over the past 15 years, with most roads left at different stages of disrepair.
But many who have been to the east of recent say the system is supporting roads reconstruction and providing other forms of infrastructure.
President Buhari has since returned to the Federal Capital Territory.
Next door, moves by the Rivers State Government which has a running battle with the Federal Government over the collection of VAT took another turn after a court in Port Harcourt rejected a plea for a stay of execution of the order of court.
Governor Nyesom Wike
The State’s Chief Executive, Governor Nyesom Wike summoned representatives of the organized business sector on Wednesday and ordered them to remit VAT proceeds to the State Government.
Wike who said that in the absence of any order stopping the State which passed a law on VAT remittances, businesses operating in Rivers are obligated by law to pay to the State Government.
In the meantime, lawyers representing the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, have indicated they would appeal the decision of the Federal High Court.
Apparently, states such as Lagos are taking steps to put in place, machineryies that would enable them take advantage of the judgment of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.
Hisbah board destroys over 5000 cartons of beer transported into Kano.
Under the existing arrangement, states are entitled to 50% of funds accruing from VAT while local governments are entitled to 35%.
The Federal Government is entitled to 15%, but the Rivers State Government is insisting that such an arrangement is skewed.
Suggesting that the present arrangement promotes indolence on the part of some states, Wike said it is unfair that while states like his are working hard to generate revenue through their activities, others simply come to the sharing table to cart away funds they did not work for.
The implication is that the controversy generated over VAT might reopen arguments over fiscal federalism.
Bukar Kyari, former Chairman of NESG told Channels Television that further conversations on the solvency of states and the issue of revenue sharing are most likely to take place.
While acknowledging that the administrative system operated in Nigeria is copied from elsewhere, he said there would be need to collapse states and allow a zonal arrangement that would reduce the cost of governance.
For years, there have been arguments for and against fiscal federalism. The way things are, Nigerians may have to deal with it once and for all.
There are indications that the legal battle would be fought all the way to the Supreme Court.
Where there are inconsistencies in a law passed at the national level and that passed by a state, the constitution acknowledges that to the extent of such inconsistencies the law made by the state shall be void.
This provision would be put to test in the days to come. Already, legal cutlasses welded by lawyers are up. Many are waiting to see how deep they would cut.
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