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2 Winners, Same Silver Coin …That PDP Verdict On Senate, FEC

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Every coin has two faces, what parties seeking ‘ tie-break’ in logjam of choices usually call ‘Head’ or Tail.’ Before a coin is tossed for two conflicting parties, there must be a primary choice in contest, in the case of a soccer event, who kicks the ball first or chooses a desired half of the field.

If therefore, the log-jam now prompted by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s more –than 73-days absence from his presidential desk were to be put in context, two opposing choices will naturally emerge: One in favour of section 145 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution and the other; respect for the two Abuja High Court rulings voiced on two different occasions by the  same Justice Abutu. Lets see both angles.

First, section 145 of the 1999 Constitution which is titled, Acting President during temporary absence of president, states thus: ‘ whenever the President transmits to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representative a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Vice –president as Acting President”

Key points to note here are,  “written declaration”, ‘proceeding on vacation’ (Leave, as Nigerian Civil Servants know it) and “unable to discharge the functions of his office”

Did the president send a written declaration to the Senate President or Speaker House of Rep? No!

Away for more than 70 days on vacation, sorry sick leave(?), Yes. In these number of days, has Mr President been able to “discharge the functions of his office”? No.

Thus, the questions to be raised are, since the president did not transmit any such written declaration, understandably, giving his health condition, at the time of leaving Nigeria for the King Faisal Specialist and Research Centre in Jeddah Saudi Arabi, Nov 23, last year, where, he has since been receiving treatment for acute preicaditis- an inflammation of the lining of the heart, can Vice President Goodluck Jonathan be sworn-in as acting president? Or were it to be seen as Mr President normal annual leave,

sorry vacation, how long would it last? And without the constitutional Senate or Reps notification, is it legally right for the vice president to perform the duties of his boss as if he were acting president?

In a country, where politicians think less of the next election and more of the next generation valid answers to these questions would not be too hard to find.

Now, lets also analyse the second part, the two Abuja High Court rulings, based upon which the Federal Executive Council (FEC),  a body of ministers appointed by the ailing president, to make a public declaration about the true state of the president’s health.

Disturbed by the long absence from his office as president, concerned Nigerians had sought constitutional interpretation from an Abuja High Court, presided over by Justice Abutu, before whom the applicants sought, among others, relief that vice President Jonathan be sworn-in as acting president.

But Justice Abutu in his first, ruled  that the Vice President could exercise presidential powers in the absence of the president but could not be sworn-in as acting president since Yar’Adua did not transmit a letter to the National Assembly to that effect.

In his second ruling, Justice Abutu gave the Executive Council of the Federation, often also called the Federal Executive Council (FEC) 14 days starting from last Saturday, January 23, 2010 to pass a resolution on the health of the president. The  body didn’t need 14 days, they took the decision last Wednesday, January 27, 2010 and told Nigerians that President Yar’Adua was not incapacitated but that he would return to the country next (this) week.

The court’s ruling and directive to the FEC is hinged on the long winding path and hurdles placed in way of a Goodluck Jonathan ever having in his CV, Acting President, if section 144, (1a-c,2,3,4a-b,5), are to be considered

The section spells out how an ailing president or vice president shall cease to hold office and states in 144 (1,A-B) as follows.

(a)…if, by a resolution passed by two thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the federation, it is declared that the president or vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office, and (b) the declaration is verified, after such medical examination as may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection (4) of this section in its report to the president of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representative.

(2) where the medical panel certifies in the report that in its opinion the president or the vice president is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as render him PERMANENTLY INCAPABLE (emphasis mine) or discharging the functions of his office, a notice there of signed by the president of Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall be published in the official Gazzette of the Government of the Federation.

(3) the president or vice president shall cease to hold office from the date of publication of the notice of the medical report pursuant to subsection (2) of this section.

And then the constitution explains the constitution of the medical panel which opinion will determine the removal of either the president or vice president, in sub section.

(4) The medical panel to which this section relates shall be appointed by the president of the senate and shall  comprise Five medical practitioners in Nigeria –

(a)        One of whom shall be the personal physician of the holder of the office concerned; and

(b)        Four other medical practitioners who have, in the opinion of the President of the Senate, attained a high degree of eminence in the field of medicine relative to the nature of the examination to be conducted in accordance with the foregoing provisions.

(5)        In this section, the reference to “Executive council of the Federation is a reference to the body of ministers of government of the Federation, however called, established by the President and charged with such responsibilities for the functions of government as the president may direct.

This is why a lawyer, who had obviously lost his mind said on national television last Tuesday “they are a bunch of desperate politicians determined to save their jobs not the nation. Who knows what could happen to their jobs, if the Vice President were to be sworn-in as Acting President,” I do not agree with that lawyer, what I do know however is that anytime the lion feeds something dies; anytime a new President emerges the status quo, or a part of it, is displaced; any time a vice becomes acting president, he, and not a retiring Chief Justice swears-in a successor; anytime there is a president, he presents his budget to a joint session of the national assembly and not do so through a proxy; and anytime there is a serving president, there is no quarrel as to who should sign bills passed by the National Assembly.

Now, the issues that should be addressed in all these, our prayers for the quick recovery of the President notwithstanding, are; should the Vice President be sworn-in as Acting President to fill the vacuum created by Yar’Adua’s  long absence so as to perform all such duties that only a  President can perform? Or should we remain where we have been, since November 23, last year, content with the verdict of Yar’Adua’s ministers, that their boss is fine and would return soon?

These, methinks are the two faces of the silver coin, which the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said bear same faces-‘head’ and ‘head’, since the senate and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) are both right.

Looking critically, however, the Senate position and that of the roundly criticized chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, are slightly similar, only, the latter should have voiced the same view privately, even earlier, or never at all.

My Agony is, that even with the awesome powers of a President which VP Jonathan is said to have exercised so far, including the power of sending the military to Jos to quell the tin city’s disturbances, and all, the legality of signing the 2010 Appropriation Bill into law, when passed by the National Assembly, may not be one of the spoils of a Vice President’s office.

Yet, the PDP says, both the Senate and the FEC are right and deserve same commendation. Many agree, I don’t.

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RSG, Not FIRS, Entitled To Collect VAT, Related Taxes In Rivers -Court

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The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has declared that it is the Rivers State Government, not the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), should collect Valued Added Tax (VAT) and Personal Income Tax (PIT) in the state.
The court, presided over by Justice Stephen Dalyop Pam, also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Attorney General of the Federation, both first and second defendants in the suit, from collecting, demanding, threatening and intimidating residents of Rivers State to pay to FIRS, PIT and VAT.
Pam made the assertion while delivering judgement in Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/149/2020, filed by the Attorney General for Rivers State (plaintiff), against the Federal Inland Revenue Service (first defendant) and the Attorney General of the Federation (second defendant).
The court, which granted all the 11 reliefs sought by the Rivers State Government, stated that there was no constitutional basis for the FIRS to demand for and collect VAT, Withholding Tax (WHT), Education Tax and Technology Levy in Rivers State or any other state of the federation, being that the constitutional powers and competence of the Federal Government was limited to taxation of incomes, profits and capital gains, which do not include VAT or any other species of sales, or levy other than those specifically mentioned in Items 58 and 59 of the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution.
The judge dismissed the preliminary objections filed by the defendants that the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the suit and that the case should be transferred to Court of Appeal for interpretation.
Pam, who also dismissed objection raised by the defendants that the National Assembly ought to have been made a party in the suit, declared that the issues of taxes raised by the state government were issues of law that the court was constitutionally empowered to entertain.
He declared that after a diligent review of the issues raised by bothplaintiff and the defendants, the plaintiff had proven beyond doubt that it was entitled to all the 11 reliefs sought in the suit.
The court agreed with the Rivers State Government that it was the state and not FIRS that was constitutionally entitled to impose taxes enforceable or collectable in its territory of the nature of consumption or sales tax, VAT, education and other taxes or levies, other than the taxes and duties specifically reserved for the Federal Government by Items 58 and 59 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Also, the court declared that the defendants were not constitutionally entitled to charge or impose levies, charges or rates (under any guise or by whatever name called) on the residents of Rivers State, and indeed, any state of the federation.
Among the reliefs sought by the Rivers State Government, was a declaration that the constitutional power of the Federal Government to impose taxes and duties was only limited to the items listed in Items 58 and 59 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The Rivers State Government had also urged the court to declare that, by virtue of the provisions of Items 7 and 8 of the Part II (Concurrent Legislative List) of the Second Schedule of the Constitution, the power of the Federal Government to delegate the collection of taxes can only be exercised by the state government or other authority of the state, and no other person.
The state government had further asked the court to declare that all statutory provisions made or purportedly made in the exercise of the legislative powers of the Federal Government, which contains provisions which are inconsistent with or in excess of the powers to impose tax and duties, as prescribed by Items 58 and 59 of the Part I of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, or inconsistent with the power to delegate the duty of collection of taxes, as contained in Items 7 and 8 of Part II of the Second Schedule of the Constitution, were unconstitutional, null and void.
Lead counsel for the Rivers State Government, Donald Chika Denwigwe (SAN), who spoke to journalists after the court session, explained that the case was all about the interpretation of the Constitution as regards the authority of the government at the state and federal levels to collect certain revenues, particularly, VAT.
“So, during the determination of the matter, some issues of law were thrown up like, whether or not the case should be referred to the Court of Appeal for the determination of some issues.
“The court noted that the application is like asking the Federal High Court to transfer the entire case to the Court of Appeal. In which case, if the court so decides, there will be nothing left to refer back to the Federal High Court as required by the Constitution.”
According to Denwigwe, the court refused that prayer, and decided that the case was in its proper place before the Federal High Court, and was, therefore, competent to determine it.
Speaking on the implications of the judgement, Denwigwe said it was now, unlawful for such taxes as VAT in Rivers State to be collected by any agency of the Federal Government.
“In a summary, it is a determination that it is wrong for the Federal Government to be collecting taxes which are constitutionally reserved for the state governments to collect. The implication of the judgement is that the government (federal and state) as an authority under the constitution,should be advised by the judgement that it is the duty of all government authorities to comply with and obey the law so long as the court has interpreted it and said what that law is.
“So, in other words, the issue of Value Added Tax (VAT) in the territory of Rivers State and Personal Income Tax should be reserved for the government of Rivers State.”
Counsel to FIRS, O.C. Eyibo said he will study the judgment and advise his client.

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90% Of Money Laundered Via Real Estate, EFCC Reveals

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says about 90 per cent of money laundering is done through the real estate sector.
The commission’s Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, stated this while featuring on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily, yesterday,
According to him, although the sector is monitored via the special control unit, more needed to be done.
According to Bawa, “One of the problems we have now is the real estate. 90 to 100 per cent of the resources are being laundered through the real estate.”
He said there are so many issues involved, but that they were working with the National Assembly to stop what he called “the gate keepers” as there would be reduction in looting if there is no one to launder the money.
Bawa, the EFCC boss, gave an example of a minister who expressed interest in a $37.5million property a bank manager put up for sale.
He said, “The bank sent a vehicle to her house and in the first instance $20million was evacuated from her house.
“They paid a developer and a lawyer set up a special purpose vehicle, where the title documents were transferred into.
“And he (the lawyer) is posing as the owner of the property. You see the problem. This is just one of many; it is happening daily.”
The EFCC chairman also revealed that he receives death threats often.
Asked to respond to President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent “Corruption is fighting back” expression, Bawa said he was in New York, USA, last week, when someone called to threaten him.
“Last week, I was in New York when a senior citizen received a phone call from somebody that is not even under investigation.
“The young man said, ‘I am going to kill him (Bawa), I am going to kill him’.
“I get death threats. So, it is real. Corruption can fight back,” he said.
On corruption in the civil service, he said there were a lot of gaps, especially in contracts processing, naming “emergency contracts” as one.
Bawa said, “A particular agency is notorious for that. They have turned all their contracts to emergency contracts.”
However, he said, EFCC has strategies in place to check corruptions, one of which is “corruption risk assessments of MDAs”.
According to him, “I have written to the minister and would soon commence the process of corruption risk assessments of all the parastatals and agencies under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to look at their vulnerability to fraud and advise them accordingly.”
Asked if the scope of corruption in the country overwhelms him, Bawa, the EFCC boss said, “Yes, and no.”

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We’ve Spent N9bn To Upgrade RSUTH, Wike Confirms

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, says his administration has spent N9billion in upgrading structures and installation of new equipment at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH).
He said the fact that 40 per cent of the 2021 budget of the state is dedicated to provision of quality healthcare delivery was a further demonstration of the priority placed on the sector.
Wike made the explanation at the foundation laying ceremony for the construction of a Renal Centre at RSUTH, last Friday.
The governor said he made promise to Rivers people that the best would be provided to them in all sectors of the society within his capability because of the mandate they gave to him.
“As we came on here, I just looked around and I see the changes in this teaching hospital. I can say that we have put not less than N9billion in this teaching hospital.
“If you look at the budget, the health sector alone, what it’s taking from the Rivers State Government is not less than 40 percent of the 2021 budget.”
Speaking further, Wike said the state government cannot afford to implement free medical service programme in the present economic circumstance.
While dismissing the request for a subvention for RSUTH, Wike, however, commended the chief medical director and his team for their commitment to turnaround the fortunes of RSUTH.
“I have never seen anywhere that health services can be totally free. They’re telling me that people who come here can’t pay. I have never declared that this state is going to take over the health fees of anybody.”
Also speaking, the former Minister of Transport, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, who performed the flag-off, noted that Wike’s achievements in the health sector in particular, surpass what former governors of the state had done.
Sekibo said that the governor has given equal attention to every section of the health sector by providing complete health infrastructure that was positioning the state as a medical tourism destination in Nigeria.
Earlier, the Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Prof Princewill Chike, lauded Governor Nyesom Wike for his interest in the health of Rivers people.
He noted that the renal centre, when completed, would become another landmark development project in the health sector that would handle and manage all kidney-related ailments.
In his remarks, the Chief Medical Director of the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Friday Aaron, commended Wike for approving the renal centre.
Aaron explained that chronic kidney disease was a major burden globally with estimated 14 million cases in Nigeria.
According to him, over 240,000 of these cases require renal replacement therapy in the form of dialysis and renal transplant.
The CMD said the building that would house the centre was expected to be completed in six months and consists of two floors.
The ground floor, according to him, would house the haemodialysis unit with eight haemodialysis machines.
He further explained that the first floor of the centre would house the surgical component where most of the sophisticated equipment for kidney transplant would be installed.
Aaron said Wike has released the funds required to build, equip the centre as well as for the training of personnel locally and internationally.

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