Umahi, who is the Chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum, made it clear that Ebonyi won’t pursue VAT collection or implement the decision of the Forum made at a meeting in Enugu on Thursday.
He spoke on Channels Television’s ‘Sunrise Daily’ breakfast programme monitored by The PUNCH.
VAT is a consumption tax paid when goods are purchased and services are rendered. It is charged at a rate of 7.5 per cent.
Although Rivers and Lagos states have started the process of collecting VAT within their territories, the Court of Appeal in a ruling on September 10 stopped the collection pending the determination of an appeal filed by the Federal Inland Revenue Service against the judgment of the Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt.
Apart from Lagos and Rivers states, Ogun State has also started the process of passing a bill on VAT in its House of Assembly.
The Southern Governors’ Forum led by Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), reading a communiqué at the end of a meeting on Thursday had said, “The meeting resolved to support the position that the collection of VAT falls within the powers of the states.”
‘I believe in administrative restructuring’
But speaking on the television programme on Friday, Umahi, who was represented at the meeting in Enugu by his deputy, Kelechi Igwe, said the resolution of the Forum does not reflect his stand on the issue.
He said, “In any gathering, the minority will have their say and the majority will have their way. For example, there was an issue that came up. I’m not sure it is clear to some of our colleagues on the issue of VAT but it is very clear to me.
“We (Ebonyi) took a stand as a state with our leaders on the issue of the VAT war that is going and so my deputy carried it on to say that this is what my governor is saying and this is what the state is saying and he went ahead to explain with some other deputies that represented their governors.
“But together they were in the minority and it didn’t stop the majority from coming up with their communiqué. When it comes up to implementation and voicing out, I will continue to say: this is where is I stand; if it is a choice, I will choose what would benefit my state.”
Umahi also said there is no state in the country that is not enjoying the help of other states.
“When they (Southern governors) say that this VAT collection is part of true restructuring, I said I never believe in total restructuring; I believe in administrative restructuring,” he said.
Be your brothers’ keeper, Ebonyi gov tells Southern colleagues
Umahi said a number of states would collapse should VAT collection move from the federal to the subnationals.
He said it was not right that some states would “eat and have so much surplus and then some other states don’t have much to eat.
“We have to be our brothers’ keeper; we have to see how we can grow the economies of the weakest states, otherwise, we will breed insecurity in those states.”
“There is no way in a relationship that you will get 100 per cent of what you put in, it doesn’t work that way,” he added.
‘Ebonyi, 30 other states not viable for VAT collection’
When asked whether Ebonyi State would be viable for VAT collection should the court rule that subnationals have the power to collect VAT within their domains, Umahi said, “I have said that my state would not be viable and I will continue to say that more than 30 other states would not be viable; we should not break the states.
“Whatever thing we are doing, we have to think about the nation first. Let’s tarry a while and see how we can pass this river and then we can come to the fact of who is right and who is wrong.
“True federalism is not done in a day. If we want to do a restructuring, we have to have a gradual process to do that.”
‘2023: PDP Govs dishonest, won’t zone presidency to South’
Commenting on some of the resolutions of the Southern Governors’ Forum on Thursday in Enugu, Umahi said People Democratic Party governors at the Thursday meeting in Enugu were being dishonest with their claim that they would zone the 2023 presidency to the South.
“The truth remains that a number of us – the Southern Governors – that were in that meeting that did say that Presidency must come to South, especially PDP are not being honest.
“Why I said they are not being honest is that: let’s see what they come up with in their zoning in the next few weeks,” he said.
He warned that the alleged dishonesty of the PDP governors in the Forum might threaten the unity of the Southern governors.
The Ebonyi State governor further stated that the body language of some of his Southern colleagues from the PDP showed that they won’t zone the 2023 Presidency to the South.
“One or two governors that own PDP, their body language suggests that and I can tell you from reliable source that they are not thinking that way just for their own interest,” he said.
“There are a couple of decisions taken at the Southern Governors’ meeting that I know that together, there is sincerity of purpose in that but when it comes to politics, I see the hands of Esau and the voice of Jacob,” the governor added.