Opinion: Gov. Sanwo-Olu And The Courage To Do Right – By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“Men make history and not the other way around.
In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still.
Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders
seize the opportunity to change things for the better”.
-Harry S. Truman
In the leadership matrix, the sterling qualities of vision, passion, added to the five C attributes of character, courage, commitment, candour and compassion all come into full play. So do the 3H principles of hard work, honesty of purpose and humility. But of all these, courage comes out of the rubble and stands out as a rare gem and shines to the fore, especially at the moment of challenges, when it matters most.
That explains why Martin Luther King, Jr. the famed American icon in the civil rights movement (of blessed memory) reiterated the unimpeachable fact that: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”.
That brings to mind the recent challenges and controversies triggered by the killing spree across several Nigerian states courtesy of fully armed Fulani herdsmen turning our once fertile farmlands into blood-soaked valleys, rills and hills. And of course, the gross inequity visited on the highest revenue-generating states, especially Rivers and Lagos states that receive peanut per centages of Value Added Taxes (VAT) collected. That is, as compared to Kano state that smiled to the bank with 100 per cent of the VAT generated in the month of June, 2021.
As Governor Nyesom Wike succinctly stated in early September, 2021: “In June, Kano generated N2.8bn and was given N2.8bn. (That amounted to 100%). Lagos State generated over N46 billion but got just over N9 billion.(That was a paltry 19.565%). Rivers generated N15bn but got N4.7bn. (31.33%). Have you seen injustice in this country?” It takes courage in leadership not only to highlight these ridiculous disparities under a democratic setting but to do something about them, just as the people-friendly and focused Gov. Sanwo-Olu has recently done.
First came the signing of the state Value Added Tax (VAT) Bill into law on September 10, 2021. That was a day after the Mudashiru Obasa-led state House of Assembly unanimously passed the bill. Next came the signing into law of the Prohibition of Open Cattle Grazing Bill, 2021 on September 20, 2021. Why does yours truly consider these two actions purposeful, pragmatic and praise-worthy?
To answer that, efforts should be made to underscore the salient and profound messages passed to the public by the speedy nature of the governor’s assent to the two bills. According to Mr.Gbenga Omotosho, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, “Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has signed into law the State VAT Bill as passed by the House of Assembly to impose and charge VAT on certain goods and services. By this act, the Bill has now become a Law”.
Of socio-economic significance, consumers pay VAT when they purchase goods or obtain services (produced within or imported into the country) except those specifically exempted by the VAT Act. VAT collection by the Federal Inland Revenue System (FIRS) on behalf of the Nigerian government has been a subject of controversy in recent years because of the modality of disbursement.
Though the FIRS administers the tax and transfers the generated revenue to the three levels of government via the federation accounts allocation committee (FAAC), it is an act of open inequity that a state such as Lagos, which is the commercial nerve-centre of the West African Sub-region would be paid an insulting 19.565% as compared to that of Kano that got a humongous 100 % of monies so collected in June. It is injurious to rob Peter to pay Paul.
Without an iota of doubt, Lagos state, which certainly deserves the long-denied Special Status-as yours truly has always canvassed- has been short-changed in the economic milieu of the Nigerian state. With an ever-exploding population and being home to many ethnic nationalities from across Africa and beyond, its infrastructural needs deserve much more than the pittance that has been doled out to it, year after year by FAAC.
It would be recalled that recently, a Federal High court in Port Harcourt restrained FIRS from the collection of VAT and empowered the Rivers state government to take charge. After the ruling, the Lagos state government began to domesticate a law to guide the collection of its VAT and warned FIRS to obey the Rivers ruling.
Of course, not a few Lagosians, nay Nigerians had waited with baited breath to assess the position Governor Sanwo-Olu would take on the controversial issue. Would he toe the path of courage of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state , who had never hidden his utter disdain for the lack of respect for human lives as perpetrated by the armed herders in his state? Or would he bend to the body language of the powers that be, out to reclaim outdated cattle routes in the 21st century Nigeria, even at the expense of priceless human life?
Good enough, he out of courage and driven by the interest of the citizens has signed the law prohibiting open cattle grazing in Lagos, the trespass of cattle on land and for other connected purposes at the state House, Alausa, Lagos. It would be recalled that the Secretary, Zonal South West, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, Mai-Kudu Usman, had said that banning open cattle grazing may give rise to tension and cost of cows in Lagos State.
According to Usman: “We can’t rear our cattle in one place, because what the cattle will eat and consume will be very, very expensive if I can’t move them around. I can assure you that if we are made to graze on a secluded area, the cost of breeding a cow will be very high and the cost to sell one cow will be nothing less than N2 million.”
By signing these two people-oriented bills into Lagos laws, Sanwo-Olu has proven, as Lynn Robbins the co-founder of Franklin Quest Company rightly stated that: “Courage is the form of every virtue at the testing point.” And as Mark Twain added: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it”.
The lessons to learn from these are of immense importance, not only to the present crop of political leaders but those yet to come. The questions they throw up are fundamental to the evolution of the Nigeria of the collective dream of patriots. It is one thing to canvass for people’s votes with fanciful promises but quite another when you mount the pedestal of political power.
Would you be propelled by the passion for the apparatchik and perquisites of office, to satiate the epicurean tastes of self-decimating gods of greed, or would you be guided by what is of the interest of the people you claim to lead? Would you camouflage like the chameleon under the garb of democracy to exhibit inherent yet destructive dictatorial, nepotistic and divisive tendencies, or would you be led on the unfailing path of the national interest? The answer is yours.
But from here one would give big kudos to Gov. Sanwo-Olu of Lagos state for showing, as Aristotle right stated that: “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others’.