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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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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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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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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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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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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