The President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, yesterday, indicted the Federal Ministry of Health for not putting serious measures in place to prevent the outbreak of Coronavirus in Nigeria.
He, therefore, urged the Senate Committee on Primary Health Care to further liaise with the ministry to intensify screening of passengers at the nation’s airports and seaports.
Lawan stated this following a point of order by the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Ajayi Boroffice.
Boroffice drew the attention of the Senate to the failure of health personnel at the airports and seaports to thoroughly screen passengers coming into the country.
He explained that he was subjected to screening for Coronavirus on arrival at a South African airport, recently.
He said the screening at the South African airport usually takes up to 30 minutes before passengers would be allowed to disembark the aircraft.
He said the situation was different on his arrival at the Nigerian airport when the health officials in the nation’s airports merely issued a form for passengers to indicate if they were sick or not.
He said, “There is no form of any screening of passengers for Coronavirus by Nigerian officials at the airport.
“It is worrisome, situations where travellers coming into the country were not dully screened for the dreaded virus.”
Boroffice said he brought the attention of the Senate to his experience for the Federal Ministry of Health and other concerned agencies to take note.
Lawan commended Boroffice for raising the issue.
He said every country in the world was making efforts to ensure that the virus did not cross their borders.
He said although the Federal Ministry of Health and other associated agencies were doing their best, their best was not good enough.
“We must take all the necessary measures at our ports, airports, seaports, to protect our people.
“If anybody is coming from China, he or she should be quarantined not even isolation for two weeks or four weeks, we have to protect the lives of Nigerians,” he added.
Similarly, the Senate, yesterday, condemned the high lending rates in the country, accusing the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) of not encouraging investors with the monetary policy.
The Senate insisted that the CBN has not done enough in balancing the deposit interest rate and lending with the goal of encouraging savings.
The chamber expressed concern that with higher interest rates, interest payments on credit cards and loans are more expensive.
It said the development was thereby discouraging people from borrowing and spending.
The red chamber, therefore, mandated two of his committees to probe the CBN and the commercial banks involved in the monetary policy.
The committees are Finance and that of Banks, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions.
The decision was taken sequel to a motion by Senator Solomon Adeola, representing Lagos West and chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts.
The motion titled, “Urgent need to bridge the gap between the lending interest rate and deposit Interest rate among commercial banks and other financial institutions”.
He said, “The latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that the inflation rate further rose from 11.98 per cent in December, 2019 to 12.13 per cent in 2020.
“This development negatively affects the deposits of commercial bank customers in addition to the low-interest rates on deposits.”
Meanwhile, Nigeria still has no confirmed case of the raging Coronavirus infection, according to the National Economic Council.
However, 11 suspected cases in the country turned negative so far.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire and the Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, had given an update on the infection to the NEC meeting chaired in Abuja Abuja by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday.
Briefing State House Correspondents after the meeting, Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said Coronavirus, otherwise known as Corvid-19, had yet to reach Nigeria.
Egypt and Algeria are the only African countries with confirmed cases.
He spoke more, “In Nigeria, the good news is, yes there have been a total of 11 suspected cases, but all the 11 have turned out to be negative.
“In fact, there was a scare in Lagos yesterday (Wednesday), about two cases, but all have been confirmed negative as we speak.
“But Nigeria still places itself on high risk, as also advised by the World Health Organisation. So, what are the federal and all the states are doing? We are looking at all the international airports that we have as major entry points.
“They are Abuja, Kano, Lagos, Enugu and Port Harcourt. The alertness in each of these airports is very high.”
He added that the country had testing facilities in Lagos, Abuja and Edo State to respond to any emergencies.
On Lassa Fever, the governor said there were 690 reported cases in the country from January to date, out which 118 of the patients died.
He added that Edo, Ebonyi and Ondo states had 72% of all reported cases out of the 18 states with incidents.
The states include Edo, Ebonyi, Bauchi, Plateau, Enugu, Gombe, Katsina, Kogi, Sokoto, Taraba, Delta, Rivers, Adamawa, Nasarawa and Lagos.
“Of all these confirmed cases, about 72 per cent of them are prevalent in Edo, Ondo and Ebonyi states.
“So, the Ministry of Health and the federal government are concentrating on these three major states”, Sanwo-Olu said.
Similarly, the Senate, yesterday, considered a bill which proposes stiffer sanctions for any person or corporate entity involved in gas flaring in Nigeria from January 1, 2021.
The Gas Flaring (Prohibition and Punishment) Bill, 2020, which scaled second reading during plenary, was sponsored by Senator Albert Bassey Akpan (Akwa-Ibom North East).
Clause 11(a) of the bill provides that, “Any person who flares gas after December 31, 2020 contrary to section 4 of this Act, commits an offence under this Act, and shall be liable on conviction to pay a fine which shall not be less than the cost of gas at the international market.”
Leading the debate on the floor, Akpan recalled that though the Bill was passed by the 8th Senate in 2018, it failed to receive concurrence by the House of Representatives due to time constraints as it was close to the end of the legislative session.
He said that the bill’s introduction by the 9th Assembly, which promises guaranteed rapid infrastructural development of the oil and gas sector, will enhance revenue accruable to government and ensure environmental improvement for the people of the Niger Delta.
“The flaring of natural gas produce in association with crude oil is one of the most dangerous environmental and energy waste practices in the Nigerian petroleum industry.
“Gas flaring affects the environment and human health, results in economic loss, deprives the government of associated tax revenues and trade opportunities, and deprives consumers of a clean and cheaper energy source and environment,” Akpan added.
The lawmaker stated that available data from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) showed that in 2018, Nigeria lost over N217billion in revenue as oil and gas companies flared a total of 244.84 billion standard cubic feet (scf) of natural gas within the same period.
He added that with the average price of natural gas put at $2.90 per 1,000 scf as of February 16, 2017, the 244.84 billion scf flared translates to a loss of $710m or N217billion – using the official exchange rate of N305.25/ dollar.
According to the lawmaker, “The volume of flared gas according to analysis, is sufficient to feed 3 LNG trains or generate 3.5GW of electricity.”
Bassey explained that the bill when passed into law, will address the inadequacies and shortcomings of the 1979 Act; bring gas flare penalty in line with current economic realities; and ensure the achievement of the National Flares-out target of January 1, 2030.
“The current gas flare penalty of N10 per 1,000 scf is too low, and not in line with current economic realities and encourages continuous gas flaring by operators with its attendant negative effect on our environment instead of encouraging investment in infrastructure by the operators to make gas available for our domestic use,” Akpan lamented.
The Gas Flaring Prohibition and Punishment Bill 2020, according to the lawmaker, “seeks to increase the gas flaring penalty to an appropriate and commensurate level sufficient to de-incentivize the practice of gas flaring, whilst introducing other market measures to encourage efficient gas utilization.
“The Bill equally makes it mandatory for operators to submit gas utilization plan within 90 days of the commencement of the Act for effective monitoring and makes provision for a two year periodic: review of the Minister’s powers granted under the Act,” he added.
Citing the United States of America, he said that the piece of legislation also makes specific provisions for the installation of requisite gas flare meters equipped with facilities that enable real time, online data retrieval for independent reporting and monitoring by the industry regulator.
President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, referred the bill to the Senate Committee on Gas for further legislative inputs.
Encourage States To Harness Own Resources For Dev, Wike Tasks FG
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.
Buhari Seeks NASS’ Amendment Of PIA …Wants NNPC, EFCC Boards’ Confirmation
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
Emohua, Three Kalabari LGAs Partner On Joint Security
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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