In spite of the public outcry trailing the impending passage of the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) regulation bill by the House of Representatives, the lower chamber has said it is determined to pass the bill because some of the NGOs are used to fund terrorism and insurgency in the country.
The deputy majority leader of the House, Hon. Umar Buba Jibril (APC, Kogi), who made the position of the House known in a statement issued in Abuja yesterday said the intendment of the new NGO bill was to forestall alleged illegal activities of some NGOs that disappeared after collecting funds from people.
“The NGOs bill, therefore, is primarily to set up a commission to regulate their activities and provide a platform for robust relationships between them and the government for the interests of Nigerians.
He disclosed that “recent developments have shown that; some people registered NGOs, solicited for funds and disappeared. That happened recently in the North-east. Some NGOs are used to fund the activities of terrorist and insurgents”.
According to him, the bill “is to ensure transparency and accountability in the ways and manners the NGOs collect money and use them for Nigerians”.
Explaining further, Jibril noted that “the NGOs bill is not new or peculiar to Nigeria. It exists in many countries particularly in the ECOWAS sub-region and all over Africa and other continents. In Europe, Israel passed theirs last year! Kenya has a similar law since 1990.
He warned that “Nigeria is and should not be a banana republic where anything goes”.
Jibril stressed that religious bodies and organisations are not NGOs adding that “our quasi-financial institutions at local levels are not NGOs! These organisations have existed for centuries to serve businesses and commerce of our market women and traders.
“Now NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and CSOs (Civil Society Organizations) are voluntary organisations that are registered to partner government at all levels to fill gaps wherever they exist. They are supposed to be partners in progress with the government; therefore the need for a commission to serve this purpose arises.
“Secondly and naturally for them to carry out their activities, the NGOs and CSOs solicit for funds from all over the world and collect billions of naira on behalf of Nigerians!
“Thirdly they recruit expatriates to help them run their activities in the country with lots of abuses”
Recall that the bill has received bashing from a cross-section of individuals and civil society organisations prominent among which are SERAP and a former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, who described the proposed legislation as unnecessary.
But Hon. Jibril dismissed such criticisms saying “the way the NGOs are reacting to this wonderful and well-packaged bill particularly SERAP is not only shameful but condemnable”.
Adding, he said “The Nigerian parliament is an institution governed by rules and traditions. When a bill is for public hearing you go there and present your views like other interested Nigerians and invited cooperate bodies and government agencies for the standing committee to do justice to the bill. Period!
“Going on cheap propaganda and blackmail and even calling on World bodies including the United Nations to help you withdraw a bill from our National Assembly will not help you”
$9.6bn judgement debt: How P&ID defrauded Nigeria
The Federal Government yesterday told the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja how Process and Industrial Developments Limited (P&ID) and its Nigerian affiliate, P&ID Nigeria Limited, defrauded the country and equally evaded tax.
This was just as the Federal Government arraigned the two firms on an 11-count charge bothering on fraud and tax evasion in respect of the contract leading to the recent controversial judgement of a British court empowering the firm to seize $9.6 billion worth of Nigerian assets.
The firms, through their representatives, Mohammed Kuchazi and Adamu Usman, respectively pleaded guilty to the 11-count charge when they were docked.
While Kuchazi was represented by his counsel, Dandison Akurunwua, Usman, who is also a lawyer, represented himself.
The court, however, ordered the forfeiture of all assets and properties to the Federal Government, as well as the winding up (closure) of the two firms.
The order was sequel to the conviction of the two firms.
The defendants were alleged, among others, of fraudulently claiming to have acquired land from the Cross River State Government in 2010 for the gas supply project agreement which led to the $9.6 billion judgement.
The prosecution also alleged that the defendants conspired with certain officials of Nigerian Government to commit felony to wit: dealing in petroleum product without appropriate licence and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 3(6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under section 1(17) of the same Act.
The defendants were also alleged of attempt to deal in petroleum products without appropriate licence and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 1(19) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under section 1(17) of the same Act.
After the defendants pleaded guilty to the charge read to them, the court called on the EFCC investigator, Usman Babangida, to the witness box for review of facts.
This was, however, not opposed to by the defendants.
The investigator tendered documents relating to the controversial 2010 gas supply contract and EFCC’s investigation activities to the court.
The trial judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo subsequently admitted the documents as exhibits.
Also, the defendants did not object to the admissibility.
After reviewing the facts before it, the court pronounced the two firms guilty.
This was followed by an allocutus (plea for mercy) by P&ID’s counsel, Akurunwua.
He pleaded with the court to consider “the forthrightness and candour” of P&ID by pleading guilty and not wasting the time of the court in the trial.
Similarly, the second defendant aligned himself with the submission of counsel to the first defendant.
Prosecution counsel, Bala Sanga, urged the court to deliver its sentencing in line with the provision of the Money Laundering Act which stipulates the winding up of the firm as well as forfeiture of all their assets to the Federal Government.
Delivering judgement, Justice Ekwo held that the firms, having admitted to the crime, he had no option than to convict them accordingly.
Relying on provisions of section 19(2) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011, and section 10(2) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other related offences Act, 2006, the court ordered the Federal Government to wind up the two firms and confiscate all their assets in the country.
“With the facts before the court, and the plea of guilty entered by the defendants, this court is left with no option than to convict the defendants accordingly.
“Relying on Section 29(2) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011 and Section 10(2) of the Advanced Fee Fraud and other related offences Act, 2006, the court makes an order of winding up of the defendants’ firms in this matter and also an order of forfeiture of all assets and properties of the defendants to the Federal Government of Nigeria,” Justice Ekwo held.
It will be recalled that a British Commercial Court had, on August 16, awarded judgement in the sum of $9.6 billion against Nigeria over a failed contract between P&ID and the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources in 2010.
The charge reads in part:
*That you, Process and Industrial Developments Limited (Nigeria) being a company Incorporated in the British Virgin Island, Process and Industrial Development (Nigeria) Ltd., Michael Quinn (deceased), Neil Hitchcock (deceased), and Brendan Cahill (at large), on or about the 11th day of January 2010 in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this court with intent to defraud, conspired to obtain benefit to wit: petroleum product from the Federal Government of Nigeria by falsely representing to the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Ministry of Petroleum Resources,that Process Development Ltd. was allocated land by the Cross River State Government which representation you know to be false, thereby committing an offence contrary to section 8(a) and punishable under section (1) (3) of the Advanced Fee Fraud and other Offences Act, 2006.
*That you, Process and Industrial Developments Limited, being a company incorporated in the British Virgin Island, Process and Industrial Developments (Nigeria) Limited, Michael Quinn (deceased), Neil Hitchcock (deceased) and Brendan Cahill (at large), on or about the 11th of January, 2010 in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired with certain officials of Nigerian Government to commit felony to wit: dealing in petroleum product without appropriate licence and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 3(6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under section 1(17) of the same Act.
*That you, Process and Industrial Development Limited, being a company incorporated in the British Virgin Island, Process and Industrial Developments (Nigeria) Limited, Michael Quinn (deceased), Neil Hitchcock (deceased) and Brendan Cahill (at large) between August 2006 and August, 2010 at Abuja within the Abuja Judicial Division of the Federal High Court, conspired amongst yourselves to launder proceeds of unlawful act to wit: tax evasion and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 18 and punishable section 15(2)(b)(3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended by Act No.1 of 2012).”
In count seven, they were accused to have, between August 2006 and December 2006, concealed the unlawful origin of the sum of N1,856,503.50 through the Guaranty Trust Bank Plc Account No: 3223250230110 operated by Process and Industrial Developments (Nigeria) Limited, when you reasonably ought to have known that the said fund formed part of the proceeds of your unlawful act to wit: tax evasion and you, thereby, committed an offence contrary to section 15(2)(a) and punishable under section 15(3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition Act, 2011 as amended by Act No: 1 of 2012).
In count eight, the prosecution accused the defendants of concealing the sum of N3,923,237.65 and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 15(2)(a) and punishable under section 15(3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition Act, 2011 (as amended by Act No: 1 of 2012.
In count nine, the defendants were said to have concealed the sum of N2,290, 472.50 and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 15(2)(a) and punishable under section 15(3) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011 (as amended) by Act No: 1 of 2012.
In count 10, the defendants were accused of concealing the sum of N1,414, 955.50, thereby committing an offence contrary to section 15(2)(a) and punishable under section 15(3) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011 (as amended) by Act No: 1 of 2012.
Following a British court ruling that Nigeria owed the Irish firm about $9.6 billion for violating terms of the contract, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) commenced an investigation into the contract between Nigeria and P&ID.
The contract for gas supply and processing (GSPA) was signed by the administration of late President Umaru Yar’Adua and P&ID.
The company was to build gas processing facilities around Calabar, Cross River State and the government was to supply wet gas up to 400 million standard cubic feet per day.
Reps to CBN: Suspend cashless policy on deposits
Worried by the controversy generated by the implementation of the cashless policy on deposits by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the House of Representatives has ordered the apex bank to immediately suspend the policy while appropriate and extensive consultation is concluded.
The House also mandated its Committee on Banking and Currency to interface with the apex bank to establish the propriety or otherwise for the implementation of the policy and report back in four weeks.
The directive was consequent upon the adoption of a motion of urgent national importance brought to the floor at the yesterday plenary, by Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu (APC, Abia).
The CBN had, on Tuesday, issued a circular to deposit banks to commence the implementation of the cashless policy in six pilot states across the country.
The apex bank directed that implementation should commence from September 18 in Lagos, Ogun, Kano, Abia, Anambra, and Rivers states, as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
It, however, stated that the nationwide implementation of the cashless policy would take effect from March 31, 2020.
The CBN explained that transactions will attract three per cent processing fees for withdrawal and two per cent processing fees for lodgement of amounts above N500,000 for individual accounts.
Similarly, corporate accounts will attract five per cent processing fees for withdrawal and three per cent processing fee for lodgement of amounts above N3 million.
Leading debate on the motion, Kalu noted that the CBN introduced a policy on cash-based transactions which imposed a cash handling charge on daily cash withdrawals that exceed N1,500,000 for individuals and N18,000,000 for corporate bodies in 2012.
The lawmaker said he was “aware that the policy on cash-based transactions (withdrawals) in banks, was aimed at reducing and not eliminating the amount of physical cash (coins and notes) circulating in the economy, and encouraging more electronic-based transactions (payments for goods, services, transfers, etc.).”
He noted that the cash policy was introduced for a number of key reasons, including the need to drive development and modernization of payment system in line with Nigeria’s vision 2020 goal of being amongst the top 20 economies by the year 2020, to reduce the cost of banking services (including cost of credit) and drive financial inclusion by providing more efficient transaction options and greater reach, inter alia.
According to him, “A variety of benefits are expected to be derived by various stakeholders from an increased utilization of e-payment systems which include: increased convenience, more service options, reduced risk of cash-related crimes, cheaper access to (out-of-branch) banking services, access to credit and financial inclusion for consumers, faster access to capital, reduced revenue leakage and reduced cash handling costs for corporations and increased tax collections, greater financial inclusion, increased economic development for government.”
He said the CBN has signalled the implementation of a policy which would signal the imposition of charges on deposits in addition to already existing charges on withdrawals.
The motion received a unanimous support from the lawmakers.
Nigeria seeks fresh $2.5bn World Bank loan
Even as concern continues to mount about the country’s rising debt profile, the Federal Government is set to secure an additional $2.5 billion loan from the World Bank.
World Bank’s Vice President for Africa, Mr. Hafez Ghanem, told Bloomberg yesterday that the Bank is holding talks with Nigeria over a new tranche of concessionary lending to Africa’s most populous country.
Ghanem stated that Nigeria received $2.4 billion from the World Bank in the past year, adding that: “We’re talking about a new set of programmes of about the same amount; it should be around $2.5 billion.
“The current economic performance of Nigeria is not enough to reduce poverty. We need to accelerate growth.”
Nigeria, which vies with South Africa for Africa’s biggest economy, has made a sluggish recovery since a 2016 contraction, with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) expanding only 1.9% in the three months through June, slowing for the third consecutive quarter.
The World Bank in April lowered its 2019 growth forecast for Nigeria to 2.1% from 2.2%.
Coming into office over four years ago when the price of oil, Nigeria’s main export, nosedived, thereby leading to a drastic shortfall in revenue, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has increased borrowing to finance government spending.
In fact, according to debt statistics obtained from the Debt Management Office (DMO), Nigeria’s external debt rose from $10.32 billion in June 30, 2015 to $22.08 billion as of June 30, 2018.
Currently, the country’s foreign loans and domestic debt stand at $25.6 billion and $55.6 billion respectively.
In order to ease the mounting debt burden, the Federal Government has sought more credit with low interest and long repayment periods from institutions, including the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Ghanem said the World Bank’s focus in Nigeria is to lift about 100 million Nigerians, half of the population, out of poverty, with special emphasis on women’s education, expanding digital opportunities and solving a power crisis that hobbles economic activities.
He also revealed that the Bank is supporting digital transformation in Nigeria because of its potential ability to transform other areas of the economy, including industry, agriculture and services.
“Nigeria has a comparative advantage in that area because of the youth, a majority of the population is young. So if we want to create jobs, we need to invest much more in the digital economy,” he said.
The World Bank official further stated that: “It’s important to resolve the problems of the power sector in Nigeria to bring in more investments. Because you need to bring down the cost of power to make the economy more competitive for the development of industries.”
It will be recalled that while presenting the draft 2020-2022 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) recently, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, who announced that the government is proposing about N9.79 trillion as total expenditure in the 2020 budget, disclosed that debt service is projected to increase from N2.14 trillion in 2019 to about N2.45 trillion while new borrowing is to gulp N1.7 trillion next year.
Xenophobia: Low traffic from Nigeria hurts S’African Airways
- Individuals, firms cancel seminar, social functions
The strained relationship between Nigeria and South Africa over xenophobia may have taken a toll on South African Airways (SAA), the national carrier of the southern African nation.
Amid the drop in passenger traffic to the area, cash strapped SAA is on life support as the country’s government cash injection of 5.5 billion rand ($376 million) approved for the 2019/20 financial year is expected at the end of the month, but it still needs more money, a presentation to lawmakers showed on Wednesday.
South African Airways has a debt of about 12.7 billion rand, consisting of 9.2 billion rand of legacy debt and a 3.5 billion rand working capital facility provided by banks.
The Nigerian route is like life blood to SAA and has done everything to remain very competitive against Nigerian airlines.
A source at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, who is conversant with airlines’ processing of passengers and who pleaded anonymity, said that the surge in passenger traffic to the area from Lagos had seriously dwindled, adding that travellers are refusing to travel to Johannesburg, Pretoria or Durban; three major South African cities or use them as transit point because of fear for their security.
A visit to the counters of the airline by New Telegraph on Wednesday showed a few passengers travelling to the former apartheid enclave unlike in the past when it recorded a full load despite the fact that South African Airways is on government’s life support.
The airline, shortly before the Abuja Airport runway was repaired in April 2019, operated 14 weekly frequencies to Lagos and Abuja. But after the reconstruction, the carrier now flies into Lagos daily on a seven frequencies basis.
Nigeria has Bilateral Air Services Agreement with South Africa, which is one sided as the country, for now, does not have an airline to reciprocate the deal.
Arik Air was the last Nigerian airline to operate to Johannesburg. The carrier, before it ceased its international operations over three years ago, ‘competed’ with SAA on the lucrative route.
The Lagos-Johannesburg route is one that Air Peace plans to operate after acquiring three B777 from Emirates. The airline had, in July 2019, begun the very lucrative Lagos-Dubai route.
Chairman, Air Peace Airlines, Mr. Allen Onyema, while fielding questions from journalists shortly after the return of another batch of 315 Nigerians trapped in South Africa, disclosed that tourists were now shunning South Africa because of xenophobia, raising questions on why South Africa degenerated to the situation where fellow Africans are killed.
He commended the Federal Government for the strong support given to his carrier to rescue trapped citizens in the country.
Nigeria began repatriating more than 600 of its citizens from South Africa following a wave of deadly xenophobic attacks that frayed diplomatic relations with neighbouring nations.
Air Peace volunteered to fly people for free back to the commercial city of Lagos. The returnees, who expressed mixed emotions on their return, burst into tears as they alighted from the aircraft that flew them into Lagos. They expressed their bitter experiences in the hands of South Africans.
Chief Executive Officer of Financial Derivative Company Limited, Mr. Bismarck Rewane, in his monthly bulletin, said low load factor driven by insecurity occasioned by xenophobia challenges.
New Telegraph learnt from a source close to South African tourism that many Nigerians, who had slated their weddings for Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg, have all cancelled or taken them to other countries.
Many conferences and church activities and programmes have also suffered same fate; bringing a huge loss to the country.
“I feel that my safety is not guaranteed in Durban, so I have made up my mind not to attend,” said a Nigerian, Oluyinka Akande, who was due to attend an aviation and allied conference.
“A lot of people would have taken the same decision because nobody wants to go to a country where he or she is not safe,” he added.
Operators in tourism hub, Cape Town, are seeing business dip even though the coastal city has escaped the unrest.
Cape Town beaches, rolling vineyards and attractions like Table Mountain and Robben Island draw visitors from all over the world.
Australia, Botswana, China and the UK have issued travel warnings to their citizens following the anti-immigrant attacks and Nigeria’s action to evacuate her citizens has further dented the image of the country.
“We have received a few reports from our members of cancellations being received due to fears of xenophobic violence,” Cape Town Tourism top executive told New Telegraph, without giving numbers.
Africans account for more than 60 per cent of visitors, with nearly 700,000 coming on holidays in December last year, Statistics South Africa data shows.
“The xenophobic attacks carry grave and dire consequences across several sectors: our businesses operating in Africa, our tourism, our reputation, our investment levels, our ability to borrow money and the safety of our people in other countries,” the Cape Town Tourism top executive added.
Meanwhile, some of the returnees recounted their ordeal. One of them, Olufunmilayo Adefisayo, a single mother, said: “I went to South Africa in 2009 through human trafficking. They wanted to use me for prostitution, but I resisted.
“They used me for slavery and I wriggled out after five years to do business, but it was tough. I am happy to be home. I am a single mother. That is what I can say for now. It is my life story, I don’t sell it for free,” she added.
Another returnee, who gave her name simply as Ugorji, who looked ill, said her experience in South Africa was not a wish for her enemy.
Her words: “I was ambushed by some horrible looking criminals who threatened to kill me except I offered them money. I pleaded with them that I had just 1,000 rand on me. I was beaten mercilessly. I was lucky to survive. My younger brother was killed last year. It is a horrible experience.”
Uzodimma Okeke, who arrived with her husband and two little children, wept profusely and thanked God for sparing their lives.
She said on a Monday morning, criminals had surrounded their shop where they sell groceries, sprinkled fuel outside their shop.
“I was inside the shop with my husband and two children who returned from school. Thank God there was a window at the back that was unknown to the attackers. Immediately they set fire on the entire building housing our shop, my family and I escaped through the back window.
“How we managed to squeeze ourselves through the window was a miracle. We can never go back to that terrible country. There is no place like home,” she said with a wry smile.
FG, states to fund National Livestock Programme with N100bn
The National Economic Council (NEC) yesterday approved a total of N100 billion for the implementation of the National Livestock Transformation Programme (NLTP), insisting that foreigners won’t benefit from the scheme.
Governor of Ebonyi, Dave Umahi, who is the chairman of NEC’s sub-committee on National Food Security and Headers/Farmers’ conflict disclosed this while briefing State House Correspondents after the meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Umahi, who was joined at the briefing by the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, and the governor of Gombe State, Mohammed Yahaya, said the plan was not only targeted at cows, but a holistic strategy to address animal husbandry.
The Ebonyi State governor explained that “a N100 billion budget was proposed by the committee to support the project.”
“Federal Government is to provide 80 per cent in grant to support states, while states will contribute land, project implementation structure, personnel and 20 per cent cost of the project.
“Council resolved that there is need to look at the trans-human West African regional protocol, you cannot allow such movement of cattle without registration and monitoring.
“Our budget did not include non-Nigerians. There is no way we can make our programme, which the Federal Government will put 80 per cent and the states will put 20 per cent, and then we are now going to accommodate non-Nigerians; it’s not part of the programme.
“Of fact, we commend the Federal Government for any reason they closed the borders, and this is the kind of thing we are looking for. While we are trying to reposition this programme, there will be temporary restrain for such. NEC did not make any budget to accommodate non-Nigerians. This is very important,” Umahi added.
It will be recalled that Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State had reportedly said that Fulani herdsmen from Chad, Niger and other neighbouring countries will benefit from the National Livestock Transformation Plan.
Bala said since Fulani herdsmen were nomadic, it would be inappropriate to deprive them from benefitting from the livestock plan just because they were not from Nigeria.
The NLTP, which is targeted at supporting the development of Nigeria’s livestock sector, is to be implemented in seven pilot states of Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara.
The plan is being implemented as a collaboration project between the federal and state governments, farmers, pastoralists and the private sector.
Speaking further on private sector involvement, Umahi said: “In our budget, the private sector participation is about N20 billion. If given the right explanation, the private sector will key in because we are not just going to solve the national security problem, we are also trying to make people understand that animal husbandry is very profitable and can boost our economy.”
On the effective date for takeoff of the plan, he noted: “It’s not as simple as we see it. First of all, this N100 billion, we have to determine the scope because it’s done in phases, but the President as we requested today, can increase it.”
E-cigarette related illnesses on the rise
Based on a mysterious surge of severe breathing illnesses linked to vaping, India’s cabinet has announced a ban on the production, import and sale of electronic cigarettes, saying they pose a risk to health.
That country’s Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman said an executive order had been approved banning vaping products because of their impact on young people.
The development from India followed a similar ban on Tuesday of the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, a move that came as federal health officials in the United States (US) investigate the mysterious surge of severe breathing illnesses linked to vaping.
According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, there have been 530 confirmed and probable cases of lung injuries related to e-cigarettes as of September 17. That’s 150 more than was reported on September 11.”
Vaping or an electronic cigarette or e-cigarette is a handheld battery-powered vaporiser that simulates smoking and provides some of the behavioural aspects of smoking, including the hand-to-mouth action of smoking, but without burning tobacco. Using an e-cigarette is known as “vaping” and the user is referred to as a “vaper.”
Vaping involves inhaling a mix typically made of nicotine, water, solvents and flavours – is seen as an alternative to smoking, which can help smokers quit, but its impact on health is still not fully known. Some e-cigs like these appear to contain toxic metals, and using them has been tied to an increased risk of a heart attacks, medical experts said.
The ban in India will include jail terms of up to three years for offenders, according to a report bbc.co.uk. The ban does not affect traditional tobacco products.”This means the production, manufacturing, import and export, sale, distribution and advertising related to e-cigarettes are banned,” Ms Sitharaman said.
In spite of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention announcement of the rise in the ailment linked to vaping, health officials in America said, they haven’t found a definitive cause or a clear connection between cases, and warned that patients worried about becoming ill from vaping should refrain from using e-cigarettes.
There have been vaping-related illnesses in 38 states and one US territory, the CDC said. Among the cases for which patients’ sex and age are available, 72 per cent are in men, 67 per cent are in people ages 18 to 34, 16 per cent are in people younger than 18 and 17 per cent are in people age 35 and older. More than half of the cases are however in people younger than 25.
On its part, India is the world’s second-largest consumer of tobacco products after China, and more than 900,000 people die in the country each year from tobacco-related illnesses.
Tobacco kills more than eight million people globally each year. More than seven million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Around 80 per cent of the world’s 1.1 billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.
Proponents of vaping said it helps people stop smoking and that banning it would encourage ex-smokers to pick up the habit again, but India’s health ministry, which proposed the ban, stated that it was in the public interest to ensure vaping did not become an “epidemic” among young people.
NECA cautions CBN on implementation of cashless policy
The Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) has stated that the country’s economic environment is not ripe for full implementation of cashless policy, as recently announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The association’s Director-General, Mr. Timothy Olawale, who made this known yesterday in Lagos, said that the full implementation of the policy would impact negatively on several sub-sectors of the economy.
Although Olawale said that the initiative was laudable, he however, noted that the current business environment and the available infrastructure were not ready for such a development.
“Several sub-sectors of the economy, including the fast-moving consumer goods and retailing, downstream oil and gas, and transportation, among others, will be negatively impacted by the policy, as they are still predominantly cash-dominated.
“Corporate account holders are still battling with the N50 stamp duty charge on every transaction above N1,000, commission on turnover of 0.1 per cent, with the about-to-come-on-stream 7.5 per cent Value Added Tax.
“Also, with the additional five per cent as processing fee for withdrawals and three per cent as processing fee for lodgements of any amount above N3 million, it is needless to say that the policy is an overkill, exploitative and will impact negatively on the citizens,” he said.
The Director-General said that the country’s 2019 Doing Business Report rated Nigeria 146th out of 190 economies.
Olawale said: “This and other uncoordinated and unplanned policies will further bring hardship on the people and lead to further contraction of the economy.”
He urged the CBN to ensure that all deposit money banks improved their facilities as against inefficiency in their payment platforms to reduce incidences of fraud.
He reiterated the need for wide consultations and stakeholders’ engagement on a continuous basis before the implementation of policies.
Merger, unbundling of federal ministries
When President Muhammadu Buhari assigned portfolios to ministers recently after their earlier screening by the Senate, one thing came out clearly: certain ministries were separated, just as some others were reintroduced.
For instance, the Ministry of Police Affairs was removed from the Ministry of Interior and it now stands alone. Aviation, which was hitherto subsumed under the Ministry of Transportation, has also been carved out. Interestingly, these two were full-fledged ministries before Buhari merged them.
The Ministry of Finance has been merged with Ministry of Budget and National Planning, while the president created Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, and Ministry of Special Duties and International Affairs.
So, the questions that necessarily arise are: why were these ministries merged in the first place? How was the decision to fuse them reached? How rigorous was the process? Was it a result of a kneejerk response reminiscent of the sort that led to the scrapping of History as a subject from Nigerian school curricula?
Howbeit, Buhari gave reasons for the detachment of Ministry of Police Affairs from Ministry of Interior, attributing it to the security challenges in the country.
“Working with the state governments also, we intend to improve the equipping of the Police Force with advanced technology and equipment that can facilitate their work. To drive this, I recently created a full-fledged Ministry of Police Affairs,” Buhari said.
Security challenges in the country, even in 2015, had already assumed an alarming dimension and proving intractable for government to handle. The sanguinary campaign of Boko Haram in the North-East was at its worst, with swathes of the country’s territory captured by the terrorist group. Communal crisis, herder/farmers’ clashes were almost routine. Kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery and other forms of criminal activities were rampant, making it imperative for the Ministry of Police Affairs to stand alone. So, the president’s reasons are a bit curious.
The subsuming of the aviation ministry under the larger transportation ministry by Buhari in 2015 was similarly a curious decision. From the First Republic, aviation had always been on its own, reflective of the importance of air travel to modern economies.
By far the most curious of these decisions was the fusion of works, housing and power into one ministry. These are three very important ministries that require huge amount of work. Saddling one minister with the responsibility of overseeing these ministries, no matter how brilliant that person is, was asking too much. Their fusion, to say the least, was ill-advised and the last four years only served to underline the futility of that merger decision.
It is evident that certain ministries deserve to be on their own because of their strategic nature, but we have continued to tinker and engage in trial and error. This predilection to tinker, which is not something that started today, is shocking, because these are matters where we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. More mature democracies have shown the way; all we need to do is copy with some variations to suit our peculiar needs. These inconsistencies and flip flop do not in any way show us as a serious people.
But now that power had been removed from the other two ministries, it is expected that electricity generation and distribution will improve correspondingly. Also, the fact that the ministry now has two ministers should make this dream more realisable.
However, Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, stated recently that the problem is one of a lack of capacity on the part of the electricity distribution companies (DisCos), suggesting that Nigerians might not enjoy stable electricity in the near future.
Osinbajo said: “Despite all the availability of about 8,000MW of generation and 7,000MW of transmission capacity, the lack of infrastructure to absorb and deliver grid power to end-users on the part of DisCos has largely restricted generation to an average of about 4,000MW and sometimes even falling below 4,000MW.
“It is evident that despite all the efforts that have been put in to expand the grid, the structure of the market today cannot deliver on government’s promises to provide power for domestic and industrial use. A substantial change of strategy is necessary. There is clearly a need for a change of strategy. What we have done in the past has taken us to a point where there is clearly a change of strategy.”
Given the above scenario, we want to appeal to government to take action in regards to the problem of infrastructural deficiency of the DisCos. The DisCos must be made to urgently sort out their capacity problem, otherwise the reason for removing the power ministry from the erstwhile behemoth will be defeated.
However, we commend government for finally realising the unwieldiness of the ministry and unbundling it. We also note the decision to reintroduce police affairs and aviation as stand-alone ministries, and hope that the country reaps the benefit of such decisions.
We also hope that the fusion of the Ministry of Finance with the Ministry of Budget and National Planning will engender effective delivery of services. These two ministries are critical in the running of government.
It is our believe that this will be the last time government will engage in these needless periodic mergers and subsequent unbundling that have been part of the country’s ministerial history.
Senate justifies planned purchase of N5.5bn SUVs
The Senate, yesterday, took a swipe at critics of the planned purchase of a fleet of Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) worth N5.5 billion for members of the National Assembly.
The Red Chamber vehemently reprimanded those kicking against the multi-billion naira project meant to deliver a brand new jeep to each of the 469 federal lawmakers, saying that the criticism was irrational and nonsensical.
There has been a serious public outcry over the move by the management of the National Assembly to purchase the said vehicles in the face of the lean resources available to the government to deliver social services to the citizenry.
The opposition mounted against the purchase of the vehicles resulted in a litigation against it in the court of law by some concerned Nigerians and civil society groups, led by the Socio Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
Leader of the Senate, Yahaya Abdullahi, who justified the plan yesterday in an interview with journalists, said it was highly insulting that some public commentators were kicking against the move.
Abdullahi clarified that the N5.5 billion for purchase of utility vehicles is part of the N125 billion 2019 budget of the National Assembly.
He argued that there was nothing for anybody to cry over as far as the plan was concerned, stressing that a serving Senator and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, deserved to have an official vehicle in the mode of a functional utility vehicle or Jeep.
He said: “To say that a senator of the Federal Republic cannot ride a jeep in Nigeria is an insult.
“The N5.5 billion is from the National Assembly fund and not money being sought from any other source. Besides, the scheme as it has always been with previous Assemblies, is a monetised one, requiring each of the lawmakers to pay back the cost of whatever vehicle given to them.
“The outcry over it is very unnecessary and insulting to the institution of the National Assembly and status of the federal lawmakers.
“When I was a Permanent Secretary, I know what ministers get; we cannot even compare ourselves with ministers because we are higher than the ministers.
“Go and tell the people that the work that we do, is more than the work of ministers and as representatives of the people, money will spend on daily basis to all forms of indigent people, far far outweighs whatever they as ministers or executive officers spend.”
The lawmaker also stated that both chambers of the National Assembly were ready at anytime to engage any group of people in the polity on its operations and spending in line with the principles of accountability and transparency the 9th Assembly stands for.
“Each of the ministers move in convoy of three to four Sport Utility Vehicles without anybody raising any eyebrow while some people who either as a result of ignorance or mischief, always cry to high heavens anytime, management of the National Assembly wants to buy just one utility vehicle for a lawmaker on the template of monetisation,” he lamented.
Abdullahi, however, commended the executive for rolling out the 2020-2022 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), upon which the 2020 budget proposals would be presented next month by President Muhammadu Buhari.
This, he said, would facilitate adjusting the yearly budgetary cycle from May/June as it is presently to January to December every year.
Xenophobia: Again, 315 Nigerians return from South Africa
Another batch of 315 Nigerians fleeing xenophobic attacks in South Africa yesterday arrived at 7.45p.m., through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
This brings the total number of Nigerians evacuated from the Southern African country to 493.
Alighting from Air Peace B777-300, many of the returnees expressed thanks to the Federal Government and Air Peace for the quick intervention in bringing them, despite several millions of naira lost to the rampaging South African marauders.
Immediately after their arrival, the returnees were offered free medical tests by Louis Medical Hospital to check their health status and to know if they were HIV positives.
However, all of them tested for HIV tested negative. But those who showed symptoms of malaria were referred to the hospital to be treated free of charge.
They were, however, referred to a desk where their passports were verified and stamped, showing they were not deported, but came home on their own volition.
Unlike the first batch that returned on Wednesday last week, many of the returnees came back with their families, many of them children and infants.
Both the returnees and those waiting to receive them wept freely as the victims of xenophobic attacks in the former apartheid enclave recounted their horrific experiences.
Nigeria began repatriating more than 600 of its citizens from South Africa following a wave of deadly xenophobic attacks that frayed diplomatic relations with neighbouring nations.
Air Peace volunteered to fly people for free back to Lagos. The returnees burst into tears as they alighted from the aircraft that flew them into Lagos.
They expressed their bitter experiences in the hands of South Africans.
NEMA gave each of the returnees N10,000 while MTN and Airtel gave each returnee N90,000 making N180,000 from the telcos. Lagos State also gave each returnee N20,000 while they were also given Tecno mobile phone each.
Speaking with journalists, the Chairman, Air Peace Airlines, Mr. Allen Onyema, said a lot of them were happy to return home.
Onyema added that he decided to come to the returnees’ rescue to save Nigeria from embarrassment meted out to her by South Africa.
He said his decision to intervene in rescuing Nigerians from that country was borne out of genuine love and not to curry publicity.
The chairman said the 18-man Air Peace crew went for a rescue mission and spent over 24 hours to bring the returnees back.
He said: “When Captain Egonu and his team came back, they rejected allowances of $42,000, saying it was their own contribution to bring these Nigerians back. They said if their chairman could decide to do this job free of charge, they too said they want to learn to give back to the society. They had the money, but they returned the money.”
Onyema said the singular action had brought back respect to Nigeria.
He said: “I can tell you that. It was a bad advertisement for South Africa. All over the world, people are talking about this evacuation. They said once Nigeria rises up to the act, they will be respected and we are now respected. It is not about Air Peace, it is about nationhood.
“The truth is that, without this non-violent action that we engendered, xenophobia will still be happening. That is the non-violence we have engendered by doing this. If not, nobody would have come here to apologise to Nigeria. This evacuation is a bad signal to any country. That was why they wanted to stop us from evacuating because flights are now going back empty to South Africa.”
Onyema stated that tourists were now shunning South Africa because of xenophobia.
He wondered why South Africa degenerated to the situation where fellow Africans are killed.
Onyema commended the Federal Government for the strong support given to his carrier to rescue Nigerians trapped in South Africa.
He said: “We brought 315 today. The Foreign Affairs Ministry has just informed me now that we should give them time to profile the people we have now and make sure that the next people that are coming are the right people who need to come and not people who are coming for holiday. As far as there are Nigerians remaining to be evacuated, Air Peace will fly its equipment there free of charge.”
The Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri Erewa, told New Telegraph that the Federal Government decided to assist the returnees, especially the skilled ones, with palliatives for now until they were assisted by their state governments.
She said: “What we did immediately they landed was to give them data and airtime and cash that would last them for some time. We have appealed to kind hearted Nigerians to support them. Their only crime is that they are Nigerians. States are also encouraged to support their citizens. We have profiled them according to their states and they have been responding as we have been communicating with them.
“The Bank of Industry has reached out to them to empower them to know exactly what they want to do. There is adequate arrangement for all of them. There is a widow with four children. There is scholarship coming for the children and I am sure they are glad to be home.
“We are getting offers from Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Everybody will be settled. The children will go to school. State governors are responding. What each has is not too much to take care of them. They are happy to be home.
“It is going to be a gradual process of resettling them. We have somebody here who is already talking to them about entrepreneurship. We will reach out to them to find out how they are doing.”
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