Upon coming into being on October 26, 2007, the present administration in Rivers State, led by the governor, Rt Hon. Chibuike Romiti Amaechi, wasted no time in unveiling its development agenda, part of which was the Greater Port Harcourt City project.
As the capital of Rivers State and nexus of the nation’s all-important oil and gas industry, Port Harcourt also dons the toga of a thriving commercial and industrial hub in addition to being Nigeria’s Garden City.
It is perhaps for these reasons that the city has continued to witness steady growth in human population which has, in turn, exerted a serious strain on its existing infrastructure.
Information available at the Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority (GPHCDA), explains five reasons for which the state government is building the New City. These are:
* The fact that Port Harcourt, the treasure base of the nation, is the fastest growing city in the Niger Delta means that there is the need to control its development.
*The need to modernise Port Harcourt and reawaken the once thriving Garden City.
*The need to improve the standard of living of all people in the city by providing better living environments that are properly serviced; and give access to social services and infrastructure.
*The need to create a modern business node that will accelerate economic growth and development supported by appropriate economic policies and good government.
*The need to plan the city in a manner that will attract private sector interest, involvement and investment in infrastructure, housing, retail, offices and other commercial facilities.
One of the earliest demonstrations of Amaechi’s commitment to the Greater Port Harcourt project came with the commissioning of Arcus GIBB, a reputable South African engineering firm, to study the entire landscape surrounding the state capital and produce a master plan for the development of a new Port Harcourt city. And there is no doubt that what the firm produced did impress the governor.
“To this end, government will establish a Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority charged with the responsibility of implementing the master plan. We have set aside N50 billion this year to fund the project. Let me assure you all that at the end of this exercise, we will have a world-class city that will be clean, green, orderly and a delight to live in,” he said while presenting the GPHCDA bill to the State House of Assembly in 2008.
How Far Has The Dream Gone?
The GPHCDA, which law came into effect on April 2, 2009, has the mandate to facilitate the implementation of the Greater Port Harcourt master plan and build the New City.
The Authority functions through a 17-member governing board with Chief Ferdinand Alabraba as chairman while its day-to-day operations fall under the Administrator, Dame Aleruchi Cookey-Gam, a lawyer, former Attorney-General and later, Secretary to the State Government during the administration of Dr Peter Odili.
The New City master plan covers Port Harcourt and parts of seven other local government areas, namely Obio/Akpor, Ikwerre, Etche, Oyigbo, Eleme, Okrika and Ogu/Bolo. It occupies a land area of 190,000 hectares (about 1,900 sq. km) with a projected population of two million.
So far, GPHCDA’s master plan implementation approach has been quite methodical and involves a phased development of the New City beginning with Phase 1 which is divided into A,B,C,D and located in the northern axis of the plan, near the Port Harcourt International Airport.
The Authority has already awarded contracts for the construction of roads, drainages, water scheme, electricity and other necessary infrastructural facilities that will attract individual and corporate developers to the area.
Apart from the Port Harcourt Mega Bus Terminal which is now fully completed and some facilities at the Rivers Sports Village which were completed and used during the 17th National Sports Festival last year, work is currently in progress at the new site of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology; the Rivers Mega Hospital; the Federal Housing Scheme; Joseph Yobo Road; and the PTDF National Centre for Skills Development.
Other projects for which contracts were recently awarded in the New City include: the storm water drainage and reticulation contract; the 33 KVA electricity supply substation contract to Weltek Nigeria Limited; provision of housing and township services by DSC International Company Limited; and the N709.4 million temporary bulk water supply scheme awarded to Paterson Candy International Limited.
As for local and foreign business investors, it is expected that they will endeavour to take advantage of the numerous incentives on offer by the government, in addition to the already existing investor-friendly legal regime in the state.
A five-year tax holiday, free land in the New City, rebate on off-take guarantees, international carbon credits and other special concessions are already up for grabs by investors who meet certain regulatory requirements as spelt out by GPHCDA.
Also, the Rivers State Public Procurement Law of 2008, Public Private Partnership Law of 2009, GPHCDA Law of 2009, Fiscal Responsibility Law of 2010 and the Federal Government’s Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission Act of 2005 are already in existence to ensure due process and transparency in government’s transactions, protection of private investments and procurement of indemnities in case of any government default, among others.
What Programmes Does The Amaechi Administration Hope To Deliver In 4 Years?
From the onset, the Rivers State Government knew that it will be beyond the state to wholly fund the development of a new Port Harcourt City. Nevertheless, the Amaechi administration had proposed an annual expenditure of N100 billion for 50 years alongside private partners (under a PPP arrangement), beginning with the 2009 budget.
Given the international prominence which Port Harcourt already enjoys, particularly on account of oil and gas, coupled with its status as an industrial and commercial centre, there is no doubt as to the City’s impending growth into an investors’ paradise. But first, certain basic amenities have to be on the ground to attract such businessmen into the suburban Greater Port Harcourt brushes.
This probably explains why the state considered floating a N250 billion infrastructure bond to enable it fund such key projects as the new state university, mega hospital and its M1 Road before the end of the present administration.
Again, it could be recalled that the state recently suffered financial denials following the ceding of its 86 oil wells to neighbouring Akwa Ibom State. Although the issue has been resolved and a refund ordered, there is every likelihood that such accruals would have found expression in the New City’s development had the money come at its due time.
What Are The Challenges?
When the government announced its intention to develop a new city, mostly northward, and away from the old Port Harcourt city, the initial public reaction was better seen than imagined.
Many Rivers people, particularly the riverine folk, were angered over the very idea of having to move the state capital further into Ikwerre land and, with it, the nation’s pioneer university of technology. The state administration was particularly accused of promoting an ‘Ikwerre Agenda’—being that the governor is an Ikwerre man.
Truth is that the Greater Port Harcourt Project was initially a hard sell even to Ikwerre landlord communities which feared that there may not be adequate, if any, financial recompense. But with time and having seen the international standard employed in the design and construction of some of the projects, there is now a wider public acceptance of the government’s motives.
There is also a better appreciation of the economic benefits that will soon be enjoyed in the area and later spread to the rest of the state.
Of course, scarcity of funds will always constitute a big challenge for projects of this nature. It is even more so now that recession is prevalent in Europe and America from where most of Africa’s investors and investible funds originate.
RSG, Not FIRS, Entitled To Collect VAT, Related Taxes In Rivers -Court
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.
90% Of Money Laundered Via Real Estate, EFCC Reveals
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.”
We’ve Spent N9bn To Upgrade RSUTH, Wike Confirms
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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