Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike has said his state is not at war with the Federal Government over the controversial Value Added Tax (VAT) as insinuated in some quarters.
He noted, however, that the state is not a slave to the Federal Government and would continue to pursue its right within the ambit of the Constitution.
The governor, who spoke at a public lecture on ‘Taxing Powers in a Federal System’, held in Abuja at the weekend, said Rivers and the Federal Government are co-equal because they derive their lives from the Constitution.
He spoke through the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the state, Prof. Zacchaeus Adangor, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
He said: “I have heard a lot of comments made that we are fighting the Federal Government. There is no desire or 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 co-equality is fundamental to a 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, are co-equal because none derives its life from the other.
“They both derive their life from the constitution because they have co-equality, and every level of government is entitled to have access to sufficient revenue so that it can carry out its own responsibility without subordinating its will to that of a superior authority.”
He said further: “That is the fundamental aspects 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.
“Can we say that the Federal Government has the power to impose and collect those taxes that the court struck down in Port Harcourt? Certainly not! And so, for me, we need to resolve this issue through the courts. 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 guest lecturer and professor of Commercial Law, Abiola Sanni, appealed to the judiciary to make a definite and definitive pronouncement on the impasse surrounding tax collection in Nigeria’s federal system.