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Obama Congratulates Jonathan …Flays Electoral Violence

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United States of America (USA) President, Barrack Obama has congratulated President Goodluck Jonathan on his election victory, but described as “deplorable” the post-election violence that followed the April 16 presidential election.

Obama also commended Nigerians for their resolve and patience during April’s historic presidential, legislative and gubernatorial elections’’.

A White House statement said Obama conveyed his support to Nigeria during a telephone conversation with Jonathan last Wednesday.

“As I told President Jonathan, I look forward to strengthening our partnership with Nigeria so that this and future generations of Nigerians can live in peace, democracy and prosperity,” Obama said.

The U.S president said the “success of the elections was a testament to Nigerian voters who waited in long lines, stayed to watch their votes counted and were  determined that these elections marked a new chapter in Nigerian history.”

He commended Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), members of the National Youth Service Corps and Nigeria’s vibrant civil society, for playing a role in ensuring that the final results reflected the will of the Nigerian people.

He urged Nigerians to also ensure that authorities “investigate and address” any allegations of fraud or irregularities.

Condemning the post-election crisis in the country, Obama said: “Violence has no place in a democratic society and it is the responsibility of all Nigerians to reject it.

“ Democracy, however, neither begins nor ends with elections.

“Now is the time for Nigeria’s leaders and its people to come together and build the future that they deserve —a multi-party democracy that addresses the aspirations of all Nigerians, especially its youth, who did so much to make the recent elections a success, and who will define the nation’s future,” he said.

Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Terrence McCulley, has lauded the Nigerian media for its comprehensive coverage of the just-concluded 2011 general elections.

McCulley gave this commendation on Wednesday in Abuja at the World Press Freedom Day Training organised by the UNESCO in collaboration with the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).

He noted that several reports by election watchers and the media indicated that a vibrant and tech savvy media influenced the electoral process in Nigeria.

The US envoy said : “With this election, Nigerians have made their mark on the social media sphere.

“And it is now time to harness the forum in holding elected leaders accountable to ensure good governance and economic growth Nigerians deserve.

“As Nigeria prepares for the swearing in of the fourth democratically-elected civilian administration on May 29, its citizens are actively debating the role played by social media in the outcome of the elections,’’ he said.

He said the establishment and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press was essential to the development of civil society and democracy across the globe.

McCulley further noted that the new frontiers of social media and the internet were building bridges by creating a community of informed citizenry and offering a platform for association.

According to him, social media users are also playing a starring role in the drama unfolding in the Middle East and North America.

“In many countries in the region, including Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, the internet is serving as a catalyst for journalists, activists and ordinary citizens to connect with each other and participate in online dialogue about changing world.

“In this new public space crowded with news and chatter, journalists play an essential role in searching for the truth, analysing trends, maintaining credibility and providing reports to serve the public,’’ he said.

McCulley explained that the arrival of the digital age and the evolution of the internet brought about emergence of new forms of media and the rise of online social network.

In a presentation, Prof. Kwaghikondo Agber of the Department of Media Arts, University of Abuja, described satellites, fibre optic and internet as new technologies that had linked the world into a web.

He said the new communication technologies had dramatically altered the face of information dissemination and journalism practice across the world.

“They have greatly reduced the cost of doing journalism business and the time it takes to do it. It has also reduced the barriers of distance.

“However, there are barriers being introduced by many countries on the use of the new technologies. These include tariffs, denial of access and direct censorship,’’ he noted.

Noting that the actions inhibited access to information that could propel societies, the don urged the government to allow all citizens free access to information.

Our correspondent reports that the World Press Freedom Day, established by the UN, is observed annually worldwide on May 3 to celebrate the principle of press freedom and honour those who died in the practice of journalism.

In his speech, the National President of NUJ, Malam Muhammad Garba, thanked God for sparing the lives of newsmen who covered the general elections.

Amayanabo of Opobo Kingdom, King Dandeson Jaja (left) chatting with newly elected member of House of Representatives, Hon Dakuku Peterside, during the duistingushed citizens Honorary Awards at Opobo Town, recently.

Amayanabo of Opobo Kingdom, King Dandeson Jaja (left) chatting with newly elected member of House of Representatives, Hon Dakuku Peterside, during the duistingushed citizens Honorary Awards at Opobo Town, recently.

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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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