KWASU-ASUU hails Kwara govt as work begins on collapsed Shao-Malete road culvert, seeks for restoration of varsity subvention

The Kwara State University chapter of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has commended the Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq led administration for commencing work on the collapsed culvert linking Shao to Malete road.

The statement personally signed by the chapter chairman, Comrade. Abdulganiyu Shehu Salau appealed to the State government to see the need to provide a panacea to the problem through the construction of an overhead bridge at Shao junction.

The dualisation of the the Shao-Malete road will be helpful in putting a total end to heavy traffic being experienced by staff of the university and other road users in the area, the statement added.

In similar vein, the union has appealed to the state government to fulfil her pledges on EAA and subvention to the university.  The union recalled that it met and got the nodding of Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq on requests for the settlement of the accrued EAA and restoration of subvention to the university.

According to Comrade. Abdulganiyu, these two requests have not been fulfilled as earlier promised as at the time of writing this report. Stressing a particular need for the restoration of subvention to the varsity, the chairman concluded that out of the five varsities in Ibadan zone of ASUU, KWASU is the only institution that has not been receiving subvention from the government.

The union, while assuring the state government of its unshaken supports and cooperation at all times, appeals to Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq to restore KWASU monthly subvention and effect the payment of the accumulated EAA to save the university and cushion the effect of the current hardship its members are facing.

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AFCON 2023: I target fourth title with Nigeria – Peseiro insists

Jose Peseiro has once again reiterated his desire to guide the Super Eagles to glory at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.

Three-time winners, Nigeria will be looking to win a fourth title in Cote d’Ivoire.

The Super Eagles will be up against the hosts, Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea in Group A.

The West Africans last tasted success on the continent in 2013.

Peseiro is however upbeat his team can emerge the best team on the continent again.

“My experience with the Nigerian national team is very good. Being part of African and Nigerian football is an interesting thing, and I cannot deny that,” said Peseiro as quoted by KORAPLUS.

“I told everyone that I wanted to win the Africa Cup of Nations from the first moment I signed the contract with the Nigerian national team, and we study our opponents well in order to win, and this is what we seek to achieve.”

The Super Eagles will start their preparation for the competition in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates next week Tuesday.

(Daily Post)

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Securitize N7.3trn ways and means loan – Tinubu asks Senate

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has asked the Nigerian Senate to approve the securitization of the outstanding debit balance of N7.3 trillion in the consolidated revenue fund also known as Ways and Means advance.

The president sought this approval in a letter read on the floor of the Senate by Senate President Godswill Akpabio during plenary on Saturday.

The President, in his letter, said although the federal government was considering various measures to forestall the use of ways and means advances for domestic debt servicing, it has, however, become highly imperative to securitize the outstanding ways and means advance to the federal government before the end of 2023.

Tinubu said his request was in line with the Provision of Section 38 of the Central Bank Of Nigeria Act 2017, which grants temporary advances to the federal government to fill up the budget deficit.

He said data from the CBN indicates that the consolidated revenue fund stood at N7.3 trillion as of December 11 2023, largely due to domestic debt servicing, principal and interest.

Tinubu emphasized that the securitization of the ways and means will lead to the realization of several benefits, including the reduction of debt service cost.

The President added that the savings arising from the lower interest rate will reduce the deficit in the budget.

“Given the preceding, the Senate is invited to consider and approve securitization of the outstanding debit balance of N7.3 trillion in the CNRF as of December 11 2023”, the letter read.

Recall that in May 2023, the Senate approved the N22.7 trillion loans the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, extended to the federal government under its Ways and Means provision.

(Daily Post)

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Nigerian oil firms mandated to supply 483,000 bpd of crude oil to local refineries

The Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Council has issued new regulations requiring oil producers to send around 483,000 barrels per day of crude oil to nearby refineries during the first half of 2024.

This program is part of the efforts of Africa’s largest crude oil exporter to secure a steady supply for domestic processing.

The Dangote oil refinery and at least three government-run refineries are among the local refineries set to begin operations in 2024.

According to the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission’s recently announced Domestic Crude Supply Obligation criteria, the 650,000-barrel-per-day Dangote refinery is slated to earn the largest portion, with a volume of 325,000 bpd.

According to the Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Council, six refineries with a combined refining capacity of 864,500 barrels per day are expected to begin operations in 2024. As a result, oil producers will be required to supply somewhat more than half of the crude required to meet these processing capacities.

Warri and Port-Harcourt refineries, for example, are expected to receive 75,000 and 54,000 barrels of crude oil daily, respectively, from the crude oil supply. Meanwhile, refineries like Waltersmith, OPAC, and Niger Delta Petroleum Refinery, among others, are expected to get 10,000 bpd or less.

The Petroleum Industry Act, adopted in 2021, included a provision requiring Nigerian oil producers to allocate a percentage of their crude to domestic refineries to avoid shortages. This regulation, however, has not yet been applied.

Following the termination of the fuel subsidy in June, Nigeria has been attempting to reduce imports of petroleum products while keeping prices reasonably low. After the subsidy was removed in June, the price of petrol increased by more than 200%.

Despite the fact that the NNPCL’s CEO claimed in a June interview that local refining will not considerably cut fuel prices across the country post-subsidy. He expressly said that the cut will range from N20 to N30 from the imported fuel.

Since 2021, the country has used foreign contractors to renovate its state-owned refineries and has assisted the private sector in the construction of others. The Dangote refinery was inaugurated in May, but it has yet to begin refining despite receiving oil earlier this month.

In addition, the former Port-Harcourt refinery’s turnaround maintenance has been finished, and it will begin refining 60,000 barrels of oil per day in January 2024.

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Elon Musk closes 2023 with $92bn profit

Elon Musk ends the year with a whopping $92 billion in year-to-date earnings in 2023, indicating a comeback for the world’s wealthiest person.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, his puts Elon Musk at the top of the list, leading the pack of the combined net worth of the 500 richest people, which totals $1.5 trillion, a $1.4 trillion gain from the previous year.

These individuals’ fortunes closely paralleled the performance of technology stocks, which reached historic highs despite fears of an approaching recession, persistent inflation, high interest rates, and geopolitical uncertainty.

The wealth of tech billionaires increased by 48%, totaling $658 billion, fueled by the excitement surrounding artificial intelligence.

Among this select group, Elon Musk reclaimed the title of world’s richest person, edging out French luxury billionaire, Bernard Arnault.

By the end of Thursday, Tesla Inc.’s CEO had amassed an additional $95.4 billion, fueled by the triumphs of both Tesla and SpaceX, effectively recovering from a $138 billion loss in 2022.

Musk’s net worth now exceeds Arnault’s by more than $50 billion, as LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE shares fell due to a global drop in luxury goods demand.

Elon Musk’s notable $92 billion fortune increase year-to-date, reaching a valuation of $229 billion, occurred against the backdrop of controversy surrounding his social media activities, including an antisemitic remark that forced big sponsors such as Walt Disney, Sony, and IBM to sever ties with the platform.

Despite obstacles, Musk’s Tesla reached significant milestones in the first three quarters, tripling its shares and breaking its previous annual sales record.

However, the business suffered setbacks due to lowered prices to encourage demand in the face of increased competition in the electric vehicle sector, placing pressure on Tesla’s profit margins.

Simultaneously, the founder of Amazon.com Inc.,  Jeff Bezos, increased his fortune by more than $70 billion, putting him in a close competition with Arnault for second place.

The CEO of Meta Platforms Inc., Mark Zuckerberg, saw his wealth rise by more than $80 billion.

However, not everyone enjoyed an increase in wealth. Following the devaluation of the Adani Group by short-seller Hindenburg Research, Indian billionaire Gautam Adani had a severe setback, losing $21 billion on January 27 alone and a total of $37.3 billion for the year. Despite this, Adani still controls a sizable 11-figure fortune.

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Dangote, two other Nigerian billionaires lost $9.3bn in 2023 – Report

The Forbes’ Real-Time Billionaires list has revealed that three Nigerian billionaires – Aliko Dangote, Abdulsamad Rabiu, and Mike Adenuga’s combined wealth would fall by $9.3 billion in 2023.

The Forbes’ wealth-tracking tool gives ongoing updates on each individual confirmed to be a billionaire’s net worth and ranking.

When relevant stock markets are open, the value of individuals’ public holdings is updated every five minutes.

Dangote, Rabiu, and Adenuga’s fortunes fell 33.9 percent to $18.1 billion as of 3 p.m. on December 29, 2023, down from $27.4 billion on January 30.

According to the data, Dangote’s fortune has plummeted by $4.1 billion to $9.4 billion, Rabiu’s fortune has dropped by $1.9 billion to $5.7 billion, and Adenuga’s fortune has dropped by $3.3 billion to $3 billion.

“The devaluation of the naira would have affected their wealth because the currency has lost its value against the dollar,” said managing director of Afrinvest Consulting Limited, Abiodun Keripe.

He went on to say that the billionaires have the majority of their enterprises in Nigeria and that converting the worth of their businesses from naira to dollar will result in a loss of value.

The liberalization of the foreign exchange rules in June as part of economic stimulus measures resulted in a significant depreciation of the naira.

The Central Bank of Nigeria consolidated all components of the foreign exchange market into the Investors and Exporters window and reinstated the willing buyer, willing seller model.

Since then, the naira has continued to fall in value versus the US dollar and other major foreign currencies.

As of December 28, the official exchange rate has dropped from N463.38/$ to N1,043.09/$. On the parallel market, the naira fell from 762/$ to 1,210/$.

In June, Forbes claimed that Dangote had lost his position as Africa’s richest person for the first time in 12 years. It was reported that Johann Rupert of South Africa, who amassed a fortune in luxury products and other areas, had surpassed the Nigerian industrialist.

“The decline of Dangote’s fortune came in the wake of the CBN’s decision to float its currency, the naira, on June 14, abandoning the fixed exchange rate with the U.S. dollar,” the report said.

According to the newest 2023 Billionaires Ambitious report, billionaires in Nigeria raised the country’s wealth by 19.7 percent in one year, three weeks ago.

According to a research by a major investment bank and financial services firm, UBS, their total worth increased to $28.5 billion in April 2023 from $23.8 billion the previous year.

“An obvious reason for the uptick in wealth would be the benefit of the stronger oil price, given that Nigeria is usually Africa’s biggest oil producer,” according to analysts at UBS.

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Nigeria, others most affected by high food inflation – W’Bank

The World Bank has revealed that domestic food price inflation has had the greatest impact on Nigeria and other African, North American, and Latin American countries.

According to The PUNCH, the multilateral lender’s recently released Food Security Update revealed that while domestic food price inflation remained high, 61.9 per cent of low-income nations faced inflation more than 5 per cent.

It said that since the last FSU update, the agriculture, cereal, and export price indices closed 2%, 6%, and 1% higher, respectively, while maize and wheat prices jumped 8% and 14%, respectively.

It went on to say that, despite a slowing global economy, demand for agricultural products was expected to hit new highs in the 2023/24 marketing season.

“The inflation of food prices in the country is still significant. In 61.9 per cent of low-income nations, 76.1 per cent of lower-middle-income countries, 50 per cent of upper-middle-income countries, and 57.4 per cent of high-income countries, inflation exceeds 5%.

“Africa, North America, Latin America, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia are the most affected. Food price rise outpaced general inflation in 74 per cent of the 167 nations where data is available,” according to the research.

According to the report, trade-related measures enforced by countries increased following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It went on to say that the global food crisis had been exacerbated in part by the increased number of food trade restrictions imposed by countries with a goal of increasing domestic supply and reducing prices.

The latest Consumer Price Index: November 2023′ report released by the National Bureau of Statistics two weeks ago stated that Nigeria’s food inflation rate jumped to 32.84 per cent.

Food inflation was highest in Kogi, Kwara, and Rivers, where it reached 41.29 per cent, 40.72 per cent, and 40.22 per cent, respectively.

The November food inflation rate was 8.72 per cent points higher than the November 2022 figure (24.13 per cent).

According to the research, the increase in food prices was caused by price rises in bread and cereals, oil and fat, potatoes, yam and other tubers, fish, fruit, meat, vegetables, and coffee, tea, and cocoa.

The National Bureau of Statistics reported, “On a month-on-month basis, the food inflation rate in November 2023 was 2.42 per cent this was 0.51 per cent higher compared to the rate recorded in October 2023 (1.91 per cent).”

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Naira drops 11.4% to N927/$1 on official market

The Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange Market, the official FX window, saw a 11.4 per cent depreciation of the Naira against the Dollar on Friday, December 1, closing at N927.19/$1, from Thursday’s exchange rate of N832.32/$1.

This depreciation put the Naira on the back burner for the first trading session of the final month of 2023.

The domestic currency declined in the spot market on Sunday as a result of the December rush for foreign exchange, as the supply of foreign currency could not keep up with demand.

According to data, the value of FX transactions that were recorded at the market during the trading day was $110.14 million, down from $115.41 million the day before, indicating a decline of 4.6 per cent or $5.27 million.

The unregulated foreign exchange market experienced pressure on Friday due to the official market’s incapacity to meet the demand of customers. The local currency lost N5 in value against the US dollar in the parallel market, closing at N1,165/$1, as opposed to N1,160/$1, on Thursday.

However on Sunday, in the Peer-to-Peer window, the value of the Nigerian Naira increased by N8 relative to that of the US dollar, selling for N1,148/$1 as opposed to N1,156/$1.

During the session at NAFEM, the Naira fell N158.01 against the Pound Sterling to settle at N1,204.10/£1, down from N1,046.09/£1 the day before. Against the Euro, it fell N95.37 to sell at N1,036.06/€1, down from N940.69/€1 on Thursday.

The cryptocurrency market, meanwhile, saw mixed results, with Bitcoin rising by 1.9% to $38,112.80, and Dogecoin gained 3.1 per cent to sell at $0.0839.

Additionally, Litecoin gained 0.4% to $70.09, Binance Coin gained 0.4% to $228.88, Cardano expanded by 0.1% to $0.378 and Ethereum increased by 2.7% to $2,090.27. Ripple saw an increase of 0.8% to $0.6105.

Solana saw a slight decline of less than 0.3 percent to close at $60.34, whereas US Dollar Coin and US Dollar Tether ended the day unchanged at $1.00 each.

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INEC seeks collaboration among ECOWAS electoral bodies

The Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has called for collaboration among West African states on election management.

Yakubu stated this at an event to commemorate the Liberia’s National Election Commission’s workspace for its staff.

On November 14 2023, Liberians voted in the run-off to elect their president for the next six years. After the election, Joseph Boakai became Liberia’s new leader after his rival and sitting President George Weah conceded to mark a peaceful transfer of power in a region that has recently seen many military coups.

Yakubu, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Rotimi Oyekanmi, on Saturday, expressed heartfelt appreciation to NEC-Liberia for the esteemed honour bestowed upon INEC Nigeria in dedicating the workspace to staff.

“Professor Yakubu underscored the complexity of election management and urged prioritising peer support amid limited resources and escalating election costs,” the statement noted.

The chairperson of NEC Liberia, Davidetta Lansanah, acknowledged the pivotal technical support rendered by INEC Nigeria and Yakubu in establishing the workspace and bolstering the electoral process in Liberia.

(Punch)

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Prepare for possible ‘war’, N’Korea’s Kim orders military amidst US alleged threat

North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un wrapped the year with fresh threats of a nuclear attack on Seoul and orders for a military arsenal build-up to prepare for a war that can “break out at any time” on the peninsula, state media reported Sunday.

Kim lambasted the United States during a lengthy speech at the end of five days of year-end party meetings that set his country’s military, political, and economic policy decisions for 2024.

The meeting announced plans for further military development in the coming year, including launching three more spy satellites, building unmanned drones and developing electronic warfare capabilities, as well as strengthening nuclear and missile forces, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Pyongyang this year successfully launched a reconnaissance satellite, enshrined its status as a nuclear power in its constitution, and test-fired the most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in its arsenal.

At the meeting that ended Saturday, Kim accused the United States of posing “various types of military threat” and ordered his armed forces to maintain “overwhelming war response capability”, according to KCNA.

It is a “fait accompli that a war can break out at any time on the Korean peninsula due to reckless moves by the enemies to invade us”, Kim said.

In an effort to deter Pyongyang, Washington earlier this month deployed a nuclear-powered submarine in the South Korean port city of Busan, and flew its long-range bombers in drills with Seoul and Tokyo.

The North has previously described the deployment of Washington’s strategic weapons — such as B-52 bombers — in joint drills on the Korean peninsula as the “intentional nuclear war provocative moves”.

“We must respond quickly to a possible nuclear crisis and continue to accelerate preparations to pacify the entire territory of South Korea by mobilising all physical means and forces, including nuclear force, in case of emergency,” Kim said.

– ‘Uncontrollable crisis situation’ –

At the meeting, Kim said he would no longer seek reconciliation and reunification with South Korea, noting the “persisting uncontrollable crisis situation” which he said was triggered by Seoul and Washington.

Inter-Korean relations have deteriorated to a low point this year, with Pyongyang’s spy satellite launch prompting Seoul to partially suspend a 2018 military agreement aimed at defusing tensions.

“I believe that it is a mistake that we should no longer make to consider the people who declare us as the ‘main enemy’… as a counterpart for reconciliation and unification,” KCNA cited Kim as saying.

Kim ordered the drawing-up of measures for reorganising departments handling cross-border affairs, to “fundamentally shift the direction”.

Leif Easley, a professor of international relations at Ewha University in Seoul, said the emphasis on North Korea’s “significant military capabilities” was likely aimed at hiding the country’s poor economic achievements this year.

“Much of what state-controlled media publishes is recycled propaganda,” he said, adding: “Pyongyang’s bellicose rhetoric suggests its military moves are not only about deterrence but also domestic politics and international coercion.”

Pyongyang declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear power last year and has repeatedly said it will never give up its nukes programme, which the regime views as essential for its survival.

The United Nations Security Council has adopted many resolutions calling on North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes since it first conducted a nuclear test in 2006.

(AFP)

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Senate endorses Tinubu’s request to borrow $7.8bn, €100m

The Senate has approved President Tinubu’s request to borrow $7.8bn and €100 million as part of the 2022-2024 borrowing plan of the Federal Government.

The request was approved after the Senate considered and adopted the report of its committee on Local and Foreign Debt during Saturday’s plenary.

Tinubu had said that the Federal Executive Council under former President Muhammadu Buhari approved the loan facility on May 15, 2023 to finance infrastructure, health, education, agriculture, insecurity and other sectors.

He further explained that the foreign loan had become necessary to bridge the financial gap and return the economic activities of the country to normalcy.

The funds, he said, would be used to develop infrastructure, agriculture, health, education, water supply, security and employment as well as financial management reforms.

Similarly, the Red Chamber also okayed Tinubu’s request to securitise the Central Bank of Nigeria N7.3tn Ways and Means advances to the Federal Government.

Tinubu had, in a letter read by the Senate President on Saturday, said the securitisation was targeted at reducing debt service cost and extend the repayment period of the existing loans.

The Ways and Means provision allows the government to borrow from the Central Bank in the event that it requires short-term or emergency financing to support delayed government projected cash receipts of fiscal shortfalls.

(Punch)

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Don’t stop supporting the poor, Kumuyi urges Christians

The General Superintendent of the Deeper Life Bible Church, Pastor Williams Kumuyi, has called on Christians to intensify support for the poor.

The preacher made the call, according to Church Times News Online, in a recent message titled, “Emmanuel, Jesus the Healer,” monitored by our correspondent.

Kumuyi said, “I learnt of a preacher somewhere. He told his congregation now, we are going to collect offerings. He asked those who had N10,000 to give to raise their hands, and he asked those who had N20,000 to give to raise their hands.

“He asked those who had N50,000, they raised their hands. And he said all the money they wanted to give to the church, they should go and give to the poor in their neighbourhood rather than bringing it to the church.

“All the offerings are not just for church. There are poor and unemployed people around. There are indigent people around, but we must build our campground. I understand, we are going to build. But while you are building your neighbours are dying. Those who do not have anything to feed are there. Your fellow brother, your fellow sister have nothing to send children to school.”

(Punch)

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Our expectations from Tinubu govt in 2024 – Labour, business owners, others list demands

As 2023 comes to an end, Nigerians from different walks of life have urged the Federal Government to improve the economic conditions and security outlook of the country in the New Year.

Across several sectors, stakeholders, including the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Nigerian Medical Association, Association of Small Business Owners, National Association of Nigerian Students, Nigeria Automobile Technicians Association, and All Farmers Association of Nigeria, among others, have made their demands for 2024 known to President Bola Tinubu.

They asked the government to stabilise the falling naira, make the economy attractive to foreign investors and friendly to small businesses, and improve the living conditions of citizens, among other demands.

The year 2023 saw Nigeria elect a new leader to run the affairs of the nation for another four years.

It was also the year the country saw the end of petrol subsidy after the declaration of the President during his inauguration on May 29.

This caused unprecedented hardship for Nigerians, as the pump price of petrol skyrocketed, making transport fares, food and other essential goods’ prices to jump astronomically.

The economy, according to experts, is currently at a very low ebb.

For instance, the naira, on Friday, traded at 907.11/$ on the official Investors and Exporters’ foreign exchange window after falling to 1,043.09/$ on Thursday.

This is a 13.04 per cent appreciation from Thursday’s figure, according to data from the FMDQ Securities Exchange.

Trading on the last working day of 2023 began at N911.67/$, it rose to a high of N1,224.10/$ and fell to N700/$, before closing at N907.11/$. Forex turnover improved marginally to $89.30m, a 6.78 per cent increase from the $83.63m it was the previous day.

At the parallel market, the naira closed the year at N1,195/$. A Bureau de Change operator, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said, “The dollar is N1,195. The difference between the buying and selling rates today is about N6/N7.”

On Thursday, the currency fell to a low of N1,043.09/$, its second time hovering above N1,000 at the official FX window. On December 8, it fell to an all-time low of N1,099.05/$ on the I&E window.

Since the apex bank declared that it was reintroducing the ‘willing buyer and willing seller’ model for the currency, the naira has continued to be volatile due to supply issues.

The foreign exchange reserves dipped to a six-year low of $32.87bn at the end of December, according to the CBN data, with the naira becoming the third worst-performing global currency in 2023 due to a backlog of unsettled forwards, undelivered promises of dollar inflows and a two-decade peak in inflation, according to Kyle Chapman, FX markets analyst at London-based Ballinger and Co.

Inflation, poverty

Inflation, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, surged to 28.20 per cent in November from 27.33 per cent in October, underscoring a worsening cost of living crisis in the country.

In its new ‘Consumer Price Index: November 2023’ released on Friday, the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that headline inflation surged by 0.87 percentage points in November to a new record high in almost two decades.

Nigeria’s inflation rate is now poised to close 2023 at about 30 per cent, aligning with recent predictions by KPMG and Stears Business.

Nigeria, according to official data from the World Bank and United Nations, is the second largest host of persons living in extreme poverty.

The World Poverty Clock estimates the number of its extremely poor Nigerians at 71 million. Using the UN threshold of $1.9 per day, Statista says 12 per cent of the global population in extreme poverty lived in Nigeria in 2023.

The United Nations International Children’s Education Fund has warned that 25 million Nigerians are at risk of hunger in the New Year.

NLC lists demand

The Head of Information, NKC, Benson Upah, in an interview with Sunday PUNCH, said the congress was expecting the dividends of good governance from the Tinubu administration in the New Year.

“Our expectations are good governance, strong institutions, more accountability, less corruption, respect for law and order by the government, more citizen participation in governance, lower exchange and inflation rates, higher standard of living for the citizens, and renewed hope in the country,” Upah said.

He noted that the government must resist the urge to make Nigeria a one-party state, adding that such would have dire consequences for the country.

“Government should resist the urge to make Nigeria a one-party state. Our history teaches us that there are usually dire consequences for such political greed or inordinate political ambition,” Upah added.

‘Fix forex issues’

The President, Association of Small Business Owners, Femi Egbesola, demanded an improvement in power generation across the country.

He also said he expected the government to construct new roads and repair existing ones to make transportation of goods and services easier.

Egbesola said, “We hope that there will be an improvement in the country’s fiscal policy. To improve the economy, we expect that the government will work more with critical stakeholders.

“The government should not be the one formulating policies and implementing them. Policies should be developed in collaboration with stakeholders.

“We also expect the government to fix critical infrastructure, particularly power. All businesses depend on power. Having invested billions of naira in power and privatising it, the government should make sure that it works. We expect that power should have improved by now, but it is rather getting worse.

“We also expect the government to be able to make more funds accessible to MSMEs. One of the critical challenges of MSMEs is that they are unable to access affordable funds. This will help to awaken ailing and almost dead businesses.”

He also begged the government to make forex available, adding that MSMEs were currently buying foreign currencies from the black market at exorbitant rates.

Egbesola said, “The banks sell only to big companies at the detriment of micro and small businesses. Our economy will improve if we do more export and we will do more export if we have access to funding and forex.

“We also expect that the committee on tax and fiscal reforms established by the government will be able to bring out solutions that will mitigate against multiple taxes and other arbitrary charges by the government.  We also expect that the government will do more on intervention funds. One thing is to make funds available through commercial banks. Another thing is for the government to create more intervention funds for small businesses.”

‘End brain drain’

The Oyo State Chairman, Nigerian Medical Association, Dr Wale Lasisi, urged the Federal Government to improve the health infrastructure across the country and end the exodus of doctors from the country in droves.

The Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors revealed that no fewer than 1,417 doctors had left the country in 2023, compounding the doctor shortage.

Lasisi said, “We expect the government to invest more in the health sector and see to the proper implementation of the health sector policies.

“The government should also improve the primary healthcare centres and infrastructure across the country. Also, new teaching hospitals being proposed should be cited in places with wide coverage and population.

“We also expect the government to improve the remuneration of healthcare workers in a bid to retain the manpower and make available necessary equipment and gadgets that will make work easy.

“Health is wealth, so the government at all levels must prioritise delivering quality healthcare. Considering that most of the populace cannot afford the exorbitant costs of healthcare, and most cannot afford medical tourism.

“For a government that has the agenda of renewed hope, we expect that the renewed hope will also affect health and should be as quick and effective as they can do it.”

‘Reduce petrol price’

The National President, Nigeria Automobile Technicians Association, Magaji Sani, said, “We are all aware that many Nigerians are suffering currently, and the main issue is the petrol pump price. As long as it remains on the high side, the price of every other thing will increase.

“Motor parts will be high, and as you are aware, a lot of people have parked their cars. If that is the case, many of our members will not have jobs to do.

“We expect that more attention will be paid to reviving the refineries in 2024. The price of petrol should be reduced, and the cost of other products should also be reduced so that Nigerians can experience relief in the New Year.

“Our sector is very important in the alleviation of poverty because we are very close to the people. After all, those young ones who leave secondary school and can’t further their education are trained by us and this contributes to the area of job provision. So, we expect the government to help us ensure ease of doing our jobs in 2024.”

‘Ensure farmers’ safety’

Between January and June 2023, armed groups killed no fewer than 128 farmers and kidnapped 37 others across the country, according to the Nigerian Security Tracker.

The National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Mr Kabiru Ibrahim, said the President needed to declare a state of emergency on food security, adding that the lives of farmers were now endangered.

He said, “We don’t have standard security for farmers; and without securing the farms, more farmers will lose their lives.

“We are expecting that security actions will be taken to make sure that they protect all farmers across the country.”

Ibrahim urged the Federal Government to give “proper subsidies to farmers for fertilisers,” adding that such should be made available for farmers in the New Year.

“We also expect the availability of all inputs so that we will be able to produce food at reasonable prices for the citizens,” he added.

No strike – NANS

The Senate President of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Mr Afeez Babatunde, said students did not need any episode of strike in the New Year.

He said, “We are not expecting any strike in 2024 as we are on our toes to make sure the government fulfils all its promises and do more.

“However, we are expecting the government loan promised to students and also the buses promised to all tertiary institutions in the country starting from January. Moreover, we want a year that will be full of activities on our campuses where students will go to school and perform their activities comfortably.”

Babatunde added that the students were still expecting the promised bursary scheme and the increment of government subvention to universities.

He noted, “We were present during the budget public hearing, and we told the lawmakers to increase the allocation to education to raise the standard of education in the country.

“So, we are expecting them to adjust the budget, and also deliver on the promise of the student loan scheme. The welfare of students and all academic and non-academic staff of varsities, polytechnics and colleges of education must be a major priority so that there will be a peaceful academic calendar.”

Increase salaries – Workers

A civil servant, Mr Segun Ajagbe, urged the Federal Government to consider salary adjustment and welfare improvement in 2024.

He added that civil servants would anticipate such reviews from the government and implement measures to enhance their overall welfare, considering the current realities of inflation and the high cost of living.

He said, “We want the government to review and adjust the salary structure because of the current inflation and the high cost of living. We also want them to implement policies that will improve our welfare, including healthcare and housing benefits.”

Another civil servant, who identified herself only as Atinuke, suggested continuous training and capacity building for workers at all levels of government.

She also noted that opportunities must be created to enhance the skills and capabilities of civil servants and ensure that they were well-equipped.

Another civil servant, Fiyin Akanmu, told one of our correspondents that the government should increase salaries and regularise the prices of commodities.

She said, “Things are so expensive. The government should, please, regularise the prices of commodities, and invest in infrastructure, particularly roads.”

An Information Technology expert, Mr Adekunle Oyelakin, said the Federal Government should enforce more stringent regulations and standards to boost cyber security and tame the current rise in the rate of cyber threats.

He noted that the government should work on expanding technology infrastructure like broadband connectivity to support the growth of the digital economy.

He added, “Our expectations include increased government investment in improving and expanding technology infrastructure, such as broadband connectivity to support the growth of our digital economy.

“The government should also foster a more tech-savvy population by promoting digital literacy initiatives to empower the people.”

Another IT expert, Chidinma Uche, corroborated Oyelakin’s stance, saying their expectation from the government was to introduce policies and programmes to enhance further innovation, entrepreneurship, and the growth of tech start-ups, adding that this would contribute to job creation and economic development in the technology sector.

Mr Kehinde Mukhtar, who is also an IT expert, said the Federal Government should ensure that pressing issues were addressed in the country.

He said, “My expectations from the Federal Government in 2024 revolve around fostering inclusive and sustainable development.

“I anticipate a commitment to addressing pressing issues such as healthcare, education, and environmental concerns. Specifically, I hope for policies that promote accessible and quality healthcare for all, initiatives to enhance educational opportunities, and a strong dedication to environmental conservation.

“Additionally, I look forward to transparent governance, economic policies that prioritise job creation, and efforts to bridge socio-economic disparities. Ultimately, my expectation is for a government that actively engages with the diverse needs of its citizens, ensuring a brighter and more equitable future for the nation.”

A schoolteacher, Alimo Anifowose, said the welfare of the masses should be the main focus of the government in the New Year.

She said, “In 2024, the Federal Government should pay attention to the welfare of the masses. First, there should be a significant increase in the salaries of civil servants and government workers.

“Security in the country should also be improved so that Nigerians can sleep well at night. The Federal government should also make sure that commodities become affordable.”

Stabilise economy – Experts

In an interview with Sunday PUNCH, a financial expert, Oluwasegun Alli, said the government should devise methods to ease the country’s financial burdens in 2024.

He said, “I expect that the government will roll out ways to ease the financial burdens witnessed in 2023.

“I spend a significant part of my salary on transport and food. Despite cutting off unnecessary expenditures such as visitation to friends and families, my monthly income still can’t take me to the next month.

“The government should find means of reducing food inflation, which is estimated at 32.8 per cent as of November, to save people from dying of hunger. Also, the onus is on the government to implement measures to improve power supply so one can save money for buying fuel every night. I hope that the New Year will be a rewarding one.”

Another financial expert, Kehinde Adekoya, said Nigeria witnessed considerable changes in every sector in 2023, adding that the government must ease the masses’ woes in the New Year.

“Nigerians have witnessed an increase in fuel pump price and exchange rates, which have affected the prices of every other goods and services.

“Besides the above concerns, there is the safety and security issue. Although there has been an existing level of insecurity in the country, the recently inflicted hardship fuels the crime rate in the country as many take to crime as their last resort for a livelihood.

“The government should create more job opportunities through foreign investors, establishing new businesses or state-owned industries in the country. This will, in turn, reduce the high rate of unemployment. The government must ensure that it makes the country a producing country rather than a consuming one.”

(Punch)

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Child marriage: Bayelsa summons four-year-old girl’s parents, 54-year-old groom

The Bayelsa Government has invited the parents of a four-year-old girl and the 54-year-old man allegedly involved in a marriage in Akeddei community, Sagbama Local Government Area of the state, Sunday PUNCH has learnt.

The government’s intervention is coming on the heels of media reports of a marriage between the child bride and the 54-year-old.

In a statement on Saturday, sighted by our correspondent, the government frowned at the development, terming the ‘union’ illegal.

The statement was jointly signed by the Chairman, Gender Response Initiative Team, Dr. Dise Ogbise-Goddy, and the Director, Child Development at the state Ministry of Women Affairs, Children and Social Development, Mr Paniebi Jacob.

The government said the “illegal marriage” was not based on tradition and customs, adding that it was repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience.

It added that it would not support child marriage under any guise.

The government also noted that it had received a formal complaint from a child rights advocacy group, DO Foundation, on the controversial marriage.

Also, the state Human Rights Commission said the traditional ruler of the Akeddei community honoured the government’s invitation and promised to produce the child, her parents, the groom, the youth leader and the chairman of the Community Development Committee.

“The Bayelsa State government did not hesitate to assent to the passage of the Bayelsa State Child Rights Law.

“We are taking steps to rescue the child from all the key actors in this illegal ceremony that they tagged a ‘mere spiritual’ affair.

“The law is clear on issues of tradition and customs that are repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience. Working with the Bayelsa State Police Command, we shall ensure incidents like this do not occur in the state again.

“On behalf of the governor of Bayelsa State, we express our gratitude to all the non-governmental organisations, including the International Federation of Women Lawyers and DO Foundation, that have risen to the rescue of this innocent child.

“Bayelsa State is children-friendly and this case will be pursued to a logical conclusion,” it added.

However, several media reports have alleged that the marriage involving the man, simply identified as Elder Akpos, was at the instant of the girl’s parents.

(Punch)

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Terrorists perceive security agencies as objects of mockery – Kukah

Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Bishop Mathew Kukah, has joined numerous of Nigerians in condemning recent killings in Plateau, asserting that citizens of Nigeria are gradually losing hope in their government’s ability to protect them.

Bishop Kukah in a statement he signed personally and made available to newsmen in the state of Saturday evening said religious leaders; both Muslim and Christians, had continued to use moral authority to encourage their people not to take laws into their hands.

Kukah’s states came on the heels of the killing of over 150 persons in Plateau State on Christmas Eve by suspected terrorists.

According to the statement titled, ‘Blood and Crucifixion on the Plateau’, he said the invisible men came to the Plateau again, bearing their gifts of death and destruction.

He said, “They came from the deepest pit of hell, the habitat of the devils that they are. They are children of darkness, sons of Satan. They opted to extinguish and snatch the light of the joy of Christmas from thousands of people on the Plateau.

(Punch)

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N37bn fraud: Buhari’s minister to face EFCC interrogators January 3

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has invited the former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, over an ongoing probe into the N37,170,855,753.44 allegedly laundered under her watch through a contractor, James Okwete.

The former minister was asked to appear before interrogators at the EFCC headquarters, Jabbi, Abuja on Wednesday, January 3, 2024, to explain the alleged fraud, an exclusive document seen by our correspondent on Saturday revealed.

The document read in part, “The commission is investigating a case of money laundering involving the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development during your time as minister.

“In view of the above, you are requested to kindly report for an interview with the undersigned. Scheduled as follows: Wednesday, 3rd of January, 2024. Time: 10am. This request is made pursuant to Section 38 (I) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004 & Section 21 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.”

The ex-minister could not be reached for comments on Saturday as her telephone indicated that it was switched off. When our correspondent contacted her former media aide, Nneka Ikem, over the development, she told our correspondent off and proceeded to switch off her phone.

“As you’re asking me? I’ll be asking you too, where did you learn that the EFCC has invited her, “ Ikem queried before ending the call. Subsequent calls indicated that her phone had been switched off.

Umar-Farouq had earlier denied knowledge of the contractor, James Okwete, who is still being held by the anti-graft agency.

The former minister tweeted on her X handle on Monday, “There have been a number of reports linking me to a purported investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission into the activities of one James Okwete, someone completely unknown to me.

“James Okwete neither worked for, nor represented me in any way whatsoever. The linkages and associations to my person are spurious. While I resist the urge to engage in any media trial whatsoever, I have however contacted my legal team to explore possible options to seek redress on the malicious attack on my person.

“I remain proud to have served my country as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with every sense of responsibility and would defend my actions, stewardship and programmes during my tenure whenever I am called upon to do so.”

The spokesperson for the EFCC, Dele Oyewale, declined comments on the ex-minister’s invitation when contacted by Sunday PUNCH.

“I’m not around at the moment, and I can’t speak on that, please,” Oyewale said.

Sunday PUNCH had earlier reported that the EFCC had arrested Okwete in connection with the ongoing probe into the N37.1bn allegedly laundered by the ministry under Umar-Farouq.

A top EFCC official, who confided in our correspondent, said the contractor had made useful statements concerning Umar-Farouq and former directors-general of agencies under the ministry.

The development coincides with the probe of three other ministers, who served under former President Muhammadu Buhari for alleged graft estimated at N150bn.

“It is not only Umar-Farouk we are investigating. Three other former ministers are also under probe. They were allegedly involved in graft to the tune of N150bn,” a credible source in the EFCC had confided in our correspondent.

Sources revealed that Umar-Farouq and some former directors-general of agencies under the ministry might be arrested by the commission following the details of the alleged financial misappropriation so far revealed to interrogators by the contractor.

Investigations by the anti-graft agency allegedly revealed that the N37.1bn was transferred from the Federal Government’s coffers and sent to 38 different bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks belonging to or connected with Okwete.

Impeccable sources had earlier confirmed to Sunday PUNCH that Okwete was cooperating with investigators.

According to the EFCC officials, the contractor was arrested four days ago.

A source said, “The contractor, Mr Okwete, who was used in laundering the money, has been arrested by the commission. He is currently in our custody and has been giving investigators more details that have indicted the former minister and some DGs under the ministry, and they may be brought in anytime soon too.”

Another source stated, “The contractor involved in the N37.bn fraud has been arrested and will spend Christmas in our custody. He has given some names, and the former humanitarian affairs minister and directors-general in the ministry were linked to the fraud.”

Sunday PUNCH reports that the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs currently serves as the parent ministry to eight agencies, including the National Social Investment Office, the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals, and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internationally Displaced Persons, among others.

Umar-Farouq was the pioneer Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

She was appointed by former President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2019 as the youngest cabinet member.

Her work with Buhari dates back to his days as the leader and presidential candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change when she was the national treasurer of the party and later the national treasurer of the All Progressives Congress.

Documents obtained by Sunday PUNCH revealed that following receipt of the funds, Okwete allegedly transferred N6,746,034,000 to Bureau De Change operators, withdrew N540m, purchased luxury cars with N288,348,600 and bought luxury houses in Abuja and Enugu State with N2,195,115,000.

A total of 53 companies were reportedly traced to Okwete, who was also said to have used 47 of the firms to secure Federal Government contracts amounting to N27,423,824,339.86.

He was also linked with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks of which 134 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.

Checks by our correspondent with the Corporate Affairs Commission revealed that Okwete is a director in only 11 of the 53 companies, while the remaining 42 companies’ accounts are linked to his Bank Verification Number as a signatory to the accounts.

The document stated, “Between 2018 and 2023, the subject (Okwete) received the sum of N37,170,855,753.44 from the coffers of the Federal Government linked to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

“The money was sent to 38 bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks. The suspect transferred N6,746,034,000 to Bureau De Change operators, N540mn withdrawn in cash, N288,348,600 used to purchase cars, and used N2,195,115,000 to purchase choice properties within Abuja and Enugu State.

“Fifty-three companies were traced to the suspect. He used 47 of the companies to lift Federal Government contracts amounting to N27,423,824,339.86.

“Okwete is associated with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks in which 134 of the 143 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.”

In 2020, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission said it uncovered N2.67bn meant for the ministry’s school feeding programme in private bank accounts.

The former ICPC Chairman, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, disclosed that the commission unravelled N2.67bn in personal accounts, being payment made to some federal colleges for school feeding during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

Other discoveries by the ICPC include 18 buildings, 12 business premises and 25 plots of land.

Owasanoye said under the Open Treasury Portal review carried out between January and August 15, 2020, of the 268 Ministries, Departments and Agencies, 72 had cumulative infractions of N90m.

The former ICPC chairman argued that the money was paid when children were not in school.

(Punch)

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Edo 2024: Ize-Iyamu declares to contest governorship again

A former Secretary to the State Government of Edo State, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, on Wednesday, declared his intention to join the 2024 governorship race in the state.

This is the third time he will be taking a shot at the Edo governorship office.

In 2020, he ran on the platform of the All Progressives Congress but lost to Governor Godwin Obaseki, who ran on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party.

Declaring his intention to run on the APC platform again on Wednesday, Ize-Iyamu said he would stick with his previous SIMPLE agenda, which stands for  Security, Infrastructure Development, Manpower Development, Public/Private Partnership, Leadership by example and Employment creation.

He said, “Having served as Secretary to the State Government and a previous governorship candidate of the party, I possess the required experience to be governor. We lost the 2020 election because our leaders outside the state chose to vote against us.

“The SIMPLE agenda will be used to develop the state, if given the chance to become the governor. All the 18 local government will enjoy infrastructural development.”

He urged the electorate to vote for a politician like him who understands the needs of the people and not an outsider, questioning the present administration’s claim of infrastructural development in the state.

He added, “In Orhionmwon Local Government where I come from, there is no Automated Teller Machine let alone a bank and other social amenities like pipeborne water and electricity.

“The present administration is engaging in selective development as the only visible projects can only be found in Benin City.

“Also, I am not like other politicians who will rule for four or eight years and relocate to Abuja or Lagos. I am based in the state and I think I should be given the chance rather than backing people who only come to vie for positions during elections.”

In his response, the deputy chairman of the party, Jarret Tenebe, stated that the party needed a candidate who would win the 2024 poll.

(Punch)

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Rivers elders write Fubara, say Abuja resolution ‘death sentence’

Rivers State elders and leaders have written an open letter to Governor Siminalayi Fubara, warning him against implementing the resolution reached at a meeting with President Bola Tinubu in Abuja to resolve the political crisis in the state.

The Rivers elders, in their letter, described the resolution as “a death sentence,” contending that it was lopsided in favour of Fubara’s estranged political godfather and ex-governor, Nyesom Wike.

The forum, led by former Rivers State governor, Chief Rufus Ada-George, made the declaration in two separate open letters dated December 24, 2023, and addressed to President Tinubu and Fubara respectively and read to newsmen in Port Harcourt on Wednesday.

They declared that the presidential resolution on the political crisis in Rivers State was lopsided and not implementable because it was against the rule of law.

“For us, as custodians of the Rivers people’s conscience and morality, we find the directive resolution document lopsided and skewed in favour of the interest of your current minister, Nyesom Wike, to the detriment of the governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara, the governance of the state and the interest of the generality of the good people of Rivers State,” they wrote.

They said Tinubu did not have the power to overrule the decision of a court of competent jurisdiction, while faulting the Christmas Day broadcast by Fubara that he would implement the resolution.

The open letters were signed by Chief George, Dr Gabriel Toby, Ibim Princewill, Rear Adm. P. Fingesi (retd.), Emeritus Prof. Dagogo Fubara, HRH Iraron, Ede Obolo, Anabs Sara-Igbe, Senator Bennett Birabi, Ms Annkio Briggs, Captain Nwankwo, Prof. A.W. Obianime, Prof. E. T. Bristol, High Chief Marcus Atata, Senator Wilson Ake, Dr Silva Opusunju, Sen Andrew Uchendu, Kalada Iruenabere, Atamuno Atamuno, Prof. N O Nyenke, and Godwin Abbey.

“Mr. Governor, Sir, you stated categorically that you are a principal participant in the entire saga and the Presidential Peace Proclamation is not as bad as being portrayed by those genuinely opposed to it.
“That proclamation is actually a death sentence as it breaches all legal and constitutional rights you swore to uphold. Mr. Governor, you
also stated in your broadcast that the document offers a way and means of peace: Peace at what cost?” the elders queried.

“Does the President have the powers to overrule the ruling of a court of competent jurisdiction when he is a product of the court himself?

 “Central to this, Mr President, is the sacred doctrine and practice of the separation of powers. May we inform Mr President that the seats of the cross-carpeting members have been declared vacant by the Speaker, known to the law, Rt Hon Ehie Edison, through an ex parte order issued by the Federal High Court Port Harcourt division.

 “We cannot but imagine how providing accommodation and meeting venue for legislative business becomes the duty of members of the House of Assembly who you directed to seat wherever they choose and not by the Executive arm as in the case of the National Assembly Complex were Legislative Quarters are provided and maintained by the Executive arm.

 “Given the foregoing, it is evident that Governor Siminalayi Fubara, the Chief Executive Officer of Rivers State, was coerced into submitting to your premeditated action plan even when it is well known that Mr President does not possess such powers to give directives to a democratically elected governor or impose his will on the state government and the good people of Rivers State.

 “As far as we are concerned, that meeting did not happen, and those directives are not implementable because to do so will be acting against the constitution and the rule of law.”

The elders, however, lauded Fubara for his humility as shown in his Christmas Day speech to the people of the state.

(Punch)

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Aiyedatiwa takes over, Tinubu, govs say Akeredolu’s death big loss

Acting Governor of Ondo State, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, was on Wednesday sworn in as the substantive governor of the state following the death of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu earlier in the day.

Akeredolu, aged 67, passed away on Wednesday morning while undergoing treatment for prostate cancer in a German hospital.

Born on July 21, 1956, Akeredolu studied Law at the Obafemi Awolowo University (then the University of Ife) graduating in 1977. He was called to the bar in 1978.

His demise generated an outpouring of tributes and condolence messages from President Bola Tinubu, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, the Ooni of Ife, the Nigerian Bar Association, the Christian Association of Nigeria, and other eminent Nigerians, who described his death as a big loss to the country.

In line with the constitution, Aiyedatiwa was sworn in as the seventh executive governor of the Sunshine State by the state Chief Judge Justice Olusegun Odusola.

He took the oath of allegiance at 5.15pm, swore the oath of office at 5:17pm, and signed the Oath Register at about 5:19pm.

‘Man of courage’

In his maiden address, the new governor described his former boss, Akeredolu, as a man of courage and conviction who always stood for the truth even at his own detriment.

He vowed to continue with the developmental ideas of the late former governor and also solicited support and cooperation from the stakeholders.

He said, “Today’s (Wednesday ), event has placed a burden on all of us to pull together and stay together as one because we have the onerous responsibility to continue to sustain the legacies of Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, SAN, CON, which was good governance, properly called.

“Our leader and governor, during his time embarked upon several landmark projects, many of which have been completed and several ongoing. We now have the responsibility to complete them.

“It is to the credit of Arakunrin Akeredolu, that the state now has a flyover in Ore, while the one in Akure is ongoing. It is necessary for us to acknowledge with pride the wonderful achievements and legacies of Arakunrin Akeredolu. His records of performance are monumental and unprecedented.’’

He said the people of the South-West would forever be grateful to Akeredolu, who as the Chairman of the governors in the zone ensured the establishment of Amotekun, the region’s security outfit which tackled kidnapping and other crimes

Present at the inauguration were the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Olamide Oladiji; Secretary to the State Government, Oladunni Odu, some state executive council members; the Head of Service, Pastor Kayode Ogundele, former deputy governors, permanent secretaries, Chairman of the All Progressives Congress in the state, Ade Adetimehin, the Chief of Staff to the late governor, Chief Olugbenga Ale, party supporters, among others.

Before his death, Akeredolu had transferred power to Aiyedatiwa via a letter to the state House of Assembly on December 13, 2023, when he was to proceed on medical leave in Germany.

The development followed the intervention of President Tinubu who intervened in the crisis that resulted from the failure of Akeredolu to hand over to his deputy after he returned to the country from Germany in September.

Although Akeredolu returned to Nigeria in the first week of September after a three-month medical leave, he was operating from Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.

The state House of Assembly had commenced an impeachment process against the deputy governor over allegations of gross misconduct.

This led to a division in the state assembly and the state executive council as well as the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress.

In a bid to resolve the crisis, Tinubu met with the leadership of the assembly and the state APC at the State House, Abuja, last month, where it was decided that Aiyedatiwa should take over as the acting governor.

The state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mrs Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, announced the governor’s death in a statement saying, “Mr governor peacefully departed from this world in the early hours of today, Wednesday, December 27, 2023.”

The statement was titled, ‘It is a sad day in Ondo State.’

 It read, “With a heavy heart, the Ondo State Government announces the passing of our beloved Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, CON.

 “Mr governor peacefully departed from this world in the early hours of today, Wednesday, December 27, 2023. This tragedy has left behind a profound void in our hearts.

“Governor Akeredolu answered the eternal call while receiving medical treatment in Germany. He succumbed to complications arising from protracted prostate cancer.”

It noted that a letter had been sent to the President to officially inform him of the governor’s death.

The family and the Ondo State Government appreciate Mr President’s support for Governor Akeredolu during his illness. The family and the state government will release further details regarding the funeral arrangements.

“Governor Akeredolu was an extraordinary leader whose unwavering dedication to the state and its people was both commendable and unparalleled.’’

Meanwhile, the new governor, in a statement on Wednesday evening  in Akure by his Chief Press Secretary, Ebenezer Adeniyan,  declared three-day mourning.

According to Aiyedatiwa, the period of mourning, with fasting and prayer, takes effect from Thursday and ends on Saturday.

Akeredolu’s aides resign

Shortly before the swearing-in of Aiyedatiwa, the Special Adviser to Akeredolu on Union Matters and Special Duties, Mr Dare Aragbaye and the Chief Press Secretary Mr Richard Olatunde resigned from office.

In the letters of resignation signed by the duo, addressed to the office of the Secretary to the State Government on Wednesday, the aides cited the demise of the governor as the reason for their action. The letters came in, some hours after the death of Governor Akeredolu.

Aragbaye’s letter was titled ‘Resignation of appointment as Special Adviser Union Matters and Special Duties.’

The letter read, “I write to refer to the subject above and to resign my appointment as Special Adviser Union Matters and Special Duties with effect from today, Wednesday 27, December 2023. My decision to resign is based on the unfortunate death of my principal a fearless and honest leader, Governor Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredulu, SAN, CON , whom I am loyal to even in death.

“I sincerely thank His Excellency for the opportunity granted me to serve in his administration as a member of the State Executive Council first as a Head of Service and now as Special Adviser. Please accept the assurances of my esteemed regards. “

Olatunde in his letter titled ‘Resignation Letter’ partly read, “ It is with a heavy heart and deep sadness that I tender my resignation as the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, effective from today, Wednesday 27, 2023.”

It further stated,” My decision to resign from office is hinged on the unfortunate and untimely death of our leader, principal, and father figure, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, CON.”

The Ondo State Government Secretariat was in a sombre mood following the death of the governor as the workers who resumed office after the Christmas holiday wore somber looks.

They were seen in groups discussing the development while many of them could not carry out any official duty.

Tinubu in a personally signed statement expressing his grief described the second-term governor, who was expected to conclude his tenure in 2024, as a fearless fighter, brother, confidant, and political soulmate.

He stated, “Today, I mourn a fighter and fearless defender of truth and the masses…brother, confidant, political soulmate, and the Executive Governor of Ondo State.”

He further noted, “Rotimi was a man of ideas and action. While he was with us, he taught us the power of action and service.

“In Ondo State, where he had the honour to serve as the governor over the past six years, he served his people with absolute loyalty, dedication, and forthrightness,” said the President.

In the tribute titled, ‘I mourn my fearless brother, Rotimi Akeredolu,’ Tinubu said: “Rotimi has played his role well and left us untimely. We will never see his likes again. Let me tell the people of Ondo State that I am grieving with you. We will honour Rotimi’s memory and make sure his legacy of service is never forgotten.

“In my grief and sadness, I have telephoned his wife, Betty, and Acting Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa to commiserate with them and urge them to take heart over this national tragedy.

“Governor Akeredolu was not just a friend and associate, the departed leader was a brother and a soulmate. His death is a blow to our governing APC and the progressive family as we are diminished by it.”

Govs mourn

Also, the governors of Oyo, Lagos, Osun, Edo, Ogun, Kogi, Benue, and Delta states expressed profound sorrow over the death of the former chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum.

Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State described Akeredolu, who, until his death, was the Chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum, as a dogged fighter and courageous leader.

Makinde, in a statement issued in Ibadan on Wednesday by his Special Adviser on Media, Mr Sulaimon Olanrewaju, expressed heartfelt condolences to the late governor’s wife, the entire family as well as the government and the people of Ondo State.

The Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, while expressing grief over the sad development, said Akeredolu would be greatly missed for his positive impacts in Ondo State, South-West, and Nigeria as a whole.

Sanwo-Olu in a statement issued on Wednesday by his Chief Press Secretary, Gboyega Akosile, commiserated with Aiyedatiwa, Akeredolu’s widow, Dr Betty Akeredolu, and the entire family and friends of the deceased.

In a tribute, Osun State Governor, Ademola Adeleke, submitted that Akeredolu’s death had denied Nigeria one of its finest.

Adeleke in a condolence message signed by his spokesperson, Olawale Rasheed, on Wednesday, said he was deeply touched by Akeredolu’s death, who he said made great contributions to Nigeria in the legal field and public service.

The Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, lauded the departed governor for his bravery and independence of mind, noting that he served his people meritoriously and diligently.

Obaseki in a statement on Wednesday, asserted that Akeredolu’s intellect, hard work, and diligence stood him out and was reflected in his attainments and the fervour in which he served the good people of Ondo State.

Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, described the death of his Ondo State counterpart as tragic.

In his condolence message to Aiyedatiwa, the family of the deceased, and the Ondo people, Prince Abiodun described Akeredolu as a dogged fighter throughout his lifetime.

Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, in a statement, described the tragic passing of his Ondo State counterpart as a monumental loss to the nation.

“Akeredolu’s unwavering commitment and dedication in steering the ship of democracy and good governance during his seven-year tenure as the Governor of Ondo are acknowledged with deep admiration,” Bello pointed out.

Benue State Governor, Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Alia, similarly expressed sadness over the death of his Ondo colleague and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghani Na’Abba.

In a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Kula Tersoo, the governor described Akeredolu as a gentleman, who he said gave his all in trying to change the fortunes of his state.

The Delta State Governor, Sheriff Oborevwori has expressed deep sadness on the passing of the Ondo governor, saying he was an urbane and cerebral leader of great value who was progressively committed to the growth and development of Ondo State and Nigeria.

Governor Oborevwori, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Sir Festus Ahon in Asaba, expressed his condolences to Akeredolu’s wife, Mrs Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, family members, the government and people of Ondo State on the passing of the renowned senior lawyer.

The Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, described the demise of the Ondo governor as a huge loss to the Yoruba race and Nigeria at large.

Ooni, who stated this in a statement he issued on Wednesday, said that the late governor was an epitome of honesty and courage, who lived a life worthy of emulation.

According to him, the Oduduwa race had lost a pillar of honesty and courage; a man who served humanity with his expertise as a legal luminary, experienced politician, and true descendant of Oduduwa.

“When we were challenged at the grassroots by invaders who masqueraded as herdsmen, Aketi worked with stakeholders across South-West and the national level to deliver our mandate of security and prosperity.’’

“This birthed Amotekun and other initiatives through which our people are safer and more confident to embark on their lawful businesses daily.

“He was an honest, bold, and courageous leader whose legacy will never be forgotten. If Akeredolu tells you anything, that is the way it is.

 “His death is a personal loss to me because we were very close, right from our days as students of Loyola College, Ibadan to date.’’

The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, also joined other Nigerians to mourn Akeredolu, whom he described as a politician with exceptional leadership skills.

 The APC national chairman, in a tribute released by his Chief Press Secretary, Edwin Olofu, in Abuja, stressed that the death of the former NBA president was a great loss not only to the Ondo people but to Nigerians as a whole.

. The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, observed that the ex-NBA president would be sorely missed.

 Fagbemi, in a statement on Wednesday, recalled Akeredolu’s days as the president of the NBA, saying he brought immense growth to the bar.

 The 2023 Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, commiserated with the families of N’Abba and Akeredolu.

He described the deceased men as quintessential gentlemen who took finesse to governance.

 Atiku noted that the two-term elected governor of the Sunshine State, Akeredolu, was a politician of class because he was never known for destructive politics.

“Hon. Na’Abba on the other hand raised the bar of legislative enterprise in Nigeria as it is evident that the 1st Session of the National Assembly where he served with distinction between 1999-2003 remains one of the best in the annals of our legislatures,’’ he added.

The Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, has also joined others in mourning the demise of Akeredolu and Na’Abba.

The former Anambra State governor said their deaths showed the nothingness of life.

Obi stated this in a condolence message via his verified X handle on Wednesday.

He noted that the death of the two prominent Nigerians has shown political officeholders that it is important for them to remain committed to good works.

Obi stated, “I was opportune to be close to Akeredolu as the then President of the Nigerian Bar Association, he invited me to speak at an NBA event and since then we remained close and always discussed issues about Nigeria.”

President of the Senate, Senator Godwill Akpabio, expressed shock over the death of the Ondo state governor, describing him as “a nationalist and the Iroko of the Sunshine state.”

Akpabio in a statement issued in Abuja by his special adviser on media and publicity, Eseme Eyiboh, said Akeredolu was a leader who knew his onions and was indeed the Iroko of Ondo state as he defended the state with all his strength as governor.

The Senate president eulogised the late governor whom he said spent his active life fighting for justice, fairness, and equity adding that as a nationalist, “Akeredolu believed in true federalism, which he pursued with passion and vigour.”

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Abbas Tajudeen, expressed sadness over the death of Ondo State Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu describing his demise as a painful loss.

In a statement issued on Wednesday by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Musa Krishi, Mr Abbas described Akeredolu’s death as a big blow to the APC even as he said that the late governor was one of the brilliant legal minds in the ruling party.

The Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Kwara State Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, has also mourned the passage of his colleague, describing Akeredolu as an exceptional statesman who made indelible marks in public service.

The Chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum and Governor of Gombe State, Muhammadu Yahaya, conveyed his heartfelt condolences to the government and people of Ondo State over the governor’s death.

Yahaya, on behalf of the 19 northern governors, mourned the loss of Akeredolu, in a press statement signed by Director-General Press Affairs Ismaila Misilli describing the governor as “a senior figure, friend, resilient advocate, and a visionary leader whose attributes of excellence and remarkable brilliance positively influenced the transformation of Ondo State and contributed to the development of the country.”

On its part, the Peoples Democratic Party said the governor’s death was shocking, noting that he would be missed for his leadership capacity, especially in his roles towards the unity, stability, and development of the nation.

Reacting to the tragedy, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba in a statement on Wednesday, said, “His death is a huge national loss. He was an unrepentant fighter for fairness, equity and justice in the affairs of the nation.

‘’He believed in true federalism, respect, defence, and protection of ethnic nationalities which he advocated as a prerequisite for peace and development in our nation.

“The PDP commiserates with Governor Akeredolu’s widow, Betty Akeredolu, his children, and the people of Ondo State. We pray to God to grant them the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss and to the faithful departed, eternal rest in His Bosom.”

The Nigerian Bar Association, Ibadan branch, has also mourned the passage of the governor, describing him as one of its shining lights.

The Chairman of the association, Mrs Folasade Aladeniyi, said this on Wednesday in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria.

According to her, with Akeredolu’s death, NBA Ibadan branch has lost one of its brightest, a friend, mentor, and fearless man as well as a caring patron.

Similarly, a legal practitioner, Mr Tobi Fatoki, said that the governor’s death was shocking and sad, adding that Nigerian lawyers had lost a legend.

 The Chairman of the Ondo State Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Fr. Anselm Ologunwa eulogised the late governor, saying his death was a colossal loss to the state and Nigeria as a whole.

Ologunwa, in a statement by the Director of Information and Communication of the association, Mr Daisi Ajayi, expressed shock over the news of the death.

He described Akeredolu as a great fighter of democracy, a dedicated and loving father of all.

(Punch)

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Borno, Kaduna, four other states to suffer worse insecurity, economic hardship in 2024 –W’Bank

Persistent insecurity, armed conflict, and deteriorating livelihoods will continue to affect local government areas in Borno, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara states, and the far north of Adamawa State in Nigeria until May 2024, the World Bank has predicted.

This is as it disclosed that poor macroeconomic conditions are restricting access to agricultural inputs in the country.

This is set to affect cereal production in the country. The global bank revealed this in its latest ‘Food Security Update.’

Estimated cereal production for the 2023/24 crop year is expected to be 76.5 million tons in West and Central Africa, which is a two per cent decrease from the previous season, but a three per cent rise from the average for the last five years.

Chad, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria are expected to contribute the most to this decline.

The Bretton Woods institution said, “Projections indicate a decline in production from last year in Chad, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. This decrease is attributed to dry spells during the growing season and insecurity that limited access to cropland in Chad, Mali, and Niger and to poor macroeconomic conditions that have restricted access to agricultural inputs in Nigeria.”

While overall, most of the sub-region’s areas will remain in the minimally food insecure (category from November to May 2024, some areas are classified as stressed and some in crisis.

It added, “Over the same period (November to May 2024), Crisis (IPC Phase 3) conditions, mainly caused by persistent insecurity and armed conflict, and deteriorating livelihoods, are projected to affect the following regions:

“Nigeria: Local government areas in Borno, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Yobe, Zamfara states, and the far north of Adamawa state.”

The other places this will affect include places in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, and Niger.

In its latest update, the World Bank noted that between August and November, many low- and middle-income countries were battling with high inflation.

It stated, “Information from the latest month between August and November 2023 for which food price inflation data are available shows high inflation in many low- and middle-income countries, with inflation higher than 5 per cent in 61.9 per cent of low-income countries (no change since the last update two weeks ago), 76.1 per cent of lower-middle-income countries (3.9-percentage-point decrease), 50.0 per cent of upper-middle-income countries (no change), and 57.4 per cent of high-income countries (2.6-percentage point decrease).”

It noted that the most-affected countries are in Africa, North America, Latin America, South Asia, Europe, and Central Asia. It further highlighted that in real terms, food price inflation has exceeded overall inflation 74 per cent in 167 countries.

In November, Nigeria’s headline inflation rose to 28.20 per cent while food inflation soared to 32.84 per cent.

(Punch)

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British-American Tobacco fined $110m as FG drops criminal charges

The Federal Government, through the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, has fined British American Tobacco and its affiliate companies $110m.

This is for alleged infringements of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, National Tobacco Control Act, and sundry legal instruments, the FCCPC said on Wednesday in a statement.

In addition, the commission said BAT must subject itself to compliance and monitoring for a period of 24 months, mandatory public health and tobacco control advocacy, and provisions of written assurances to the commission.

“In exchange for BAT Parties fulfilling their obligations under the Consent Order, the commission withdrew pending criminal charges against BATN and at least one employee with respect to obstructing the commission by attempting to prevent execution of the search warrant and initial lack of cooperation/compliance with steps in the investigation,” the commission said.The FCCPC said the decision followed its “active” investigation into British American Tobacco Nigeria Limited and other affiliated companies (BAT Parties) on August 28, 2020, after it received credible pieces of information and intelligence.

Commenting on the resolution, it said, “During the year ending 2023, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission came to a final resolution with British American Tobacco (Nigeria) Limited (BATN, British American Tobacco Marketing (Nigeria) Limited (BATMN), British American Tobacco Plc, British American Tobacco (Holdings) Limited (all together referred to as BAT Parties) with respect to a range of infringements of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act, National Tobacco Control Act and sundry legal instruments.”

According to the commission, it carried out an order and warrant of search and seizure, approved by a Federal High Court, at BAT locations and the location of a service provider on January 25, 2021.

It disclosed that it gathered, received, and procured substantial evidence from forensic analysis of electronic communications and other information/data obtained during the search, as well as other evidence procured during, and after the search from other legitimate sources.

It added that additional investigation, including proffers, hearings, transcripts of sworn testimonies, and continuing analysis of evidence established and supported multiple violations of the FCCPA and other enactments.

It highlighted that during the investigation and in furtherance of mutual engagements between the commission and BAT Parties, BAT Parties, in writing sought, and the commission accepted BAT Parties into cooperation under the Commission’s Cooperation/Assistance Rules & Procedure, 2021.

It clarified that this provides for benefits such as possible reduced monetary penalties; waiver of the application of the commission’s Administrative Penalties Regulations 2020; as well as prosecutorial discretion, particularly Rules 5.1 and 5.3 (subject to compliance with Rules 3 and 5.4).

The FCCPC noted that its penalties were reached upon full consideration of the record, BAT Parties’ additional articulation representations, and correspondence.

Part of the verdict of the investigation read: “That BAT Parties shall pay a penalty of $110,000,000 under and pursuant to Section 155 of the FCCPA, Clause 11 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s Administrative Penalties Regulations, 2020 and Clause 4.2 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s Investigative Cooperation/Assistance Rules and Procedures, 2021.”

The commission stated that it remained committed to promoting and ensuring fair market practices while protecting consumer interests.

It added, “A distorted market redounds only to the benefit of those who engage in malfeasance, is at the expense of others, and exploitation of consumers while undermining a stable economy. It compromises a constitutional and national priority of economic growth and shared prosperity.”

Recently the Executive Vice Chairman of FCCPC, Babatunde Irukera, revealed that businesses must be held accountable and made to face the consequences when they err. He said this while disclosing that the commission generated N56bn, mainly from penalties, as Internally Generated Revenue in 2023.

While noting that 90 per cent of the IGR was mainly from penalties, he said, “What makes the market stable is holding businesses accountable. The consequence management system is what we have adopted.

“We are not trying to close down businesses, but they must know that if you snooze, you lose. You cannot distort the market and expect that there will be no consequences.”

When contacted, the External Affairs Director of the company, Odiri Erewa-Meggison told our correspondent to send an inquiry via text message. She was yet to send feedback at the time of filing this report.

(Punch)

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N’Assembly reconvenes Friday, to pass budget Dec 30

The Senate Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, has revealed that the National Assembly will pass the 2024 Appropriation Bill on December 30 to sustain the January-December budget cycle.

He disclosed at a session with journalists in Iyin-Ekiti, Ekiti State on Monday, saying all federal lawmakers would have to cut short their holidays to ensure the speedy passage of the 2024 Appropriation Bill.

He said, “To ensure the passage of the budget,  we abridged time to make all ministries, departments and agencies appear before the joint sitting of all the relevant committees of both the Senate and House of Representatives.

“This has already reduced the time for the budget defence process by half rather than appearing before the Senate first and House of Representatives later. The resolution has also removed the need for harmonisation. In essence, we have been able to save time.

“We have also been sitting beyond our regular sitting days. We have sat on Saturdays. We may even sit on Sunday as we are approaching another year. We only gave ourselves three days to go home and celebrate Christmas.

“We are reconvening on December 29. Our hope and determination is to pass by December 30. On January 1, 2024, Mr President will have the 2024 Appropriation Bill on his desk for assent so that its implementation can take off in earnest.”

Meanwhile, Bamidele expressed concerns about the activities of economic saboteurs who were doing everything to keep exchange rates high against the naira or trying to make the naira unavailable to the people who kept their money in banks.

According to him, the Federal Government “will, from next year, go after economic saboteurs who are making life difficult and unbearable for Nigerians.”

“The Federal Government will charge, prosecute and punish them for their acts of economic sabotage.

 “All these will take place next year. In the long run, those who mopped up the naira and dollars from the markets will face the consequences of their actions. Those who mopped up the dollars to keep commodity prices high will not escape justice.

“Those who are speculating are also on the watch list of the Federal Government. At some point, the Federal Government will have to go after them,” Bamidele said.

(Punch)

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Edo crisis takes a new turn as govt slashes budgetary allocation to deputy governor’s office

The rift between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shaibu, may have taken another dimension as  N345 million was allocated to the Office of the Deputy Governor in the 2024 Budget as against the N19bn allocated to the Office of the State Governor.

An analysis of the budget which the governor signed into law on December 15, 2023, showed that the Office of the Secretary to the State Government got N8bn far higher than the N345m allocated to the deputy governor’s office.

The document also showed that while the House of Assembly got N13bn, the Office of the Head of Service got N968m.

A source close to the House of Assembly said the slash in the allocation to the deputy governor’s office was connected to his ambition to succeed his boss as governor of the state.

It was gathered that some lawmakers believed to be loyal to the deputy governor opposed the decision of the members of the assembly to pass the budget as presented by the governor.

Lawmakers in that category were said to have described it as an “unfair appropriation” but that they were overwhelmed other members.

An insider claimed that the budget has divided the lawmakers, but a principal member of the House of Assembly said there was no division in the House.

PUNCH reports that Shaibu had last week said his office had not received any allocation in the last six months owing to the tension between him and his principal.

The deputy governor, who stated this at the unveiling of the Correspondent Office in Benin on Tuesday, said he had been running the office and doing other activities through goodwill and contributions from friends.

He said, “You know there is tension between the governor and me. And for six months, there has been no allocation to my office. So, whatever I am doing is contributions from friends and my goodwill; and I am still standing very strong.”

(Punch)

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25 killed in Rivers illegal refinery explosion

No fewer than 25 persons have lost their lives following an explosion from an illegal oil tapping point in Omoku, Ogba/Egebema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State.

PUNCH Metro learnt that the incident occurred on Sunday morning, after the youths allegedly broke a pipeline belonging to one of the multinational oil firms operating in the areas, and began using jerrycans and buckets to scoop fuel when the tragedy struck.

 A source who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent that while 25 persons were feared dead, many suffered varying degrees of burns and were receiving treatment in different hospitals in the area.

 She said, “It is a very terrible incident. Imagine the death of 25 people in such a time. We learnt some youths bust a company pipeline.

“If you go to the General Hospital and other private clinics in Omoku, you will see many of the injured people scattered all over the place in both government and private hospitals taking treatment.”

 Another source who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity said the inferno occurred as a result of attempts by suspected oil thieves to light mosquito coils.

He disclosed, “The leakage was from an obsolete pipeline belonging to one of the oil companies operating in the area.

Speaking, the chairman of Niger Delta Youth Movement, ONELGA chapter, Emeka Ukwuosah, advised youths in the area to engage in meaningful activities and shun illegal oil bunkering.

Ukwuosah said, “Let me join in condemning the illegal oil bunkering going on within ONELGA. We are also calling on the security agencies to be up and doing and check what is happening within that circle.

 “Secondly, we are also calling on the multinationals that own the oil facilities to overhaul their aging facilities to forestall such incidents.”

 On his part, the Assistant Secretary of a vigilante group in the area, Onelga Security Peace Advisory Council, Emeka Agbabere, blamed the incident on illegal oil bunkering.

Agbabere said the vigilante group, the Community Development Committee and the youths were directed by a monarch in the area to put a stop to illegal oil bunkering activities there.

He however expressed dismay that despite their repeated campaigns for the youths to stop illegal bunkering, they paid a deaf ear.

He stated, “We proclaimed that they must put a stop to it and this is the aftermath of it. When they busted the pipeline, fire engulfed immediately and 19 of them died instantly and about 12 in two different hospitals.”

When contacted, spokesperson of the state police command, Grace Iringe-Koko, said she would find out and get back to our reporter.

Iringe-Koko, a Superintendent of Police, had yet to do so as of the time of filing this report on Tuesday.

(Punch)

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Plateau carnage: Death toll hits 150, over 10,000 displaced as Tinubu orders arrest of attackers

•I lost my father, 10 other family members to attack, Jos photographer laments

•President orders killers’ arrest, CAN, northern govs, elders, Saraki condemn attacks

There was outrage on Tuesday over Christmas Eve attacks on communities in three local government areas of Plateau State.

President Bola Tinubu, in a statement in Abuja by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, condemned the attacks and ordered a manhunt for the killers.

While condoling with the government and the people of Plateau State, Tinubu assured Nigerians that “these envoys of death, pain, and sorrow will not escape justice.”

As the President ordered the arrest of the killers, the Chairman of Community Peace Observers in the Bokkos Local Government Area, Kefas Mallai, told one of our correspondents that over 150 were killed by the gunmen.

Mallai also said information indicated that the gunmen were still attacking some villages, adding that over 10,000 people were displaced by the attacks, which had attracted strong condemnation by prominent groups and individuals including northern governors and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas.

On Sunday, gunmen stormed Ndun, Ngyong, Murfet, Makundary, Tamiso, Chiang, Tahore, Gawarba, Dares, Meyenga, Darwat, and Butura Kampani villages in the Barkin Ladi, Mangu and Bokkos areas of the state burning houses and shooting residents.

On Tuesday, the Chairman of Community Peace Observers in the Bokkos Local Government Area, Mallai, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “Over 150 people were killed in the attacks. In Bokkos town alone, more than 10,000 people are taking refuge in churches, mosques, schools, and private residences.”

Although our reporter could not get eyewitnesses to verify the death toll supplied by Mallai, the state government said over 100 people were killed, while the police put the death toll at 96.

‘Gory Christmas’

 In an interview on Channels television on Tuesday, state Governor, Caleb Mutfwang, stated, “This has indeed been a very gory Christmas for us. We have had to celebrate with a heavy heart. Just when people had finished preparing for Christmas celebrations, unprovoked attacks were unleashed on several of our communities.

“As I’m talking to you, in Mangun Local Government alone, we buried at least 15 people. So far this morning in the Bokkos Local Government, we were counting not less than 100 corpses. I have yet to take stock of that of Barki-Ladi. Most of the communities affected in Barki-Ladi share a border with the Bokkos Local Government. ‘’

He further disclosed that no fewer than 64 communities in the state had been displaced by terrorists who were occupying schools in the local government area.

He said, “When people are dislocated from their villages and they have to run for shelter, now we are struggling to provide shelter for these people that have been displaced and dislocated from their communities.

“If they stay away from those communities for a sustained period, the terrorists would come in. As I am talking to you today (Tuesday), in the Riyom Local Government and in Barkin Ladi Local Government, schools have been occupied by these terrorists for almost a number of years now. We have not less than 64 communities that have been displaced and their lands have been taken over by these terrorists.”

 “Under the last regime, the feeling among people in Plateau State particularly the victims of these terrorist attacks is that it looks as if the terrorists were given official government backing to be able to terrorise them because little or nothing was done to repel these attacks.

“I can tell you these schools that are being occupied, it didn’t just start now, some of those schools have been occupied in the last three, four, five years.

“Children therefore in those schools have not been able to go to school. They have to relocate. We even have primary health care centres abandoned because of these terrorists which means that our health care system is put in jeopardy; what do we need to do? I think this is where the President needs to come in,” he added.

Security architecture

The governor noted the flaws in the state’s security architecture, which he said required some tinkering.

He added, “The reason we have enjoyed relative peace up until this moment is because of the kind of arrangements we put in place. But obviously, it shows that those arrangements are not adequate. What we have had to do is motivate the security agencies on the ground to make sure that they perform optimally.

“And I would say to some extent that I give credit to the Nigerian Army, other security agencies, and the mobile police that have been deployed to the conflict areas. Sometimes, when you think you are achieving the target, you probably relax a little bit, because, for me, security is not the presence of security personnel; it is the absence of conflict. Unfortunately, we have had to also engage in a lot of non-kinetic methods.

“We have had engagements with community leaders to identify potential areas of conflict and nip them in the bud. We have been trying to build communal harmony, and to a large extent, we have succeeded. But, with the breach that we have experienced in the last few days, it means that some people are not happy with the progress we have made.’’

The governor expressed sadness over the breakdown of the peace pact signed by the indigenous communities and Fulani leaders.

He disclosed that the attacks were well coordinated and executed with heavy weaponry even as he admitted that unravelling the masterminds was beyond him.

On its the Plateau State Police Command on Tuesday disclosed that a total of 96 persons were killed while 221 houses were set ablaze during the attacks.

The state Commissioner of Police  Okoro Alawari, disclosed this in a statement signed by the Command’s spokesman, Alfred Alabo.

Apprehend culprits – Tinubu

The President on his part, condemned the heinous crime and directed security agencies to scout for and apprehend the culprits.

Describing the incident as a “primitive and heinous” attack, Tinubu said, “These envoys of death, pain, and sorrow will not escape justice.”

He also deployed a high-power delegation of well-armed operational forces to the troubled areas to prevent further attacks.

The President in a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Ngelale, ordered the immediate mobilisation of relief resources for the surviving victims of the cruel attacks as well as medical treatment for the wounded.

The statement read, “President Tinubu directs security agencies to immediately move in, scour every stretch of the zone, and apprehend the culprits.

“The President also directs immediate mobilisation of relief resources for surviving victims of the primitive and cruel attacks as well as a medical treatment for the wounded.”

The statement is titled ‘President Tinubu condemns heinous attacks in Plateau, directs immediate apprehension of culprits.’

While condoling with the government and the people of Plateau State, Tinubu assured Nigerians that “these envoys of death, pain, and sorrow will not escape justice.”

The Presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 election, Peter Obi, also condemned the attack.

He reacted in a statement on X while commending the contributions of various security agencies in combating insurgency and other acts of terror.

Obi said “After my sympathy visit to the Regent of Oba Community in Anambra State for the recent horrific killing of people in a nightclub in that community; plus the mindless act of terrorism that occurred on Christmas Day in Plateau State, where the death toll is now reportedly more than 100 with over 300 injured; with the saddening acts of violence that have occurred in Zamfara and Katsina States where farmers were killed and several others kidnapped, and the many other violent attacks in many parts of the country, which may go unreported; my thoughts went to our overstretched security operatives. The men and women of our armed and security services come to mind.”

Similarly, a former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, appealed to the government to carry out thorough investigations to fish out the perpetrators of the attack.

“The audacity of the assailants and the sheer scale of the carnage are reminders of the deep-seated challenges that continue to plague our nation and the urgent need for decisive action to address the root causes of these conflicts.”

“I urge the Federal Government to launch an immediate and thorough investigation into this heinous act. No stone must be left unturned, and no perpetrator is allowed to go free. All the affected communities should receive justice. All well-meaning Nigerians want answers.”

An ex-federal lawmaker, Shehu Sani, demanded justice for the victims, calling for an end to killings in the name of ethnic sentiments.

The Chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum and Governor of Gombe State, Muhammadu Yahaya, has described as reprehensible and heinous, the attack on communities within Bokkos and Barkin-Ladi Local Government Areas of Plateau State.

 Yahaya, on behalf of the 19 Northern Governors, expressed his deepest condolences to the affected families and communities as well as the government and people of Plateau State in a statement signed by the Director-General, Press Affairs, Ismaila Misilli, on Tuesday.

 The statement read, “It is reprehensible and disheartening to hear of the loss of over 100 lives and destruction of properties that occurred during these attacks, especially during a time when residents were preparing to celebrate the festive season.

 “Such acts of violence are not only cowardly but also run counter to the spirit of unity and coexistence that our region upholds.

 “We must all prioritise peace and harmonious living in our communities. Now, more than ever, we must reaffirm our commitment to peaceful coexistence and solidarity regardless of our differences.

“We must unite in our commitment to peace and security, and stand firm against all forms of violence and division.”

The NSGF chairman commended Governor Mutfwang for his leadership and responsible handling of the situation in the aftermath of the attacks, assuring him that the forum stands united in solidarity with him in the face of adversity and will work together towards ensuring peace in Plateau State.

Meanwhile, the Northern Senators Forum has also condemned the recent killings in Plateau State.

The northern senators in a statement by their spokesperson, Senator Suleiman Sumaila, urged the authorities to commence an investigation into the mayhem and bring the perpetrators of the dastardly act to book.

Sumaila said that the Senators had expressed their deepest condolences to the affected families, loved ones, the people, and the Government of Plateau State over the killings.

“Their immense loss is a collective grief, and we stand united in our determination to seek justice. In our legislative role, we strongly condemn this reprehensible act and call upon the authorities to promptly initiate a comprehensive investigation.

CAN mourns

The Christian Association of Nigeria similarly condemned the attacks on the Plateau communities.

In a statement on Tuesday, the CAN President, Archbishop Daniel Okoh, condoled with the bereaved communities, and described the attacks as “a direct assault on our shared values of peace, unity and mutual respect.”

While commending the quick intervention of the military and the state governor, Okoh urged security to intensify intelligence gathering, to pre-empt and forestall future attacks, adding that they must move from reactive to preventive measures.

Part of the statement read, “We mourn with the families, friends, and communities who tragically lost their loved ones in the villages of Ruku, Hurum, Darwat, Mai Yanga Sabo, NTV, and Lisham Kwahasnat community in Wase LGA. We stand with you at this time of grief, and our prayers go out to you for comfort and strength.

“We condemn these acts of violence in the strongest possible terms. The burning down of houses, and worship centres, and the destruction of properties worth millions of naira is not only a criminal act but also a direct assault on our shared values of peace, unity, and mutual respect. Such acts have no place in our society and must not be allowed to prevail.

“We commend the swift intervention of the military and the deployment of a joint police and military task force to restore peace and prevent further lawlessness in the affected communities.

“However, while appreciating these immediate responses, we urge the security agencies to intensify their efforts in intelligence gathering and proactive interventions to pre-empt and forestall these types of dastardly acts in the future. Our people deserve to live in peace, and it is high time we moved from reactive to preventive measures.”

The CAN President also urged Nigerians to remember the victims’ families and reach out to them in the spirit of the festive season, while calling on citizens to shun all forms of violence and embrace peace and unity.

Expressing pains over the attack, the Northern Elders Forum condemned the attacks on the plateau communities in the latest in a series of coordinated attacks, rampant killings, and mass displacements that have plagued the northern region.

In a statement signed by the NEF Convener, Prof Ango Abdullahi on Tuesday, the forum stated that it had reasons to suspect the government’s operational methods, while raising concerns over the inability of the military to prevent the killings, despite claiming to have received 36 distress calls from different locations in the state.

The group stated, “NEF strongly condemns this devastating act and expresses its heartfelt condolences to the families affected by this heinous crime. It is deeply distressing to witness the continuous deterioration of security in the conflict-affected areas of the North, which has led to countless lives being lost and a pervasive sense of fear and instability amongst the communities.

“Moreover, NEF expresses concern over the inability of the military to prevent the Christmas Eve killings, despite claiming to have promptly responded to 36 distress calls from different locations in Plateau State in the 48 hours leading up to Christmas.

“This highlights the Forum’s growing suspicions regarding the efficacy and sufficiency of the government’s operational methods. NEF questions whether the strategies employed by the government are flawed or grossly inadequate, given the audacious regularity and ease with which the attackers operate across the northern region.’’

While also raising concerns over the loss of lives of two persons, and the kidnap of 25 others, including the wife of the head of Ruwan Dorawa village in Zamfara State, Abdullahi demanded an investigation into the security lapses that resulted in the kidnap, adding that the report must be made public, while those responsible are held accountable.

“NEF is also deeply concerned about the recent security incident in Ruwan Dorawa village, Zamfara State. The tragic event that unfolded on the same Christmas Eve resulted in the loss of two innocent lives and the abduction of over 25 individuals, predominantly children, and women, including the wife of the village head,’’ the forum noted.

(Punch)

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Singer Portable beats Charles Okocha in celebrity boxing fight

After the fourth round, Nigerian street-pop artist Habeeb Badmus, aka Portable, was declared winner of the celebrity boxing fight against Nollywood actor, Charles Okocha, on Wednesday.

The fight, which was sanctioned by Heritage Boxing Entertainment, held at Landmark Beach in Victoria Island, Lagos State, started after 1am and lasted about 40 minutes.

The pair had finally settled their scores with their fists after Portable alleged contractual issues, which led them to engage in an online feud over an alleged N40m rip-off.

Portable claimed Okocha cheated him out of the money, only sending him a small amount, contrary to a contractual agreement.

In Round One, Portable took the lead early with a confident start.

He was adorning a blue pair of knickers and a blue armless top to match.

He also took full control of the ring and looked to find his range from several jabs to the body of Okocha, who was wearing a red top and red shorts.

In Round Two,  Okocha was back in the game as he had been avoiding blows from Portable, and everything seemed to be in his favour.

Okocha gained more ground than Portable had in the entire bout, and he did not give up on amassing more points despite being in the pole position to win.

His jabs even brought Portable down, and the referee had to come in between them.

In Round Three, Portable was running around the ring to see if he could bounce back into the game and Okocha was following him around.

Portable seized some opportunities to retaliate the blows that were descending on him from the round two fight.

In Round Four, the two celebrity boxers were tired, but Portable was still throwing some direct punches, which caught Okocha unaware.

Meanwhile, when the referee called for Round Five to decide the winner, both of them declined to continue and this led to the eventual announcement of Portable as the winner.

Although Portable did not win through TKO, KO, or even points recorded but with his victory, he clinched the belt while solidifying his position as the deserving champion in the hard-fought bout.

(Punch)

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Ex-Speaker, Ghali Na’Abba, is dead

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Na’Abba, is dead.

Born on September 27, 1958, the 8th Speaker of the House of Representatives died in Abuja on Wednesday morning.

According to family sources, late Na’Abba battled with ailment for a long time before passing away.

He was once flown abroad for medical treatment and stayed there for some months before he recovered and returned to Nigeria.

According to the sources, the remains of the former Speaker would be buried in Abuja today according to Islamic rites.

Late Na’Abba joined the Peoples Democratic Party, and became the party’s candidate for Kano Municipal Federal Constituency, a position he  won during the April 1999 general elections.

He subsequently emerged Speaker of the House of Representatives after the political crisis that led to exit of the first Speaker of the Fourth Republic,  Salisu Buhari.

He attended Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he studied political science and graduated in 1979.

(Punch)

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Nigerian Dailies: 10 talking points this Wednesday

Good morning! Here is today’s summary from Nigerian Newspapers:

1. No fewer than 25 persons have lost their lives following an explosion from an illegal oil tapping point in Omoku, Ogba/Egebema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State. It was learnt that the incident occurred on Sunday morning, after the youths allegedly broke a pipeline and began using jerry cans and buckets to scoop fuel.

2. Senate Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, has revealed that the National Assembly will pass the 2024 Appropriation Bill on December 30 to sustain the January-December budget cycle. He disclosed this at a session with journalists in Iyin-Ekiti, Ekiti State on Monday, saying all federal lawmakers would have to cut short their holidays to ensure the speedy passage of the 2024 Appropriation Bill.

3. After the fourth round, Nigerian street-pop artiste, Habeeb Badmus, aka Portable, was announced as the winner of the celebrity boxing fight against Nollywood actor Charles Okocha on Wednesday. The fight, which was sanctioned by Heritage Boxing Entertainment, held at Landmark Beach in Victoria Island, Lagos State. It started at about 1 am and lasted for about 40 minutes.

4. Many traders were reported to have lost their goods and property worth millions of naira in a fire disaster that gutted 22 shops in Gwarzo Market, headquarters of Gwarzo Local Government Area of Kano State. The inferno, which happened on Monday, has thrown the victims into mourning.

5. The Federal Road Safety Corps, Kaduna Sector Command, says four persons died and 56 others sustained injuries in a road crash on the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway. The Sector Commander, Mr Kabir Nadabo, told the News Agency of Nigeria in Kaduna that the road traffic crash occurred at Sabon Sara village, along the expressway on Tuesday.

6. Enugu State Police Command says it has arrested eight suspects in connection with the killing of the traditional ruler of Adani Autonomous Community in Uzo Uwani Government Area, Igwe Patrick Ezugwu. Igwe Ezugwu was reportedly killed in his village, Akutara, on Sunday night.

7. The Governor of Plateau State, Celeb Mutfwang says no fewer than 64 communities in the state have been displaced by terrorists who are occupying the areas and some schools. Speaking on the recent attacks in the state, Governor Mutfwang highlighted the immense burden placed on the state by the continuous displacement of citizens due to terrorists’ activities.

8. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on Tuesday ordered security agents to fish out the killers of Plateau State villagers and vowed that when apprehended, they would not be spared. The president spoke when he received governors who visited him under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, led by its chairman, Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRasaq.

9. The special investigation panel on the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and related entities has summoned Babatunde Lemo, Chairman of Titan Trust Bank, TTB, over the bank’s acquisition of Union Bank of Nigeria, UBN, Plc. In a letter dated December 24, 2023, by Eloho Okpoziakpo, Head of Operations at the office of the special investigation team, Cornelius Vink and Rahul Savara, the major shareholders in TTB, were also invited.

10. The All Progressives Congress, APC, and the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, have released timetable and schedule of activities for the February 3, 2024 bye-elections. The APC bye-election timetable was released on Monday why the PDP unveiled its own on Tuesday.

(Daily Post)

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Christmas: Transcorp, Dangote, UBA top best performing stock

On Christmas day, investors in the Nigerian Stock Exchange have navigated an economic landscape rife with challenges and opportunities to gain on the stocks they acquired.

These top ten best-performing stocks, characterized by stability and excluding the usual volatility associated with penny stocks, have acted as guiding stars, leading investors to lucrative havens.

Presented by Nairametrics, these companies stand as the market’s shining beacons as we conclude the year, each reflecting the radiance of wise investments and prosperity achieved in 2023.

10. Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (ETI)
– Sector: Banking and Financial Services
– Year-to-Date % Change: 114.2%
– Description: As a pan-African banking conglomerate, ETI provides diverse banking products and services across multiple African countries.

9. Fidelity Bank Plc (FIDELITYBK)
– Sector: Banking and Financial Services
– Year-to-Date % Change: 117.2%
– Description: Fidelity Bank offers commercial and retail banking services, including electronic banking, contributing to its robust year-to-date growth.

8. Access Holdings Plc (ACCESSCORP)
– Sector: Banking and Financial Services
– Year-to-Date % Change: 161.2%
– Description: Access Holdings is renowned for extensive banking operations, providing a range of services from personal banking to corporate finance, maintaining strong growth throughout the year.

7. Geregu Power Plc (GEREGU)
– Sector: Energy and Power
– Year-to-Date % Change: 167.8%
– Description: Specializing in energy generation and distribution, Geregu Power has upheld its market position by delivering reliable power solutions in Nigeria.

6. Sterling Financial Holdings Company Plc (STERLINGNG)
– Sector: Financial Services
– Year-to-Date % Change: 198.6%
– Description: This financial holding company is making strides with investments across various sectors, contributing to its impressive year-to-date growth.

5. BUA Foods Plc (BUAFOODS)
– Sector: Agribusiness and Food Production
– Year-to-Date % Change: 206.0%
– Description: BUA Foods is a major player in the food production industry, focusing on the manufacturing of sugar, flour, and pasta, fueling its growth this year.

4. United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA)
– Sector: Banking and Financial Services
– Year-to-Date % Change: 217.8%
– Description: UBA has a strong presence across Africa, offering a full range of banking services appealing to both individual and corporate clients, contributing to its substantial growth.

3. Dangote Sugar Refinery Plc (DANGSUGAR)
– Sector: Food and Beverages
– Year-to-Date % Change: 258.3%
– Description: As part of the Dangote Group, Dangote Sugar Refinery is a leading sugar manufacturer in Africa, making a significant contribution to the Nigerian economy.

2. Transnational Corporation Plc (TRANSCORP)
– Sector: Conglomerate
– Year-to-Date % Change: 515.9%
– Description: TRANSCORP operates in various sectors, including power, hospitality, and agriculture, experiencing substantial growth, particularly in its energy investments.

1. Transcorp Hotels Plc (TRANSCOHOT)
– Sector: Hospitality and Tourism
– Year-to-Date % Change: 650.4%
– Description: As part of the Transnational Corporation, Transcorp Hotels leads the hospitality sector in Nigeria, offering luxury accommodation and conference facilities, showcasing unparalleled growth throughout the year.

This list concentrates on NSE 30 stocks, excluding penny stocks that might have exhibited superior performance.

(AMBUSINESS)

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100 Airbus employees fall sick after company’s Christmas party

Earlier this month, festivities turned sour for employees of an Airbus subsidiary in France as a holiday celebration resulted in dozens of employees falling ill after a company Christmas party.

“Around 100 Airbus Atlantic employees were taken ill after contracting a food-borne illness after eating the company-organized Christmas lunch,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement to CNN.

No one at Airbus experienced severe illness during the incident on December 15, and by the following Monday, all employees had returned to work, as per the spokesperson.

The outbreak of illness is currently under investigation by French health authorities, as stated by the Airbus spokesperson.

Established in January 2022, Airbus Atlantic is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Airbus focused on airplane seats.

Despite having 13,000 employees across five countries, the unfortunate Christmas lunch incident happened in France.

(Punch)

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Tinubu’ll continue to intervene in states battling crises – Presidency

Presidential spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, said President Bola Tinubu will continue to intervene in states battling political crises if such development will affect the country.

Ajuri stated this on a pre-recorded show on  Channels Television’s News Night aired on Monday.

According to him, the President was right in intervening in political crises in Ondo and Rivers State despite criticisms that the actions undermined the government of those states.

“That has nothing to do with, of course, political development, destabilisation of a particular region or state or subnational entity that could potentially turn into a national conflagration.

“If the President sees that, he is not going to sit by as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and fold his hands and keep quiet. I think that is what he has done,” he stated.

The presidential aide added that Nigerians expect Tinubu’s government to offer responsible leadership to the country.

Admitting that the current administration inherited a lot of economic challenges, Ajuri stated his principal is putting things in place to tackle the issues.

“You combine all of these factors, obviously, our debt burden is another factor, you would know there is no easy fix; there is no magic wand solution to this. There is going to be pain before pleasure,”  he said.

(Punch)

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S’Court: Kano NNPP holds prayer, Kwankwaso hopes for justice

 A former governor of Kano State and chieftain of the New Nigeria People’s Party, Rabiu Kwankwaso, has expressed optimism that the Supreme Court will deliver justice in the Kano State governorship election matter currently before it.

Kwankwaso made the remarks on Monday shortly after a prayer session held at his Miller Road residence in the Kano metropolis.

The prayer session was organised by the state government to ensure peace prevails in the state as well as to pray for the victory of Governor Abba Yusuf as the Supreme Court reserved judgment in the election case.

He said indications had shown that the Supreme Court judges were men of integrity who would do anything to ensure justice and fairness.

He said, “The unfortunate development over the governorship seat in the state will never deter them (the government) in any way but we will continue to pray for the right thing to be done at the court.”

Kwankwaso added that those at the helm of affairs must be reminded that justice is a panacea for progress while its absence will bring about chaos and disorder which will prevent meaningful development.

He added, “The mammoth crowd that poured out yesterday to welcome back Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf is a clear indication that the people of the state voted for him, believe in him and are strongly behind him to deliver their mandate.”

He said the drama from the tribunal to the Court of Appeal was an embarrassment and a move to truncate democracy in Nigeria “which all and sundry must work hard to prevent.”

The former governor further applauded the NNPP legal team for doing a wonderful job, praying that the Supreme Court judges would be allowed to dispense justice without using the federal might and other apparatus to intimidate them.

(Punch)

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Shi’ites grace Christmas service, present gifts to church in Kaduna

Members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, otherwise known as Shi’ites, on Monday, joined the Christmas Service at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Samaru, Zaria, Kaduna State to strengthen religious harmony and unity between religious groups.

Leader of the Shi’ite group, Prof. Isah-Hassan Mshelgaru, said the Islamic group acknowledged Christmas as a day for festivities, friendliness, and unity.

He added that joining the Christian faithful as they marked Christmas was meant to renew hope for divine unity among Muslims, Christians, and other religions.

Mshelgaru said  Islam and Christianity were revered faiths with more than 90 per cent of Nigeria’s population as adherents.

“When other faithful unite with the two faith groups, it means the whole of Nigerian is united,’’ he said.

Speaking on the impact of the visit, Mshelgaru said IMN, as a group, started visits to churches more than 25 years ago and since then there has been an improved understanding between the group and Christians.

“The visit has reduced the fears and some animosities between the two faith groups. They (Christians) are now open to us; we share sentiments and problems together. The regular exchange of visits has bridged the gaps between us,’’ he said.

Earlier, the parish priest, Most Rev. Isak Augustine, commended the Islamic group for the visit and urged the group for more visits to strengthen religious harmony and unity.

He prayed for the peace of God to come into Nigeria and to salvage the country from the myriad socioeconomic challenges.

The Shi’ite group later presented gifts to the Catholic Church.

(Punch)

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Pastor Adeboye didn’t sit on my seat, Olugbon explains

The Olugbon of Orile-Igbon in Oyo State, Oba Francis Alao, on Monday, explained why the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, sat on one of his palace chairs at a recent occasion in his domain.

The PUNCH reports that controversy had trailed a viral photograph on social media capturing Adeboye sitting on the royal seat.

But Olugbon, who is also the Deputy Chairman, Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs, in a statement he personally signed, said, “My attention has been drawn to different kinds of reactions to a photo circulating in the social media where the G.O. of RCCG, Pastor Adeboye, sat on one of the palace chairs.

“Let me set the record straight by reminding all that Pastor Adeboye was in Orile-Igbon for an evangelism programme, which held on the playground of Olugbon High School. His chopper landed in an open space within the palace from where I received him to my living room. We spent some time talking about Nigeria and Orile-Igbon before we moved to the venue of the programme where thousands of people already gathered.

“I joined the revered priest to the venue as a mark of support for the programme given that his coming to the ancient town will be a blessing to us. And he did pray for both the town and everyone who attended.

“As a mark of honour, I offered one of the ceremonial royal chairs that are usually reserved for top dignitaries to Pastor Adeboye to be used at the programme. It should be noted that the chair is not the particular one that is reserved for the Olugbon which cannot be shared with anyone because of its spiritual and historical significance.

“The royal chairs are provided in palaces to honour high-ranking dignitaries, not to desecrate the throne. I, therefore, seek the understanding of all those expressing concern about the issue. There is a traditional royal chair that is meant for only the Kabiyesi, and there are traditional ceremonial chairs for very important persons. The throne of the ancient town of Orile-Igbon remains sacrosanct.”

The monarch, also in the state, felicitated Christians on Christmas, noting that it was  “another occasion of celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is a worldwide celebration.”

“I urge all followers of Christ in Nigeria to use this period to reflect on the multiple blessings of God, particularly the grace to be alive to witness another Christmas.

“Aside from eating and drinking to celebrate his birth, Christmas is a time to make a new commitment to ensuring that our lives mirror Christ in every way. We should make a commitment to a life of righteousness, honesty and showing love to fellow men regardless of their faith and cultural beliefs,” Olugbon said.

(Punch)

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N37.1bn fraud: I served responsibly, says Buhari’s minister of Humanitarian Affairs

A former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, has denied knowing a contractor, James Okwete, who was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for allegedly laundering N37bn.

She also said she served as a minister with every sense of responsibility and would defend her actions whenever called upon to do so.

Umar-Farouk made the rebuttal on Monday in a message posted on X (formerly Twitter).

This is as the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria called for the  prosecution of all those involved.

The PUNCH had exclusively reported that details of an ongoing EFCC probe revealed that N37bn was transferred from the Federal Government’s coffers and sent to 38 different bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks belonging to or connected with Okwete.

Responding to the development on Monday, Umar-Farouk said, “There have been a number of reports linking me  to a purported investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission into the activities of one James Okwete, someone completely unknown to me.

“James Okwete neither worked for, nor represented me in any way whatsoever. The linkages and associations to my person are spurious. While I resist the urge to engage in any media trial whatsoever, I have however contacted my legal team to explore possible options to seek redress on the malicious attack on my person.

“I remain proud to have served my country as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with every sense of responsibility and would defend my actions, stewardship and programmes during my tenure whenever I am called upon to do so.”

Sunday PUNCH had reported that the EFCC uncovered N37bn allegedly laundered in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs under former minister, Umar-Farouk.

Details of the ongoing probe exclusively obtained by Sunday PUNCH revealed that the money was transferred from the Federal Government’s coffers and sent to 38 different bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks belonging to or connected with the contractor,  Okwete.

Following receipt of the funds, Okwete allegedly transferred N6,746,034,000.00 to Bureau De Change Operators, withdrew N540,000,000.00 in cash, purchased luxury cars with N288,348,600.00, and bought luxury houses in Abuja and Enugu State with N2,195,115,000.00.

Meanwhile, competent EFCC sources confirmed to The PUNCH that  Okwete was arrested by operatives of the anti-graft agency and is currently detained at the commission’s headquarters, Jabbi, Abuja over the ongoing probe.

The PUNCH reports that the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs currently serves as the parent ministry to eight agencies, including the National Social Investment Office, the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals, and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internationally Displaced Persons, among others.

Umar-Farouq was the pioneer Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. She was appointed by former President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2019 as the youngest cabinet member.

HURIWA seeks thorough investigation

Meanwhile, in response to the revelation, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria has called for the  prosecution of all those involved.

The group’s position was contained in a statement by its National Coor­dinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, on Sunday.

The statement read in part, “Corrup­tion in any form, especially with­in government ministries tasked with providing essential services to the less-privileged, is a gross violation of public trust.

“We call on the relevant authorities to expedite the legal process and ensure that those responsible face the consequences of their actions.

“The allegations against Umar-Farouk follow previous revelations by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, which uncovered N2.67 bn meant for the ministry’s school feeding programme in pri­vate bank accounts.

“We express deep concern over the recurring incidents of financial mismanagement within ministries meant to address critical societal needs.”

(Daily Post)

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Over 2,700 abducted in six months, military rescued 721 – Report

No fewer than 4,258 incidents of insecurity have been witnessed across 573 local government areas of the country between May 31 and December 24, 2023.

From the incidents caused by non-state actors across the LGAs,  at least 5,691 persons were killed,  while 2,719 were kidnapped within the period under review.  However, 721 of the kidnap victims were rescued by the military.

Similarly,  no fewer than 1,902 citizens sustained varying degrees of injury from violent attacks by non-state actors.

The figure was contained in data by Beacon Consulting,  an indigenous security firm that tracks insecurity in the county.

A monthly breakdown showed that on May 31, at least 13 people were killed, four were kidnapped and six were injured.

In June,  854 were killed;  239 were kidnapped and 158 were injured.  Similarly, in July, non-state actors killed 597 people,  kidnapped 330, and injured 140.

Also in August, 615 were killed, 369 were kidnapped and 215 persons were injured.

In September,  no fewer than 594 persons were killed,  348 abducted and 217 were injured.

No fewer than 1,164 fatalities were recorded in October, 518 citizens were kidnapped and 584 sustained varying degrees of injury in the month.

In November,  1,309 lives were lost to various attacks by non-state actors,  464 persons were kidnapped and 334 were injured.

So far in December,  at least 545 persons have been killed,  434 kidnapped and 248 citizens have been injured.

Meanwhile,  the military, in various operations in the country, rescued a total of 1,987 kidnapped citizens across the country between June and December 24, 2023.

The figures were from media reports during the period under review.

Between June and August, about 721 kidnapped victims were rescued by the military.

From September to December 24, 228;127;412, and 499 kidnapped citizens were freed from captivity, respectively.

Commenting,  a security expert,  Jackson Ojo, called for an improvement in the economy to put an end to the rising insecurity in the country.

He said,  “To be sincere, the issue of insecurity was inherited by the current administration.  And the hardship in the country has fuelled it.  These criminals see it as a way out of poverty.  The economy must be improved for insecurity to be reduced in the country.  Also,  there is a need for a political will to end criminality in the country.  Without the will, our security agencies cannot perform effectively. “

(Punch)

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Rivers crisis: PDP kicks as Fubara defends Tinubu over peace pact

Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, on Monday defended the peace deal initiated by President Bola Tinubu between him and his predecessor, Nyesom Wike, over the crisis in the state.

Fubara, in a broadcast on Monday, said the resolution brokered by the President to resolve the crisis was not a death sentence, adding that it would ensure lasting peace in the state.

He expressed his commitment to the implementation of the peace agreement in such a way that would restore political stability in the state.

But the Peoples Democratic Party National Working Committee in its reaction warned the governor against implementing the agreement he signed without the input of the party (PDP) on whose platform he was elected.

The PUNCH reports that the crisis rocking the state took a new turn on December 11, 2023, when 27 members of the state House of Assembly defected from the PDP to the All Progressives Congress.

At the instance of Tinubu, Fubara on December 18 signed an eight-point peace agreement with Wike, who is the Federal Capital Territory, in a move to end the political crisis in the state.

 However, the PDP officially joined a suit seeking to declare vacant the seats of the lawmakers who defected from the party to the APC.

The party vowed to vigorously pursue the case despite Tinubu’s peace meeting with Rivers State political stakeholders.

Peace deal

But speaking on the peace pact during his Christmas Day broadcast, the governor pledged to implement the agreement without compromising the interest of the people of the state.

Fubara said, “By this singular effort, our dear President has demonstrated that he loves Rivers State and cherishes nothing short of a reign of perfect peace in our State with his presidential peace proclamation on the 18th of December 2023. Mr President’s Peace Proclamation has naturally elicited mixed reactions from our people and across the country.

 “As a principal participant in the entire saga, I have taken some time to study the terms therein and have come to the conclusion that the peace pact is not as bad as it may be portrayed by those genuinely opposed to it.

“It is certainly not a death sentence. I reaffirm my acceptance and my commitment to implementing both the letter and spirit of the declaration in such a way and manner that will restore political stability to our dear state without compromising the collective interest of our people and our cherished and shared democratic values.”

 The governor also confirmed that he had released the allowances of the lawmakers and that the defected lawmakers had withdrawn their ‘purported’ impeachment.

He stated, “Both parties have demonstrated some goodwill in the implementation process with the withdrawal of the purported impeachment notice on their part and the release of hitherto withheld allowances of the members of the State House of Assembly by the Government.

 “I have said before there is no price too much to pay for peace and with the realization that the worst peace is better than the best war.

 “We will strive to make peace with all segments and interest groups without surrendering our freedom nor jeopardizing the interest and well-being of the good people of Rivers State who graciously entrusted us with their cherished mandate.”

 He added he would toe a path that would best advance and protect the collective interest of the state and its people.

The governor said, “Let me, therefore, crave your kind understanding and call on you to have confidence in the process we are embarking upon to find lasting peace in our state as we are confident that we can achieve stability and progress without endangering the collective interest of our people.”

He commended President Tinubu for his intervention that has brought some lasting peace to the political crisis in the state, stating that the effort showed that Tinubu loves Rivers State.

He pledged that 2024 would witness a speedy transformation of the state with the completion of several projects and programmes, such as the sections of the Port Harcourt Ring Road, the Andoni section of the Unity Road, the Ahoada-Omoku Road, the Emohua-Degema Road and the commencement of many other laudable projects, both in infrastructure and human capital development, as outlined in our 2024 budget.

PDP fumes

But the PDP NWC in its reaction faulted Fubara’s plan to implement Tinubu’s peace deal.

The party Deputy National Youth Leader, Timothy Osadolor, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the peace pact could not be implemented.

 He said “ First and foremost the governor is an adult and he was the Rivers State governorship candidate of the PDP in the last election, now the governor of the state. But the issues at stake that President Bola Tinubu bothered himself with are bigger than him. They are also bigger than the governor because they are constitutional issues.

  “ The question of the seats of the defected lawmakers being vacant is a clear constitutional issue, not at the wishes and discretion of President Tinubu or any other person. It is a clear constitutional matter.

 “ Also, the PDP constitutionally owns the votes, so I don’t see how Governor Fubara will tell the PDP that because he met with the President in Aso Rock, the PDP should not take charge of its votes. As we speak the PDP is in court, the votes belong to the PDP, not to Fubara or the Villa.

 “The one within the governor’s purview is to pay salaries and allowances of the lawmakers to the date their seats become vacant. I am sure the governor knows his limit.”

On his part, a former National Secretary of the PDP, Senator Ibrahim Tsauri cautioned that the governor would be committing a political blunder to implement a peace pact against his party’s stand.

 The member of the PDP National Executive Council noted said the implementation would be morally right, but politically incorrect.

 Tsauri stated “As a complete gentleman, he went there and signed the agreement, even though without the consent of the party. So implementation will be made by him and not by the party. But certainly, it won’t be in the interest of the party.

 “ The PDP will not allow itself to be dragged into that trap, but he failed to consult the party. If he implements it, he is in trouble, if he doesn’t, is in trouble. Implementation of the agreement is like jumping into awaiting problems. And if he fails to implement it, he is going to enter the Federal government’s trouble. So, either way, is trouble for him.”

Also, a former PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, in a statement on Monday by his Media Adviser, Ike Abonyi, in Abuja, on Sunday, urged the political class to be wary of actions that might constitute a threat to our nascent democracy and national security.

Abonyi quoted his principal as saying, “With particular reference to the crisis in Rivers State, the former PDP boss contended that the intervention of President Bola Tinubu must be by the spirit and letter of our constitution for it to be implementable.

 “There are creative ways a political conflict can be resolved if and when the President acts like a statesman and the President of all Nigerians.

“Mr President would have violated this sacred role if he acted in such a way and manner that gave an unconstitutional advantage to his political party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and an individual political godfather.

“This is the scenario the unenforceable agreement reached at the instance of Mr President purports to foster.”

He urged well-meaning Nigerians to call on the President and other stakeholders to act in the interest of peace in Rivers State and “ensure genuine, unbiased, generally acceptable, and enforceable reconciliation of the crisis.”

(Punch)

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Union Bank acquisition: CBN investigator summons Lemo, others over deal

The Special CBN Investigator, Jim Obazee, has summoned the Chairman of Titan Trust Bank, Babatunde Lemo, in connection with the acquisition of Union Bank of Nigeria Plc by TTB.

The TTB chairman, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, was directed to report at the Department of Force Intelligence opposite the Force headquarters, Shehu Shagari Way, Abuja on Thursday, where he is expected to be questioned over the UBN acquisition.

Lemo was further instructed to come along with the promoters of TTB, Messrs Cornelius Vink and Mr Rahul Savara, to meet with the team of special Investigators.

Lemo was invited in a letter dated December 24, 2023, and signed by the Head of Operations, Office of the Special Investigator, DCP Eloho Okpoziakpo.

Obazee had in his report alleged that some persons were used as proxies by a former CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, to set up Titan Trust Bank and acquire Union Bank.

Obazee, who was appointed special investigator in July, 2023, submitted his final report tagged, ‘Report of the Special Investigation on CBN and Related Entities (Chargeable offences) to the Presidency on December 20, 2023.

In two separate reports on the acquisition of UBN and Keystone Bank submitted to President Bola Tinubu last Wednesday, the Special Investigator also alleged that Emefiele used proxies to acquire Keystone Bank without evidence of payment.

‘’When we carried out investigation, we discovered that some persons were used as proxies by Mr Godwin Emefiele to set up Titan Trust Bank and acquire Union Bank therefrom, all from ill-gotten wealth.

‘’We were able to secure some documents and investigation reports will lead to the forfeiture of the two banks to the Federal Government. We have completed our investigation on this acquisition and have also held meetings with the relevant parties except for Mr Cornelis Vink (that is currently hospitalised in Switzerland).

‘’Otherwise, we are on the verge of recovering these two banks for the Federal Government,’’ Obazee claimed in his letter.

Following media reports on the UBN deal, Lemo in an interview with Sunday PUNCH insisted that the acquisition of the bank followed due process and met all regulatory requirements, including that of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Central Bank of Nigeria.

He insisted that the establishment of Titan Trust Bank and the subsequent acquisition of Union Bank were transparent and duly verified by the relevant regulatory bodies.

However, in furtherance of the investigation into the UBN deal, and in response to Lemo’s defence, the investigator in the letter titled, RE: CBN investigation activities: Invitation for a follow-up meeting with the Special Investigator,’ took the TTB chairman to task on his defence.

The letter read, ‘’Please, refer to your discussion with the Special Investigator earlier today regarding the offensive defence that your good self issued in PUNCH newspapers, on behalf of TTB which you chair, as well as the email you sent to the Special Investigator today wherein you tried to provide clarification on your reaction to the report on TTB.

‘’The defence seems contrary to the statements, made under caution, by the persons connected with these transactions, including your good self, before the Special Investigator at the Department of State Service in August 2023.

‘’In the said newspapers, you referred to both Cornelius Vink and Rahul Savara as “prominent global entrepreneurs and having thriving businesses in Nigeria…”

‘’In your email as well as your earlier discussion with the Special Investigator, you suggested that both of them be invited to provide clarification on their share ownership and given seven days to make such clarification; failure which they will forfeit their shares to the Federal Government of Nigeria.

‘’We are surprised at your request with regard to these two shareholders. They were given this opportunity via a letter to them dated 28th August 2023 (copy attached as Appendix 1).

‘’Instead of honouring the invitation and providing the requested documents, we received a letter from the Company Secretary of Union Bank, Somuyiwa Sonubi, dated 1st September 2023, informing the Special Investigator that Mr. Cornelius Vink was out of the country on medical grounds and that both “Messrs Vink and Savara will be available for the meeting as soon as they are in Nigeria which will be soon” (copy attached as Appendix 2).

‘’Up until this offensive defence that you put in the public domain, the Special Investigator has neither heard from them nor received the requested documents.”

However, when The PUNCH examined the letter written by Union Bank to the Special Investigator (referenced Appendix 2 above), the lender stated it was submitting all “the documents/information requested for in printed and electronic formats for ease of your review and analysis” alongside the letter.

As of press time, The PUNCH could not independently verify why the special investigator did get the documents as claimed above.  Also, our correspondent could not verify if the Special investigator replied the Union Bank to demand explanation as to why the documents claimed to have been submitted alongside the letter were not attached.

Meanwhile, in the latest letter summoning Lemo for a follow-up meeting, the Office of the Special Investigator said, ‘’Accordingly, you are hereby invited to come along with Messrs Cornelius Vink and Mr Rahul Savara to meet with the Team of Special Investigators by 2pm on 28th December 2023 at the Department of Force Intelligence, Opposite Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, Shehu Shagari Way, Area 11, Garki, Abuja; without fail or excuse. ‘’

The letter added, ‘’Please, inform them to come along with all the documents/information requested from them by the letter to Mr Cornelius Vink dated 28th August 2023 (attached herewith as Appendix 1). You will also be required to make additional statements to your earlier statement on that day.

‘’Kindly note that if Messrs Cornelius Vink and Rahul Savara refuse to attend this meeting and provide/defend the requested documents/information, it will be construed that they have decided to forfeit their purported shareholdings in TTB and Union Bank of Nigeria; irrespective of which vehicle that they are using to own the purported shares.

‘’Should you also refuse to attend the meeting to provide additional statement to your earlier statement made in August 2023, it will be construed that you misled the Nigerian public with your reaction in the PUNCH Newspapers today which has gained wide publicity in both electronic and print media.’’

The investigator explained that the invitation was to further ensure that ‘’it is beyond reasonable doubt that the Federal Government of Nigeria has given you a fair hearing.’’

Meanwhile, It is unclear whether without a court ruling, the Special Investigator’s Office has the powers to make investors lose their shareholding should they fail to attend the meeting for whatsoever reason.

(Punch)

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Nigerian Dailies: 10 talking points this Tuesday

Good morning! Here is today’s summary from Nigerian Newspapers:

1. Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, on Monday, defended the peace deal initiated by President Bola Tinubu between him and his predecessor, Nyesom Wike, over the crisis in the state. Fubara, in a broadcast on Monday, said the resolution brokered by the President to resolve the crisis was not a death sentence, adding that it would ensure lasting peace in the state.

2. A broadcast journalist with the Independent Television and Radio, Hillary Nosa Odia, has been shot dead by suspected cultists around 2nd East Circular, Benin City, Edo State capital on Christmas Eve. A colleague of the deceased said the late Odia left the office at about 4pm on Sunday while the news of his death filtered into the ITV premises later in the night.

3. Drivers playing inter-state routes have been implementing a 50 per cent discount on transport fares following President Bola Tinubu’s directives in reference to the renewed hope agenda. This was disclosed in a press release signed by Director of Press and Public Relations, Ministry of Transportation, Olujimi Oyetomi on Monday.

4. No fewer than nine passengers lost their lives following a road accident that occurred along the Ikirun/Offa Expressway, Inisa on Monday, after the truck they were traveling in ran into the bush. The truck, carrying bags of beans and some passengers, was said to be coming from Niger State and heading to Edo State. It was learnt it lost control leading to the crash.

5. Following attacks by assailants on some communities in Bokkos and Barkin-Ladi Local Government Areas of Plateau State between eve of Christmas and Monday morning, the death toll from the incident has risen to 113. The Transition Committee Chairman of Bokkos Local Government Area of Plateau State, Monday Kassah, confirmed that 113 persons were killed in the attacks on the villages.

6. Mathew Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, has said that President Bola Tinubu has no excuses if his government fails to address the pressing issues facing Nigeria. Kukah, who stated this while delivering his Christmas message in Sokoto on Monday, noted that neither history nor God would forgive the President if he failed.

7. The Presidency has justified President Tinubu’s intervention in states battling political crises such as Ondo and Rivers. Presidential spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, said President Bola Tinubu will continue to intervene in political crises in the larger interest of the country.

8. Grieving survivors, relatives and residents of Tudun Biri community, Kaduna, where a military error bombing killed over 100, have found solace in the Church on Christmas day. Both Muslims and Christians of Tudun Biri, Igabi LGA of Kaduna State, on Monday, joined the world to celebrate Christmas with a thanksgiving church service.

9. Two persons were confirmed dead, while one sustained injuries in an accident that occurred on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, opposite AP filling station, on Christmas Day. Mrs Florence Okpe, the spokesperson, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in Ogun, confirmed the incident to newsmen in Abeokuta on Monday.

10. The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Ignatius Kaigama, has said media reports claiming that the Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis, approved blessings for same-sex couples, was untrue. Kaigama made the clarification in his homily during the Christmas Mass he conducted at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Catholic Pro-Cathedral in Abuja.

(Daily Post)

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Rivers crisis: I didn’t beg Tinubu to intervene – Wike

The Minister of Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Nyesom Wike, has said he was not the one that went to President Bola Tinubu seeking intervention in the crisis rocking Rivers State.

He, however, said that the President should be appreciated for intervening in the political situation in the oil rich state.

Wike spoke during the 20th wedding Anniversary/Thanksgiving of Hon Dr & Dr (Mrs) George-Kelly D.A. Alabo at the Kings Assembly Church, on Sunday.

The former Rivers State governor said it was strange that the same people who went to beg Tinubu to intervene in the crisis are the ones now saying he lacks the constitutional power to do so.

He said, “We must thank Mr President for interfering and intervening, but I was not even the one who went to the President to seek for his intervention.

“They were saying “President intervene, President intervene”, and President intervened, they are now saying Mr President has no constitutional power to have intervened.

“But they were the same people who sought the President’s intervention and he has intervened to bring peace. They are now turning around to say no, the President does not have the constitutional power.”

(Daily Post)

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Yuletide: Moderate your celebration mode, Anglican bishop tells Nigerians

The Anglican Bishop of Ibadan North, Rt Rev Williams Aladekugbe, on Sunday, called on Nigerians to celebrate the season in moderation and keep their hopes and dreams alive.

Aladekugbe, in his Christmas Day message in Ibadan, Oyo State, entitled, “Significance of Christmas,” further advised them not to punish themselves due to their inability to achieve certain dreams or desires between the last celebration and today.

He said, “Christians celebrate Christmas each year to show their gratitude to God for what He did, to remember the birth of Jesus Christ by giving gifts, worshipping Him and thinking of the poor and less fortunate.

“It reminds us of the Saviour who gives us salvation. It should be celebrated to reflect the reason(s) Jesus came into our world. To erase the curse of sin, to bring salvation to man and to restore us back to God. We should reflect on our relationship with God and our neighbours.

“My advice for Nigerians at this season is that we should do things moderately. If there is anything we cannot achieve before Christmas this year, there will always be another Christmas.

“We should not be involved in evil or dabbling in crimes. We should adopt cost-cutting measures as a way of addressing the current economic challenges in the country.

“We equally appeal to the Federal Government to make good its  campaign promises of making life better for the people. The government must be sincere with us. The government must be considerate in their politics, actions and decisions by walking the talks.

“Frivolous spending should be avoided. Our appeal to Mr President is that he should fulfil his campaign promises to us. He told us to put our minds to rest and that everything will be fine.”

On why the season is celebrated, the Bishop said, “Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed primarily on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration among billions of people around the word.

“Christmas is celebrated to remember the birth of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. The name ‘Christmas’ comes from the Mass of Christ (or Jesus). A Mass service (which is sometimes called Communion or Eucharist) is where Christians remember that Jesus died for us and then came back to life.

“It reminds us of the importance of giving and sharing with friends and family. Through Christmas, we know that the birth of the Lord Jesus is symbolic of new beginnings. It is an opportunity to think about nature and the reason for our existence.”

(Punch)

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Newspaper cover price to increase January 2 – NPAN

The Newspapers Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria has said there will be an increase in the cover prices of newspaper titles effective from January 2, 2024.

In a statement on Sunday by its Executive Secretary, Feyi Smith, NPAN said it “took this difficult decision after a careful review of the current economic situation and our members’ production costs.”

It explained that, “In the last few years, inflation and the devaluation of the naira have had very serious negative effects on our members’ production costs and eaten deeply into their profit margins.

“Nevertheless, our members retained the current cover prices for over four years, while inflation more than doubled within the same period.

“We acknowledge that the negative effects of the tough economic climate are felt by our readers. It is for this reason that publishers have borne the brunt of high production costs for the last four years without adjusting cover prices.

“We hope that this price increase would meet with the understanding of our readers even as we continue to do our best to take advantage of technology and better collaboration amongst publishers to improve the quality of our products.”

(Punch)

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I will assess Tinubu’s govt after 12 months – Wole Soyinka

NOBEL Laureate and academic, Prof. Wole Soyinka, on Sunday, said he would reserve all his observations about President Bola Tinubu’s administration until one year into his tenure, in May 2024.

Soyinka described this as a personal policy of his, saying this one-year delay gives the President enough time to “make up” for lost grounds.

Soyinka said this when he paid a courtesy visit to the President who is holidaying in Lagos.

“Well, you know, something you may have noticed about me is that most heads of state, when they take office, I always leave them alone for about the first year…because they need time.

“I know when they come in, they don’t start from ground zero. They often start even lower than ground zero and they have to make up.

“So, I’m adopting the same principle this time. When you see me next year, ask the same question again and listen to my answer,” he explained.

Soyinka, who called Sunday’s appearance an “embarrassing visit.” said he approached the President with a seven-point agenda which he declined to reveal.

“I came here with a seven-point agenda. And we had a very thorough discussion on those items.

“Actually, it’s an embarrassing visit because when I visited him the last time, it was to try and persuade him not to run for office. I told Atiku and himself to please leave the ground so young people could run. That’s the last time we met about five years ago.

“So I came to see how he was doing after ignoring my advice. I came to see how both he and his wife were weathering Nigeria, and to wish them a Happy Christmas,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the Abia State Governor, Dr Alex Otti, who also visited Tinubu in Lagos, urged Nigerians to remain patient saying the economic reforms would yield prosperity if sustained.

Otti said, “One thing is that he has a very courageous, unifying policy; the exchange rate and then removing subsidy, which actually had become a scam and costing us a lot of money.

“Those policies are good but then they come with the negative sides. They come with challenges for an economy where over 60 percent of the population is living below the poverty line.

“So, it’s not going to be easy, immediately. But I believe that if we are patient and if we go through the policies without compromising, over time, things will turn around.”

(Punch)

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NDLEA arrests grandma, son for drug trafficking, intercepts 7.5m tramadol

Attempts by transnational criminal organisations to flood Nigerian communities with large quantities of assorted illicit drugs during the yuletide season have been thwarted by operatives of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, who, on Thursday, arrested a 70-year-old grandma and her son a day after they intercepted millions of tramadol 225mg pills, thousands of codeine syrup bottles and bags of Canadian Loud in consignments arriving the country ahead of the Christmas celebration.

According to the NDLEA, its operatives raided a house in the Mushin area of Lagos on Thursday, December 21, where a 70-year-old grandma, Selifat Cole and her son, Babajide Cole, were arrested with 117.900kg of cannabis sativa.

The spokesperson for the NDLEA, Femi Babafemi, revealed the development in a statement on Sunday, while noting that the arrests were made with the support of the Nigerian Customs Service and other stakeholders.

Babafemi revealed, “At the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja Lagos, all tricks employed by the drug syndicates to smuggle into the country 7,500,000 pills of tramadol 225mg through the NAHCO import shed of the airport were frustrated by the NDLEA officers with the cooperation of men of the Nigeria Customs and other stakeholders.

“The consignment which was taken into custody on Friday, December 22 came onboard Turkish airline with no country of manufacture or origin. Apart from being the first time such a shipment would be seized on the airline’s flight, it was equally the first of such coming from Hamburg, Germany.

“The 7.5 million tramadol 225mg pills were also specially designed and packaged as tamol-x concealed in 100 big cartons weighing 7,150kg, which arrived the country on December 11 and placed under surveillance until last Friday. Preliminary test of the tablets proved positive to tramadol hydrochloride.”

Meanwhile, operatives of the Lagos Command of the agency on Wednesday, December 20, conducted a search operation on two shops marked Chex Mat Global Link Limited at the Trade Fair Complex in the Ojo area of Lagos where 258 cartons of codeine-based cough syrup and eight cartons of codeine tablets were recovered. The NDLEA spokesman noted that the cartons contained: 49, 200 bottles of codeine syrup and 46, 200 tablets of the same opioid.

He added, “The following day, Thursday, December 21, NDLEA operatives raided a house in Mushin area of Lagos where a 70-year-old grandma, Selifat Cole and her son, Babajide Cole, were arrested with 117.900kg of cannabis sativa.

“A consignment of spare parts that originated from Asaba, Delta state and going to Malviya Nagar, New Delhi, India was intercepted at the cargo terminal of the Lagos airport on Wednesday, December 20. NDLEA sniffer dogs were deployed to examine the spare parts; the dogs were able to identify the particular shipment containing illicit drug concealment, which a physical examination later confirmed to be cocaine measuring 200grams.

“Not less than 70 parcels of Canadian Loud, a strong strain of cannabis, with a gross weight of 35kg were seized by operatives of the Tincan Command of the NDLEA from a container, marked BEAU 4993525 coming from Toronto via Montreal, Canada. The container contained four used vehicles, including a Honda CRV 2006 model, where bags of the psychoactive substance were concealed.”

Babafemi further revealed that in the Federal Capital Territory, the NDLEA operatives on Monday, December 18, intercepted a waybill consignment of 25,000 pills of tramadol while their counterparts in Anambra arrested two suspects at the Onitsha head bridge.

He noted, “Ejiro Emmanuel was driving a bus marked EFR 31 XB conveying 61,100 tramadol capsules; 1, 025 bottles of codeine; 1,350 tablets of rohypnol and 46grams of designer drug, while Daniel Ogbiyoyo was caught in a bus marked SAP 540 YK conveying 55,950 tramadol capsules; 3,117 bottles of codeine; 1,530 tablets of swinol and 1,350 tablets of rohypnol.

“Operatives in Delta State on Monday, December 18, in a joint operation with the military raided the home of a drug kingpin, Chukwuma Eneriku, at the Okanaro Street, Abbi town, where bags of cannabis weighing 353kg were recovered. The same day, the NDLEA operatives in Enugu recovered bags of cannabis sativa weighing 435.1kg in a warehouse located at Trans Ekulu, Enugu East LGA.

“In Edo State, five persons dressed in the NDLEA operational jackets were arrested with a fabricated gun and pistol carved from wood following intelligence that they were impersonating as officers of the agency and conducting illegal operations. The suspects included: Sebastine Asekiamhe, 22; Raymond Otaru, 28; Emmanuel Wisdom, 23; Solomon Edogamhe, 27; and Bonaventure Oghibui, 22. While some others in NDLEA jackets escaped, a bottle of codeine-based syrup was found with those arrested.”

(Punch)

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N187bn fraud: EFCC arrests humanitarian ministry’s contractor, probes four Buhari ministers

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has arrested a contractor, James Okwete, in connection with the ongoing probe into the N37bn allegedly laundered by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development under former Minister, Sadiya Umar-Farouk.

A top EFCC official, who confided in our correspondent on Sunday, said the contractor had made useful statements concerning  Umar-Farouk and former directors-general of the ministry.

The development coincides with the probe of three other ministers, who served under former President Muhammadu Buhari, for graft estimated at N150bn.

“It is not only Umar-Farouk we are investigating. Three other former ministers are also under probe. They were allegedly involved in graft to the tune of N150bn,’’ a credible source in the EFCC confided in our correspondent on Sunday.

Sources said Umar-Farouk and some former agencies’ directors-general under the ministry might be arrested by the anti-graft commission following the details of the financial misappropriation so far revealed to investigators by the contractor.

The ex-minister could not be reached for comments on Sunday. Also, when our correspondent contacted her former media aide, Nneka Ikem, she did not pick her phone calls neither did she respond to an SMS sent to her.

Investigation revealed that the N37.1bn was transferred from the Federal Government’s coffers and sent to 38 different bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks belonging to or connected with Okwete.

Impeccable sources confirmed to The PUNCH on Sunday that Okwete, who is being held at the EFCC Headquarters, Jabi, Abuja, had been cooperating with investigators.

According to the EFCC officials, the contractor was arrested four days ago.

A source said, “The contractor, Mr Okwete, who was used in laundering the money had been arrested by the commission. He is currently detained in our custody and has been giving investigators more details that have indicted the former Minister, Sadiya and some DGs under the ministry, and they may be brought in anytime soon too.”

Alleged N37bn fraud

Another source noted, “The contractor involved in the N37.bn fraud has been arrested and would spend Christmas in our custody. He has given some names, and the former humanitarian affairs minister and directors-general in the ministry were linked to the fraud.”

The PUNCH reports that the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs currently serves as the parent ministry to eight agencies, including the National Social Investment Office, the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals, and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internationally Displaced Persons, among others.

Umar-Farouq was the pioneer Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

She was appointed by former President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2019 as the youngest cabinet member.

Her work with Buhari dates back to his days as the leader and presidential candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change when she was the national treasurer of the party and later the national treasurer of the All Progressives Congress.

Documents obtained by The PUNCH revealed that following receipt of the funds, Okwete transferred N6,746,034,000 to Bureau De Change Operators, withdrew N540 million in cash, purchased luxury cars with N288,348,600 and bought luxury houses in Abuja and Enugu State with N2,195,115,000.

So far, 53 companies had been traced to Okwete, who was also said to have used 47 of the firms to secure Federal Government contracts amounting to N27,423,824,339.86.

He is also linked with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks of which 134 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.

Checks by our correspondent with the Corporate Affairs Commission revealed that Okwete is a director in only 11 of the 53 companies, while the remaining 42 companies’ accounts were linked to his Bank Verification Number as a signatory to the accounts.

The document revealed, “Between 2018 and 2023, the subject (Okwete) received the sum of N37,170,855,753.44 from the coffers of the Federal Government linked to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

“The money  was sent to 38 bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks. The suspect transferred N6,746,034,000 to Bureau De Change Operators, N540mn withdrawn in cash, N288,348,600 used to purchase cars and used N2,195,115,000 to purchase choice properties within Abuja and Enugu State.

“Fifty-three companies were traced to the suspect. He used 47 of the companies to lift Federal Government contracts amounting to N27,423,824,339.86.

‘’Okwete is associated with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks in which 134 of the 143 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.”

The spokesperson for the EFCC, Dele Oyewale declined comments.

“I can’t speak on that, please,” Oyewale said.

Meanwhile, in 2020, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission said it uncovered N2.67bn meant for the ministry’s school feeding programme in private bank accounts.

The former ICPC Chairman, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, disclosed that the commission unravelled N2.67bn in personal accounts, being payment made to some federal colleges for school feeding during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

Other discoveries by the ICPC include 18 buildings, 12 business premises and 25 plots of land.

Owasanoye said under the Open Treasury Portal review carried out between January and August 15, 2020, of the 268 Ministries, Departments and Agendas, 72 had cumulative infractions of N90m.

The former ICPC chairman argued that the money was paid when children were not in school.

Despite requests by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project to Umar-Farouq to publish details and names of the suspects, the former minister failed to reveal their names to date.

Reacting to this, SERAP via its official Facebook handle said: “Following the disclosure by the ICPC that N2.67bn meant for school feeding during the COVID-19 lockdown ended up in private bank accounts, we are calling on the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development of Nigeria, Sadiya Umar Farouq to immediately publish details of those suspected to be responsible, or face legal action.

“If the names are not immediately published, we’ll issue a freedom of information request to ensure that those involved are named and shamed.

“We’ll also pursue appropriate legal actions to hold suspected perpetrators to account, in the public interest.

“Diverting funds meant to feed school children [who are already disproportionately affected by corruption], especially during COVID-19 is a blatant violation of the rights to education, health, and dignity, as well as the government’s own COVID-19 transparency frameworks.

“Corruption in school feeding increases distrust in the government. The Federal Government must ensure transparency and accountability measures are fundamental to all school feeding and other initiatives in the context of COVID-19, to ensure the children receive the support they need.”

(Punch)

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SERAP sues NNPCL for withholding oil revenue details

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has filed a lawsuit against the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited over what it described as “failure to disclose details of Nigeria’s daily oil production, exportation and the total amounts of revenues generated from oil since the removal of subsidy on petrol in May 2023.”

The suit followed an allegation made by a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido, that the NNPCL failed to remit enough foreign exchange into the treasury despite the removal of fuel subsidy.

SERAP, in the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1719/2023 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court in Abuja, seeks “an order of mandamus to direct and compel the NNPC to disclose details of barrels of oil Nigeria produces and exports daily and the total amounts of revenues generated since the removal of subsidy on petrol.”

The group also seeks “an order of mandamus to compel the NNPC to disclose how much of the revenues generated from the production and exportation of oil have been remitted to the public treasury since the removal of subsidy on petrol” and “an order of mandamus to direct and compel the NNPC to disclose details of payment of 11 Trillion Naira made as subsidy payments from 1999 to May 2023, including a detailed breakdown of the payments made.”

In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “There is a legitimate public interest in disclosing the information sought. The NNPC has a legal responsibility to disclose the details of Nigeria’s daily oil production, exportation and the revenues generated and remitted.”

The group argued further that“Nigerians have the right to know the amounts of barrels of oil the country produces and exports daily, the revenues generated and remitted to the public treasury.” Compelling the NNPC to disclose these details would promote transparency and accountability in the oil sector.”

It also stressed that “The failure by the NNPC to disclose the information sought is a grave violation of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the Freedom of Information Act, and the country’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”

(Punch)

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Union Bank not acquired by proxies, funded with Afrexim loan, others – TGI

Tropical General Investment Group, the majority owner of Titan Trust and Union Banks has denied any wrongdoing in the acquisition of the latter by the former.

This was as it stated that the purported investigative report recommending the takeover of the banks by the Federal Government portrayed Nigeria negatively.

The company’s explanation was in response to the report of the special investigation into the activities of the CBN and other related entities by the Special Investigator, Jim Obazee.

The final report, submitted to President Bola Tinubu on Wednesday, accused the immediate past Governor of the CBN, Godwin Emefiele, of using ill-gotten wealth to acquire Union Bank and Keystone Bank through proxies.

But the Head of Corporate Communications, Rafiat Gawat, in a statement on Sunday, said the $500m capital used to pay for the transaction was transparent and unimpeachable and was managed by highly reputed global financial institutions including Rothschild and Citibank. She added that the process took years to complete.

The statement read in part, “We want to categorically state that some of the assumptions made in the purported document were incorrect, thereby resulting in a conclusion that may not necessarily reflect the actual reality.

“The purported investigation report recommended that the Federal Government should take over the banks. Such declarations based on incorrect assumptions portray Nigeria negatively, especially when the President is tirelessly seeking and courting foreign investments into the country.

“The true facts of the case are as follows: Tropical General Investment Group is the majority owner of Titan Trust and Union Bank. We have been doing business in Nigeria for close to 45 years and have evolved into one of the largest companies in West Africa and the acquisition of Union Bank by Titan Trust Bank followed all the laid down rules and regulations.

“The approximately $500m capital used to pay for the transaction was transparent and unimpeachable. The entire transaction was managed by highly reputed global financial institutions, including Rothschild and Citibank. And like most major acquisitions, the process took years to complete.”

According to her, the rest of the capital was sourced from the proceeds of TGI’s sales of its Chi Limited business to Coca-Cola, all to finance the acquisition of Union Bank.

“A $300m loan was sourced from African Export-Import Bank and the rest of the capital was sourced from the proceeds of TGI’s sales of its Chi Limited business to Coca-Cola, all to finance the acquisition of Union Bank.”

Debunking claims that the bank didn’t respond to enquiries, Gawat explained, “The investigator’s claim that Union Bank did not respond to his request for information was misleading as all the information requested was submitted on September 1, 2023.  It’s a well-known fact that Mr Vink, who has been in Nigeria since 1978, is an elderly person and has recently been medically advised to limit his movements. This was duly communicated to the investigator with supporting documents.

“TGI’s capital, ownership and selling of Chi to a multinational such as Coca cola is proof that Mr Vink is not a proxy. The group’s ability to engage and work with reputable international financial advisors and bankers attests to the group’s global credibility. Union Bank was not owned by government and no government money (CBN or AMCON) was used to buy it. The process was diligently followed as captured in the report of the investigator.”

The bank urged its customers, shareholders, and stakeholders to remain calm as it would do everything legal to ensure that the current misunderstanding was clarified.

“As responsible corporate citizens, we are always willing, ready, and able to support stakeholders including regulators to learn and understand our Group and its operations,” the statement concluded.

(Punch)

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CBN investigator’s report not true, misleading, says Godwin Emefiele

Embattled former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria has denied a report by Central Bank of Nigeria’s private investigator, Jim Obazee, that he lodged £543, 482,213 in fixed deposits in UK banks alone without authorisation among other allegations.

Emefiele made this known Sunday night in a signed statement entitled, “Re: Emefiele, others stole billions, illegally kept Nigeria’s funds in foreign banks” which was made available to our correspondent.

The PUNCH had exclusively reported that Obazee revealed that the former CBN governor illegally lodged billions of naira in foreign currencies in no fewer than 593 bank accounts in the United States, United Kingdom, and China without the approval of the apex bank’s board of directors and the CBN Investment Committee.

However, Emefiele on Sunday said the report was misleading and a calculated attempt to disparage his person, injure his character and serve the selfish interest of the private investigator.

He said, “I have gone through the publications, and I say boldly that the contents of the said publications are false, misleading and calculated to disparage my person, injure my character and serve the selfish interest of the private investigator.

“Because of my present situation, I have been advised by my lawyers not to say anything in respect of the matters which have been submitted to the court for adjudication. However, I need to address some of the issues raised in the publication which are barefaced lies told by the investigator in order to achieve his satanic agenda

“First, it was reported that contrary to the provision of the CBN Act 2007, there was no presidential approval for the Naira redesign. I wish to state unequivocally that there was indeed a presidential approval, and the said approval was handed over to the same Jim Obazee during the process of his investigation in the presence of senior CBN officials and his own investigative team.

“Moreover, the former President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR has stated on a number of occasions that he authorised and approved the Naira redesign. I am therefore at a loss as to why Mr. Jim Obazee will mislead Nigerians that there was no presidential approval.

“The report also claimed that the sum of 6.23 million dollars was withdrawn from the CBN vault based on a false presidential directive bearing the signature of the former president Muhammadu Buhari GCFR and that of the former secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha.

“About two weeks ago, Jim Obazee in the company of a certain Deputy Commissioner of Police from Force CID came to Kuje to ask me questions in respect of the said document in the presence of my lawyers. I stated verbally and in writing that I have no knowledge of such a directive from the former president and the former SGF. In fact, I told them that that was the first time I would be seeing the documents. “On this, I challenge Jim Obazee to publish the said documents and also the statements that I made to them.

“The final issue that I would like to respond to is the issue of the 593 accounts which were purportedly opened in different parts of the world. I state categorically that I am not involved in the opening of these accounts and I do not have knowledge of their openings. The fixed deposits in those foreign accounts are definitely outside my knowledge.

“However, let me state clearly, that the relevant departments of the CBN have the authority to carry out such activities in line with their lawful mandate within the CBN.

“I, therefore, join well-meaning Nigerians who have spoken on this matter and have demanded a thorough and transparent investigation of all these alleged frauds.

“Meanwhile, I have instructed my lawyers to immediately commence the legal process to clear my name from the defamatory statements contained in the report and by extension the publications.”

(Punch)

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Christmas message: Tinubu urges patience, says new dawn closer

President Bola Tinubu, on Sunday, again urged Nigerians to be patient with his administration, pledging that the country would  “shortly emerge into a new dawn of prosperity, peace, and irreversible progress.”

The President said he would continue to roll out more palliative measures to ease the hardship occasioned by the discontinuance of petrol subsidy, and the unification of the exchange rate, among other economic reforms of his administration.

In his personally-signed Christmas goodwill message released by the State House on Sunday, the President acknowledged that the past six months of his administration “has been a time of transformation and relentless change in our country”.

“I am aware that the necessary reforms we are implementing to achieve a more prosperous, peaceful nation for all have imposed unique sacrifices,” he said, and therefore appealed to Nigerians to “hold fast and rest assured” of his commitment to “govern with vision, dedication, and empathy,” as he transits the nation “to stability, prosperity, and Renewed Hope.”

“Be confident that by the strength of our joint endeavour, we will shortly emerge into a new dawn of prosperity, peace, and irreversible progress,” Tinubu said.

He promised that “my administration will continue to implement palliative measures to ease the burden on the most vulnerable, address current hardships and alleviate the suffering of all our nation’s people.

“Fellow Nigerians, Christmas is a special time of the year for all of us. For  Christians, this time of the year marks the birth of Jesus  Christ and celebrates the hope and redemption that are the hallmarks of Christ’s life.”

“For people of all faiths, this is an opportunity to enjoy the company of family, celebrate life, and delight in the gifts of love and friendship that make life worthwhile.

“This is also a time to look out for each other because, amidst the festivities, this time of year for many will be tinged with sadness: some mourning the loss of loved ones and others grieving the hopes that failed to materialise and the dreams that fell short,” Tinubu said in his maiden Christmas message to Nigerians as President.

He also urged Nigerians to, in the spirit of Christmas and reflecting the best of Jesus Christ, extend the warm embrace of kindness to those around them who need it.

“…and let the multiple acts of kindness serve as a light that guides us into a happy and wonderful new year,” he advised.

The Nigerian leader also asked citizens to “please spare a moment of remembrance and prayer for the men and women of our nation’s armed forces, bearing arms in our names and ensuring our safety” praying that “God protects them and bring them back to their families.”

Ahead of the January 15 Armed Forces Remembrance Day, Tinubu called on Nigerians to “let us together commemorate the memory of those who, in their service, have paid the highest price for our nation. May God bless their souls and comfort their families and loved ones.”

(Punch)

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Nigerian Dailies: 10 talking points this Monday

Good morning! Here is today’s summary from Nigerian Newspapers:

1. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has arrested a contractor, James Okwete, in connection with the ongoing probe into the N37bn allegedly laundered by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development under former Minister, Sadiya Umar-Farouk.

2. Embattled former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria on Sunday denied a report by Central Bank of Nigeria’s private investigator, Jim Obazee, that he lodged £543, 482,213 in fixed deposits in UK banks alone without authorisation, among other allegations. Emefiele made this known in a statement on Sunday night.

3. Ogun State Police Command has said the police officer whose shot accidentally hit a Nollywood actor and director, Azeez Ijaduade, in Iperu Remo, Ikenne Local Government Area of the state on Sunday will face disciplinary action. The state Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Alamutu, exclusively made this known to our correspondent.

4. President Bola Tinubu, on Sunday, again urged Nigerians to be patient with his administration, pledging that the country would “shortly emerge into a new dawn of prosperity, peace, and irreversible progress.” The President said he would continue to roll out more palliative measures to ease the hardship occasioned by the discontinuance of petrol subsidy, and the unification of the exchange rate, among other economic reforms of his administration.

5. At least 11 persons have been confirmed dead following a fatal road accident at the Kwanar Gujungu town in Jigawa State. The Jigawa State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Lawan Shiitu Adam, confirmed the incident in a statement on Sunday.

6. The Yolde Pate Correctional Centre has recorded 51 cases of scabies among inmates in Yola South Local Government Area of Adamawa state. The state epidemiologist, Damba Kwinke, from the Ministry of Health, who gave the confirmation, said the first case was recorded in August 2023.

7. Nyesom Wike, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), has said he did not invite President Bola Tinubu to intervene in the political crisis in Rivers State. Wike disclosed this on Sunday while addressing a congregation during a thanksgiving ceremony for the immediate past Commissioner for Works in Rivers State, George Kelly Alabo, at the Kings’ Assembly in Port Harcourt.

8. The Lagos State government has shut down a popular nightclub, Quilox. It was learnt the club was closed down for causing severe traffic congestion in the vicinity.

9. The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) says it has arrested five persons impersonating its operatives in Edo State. Director, Media and Advocacy, NDLEA Headquarters, Abuja, Femi Babafemi, on Sunday said the suspects, who were putting on the agency’s operational jackets, were arrested with a fabricated gun and pistol carved from wood.

10. A former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Kingsley Moghalu, has declared that the embattled ex-CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, is the worst the apex bank has ever produced in the history of the country. Moghalu, in a lengthy post on “X” via his verified handle, gave reasons for his personal judgement.

(Daily Post)

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Allegations of financial misconduct against me as petrol minister true, says Diezani Madueke

The allegations of financial misconduct during my tenure as the petroleum minister are true. The former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke was quoted to have said so while pleading for leniency from president Bola Tinubu.

“I would like President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Nigerians to forgive me, allow me to return home, and contribute because life is transient.” the statement further added.

On Saturday, the Nigerian anti-graft agency, EFCC, got wind of the statement and escalated it on the social media platform that Alison-Madueke implored Tinubu to permit her to return to Nigeria to confess alleged financial misdeeds for the period she was minister.

The social media post earlier seen by Punch and other new media correspondents claimed that the former minister spoke in an interview with journalists in the United Kingdom.

However, further checks by our correspondent on Saturday revealed that the unsigned post had been pulled down from the anti-graft agency’s official Instagram handle.

Meanwhile, when contacted over the development, the spokesperson for the EFCC, Dele Oyewale, denied the report, while noting that the report didn’t emanate from nor was it signed by the anti-graft agency.

“The report is not from the EFCC. Anything that is not signed by me is not from us (the EFCC),” Oyewale said.

The PUNCH reports that Allison-Madueke who served under former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration fled the country following her prosecution by the EFCC over alleged money laundering.

In October 2023, Sunday PUNCH exclusively reported that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, submitted a warrant of arrest and request to the Crown Prosecution Services of the United Kingdom for her extradition.

The report indicated that the request which was made on the orders of President Bola Tinubu followed a written official request by the EFCC to the office of the AGF earlier in October.

A top Federal Government source had revealed that in making the extradition request, the office of the AGF cited Section 2 (2) of Nigeria’s Extradition Act, CAP E25, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, and the London Scheme of Extradition within the Commonwealth otherwise known as ‘The Scheme,’ a multilateral treaty which governs extradition between the United Kingdom and Nigeria.

“The EFCC established a prima facie case against Allison-Madueke in a letter to the office of the AGF, after which a magistrate was ordered to issue a warrant of arrest. The Certified True Copy of the warrant of arrest was then attached to the extradition request written to the UK government by the AGF on the orders of the President,” a source had noted.

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Forex: Nigerian government gains N1.4trn revenue in 6 months

Nigeria’s foreign exchange reform in June increased the country’s revenue through FX differences to N1.36 trillion in six months.

The Federation Account Allocation Committee, FAAC, disclosed this in its communiqué.

The gains come as foreign exchange revaluation led to the depreciation of the naira, which currently sells at N885.88/$1, compared to its 2022 closing rate of N461.50/$1.

According to the communiqué, the difference increased from N0.639 billion in June to N364.87 billion in November.

From the gains, FAAC shared N320.89 billion in July, N229.67 billion in August, N186.81 billion in September and N262.89 billion in October.

Providing a breakdown of how the accrued revenue was shared among the three tiers of government, an analysis of the document indicated that after the federation account gained N625.77 billion from exchange difference revenue, state governments shared N317.36 billion, while the local government got N244.66 billion in six months.

DAILY POST recalls that in the last six months, the Nigerian government made N907.05 billion in June, N966.110 in July, N1.1 trillion in August, N903.48 billion in September, N906.955 billion in October and N1,088.783 trillion in November as the amount that accrued to the federation’s account.

(Daily Post)

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EPL: VAR under fire as Arsenal play 1-1 draw with Liverpool

VAR official, David Coote has come under criticism following Liverpool’s 1-1 draw against Arsenal on Saturday.

Reds boss, Jurgen Klopp, speaking after the game said a “guy in an office” should have awarded a penalty following a Martin Odegaard handball during the first half.

The Gunners will be top of the Premier League table at Christmas following the result.

Mohamed Salah cancelled out Gabriel’s fourth-minute opener, and the point leaves Liverpool second, one point behind the Gunners.

But Klopp said his team should have been awarded a penalty in the 19th minute after Odegaard appeared to block Salah’s path to the ball by handling in the 18-yard box.

Referee, Chris Kavanagh allowed play to continue and VAR did not stop the match for a check.

Coote deemed that Odegaard handled the ball while falling.

“Yes I have seen it,” Klopp said.

“I am pretty sure someone will come to explain to me why it was not a handball but I don’t know how.

(Daily Post)

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Close 2023 accounts by 31st December, FG sets deadline for MDAs

As the 2023 financial year winds up, the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF) has issued a stern notice to all Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) regarding the closure of 2023 accounts and the commencement of 2024 budget access.

The notice came in the annual Federal Treasury Circular with reference number TRYA7&B7/2023/OAGF/CAD/026/Vol.V/823 dated December 19, 2023 and signed by the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) Dr. Oluwatoyin Madein.

As the 2023 Appropriation Act implementation draws to a close, both recurrent and capital expenditures for the current year will be closed on December 31st, 2023.

This indicates a crucial timeline for MDAs to complete their financial activities and comply with the OAGF’s directives.

The process will be swift and automatic for MDAs utilizing the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) and the Treasury Single Account (TSA).

Madein said: “Both ledger periods and access to funds will be closed online, real-time, by midnight of December 31st, 2023”.

“Similarly, TSA-Sub Accounts of MDAs holding regular budgetary funds with a recurrent component will face the same automatic closure at midnight. The OAGF warned against any attempts to circumvent the closure process.

“Transferring funds to hidden accounts or engaging in practices like creating surrogate accounts to manipulate unspent balances, the AGF said “, will be detected and met with consequences. MDAs and officers involved in such manoeuvres will face appropriate sanctions.”

Accordingly, OAGF said MDAs using GIFMIS must upload all 2023 transactions from their Sub-TSA Accounts into the system using the Journal Entry Functionality; the Government insisted this exercise must be completed by February 13th, 2024.

In addition, access to funds for 2024 transactions will only be granted to MDAs after the Treasury confirms the accurate posting of all Sub-TSA transactions into GIFMIS.

Furthermore, the OAGF has developed a specific framework for upload, available within the GIFMIS journal entry functionality sub-module. Adherence to this framework, the AGF warned, is mandatory for all MDAs.

In keeping with International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) and Financial Regulations, all MDAs have been ordered to submit their Audited Trial Balance and Audited Financial Statements for the year ended December 31st, 2023, to the OAGF on or before February 28th, 2024.

The timely submission of audited financial reports, the AGF said, “is crucial for the OAGF to proceed with opening accounts and releasing budgetary allocations for the 2024 fiscal year”.

The Government noted that failure to comply with these requirements will have significant consequences.

Regarding the Presidential Directives and Financial Regulations, any MDA that fails to submit their audited financial statements will face immediate suspension of fund allocation. Additionally, a query will be issued to the Director or Head of Finance and Accounts of the non-compliant MDA.

The OAGF’s directive underscores the importance of accountability and transparent financial management within MDAs.

Recall that in January this year, former Muhammadu Buhari signed the 2023 budget of N21. 83 trillion into law.

(Daily Post)

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Niger gov unveils State’s plan to hit N1trn in revenue

Governor Umar Bago of Niger State has said that his administration will likely hit N1 trillion in revenue.

According to him, this would come through the Niger Food Security and Logistics Company in the next five years.

Abdullberqy Ebbo, Special Adviser on Digital Media and Strategy to the Governor, made this known in a statement on Saturday in Abuja.

According to him, the move will employ over 100,000 farmers who will be farming on over 100,000 hectares across the state.

He said that an agreement was signed between the Chairman of Niger Foods, Mr Sammy Adigun, and the Executive Director of TGI Group, Sadik Kassim, a commodity off-takers firm.

Ebbo said the signing was witnessed by the chairman of Union Bank and the Executive Vice Chairman of TGI Group, Malam Faruk Gumel.

(Daily Post)

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Kwara, Imo govs head economic affairs, oil theft committees

Kwara State Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq and his Imo State counterpart, Hope Uzodimma, have been named as the chairmen of the Economic Affairs Committee and the Crude oil Theft and Management Committee of the National Economic Council.

The announcement was made by the Vice President, Kashim Shettima, at the 138th meeting of NEC which held virtually on Thursday.

A Government House statement made available to Sunday PUNCH in Ilorin, Kwara State on Saturday said that the committees were saddled with the task of preparing a clear roadmap for dealing with petroleum subsidy, including a framework for defending wage negotiations and exchange rate management.

Other functions are listed as fiscal consolidation sustainability, liquidity management and inflation, medium term investment and growth, fiscal transparency and accountability, as well as state of emergency on food production for 2024.

Recall that Abdulrazaq is the current chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum.

“Members of Governor AbdulRazaq’s committee according to the statement are the Gombe State Governor, representing North-East; Governor of Lagos (South-West); the Governor of Akwa Ibom (South-South); the Governor of Anambra (South-East); the Governor of Niger (North-Central), and Governor of Kaduna (North-West).

“Special Adviser to the President on NEC and Climate Change, Rukaiya El-Rufai, is to serve as Secretary, the statement indicated.

“The second committee on Crude Oil Theft and Management is an existing NEC committee which has been reconstituted with Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State as the chairman.

“Other members are the Governor of Ogun State representing South-West; the Governor of Plateau State (North-Central); the Governor of Rivers (South-South) Governor of Borno (North-East); Governor of Jigawa State (North-West); the Governor of Abia State (South-East); Minister of Budget and Economic Planning; Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy; CBN Governor; GCEO of NNPCL, NDDC Chairman, and Service Chiefs.

“The Secretariat will be domiciled at the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning and the Special Adviser to the President on Economic Matters, Dr Tope Fasua will serve on the committee, the statement further said.

“Part of the Government house statement reads: Meanwhile, following deliberations on critical economic matters and assessments of potential short-term, medium and long-term strategies for addressing pressing economic issues, NEC set up the committees on Economic Affairs, as well as the committee on Crude Oil Theft And Management.

“Both committees are to be headed by Kwara State Governor, Alh AbdulRahman AbdulRazak, and his Imo State counterpart, Senator Hope Uzodimma, respectively.”

(Punch)

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Nigerian student jailed 40 months in UK over bomb threat

A 26-year-old Nigerian Master’s student at Dundee University, Scotland, Somtochukwu Okwuoha, has been sentenced to 40 months in prison for making terrorist threats against staff and students of the school.

According to a BBC report, Okwuoha, an international energy studies student, would also be deported after a Peth Sheriff Court found him guilty of the charge.

Witnesses revealed how the student had claimed to have a military background and was capable of making bombs and unleashing a deadly virus on the city.

Okwuoha, who arrived in the United Kingdom in 2021, also stated that he had enlisted the terror group, ISIS, to help bomb the university and told staff of his plan to target the city in a chemical attack.

Sheriff William Wood said, “Your presence in the United Kingdom is not conducive to the public good, and I make a recommendation for your deportation in due course.

“You were abusive towards her and tried to have her removed from her university course,” after he had threatened a fellow female student who refused his advances.

“The university decided to suspend you from your course and you turned your attention towards staff. You threatened mass murder, terrorism, said you would plant bombs and use biological weapons,” the charge read.

Okwuoha, a prisoner at Perth, was found guilty of threatening to murder staff at the university and committing terrorist crimes between December 2021 and June 2022.

He was found guilty of threatening to commit mass murder, using biological weapons, revealing staff details to international authorities and claiming to have planted bombs.

He was also found guilty of threatening to behead police officers and detonate bombs he had planted at Dundee University.

(Punch)

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EFCC uncovers N37bn fraud in humanitarian ministry, Buhari’s minister, contractor indicted

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has uncovered a total sum of N37,170,855,753.44 allegedly laundered in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs under former minister Sadiya Umar-Farouk.

Details of the ongoing probe exclusively obtained by Sunday PUNCH revealed that the money was transferred from the Federal Government’s coffers and sent to 38 different bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks belonging to or connected with a contractor, James Okwete.

Following receipt of the funds, Okwete allegedly transferred N6,746,034,000.00 to Bureau De Change Operators, withdrew N540,000,000.00 in cash, purchased luxury cars with N288,348,600.00, and bought luxury houses in Abuja and Enugu State with N2,195,115,000.00.

Fifty-three companies were allegedly traced to Okwete, who was also said to have used 47 of the companies to lift Federal Government contracts amounting to N27,423,824,339.86. He is also linked with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks in which 134 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.

Checks by our correspondent with the Corporate Affairs Commission revealed that Okwete is a director in only 11 of the 53 companies, while the remaining 42 companies’ accounts are only linked to his Bank Verification Number as a signatory to the accounts.

Sunday PUNCH reports that the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs currently serves as the parent ministry to eight agencies, including the National Social Investment Office, the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals, and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internationally Displaced Persons, among others.

Umar-Farouq was the pioneer Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. She was appointed by former President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2019 as the youngest cabinet member.

Her work with Buhari dates back to his days as the leader and presidential candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change when she was the national treasurer of the party and later the national treasurer of the All Progressives Congress.

She was later appointed minister in 2019 by President Buhari.

The EFCC document revealed, “Between 2018 and 2023, the subject (Okwete) received the sum of N37,170,855,753.44 from the coffers of the Federal Government linked to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

“The monies were sent to 38 bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks. The suspect transferred N6,746,034,000.00 to Bureau De Change Operators, N540,000,000.00 withdrawn in cash, N288,348,600.00 used to purchase cars, and used N2,195,115,000.00 to purchase choice properties within Abuja and Enugu State.

“Fifty-three companies were traced to the suspect. He used 47 of the companies to lift Federal Government contracts amounting to N27,423,824,339.86. Okwete is associated with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks in which 134 of the 143 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.”

In 2020, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission said it uncovered N2.67bn meant for the ministry’s school feeding programme in private bank accounts.

The former ICPC Chairman, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, disclosed that the commission unravelled N2.67bn in personal accounts, being payment made to some federal colleges for school feeding during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

Other discoveries by the ICPC include 18 buildings, 12 business premises and 25 plots of land. Owasanoye said under the Open Treasury Portal review carried out between January and August 15, 2020, of the 268 Ministries, Departments and Agendas, 72 had cumulative infractions of N90m.

The former ICPC chairman argued that the money was paid when children were not in school.

Despite requests by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project to Umar-Farouq to publish details and names of the suspects, the former minister failed to reveal their names.

Reacting to this, SERAP had written on its official Facebook page, “Following the disclosure by the ICPC that N2.67bn meant for school feeding during the COVID-19 lockdown ended up in private bank accounts, we’re calling on the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development of Nigeria, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, to immediately publish details of those suspected to be responsible, or face legal action.

“If the names are not immediately published, we’ll issue a freedom of information request to ensure that those involved are named and shamed.

“We’ll also pursue appropriate legal actions to hold suspected perpetrators to account, in the public interest.

“Diverting funds meant to feed school children (who are already disproportionately affected by corruption), especially during COVID-19, is a blatant violation of the rights to education, health, and dignity, as well as the government’s own COVID-19 transparency frameworks.

“Corruption in school feeding increases distrust in the government. The Federal Government must ensure that transparency and accountability measures are fundamental to all school feeding and other initiatives in the context of COVID-19, to ensure the children receive the support they need.”

When contacted over the development, the spokesperson for the EFCC, Dele Oyewale, neither confirmed nor denied the story.

Oyewale simply said, “No comments on that.”

Lawyer, CSO react

Reacting, a human rights lawyer, Tolu Babaleye, said, “If we want to be sincere, the corruption under the Buhari government was unprecedented. The main accused under Goodluck Jonathan’s government was Diezani Alison-Madueke, but under Buhari, many have cases to answer. Nigerians deserve to know what happened in the aviation sector, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, and other sectors. I call on President Bola Tinubu to probe that administration so that Nigerians can know who is corrupt and for justice to be served.”

On his part, Chairman, Peering Advocacy and Advancement Centre in Africa, Ezenwa Nwagwu, urged Tinubu to probe all previous administrations.

“Buhari’s government should be probed, and not just his government, but all previous governments and past heads of MDAs, and all those who are found wanting should be brought to justice,” Nwagwu noted.

Similarly, the Counsellor of a Civil Society Organisation, International Social Justice and Human Rights, Jackson Omenazu, said, “It is exceptionally important to probe the Buhari government, but Tinubu is morally incapacitated to probe Buhari’s government because he is an integral part of the APC government.

“Tinubu cannot exonerate himself from the maladministration of Buhari. (Godwin) Emefiele (former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria) is just a victim of circumstances. The only crime he committed was because he raised his head gullibly and showed interest in being President.”

Another lawyer and public affairs commentator, Jiti Ogunye, said that it was desirable for the present administration to probe the preceding administration following the Air Nigeria and CBN scandals, but regretted that the law did not make provisions for that.

Ogunye noted that the law only allowed the incumbent administration to probe individuals who were engaged in corrupt practices under the previous administration, including the President, to establish facts.

He stated, “When Nigerians are fascinated with the idea of a holistic and comprehensive probe of a past administration by the succeeding administration, the law does not grant an administration that blanket powers to probe the past administration in the way Nigerians imagine.

“We have anti-corruption agencies, which are the ICPC and EFCC. We have criminal laws, anti-corruption laws, and money laundering laws. Recently, we have had the Proceeds of Crime Act. The provision of these anti-corruption laws has no place for targeting an administration in totality like that, but if there are individuals, including a former president, who are suspected to have committed corruption crimes, guilty of corrupt practices, or suspected to have committed money laundering, if found guilty of all other crimes bordering on corrupt practices and abuse of power, these individuals may be investigated specifically.”

(Punch)

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Seven final year students rusticated over ‘immoral sign-out celebration’

Isa Mustapha Agwai Polytechnic, IMAP, Lafia, Nasarawa State, has rusticated seven graduating female students for their involvement in what has been described as an “indecent” sign-out celebration.

The decision was announced by Mr. Ali Hassan Mohammed, the Public Relations Officer of the state-owned institution, in a statement released on Friday in Lafia.

According to the statement, the Academic Board of IMAP convened on Wednesday, October 4, 2023, and reached the decision to rusticate the students for one academic session.

The rustication comes in the wake of the students’ alleged display of indecency, tarnishing the institution’s reputation during the sign-out celebration.

“The affected students, who have already been communicated with, are to resume in the 2023/2024 academic session with letters of undertaking to be of good behavior from their guardians or parents, serving as a deterrent to others.” Ali Hassan Mohammed said.

Responding to the development, the Rector of the Polytechnic, Dr. Justina Anjide-Kotso, stated her commitment to upholding standards and academic excellence within the institution.

Dr. Anjide-Kotso made it clear that her administration would not compromise on principles, urging students to be dedicated to their studies and maintain discipline.

The incident gained public attention when images of the affected students, dressed inappropriately during a sign-out celebration months ago, went viral on social media, drawing criticism from Nigerians.

DAILY POST had reported that the school management in response to the controversy, has implemented a ban on sign-out celebrations within the campus until further notice.

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Skit maker docked for lying against Gov Otti, Aba-Ngwa people

A man, simply identified as MC Sweet, who made a fake online post claiming that Aba Ngwa indigenes tried to stop Julius Berger from constructing the Port-Harcourt Road in Aba, has been arraigned at a Magistrate Court in Aba, Abia State.

In the fake post, the online skit maker also claimed that Governor Alex Otti invited some elders and youths of Aba Ngwa to Umuahia for a peace meeting where he (Governor Otti) allegedly ordered that the indigenes be locked up.

The false and controversial post which created a sensation across the State last week, was swiftly denied by the Abia State government through Mr Dodoh Okafor, the Special Assistant on Special Communication to the Governor.

Also, the Aba Ngwa Peoples Forum, led by Chimezie Nwagba (President) and Chinedu Ahuruonye (Secretary) issued a communique disowning the report and also calling for the exposure of those behind the fake post.

They further said that they would never sabotage the Port Harcourt road contract or any other project in the State.

But the person behind the post was later nabbed by the Police and arraigned at Aba Magisterial District for trying to defame the characters of Aba Ngwa Peoples Forum members.

The charge sheet read by the Prosecutor, Mary N. Udorji said MC made the defamatory post within Aba Magisterial District, pointing out that the offence he committed was punishable under Section 375 of Criminal Code, Cap 80, Vol. 111 of Laws of Abia State Nigeria, 2005.

The charge accused MC Sweet of trying to injure the reputation of Aba Ngwa people, ridiculing and exposing them to hatred.

The accused who apologized to the Aba Ngwa Peoples Forum for the injurious social media post, begged that he be given bail so that he could do another post debunking the earlier one he made.

He was granted bail by Chief Magistrate , Erinma Enyeribe and the matter adjourned to February 29, 2024.

But it was not confirmed if MC Sweet was able to meet up with his bail conditions on Friday.

An elder of Ngwa land, Azubuike Osondu Ochieze, in his reaction, said the post tried to rubish the good name of Ngwa people.

Also, a Labour Party Chieftain, Mike Evans said Governor Alex Otti has further been vindicated and advised youths against abusing the social media space.

(Daily Post)

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Procurement fraud: Emefiele meets bail conditions, released from Kuje

A former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele has been released from the Kuje Correctional Centre after meeting up with his bail condition.

Our correspondent learnt that Emefiele was released on Friday, December 22 2023.

The spokesperson for the Kuje Correctional Centre, FCT, Adamu Duza, confirmed the development to our correspondent on Saturday.
“I can confirm to you that he (Emefiele) has met his bail conditions, hence he has no reason to remain in our facility.

“He met his bail condition and was released past 2pm yesterday (Friday),” he said.

The Federal Capital Territory High Court Abuja, had granted N300m bail to Emefiele, who is being prosecuted for alleged procurement fraud.

Justice Hamza Muazu granted the bail with two sureties in like sum.

The judge said the sureties must have certificates of occupancy and titles of properties within the Maitama District of Abuja.

He also ordered Emefiele to deposit all his travel documents with the registrar of the court, adding that he must remain within the Abuja Municipal Area Council.

The judge, however, ordered that Emefiele should remain in Kuje Correctional Centre till he meets the bail conditions.

While rejecting the objection by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to Emefiele’s bail application, Justice Muazu disagreed with the anti-graft agency that the ex-CBN governor was a flight risk and could jump bail, jeopardise investigation or threaten the security of the country if granted bail.

After granting the bail application, Justice Muazu adjourned till November 28 for the commencement of  trial.

Emefiele stood trial on six counts bordering on procurement fraud to the tune of N1.2bn.

Meanwhile, after more than four months of investigation, the Special Investigator probing the CBN, Jim Obazee, said  Emefiele and others embezzled billions of naira and committed other gross financial offences.

Obazee’s report which was submitted to President Bola Tinubu on December 9 2023, indicated that Emefiele who was in office from June 2014 to June 2023,  engaged “in fraudulent cash withdrawal of $6.23 million”, and perpetrated fraud in the redesign of the naira, while he allegedly kept 543.4 million pounds in the United Kingdom.

(Punch)

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Emefiele charged with 17 allegations by CBN investigator

The report of Jim Obaze, the Special Investigator appointed by President Bola Tinubu to investigate the activities of Godwin Emefiele as the governor of the apex bank has continued to generate reactions among Nigerians. 

The report said the Emefiele used proxies to acquire some new generation bank when held away as the governor of CBN

In the report submitted to President Tinubu on December 20, Obaze detailed a total of 17 allegations against Emefiele including how a bank was acquired in 2019 allegedly by Emefiele and a late  businessman. 

He further disclosed that the bank was acquired by the two individuals without evidence of payment

Here are the 17 allegations laid against emefiele:

1. Unauthorized funded 593 Bank accounts located in the UK, US, and China. 

2. Fraudulent cash withdrawal of $6.23 million from CBN vault under a purported approval of the president to pay foreign election observers. 

3. Gross financial misconduct by Ex CBN Governor and at least 13 other individuals, including his Deputy Governors. 

4. £543.4 million kept in fixed deposit by Mr. Emefiele. 

5. Manipulation of the Naira exchange rate and perpetration of fraud in the e-Naira project of the CBN. 

6. The Naira Redesign was neither recommended by the Board of the CBN nor approved by the then president. 

7. The CBN printed the new N200, N500, N1,000 notes at a total cost of N61.5 billion out of which N31.8 billion has been paid to the Contractor. 

8. The sum of N1.73 billion was spent on questionable legal fees on 19 cases that are directly traceable to the Naira Redesign and reconfiguration agenda. 

9. £205,000 was paid to a UK Firm for Naira Redesign effort – positioning of watermark, presence of QR codes, different numbering style, and other complex security features. 

10. Fraudulent use of Ways & Means to the tune of N26.627 trillion. 

11. Fraudulent intervention programmes. 

12. Fraudulent expenditures on COVID-19. 

13. Misrepresentation of presidential approval on the NESI Stabilization Strategy Ltd.

14. Padding of former president Buhari’s approval with N198.96 billion – approximating N801.04 billion to N1 trillion. 

15. No approvals are received from the former president and yet N500 billion was taken and debited to Ways & Means. 

16. Former CBN Governor and 4 Deputies connived to steal outrightly in order to balance the books of the CBN. 

17. No approval for the breakdown of N22.72 trillion presented to the 9th National Assembly to illegally securitize the “Ways & Means” financing. 

(Nation)

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Emefiele, ex-minister, 14 others indicted in CBN probe

  • Investigator’s report shows massive plunder of apex bank
  • N31.78b paid to print new naira notes
  • £543.45m fixed in British bank
  • N1.62tr COVID-19 funds unaccounted for

Former Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele and a minister are to face trial over the scandal that rocked the apex bank in the last one year, it was learnt yesterday.

After a five-month probe, Emefiele, the minister and 14 others who have been implicated in over N26.6 trillion fraud, have been recommended for trial.

Those implicated include former and serving top officials of the apex bank.

No fewer than 16 former government and CBN officials were alleged to have indulged in fraudulent use of ‘Ways and Means,’ which stood at N26.627 trillion.

Also, a former influential aide of former President Muhammadu Buhari may be arraigned with Emefiele.

In September 2022, the aide had allegedly told Emefiele to proceed with the naira redesign.

The printing of the new notes cost N61.5 bilion out of which N31.79 billion has been paid.

There were indications that the aide also sold a “dummy” to the former president.

Preliminary investigations into the activities of the CBN and related entities revealed many infractions, including the violation of the apex bank’s Act, alleged looting, diversion of funds and sidelining of the Board of Directors.

Other allegations were lack of presidential approval, extra budgetary spending, forgery, concealment, stealing, conspiracy and fraud.

Some documents available to The Nation, based on the report by the Office of Special Investigator, gave insights into how the rot in the CBN was perpetrated.

The Special Investigator on CBN and Related Entities, Mr. Jim Obazee, was appointed in July, 2023.

He submitted an Interim Report on December 9, 2023.

It was learnt that the final report was submitted to the President on the December 20.

The investigations exposed what a source described as a “monumental scandal”

Some documents, available to The Nation, contain some highlights of the first phase of the probe of accounts and operations of the CBN.

It was discovered that Emefiele invested public money (billions of dollars) in 593 accounts in the United States, China and the United Kingdom without authorisation.

In the UK alone, Emefiele kept £543,482, 213 in fixed deposits without authorisation by the CBN Board and the Investment Committee.

Also, about N1.7 trillion spent on COVID 19 intervention management did not get to the right beneficiaries.

Ways and Means

A major breakthrough in the probe of the CBN was the manipulation of “Ways and Means” by Emefiele and his team.

Investigations showed that the former CBN governor and those who worked with him could not produce evidence of “Ways and Means,” which now stands at N26.627trillion.

It was found out that there were instances of arbitrariness where there was no presidential approval, but billions of Naira were taken out from the nation’s Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) account.

 Some of the findings were as follows: “The CBN officers and even the then Acting CBN Governor could not produce the presidential approval of most of the expenses described as “Ways and Means”.

“When confronted to provide  the breakdown of the supposed N22,719,703,774,306.90 that was presented to the 9th  National Assembly to illegally securitise as “Ways and Means” financing, they were only able to partially explain a total of N9,063,286,720,318.92 or N9,258,040,720,318.92 (depending on which official you are considering his submission) and an  unreasonable attribution of non-negotiated/unadvised interest element of N6,678,874,321,541.97. This shows the point where the officers of the immediate past administration as well the erstwhile CBN governor and others connived, defrauded and stole from the common wealth of the country with the aid of civil servants.

“The true position of the “Ways and Means” as documented from the reconciliation between the CBN and the Ministry of Finance at the time is N4, 449, 149, 411. 584.54. This may have been the main reason the past administration hurriedly sought that the advances of N22,719,703,774,306.90 be securitised by the 9th National Assembly on the 19th December 2022; which they also hurriedly did despite the fact that it contravenes Section 38 of the CBN Act, 2007.”

“The probe showed that the CBN Governor on the 19th December 2022 “ signed an advice to the former President Muhammadu Buhari to restructure “Ways and Means” of N23,719,703,774,306.90, despite presenting a different figure to the National Assembly on the same date.

“The fact that the balance of the “Ways and Means” was documented as N26.63 trillion as at June 8, 2023 by the erstwhile CBN Governor shows an unrepentant attitude of the management of the CBN because they continued to carry the “Temporary Advances to the Federal Government” as a running current account, despite the obvious contravention of Section 38 of the CBN Act, 2007, which they swore to uphold,” the document said.

Naira redesign

Obazee, who worked with different teams of crack detectives, also uncovered the intrigues behind the naira redesign, which almost led to the collapse of the nation’s economy.

The outcome of the investigation confirmed that an ex-presidential aide gave the directive to Emefiele.

Section 19(1) of the CBN Act requires that “Naira notes and coins shall be of such forms and designs and bear such devises as shall be approved by the President on the recommendation of the Board of the CBN.”

It was unclear the circumstances under which the former presidential aide allegedly gave instructions to Emefiele.

A document said:  “The Naira Redesign was not approved by the Board of CBN and President Muhammadu Buhari in accordance with the law. Buhari only tagged along. Sometimes in September 2022, the erstwhile Governor of the CBN claimed that during his visit to the Presidential Villa, one of the presidential aides told him to go and consider redesigning the Naira.

“On 6th of October, 2022, Emefiele wrote Buhari seeking approval to redesign and reconfigure N1,000, N500, N200 and N100 notes. Buhari approved the proposal same day. But Buhari approved the currency be printed in Nigeria.

“On that 6th October 2022, former President Muhammadu Buhari approved Emefiele’s request and directed that he should redesign and reconfigure the four denominations of the Naira notes as prayed, but should print them locally.

“Emefiele did not consult with the management of the CBN or seek any recommendation from the Board of the CBN as required by Section 19 of the CBN Act, 2007.

“Emefiele did not seek the recommendation of the Board of the CBN nor revert to former President Muhammadu Buhari to inform him nor seek his presidential approval for the new redesigns and the fact that he is now recommending only three denominations

“Emefiele took the redesigns, a mere change of colour to De La Rue in UK for a fee of £205,000. Only N1, 000, N500 and N200 were redesigned.

“As at August 9, 2023, N769 billion of the new notes were in circulation. The printing cost was N61.5 billion, out of which N31.79 billion has been paid.

In a separate document, the probe confirmed the investment of billions of dollars in 593 foreign accounts in the United States, China and the United Kingdom without approval from the board or the President.

“The former governor of the CBN invested Nigeria’s money without authorisation in 593 foreign accounts in the United States, China and the United Kingdom while he was in charge.

“All the accounts where the billions were lodged have all been traced by the investigator, In the UK alone, Emefiele kept £543,482, 213 in fixed deposits without authorization by the CBN board and the Investment Committee of the bank,” the document added

COVID-19 intervention funds

Another scandal which was unearthed was the inability to trace about N1.62 trillion COVID-19 intervention funds.

It was discovered that “the N1,622,119,412,095.16 was surreptitiously transferred to the following individuals and organizations: Police Trust Fund(N29,750,000,000.00); Companies and individuals (N22,680, 275, 135.45); borrowed for salaries (N720, 682,827,000.00); Donations to public (N40,000,000,000.00); Office of Accountant-General of the Federation (N196, 190,789,994.72); MDAs (N303,514, 294,725.21); and others (N293,986, 243,831.39).

Diversion of N17b by DMB

On the Nigeria Electricity Supply Industry (NESI), the former CBN Governor was accused of unlawful manipulation of the approval of the President.

Investigation indicated that 14 Deposit Money Banks (DMB) were involved in what is termed “criminal diversion of N17, 232,349, 193.55.

But the list of the 14 banks was still kept under wraps as at press time.

A source said: “We have the list which includes some rated banks. But at the appropriate time, Nigerians will know them.”

Two of the banks are to refund over N3 billion each.

The least amount to be refunded is N8, 902, 081 by a reputable bank.

Also a web management firm is to refund N4.8 billion, being the sum said to have been illegally diverted from NESI Stabilisation Strategy Limited.

Explaining what Emefiele did, the synopsis of the investigation on NESI was as follows: “The Presidential Approval granted by the then President Goodluck Jonathan was rightly stated by him that NESI should be a Company Limited by Guarantee, but the Committee of Governors misled the Board of the Central Bank of Nigeria by inter-alia:

“Relying on a non-existent advice by the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, to incorporate a Company Limited by Shares for which the Allotted Share Capital exceeded the Authorized Share Capital (See 380% Meeting of the Committee of Governors held in January 2015); and

 ”Allotting unauthorised share capital without lawful approval by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Investigation also spotted illegal Issuance of Debentures by NESI Stabilisation Strategy Limited.

“There was misrepresentation of Presidential Approval (NESI Stabilisation Strategy Limited). NESI, as approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan, was supposed to be an SPV limited by Guarantee, but Emefiele, relying on a non-existent advice, made it a company limited by shares.

“By law, an SPV cannot issue Debentures, as it is precluded from forming a Debenture Trust. Worse still, a virgin entity without any operational track record cannot issue Debentures as it has no trading or earnings history to justify the requirements of the Debenture issue.

“Despite these, the Committee of Governors of the Central Bank of Nigeria on the date of its Meeting of 21st  January 2015,  caused a violation of Section 31 of the CBN Act, 2007 by authorising the issuance of Debentures by NESI Stabilization Strategy Limited to which the initial sum of N64,861,954,000.00 (Sixty Four Billion, Eight Hundred and Sixty One Million, Nine Hundred and Fifty Four Thousand Only), was diverted from Public Funds under the guise of Debenture issuance. This practice has grown to N952,414,745,000 (Nine Hundred and Fifty Two Billion, Four Hundred and Fourteen Million, Seven  Hundred and Forty Five Thousand Naira Only) by the Financial Year end 2021”, the document added.

“N1.325billion was stolen pre-incorporation and the money was funneled to four companies, including a legal firm which got N300 million.”

The note on the allegations against some banks read: “A total of 14 DMBs engaged in the manipulation by unlawfully arranging and collecting 1.9535 percent of the total disbursements paid to the DMBs participating in the Nigerian Electricity Market Stabilisation facility.

“The fees are paid to the banks in the ratio of their contributions to the NEMSF disbursement, according to External Auditor’s Notes to the Financial] Statement of NESI Stabilisation Strategy Limited.”

Also, a firm linked with some CBN officials was paid N4, 897,789,000 allegedly “illegally diverted from NESI Stabilisation Strategy Limited.”

(Nation)

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Publish FCC job racketeering findings, CSO tells Reps

A civil society organisation has called on the House of Representatives to publish their findings on the alleged job racketeering in the Federal Character Commission.

The PUNCH had earlier reported that the Executive Chairperson of the Federal Character Commission, Dr Muheeba Dankaka, was accused of highhandedness and job racketeering, selling employment to an employee of the commission for N3m in January 2021.

Also, documents made available to The PUNCH showed that on November 29, 2022, a certain Jalo Badamasi sent the sum of N3m through his Access Bank account to the bank account of the former Desk Officer for Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System of FCC, Haruna Kolo.

Kolo, while testifying before the Reps ad hoc committee investigating the matter, said, “It is the Sheu that brings so many people, almost 25 of them. One will pay N1m; the other will pay N1.5m, all to my account. After, she instructed me to give her the cash in instalment.”

However, the Reps committee has kept quiet on the matter since the completion of the investigation.

Speaking in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, the Executive Director, Human Rights & Justice Group International, Prince Nze, cautioned against hiding the report from the public.

He also called on the Federal Government to take action on the matter to serve as a deterrent to others.

He said, “In the interest of social justice, it is left for the government to take decisive actions. If not, other agencies will continue imitating such an act and there is no way the country can move forward if the government continues to keep deaf ears on issues like this.”

(Punch)

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Don’t hand over P’Harcourt refinery to cabal, NLC warns FG

The Nigeria Labour Congress has warned against a possible takeover of the Port Harcourt Refinery by cabals of government.

The union also demanded an audit of the refinery and called on the Federal Government to purge the refinery of “elements” that led to its collapse in the first instance.

NLC Head of Information, Benson Upah, made this known in an interview with our correspondent in Abuja.

Saturday PUNCH reports that the Federal Government on Thursday announced the “mechanical completion” and the “flare start-off” of the country’s biggest crude refinery in Port Harcourt.

The Minister of state for Petroleum Resources (Oil), Heineken Lokpobiri, made the announcement during a media tour of the Port Harcourt refinery on Thursday.

“Just to announce to Nigerians the fulfilment of our pledge to bring on stream Phase One of the Port Harcourt refinery by the end of 2023 and the subsequent streaming of Phase Two in 2024. We happily announced the mechanical completion and the flare start-off on the 20th of December 2023,” Lokpobiri said on Thursday.

The Port Harcourt Refinery comprises two units, with the old plant having a refining capacity of 60,000 barrels per day and the new plant 150,000 bpd, both summing up to 210,000 bpd.

The facility shut down in March 2019 for the first phase of repair works after the government secured the service of Italy’s Maire Tecnimont to handle the review of the refinery complex, with oil major, Eni, appointed as technical adviser.

Speaking on Thursday, the minister explained that production of petroleum products at the refinery would commence after the Christmas break.

Commenting on the matter, NLC’s Upah said, “Indeed, if it has commenced operation after countless rescheduling, it will be a plus for this government.

“As you graciously pointed out, we have over the years rooted for domestic refining for obvious advantages; cheaper products, multiplicity of products, jobs, product security/availability and more income.

“Some privileged Nigerians routinely sabotage our local refineries for their personal gains so they could be richer than our country makes Nigeria a paradise of crimes and sins with no redeeming qualities.

“While we at the Nigeria Labour Congress would like to commend the authorities for resumed operations, we would like to make the point that it is not enough to resume operations, the place must be purged of the people, habits and crimes that brought it to its knees in the first place.

“We must also warn against the implementation of devilish designs by the all-too-familiar cabal to start operations, collapse the refineries as inoperable to sell them off as scraps to themselves.”

On his part, the National Deputy President of the Trade Union Congress, Tommy Etim, said, “I cannot confirm whether it is true until we visit the Port Harcourt refinery as agreed with the Federal Government.”

On whether a date has been fixed for visitation, Etim said, “no date fixed yet.”

(Punch)

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How Emefiele used proxies to acquire banks – CBN investigator

…says ex-CBN gov sold banks without payment evidence, recommends lenders’ forfeiture to FG

Report reveals how former apex bank boss approved interest-free loans for cronies

The report of the special investigation into the activities of the Central Bank of Nigeria has accused the immediate past governor of the apex bank, Godwin Emefiele, of using ill-gotten wealth to acquire banks for himself through proxies.

According to the report, Emefiele used proxies to acquire Union Bank of Nigeria for Titan Trust Bank Limited, as well as Keystone Bank without any evidence of payment.

As a result, it recommends that the Federal Government should reverse the sale of the banks and also take them over.

The special investigator, Jim Obazee, had on Wednesday submitted the report of his investigations into the acquisition of Union Bank and Keystone Bank to President Bola Tinubu in two separate letters dated December 20, 2023.

This is coming on the heels of findings by the investigator that Emefiele illegally lodged billions of naira in foreign currencies in no fewer than 593 bank accounts in the United States, United Kingdom, and China without the approval of the apex bank’s board of directors and the CBN Investment Committee.

Obazee found out that the ex-CBN governor lodged £543,482,213 in fixed deposits in UK banks alone without authorisation.

Emefiele, who is currently in the Kuje Custodial Centre, is being prosecuted for N1.2bn procurement fraud.

Obazee, who was appointed special investigator in July, submitted his final report tagged, ‘Report of the Special Investigation on CBN and Related Entities (Chargeable offences)’ to the President on Wednesday.

He had earlier submitted an interim report on the probe of the CBN and related entities on December 9.

In his letters to the President, Obazee said he had completed his investigation into the illegal acquisition of Union Bank by Titan Bank, and was on the verge of recovering the two banks for the Federal Government.

He stated in his letter to the President, “When we carried out the investigation, we discovered that some persons were used as proxies by Mr Godwin Emefiele to set up Titan Trust Bank and acquire Union Bank therefrom, all from ill-gotten wealth.

“We were able to secure some documents and investigation reports will lead to the forfeiture of the two banks to the Federal Government. We have completed our investigation on this acquisition and have also held meetings with the relevant parties except for Mr Cornelis Vink, who is currently hospitalised in Switzerland.

“Otherwise, we are on the verge of recovering these two banks for the Federal Government.”

During the probe into the UBN acquisition supervised by the Emefiele-led CBN, Obazee explained that he requested the apex bank to furnish him with the details of the deal.

Findings indicate Titan Trust Bank sought the CBN’s no-objection to its proposed consolidation with UBN, excluding its United Kingdom operations via a letter dated October 25, 2021.

In the letter, TTB stated that the consolidation was being contemplated in four phases via acquisition of 91.5 per cent of the issued shares of UBN; mandatory tender offer for the remaining UBN shares; buyout of any share that were not voluntarily sold to TTB on the MTO; and merger of TTB and UBN with UBN as the surviving entity.

The TTB letter also stated that the consolidation was to be funded via a combination of debt and equity.

The CBN in a letter dated March 9, 2022 granted no-objection to TTB’s requests to obtain a $300m facility from Afrexim Bank as well as capital injection of $175m from two existing shareholders of TTB, Luxis International DMCC and Magna International DMCC.

The TTB, via a letter dated June 3, 2022, informed the CBN that it made the payment of the purchase consideration to the selling shareholders on June 1, 2022, and thus completed the acquisition of 93.41 per cent of the issued shares of UBN.

According to the investigator, the TTB sought approval for the mandatory takeover of the remaining 6.59 per cent of UBN shares vide a letter dated October 14, 2022.

The MTO was reportedly triggered by the successful acquisition of 93.41 per cent of the UBN shares and TTB was granted a no-objection to acquire the remaining 6.59 per cent shares through a letter dated October 24, 2022.

On November 2, 2022, the TTB officially launched the MTO, offering to acquire the remaining shares and the MTO concluded with the TTB purchasing an additional 0.64 per cent of the issued shares of UBN, thus bringing its total shareholding to 94.05 per cent.

To approve a scheme arrangement between itself and the holders of the balance of 5.95 per cent shares not yet bought by the TTB following an order of the Federal High Court, the UBN convened a meeting on June 13, 2023.

This was expected to result in the transfer of the outstanding UBN shares to TTB.

The investigation report noted, “The process to acquire the remainder of 5.95 per cent of the issued share capital of UBN by TTB is ongoing through a court-ordered scheme of arrangement between itself and the holders of the balance of 5.95 percent.

“TTB stated that its ultimate objective is to acquire 100 per cent of the total outstanding shares of UBN.”

Further investigation showed that TTB is owned by Luxis International DMCC and Magna International DMCC, said to be based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The two firms were said to be owned by Vink Corporation Middle East FZC, which is controlled by Cornelis Vink.

However, efforts to verify the corporate status of Luxis and Magna in Dubai failed as they did not have a physical presence in the Arab country as claimed.

“This contravenes Section 3(5) of the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act, 2020. Accordingly, they are not supposed to be allowed to operate or acquire a bank in Nigeria,” the report declared.

It stated, “The special investigator probed the activities of the TTB and discovered that there is a mysterious shareholder who has given interest-free long-term loan to (with no fixed repayment schedule) to the entities mentioned above (Luxis International DMCC and Magna International DMCC). This mysterious shareholder is believed to be Mr Godwin Emefiele.

“The special investigator requested the supposed owner of TTB and ultimate acquirer of Union Bank of Nigeria, Mr Cornelis Vink, to submit proof of funds, internationally verifiable bank statements (from incorporation of the entities to date), and the shareholder that gave interest-free loans to the two entities separately, names, nationality, source of fund, proof of fund, bank statements) as well as relationship of the entities with Mr Andrew Ojei, Jerome Shogbon, Rahul Savara, Winston Odeh, Adaeze Udensi, Ekene Louis, Godwin Emefiele, Macombe Omoile, Tunde Lemo, Mudassir Amry, Faruk Gumel, Oluremi Oni, and Vink Corporation Middle East FCZ together with the details of the shareholder that also gave Vink Corporation interest-free loan and your good self.

“A letter came from Union Bank of Nigeria claiming he is sick and can only come to meet with the special investigator or submit the documents requested when he gets well by the end of September 2023. As of today, December 20, 2023, we are yet to hear from him nor receive any of the requested documents.

“We are informed that they want to seek a political solution. The special investigator is of the view that the TTB and UBN be recovered by the Federal Government, strengthened and sold in the nearest future.

“A meeting was initially scheduled for December 5, 2023, with the Board of Directors of the two banks by the CBN Deputy Governor for Financial System Stability to close out discussions on this matter. The meeting has been postponed.”

On the alleged acquisition of Keystone by Emefiele through proxies, the investigator explained that sometime in 2017, the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria moved N20bn to Heritage Bank and on the back of that, the bank granted N25bn loan to the promoters of Isa Funtua/Emefiele Group’s acquisition vehicle to buy Keystone Bank and the loan was further backed by the shares of the bank.

Upon acquisition, Keystone reportedly returned the N20bn to Heritage Bank as placement and Heritage thereafter repaid AMCON from the cash flow so created.

The report read in part, “When the loan granted by Heritage Bank to Isa Funtua/Emefiele’s acquisition vehicles matured with outstanding balance, the MD of Heritage Bank, which was then in serious liquidity crisis, called for repayment. Unfortunately for the shareholders of the bank, the Funtua/Emefiele group could not repay.

“Consequently, the MD of Heritage Bank got his lawyers to write to the bank on two occasions threatening to take over Keystone Bank based on the shares they had pledged as security.

“After much pressure from him, Keystone Bank created internal loans of about N50bn between June and October 2019 and moved the proceeds to repay Heritage Bank on behalf of the shareholders.

“Before this, Godwin Emefiele as governor of the central bank had mounted pressure on the bank for these loans to be created within Keystone Bank on behalf of their group.

“However, the MD of the bank at that time resigned due to the consistent pressure from him and the shareholders to comply.

“The next in command, the deputy managing director, who subsequently became the acting MD, also resigned within three months for the same reason.

“Thereafter, an executive director, who then became the acting MD, took his vacation to avoid pressure for the approval of the loans. Unfortunately, the GM, Risk Management (Mr Tijjani Aliyu) and GM, Corporate Banking (Mr Niran Olayinka) approved the loans (about N50bn) while he was away and moved the proceeds to Heritage Bank for the repayment of the shareholders’ loans. The above loans, which are not being repaid currently, have total outstanding balance in excess of N64bn.”

The investigation also found that the credit approval memoranda were passed by the two GMs to the bank’s chairman, Alhaji Umaru Modibbo, who gave the final approval for disbursement, adding that the process bypassed the Management Credit Committee, Board Credit Committee and full board before disbursement.

“As a reward, the two GMs were immediately appointed executive directors, while one of them became the MD over the acting MD, who used to supervise him. The internal loans so created are not being serviced and have gone bad,” Obazee submitted.

The investigator informed the President that he had commenced the interrogation of the AMCON managing director on the acquisition of both Polaris and Keystone banks besides Arik Air, Aero Contractors and financial reporting by AMCON.

The AMCON MD was said to have told the investigator that “the N898bn liquidity support into Polaris Bank is not part of the SPA, which it should” and that “the N50bn paid for the transaction by the preferred bidder is not received by AMCON.”

Obazee said a preliminary review of the case showed that “Keystone was acquired for free as did Polaris Bank and the special investigator should liaise with the CBN to recover these two banks to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”

Counsel for Emefiele, Matthew Bukkaa, SAN, could not be reached for comments on the allegations levelled against his client.

He had yet to reply to a message sent to him on the matter as of the time of filing this report.

(Punch)

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Price of Kerosene dropped in November, says NBS

A new report from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has revealed a litre of Kerosene cost N1287.10 in November 2023, 1.23 per cent less than the amount it was sold in October.

The statistics bureau’s data, which Naija News saw on Friday, showed that, in November, the price of kerosene per liter fell by 1.23 percent from the N1,303 per liter it sold for in October.

According to the study, kerosene sold for N1,588.10, N1,521.97, and N1,512.50 in Adamawa, Imo, and Abuja, respectively, with the highest average price per liter reported in these three states.

The report further detailed that Kerosene sold at its lowest in Kwara, Osun and Zamfara.

The NBS report read, “The average retail price per litre of Household Kerosene (HHK) paid by consumers in November 2023 was N1287.10, indicating a decline of 1.23% when compared to N1,303.16 recorded in October 2023. On a year-on-year basis, the average retail price per litre of the product rose by 18.78% from N1,083.57 in November 2022. On state profile analysis, the highest average price per litre in November 2023 was recorded in Adamawa with N1,588.10, followed by Imo with N1,521.97 and Abuja with N1,512.50

“On the other hand, the lowest price was recorded in Kwara with N937.50, followed by Osun with N1,100.00 and Zamfara with N1,125.00. In addition, analysis by zone showed that the South-East recorded the highest average retail price per litre of House hold Kerosene with N1,384.49, followed by the North-East with N1,367.81, while the North-West recorded the lowest with N1,226.75. The average retail price per gallon of Household Kerosene paid by consumers in November 2023 was N4,583.44, showing an increase of 0.03% from N4,581.89 in October 2023. On a year-on-year basis, this increased by 27.51% from N3,594.44 in November 2022.”

(Dailytimes)

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Gunmen kill Kwara doctor, kidnap teenage daughter

Residents of Kambi community along Ilorin/Jebba Expressway in Moro Local Government Area of Kwara State were on Thursday left in shock as some gunmen invaded the home of a medical practitioner, Dr David Adefikayo, killed him and kidnapped his 16-year-old daughter.

PUNCH Online gathered that the gunmen stormed the residence of the Medical Director of Dafikayo Clinic in Kambi around 8.30pm on Thursday, shooting sporadically and killed the doctor.

The motives behind the act remained unclear as of the time of filing this report.

A close family source who pleaded anonymity recounted the horrifying incident, expressing shock and grief.

She said, “The assailants, whose motives remain unclear, gained entry into Dr Adefikayo’s home around 8.30pm, and despite the doctor’s desperate pleas and offers of money or any other possessions they might wish to take, the gunmen remained resolute in their deadly intent, tragically executing their horrific mission in front of his horrified wife and children.

“Adding to the family’s anguish, the assailants abducted the youngest child of the deceased, a 16-year-old girl, before fleeing the scene.”

PUNCH Online gathered that the abducted girl was later released on Friday and has since been reunited with her family.

The spokesperson of the Kwara State Police Command, Ejire-Adeyemi Adetoun, confirmed the incident, noting that the investigation is ongoing.

Adetoun, who did not respond to calls made to her phone number on Friday, told a local newspaper in Ilorin that the command had launched a manhunt as the operatives led by the DPO of Kambi/Oloru Divisional Police Headquarters are currently combing the bush in Moro and Ifelodun Local Government Areas of the state.

(Punch)

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Navy recovers over 803,000 barrels of crude oil worth 105bn

The Nigerian Navy said operatives across the country recovered a total of 803 barrels of crude oil valued at N105bn in 2023.

The service also said a total of 703 illegal refining sites, 690 Cotonou boats laden with stolen crude, and 116 speed boats were destroyed by operatives of the Nigerian Navy.

The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Emmanuel Ogalla disclosed this at a press conference in Abuja on Friday.

He said, “I am delighted to report that between January and December 2023, the NN destroyed 703 illegal refining sites and arrested 5 barges, 690 cotonou boats laden with stolen crude, 116 speed boats as well as 232 suspects engaged in COT. During the period, 82 vehicles/trucks and 23 vessels were also arrested.  Among the vessels arrested include MT Marine Express;  MT Cecilia, MT Ufuoma, MT Vigor I, MV Barge Ayeba Eneni; FT Lamu I, and MT   Vinnalaris I  Lagos among others.

“Arising from these, 46, 369,219 ltrs of AGO, 2,472,200 ltrs of DPK and 438, 886 ltrs of PMS were recovered. Similarly, the NN recovered 803, 353.20 bbls of crude oil. At current market values, the seizures made translate to about N105bn.”

Ogalla also said the Navy recovered 692 bags of cannabis worth N1.38bn

He said, “Additionally the NN has been active in the fight against illicit-drugs trafficking especially within the maritime domain. Between April and November 2023, the NN arrested 692 bags of Cannabis Sativa, worth about One Billion, Three Hundred and Eighty-Four Thousand Naira. The products have since been handed over to the NDLEA as required by law.”

(Punch)

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FG’ll pull 50 million out of poverty in 42 months – Minister

The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Dr Betta Edu, has said that the Federal Government is working on a strategy to pull 50 million people out of poverty in the next 42 months.

Edu stressed that President Bola Tinubu is deliberate in different poverty alleviation programmes to help the vulnerable in the country.

She spoke on Thursday while appearing in an interview on Channels TV’s Politics Today.

The minister added that the efforts will be between her ministry and other interested ministries, adding that the collective efforts will ensure economic growth in the country.

She said,  “We are drawing out a strategy to be able to get 50 million persons out of poverty within 42 months. Now, that is not just going to be only the job of my ministry to do. There is going to be an inter-sectorial collaboration with other ministries, for instance, the Ministry of Trade and Industries. Of course, they have the SMEs and the president has provided some loans for persons doing small little businesses across the nation.

“Government is very intentional. President Bola Tinubu is someone who cares about the poor and the vulnerable in the society. He does all within his power to ensure that the pain is taken off from Nigerians.

“There are different strategies. We are working with international partners and the World Bank. What is at the back of our mind is that 50 million people would be pulled out of poverty in 42 months.”

The minister also noted that the Federal Government has resumed payment for N-Power beneficiaries of the programme.

She revealed the payment of arrears to beneficiaries which was started on Wednesday (yesterday) will continue until the last person is paid.

“Presently, a payment for N-Power is ongoing; we were in the office yesterday up until the early hours of this morning, just to ensure that young people get monies that they have been owed from the last government.

“So, N-Power beneficiaries across the nation, I am sure you can attest to the fact that you are seeing your money in your accounts and this process will continue until the last person who indeed has served is being paid.

“And of course, all of this is being restructured to ensure that we reduce unemployment and create jobs for Nigerians,” Edu said

(Punch)

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Emefiele spent N1.7bn defending naira redesign in court – CBN investigator

An independent report has indicted the embattled former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Godwin Emefiele, of spending over N1.7 billion on legal fees for suits instituted against the naira redesign policy introduced during former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

According to the report by The PUNCH on Friday, Emefiele spent questionable legal fees for 19 cases instituted against the policy.

The report quoted Emefiele as also using N1.325 billion, for what was described as “stolen pre-incorporation,” adding that the money was funneled to four companies, including a legal firm that got N300 million.

Between 2015 and 2021, an investment company was said to have collected unlawfully a total of N4.89bn.

A breakdown indicated that the firm received N262mn in 2015, N464mn in 2016, N550mn in 2017, N726mn in 2018, N762 in 2019, N684 in 2020, and N1.44bn in 2021, totaling N4.89bn.

Continuing, the reports further indicted Emefiele of also allegedly paying N17.2bn to 14 deposit money banks participating in the Nigerian Electricity Market Stabilisation Facility.

Among the people who instituted an action against Emefiele on the policy were eight states, including Kaduna, Kogi, Zamfara, Ekiti, Kano, and Ondo, while disagreeing with the deadlines for the use of old Naira notes in the country.

The suit came as a result of the difficulties caused by the policy in the lives of citizens, the practicality of the deadline, and the constitutionality of the policy.

Aside from the states, another litigant was a Lagos-based lawyer, Tope Alabi, who approached the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos for leave to initiate contempt proceedings against the ex-CBN governor for alleged disobedience of the Supreme Court orders on its naira redesign policy.

Alabi made the application via a March 27 ex parte motion in the suit, with Emefiele listed as the sole respondent.

Describing the naira swap as a “cash confiscation policy,” he said it had affected the day-to-day running of his office as his staff could not make it to work daily due to the non-availability of physical cash, adding that commercial drivers “do not have a point of sale device/machine to collect fares.”

The lawyer filed a 28-page affidavit in support of his application wherein he claimed that the Supreme Court on March 10, in Suit No. SC. 162/2023, “directed Emefiele to make available and allow the old naira notes of N200, N500, and N1000 to co-exist as legal tender with the new N200, N500, and N1000 notes till December 2023.”

“The respondent who had withdrawn N200, N500 and 1000 old notes from circulation on 10 February 2023 has refused to comply with the Order of the Supreme Court made on 10 March 2023 till date by releasing the old notes to circulation.”

The document also stated, “The CBN also went further by authorising the issuance of debenture for the NESI SPV, starting with N64.8bn in 2015. By 2021, N952bn debenture had been issued. The investigator said the money was diverted from public funds.’’

It was further gathered that Emefiele could be tried for alleged manipulation of the naira exchange rate, fraudulent implementation of the e-naira project, and exemption of three foreign firms from paying income tax.

(Punch)

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Buhari’s nephew, not former President approved naira redesign – CBN investigator

The Special Investigator on the Central Bank of Nigeria and Related Entities, Jim Obazee, has indicated that the recent naira redesign wasn’t expressly approved by former President Muhammadu Buhari.

Obazee had gathered that the approval came from Buhari’s aide, Sabiu Tunde ‘Yusuf’.

This was contained in the investigator’s final report tagged, ‘Report of the Special Investigation on CBN and Related Entities (Chargeable Offences) submitted to President Bola Tinubu on Wednesday.

Recall that Obazee, a former Executive Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria, was named by Tinubu as the CBN special investigator in a letter dated July 28, 2023, sighted by The PUNCH.

The report revealed that it was the embattled former CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, who, in collaboration with Sabiu, implemented the naira redesign.

Sabiu is the former President’s nephew.

The PUNCH reports that Emefiele, who is currently in Kuje Custodial Centre, is being prosecuted for N1.2bn in procurement fraud.

He has not been able to perfect the N300m bail granted him by the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory on November 22, 2023.

However, documents obtained by our correspondent on Thursday indicated that the former apex bank governor might face fresh criminal charges over the handling of the CBN naira redesign policy.

Emefiele could be “prosecuted for illegal issuance of currency under Section 19 of the CBN Act alongside Tunde Sabiu and the 12 top directors of the CBN.”

It was gathered that the naira redesign policy was sold to Buhari at the instance of Sabiu and that the initiative was done without the approval of the board of the CBN.

Buhari didn’t approve naira redesign

The investigator found that Buhari didn’t approve of the naira redesign. It was Tunde Sabiu who first told Emefiele in September 2022 to consider the redesign of the naira.

“On October 6, 2022, Emefiele wrote to Buhari that he wanted to redesign and reconfigure the N1000, N500, and N200 notes.

“The former president tagged along but did not approve the redesign as required by law. Buhari merely approved that the currency be printed in Nigeria. The redesign was only mentioned to the board of the CBN on December 15, 2022, after Emefiele had awarded the contract to Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Plc on October 31, 2022,’’ the documents noted.

Emefiele was said to have contracted the redesign of the naira to De La Rue of the UK for £205,000 under the vote of the head of the Currency Operations Department after Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Plc said it could not deliver the contract within a short timeframe.

It further showed that “the special investigator found that N61.5bn was earmarked for the printing of the new notes, out of which N31.79bn had been paid.

“As of August 9, 2023, findings revealed that N769bn of the new notes were in circulation.

“The probe of the CBN also revealed the fraudulent use of N26.627tn Ways and Means of the Apex Bank as well as the misuse of the COVID-19 intervention fund.

“For instance, the CBN under Emefiele at its 661st meeting held on October 27, 2020, approved that the Consolidated Revenue Fund Account should be debited with the sum of N124.860bn, and the decision was implemented on October 9.

“Similarly, the Committee of Governors, at its 670th meeting held on December 9, 2020, granted ‘anticipatory approval’ pending receipt of a formal request by Mr President and ratification by the board of directors for the payment of the sum of N250bn only to the Federal Government of Nigeria to address challenges as a result of low revenue inflow and the payment of salaries.

“The decision was implemented on December 15, 2020.”

The CBN investigator discovered that the CBN Ways and Means was abused under the Buhari administration.

The PUNCH reports that under the CBN Act, the Ways and Means provision allows the government to borrow from the apex bank if it needs short-term or emergency finance to fund delayed government expected cash receipts of fiscal deficits.

Meanwhile, The PUNCH earlier reported that it cost the CBN and its subsidiary about N74.84bn to produce and roll out currencies, including new naira notes, in 2022.

Despite the scarcity of naira that plagued the country in the latter months of 2022, the CBN spent 40.42 per cent more than the N53.29bn it spent in the preceding year to roll out currencies.

(Punch)

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Airlines to refund 25% to passengers for cancelled flights – NCAA

The Acting Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Capt. Chris Najomo has said that from January 2024, airlines found wanting to have delayed passengers and whose actions cause delay or flight cancellations would be made to give affected travellers a 25 per cent rebate on their next flight with the airline.

Najomo stated this at a meeting with a group of aviation stakeholders in his office in Lagos on Tuesday, noting that the NCAA would make a wide range of decisions that would help the aviation industry in terms of consumer protection and airport certification.

He also promised new policies on the mode of handing over aerodromes to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria by the state government among others.

He said the directive had been communicated to the carriers, stressing that the action would engender efficiency in the sector that has made air travel no longer enjoyable as travellers continue to decry the attitude of many of the airlines and the total lack of consumer protection.

He, however, noted that some of the problems that cause flight delays or cancellations are caused by factors beyond the airlines’ control.

He further stated that the aviation regulatory body was doing so much in-house to reduce the menace that has taken the joy out of air travel.

Najomo said, “The airlines are biting more than they can chew. Lack of planning is causing some of the delays we are experiencing. Some airlines for instance have less than four aircraft and they want to fly all the routes. That is not possible because four aircraft capacity cannot sustain the type of operations you are doing.

“Some of the delays, and cancellations by Air Peace are because you want to go everywhere when there may not be adequate aircraft to cover that volume of operations”.

Najomo also said that a policy would be made to ensure that the state-owned airports are run by the state governments for at least five years before they are handed over to FAAN to manage.

According to him, out of the 32 airports in the country, only about six are viable — Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport Abuja, Port-Harcourt International Airport, Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano and Owerri Airport.

He said the regulatory authorities are ‘forced’ to spend revenue earned from four viable terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Kano to subsidise operations in these other airports managed by FAAN.

From estimation, he said at least N400bn have so far been expended on such projects by the states, a development which observers reckon as a mere conduit to siphon public funds than for economic interests.

He added, “Many of these airports are for political reasons. Most of the airports are unviable; built without traffic in mind and leaving the burden to the Federal Government to shoulder. Airports should be a catalyst for economic development. It has to be well thought through. It becomes a problem when an airport will not generate economic returns.”

(Punch)

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Police arrest three suspects with two human hearts

Operatives of the Zone 2 Police Command, comprising Lagos and Ogun states, have arrested three men with two human hearts.

This was made known in Lagos on Thursday by the Zonal Public Relations Officer, SP Tunni Ayuba, who stated that the human hearts were discovered while searching the house of one of the suspects in the Oke-Ola area of Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State.

The police spokesperson said that during interrogation, the suspect implicated a man, whom he claimed to have paid N50,000 to assist in obtaining two human hearts.

The second suspect identified the third suspect as the source of the human parts.

According to SP Ayuba, investigation is ongoing, adding that the two suspected human hearts have been sent to the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital for examination.

(Daily Post)

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Ex-lawmaker, six others in police net over alleged criminal activities in Enugu

The Enugu State Police Command says it has arrested seven suspects, including a former councillor, for alleged criminal activities within Enugu metropolis.

A statement issued by the state’s Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Daniel Ndukwe said the police recovered six firearms, 16 live cartridges, and a snatched motor vehicle from the six suspects.

The PPRO stated that police operatives serving in the Abakpa Police Division, in collaboration with the Neighbourhood Watch Group, on December 6, arrested the former lawmaker, Henry Agbo Ogbonna and six others.

He said the former lawmaker represented Ikiriki Ward 6, Enugu South Local Government Area.

“The suspect and cohorts, who escaped, had attacked their male victim, dispossessed him of his phones and snatched his Toyota Camry car in the process,” he said.

He disclosed that they were on the verge of escaping when police operatives swooped on them, arrested the suspect, and recovered one locally-made double-barreled pistol and the vehicle.

(Daily Post)

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Nigeria’s unemployment rate rises to 4.2 per cent in Q2 2023 – NBS

Nigeria’s unemployment rate increased by 0.1 per cent to 4.2 per cent in the second quarter from 4.1 per cent in Q1 2023.

The National Bureau of Statistics latest report on Nigeria Labour Survey Force Q2 2023 disclosed.

According to NBS the employment-to-population ratio was 77.1 per cent in Q2 2023 and the combined rate of unemployment, time-related underemployment as a share of the labour force population, stood at 15.5 per cent in the period under review.

It noted that the unemployment rate among youth aged (15-24 years) in Q2 2023 increased to 7.2 per cent from 6.9 per cent in Q1 2023.

The data further showed that most workers in Nigeria, around 88.0 per cent were in self-employment in Q2 2023.

Meanwhile, only 12 per cent proportion of workers are in Wage Employment in the period under study.

In perspective, the informal employment rate in Q2 2023 stood at 92.7 per cent.

The report added that the Unemployment rate in urban areas increased to 5.9 per cent in Q2 2023 from 5.4 per cent in the previous quarter.

“The unemployment rate in Q2 2023 was 4.2 per cent, this is an increase of 0.1 per cent from the figure recorded in Q1 2023 (4.1 per cent).

“The labour force participation rate among the working-age population remained high at 80.4 per cent in Q2 2023.The employment-to-population ratio was 77.1 per cent in Q2 2023.The combined rate of unemployment and time-related underemployment as a share of the labour force population (LU2) was 15.5 per cent in Q2 2023.

“The rate of unemployment among persons with post-secondary education was 8 per cent in Q2 2023.The Unemployment rate among youth aged (15-24 years) in Q2 2023 was 7.2 per cent having been at 6.9 per cent in Q1 2023.

“The Unemployment rate in urban areas was 5.9 per cent in Q2 2023, an increase from 5.4 per cent in Q1 2023.Time-related underemployment in Q2 2023 was 11.8 per cent. 8 per cent of the working-age population were in subsistence agriculture.

“The Informal employment rate in Q2 2023 was 92.7 per cent. Percentage of youth Not in Employment, Education nor Training (NEET Rate) was 13.8 per cent,” NBS stated.

(Daily Post)

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Subsidy: Kwara labour movement demands N35,000 wage award

Kwara State Joint Labour Movement has asked the state government to implement N35,000 wage award for all categories of state workers to mitigate the hardship resulting from the fuel subsidy removal by the Federal government.

The labour movement said it was constrained to remind the state government due to its refusal to attend to the demands of the workers in the state, thus heightening fear of industrial unrest.

The request was contained in a joint statement issued in Ilorin and signed by the state Chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Murtala Saheed Olayinka, state Chairman, Trade Union Congress, Comrade Tunde Joseph, and state Chairman, Joint Negotiation Council, JNC, Comrade Saliu Oluwole.

They said the demand was in line with the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, reached between the Federal government and the organized labour after the removal of the fuel subsidy.

The statement called on the state government to domesticate and implement the 40 percent peculiar allowance for workers across the state as approved and provided for workers under federal employment.

The labour movement also demanded the implementation of consequential adjustment for pensioners and weigh-in allowances for workers in the state-owned media houses who this week embarked on a two-day warning strike to demand for better welfare.

The statement further pleaded with the state government to pay local government workers outstanding arrears and look into the outstanding arrears of promotion for 2021, 2022, and 2023 of all categories of workers in the state.

(Daily Post)

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$11bn judgment: P&ID loses bid to appeal Nigeria’s victory

A London court has quashed an $11bn damage bill against Nigeria lodged by Process & Industrial Developments Limited Gas Company.

The bill charge was brought forward against Nigeria for a collapsed gas processing project in Cross River, Nigeria.

Nigeria risked having to pay the sum – representing around a third of its foreign exchange reserves – to Process & Industrial Developments, a company based in the British Virgin Islands.

But the High Court ruled in October that P&ID paid bribes to a Nigerian oil ministry official in connection with the gas contract signed in 2010, and failed to disclose this when it took Nigeria to arbitration over the collapse of the deal.

The ruling was a major boost for Africa’s biggest economy, which is saddled with mounting debt, high inflation and unemployment, and was described by Nigerian President Bola Tinubu as a blow against economic malpractice and the exploitation of Africa.

P&ID argued that the case should be sent back to arbitration, but Judge Robin Knowles ruled on Thursday that the award should be thrown out immediately.

The judge also refused P&ID permission to appeal, effectively ending the case as the company cannot apply for permission from the Court of Appeal.

According to the Reuters report, a London-based spokesperson for the Nigerian government said the decision “marks the conclusion of a historic victory for the people of Nigeria.”

The trial has its origin in a failed 2010 gas deal between Nigeria and P&ID, a British Virgin Islands-registered firm founded by two Irish businessmen.

The two Irish nationals – a former music manager, Michael Quinn (who died in 2015) and his business partner Brendan Cahill had been previously contracted to repair tanks and planes for the Nigerian military.

In 2010, P&ID was awarded a 20-year contract to process gas for Nigeria’s domestic energy market.

Two years later the firm commenced arbitration proceedings, claiming that the Nigerian government had failed to build the required infrastructure for the energy project, which translated to reneging on the contract.

A resulting arbitration led to a $6.6bn award for P&ID that has now increased to more than $11bn with interest. However, the latest development almost definitively quashes the company’s chances of seeking redress through the legal system.

(Punch)

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Police dismiss constables for demanding money from Abuja-bound Dutch tourist

The Oyo State Police Command, on Thursday, dismissed two Special Constabularies identified as Jimoh Lukman and Kareem Fatai, over alleged extortion.

They were consequently stripped of the Nigerian Police uniform to further confirm their exit from the constabulary service.

The PUNCH reports that the two officers were recently caught in a viral video demanding money from a Dutch tourist riding on a power bike from the Netherlands and heading to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.

The state Commissioner of Police, Adebola Hamzat, while dismissing the officers at the state Police Command in Eleyele, Ibadan, said their dismissal from police constabulary followed a recommendation of the orderly room investigation.

He said, “The Oyo State Police Command wishes to inform the residents of the state and by extension the general public that special constabularies Kareem Fatai and Jimoh Lukmon, who were captured in a viral video dated 29/10/2023 soliciting for money from a tourist from Netherland, one Ms Noraly Schoenmaker ’f’, have been dismissed in furtherance of the completion of their orderly room trials.

“The duo deliberately defied numerous orders and directives against professional misconduct extortion, incivilities towards members of the public and corruption.

“Consequent to the above, the command reaffirms its commitment towards fighting corruption and all cases of professional misconduct at all times by causing a deliberate increase in the layers of supervision of field officers to be handled by the command’s X-squad and monitoring unit this Yuletide season and beyond.

“Lastly, while this action is to serve as deterrence to other officers with a similar disposition, special constabularies Kareem Fatai and Jimoh Lukmon cease to be part of the noble policing profession from today (Thursday),” he stated.

(Punch)

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Emefiele operated 593 illegal US, UK, China accounts, fixed over £500m – CBN investigator

The former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Godwin Emefiele, illegally lodged billions of naira in no fewer than 593 bank accounts in the United States, United Kingdom, and China without the approval of the apex bank’s board of directors and the CBN Investment Committee.

The Special Investigator on the CBN and Related Entities, Jim Obaze, found that the ex-CBN governor lodged £543, 482,213 in fixed deposits in UK banks alone without authorisation.

When contacted, counsel for Emefiele, Mathew Bukkaa, SAN, asked one of our correspondents to send him a text message.  He has yet to reply to the message as of the time of filing this report.

Meanwhile, Obaze submitted his final report tagged, ‘Report of the Special Investigation on CBN and Related Entities (Chargeable offences) to President Bola Tinubu on Wednesday.

The report  partly read, “The former governor of CBN, Godwin Emefiele invested Nigeria’s money without authorization in 593 foreign bank accounts in United States, China and United Kingdom,  while he was in charge.

“All the accounts where the billions were lodged have all been traced by the investigator.”

In a letter dated July 28, 2023, sighted by The PUNCH, President Bola Tinubu had named a former Executive Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria,  Obazee, as the CBN special investigator.

Emefiele, who is currently in Kuje Custodial Centre, is being prosecuted for N1.2 billion procurement fraud.

He has not been able to perfect the N300m bail granted him by a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory on November 22.

However, documents obtained by our correspondent on Thursday indicated that the former apex bank governor might face fresh criminal charges over the handling of the CBN naira redesign policy.

Emefiele could be prosecuted for illegal issuance of currency under section 19 of the CBN Act alongside Tunde Sabiu, a former aide to former President Muhammadu Buhari, and 12 top directors of the CBN.

It was gathered that the naira redesign policy was sold to Buhari at the instance of Sabiu and that the initiative was done without the approval of the board of the CBN.

No approval

The investigator found that Buhari didn’t approve of the naira redesign. It was Tunde Sabiu who first told Emefiele in September 2022 to consider the redesign of the naira. On October 6, 2022, Emefiele wrote to Buhari that he wanted to redesign and reconfigure N1000, N500 and N200 notes.

“The former President tagged along but did not approve the redesign as required by law. Buhari merely approved that the currency be printed in Nigeria. The redesign was only mentioned to the board of the CBN on December 15, 2022, after Emefiele had awarded the contract to the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Plc on October 31, 2022,’’ the documents noted.

Emefiele was said to have contracted the redesign of the naira to De La Rue of the UK for £205, 000 pounds under the vote head of the Currency Operations Department after the NSPM said it could not deliver the contract within a short timeframe.

The special investigator found that N61.5bn was earmarked for the printing of the new notes out of which N31.79bn had been paid.

As of August 9, 2023, findings revealed that N769bn of the new notes were in circulation.

The probe of the CBN also revealed the fraudulent use of N26.627tn  Ways and Means of the Apex Bank as well as the misuse of the COVID-19 intervention fund.

For instance, the CBN under Emefiele at its 661st meeting held on October 27, 2020, approved that the Consolidated Revenue Fund Account should be debited with the sum of N124.860bn, and the decision was implemented on October 9.

Similarly, the Committee of Governors at its 670th meeting held on December 9, 2020, granted anticipatory approval ‘’pending receipt of a formal request by Mr President and ratification by the board of directors the payment of the sum of N250bn only to the Federal Government of Nigeria to address challenges as a result of low revenue inflow and the payment of salaries.

The decision was implemented on December 15, 2020.

Anticipatory approval

Also on December 30, 2020, the committee of governors at its 672nd meeting granted another anticipatory approval for N250bn to the Federal Government for payment of salaries pending receipt of a formal request by Mr President and ratification by the board of directors.

The apex bank’s management through the Finance and General Purpose Committee equally granted anticipatory approval on the investment of $200mn in equity warrants of the Africa Finance Corporation.

According to section 38 of the CBN Act, 2007, the CBN could grant temporary advances to the Federal Government in respect of temporary deficiency of budget revenue at an interest.

The section also provides that such advances are to be repaid by the end of the financial year in which they are granted otherwise, the CBN shall be stopped from granting such advances in the subsequent year.

The advance is not to be repaid by way of promissory note, securitization or issuance of treasury bills.

The CBN investigator discovered that the CBN Ways and Means was abused under the Buhari administration.

The document further said, “In an instance, they (senior CBN and government officials) padded what the former President Muhammadu Buhari approved with N198,963,162, 187. There are instances where no approvals are received from the former president and yet, N500bn is taken and debited to Ways and Means.

“There are more shocking instances where the erstwhile CBN governor and his four deputy governors connived to steal outright in order to balance the books of the CBN.

“This was by violently taking money from the Consolidated Revenue account and then charging it to Ways and Means. It was a total of N124.860bn. They even created the narration as a presidential subsidy and expanded the ways and Means portfolio to accommodate crime.

“The CBN officers and even the then acting CBN governor could not produce the Presidential Approval of most of the expenses described as ‘Ways and Means.’ When confronted, to provide the breakdown of the supposed N22.7trn that was presented to the 9th National Assembly to illegally securitise as ‘Ways and Means’ financing, they were only able to partially explain a total of N9.063 trn or N9.2trn depending on which official you are considering his submission and an unreasonable attribution of non-negotiated interest element of N6.5tn.

“This shows that this was the point where the officers of the immediate past administration as well as the erstwhile CBN governor and his four deputy governors connived, defrauded, and stole from the commonwealth of our country with the aid of civil servants.’’

Continuing, the report said, “The true position of the Ways and Means as documented from the reconciliation between the CBN and the Ministry of Finance at the time is N4,449,149,411,584.54.

“This may have been the main reason the past administration hurriedly sought that the advances of N22.7trn be securitised by the 9th National Assembly on December 19, 2022, which they also hurriedly did despite the fact that it contravenes section 38 of the CBN Act, 2007.”

Legal fees

The CBN under Emefiele was also said to have spent N1.7bn on questionable legal fees for 19 cases instituted against the naira redesign policy.

The investigator also discovered how Emefiele misrepresented the presidential approval for the NESI Stabilisation Strategy Limited approved by former president Goodluck Jonathan.

The document read, “The Presidential approval granted by then President Goodluck Jonathan was rightly stated by him NESI should be a company limited by guarantee but the Committee of Governors misled the Board of the CBN by relying on non-existent advice by the office of Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to incorporate a company limited by shares for which the allotted share capital exceeded the authorised share capital (See 380th meeting of the Committee of Governors held in January in January 2015) and allotting unauthorised share capital to Mr Godwin Emefiele and Mr Mudashiru Olaitan without lawful approval by the President.

“N1.325bn was stolen pre-incorporation and the money funnelled to four companies, including a legal firm which got N300mn.’’

Between 2015 and 2021, an investment company was said to have collected unlawfully a total of N4.89bn.

A breakdown indicated that the firm received N262mn in 2015, N464mn in 2016, N550mn in 2017, N726mn in 2018, N762 in 2019, N684 in 2020 and N1.44bn in 2021, totalling N4.89bn.

Emefiele also allegedly paid N17.2bn to 14 deposit money banks participating in the Nigerian Electricity Market Stabilisation Facility.

“A total of 14 DMBs engaged in the manipulation by unlawfully arranging and collecting 1.9535 per cent of the total disbursements paid to the DMBs participating in the Nigerian Electricity Market Stabilisation Facility.

The fees are paid to the banks in the ratio of their contributions to the NEMSF disbursement, according to External Auditor’s Notes to the Financial Statement of NESI Stabilisation Strategy Limited.

“The CBN also went further by authorising the issuance of debenture for the NESI SPV, starting with N64.8bn in 2015. By 2021, N952bn debenture had been issued. The investigator said the money was diverted from public funds,’’ the document further stated.

It was further gathered that Emefiele could be tried for alleged manipulation of the naira exchange rate, fraudulent implementation of the e-naira project, and exemption of three foreign firms from paying income tax.

Meanwhile, the investigation has uncovered the strange illegal withdrawal/theft of $6.23mn from the CBN vault by two persons who used a forged presidential letter.

The suspects currently in custody were said to have presented a forged letter on February 7 and 8, 2023, purportedly signed by Buhari to withdraw the money allegedly meant for payment for foreign election observation missions.

(Punch)

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Nigerian Dailies: 10 talking points this Friday

Good morning! Here is today’s summary from Nigerian Newspapers:

1. The former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Godwin Emefiele, illegally lodged billions of naira in no fewer than 593 bank accounts in the United States, United Kingdom, and China without the approval of the apex bank’s board of directors and the CBN Investment Committee. The Special Investigator on the CBN and Related Entities, Jim Obaze, found that the ex-CBN governor lodged £543, 482,213 in fixed deposits in UK banks alone.

2. The National Economic Council, chaired by Vice President Kashim Shettima, on Thursday, set up committees on economic affairs, as well as crude oil theft and management. The committees will be headed by Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazak and his Imo State counterpart, Hope Uzodimma, respectively.

3. A London court has quashed an $11bn damage bill against Nigeria lodged by Process & Industrial Developments Limited Gas Company. The bill charge was brought forward against Nigeria for a collapsed gas processing project in Cross River, Nigeria.

4. The Supreme Court, on Thursday, reserved judgments on the Kano and Bauchi states governorship appeals. The five-man panel led by John Okoro adjourned the appeals for judgment after listening to the parties’ arguments.

5. The Senate, on Thursday, okayed 11 Justices shortlisted for appointment to the Supreme Court. The confirmation of the 11 Justices came a day after the Senate received a letter from President Bola Tinubu, requesting the screening and confirmation of the Justices.

6. A juju musician, Omoba De Jombo, and his crew members, have reportedly regained their freedom four days after they were kidnapped in Abuja. The band members had performed in the Federal Capital Territory and were reportedly travelling to Kogi State for another performance when they were kidnapped last weekend.

7. The Senate has shifted the passage of the 2024 President Bola Tinubu’s ‘Renewed Hope’ budget. The Appropriation Committee had initially planned to present the 2023 budget to the Senate on Thursday while the passage was billed for Saturday, December 23, 2023. However, many of the committees were unable to meet the Wednesday deadline stipulated by the committee in its timetable.

8. The House of Representatives has directed its Committee on Aviation to invite the immediate past minister of aviation, Hadi Sirika, to brief it on the status of the proposed national carrier, Nigeria Air, as of the time he left office. The former minister is expected to provide insights on a wide range of controversies surrounding the project.

9. The federal government, on Thursday, December 21, apologized to Nigerians over the current scarcity of Naira notes in circulation, saying that it will ease in the coming year. The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris said the scarcity was not deliberate.

10. A few days after the crisis resolution in Rivers State, a similar scenario is playing out in Benue State as members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Assembly caucus have accused Governor Hyacinth Alia of displaying dictatorial tendencies and poor leadership.

(Daily Post)

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US Supreme Court disqualifies Donald Trump from presidency for his involvement in Jan. 6, 2021 capitol riot

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that former President Donald Trump is disqualified from holding the presidency under the Constitution’s so-called insurrection clause and ordered the secretary of state to exclude his name from the state’s Republican presidential primary ballot.

The landmark decision from the divided Colorado Supreme Court that Trump cannot hold public office under the Civil War-era provision is unprecedented, and it marks the first time a court has found him to be ineligible to return to the White House due to his conduct surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Never before has a court determined that a presidential candidate is disqualified under the clause, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

Asked about the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling on Wednesday, President Biden told reporters it is up to the court to determine the application of Section 3, but said there’s “no question” Trump supported an insurrection. 

The ruling does not apply outside of Colorado, and the state high court, whose justices were all appointed by Democratic governors, paused its decision until Jan. 4 — one day before the deadline for Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold to certify the candidates for the state’s March 5 primary. 

“We conclude that because President Trump is disqualified from holding the office of President under Section Three, it would be a wrongful act under the Election Code for the Secretary to list President Trump as a candidate on the presidential primary ballot,” the court’s majority wrote in an unsigned opinion. “Therefore, the Secretary may not list President Trump’s name on the 2024 presidential primary ballot, nor may she count any write-in votes cast for him.”

Lawsuits challenging Trump’s candidacy have been filed in more than 25 states ahead of the 2024 election, though the Colorado case brought on behalf of six voters marks the most immediate threat to his campaign. National polls show Trump atop the field of candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination.

Trump will appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, a spokesman for his campaign said, setting up a high-stakes showdown over his eligibility to run just as voters in early states begin casting their ballots in the Republican primaries. In pausing its decision, the Colorado Supreme Court said that if review to the nation’s highest court is sought before Jan. 4, its stay will remain in place, and the secretary will be required to list Trump on the 2024 primary ballot until the U.S. Supreme Court rules.

“The Colorado Supreme Court issued a completely flawed decision tonight and we will swiftly file an appeal to the United States Supreme Court and a concurrent request for a stay of this deeply undemocratic decision,” Steve Cheung, spokesman for the Trump campaign, said in a statement. “We have full confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court will quickly rule in our favor and finally put an end to these unAmerican lawsuits.”

The seven-member Colorado Supreme Court divided 4-3 on the ruling, with its majority reversing the trial court’s finding as to the scope of Section 3 to conclude that it encompasses the office of the presidency and one who has taken an oath as president.

“President Trump asks us to hold that Section Three disqualifies every oathbreaking insurrectionist except the most powerful one and that it bars oath-breakers from virtually every office, both state and federal, except the highest one in the land,” the majority wrote. “Both results are inconsistent with the plain language and history of Section Three.”

Griswold, in an interview Wednesday on CBS News’ “America Decides,” said, “There shouldn’t be a loophole for the president if the president decides to engage in insurrection or rebellion.” 

“Donald Trump incited the insurrection. He tried to stop the peaceful transfer of the presidency, trying to steal the presidential election from the American people,” Griswold said. “Section 3 of the 14th Amendment has clear language. So I do believe the Colorado Supreme Court got it right. But unlike Donald Trump, I will follow whatever court decision is in place, the law, the U.S. Constitution, when it comes time to certify the election.” 

She pushed back on the argument that the decision is antidemocratic and disenfranchises voters. 

“It’s ironic because Donald Trump literally tried to steal the presidency. That is the only reason that this case moved forward, because of his actions,” she said. 

Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which brought the lawsuit in Colorado, praised the decision and said the group will work to ensure that it remains in place.

“The court’s decision today affirms what our clients alleged in this lawsuit: that Donald Trump is an insurrectionist who disqualified himself from office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment based on his role in the January 6th attack on the Capitol, and that Secretary Griswold must keep him off of Colorado’s primary ballot. It is not only historic and justified, but is necessary to protect the future of democracy in our country,” he said in a statement.

The case adds to the ongoing legal issues facing Trump and his presidential campaign, including a criminal case related to the 2020 presidential election that is set to go to trial in March if allowed to move forward.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment

The Colorado case hinged on whether Section 3 bars Trump from the nation’s highest office. The provision aims to prevent those who swore an oath to support the Constitution and engaged in insurrection from holding state or federal office.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed the lawsuit in Colorado state court on behalf of four Republican voters and two unaffiliated voters in September, arguing that Trump’s actions related to the Jan. 6 assault disqualified him under Section 3. Dozens of suits filed across the country have raised the same argument, though several have already been dismissed by state courts.

In November, a trial court in Denver found that the events on Jan. 6 satisfy the definition of insurrection, and concluded that Trump engaged in insurrection through incitement. Judge Sarah B. Wallace ultimately determined that the language of Section 3 is unclear as to whether it covered the presidency and the former president, and ordered Griswold to list Trump on the GOP presidential primary ballot.

The Colorado Supreme Court agreed to review the district court’s ruling, and held arguments in the case earlier this month. The justices weighed whether the events of Jan. 6 could be considered an “insurrection,” and, if so, one that Trump “engaged in.” They also considered whether the president is an “officer of the United States” under Section 3.

In their ruling, the four justices in the majority acknowledged that “we travel in uncharted territory, and that this case presents several issues of first impression.”

“We do not reach these conclusions lightly. We are mindful of the magnitude and weight of the questions now before us,” the majority wrote. “We are likewise mindful of our solemn duty to apply the law, without fear or favor, and without being swayed by public reaction to the decisions that the law mandates we reach.”

The justices rejected claims from Trump’s lawyers that the breach of the Capitol by his supporters on Jan. 6 was not an insurrection and instead concluded that the record in the case “amply established that the events of January 6 constituted a concerted and public use of force or threat of force by a group of people to hinder or prevent the U.S. government from taking the actions necessary to accomplish the peaceful transfer of power in this country.”

In determining that Trump engaged in insurrection, the Colorado high court said there is “substantial evidence” that the former president was “laying the groundwork for a claim that the election was rigged” before the November presidential contest.

Trump, the majority said, “continued to fan the flames of his supporters’ ire, which he had ignited” by making false claims about the integrity of the election on social media and in a speech outside the White House on Jan. 6.

“President Trump’s direct and express efforts, over several months, exhorting his supporters to march to the Capitol to prevent what he falsely characterized as an alleged fraud on the people of this country were indisputably overt and voluntary,” the justices wrote. “Moreover, the evidence amply showed that President Trump undertook all these actions to aid and further a common unlawful purpose that he himself conceived and set in motion: prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election and stop the peaceful transfer of power.”

The high court found that Trump “did not merely incite the insurrection,” but “continued to support it” by continuing to urge then-Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally toss out state Electoral College votes.

“These actions constituted overt, voluntary, and direct participation in the insurrection,” the majority wrote.

Justices Richard Gabriel, Melissa Hart, Monica Márquez and William Hood were in the majority, while Chief Justice Brian Boatright and Justices Carlos Samour and Maria Berkenkotter dissented.

In his dissent, Samour warned that because other states differ from Colorado in their election laws, Trump will likely be disqualified from the presidential primary ballot in less than all 50 states, “risking chaos in our country.”

“This can’t possibly be the outcome the framers intended,” he wrote.

Other legal challenges

Enacted in 1868, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment sought to keep former Confederate civil and military officeholders from serving in federal or state government, and was primarily invoked in the years after the Civil War. It has seldom been used in modern times, and never against a former president.

The Jan. 6 riot and allegations that Trump incited the attack, followed by his decision to seek a second term in the White House, led to lawsuits in more than half the states seeking to keep him off the ballots. 

In Michigan, a judge ruled in November in part that it is up to Congress to determine whether Trump is disqualified from holding public office. The state court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling last week, finding that the secretary of state’s role in the presidential primary is “chiefly that of an administrator,” and it’s the political parties and candidates that determine who to place on the primary ballot.

“Even if Trump were disqualified from holding the office of President of the United States by the Insurrection Clause, nothing prevents the Michigan Republican Party from identifying him as a candidate in the upcoming primary election,” a three-judge appeals court panel concluded. Michigan voters challenging Trump’s candidacy have appealed to the state supreme court.

 In Minnesota, the state’s high court dismissed a lawsuit seeking to exclude Trump from the ballot for the Republican primary because it is an “internal party election to serve internal party purposes” and doesn’t automatically qualify the winner for the general election ballot.

The Minnesota Supreme Court said voters could, however, pursue their case regarding the general election ballot after the state’s March 5 primary.

Republicans rally behind Trump

The decision from the Colorado Supreme Court prompted widespread condemnation from Republicans, including his opponents in the race for the party’s presidential nomination.

Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration, said in a town hall Tuesday evening in Agency, Iowa, that “we don’t need judges making these decisions. We need voters to make these decisions. So I want to see this in the hands of the voters.”

“The last thing we want is judges telling us who can and can’t be on the ballot,” she added.

Trump’s other major challenger in the Republican primary, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, did not address the ruling during a campaign event in Ankeny, Iowa, but later tweeted that “the Left invokes ‘democracy’ to justify its use of power, even if it means abusing judicial power to remove a candidate from the ballot based on spurious legal grounds. SCOTUS should reverse.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the most vocal GOP critic of Trump in the race for the White House, said the former president has not been tried for inciting an insurrection and is entitled to due process.

“I do not believe Donald Trump should be prevented from being president of the United States by any court,” he said during an event in New Hampshire. “I think he should be prevented from being president of the United States by the voters of this country.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who remains in the primary race, predicted that the court’s finding that Trump supported an insurrection “will haunt his candidacy.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson criticized the decision of the Colorado Supreme Court, calling it “nothing but a thinly veiled partisan attack.”

“Regardless of political affiliation, every citizen registered to vote should not be denied the right to support our former president and the individual who is the leader in every poll of the Republican primary,” he said in a post to social media. “We trust the U.S. Supreme Court will set aside this reckless decision and let the American people decide the next President of the United States.”

(CBSNEWS)

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Gaza death toll hits 20,000 as UN Security Council delays vote on aid

Palestinian sources claim that since Israel started bombing the territory more than ten weeks ago, at least 20,000 people have died in the Gaza Strip.

According to the Gaza Government Media Office, at least 8,000 children and 6,200 women were among the deceased on Wednesday.

The somber milestone was reached as the UN Security Council had to postpone a crucial vote on a proposal to increase humanitarian supplies for Gaza for a third time in order to withstand a veto from the US, which usually protects its partner Israel from UN action.

Since a seven-day truce collapsed on December 1, the war has entered a more intensive phase with ground combat previously confined to the northern half of the territory now spread across its length.

When asked about the ever-growing casualty count, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it is “clear that the conflict will move and needs to move to a lower intensity phase”.

“We expect to see and want to see a shift to more targeted [Israeli] operations with a smaller number of forces that’s really focused in on dealing with the leadership of Hamas, the tunnel network and a few other critical things,” he said. “And as that happens, I think you’ll see as well the harm done to civilians also decrease significantly.”

Air strikes continued across Gaza on Wednesday with at least 46 people killed and dozens wounded in Israeli attacks on the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, according to the enclave’s Ministry of Health.

In Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousand of people have been pushed since early December by Israel’s continued onslaught, air strikes hit a building near a hospital close to an Al Jazeera crew reporting live on air, killing at least 10 people.

“More air strikes are conducted, more victims fall due to the expansion of the Israeli military operations in the areas that are supposed to be safe zones where the majority of Gazans have been urged to flee,” Al Jazeera’s Tareq Abu Azzoum said in reporting from Rafah.

“The air strike took place in an area considered to be very densely populated, and it’s a miracle that no more than this number of people were killed,” he added.

The UN Security Council vote on a bid to boost aid to the Gaza Strip and ask the UN to monitor humanitarian aid deliveries there has been delayed at the request of the US, diplomats said.

According to the United Arab Emirates envoy to the UN, Lana Nusseibeh, the vote will take place on Thursday.

“Everyone wants to see a resolution that has impact and is implementable on the ground, and there are some discussions going on on how to make that possible,” Nusseibeh, whose country drafted the resolution, told reporters in New York.

The text aims to dilute Israel’s control over all humanitarian aid deliveries to the 2.3 million people of Gaza. The initial text has been reportedly modified to soften calls to end the fighting in Gaza to avoid yet another veto from the US.

“We want to make sure that the resolution … doesn’t do anything that could actually hurt the delivery of humanitarian assistance, make it more complicated. That’s what we’re focused on,” Blinken told reporters on Wednesday. “I hope we can get to a good place.”

Currently, Israel monitors the limited humanitarian aid and fuel deliveries to Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt and the Israel-controlled Karem Abu Salem crossing, known as Kerem Shalom in Hebrew.

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US inmate declared innocent after spending 48 years in prison

A 71-year-old man has been proclaimed innocent in the US state of Oklahoma after serving almost 50 years in jail for a murder he did not commit.

According to The National Registry of Exonerations, Glynn Simmons, who is Black, spend longer years in prison before being exonerated than any other inmate in US history.

Simmons was released in July after serving a total of 48 years, one month, and 18 days in jail.

Simmons and another man, Don Roberts, were sentenced to death in 1975 for the murder the previous year of a 30-year-old liquor store clerk during a robbery in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Their sentences were later commuted to life in prison.

Simmons and Roberts were convicted solely on the basis of the testimony of a teenage customer who was shot in the head during the robbery but survived.

She picked them out of a police lineup but a subsequent investigation cast significant doubt on the reliability of her identifications.

Both men had also claimed at trial that they were not even in Oklahoma at the time of the murder.

US District Court Judge Amy Palumbo threw out Simmons’ conviction in July and declared him innocent at a hearing in Oklahoma County District Court on Tuesday.

“This is a day we’ve been waiting on for a long, long time,” Simmons told reporters. “We can say justice was done today, finally.”

Roberts, Simmons co-defendant, was released from prison in 2008, according to The National Registry of Exonerations.

Simmons may now be eligible for compensation.

“What’s been done can’t be undone but there could be accountability,” he said. “That’s what I’m about right now. Accountability.”

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BREAKING: Tinubu reintroduces school feeding programme

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has asked that the school feeding programme be restored to address the difficulties of out-of-school children.

After many years of operation, the initiative was terminated by former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

Tinubu, on the other hand, ordered its reactivation, claiming that it would aid in combating the learning issue.

He said if learning crisis is not tackled, it will be difficult to address the challenges of out of school children.

This was disclosed by the Minister of Education, Prof Tahir Mamman, during a one-day retreat on quick wins in the middle Ministerial deliverables from 2023 to 2027.

According to the minister, the president directed that the school feeding programme be removed from Ministry of Humanitarian and returned to the Ministry of Education.

The Minister said the essence of the retreat was to find ways of implementing all the policies developed to tackle the challenges and to distil responsibility to different agencies responsible for overturning the out of school children problem.

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1999 constitution remains cornerstone of Nigeria’s problem – Robert Clarke

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Robert Clarke, has described the 1999 Constitution as the cornerstone of the nation’s problems.

Clarke stated this on Tuesday while reacting to the truce reached as President Bola Tinubu once again intervened in the Rivers State crisis.

“The 1999 constitution is the cornerstone of our problems. In every area of political line, especially in the area of election, when the constitution restricts those who can come and be voted for, or who can vote for, something must be wrong with that constitution. The problem today is not what the President says,” he said while answering questions on Arise TV’s Good Morning Show.

He faulted the demolition of the state House of Assembly complex by the Governor, Siminalayi Fubara.

“Why should a governor bring a caterpillar and bring down the state House of Assembly? Does that show sanity and you voted for such a person?,” he questioned.

When asked if the President has a constitutional role in solving sub-national matters, the SAN disclosed that Tinubu has no constitutional role in the matter.

“The constitutional role of the President in all these fracas, there should have been none. The only time the constitution allowed the Federal Government to put its mouth was during the First Republic,” he stated.

Clarke called for the amendment of the Constitution.

“All that we are running after today is power and money. Those two elements, where do you get them in Nigeria? They are only from politics.

“If you count down governors who have served in Nigeria since 2000, ask them to come show us their bank account, you will be shocked.

“We have to ask ourselves, is politics in Nigeria only meant for politicians? Why can’t people like us contest an election without joining a political party? Why do we need a political party? This is the problem we have in Nigeria today,” Clarke expressed.

He suggested three areas in the constitution that need amendment. The three areas, according to him are: Local government; election; who can belong to a party and why should a party be the dominant factor in elections in Nigeria.

“Once you do the three areas in Nigeria today, I can assure you, you won’t hear about any court cases. This country will move forward,” he articulated.

The PUNCH reports the political crisis in Rivers state may have ceased as parties reached a truce on Monday night.

This followed about three hours of the talks at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, between President Bola Tinubu, Rivers Governor, Mr Siminalayi Fubara; his Deputy, Mrs Ngozi Odu; a former governor of the State, Peter Odili and the immediate past governor now Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesome Wike, and other stakeholders.

According to an eight-point resolution signed at the end of the meeting on Monday night, the President directed that all lawsuits instituted in the courts by Fubara and his team regarding the political crisis in Rivers State be withdrawn immediately.

The resolution was signed by  Fubara; his deputy, Ordu; Wike;  Ribadu; factional Speaker of the Rivers State Assembly, Martin Amaewhule;  Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in Rivers State, Aaron Chukwuemeka, and his All Progressives Congress Chairman, Tony Okocha.

According to the directive, Fubara was mandated to re-present the 2024 appropriation bill he had earlier presented to the four-member state House of Assembly to the full House.

Also, the directive read that all impeachment proceedings initiated by the Rivers Assembly against Fubara should be dropped immediately.

(Punch)

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I’ll return governance to Edo people, says Shaibu

The Edo State Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, on Wednesday, said the need to bring governance back to the people spurred his desire to vie for the governorship in 2024.

Speaking with journalists at his residence during his annual hosting of media practitioners in Benin, the deputy governor said if elected as governor, he would partner the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Edo State Council on affordable housing scheme for its members in the state.
  
Shaibu said civil servants, journalists inclusive are always agitated when approaching their retirement age because most times they don’t have their personal houses they would retire to.
  
He said, “We need to bring governance back to the people, this spurred my desire to vie for the governorship in 2024. We are taking our state back and we are returning government to our people.

“We are taking it from the elite and back to the downtrodden because the truth is that the government is for all of us because in advance countries, the rich pay more taxes to be able to service the system.
  
“We want to return back to what it is , the downtrodden and the real Edo people must feel government and that is why I am contesting this election.
  
“I am contesting it to return it back to the people and fortunately, I am in the party that believes in the people and I can tell you when I speaking, I am not speaking the words of Philip, I am speaking because God has given me the authority to speak and I am telling you it will come to pass and it is not coming to pass because of me but because of all of us.”
  
He added, “By the grace of God, as governor of Edo State, next year, I will make sure that what we have been struggling to get and we have not gotten, housing, I will make it available for all of us in the NUJ.
 
” I discovered also that majority of our civil servants and public servants, when retirement is getting close, you see, some of them start having high blood pressure, some of them become moody, and it is like the world is coming to an end and when you try to find out from some of them, some of them will tell you, when I retire now, how am I going to be paying my rent?
  
“Number one of their priority is always rent because some of them have not been able to built shelters for themselves and they are going into retirement and they are not sure of what is going to happen next and for me, I think that aspect has to be taken care of.
 
“So, as NUJ, we will partner to make sure that housing is available and affordable for you.”

(Punch)

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Akpabio swears in Lalong, declares Umahi, Giadam seats vacant

The Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, on Wednesday, swore in a former governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, as the senator to represent Plateau South Senatorial District.

Lalong of the All Progressives Congress replaced Napoleon Bali of the Peoples Democratic Party, whose election was on November 7, 2023, nullified by the Court of Appeal in Abuja.

The court declared that Lalong was the valid winner of the February 25 senatorial poll.

On Tuesday, Lalong, who was a member of President Bola Tinubu, formally resigned as Minister of Labour Employment and Productivity to take up the senatorial slot.

He took the oath of office at about 11.57 am on Wednesday on the floor of the Senate, with the Senate President  congratulating him

Speaking soon after his inauguration, Lalong said he actually wanted to be a senator after he concluded his tenure as governor in May 2023.

 “This was my first choice, to be candid,” he said.

According to him, he opted to hold the position of a minister in the interim and on the invitation of Tinubu because he had a case he was pursuing at the courts.

Lalong promised to do his best to serve his electorate to the best of his abilities.

Also reacting to the inauguration, the National Chairman of the APC, Alhaji Abdullahi Ganduje, described it as a moment of happiness.

“This is a moment of happiness. We are so happy that he won at the Court of Appeal. What Nigerians will expect is good legislation. As we know, the APC has the majority and will work for the prosperity of all Nigerians,”  Ganduje said.

Meanwhile, the  President of the Senate also, on Wednesday, declared the senatorial seats for Ebonyi-South and Yobe East vacant.

The Ebonyi-South seat was formerly occupied by former governor Dave Umahi, who is now the Minister of Works in Tinubu’s cabinet.

Also, the Yobe East senatorial seat became vacant after Ibrahim Giadam took up  Tinubu’s offer to serve as the Minister of Police Affairs.

Akpabio said he declared the two senatorial seats vacant in accordance with Section 68 (1)(d) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

He, therefore, called on the Independent National Electoral Commission to commence the process of conducting by-elections to fill up the two vacant seats.

(Punch)

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Tinubu’s intervention in Rivers crisis constitutional, says ex-Lagos SSG

A former Secretary to the Lagos State Government and lawyer, Chief Olorunfunmi Basorun, on Wednesday, said the intervention of President Bola Tinubu in the tension between the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, and Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, was constitutional.

Basorun, who spoke with The PUNCH in a telephone chat, said the President did the right thing as “the father of the nation,” adding that there was no section in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that prohibited such intervention.

The 85-year-old lawyer was replying to the comment made by rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, and elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, who said Tinubu’s intervention was unconstitutional.

Falana had said Tinubu’s intervention could only have been advisory as he had no constitutional role to intervene in states’ political affairs.

He added that the President had no right under the law to “reinstate lawmakers whose seats have been declared vacant” by the House Speaker as a result of their defection from the party that brought them into office.

He further noted that the Constitution’s position is that a lawmaker who defects from their party, except on the condition that the party is in crisis and is divided, must vacate their seat.

“The cross-carpeting legislator can only retain his seat if he can prove that the political party that sponsored him is divided into two or more factions. The 27 members of the Rivers Assembly, who decamped from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress, have lost their seats because the PDP that sponsored them is not factionalised or divided as stipulated by the Constitution.

“Even if all the cases in the Rivers State High Court and the Federal High Court are withdrawn in line with the advice of the President, it is submitted that all actions taken by the Speaker recognised by the Rivers State High Court, remain valid, including his pronouncement on the vacant seats of the 27 cross-carpeting members of the House.

“In other words, only a court of law is constitutionally competent to set aside the pronouncement of the Speaker, which is anchored on Section 109 of the Constitution. Furthermore, as the Speaker has not been removed by the required number of legislators, a presidential directive cannot remove him,” Falana said on Tuesday.

Similarly, at a press briefing in Abuja on Tuesday, Clark condemned Tinubu’s intervention and the agreement reached, describing it as appalling and unacceptable to the people.

He also alleged that Fubara had been “ambushed and intimidated” into signing the agreement, adding that Tinubu’s intervention was a desecration of the constitution.

“It is obvious that Governor Siminialayi Fubara was ambushed and intimidated into submission. President Tinubu should know that with all the powers he possesses, he cannot override the Constitution.

“From all that transpired at the meeting, the laws of the land have not been obeyed. President Tinubu simply sat over a meeting where the constitution, which is the fulcrum of his office as President and which he swore to uphold and abide by, was truncated and desecrated.

“The eight resolutions reached, are the most unconstitutional, absurd, and obnoxious resolutions at settling feuding parties that I have ever witnessed in my life. As a matter of fact, some media captured it very well when they described it as directives,” he said.

Reacting, however, Basorun insisted that Tinubu’s intervention was constitutional, as, according to him, the President is the father of the nation.

“I feel worried about the attitude of some commentators on the happening in Rivers State. One of my worries is that of one of us who said the intervention of the President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is unconstitutional.

“I do not know which section of the Constitution he is referring to. But as far as I am concerned, this is my number one issue now. The intervention of Tinubu, our President, is super constitutional.

“Why? Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as President elected by Nigerians, is the number one citizen of Nigeria. And in my own opinion, and I think that is the opinion of others, he is the father of all of us in that position.

“If anything is going wrong that would disturb the equilibrium of the country, like peace, security, and the lives of Nigerians, I think he has to intervene.

“We are his children. If anything is going wrong, all the 36 state governments and the federal capital territory are his children. He cannot ignore if something inimical to the peace and security of the country is happening,” Basorun said.

He added that Falana and others did not see anything wrong in Tinubu’s intervention in the matter involving the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, and his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, and wondered why the “double standards.”

He noted that the actions of Governor Fubara could lead to a state of anarchy in the state which could extend to other neighbouring states if the President had not intervened.

The elder statesman said the use of the institution of the state such as the police against the people, as well as the destruction of the Rivers House of Assembly complex, called for Tinubu’s intervention.

“It is not a thing that would end there. And then he (Fubara) used the institution of state because the people around were protesting that he should not do it.

“He used the police too. They drove away the people. And somebody will sit on top there as the father of the nation and will not intervene?

“Forget about all the internet fighting here and there. But that single event, I believe, could escalate to more damage, and could even spread to states outside Rivers State,” he stressed.

Speaking on the reinstitution of the 27 lawmakers who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress, Basorun said, “Falana and some other SANs had come only with one side of the story.”

“They claim that by the constitution, they have lost their seats. They failed to inform the public that there is a rider in that section of the constitution, that where there is a dispute in the party, they will do it (defect) without any breach of the law,” he added.

He noted that the PDP “all over the country has problems here and there,” adding that it was right for the lawmakers to have moved to another party.

“A quarrel that has led to the demolition of the House of Assembly by one of the parties. What other quarrel, what other dispute do they want to recognise?” the ex-Lagos SSG queried.

He further stated that he expected Clark to have reacted better, being an elder statesman, saying, “Our elder statesman in Delta and leader of the Ijaw, Chief Edwin Clark, has not helped the matter either. He is a man of over 90. He should grow beyond ethnicism or party line in approaching the matter of Rivers State.

“Unfortunately, he has not done so. I would beg him to do a second thinking. He, as the leader of the Ijaw, should write a letter to thank Bola Tinubu, our president.”

While stating that he would not mind engaging Falana in a debate over the constitutionality of Tinubu’s intervention, Basorun called on him (Falana) to write a letter of apology to Tinubu “for insinuating that the President was poke-nosing in Rivers affairs.”

(Punch)

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Controversy over blessing for same-sex couples, clerics clarify Pope’s position

Amid the controversy over Pope Francis’ statement on the blessing for same-sex couples, Gbenga Oloniniran writes on the explanations given by some Catholic priests

The Vatican on Monday approved a landmark ruling to allow Roman Catholic priests to administer blessing to same-sex couples as long as it was not part of regular Church rituals or liturgies, nor given in contexts related to civil unions or weddings.

Aljazeera reported that a document from the Vatican’s doctrinal office approved by Pope Francis on Monday said such blessings would not legitimise irregular situations but be a sign that God welcomed all.

The document backed “the possibility of blessing for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex” but “this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them.”

It said priests should decide on a case-by-case basis and “should not prevent or prohibit the Church’s closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God’s help through a simple blessing”.

The document elaborates on a letter Francis sent to two conservative cardinals that was published in October. In that preliminary response, Francis suggested such blessing could be offered under some circumstances if it didn’t confuse the ritual with the sacrament of marriage.

The new document, according to Aljazeera, repeats that rationale and elaborates on it, reaffirming that marriage is a lifelong sacrament between a man and a woman. It stresses that blessing should not be conferred at the same time as a civil union, using set rituals or even with the clothing and gestures that belong in a wedding.

Emphasising that the Church requires a pastoral approach towards people in irregular situations – including same-sex relationships – Cardinal Blase Cupich says the Archdiocese of Chicago welcomes the ‘Declaration Fiducia supplicans’ “which will help many more in our community feel the closeness and compassion of God.”

According to VATICAN NEWS, at the heart of the declaration, says Cardinal Cupich in a statement on the Archdiocesan website, “is a call for pastors to take a pastoral approach to being available to people” who recognise the need for God’s help and presence in their lives, without claiming a legitimation of their particular status.

“As such, the declaration is a step forward,” the Cardinal explains, adding that it is in keeping both with Pope Francis’ “desire to accompany people pastorally” and with “Jesus’ desire to be present to all people who desire grace and support.”

Also reacting, the spokesperson for the Abuja Archdiocese, Fr. Patrick Alumuku, in an interview with The PUNCH on Tuesday, put the issue in perspective. He maintained that the Pope’s position should not be misinterpreted to mean sacrament.

Alumuku said, “My position is the position of the Catholic church. I think we need to put this issue in perspective because what has happened up till now is that no one has been allowed to deal with people who are lesbian until now (in the church). What the Pope is saying is that this discrimination is not necessary – that is basically what he’s saying, and that there is a need to help these people understand that they are children of God. In the process, they could be converted, and they can change their position.”

“What I see in the media is as if there is a change in the law of marriage in the church.”

He said this was not the case, as he added that anyone could ask for a blessing. He says blessing a man who meets you on the road, for instance, does not mean you give him a sacrament, as he notes anyone could say to the priest to bless him, “literally saying ‘pray for me’. That is different from the sacramental stage which the sacrament of matrimony gives to people. So these people are not being given the sacrament of matrimony. They’re not being made to feel or to believe that they are wedded. All the pope is saying is that attention be given to all persons whether they are gay or not,” he said in the telephone interview.

He added, “At some point, black people were segregated. So at a point, they said black people could be exempted as Christians – some were scandalised by it because, at some point, people held that black people did not even have a soul. And so, at some point, they just discovered that these people had a soul. So breaking this barrier is strange for some people and difficult for people to understand, but this is exactly the barrier being broken here.”

A Knight of St John, Iheanyi Ochor, who spoke with our correspondent from Owerri, Imo State, however, disagreed with blessing for same-sex couples.

Ochor, who is also a lawyer, noted “It is as controversial as it has been.”

Speaking on Tuesday, he said, “Ninety-five percent of us do not accept that it should be; It doesn’t matter how they want to explain it to us, if you want to bless the sinner and condemn the sin, to me, it’s not acceptable, but the best he (the pope) could have done in this circumstance is to keep quiet about the whole thing. Many of us don’t think it is the best thing to have been done now.”

A popular cleric on Facebook, Fr Kelvin Ugwu, said if he were to summarise the document ‘Fiducia Supplicans’, and the teaching from Pope Francis on the blessing of same-sex couples, “The document still echoed the fact that in the Catholic Church, marriage is still between a man and a woman and nothing changes this.”

He said, “Blessing same-sex couples is not in any way a form of recognising their union as a marriage. Anyone can ask for a blessing, and asking for a blessing can be a sign of humility, trust in God, and expression of the desire to do better. The central message of the document is hinged on the church’s desire to welcome everyone with God’s love and mercy with the hope of repentance.”

Fr. Ugwu, who identified himself as a Nigerian Catholic priest on a mission in The Gambia, further said on his verified Facebook page on Tuesday, “But, If I am to say what is on my mind, I will say that this whole thing is just unnecessary. The document did not even give a clear-cut direction on how the blessing should be. Usually in the Catholic church, there are rituals for every blessing, even the blessing of pets. But the church refused to provide a ritual and even stipulated that no ritual should be provided by priests for this all talked about ‘blessings of same-sex couples.’ It says a lot. Also, I find it totally wrong to refer to the people in question as “same-sex couples”. There is nothing like a same-sex couple. We should not even use the term ‘couple’ to address them in the first place.”

“All these push (es), in whichever angle they are coming from, (are) not coming with a good intention. There are emphases that should be made. That emphasis is that man and man cannot be a couple, and woman and woman cannot be a couple. Homosexual acts should be condemned emphatically while respecting the human person.”

He urged people to read the original document slowly to see that “you ought to be examining yourself and repenting, instead of celebrating sin.”

On his part, a Nigerian Catholic priest identified as Father Ugochukwu Ugwoke on X said the church did not condemn same-sex couples even though same-sex marriages were “sinful.”

“All the laws and regulations in the Catholic Church may be divided into three kinds: Those that the Church has no power to change, never has changed and never will change; Those that (the church) has the authority to change, but most probably never will change; Those that (the church) can change, has changed and may change again according to the circumstances of a given period of time,” he wrote on X formerly Twitter via @FrUgochukwu.

According to him, under the first type of laws, there are two kinds of laws that the Catholic Church has no authority to change or tamper with in any way, saying “they are natural moral laws and positive divine laws.”

“A good example of natural moral laws is the Church’s teaching regarding marriage as a union between a man and a woman. As a natural moral law, this teaching is universal, unchanging, and unchangeable. Over such laws, the Catholic Church headed by the Pope, has no authority other than that of manifesting how clearly they stand out in human nature and reiterating them to the end of time.

“So, if you think that blessing of same-sex couples will lead to the eventual endorsement and approval of same-sex marriage by the Catholic Church, I want to tell you that such will never happen without the Church running into the risks of schism. Same-sex marriages are sinful and can never be approved. But then, while the Church rejects same-sex union and considers it disordered, she does not condemn same-sex couples.”

(Punch)

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Military uncovers 636 illegal refineries, intercepts 21m litres crude

The military has in the last five months uncovered and busted  636 illegal refining sites and intercepted 21.7 million litres of crude oil valued at N54bn.

The figures were collated from press releases by the military on the activities of troops against oil thieves between August 3 and December 1.

The PUNCH reports that President Bola Tinubu met with service chiefs in June and gave them a marching order to end oil theft in the country, in order to shore up the country’s revenues.

Since then, there has been a heightened military onslaught against oil thieves, particularly in the South-South.

The data analysis by The PUNCH showed that no fewer than 610 suspected oil thieves were nabbed within the five months under review. Also, a total of 670 boats used to convey stolen crude oil and its products were impounded by the military.

According to the military,  on August 3,  36 illegal refining sites, 310,700 litres of stolen crude oil and seven suspected oil theft were arrested along with  32 wooden boats.

On August 11, 39 illegal refining sites were discovered; 1,247,700 litres of stolen crude oil valued at  N607,346,75 were recovered and 17 suspected oil thieves were arrested.

Military operations on August 25 led to the arrest of 22 suspected oil thieves and the recovery of 682,400 litres of stolen crude oil valued at N414,396.250.

On August 31, the military busted 34 active illegal refining sites, recovered 569,400 litres of stolen crude oil, valued at  N765,863,000 and arrested 16 suspects along with 36 boats.

On September 7, the military intercepted 191 suspected oil thieves and recovered 6,652,250 litres of stolen crude oil valued at N4bn.

On September 14,  the military uncovered 89 illegal refining sites, recovered 1,205,950 litres of stolen crude oil estimated at N1,011,851,250 and arrested 45 suspects.

In addition, during operations conducted on September 22, troops recovered 496,250 litres of stolen crude oil worth N946,387,570.00 and arrested seven suspects with 16 boats.

On September 28, troops in the Niger Delta region discovered 34 illegal refining sites, recovered 696,250 litres of stolen crude oil valued at N388,469,650.00 and arrested 22 suspects with 21 boats.

On October 26, the military uncovered 53 illegal refining sites, recovered 983,350 litres of stolen crude oil valued at N968m and arrested 19 suspects with 66 boats.

On November 17, troops discovered 49  refining sites,  recovered 151,850 litres of stolen crude oil estimated at N128m and arrested 49 suspected oil thieves.

Troops destroyed 50 illegal refining sites,  recovered 578,900 litres of crude oil valued at N1bn and arrested 49 suspects with 31 boats on November 23.

Also, On December 1, troops destroyed  51 illegal refining sites,  recovered 267,700 litres of crude oil estimated at N668m and arrested 58 oil thieves with 25 boats

A security expert,  Oladele Fajana, urged the military not to rest on their laurels,  adding that the activities of oil thieves had seriously impacted the economy of the country negatively.

 “Their arrests and recoveries are quite impressive.  They must do more because the activities of oil thieves are inimical to the nation’s economy,” he said.

(Punch)

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I’ve spent N2bn on constituency projects — Osun lawmaker

Lawmaker representing Osun Central senatorial district in the National Assembly, Senator Olubiyi Fadeyi, on Tuesday, disclosed that he has spent a total sum of N2 billion on intervention funds, empowerment programmes, and commissioning of various projects for the betterment of people in his constituency.

The lawmaker who dropped the hint at an empowerment programme in Osogbo where he listed his achievements in the last 180 days in office, pledged to do his best in improving his people’s economic status and at the same time make them self-reliant in their different areas of specialisations.

Senator Fadeyi while unveiling the construction of a road in Ikirun, the installation of street lighting system in major communities across the senatorial district, hinted further that, he donated vehicles to the party leadership in each of the 10 local government areas in the Senatorial District.

“In all, we focus on infrastructure that’s why we can say that we are able to commission a road today in five months and our pledge is to do about 3.5 kilometres in two to three years and 7.5 kilometre rural roads,” he stressed.

He stressed, “This is an empowerment program and it is funded by our development partners. We cannot do it all. We can only try our best. Wherever I made a mistake, please call my attention to it. I have started some mini-projects since I was elected in February.

“Today, I’m giving the party a bus each for our local government which will be of benefit to the leaders and excos of our party. Also, our senatorial leader will collect a bus.

“What Osogbo town wanted is a Federal university and I have tabled it at the National Assembly. The bill has already gone through the first reading and I am very sure it will pass the second reading very soon.

“Also, I asked for assistance for Ifon and Ilobu communities due to their loss during the recent communal clash and our Minister, Beta Edu would soon bring relief materials to the communities.

“I am giving out N50 million to over 3,000 people to assist them in their businesses. I have provided five transformers to Osogbo, Olorunda, Odo-Otin and Ila Local Governments. I can promise that I will do more next year.

“The road we are commissioning today costs N80 million naira. In Ikirun, we constructed road and gave them solar light. We are going to start Ajagunla race from next year from Ila to Oke Ila and that would be for our youths.”

Speaking at the event, Osun State Governor, Senator Ademola Adeleke charged beneficiaries of the initiatives to make good use of whatever they are given.

He said, “If it is cash, they should invest the money, if it is tools they collect, they should use them for the right purpose. They must not sell them. If they make good use of these tools, we will be able to eliminate poverty in our state.”

Represented by his deputy, Kola Adewusi, the governor further remarked, “You can see how joyful the people are because of this empowerment programme. I want to congratulate Senator Fadeyi. He should keep it up because there is no other way you can keep your electoral promises than, through this kind of initiative.

“While the state government is playing its own role, our senators are contributing their own quota and House of Representative members are also expected to organise empowerment initiatives. Before long, dividend of democracy will reach every part of the state.”

He further advised beneficiaries to use money and tools given to them to improve their economic fortune saying, more of such empowerment initiatives should be expected from political officeholders and the government.

Adewusi charged the beneficiaries to use the opportunity to raise their social status and make a decent living.

In his remarks, the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, Hon. Sunday Bisi described PDP administration in the state as second to none.

He commended the efforts of all political office holders under the platform of the party for their humanitarian rendering services and charged them to sustain the tempo.

The party Chairman who affirmed that, the party would never let people of the state down in any way, commended the efforts of the lawmaker in ensuring that, people of his constituent are well put into consideration in his schemes of programmes.

Hon. Bisi who warned against politics of bitterness, segregation, nepotism and other forms of retrogressive attitudes that could draw back the party’s progress, charged members of the public to disregard a cross-section of party members trying to put the name of the party into the mud.

(Tribune)

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Yuletide: Niger govt declares seven days public holiday for civil servants

Niger State Governor, Mohammed Umaru Bago has declared seven days public holiday for State Civil Servants.

The Governor made the declaration at the end of the Year cutting of the cake with all members of the State Executive Council and other top government officials held at the Government House, Minna.

Governor Umaru Bago said the public holiday is for the celebration of Christmas and New Year.

According to him, the holiday will commence from Friday the 22nd of December 2023, to Monday the 1st of January, 2024.

He disclosed that food stuff will be given to government officials for onward distribution to the less privileged in their local government areas and wards.

“Don’t stay in Minna, go and share food with the poor people in your local governments and wards”,  he directed.

(Tribune)

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I’m grateful to God, fans for 2023 career success — Singer Davido

Nigerian music star, Davido, has taken to social media to chronicle the events that defined his life and career in 2023.

At the heart of this journey was what he described as the overwhelming reception of his latest album, ‘Timeless.’

Davido expressed gratitude for the unwavering support received from fans, emphasizing the album’s resonance through shared moments, Grammy nominations, and the fervour at each spectacular live performance.

Amidst the whirlwind of achievements, Davido highlighted the global stages graced and personal milestones surpassed throughout the year. From the glitz of international recognition to the significance of personal growth, Davido maintained that 2023 unfolded as a remarkable chapter in his professional journey.

Known for his infectious energy both on and off the stage, Davido acknowledged the profound impact of the year’s experiences on his musical legacy. He also expressed profound gratitude to his family and followers, acknowledging their pivotal role in his continued success.

(Tribune)

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Over 120 killed, 700 injured in Northwest China earthquake

At least 126 people have been killed in north-west China in the country’s deadliest earthquake in 13 years.

The 6.2 magnitude quake hit mountainous Gansu province around midnight on Monday (16:00 GMT), also shaking neighbouring Qinghai.

Fatalities may rise with over 700 reported injured in icy conditions.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered thousands of rescue crews to the region, among the poorest and most diverse in China.

On Tuesday, footage shown on state TV and social media networks showed entire villages split by the quake, as well as collapsed buildings and houses.

Residents who fled their homes were also shown huddling over makeshift fires at hastily erected evacuation camps. Temperatures hit -13C (8.7F) on Tuesday, Chinese media reported.

Survivors said the tremors had felt like “being tossed by surging waves”, and recalled rushing out of their apartments.

Local officials in Jishishan county, the worst hit in Gansu province, said more than 5,000 buildings in the area had been damaged.

Chinese media quoted a director of the Gansu rescue team, who attributed the widescale damage to poor building quality in the villages – many homes being old and made of clay.

Gansu lies between the Tibetan and Loess plateaus and borders Mongolia. The remote region is one of China’s poorest and most ethnically diverse.

The epicentre of the quake was in Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, home to many Chinese Muslim groups, including the Hui, Bonan, Dongxiang and Salar people.

Chinese authorities said the quake measured 6.2 on the Richter scale, while the US Geological Survey (USGS) recorded a magnitude of 5.9 and a depth of 10km (6 miles). About 10 aftershocks have taken place, local authorities reported.

President Xi has said, “all efforts should be made to carry out search and rescue, treat the injured in a timely manner, and minimise casualties”.

China sits in a region where a number of tectonic plates – notably the Eurasian, Indian and Pacific plates – meet and is particularly prone to earthquakes.

Last September, more than 60 people were killed when a 6.6-magnitude quake hit south-western Sichuan province.

The Gansu earthquake is the deadliest China has seen since the devastating 2010 quake in Yushu, Qinghai province, which claimed almost 2,700 lives.

(Tribune)

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Shun ethnic, religious divisions, Peter Obi urges Nigerians

The Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, has urged Nigerians to tear down the walls of ethnic and religious divisions, stating that these barriers have continuously impeded the nations’ unity and progress.

Obi stated this while celebrating the International Human Solidarity Day in a series of tweet on his X handle on Wednesday.

He wrote, “Today, we join the global community in celebrating  the International Human Solidarity Day which is dedicated to strengthening our global unity in diversity, and to help in fostering international cooperation on the eradication of hunger and diseases at the global level.

“On the national level, Nigerians need to solemnly remind ourselves of the need to tear down the walls of ethnic and religious divisions that have continued to divide us and instead emphasize our unity and leverage our diverse and rich cultural and ethnic identities and strengths to advance our national progress.”

The former Anambra State Governor further stated that Nigeria, as a “result of bad politics and elite insensitivity”, has become more divided than ever, making it difficult for people to work together for national development.

He wrote, “Unfortunately, we have, today as a nation, become more sharply divided than ever. Our dear nation is more polarised today than it has ever been, fueled by overwhelming tribal and religious sentiments among the people resulting in the unwillingness of Nigerians to cooperate and work together towards achieving national growth and development. This is clearly the result of bad politics and elite insensitivity.

“I, therefore, wish to use this occasion to remind Nigerians that the problems of hunger, poverty, and inequality are not specific to a particular ethnicity or religion, but cut across the nation. Thus, the task ahead of us, as political leaders and as citizens, is to continue to beat the drums of unity, social justice, and social equality to form one united front that will stand in solidarity against the many challenges that confront our nation.”

(Punch)

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WAEC denies fake site offering online classes to candidates

The West African Examination Council has denied its affiliation to a website purporting to offer online classes for prospective candidates of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination.

The exam body further indicated that it has only one official e-learning portal for candidates seeking instructions and recommendations on examination questions, adding that the unknown website may be aimed at capturing the personal information of unsuspecting persons.

This was disclosed on Wednesday in a statement signed by the council’s acting head of public affairs, Moyosola Adesina, a copy of which was obtained by PUNCH Online.

The statement read in parts, “The attention of the West African Examination Council has been drawn to a website purporting to offer online classes for prospective WASSCE candidates.

“We want to state that the Nigeria National Office of the West African Examination Council has no affiliation or connection with the site.”

The statement further advised that “for candidates seeking instructions and recommendations on approaching and tackling examination questions, they should visit the council’s e-learning portal” for “accurate and reliable information.”

(Punch)

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