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VAT: South-South Governors Declare Intentions to join Rivers suit; War Worsens

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The raging war over Value Added Tax, VAT in the country got messier yesterday as South-South governors declared their intention to join the suit instituted by Rivers and Lagos state governments against the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS.

The governors also asked the Federal Government and the National Assembly to review unfair aspects of the Petroleum Industry Act, PIA, contending that the amendments should include a clear definition of host communities and that the trustees should be appointed by state governments.

It will be recalled that the Rivers State Government had, in its bid to wrest control of VAT collection in the state, won its case against FIRS at the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt. The matter is currently before the Supreme Court, where Lagos State Government applied to be joined in the case.

The VAT controversy deepened last weekend, with some northern states — Adamawa, Plateau and Kaduna applying to join the FIRS in its appeal against the judgement of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.

South-South govs opt to join Rivers suit

But rising from its meeting in Port Harcourt yesterday, the South-South governors, under the aegis of the Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Crossriver, Edo and Delta, (BRACED) Commission, declared their intention to join the Supreme Court suit by the Rivers State Government demanding that states and not the Federal Government, should collect Value Added Tax, VAT.

All the BRACED governors, except Cross Rivers State’s Prof Ben Ayade, were present at the meeting presided over by the forum’s chairman and governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa with Chief Nyesom Wike.

Other governors present at the meeting included Godwin Obaseki of Edo State; Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State; and Douye Diri of Bayelsa.

Director General, BRACED Commission, Joe Keshi, was also present at the meeting.

The BRACED commission, comprising the six South-South states of Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta, is an initiative to foster integration, socio-economic and infrastructural development of the region.

In a communique read by chairman of South-South Governors Forum, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, the region’s governors, among other pressing issues, also said they would soon unveil a joint security outfit.

He also called on the Federal Government to publish the report of the forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and urgently appoint a substantive board for the commission.

BRACED Commission communique

The communique read: “Bearing in mind that most of the BRACED states have established their states’ security organs, we approve a regional security architecture which will be launched very soon.

“We unequivocally support the decision for states to collect value added tax, and resolved to join the suit before the Supreme Court.

“Council urges the President and National Assembly to take necessary measures to review some unfair aspects of recently signed Petroleum Industry Act, PIA, to ensure fairness and equity.

“We urge that the amendments should include a clear definition of host communities and that the trustees should be appointed by state governments.

“Council calls upon the President and the Federal Government to uphold the law establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, by appropriately constituting its board.

“In addition, we express the hope that federal government would make the forensic audit public and deal justly and fairly with the report, with a view to strengthening the capacity of NDDC to meet its obligation to people of the region.

“Council regrets that Federal Government and the President have generally failed to give reasoned consideration for the requests by the region, following a dialogue with a special federal delegation, led by Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Chief of Staff to the President.

“Notable among the requests were relocation of NNPC subsidiaries and IOCs headquarters to the Niger Delta and completion of a number of federal projects in the region, notably roads.”

S-West govs back S-South

Reacting to the development yesterday, South West governors threw their weight behind their colleagues in the South-South.

Although chairman of South-West Governors Forum and governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, declined comments, a source within the Governors’ Forum said the South-West governors are in support of what the South-South governors were doing.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Since Lagos State Government has asked to be joined in the suit, the South-West is in support of states collecting VAT. The South-West governors are in support of it.”

In its reaction, the apex socio-cultural organization of the South South, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, ,PANDEF, described the resolution of the South-South Governors to join the Value Added Tax ,VAT, Supreme Court suit as a welcome development.

National Chairman of PANDEF, Chief Emmanuel Ibok Essien, who spoke in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, said: “The governors’ resolution on joining the suit is a welcome development. The implication is that when the Supreme Court makes its pronouncement, it will affect all the states that joined in the suit.

“If that   pronouncement is in favour of the states, it means that automatically, they will all benefit from the judgement of the court.

“Those states will start collecting VAT on their own. But if you did not join as a party in the suit, you will not be a beneficiary of that court judgement, it means you will now have to go to court again on your own.

“Therefore, PANDEF’s advice to all the South-South states is that they should join as a party to the suit.”