PUNCH EDITORIAL :

Many states get money simply for contributing practically nothing! According to the Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, Lagos State alone generates 55 per cent of the VAT collected in the country, followed distantly by the Federal Capital Territory, which chips in 20 per cent.

This means the contribution from the remaining 35 states of the federation is just 25 per cent. Adeosun, at a meeting of the Progressive Governors’ Forum in Birnin Kebbi in Kebbi State, put the VAT returns from Rivers and Kano states at six per cent and five per cent respectively. And when Rivers’ and Kano’s total of 11 per cent is added to that of Lagos and Abuja, making it 86 per cent, it means the remaining 33 states jointly make a paltry contribution of just 14 per cent. In fact, Lagos has so much potential that the state government is realistically setting a target of making it the third largest economy in Africa.

This is a state that accounts for 70 per cent of maritime trade in the country and hosts 60 per cent of industries that help generate the VAT that is shared among all the states. Aside from accounting for 86.2 per cent of Companies Income Tax in 2008, according to the Federal Inland Revenue Service, Lagos is also the manufacturing hub of Nigeria.

The Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, recently noted that all the 214 people who paid up to N20 million each as tax per annum were resident in Lagos. He went on to add that, of the 914 who paid between N10 million and N20 million tax, only two were resident outside Lagos. Those two are domiciled in Ogun State.

Figures from the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria also indicate that the Ikeja Industrial Zone alone – not even the entire Lagos – accounted for 55 per cent of goods manufactured in the country in 2016. This also means sustenance of jobs for Nigerians from all parts of the country. However, the setting becomes very provocative when it comes to the sharing formula.

For the month of February, for instance, while Lagos got N6.14 billion, reports have it that Kaduna State, whose contribution was put at mere one per cent, got N4.23 billion, just as Kano and Rivers got N1.66 billion and N1.33 billion respectively. The question then arises, how did the state with one per cent contribution end up getting more than the bigger contributors? Where is justice in such a system?

VAT, a tax levied on goods and services consumed, is shared among the three tiers of government, with the Federal Government taking 15 per cent, while the state and local governments share 50 per cent and 35 per cent respectively. With the present LG structure in the country, the Northern section of the country is placed at an unduly advantageous position because it has by far the greater number of LGAs. These are LGAs created based more on land mass than on human population. The country was deliberately structured that way during the military rule to give that part of the country an undue advantage when it comes to revenue distribution, not generation.

An often cited example is that of Lagos and Kano states, which started off with the same number of LGAs at the 1967 state creation, only for Lagos to still remain at 20 LGAs while Kano, despite Jigawa State having been carved out of it, now has 44 LGAs. Even Jigawa, the sister state, boasts 27 LGAs, while efforts by Lagos State, which is indisputably the most populous in the country, to increase its number of LGAs have been met with deliberate frustration.

Besides, when a bill came up at the Senate last year, highlighting the special status of Lagos, it was promptly thrown out without senators batting an eyelid. Oluremi Tinubu, the sponsor of the bill, had sought the setting aside of one per cent of accruals to the Federal Government from the Consolidated Federation Account for the funding of the peculiar challenges of the state as a former capital of Nigeria.

Those who threw out the bill conveniently forgot that an investment in Lagos is also an investment for Nigeria because Lagos, the economic capital of the country, has become a home to many Nigerians, regardless of their state of origin. Interestingly, when a bill for the creation of a North-East Development Commission came up at the same Senate that rejected the Lagos bill, it was overwhelmingly passed.

The commission, ironically, will draw its funding for the next 10 years from VAT, the burden of which is borne chiefly by Lagos. The same attitude of contempt was displayed when the lawmakers slashed the budget proposal for the repair of the dilapidated Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

Added to this brazen injustice is the inclusion of the 12 Sharia practising Northern states in the sharing of VAT on alcoholic beverages. Hisbah, the Sharia law enforcement agencies in these states, regularly confiscate and destroy alcoholic drinks.

In 2001, a group that called itself the Independent Sharia Implementation Committee destroyed more than 600 crates of assorted beer.

On November 27, 2013, the Hisbah destroyed over 240,000 bottles of beer in Kano. In January 2015, the Kano State Hisbah Board said it destroyed 326,151 bottles of beer. This is outrageous. It is wrong and unjust for states to have an entitlement to a share of other people’s efforts rather than a reward for their own efforts.

The reality of the present is that Lagos, as a former capital of the country and the economic livewire, deserves special treatment to continue to drive the economy. Many federal institutions and roads exist in the state which should not be abandoned. It is the treatment such as Lagos and the oil producing states of the country are facing today that is fuelling the ongoing campaign for the restructuring of the country.

Wealth is not sitting there waiting to be shared; it must be constantly created. There is no way a country mounted on a tripod of injustice can stand; it will surely collapse unless urgent steps are taken to address these obviously dangerous contradictions.

As the great American president, Abraham Lincoln, once said, there is no greater injustice than to wring your profits from the sweat of another man’s brow.

Copyright PUNCH.

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