Nearly a dozen parents of the more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls will never see their daughters again.
Since the mass abduction of the schoolgirls by Islamic extremists three months ago, at least 11 of their parents have died and their hometown, Chibok, is under siege from the militants, residents report.
Seven fathers of kidnapped girls were among 51 bodies brought to Chibok hospital after an attack on the nearby village of Kautakari this month, said a health worker who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals by the extremists.
At least four more parents have died of heart failure, high blood pressure and other illnesses that the community blames on trauma due to the mass abduction 100 days ago, said community leader Pogu Bitrus, who provided their names.
“One father of two of the girls kidnapped just went into a kind of coma and kept repeating the names of his daughters, until life left him,” said Bitrus.
Meanwhile, ninety-nine days after their children and wards were abducted in a midnight raid on the Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State on April 14, President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday met with parents of the girls.
Journalists were barred from covering the meeting which was held inside the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
That was contrary to a statement released last week by the Presidency, saying the parley would be “open to the media for coverage by Nigerian and international press.”
Those who attended the meeting included 51 girls who escaped from their abductors, including their principal, parents of escaped girls, parents of the girls still in captivity, opinion and community leaders from Chibok as well as officials of the Borno State Government.
They were conveyed to and from the venue in four red luxury buses belonging to the Abuja Urban Mass Transport Company Limited amidst tight security provided by a combined team of men of the Department of State Security and armed policemen.
The security operatives shielded them from journalists before and after the meeting that lasted about three hours.
The venue wore a sombre look with the escaped girls who looked traumatised being the cynosure of all eyes.
The meeting started with the arrival of President Jonathan, who was joined at the meeting by the President of the Senate, David Mark; Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State; Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State; members of the Federal Executive Council as well as security chiefs, among others.
Immediately the meeting commenced at about 11.20am, journalists were asked to leave the venue.
The doors were only re-opened for journalists shortly after the President had made his closing remarks only for photojournalists to capture him in a group photograph with the escaped girls.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, later told State House correspondents that the meeting was an interactive session during which the President had the opportunity to listen first-hand to the various categories of persons.
Abati described the meeting as a successful event and a good development because the President had always been looking forward to such an opportunity, having met with other stakeholders on the matter before then.
The presidential spokesman said, “Statements were made by all the representatives of people. They spoke their minds and conveyed their feelings to the President.
“The girls who escaped also gave an account of what they went through. Mr. President reassured them of the Federal Government’s determination and his own personal determination to ensure that the girls that are still in captivity are brought out alive.
“That is the main objective of the government. Mr. President also used the opportunity to empathise with the parents and the girls, and to reassure them that everything will be done to make things easier for them, especially those who have escaped and the ones that will also be rescued, that their education will not in any way suffer, and he is convinced that evil will never prevail over good.
“Mr. President further assured them that after the battle has been won and the girls are brought back home, he, together with the parents and the state government will focus on development, on building Chibok, on building all that the terrorists had destroyed and on ensuring that every child, either in Chibok or in any other part of the country, has his/her dream realised.
“At the end of the meeting, the parents are happy. Everybody is in high spirit.”
Abati added that Jonathan told the gathering that government would ensure that the girls’ education is not truncated.
To this end, he said efforts were being made to place the escaped girls in other schools.
He said Jonathan urged them not to be afraid about their future because everything would be done to protect their right to education.
On media reports that most of the real parents of the abducted girls were not part of the meeting, Abati said the parents who attended made it clear that they are representatives of other parents.
He said over 200 people attended the meeting from Chibok.
“The girls spoke in great details about their experiences and their observations. It was an open and frank session in which everybody expressed their minds,” he concluded.
The much anticipated meeting comes amid reports of a worsening security crisis in the North-East, where Islamists have occupied the town of Damboa and surrounding areas, with the military so far unable to chase them out.
Jonathan’s handling of the hostage crisis has been fiercely criticised, including his failure to visit Chibok to console parents whose daughters are among the hostages.
His office tried to organise a meeting in the capital last week with a small group of the affected families, after he was urged to do so by the Pakistani child-rights activist, Malala Yousafzai.
Malala, who survived a Taliban assassination attempt in 2012, was in Abuja on her 17th birthday to campaign for the girls’ release.
The families balked at the invitation, saying that if Jonathan was unwilling to travel to Chibok, he should bring all of the relatives to his office to meet with them as a group.
Reports indicate that parents of 11 of the abducted girls have died since their abduction by the Boko Haram group.
Four of the parents of the abducted girls had died of heart failure, high blood pressure and other illnesses, blamed on the trauma caused by the abduction.
It was also learnt that seven parents of the students were killed during a raid by Boko Haram on Kautakari, a village close to Chibok early in July.
The insurgent group has offered to release the over 200 girls in its custody in exchange for its members, a request which the Federal Government has so far rejected.
Ayuba Chibok, who has two nieces among the hostages, told newsmen that the government chartered a plane from Yola, Adamawa State to fly the group to Abuja on Monday.
It would be recalled that the hostages’ plight attracted worldwide attention following the social media and protest campaign called #BringBackOurGirls, which was backed by prominent personalities ranging from United States First Lady, Michelle Obama to the popular Hollywood actress, Angelina Jolie.
Western powers, including the US, have offered logistic and military support to Nigeria’s rescue effort, but there have been few signs of progress so far, despite assurances from Federal Government officials that the crisis would soon be resolved.
However, Boko Haram, blamed for killing more than 10,000 people in a five-year insurgency, has rampaged across parts of Borno in recent days with little resistance from the military.
An attack that began last Thursday and continued through the weekend displaced more than 15,000 people, and is believed to have killed scores in Damboa.
“The insurgents are still in control of Damboa,” said Kabiru Ali, a member of the vigilante force in the town who was forced to flee by the Islamist onslaught. They have “hoisted their flags,” he added.
There are reports that the Islamists have in some areas sought to establish themselves as the local authority, but the picture remains unclear with terrible phone reception in many of the affected areas.
But the military has assured that it would soon flush out the extremists, denying the claim that the insurgents had hoisted their flag in Damboa.
“We are not conceding any portion of this country to any terrorist group,” defence spokesman, Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade said.
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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