The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly was again thrown into turmoil yesterday as a faction made up of five All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmakers whose seats were recently declared vacant by the Speaker of the House, Barr Onofiok clashed with those loyal to the Speaker, at the assembly premises, over alleged illegal move to impeach the state Governor, Udom Emmanuel.
The APC lawmakers, yesterday morning, made their way into the House chambers where they quickly held their ‘sitting’ and passed a “resolution” suspending 11 lawmakers.
The ‘sitting’ was presided over by Nse Ntuen (Essien Udim State Constituency).
The other four lawmakers were Gabriel Toby, Etim Ekpo/Ika; Otobong Ndem, Mkpat Enin; Victor Udofia, Ikono; and Idongesit Ituen, Itu.
They were yet to leave the assembly when the state governor, Udom Emmanuel, who belongs to the Peoples’ Democratic Party, arrived with police officers, officials of the State Security Service (SSS), and some youth loyal to the state government and the PDP to chase away the factional lawmakers.
Photos posted on Facebook showed some of the lawmakers fleeing for safety.
A car was reportedly set ablaze during the fracas.
“Let nobody, party think they can intimidate us in Akwa Ibom State,” the speaker, Mr Luke said during plenary, as he, alongside other lawmakers, took control of the assembly.
“The people of Akwa Ibom have shown solidarity as seen in what happened today. We will continue to stand with our governor. We will continue to make laws for our economic development of the state and for the betterment of the youth of the state,” the speaker said.
The House of Assembly, reacting to the latest development, passed a vote of confidence on Mr Luke.
The House called on security agencies to arrest the five lawmakers and a former sergeant-at-arms, Godwin Ukpong.
They also called for the redeployment of the new commissioner of police who is barely one week old in the state.
The police spokesperson in the state, Odiko MacDon, refused to comment on the incident when our correspondent contacted him.
The Commissioner for Information in the state, Charles Udoh, told newsmen it was necessary for the governor to visit the assembly because of the crisis.
“The governor is the chief security officer of the Akwa Ibom State, so when there is a security threat, the governor has to physically supervise what’s going on there,” Mr Udoh said.
“The five dissident, sacked House members, aided by the police with thugs dressed in fake police and army uniform, had invaded the House of Assembly.
“The governor, being the chief security officer of Akwa Ibom state, has an obligation to be there.
“The governor’s presence helped to restore peace and calm at the assembly, especially when you consider the fact that the illegality perpetrated by the five sacked members of the House of Assembly, was aided and abetted by the Nigeria Police Force,” he said.
The five lawmakers, last week, defied the Constitution and announced the “removal” of Mr Luke after their seats were declared vacant for defecting from the PDP to the APC.
The crisis snowballed into the sealing of the assembly by the police in the state which later vacated the premises on Friday.
Last week, the Senate resolved to investigate the crisis after Albert Bassey, a PDP senator from the state, raised a point of order during plenary.
A human right group, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), last week, cautioned against the withdrawal of the police from the assembly premises, saying such moves could leave room for an attack by hoodlums.
“In the face of the tensed situation currently in the House of Assembly, the withdrawal of the officers and men of the Nigeria police and other security agencies therefrom, is nothing but counter-productive, ill-timed, and could leave a leeway for hoodlums and even aggrieved lawmakers to once again resort to self-help, thereby threatening the peace at the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly and its environs,” the chairman of CLO, Akwa Ibom state branch, Franklyn Isong, said on Friday, while briefing journalists in Uyo.
Meanwhile, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel called on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the Akwa Ibom Assembly crisis to ensure continuous peace in the state.
Emmanuel said this at a news conference held in the Government Lodge in Uyo yesterday after the pandemonium in the State House of Assembly.
He said that the state would continue to remain peaceful in spite the siege in Akwa Ibom House of Assembly.
The governor said that democracy in the state was being threatened and appealed for support to protect ‘the hard earned democracy.’
Reacting to the incident, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) yesterday alleged that the presidency, All Progressives Congress (APC) national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole and Senator Godwill Akpabio were behind the crisis rocking the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly.
Imo Ugochinyere, CUPP spokesperson, said five lawmakers had earlier in the day attempted to illegally impeach Governor Emmanuel Udom with the backing of the Nigeria Police.
The statement read: “We heard on good authority that these hoodlums imported by these sponsored five lawmakers forced their way into the legislative house at the early hours of today with the aid of a contingent of policemen drafted by the Inspector of General of Police (IGP) Mr Ibrahim Idris, the National chairman of the All Progressive Congress (APC) Adams Oshiomhole to destabilize the state Assembly .
“The suspended five state Assembly members with the support of the police again force their way into the chambers to first sack the speaker, elect a new one and thereafter constitute a kangaroo committee to commence impeachment proceedings against the state governor.
“We the opposition parties condemn in strong terms this attempted rape on our democracy by a few misguided elements in the state and their paymasters.
“This desperation by president Mohammadu Buhari and his APC to take over Akwa Ibom state even ahead of 2019 general election is capable of leading to a repeat of the unfortunate political drama that truncated our democracy in 1983.
“We will not seat down therefore and allow Akpabio and his APC sponsored agents to destabilize Akwa Ibom state Assembly and by extension create another political recipe for a possible collapse of our democracy.
“We call on the people of the state to be ever vigilant and never allow senator Akpabio, and his APC cohorts to remove the speaker or governor in an undemocratic manner.
Also, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has condemned the violent invasion of the Akwa-Ibom state House of Assembly by those it said are security forces allegedly working for the All Progressives Congress (APC) to forcefully take over the control of the legislature and destabilize the state.
In a statement issued by Kola Ologbondiyan, the National Publicity Secretary of the party in Abuja yesterday, the party observed that it was a shocking scene at the Akwa Ibom House of Assembly yesterday, when the invading security forces shot sporadically and disrupted legislative activities in the attempt to assist the APC to forcefully overthrow the duly elected leadership of the state legislature.
The party also accused the former governor of the state, Senator Godswill Akpabio, of stirring the violent invasion in keeping with his threats that the APC will overrun Akwa-Ibom state the same way Adolf Hitler overran Poland during the Second World War.
The statement added: “Nigerians are all aware of how Senator Akpabio declared war on Akwa-Ibom and boasted that ‘War shall see Warsaw and Warsaw shall see war’ in the APC’s quest to take over the state; a mission that has apparently commenced with the violent invasion of the state legislative house.”
The PDP said it was also aware of the role being played by security operatives, particularly the Police, “in this ignoble scheme, which has the backing of the Buhari Presidency to destabilize the oil-rich state ahead of the 2019 general election.”
The PDP cautioned Senator Akpabio, the APC and the Presidency “to note that their design is a recipe for national crisis, as the people of Akwa-Ibom state and indeed, all well-meaning Nigerians across board will never allow anybody to overrun the state or take over any arm of government by any means other than through the laid down process of free, fair and credible elections.”
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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