Akume denies meeting Tinubu in Lagos over zoning

The  Senate Minority Leader, Senator George Akume, has denied meeting with the National Leader of the All progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in Lagos over the zoning of National Assembly positions, especially that of the Senate President.

Special Assistant to Akume on Media, Beckie Orpin, in a statement on Thursday, said Akume along with other Senators-elect received the President-elect Muhammadu Buhari at the ongoing 8th National Assembly retreat at the International Conference Centre, Abuja in the morning of Wednesday.

The statement added that the Senate Minority Leader later held other meetings with his colleagues up to the early hours of Thursday, April 30, 2015.

The statement read in part, “Senator Akume did not meet with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in Lagos or anywhere by 3pm, April 29, 2015 as published.

“The Senate Minority Leader is not pre-occupied with positions for now but rather, he is conferring with his colleagues on the need to work for the betterment of the lives of the good people of Nigeria and to have a vibrant 8th National Assembly

“That notwithstanding, the point has to be made that Nigeria at the moment is in dire need of a National Assembly leadership that is very purposeful, focused and result-oriented; one that is capable of providing a legislative agenda that positively complements that of the executive.”

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Money laundering: Court jails Igbinedion for six years

A Federal High Court in Benin on Thursday sentenced Patrick Eboigbodin, an aide to a former Governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion, to 20 years imprisonment without an option of fine for money laundering. The presiding judge, Justice A. M. Liman, also sentenced a younger brother to the state ex-Governor, Michael Igbinedion, to six years imprisonment, with an option of fine of N1m for each of the three counts 79, 80 and 81, for which he was convicted.‎

Igbinedion, Eboigbodin and four companies were arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on an 81 counts bothering on money laundering. The four companies are Gava Corporation Limited, Romrig Nigeria Limited, PML Securities Company Limited and PML Nigeria Limited, addressed as the third to sixth accused persons. The offences were said to have been committed during the administration of the former governor.

Eboigbodin was sentenced to two years each on 10 counts, while the court orderd the closure and forfeiture of assets of the sixth accused, (PML Limited) to the Federal Government.

It also mandated the company to pay the sum of N250, 000.
Justice Liman noted that the prosecution proved the alleged collaboration beyond reasonable doubts but discharged all the accused persons on other counts on the ground that the prosecution failed to prove the allegations.

The judge further explained that the prosecution only proved suspicion but failed to prove illicit origin of funds deposited in the said banks.

Earlier, counsel for the first, third to sixth accused persons, Richard Ahonanuogho, acknowledged that the 10 counts brought against his clients ‎centred on money laundering as contained in Section 14 (1) of the Money Laundering Act (2004) and the law provided a sentence of two to three years imprisonment.

He, however, urged the court to use its discretion to award a fine or apply a suspended sentence as the first accused was a first offender, was still in his late 50’s and had not benefited from the said offence.

Counsel for the second accused, Abubakar Shamsudeen, had told the court that his client had pleaded leniency based on his age, being a first offender and victim of the system, based on the office he occupied when the offence was committed. He, therefore, urged the court to apply an option of fine, not below N250,000 or N500,000 and not more than N1m in lieu of imprisonment.‎

But the counsel for the EFCC, Tayo Olukotun, urged the court not to be persuaded by the plea for leniency by the accused‎, arguing that their conviction was in line with the provision of the law and that the call for suspended sentence was not within the court’s jurisdiction.

The prosecution also submitted that the claim of non-criminal benefit by the first accused was not an issue because the crime had already been established. He subsequently canvassed both option of fine and imprisonment.

Probe PHCN, privatised assets, TMG tells Buhari

A civil rights organisation, Transition Monitoring Group, on Thursday called on the President-Elect, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to thoroughly investigate all the national assets privatised by the Peoples Democratic Party-led government in Nigeria.

In doing so, the organisation said the incoming administration should beam its searchlight on the defunct National Electric Power Authority (which transformed to Power Holding Company of Nigeria), an agency, it said, “has become synonymous with corruption in Nigeria.”

The Chairman of TMG, Mr. Ibrahim Zikirullahi, at a press briefing in Abuja, also said it was also planning to “closely monitor governance processes and outcomes, using some structures and methodology to ensure that government fulfills its electoral promises to all Nigerians.”

While calling on Buhari to follow up on his promises by declaring a full scale war on corruption, TMG said it preferred that the anti-corruption agencies be strengthened and made independent to prosecute the war.

The pressure group called on Buhari to bolster the anti-corruption agencies such as Economic and Financial Crimes Commission by injecting fresh and radical minds, and giving it financial and ‘prosecutorial’ autonomy.”

Zikirullahi said, “We call for the investigation of all the privatisation of our national assets by the PDP government, particularly the sale of NEPA. Indeed, this is one agency that has become synonymous with corruption in Nigeria. We also call for a comprehensive probe of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, which has over the years degenerated into stinking cesspit of official corruption.

“For us, the so called privatization of the (power) sector has ended in nothing but unmitigated disaster. It is fraudulent that an extensive privatization exercise failed to produce a reliable due diligence report proficient enough to identify and proffer solutions to the technical challenges that have dogged the sector.

“We wonder why a process that claims to have observed due diligence would result in the granting of loans to the Distribution Companies to pay for assets they were supposed to have been financially capable of acquiring in the first place.

“To spotlight the specious nature of these transactions, besides granting the DISCOs cheap interest loans not opened to other players in critical sectors, Nigerians are equally forced to pay the DISCO through monthly standing charges, not minding the erratic nature of electricity supply.

“This monumental rip-off of the Nigerian and the nation’s commonwealth has been the hallmark of the so called privatization. The President-elect will serve our nation’s interest well by revisiting the heist in the power sector that goes by the name privatization.”

I want to be first female Senate President – Garba

The Adamawa North Senatorial District Senator-elect, Binta Garba, on Thursday said she would unite the upper legislative chamber if she is elected as the first female Senate President in Nigeria.

According to her, as the only female Senator from the North, her interest to vie for the Senate Presidency is to bring transparency into the leadership of the red chamber.

Speaking with journalists in Abuja, the three-term member of the House of Representatives, said she had written to all her colleagues and other Nigerians on the need to support her bid to emerge as the first female Senate President in Nigeria.

Garba, who was elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, said, “Apart from the fact that I have held several positions as a lawmaker in the House of Representatives, I am the first female chairperson of any public party in Nigeria, having been elected as the Adamawa State Chapter Chairperson of the APC in April last year.

“I am still holding that position till today and the unity I brought to the party brought about the successes we recorded in the recent general elections.

“As a delegate member from Adamawa State to the National Conference, I served on the Committee on Political Restructuring and Forms of Government. I know what Nigerians need when it comes to lawmaking and leadership. It is time for all to support the female folks to be at the forefront of decision-making in Nigeria.”

NDIC warns depositors against patronising wonder banks

The Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation on Thursday in Kaduna warned depositors against patronising illegal fund operators, otherwise known as “wonder banks” across the country.

NDIC noted that the so-called wonder banks, who offered extra-ordinary interest rates,  were not licensed by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Managing Director of the corporation, Alhaji Umaru Ibrahim, while delivering a speech at the 36th Kaduna International Trade Fair to mark the NDIC Special Day, said the agency would not carry the burden of banks ‘depositors’ plight in case of missing funds.

Ibrahim insisted that wonder banks (illegal fund managers) most at times disappeared after collecting customers money, leaving them in pains.

He urged Nigerians to stay clear of such banks.

According to him, the warning  has become imperative in view of the continued existence of such illegal fund operators in different forms and styles in various parts of the country.

He said, “I wish to seize this opportunity to once again advise members of the public against patronising illegal fund managers, also known as wonder banks, who offer extra-ordinary interest rates to deposits or investments only to disappear after collecting the deposits or investments.

“These illegal operators are not licensed by the CBN as deposit-taking financial institutions; and as such, are not under the NDIC insurance cover.

“People often approach the corporation to seek redress after falling victims. For the avoidance of doubt, the corporation wishes to make it categorically clear that only depositors of institutions that are licensed to collect deposits by CBN, such as  deposit money banks ,micro finance banks primary mortgage banks, and non interest/Islamic banks are under the NDIC insurance cover.”

Senate approved N143bn for fuel subsidy in 2015 budget

The Senate Committee Chairman on Finance, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, on Thursday said it was untrue that no provision was made for fuel subsidy in the 2015 budget which was passed by the lawmakers few days ago.

Makarfi, who made the clarification in Abuja during a chat with journalists, also gave an insight into how the nation can effectively address the issue of high cost of governance.

The Senate had on Tuesday passed the national budget of N4.493tr for the 2015 fiscal year, about five months after it was presented by the Minister of Finance/Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The fiscal document, which was earlier passed by the House of Representatives last week, was N51bn higher than the N4.425tn submitted to both chambers of the National Assembly by the Federal Government.

Following the passage, there had been insinuations and reports that there was no provision for fuel subsidy in the 2015 budget.

The fear about the absence of fuel subsidy had led to insinuations within some quarters that it was a booby trap set for the in-coming government of General Muhammadu Buhari.

But Makarfi said a total sum of N100bn was provided for as subsidy for Premium Motor Spirit, while N43bn was approved for Dual Purpose Kerosene for the 2015 fiscal period.

Markafi said “There is a provision for subsidy in the budget, people need to understand where to look for an issue. If you look at the main appropriation, there is so many cost components.

“You will not see cash call in the main appropriation, you will not see subsidy in the main appropriation. There are expenses in the main memoranda items that you are not going to see in the main appropriation.

“For you to see them, you have to go through the revenue profile. In this year budget, N100bn was provided for Premium Motor Spirit, N43bn for DPK.

The federal government in 2013, budgeted the sum of N970bn for fuel subsidy out of which N515bn was released to oil marketers.

In the 2014 fiscal period, the same N970bn was budgeted for fuel subsidy while N414bn was released.

But Makarfi said while the amount budgeted for this year may not be enough to for subsidised petroleum products, the law allows for a request of additional funding when the need arises.

This window, according to him, could be used by the incoming government.

Fuel Crisis May Linger Despite Government’s Pledge To Pay Marketers

In spite of Federal Government’s efforts to restore normalcy in fuel supply, indications are that the crisis may linger for a while, as long queues of anxious motorists continue to build outside filling stations across Nigeria.

On Wednesday, Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said at the end of the Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja that ?the ?g??overnment was ready to pay the marketers the outstanding N156 billion debt in order to remove all bottlenecks in the smooth distribution of fuel in the country.

The current crisis, which worsened over the weekend, has been blamed on the National Association of Road Transport Owners whose members withdrew their services to the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria over alleged N21 billion debts.

MOMAN is the umbrella group for the six major oil marketers, including Oando, Conoil, Forte Oil, MRS, Total and Mobil Oil, which control more than half of the fuel distribution outlets in the country.

NARTO had directed its members to halt further lifting and transportation of petroleum products from the depots to the six marketing firms’ retail outlets till the outstanding debt, accumulated since December 2013, were fully settled.

The National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers affiliate is insisting they do not have sufficient funds to continue loading and transporting petroleum products for major marketers.

Though NARTO said they were still servicing the NNPC Retail, and other independent marketers as well as the Depot & Petroleum Products Marketers Association, all filling stations belonging to the six major fuel marketers in Abuja and environs were out of stock since Monday.

However, MOMAN said it would not be able to pay its debt to NARTO unless the Ministry of Finance fulfilled its promise to its members to settle the foreign exchange differential and interest charge on loans covering the period 2013 and 2014.

The Executive Secretary of MOMAN, Obafemi Olawore, said government had reneged on assurances by Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala in February to settle the N256.2 billion outstanding debt.

Mr. Olawore said since the release of N100 billion after the meeting with its members in February, no other payment was made.

He said its members were afraid the in-coming administration may not pay them on assumption of office.

The Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, Farouk Ahmed, said on Wednesday he was instructed by the Minister of Petroleum Resources met with officials of NARTO on Monday to reassure them of government’s readiness to pay the debt.

He said during the meeting attended by the Minister of State for Finance,  Bashir Yuguda, the marketers were told that government had approved the payment of the import charges differential  of N56 billion to them.

The PPPRA scribe said additional N100 billion in sovereign debt note issued by the Debt Management Office a month ago would also be released to the marketers as it matures on April 30.

“The DMO has already sent messages to the marketers to submit their account details for the payment to be transferred to them,” Mr. Ahmed said. “Our hope is that the marketers will pay NARTO their N21 billion as soon as possible so that the issue would be resolved.”

According to the PPPRA boss, the problem was not with stock of petroleum products, as the NNPC has sufficient stock at the depots, apart from several imported cargoes yet to be discharged at the ports.

“The problem is with the outstanding payments,” Mr. Ahmed said. “Resolving the situation depends on how fast the marketers sort out their disagreement with the marketers and restore their services.  The PPPRA and petroleum and Finance ministries have done all that is possible to resolve the crisis as soon as possible.”