Nigeria is a secular state

The recent destruction of 30 truckloads of beer by the Kano State Hisbah Board has raised several questions about the character of our federation and rule of law in Nigeria. According to the Hisbah Board Public Relations Officer, Adamu Yahaya, the cartons were destroyed upon their interception at Kalebawa on Danbata Road in Dawakin Tofa area. “The Kano State Law No. 4 of 2004 has banned the manufacture and use of intoxicants in the state. Furthermore, an order was given by a magistrates’ court for us to go ahead with the exercise,” Yahaya said.

First, there is no federal law that forbids the production and sale of alcoholic beverages in the country. Second, movement of alcoholic beverages on a federal road cannot constitute an offence even in states where they have enacted their own laws. We are all the more worried that Hisbah keeps expanding its powers in the metropolitan state. Section one of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) says any law that is contrary to the constitution is illegal, null and void. Section 10 of the same constitution makes Nigeria a secular state which means no religion can be described as the official faith of any state. In all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), we have Christians, Muslims, free thinkers as well as traditionalists who are free to practice their religious beliefs without hindrance.

Even if we concede that Kano State or any state for that matter reserves the right to make legislations to guide the conduct of residents, the vehicles laden with alcoholic drinks were just on the road when they were intercepted, and were said to be outward bound. That they were arrested on a federal road makes the action of Hisbah even more egregious. So, what Hisbah is saying is that no alcoholic drinks can pass through a federal road in the state, even if not meant for the residents. That is clearly unacceptable. The other issue is the waste of resources involved in this action. Drinks worth hundreds of millions of naira are being destroyed without considering the implication of such an action to the economy.

But much more importantly is the hypocrisy of destroying products from which Kano, like other states of the federation, derive Value Added Tax (VAT) generated by the federal government from products that include alcohol and shared to all states. The question therefore arises as to what moral justification the Kano State government has to publicly destroy cartons of beer estimated to cost several millions of naira while at the same time sharing from the monthly VAT proceeds.

Going by the tax figures for 2017 released by former Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, Lagos State alone generates 55 per cent of the VAT collected in the country. It is followed by the Federal Capital Territory, which accounts for 20 per cent with the remaining 35 states of the federation adding just 25 per cent. Kano State, according to Adeosun accounts for just five per cent of VAT. Yet, Kano and other states in the North that practice their variants of Sharia law take the same proportion of VAT.

Former Vice President and presidential candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, once waded into the controversy by arguing that states opposed to the sale and consumption of alcohol in their domains should not share in the accruing proceeds from the federation account. “If a state is opposed to cattle tax or bicycle tax or alcohol tax, or pollution tax, for instance, it should not expect to share in the tax proceeds from those items,” Atiku said while reaffirming his commitment to restructuring the country.

We subscribe to his position.