From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, on Tuesday assured Nigeria of her country’s support and cooperation towards ensuring a free and credible electoral process in 2023.
Laing gave the assurance in Asaba during a courtesy call on Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.
She said the British Government was concerned about the issues of Value Added Tax (VAT), education, insecurity and the 2023 general elections..
Laing told Okowa that her delegation was in Delta in furtherance of the relationship between the British High Commission and the State government.
Receiving the august visitor, Okowa called on the international community to partner the Federal Government to enthrone credibility and integrity in its electoral process, saying Nigeria is too strategic for its challenges to be ignored.
He said Nigerians were desirous for free and credible elections in 2023 and beyond, and urged the global community to lend its support as the country was important enough not to be allowed to be in crisis.
“The international community has a lot of role to play; we know that they are not going to be directly involved in the electioneering process but we also believe that in whatever way and manner they are able to have strong voice towards ensuring a credible process in the electioneering that will take place in 2023, the better for us.
“Nigeria is too important a nation to go into crisis and we know that any crisis in Nigeria will impact very negatively in our world today.
“To that extent, I believe that the global community has to have their eyes on Nigeria. Wherever they need to offer support to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), they should not hesitate to do so.
“Whatever they have to do through diplomacy also to truly help in partnership with the Federal Government to drive credible elections in 2023, we will appreciate it because a credible election in 2023 will obviously strengthen us as a people and as a nation.
“It will help to give greater hope to our youths who are looking out to the Nigeria of tomorrow and to give a greater reassurance to them, otherwise the anger that we see today in the voices of our youths we may not be able to manage it.
“We saw a bit of it in the #EndSARS protests and it’s not something that we will wish to have again. So, we need to begin to reassure them that we are interested in their future and in Nigeria that works for all where everybody’s voice is important,” he said.
The governor stated that the state government had a warm working relationship with the British High Commission and assured that the state would remain committed to nurturing the relationship for the mutual benefits of both countries.
He identified unemployment as one of the factors responsible for insecurity in the country, but disclosed that his administration had invested heavily in entrepreneurship programmes for youths, women and the girl-child in the state.
“Over time the high unemployment has created a pool of youths who do not have what to do and they have taken to crime and it is our hope that we will be able to tackle it as a country.
“We have entrepreneurship programmes to engage the youths to gain skills to enable them to become entrepreneurs. We have the Job Creation Office, Women Affairs, Youth Ministry, Ministry of Agriculture and recently, we created the Girl-Child empowerment office,’’ he said.
On VAT, Okowa said that it was still a subject in the courts, but declared that “the real truth is that it is a consumption tax and everybody knows that it belongs to states.
“We have found ourselves where we are and I think that the states, including the Southern states have come out to speak boldly on this. We believe that it is supposed to be a collection to be made by the states.
“Yes, are the states prepared to collect it? There could be initial challenges and I think these are things that can be discussed and in the course of discussion, we are able to find out how best to do that.
“There could be a collaboration with the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) – between them and the states directly – to fine-tune the best way of doing the collection but the first thing is that it is a consumption tax and it ought to be at the level of the states.”
On the call for restructuring, the governor said that a lot of voices had been speaking on the subject and called for a roundtable on the way forward for the country.
According to him, elder statesmen and voices of eminent persons in the North and South have continued to speak about the need to have the country restructured and I think that there is a need to look at that and come to the table to talk.
“When the voices of people begin to sound loud and you allow them to come to a table to air those thoughts of theirs on the table, I am sure that we will be able to come out with a reasonable consensus that we can truly run with as a nation.
“There is a need for us to create that opportunity; it is best rather than allowing the voices to stay in anger in their various rooms and in their various communities,” he stated.
Okowa cautioned politicians to mind their language and utterances as the nation moved closely to 2023 electioneering period, saying “we are slowly going into a year of politics but I think that there is need for a lot of stabilisation throughout this year.
“That’s why it’s important that all of us that are politicians must be cautious about the language we use and be cautious about the things we say.
“We must be ready to say things and to do things that will bring some reasonable level of confidence to the people, knowing that they are going to be part of the politics and the political process.
“They may not be politicians but Nigerians would like to know, when it comes to choices in 2023, that their votes will count and that there can be some reassurance that politicians are ready to have INEC to be truly independent and be in the position to deliver a credible election.
“When there is a credible election, there is voter-confidence in people who will wish to either externally or internally invest in their environment and I believe that the time is now.
“The best that the President can truly do for our country, working with the rest of us who are in positions of authority, is to ensure that we have a credible election.
“Everything humanly possible ought to be done to encourage INEC to be able to deliver a credible process.
“They need to be funded and they need to be allowed their independence and when they are funded, they need to be funded on time so that they are able to plan.
“We should not in any way restrict them from doing what they think is right to be able to deliver that credible process that will give reassurance to the people.
“It’s only fair that when we see a nation as troubled as we are today, that we deliver creditably on the election process and I believe that it will bring down the tension in the nation and create new assurances that will move us forward as a nation,” the governor stated.
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