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FG, N’Delta Talks Begin, Today …Osinbajo Leads Team To Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta …Group Lists 32-Point Demand

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At last, the Federal Government talks with Niger Delta stakeholders, including militants, who have been bombing oil assets to draw attention to challenges in the oil region, begin today.
The talks would see Vice President Yemi Osinbajo leading a high-powered delegation of the Federal Government to visit some states in the Niger Delta.
States to be visited are Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers.
A statement from the Office of the Vice President, yesterday, stated that government was committed to an effective dialogue with Niger Delta leaders.
“In further demonstration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s readiness and determination to comprehensively address the Niger Delta situation, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, will be visiting a number of oil communities across some Niger Delta states starting on Monday, January 16, 2017, when he travels to Delta State”, the statement said.
“At a later date to be announced soon, the Vice President, Prof. Osinbajo would also be visiting Bayelsa and Rivers states.
“At these visits, the vice president will lead high-level delegations of the Federal Government that will interact with leaders and representatives of the oil-producing communities in continuation of ongoing outreach efforts of the Buhari administration towards a long lasting and permanent resolution of the Niger Delta crisis.
“The Buhari Presidency is fully committed to having an effective dialogue and positive engagement that will end the crisis in the oil-producing areas, and believes that these visits would further boost the confidence necessary for the attainment of peace and prosperity in the areas and the Nigerian nation in general”.
But in reaction to the visit, yesterday, leader of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, said the visit was not a substitute for dialogue.
Clark said the PANDEF was not against the decision of President Muhammdu Buhari to send Osinbajo to the Niger Delta to meet with the people and explore ways of resolving the crisis in the region.
The Niger Delta leader, said: “The visit is not a substitute for dialogue, and it is not a question of personality conflict because there is no conflict between the Federal Government and PANDEF.”
He urged militants, who listened to the leaders of the region and suspended hostilities, to maintain the ceasefire, adding, “Nothing should be done to cause any distraction during the visit of the vice president to the Niger Delta. There should be no bombing by any militant group, that is the plea of PANDEF.
“Few individuals may have made statements, which so many people found intolerable.
“Muhammadu Buhari is the president of the whole country and he made it clear in his New Year message that his government was going to embrace dialogue in the resolution of the crisis.
“We, PANDEF, stand on dialogue too, and have been waiting for him since we met him on November 1, 2016. We have no reason to believe that he is not open to dialogue and, moreover, dialogue is not one month or one year affair, it can be continuous.
“We cannot say that because one person made one statement, it, therefore, means that the president is against dialogue, but if after his New Year message, he is sending his vice president to Niger Delta to visit the hot spots, we welcome it.”
Clark, who cancelled his trip to Abuja, last weekend, because of Osinbajo’s visit to the region, added: “I cannot be going to Abuja when he is coming here. I have cancelled my trip to wait and be around during his visit. I am in touch with Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, and the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu.
“PANDEF is well prepared for the VP’s visit. We have asked our people to receive him. PANDEF is a body of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of the Niger Delta. We have the youth, women, politicians, and entrepreneurs, name them in the body, it is not an APC or PDP group.
“PANDEF is going to play a leading role in the vice president’s visit to Niger Delta, we are in support of the visit. It will enable us have further discussion with him on our request for dialogue with the Federal Government.
“What is more important is that the Federal Government and the people are dialoguing on the way out with sincerity on both sides. Our youth are willing to listen to us, and we have told them to let peace reign, while we pursue dialogue with the Federal Government.
“No one should have the impression that the vice president is coming to visit the youth that are bombing oil installations. He is coming to Gbaramatu Kingdom and going to other parts of the region, where he will meet with everybody.”
Meanwhile, the Urhobo ethnic nationality in Delta State, has urged the Federal Government to dialogue with PANDEF.
The position of the ethnic group is contained in a statement, entitled: “Urhobo position on Niger Delta Development Issues Versus Federal Government of Nigeria,” signed by the Urhobo Youth Leaders Association (UYLA), National President and Secretary, Messrs. Francis Arhiyor and Vincent Oyibode, respectively.
The group, which proposed a 23-point demand and 10-point dialogue issues, which it planned to hand over to PANDEF, stated: “Urhobo youth are in full support of PANDEF to negotiate with Federal Government to ensure sustainable peace in the region.”
It called for the immediate restructuring of the Amnesty Office to give equal opportunity to all ethnic nations in the Niger-Delta, adding: “We wish to quickly recommend that the security of the oil and gas facilities should be given to the youth of various ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta.”
The 10-point dialogue issues suggested by the group include graduated increase in derivation from 13 per cent to 50 per cent over a five-year period; repeal and abrogation of all unjust and oppressive legislation, laws, policies that vest ownership and control of oil and gas resources in the Exclusive List in the 1999 Constitution as amended; and repeal and abrogation of all anti-federal and inequitable laws and policies related to the oil and gas industry such as pipelines, etc.
Others are repeal of the Land Use Act and return of all lands to communities, families, and individuals; repeal of the 1997 Inland Waterways Act that vests in the Federal Government the ownership of all rivers and waterways and their banks; review of oil bloc licenses to ensure majority equity ownership by Urhobo investors; the next review is due in 2017; passage of Petroleum Industry Bill into law by 2017; and minimum of 75 per cent of workforce in all oil and gas businesses in Urhobo land to be reserved for Urhobo indigenes and professionals.
UYLA also called for “relocation to Urhobo land of the head offices of all oil and gas companies doing business in Urhobo area, especially NPDC now in Benin to be relocated to Ughelli and Pan-Ocean Petroleum Corporation to be relocated to Oghara; compensation and rehabilitation via affirmative action of the families of all the 1,000 persons, who perished in the October, 1998, pipeline fire in Idjerhe (Jesse) near Sapele.
Other demands are as follows: “An MoU to guarantee the step down of adequate energy/electricity generated in the gas turbines in Delta Power Station (Ughelli) and Ogorode Power Station (Sapele) to supply subsidized electricity for all communities and Local Government Areas in Urhobo Land. This type of Affirmation Action is to transform the economic, environment and make it juicy and attractive to investors in small- medium- and large-scale enterprises. Similar policies have been run by Shell and other MNOs in places like Shetland (Scotland)”
They also are asking for MoU with Utorogu Gas Plant, the biggest in West Africa, for supply of subsidized and uninterrupted electricity to all communities in Ughelli South and Udu Local Government Areas, which jointly host the facility.
“It is cruel and oppressive on the part of the Nigeria Gas Company that the gas processed in Utorogu is piped through the Escravos-Lagos gas grid to industries in Ogun and Lagos State in Nigeria and thence to the Republic of Benin, Togo, and Ghana yet the immediate host communities have not had steady electricity supply since 1989 when the facility was opened. This injustice has to stop.
They further asked for “Construction of Okwagbe Inland Port approved by the Federal Ministry of Transport several years ago; return of Sapele Port to civil use by taking it over from the Navy, development of Warri Port to boost maritime business; dredging of Escravos Bar to admit larger ocean liners to Delta ports of Warri, Burutu, Sapele and Koko”, among others.

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Encourage States To Harness Own Resources For Dev, Wike Tasks FG

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, has said Nigeria must encourage federating states to harness their resources and generate revenues, including Value Added Tax (VAT) to advance their development.
He also stressed that it was baffling to note that Rivers State was not included among states to benefit from any of the projects to be executed with the fresh loan that the Federal Government was seeking to obtain from the World Bank.
Wike made the observation when the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the SUN (Newspaper) Publishing Limited, Mr Onuoha Ukeh, led a delegation to present letter of nomination to him as the SUN Man of the Year 2020 Award at Government House, Port Harcourt, last Monday.
The Rivers State governor observed that there were mounted attempts to frustrate federating states like Rivers, to actualise the constitutional provisions that empower them to harness their resources and revenues, particularly VAT.
The governor decried the situation where the legality of states collecting VAT was not considered on the merit of the law by some public commentators, including state executives, rather, they were politicising it and looking at it from prism of ethnicity and religion.
According to Wike, what the FIRS was doing was illegal, and could be likened to robbing some states to pay others.
“You don’t even need to be a lawyer to know that VAT is not in Items 58 and 59 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended. Everybody knows that. It is not even in the Concurrent List. Therefore, it falls under the Residual List. It is not arguable. That yesterday, nothing happened, does not mean that today, nothing will happen or tomorrow, something will not happen.
“Nigeria should encourage states to be strong enough to have resources to develop themselves. We are in a federal system where we are practicing unitary system. Everybody at the end of the month will run to Abuja to share money. Nobody comes back to the state to think, how do I develop my state.”
He explained that the contest against the collection of Valued Added Tax (VAT) was started by Lagos State, which had sued the Federal Government at the Supreme Court.
According to him, Rivers State only avoided their pitfall by suing the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), which is an agency of the Federal Government that was illegally collecting the tax in the state.
“The issue of VAT did not start from Rivers State. It started in Lagos State when Lagos State challenged it in Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court said you (Lagos) shouldn’t have sued the Federal Government. All you would have done was to sue the agency.”
The governor observed that rather than commend Rivers State Government for seeking to entrench fiscal federalism and constitutionalism, a particular state governor had threatened that the judgement of the court that declared that states, and not FIRS, are entitled to collect VAT within their jurisdiction, will not stand.
He urged those demanding for a brothers’ keeper consideration to first, appreciate the position of the law and situate it rightly.
“Some people say, ‘be your brother’s keeper’. I have no problem in being my brother’s keeper, but why not come out and say, let us tell ourselves the simple truth: as it is provided in the law, who is the person responsible to collect the VAT?
“When you agree to that, that it is the state, then, we can sit down to look at the different problems of states. And not to say ‘be your brother’s keeper’ while you’re doing an illegal thing, in disobeying what the law says you should not do.”
Wike stated that it was sheer act of discrimination for the Federal Government not to include Rivers State as one of the states that will benefit from projects for which it was seeking fresh foreign loans to execute.
“Look at the money that Federal Government has gone to borrow from the World Bank. Of all the projects, in all the states, Federal Government did not include Rivers State.
“Look at the list of projects that states will benefit from this money they’re borrowing from the World Bank that they have sent to National Assembly for approval, the only state that is not benefitting is Rivers State”.
He further noted, “It is the prerogative of Mr President; if he says he does not like Rivers State, if the ruling party says they don’t like Rivers State, I won’t kill myself. But leave the one that the law says I should be the one to collect so that I will be able to develop my own state.”
Speaking further, Wike explained that beyond the provision of infrastructure, his administration was seeking a law that would provide comfortable accommodation for judicial officers on retirement.
The reason, he said, was to ensure that, while in service, the judicial officers can concentrate on their jobs without cutting corners, and avoid corrupt practices.
In his remarks, the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the SUN (Newspaper) Publishing Limited, Mr Onuoha Ukeh, said the SUN Man of the Year 2020 Award was the flagship of award the company.
According to him, Wike was unanimously selected for his remarkable contributions to the socio-economic development of Nigeria and promotion of fiscal federalism with his position on VAT, which would help in the restructuring of Nigeria.
“Today, His Excellency has guided Nigeria to true federalism with the issue of VAT. Knowing what fiscal federalism should be, His Excellency went to court to challenge the collection of VAT, and the court stated that actually the states should collect VAT. And that is laying the foundation for true federalism and fiscal federalism”, he said.
Ukeh commended Wike for his sterling performance in office and infrastructural revolution taking place in Rivers State.

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Buhari Seeks NASS’ Amendment Of PIA …Wants NNPC, EFCC Boards’ Confirmation

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President Muhammadu Buhari has written to the Senate, seeking an amendment to the recently signed Petroleum Industry Act, PIA.
President Muhammadu Buhari also sought the House of Representatives’ amendments to the Petroleum Industry Act, including removal of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning from the boards of the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission and the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority.
In the letter, Buhari wants an amendment to the new Act to allow for the removal of the Ministers of Petroleum and Finance from the board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), saying that they can continue to perform their functions without necessarily being members of the board.
In the letter read, yesterday, during plenary by the President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, Buhari is also seeking for the amendment to allow the Non-Executive Members to be increased from two to six in the national interest.
The President, in three other letters to the Senate, asked for the confirmation of nominees into the boards of the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority, Upstream Regulatory Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The three confirmation letters from the President were read in yesterday’s plenary by Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan.
In a letter dated September 16, 2021, Buhari stated that the request to confirm the chairman, chief executive and executive directors for the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority was being made in accordance with the provision of Section 34(3) of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021.
The nominees for confirmation into the Nigerian Petroleum Regulatory Board are: Idaere Gogo Ogan (chairman); Engr. Sarki Auwalu (chief executive); Abiodun A. Adeniji (executive director, Finance and Accounts); and Ogbugo Ukoha (executive director, Distributions Systems, Storage and Retail Infrastructure).
In another letter also dated September 16, 2021, the President while relying on the provision of Section 11(3) of the Petroleum Industry Act 2021, requested the Senate to confirm the appointment of four nominees as chairman, chief executive and executive commissioners to the Board of the Upstream Regulatory Commission.
The nominees are: Isa Ibrahim Modibo (chairman); Engr. Gbenga Komolafe (chief executive); Hassan Gambo (executive commissioner, Finance and Accounts); and Ms Rose Ndong (executive commissioner, Exploration and Acreage Management).
According to the President, requests for the confirmation of the board’s membership were made “in order to fast track the process for the establishment of the commission”.
In the third letter dated September 17, 2021, Buhari requested the upper legislative chamber to confirm the appointment of the secretary and board members of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He explained that the request for the confirmation of the nominees was in accordance with the provision of Section 2(1) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004.
Those to be confirmed include George Abbah Ekpungu, secretary (Cross River); Luqman Muhammed (Edo); Anumba Adaeze (Enugu); Alhaji Kola Raheem Adesina (Kwara); and Alhaji Yahaya Muhammad (Yobe).
At the House of Representatives, the Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, read the cover letter attached to an executive bill presented to the House by Buhari at the opening of plenary, yesterday.
The proposals also include the appointment of non-executive board members; removal of the ministries from the boards of the two institutions; and appointment of executive directors to the boards.
The President’s requests to the House of Representatives are a rehearsal of the same demands he made to the Senate.
It would be recalled that the joint National Assembly committees that worked on the PIB had proposed five per cent equity share for the development of the host communities but the Senate-led the campaign for its reduction to three per cent while the House of Representatives approved the panel’s recommendation.
The conference committee set up by the presiding officers of both chambers in their recommendation, fixed the equity share at three per cent and was invariably approved by the National Assembly.
The development generated into controversy with senators from the South-South geopolitical zone kicking against it and asked Buhari to resolve the impasse by seeking amendment to increase the equity share to five per cent.
However, the new amendments proposed by the President did not address the concerns of the South-South stakeholders.
Rather, Buhari’s fresh request centred basically on the need to review the administrative structure of the Upstream Regulatory Commission and the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority.
Buhari is seeking the senators’ approval to increase the numbers of the non-executive board members of each of the regulatory agencies from two to six, in order to capture the six geopolitical zones.
He said, “The Petroleum Industry Act 2021 provided for the appointment of two non-executive members for the board of the two regulatory institutions.
“I am of the view that this membership limitation has not addressed the principle of balanced geopolitical representation of the country.
“Therefore, I pray for the intervention of the 9th Assembly to correct this oversight in the interest of our national unity.
“Needless to add that this amendment will provide a sense of participation and inclusion to almost every section of the country in the decision making of strategic institutions such as oil industry.
“If this amendment is approved, it will now increase the number of the non-executive members from two to six that is one person from each of the six geopolitical zones of the country”.
The President also removed the Ministers of Finance and Petroleum Resources from the board of the two agencies.
He said the two ministers already have constitutional responsibilities of either supervision or inter-governmental relations.
He said, “They can continue to perform such roles without being in the board.
“It is also important to note that administratively, the representatives of the ministries in the board will be directors – being the same rank with the directors in the institution
“This may bring some complications in some decision making, especially on issues of staff related matters.”
Buhari added that the appointments of the executive directors who would be in charge of the seven departments in the NMDPRA should not be subjected to Senate confirmation since they are civil servants who were promoted in the course of their career.
He said, “The Act has made provision for seven departmental heads in the Authority to be known as executive directors.
“Their appointment (according to the PIA) will also be subjected to Senate confirmation. These category of officers are civil servants and not political appointees.
“The Senate is invited to note the need to exempt serving public officers from the established confirmation process for political appointments.
“This will ensure effective management of the regulatory institutions through uniform implementation of public service rules for employees of the authority.
“In the future, these positions will obviously be filled by the workers in the authority.
Buhari said the proposed amendment would also increase the membership of the board from nine to 13 members that is representing 44 per cent expansion of the board site.
He said, “This composition would strengthen the institutions and guarantee national spread and also achieve the expected policy contributions”.

By: Nneka Amaechi-Nnadi, Abuja

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Emohua, Three Kalabari LGAs Partner On Joint Security

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The Chairman of Emohua Local Government Area, Dr Chidi Lloyd, has met with his counterparts from the three Kalabari-speaking local government areas; Degema, Asari-Toru and Akuku-Toru, to review the security situation along the Emohua-Kalabari Road, and plan strategies for a joint network to checkmate any infractions in the security of the LGs.
The meeting, which was held at the instance of Lloyd at the headquarters of Emohua Local Government Area, followed the recent abduction of an expatriate attached to Lubrik Construction Company; the contractor handling the construction of Trans-Kalabari Road by yet to be identified gunmen.
The chairmen of Akuku-Toru, Degema, and Asari-Toru LGAs, Hon Roland Sekibo, Hon Michael John Williams, and Hon Onengiyeofori George; respectively, in their separate remarks, commended Lloyd for initiating the process for a partnership to improve the security of lives and property along the Emohua-Kalabari Road, which presently calls for concern.
Speaking after a closed-door meeting which lasted for hours, Lloyd said the meeting condemned the abduction of the expatriate staff, who was supervising the construction work being executed by the Rivers State Government on Trans-Kalabari Road.
The council chairmen also demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the expatriate by his abductors, as well as the apprehension of the masterminds of the reprehensible act by security agencies.
The meeting further agreed to set up a local security outfit with members drawn from the four local government areas to support the security agencies in providing effective security along the Emohua-Kalabari Road.
Lloyd said the meeting was also expected to be hosted concurrently amongst the four local government areas, with a view to strengthening the relationship between the LGAs as well as the promotion of the socio-economic development of the area.
The chairmen also appointed Hon Lolo Ibiene to serve as their rapporteur.

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