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VAT Suit’ll Prove If FG Respects Rule Of Law -Wike

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Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has said the historic legal battle between Rivers State Government and Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) with respect to Value Added Tax (VAT) collection, would demonstrate whether the Federal Government respects the rule of law or not.
The governor said the decision of the state government to seek judicial interpretation on VAT collection, was aimed at strengthening rule of law and Nigeria’s democracy.
Wike stated this when the Managing Director of BusinessDay Newspaper, Dr. Ogho Okiti led a delegation to present to him a letter of nomination as the “BusinessDay Most Impactful Governor Award” at Government House, Port Harcourt, last Monday.
The Rivers State governor commended the management of the newspaper for acknowledging the numerous projects his administration has accomplished since 2015, and added that the award was for the entire people of Rivers State.
Wike stated that beside implementation of physical projects in the state, another project that was dear to him was making sure that the rule of law was respected and applied in the country.
He explained that when the legal issue on VAT collection between the Rivers State Government and FIRS came up, some people had accused him of trying to divide the country, even when they had not bothered to take a look at the provisions in the 1999 Constitution as amended regarding the collection of VAT.
“I am happy today that the Attorney General (of the Federation) has gone to the Supreme Court to sue Rivers State Government over VAT. Now that Attorney General has gone to court, we are happy. But, nobody wants to talk about him dividing the country. It is only when Rivers State Government goes to court that they will say we want to divide the country.
“There is nothing wrong in interpreting the law. The Judiciary has been given assignment, and they took oath of office to interpret the law. If you don’t go to court, how will we know the position of the law? How will democracy thrive? How will we know that this country respects rule of law?”
The Rivers State governor revealed that even the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, was among those that commended him for approaching the court over the VAT matter.
Wike recalled that during the just concluded Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) annual conference, Enang also commended his administration for implementing full autonomy for the state Judiciary.
He said it was, however, baffling that the same presidential aide could turn round to accuse him of treating judges badly in the state.
The governor reiterated that the Rivers State Government would not succumb to any committee set up by the Federal Government on autonomy of state Judiciary.
According to him, such committee was unnecessary, since the 1999 Constitution explicitly guarantees the independence of the Judiciary.
Wike noted that though the Federal Government tends to profess it supports autonomy of the Judiciary, but in reality, it has deliberately stifled that arm of government.
“Fake autonomy which they are brandishing for the Judiciary is not true. If the Judiciary has autonomy, go and check the status of the federal courts. If Judiciary has autonomy, would they have invaded the house of a Justice of the Supreme Court?”
The Rivers State governor said the BusinessDay award would spur his administration to do more for the people of the state, saying that he does not subscribe to the idea that governors should relent in service delivery in their second tenure.
“So many people talk about when you’re in second tenure, it is a period for you to relax, it is a period for you to take stock. I believe that it is a period for you to do more for your people, for the state.”
In his response, the Managing Director of BusinessDay, Dr. Ogho Okiti, said the governor was nominated for the award based on the newspaper’s observation of his outstanding achievements since he assumed office in 2015.

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Destroy All Illegal Refinery Sites In Rivers, Wike Orders LGA Chairmen

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Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has ordered all the 23 local government chairmen to hire bulldozers and destroy every identified illegal crude oil bunkering and artisanal refinery sites in Rivers State.
The governor has also asked the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr Eboka Friday, to provide adequate security for the local government area chairmen as they embark on the mass destruction of illegal refinery sites across the state.
Wike gave the order, last Wednesday, during a meeting with the 23 local government chairmen, the state commissioner of police and the commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) at the Government House, Port Harcourt.
It would be recalled that Wike had on Friday, January 14, 2022 issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the 23 local government chairmen to provide him a comprehensive list of all illegal refinery sites and their operators within their respective jurisdictions.
Wike said with the receipt of the list of identified illegal refinery sites, the state government would provide financial support to the LG chairmen to hire bulldozers and swamp buggies for the purpose of destroying all the sites.
“I will not relent in this fight. And all of you should hire bulldozers. All those areas where the illegal refinery sites are in the bush, in the creek, clear them. Government will give you some money to go and hire bulldozers to go and clear the sites so that they will know we are serious.”
He urged the commissioner of police to give the LG chairmen adequate security personnel to go and destroy all illegal refinery sites.
According to the governor, the government would not allow those engaged in illegitimate business to operate in Rivers State.
“One thing I want to say and which is very clear, and like everybody knows, I am not against anybody making money. But, we cannot allow people to make money, while others are dying.”
The governor acknowledged that since the state government intensified the fight against illegal refinery operators, who are primarily responsible for the discharge of impure carbon particles resulting from the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere, the air quality in parts of Rivers State has improved remarkably.
Wike said he was mindful that as the state government intensifies the war against illegal refinery activities, the cartel behind the illicit business would make effort to compromise unscrupulous security agents in the state.
The governor, however, warned that he would personally visit the Inspector General of Police, the Commandant General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Chief of Army Staff in Abuja, to report any of their personnel implicated in illegal crude oil bunkering and artisanal refinery activities in Rivers State.
“You know in Nigeria, we don’t believe that anything can happen. We don’t take government seriously, but in our own case, they have no choice, they’ll take us seriously. “
The governor, who regretted the failure of the Federal Government to take any action to end the soot crisis in the oil producing states, said his administration cannot fold its arms and watch some deviant persons destroy the environment and endanger the health of the citizens.

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Customs Declares War On Sea Criminals, Commissions 18 Boats In Rivers

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The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has renewed offensives against hoodlums operating on the Southern waters (Eastern and Western Marine Commands) with the acquisition of 18 creeks patrol boats.
Comptroller General of Customs, Col Hameed Ali (rtd), who spoke at the occasion of the commissioning of the boats constructed and built by SEWA West Africa in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, said the boats, which comprise nine gunboats and nine logistics boats, were serious signals to criminals.
Ali stated that the boats, which have high functionalities, are an addition to the service’s Marine arsenal at a time smugglers are running away from the heat on land.
He expressed: “I feel highly elated to be with you and most importantly, to commission the 18 creek patrol boats.
“The addition of these boats to the service Marine arsenal at a time when more smugglers are running away from the heat on land to water is simply the right thing to do.
“This event, no doubt, marks the beginning of a renewed offensive against those who chose creeks and waterways as safe haven for their illegal trade.
“The 18 creeks patrol boats, consisting of nine logistic support boats and nine gunboats whose parts are armoured, should send clear signals to the criminals that the game is up. Unlike before, we now have boats with flat bottoms that can access the creeks even when the water has receded.”
The comptroller-general stated that NCS tapped into the ingenuity of a Nigerian company, SEWA to design, construct and build the edifices in-line with Executive Order on Local Content of 2017.
He noted: “As you can see, these boats are not only built with our weather and circumstances in mind, they can compete with similar ones built anywhere in the world.
“The relationship between NCS and SEWA represents excellent examples of what Nigerians can achieve when we come together.
“I, therefore, commend SEWA for delivering on their promise and have no hesitation to recommend them to individuals or organizations that need what they are capable of producing.
“As we commission these boats, which will be deployed for the Southern waters, (the Eastern and Western Marine Commands), I urge our marine operatives to use them judiciously in the interest of the nation.
“Let me state here that even with the best of working tools, NCS efforts will not yield maximum output, If Nigerians for which we work, do not give us needed cooperation.”
Speaking at Onne seaport, where he inspected the newly acquired scanning machine, the NCS boss said the scanner would facilitate trade and reduce the issue of importation of contraband goods.
Ali added that acquisition of the scanning machine would reduce cost and time spent on inspection of containers.
He, however, lauded other security agencies for the existing synergy in complementing the fight against insecurity and bunkering on the waterways and creeks.

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Interpol Nabs 11 Nigerian Cyber Scam Kingpins

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Interpol, in collaboration with Nigeria Police Force, has arrested 11 members of a Nigerian cybercrime gang, potentially responsible for targeting as many as 50,000 victims in various scams in recent years.
At least, six of the suspects belong to “SilverTerrier,” a syndicate accused of employing a range of malware variants in tens of thousands of financial scams dating back to, at least, 2014.
Palo Alto Networks’ threat intelligence arm, Unit 42, which helped in the investigation, said the six Silver Terrier members have “successfully avoided prosecution for the past half a decade.
This, it said, was due to the complexities of mapping global victims beyond the flow of stolen funds back to the source of malicious network activity.
Unit 42, reports cyberscoop.com, also noted that rather than targeting “easily identifiable money mules or flashy Instagram influencers,” the operation focused instead on the “technical backbone of BEC operations”.
It focused on individuals who have the skills and knowledge to build and deploy the malware and domain infrastructure used in the schemes.
The announcement, last Wednesday, comes two months after three members of the same group were arrested in Operation Falcon.
The arrest of the three followed a year-long Interpol-led investigation into the prolific business email compromise (BEC) scams the group’s members are alleged to have pulled off over the years.
Authorities called this latest roundup Operation Falcon II.
The arrests occurred between December 13 and 22, but it’s not clear exactly where.
Read the full Interpol statement: “The Nigerian Police Force (NPF) has arrested 11 alleged members of a prolific cybercrime network as part of a national police operation coordinated with Interpol.
“Arrested by officers of the NPF Cybercrime Police Unit and Interpol’s National Central Bureau (NCB) in Nigeria, many of the suspects are thought to be members of ‘SilverTerrier’, a network known for Business Email Compromise (BEC) scams which have harmed thousands of companies globally.
“The ten-day Operation Falcon II (13-22 December) saw 10 NFP officers deployed from the Abuja headquarters to Lagos and Asaba to arrest target suspects identified ahead of time with intelligence provided by Interpol.
“Field operations were preceded by an intelligence exchange and analysis phase, where Nigeria used Interpol’s secure global police communications network, I-24/7, to work with police forces across the world also investigating BEC scams linked to Nigeria.
“The Interpol General Secretariat supported field operations 24/7, forensically extracting and analysing data contained in the laptops and mobile phones seized by NPF during the arrests.
“This preliminary analysis indicates that the suspects’ collective involvement in BEC criminal schemes may be associated with more than 50,000 targets.
“One of the arrested suspects was in possession of more than 800,000 potential victim domain credentials on his laptop.
“Another suspect had been monitoring conversations between 16 companies and their clients and diverting funds to ‘SilverTerrier’ whenever company transactions were about to be made.
“Another individual was suspected of taking part in BEC crime across a wide range of West African countries, including Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria.
“By alerting Nigeria to this serious cybercrime threat, Interpol enabled me to give the order to hunt down these globally active criminals nationwide, flushing them out no matter where they tried to hide in my country,” Head of NCB Abuja and INTERPOL Vice President for Africa,Assistant Inspector General of Police Garba Baba Umar, said.
“The outstanding results of Operation Falcon II have served to disrupt this dangerous cyber gang and protect Nigerian citizens from further attack.
“I encourage fellow African countries to also work with Interpol in ridding our continent of cybercrime to make the cyber world a safer place,” Umar added.
“With BEC fraud having both a cyber and a financial element, Operation Falcon II saw financial ‘pathfinder countries’ belonging to Interpol’s Global Financial Crime Taskforce (IGFCTF) – including Nigeria – work together on cross-border financial investigations linked to the operation.
“The IGFCTF is now coordinating further action against ‘SilverTerrier’ bank accounts and sharing intelligence on the domain credentials of potential victims with member countries to prevent further fraud.
“Operation Falcon II sends a clear message that cybercrime will have serious repercussions for those involved in business email compromise fraud, particularly as we continue our onslaught against the threat actors, identifying and analysing every cyber trace they leave,” said Interpol’s Director of Cybercrime, Craig Jones.
“INTERPOL is closing ranks on gangs like ‘SilverTerrier’; as investigations continue to unfold, we are building a very clear picture of how such groups function and corrupt for financial gain. Thanks to Operation Falcon II we know where and whom to target next,” Jonesadded.
“Led by Interpol’s Cybercrime Directorate in Singapore, Operation Falcon II was a cooperative effort involving IGFCTF, Nigerian law enforcement agencies, a range of Interpol expert teams and vital private partners Palo Alto Networks Unit 42 and Group-IB’s APAC Cyber Investigations Team.
“Through Interpol’s Gateway initiative, Palo Alto Networks Unit 42 and Group-IB have contributed to investigations by sharing information on ‘SilverTerrier’ threat actors, and analysing data to situate the group’s structure within the broader organized crime syndicate. They also provided key technical expertise consultancy to support the Interpol teams.
“Gateway boosts law enforcement and private industry partnerships to generate threat data from multiple sources and enable police authorities to prevent and investigate attacks in a timely manner.
“The operation was developed as part of efforts to support joint operations in Africa with funding by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (UK). Interpol extends its thanks for this support.
“At a time of increased threat, members of the public, businesses and organizations are reminded to protect themselves from online scams by following the advice featured in Interpol’s #JustOneClick, #WashYourCyberHands, #OnlineCrimeIsRealCrime and #BECareful campaigns.
“BEC remains “one of the most financially damaging online crimes,” according to the FBI.
“In 2020 the FBI received more than 19,000 BEC and email account compromise complaints, costing victims as much as $1.86billion.
“BEC refers to a scam where a company employee authorized to make payments on behalf of the company is tricked into authorizing phony payments or money transfers into accounts controlled by the attacker, via spoofed or legitimate email, or over the phone”.

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