The Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), has directed the Minister of Petroleum Resources, President Muhammadu Buhari, to end the ongoing fuel scarcity in the country within two weeks from now.
This came on the heels of disclosure by the Pipeline Products Marketing Company, PPMC, that Nigeria lost a whopping N50 billion in ten months as a result of vandalisation of petroleum pipelines in some parts of the country.
Chairman of the committee, Senator Uche Ekwunife, who gave the directive, yesterday, in Abuja, during the committee’s meeting with top officials of Ministry of Petroleum Resources, insisted that the petroleum minister must not only end the scarcity but ensure that fuel was sold to the public at government’s controlled price of N87.00 per litre.
Senator Ekwunife, representing Anambra South, on the platform of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, frowned at the ongoing fuel crisis, saying, Nigerians were suffering untold hardship following the development.
Fuming over what she described as unnecessary fuel crisis, Ekwunife, said,”we are mandating the Minister of Petroleum Resources, the Permanent Secretary and heads of agencies to stop this fuel scarcity in two weeks.
“We are giving a target now,we don’t want to know how you would achieve it.Nigerians want to see an end to this fuel scarcity”.
Meanwhile, to end the fuel scarcity in the country, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is engaging the Department of Security Services (DSS) and Economic and the Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to check the hoarding and diversion of petroleum products by some unscrupulous marketers.
The NNPC in Abuja yesterday said the engagement of the security agencies was also meant to assist in the monitoring of nationwide fuel truck out to retail outlets.
While apologising to commuters, motorists and the general public for the noticeable hardship faced in accessing petrol across the country, NNPC assured that it was doing everything possible to normalise the fuel supply and distribution situation.
As the scarcity worsened in Kaduna metropolis, officials of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) yesterday imposed severe penalty on independent petrol stations for diverting products to the black market and selling at unofficial pump prices to the public.
Meanwhile, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) has expressed dismay over the recurring fuel scarcity in the last few weeks, noting that the development had crippled the economy and made life unbearable for the ordinary Nigerian.
In a statement, yesterday by the Chairman of TMG, Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, the group said that the handling of the issue by both the President as Minister of Petroleum Resources and his Minister of State, Ibe Kachikwu, who traveled at a time were suffering from fuel scarcity, betray what Nigerians may have bargained for, when they massively voted for change at the March 28, 2015 presidential election.
The TMG chairman noted that the recent shortage of fuel witnessed across the country had cost Nigerians monumental economic losses, as beyond wasting man-hours at filling stations waiting for petrol, the scarcity was breeding inflation and the attendant high fares were impacting on the cost of goods and services.
According to him, “For an economy struggling to adapt to the six month- old administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the consequence of this new round of scarcity, is to say the least, most damaging. With the current liquidity squeeze in the system, as well as the meagre N18,000 minimum wage, which can hardly take the average Nigerian worker home, TMG is disturbed that the fuel scarcity would further impoverish Nigerians.’’
He noted that it was disappointing that long after the Buhari administration announced that most of the refineries, which were hitherto comatose, had begun to produce refined products, including petrol, the country still found itself in the acute shortage of the product.
Speaking during a working visit to the NNPC depot in Suleja in Niger State and some filling stations in Abuja and its environs to evaluate the fuel supply situation, the Group Executive Director Commercial and Investment of the Corporation, Dr. Babatunde Adeniran, said any marketer found wanting in the sale of petroleum products including the NNPC retail outlet dealers, would be sanctioned appropriately.
Providing insight into the role of the security agencies in curbing product diversion, the Managing Director of the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company, Mrs. Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue said the DSS and EFCC had been mobilised to bring to book any marketer involved in sabotaging the efforts of the Federal Government in making petroleum products available to motorists across the country.
“We have invited the EFCC and DSS to join us in this campaign of monitoring the movement of petroleum products and they have our mandate to sanction any errant marketer. Enough is enough,” Mrs. Nnamdi-Ogbue cautioned.
She urged Nigerians and other motorists to desist from panic buying, assuring that there was sufficient petroleum to satisfy local consumption.
One of the filling stations in Kaduna, Samrada Petrol Station, Ungwar Romi was sealed off after officials of DPR had ordered the petrol attendants to dispense the fuel in its underground tank to motorists and motorcyclists free of charge for hoarding the product.
The officials from the department’s Monitoring Unit said the attendants were caught hoarding a total of 19,500 litres of fuel.
They also argued that the agency during its routine inspection of petrol stations across the state discovered that the petrol station sold at above the N87 per litre pump price at night.
The DPR monitoring group lamented: “This is even as the scarcity is getting worse day by day. While many filling stations are under lock and key, black marketers have taken over the major streets, determining the price at which to sell the product to motorists.”
The DPR officials also ordered another filling station along Romi road to revert to the N87 pump price as against the N135 it was selling to customers when the officials arrived.
The owner of the filling station was fined N100,000 for selling above the pump price.
The DPR officials led by the Kaduna Zonal Controller, Alhaji Usman Ndanusa, also swooped on the Samrada station following a tip-off from concerned citizens that the management of the station was hoarding the product.
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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