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Budget Padding, Delay: NASS, NDDC Trade Words

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The National Assembly has reacted to the allegations of budget delay and budget padding of the 2019 budget of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

The Acting Managing Director of the Commission, Kemebradikumo Pondei, and the Executive Director, Project, Cairo Ojougboh, made the allegations in separate interviews.

The duo claimed that the lawmakers inserted over 500 projects into the 2019 budget of the commission and are arm-twisting the Interim Management Committee (IMC) from carrying out a forensic audit as directed by President Buhari.

Mr Ojougboh also said the House of Representatives “vandalized and raped” the 2019 budget by adding ₦85 billion to the budget.

They also claimed that the “overbearing stranglehold” of the National Assembly’s panels was responsible for the delay in the passage of the commission’s 2019 budget.

In his reaction, the Senate spokesperson, Ajibola Basiru, said the commission was exhibiting ignorance about the constitutional power of the National Assembly to perform oversight functions over all entities that expend national funds, particularly to prevent or detect corruption.

He told ThisDay Newspaper that the Senate is acting within its constitutional mandate and the appropriate forum to challenge any perceived infraction by the National Assembly is to challenge the same in a court of law and not by wild claims on a television station.

He said the National Assembly would wait to see if the NDDC will fail to honour the invitation to be extended to it by the ad hoc committee probing the alleged N40 billion fraud at the commission.

On his part, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP – Delta North), said all allegations levelled against the National Assembly are mere fabrications.

He told journalists on Thursday that the ongoing probe of the finances of the commission by both chambers of the National Assembly triggered the open media attacks against the National Assembly by the IMC.

While he said the National Assembly’s response is to correct the misrepresentation, he called on the EFCC, police and ICPC to investigate the claims.

“What we are seeing is a case of a man sent to catch the thief but instead of catching the thief, he starts stealing too.

“If members of the IMC know that their hands are clean, they don’t need to pannick or resort to blackmail which would not in anyway deter the already mandated investigative committees of the National Assembly from carrying out their legitimate assignments.

“Their lies have short legs and unfortunately cannot run fast or fly. IMC must be ready to submit itself for thorough investigation by committees already assigned for that by both Chambers of the National Assembly,” he said.

The lawmaker explained that the National Assembly refused to treat the request to amend the 2019 budget of the NDDC because there was a breach of the procedure for requesting budget amendment.

In the same vein, the House’ spokesperson, Benjamin Kalu, described the allegations as untrue and a deliberate mischief to deceive Nigerians about the financial improprieties of the commission.

Mr Kalu, in a statement, said in reality, it has been the House pushing the commission to do the needful. He said for more than 13 months after the time required by law, the commission deliberately failed to submit its 2019 budget to the National Assembly for approval, choosing instead to engage in illegal and unauthorized spending of billions of naira. He said in December 2019, the commission failed to appear with its 2018 budget performance report and sent a letter on May 13, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as excuse for their failure to provide their 2019 performance report.

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Insecurity Threatening Nigeria’s Existence,  Gbajabiamila Warns

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The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, on Thursday said the three arms of the Federal Government must take all necessary actions to tackle the security challenges facing Nigeria.

Gbajabiamila decried the spate of insecurity, saying it had disrupted the lives of the people as well as threatened the continued existence of the country.

The Speaker stated this in Abuja while declaring open, a two-day workshop on promoting effective legislation and oversight of the security sector in Nigeria, which was organised by the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence in collaboration with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation

A statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Lanre Lasisi, titled ‘All Arms of Government Must Work to Address Security Challenges, quoted him warning against the dire consequences of allowing the security crises to persist.

He said, “We are at this moment experiencing in many parts of our country, significant internal security challenges that have disrupted the lives of many of our citizens and led to a loss of lives and property at a scale that cannot easily be quantified.

“These internal security challenges threaten the very existence of the Nigerian state because they undermine public faith in the government’s ability to fulfil its fundamental obligation to protect the lives and property of citizens.

“Across the three arms of government, we have a shared responsibility to take all necessary actions to meet these challenges head-on. This is what the people who elected us rightly expect.”

According to Gbajabiamila, national security is generally understood to be the preserve of the executive arm of government. He said as a result, the general public and the political class often do not know what the legislative role in national security is or ought to be.

The Speaker said, “This knowledge gap presents an ongoing limitation on the policy-making and oversight role of the legislature as it pertains specifically to the challenges we face in the national security sector. Workshops such as the one we have gathered here for today are an essential tool in reversing this gap.”

He added, “The realities of the moment require that we be willing to speak honest truths about the things we haven’t gotten right so that we can then focus our energies on making sure that we do better for the future.

“I encourage all of you to remember that a lot of the hopes we have for our country depend on our ability to guarantee the safety of our people and the security of property and investments. And from this remembrance, I hope we can find the motivation to do all that this moment requires of us.

“Key followers of the House would notice that security has been a very important part of our work. It’s part of our legislative agenda. When I came in, I visited three key states affected by insecurity. I went to Katsina, Borno and Zamfara.”

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Malami Recants, Says He Won’t Testify Before Salami Panel over Magu

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The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has written a letter to the Presidential panel probing the suspended acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu.

Malami, who is also the Minister of Justice, told the panel led by Justice Ayo Salami that he would not be able to appear before the investigative body because of the privileges of his office.

The development comes less than two weeks after the AGF boasted that he would appear before the panel to testify if he was invited.

Magu’s legal team led by Mr. Wahab Shittu, had subpoenaed Malami, demanding that he appear before the panel to substantiate the allegations he preferred against the suspended EFCC boss.

However, it was learnt that during the sitting of the panel on Wednesday, Salami read out a letter from Malami stating that he would no longer be able to appear.

Confirming the incident to The PUNCH on Thursday, a lawyer to Magu, Mr. Tosin Ojaomo, said they were all shocked when Justice Salami read out the letter.

He said, “We were all gathered at the Presidential Villa for the day’s proceedings when Justice Salami read out a letter from the AGF. The AGF stated that he would not be able to testify because his constitutional role does not include testifying. He said his duty was to prosecute and file charges.

“I was shocked because Section 174 of the constitution does not give the AGF such privileges. Isn’t it funny that the AGF who levelled a series of allegations against Magu is now refusing to substantiate the allegations that emanated from his office?”

When contacted on the telephone, the Spokesman for the AGF, Dr. Umar Gwandu, asked our correspondent to send him a text message and he would respond appropriately.
However, he had yet to do so as of press time.

Magu was suspended in July based on some reports by investigative panels set up by the AGF.

Some of the allegations were that Magu was unable to account for the interest accrued to over N500bn in recovered funds and that he allegedly bought a house in Dubai for N570m.

The suspended EFCC boss was also said to be at loggerheads with the AGF and had refused to obey instructions from his office.

However, in the course of the investigation by the panel, the probe was extended to several other cases including that of convicted former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun.
Over 40 persons including those standing trial for corruption have testified before the panel, a move which has been criticised by Magu’s team and other anti-corruption groups.

The panel is supposed to have ended its sitting since last month but was given a six-week extension which lapses this month.

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Kogi Tanker Explosion Claims Lives of Schoolchildren, Many Others, Buhari Mourns

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President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday, said he was disturbed by the petroleum tanker explosion that claimed 23 lives earlier in the day in Lokoja, Kogi State.

Most of the victims of the tanker explosion, which occurred in the Felele area of Lokoja, along the Lokoja/Abuja Highway, were schoolchildren and students of the state-owned polytechnic located a short distance away from the scene.

A man from Okene was said to have lost six children to the inferno, while a family of five was wiped out in the accident that some referred to as the worst in the year so far.

The victims included five students of the Kogi State Polytechnic and three nursery pupils, who were on their way to school.

Also, pupils from the Baptist Academy, whose number had yet to be ascertained, were among those killed.

Also killed was a businessman, identified simply as Samson, alongside his wife and three children.

Samson was said that be dealing in sewing machines and wanted to drop off his children at school as had become his daily routine before opening his shop.

The 33,000-litre tanker, which was laden with Premium Motor Spirit and belonged to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, was said to have suffered brake failure around 8am and rammed into five cars, two motorcycles and three tricycles, killing all the occupants.

Buhari said the tragedy represented “another disturbing and saddening incident in the litany of tragedies that have befallen our country.”

Buhari’s position was contained in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, titled: ‘President Buhari mourns victims of Lokoja tanker explosion’.

Shehu quoted the President as expressing worry over the frequency of what he called “large-scale tragedies” in the country.

Buhari was also said to have regretted that the frequent incidents, which he described as a national scandal, were mostly caused by people’s indifference to safety standards.

The President was quoted to have said, “I am seriously worried about the frequency of these unfortunate and large-scale tragedies in the country, which cause needless deaths.

“These frequent incidents that result in loss of lives and property are a national scandal caused by our indifference to safety standards.

“Many accidents are preventable if proper proactive and precautionary measures are put in place or properly observed as routine policies.

“Ours is a country where we move on whenever tragedies occur instead of taking preventive safety measures to forestall future calamities.”

The President therefore called on the county’s transport authorities, traffic and road management agencies as well as law enforcement officials to sit up and enforce safety standards with more seriousness.

He added, “Refusal to do the right thing can cause potential tragic problems that harm innocent people.

“Nigeria is not having a shortage of laws and regulations, but our problem is lack of zeal to enforce those laws and regulations for the sake of public safety.”

He condoled with the state government and the bereaved families.

“I was about crossing the road when I noticed the driver of the tanker signalling of the impending danger due to brake failure, and before one could say Jack Robinson, the 33,000-litre tanker conveying Premium Motor Spirit fell on its side and started spilling the content, which caught fire and burnt all vehicles in the vicinity,” an eyewitness, who spoke on condition anonymity, toldPUNCH Metro.

One of our correspondents, who got to the scene a few minutes after the explosion, counted five burnt cars, three tricycles and two motorcycles.

Although the Sector Commander of the Federal Road safety Corps in the state, Idris Fika Ali, said 23 persons lost their lives, sources said close to 40 casualties might have been recorded.

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