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By: Save Niger Delta Coalition.

In the book, Orchestra of the Minorities by Chigozie Obioma, the Chi (the guardian spirit) of Nonso, a poultry farmer in a Niger Delta community when it arrived the celestial court to plead its case said “I have come in haste, soaring untrammelled like a spear through the immense tracts of the universe because my message is urgent, a matter of life and death….”

Again, in the Niger Delta Region, some scheming god fathers have come together in their usual alliance pretending to be concerned with the destiny of our people when in reality their singular aim is to outwit the people and corner individually our collective patrimony.

We have tried to employ the simple tool of silence hoping that due process would prevail but these ambitious overlords who are proponents of Solipsism (the theory that only self exists, extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of ones desires), masters of vituperative rants, who believe that humility is for losers and that the laws of physics can be changed by virements have openly and brazenly engaged in actions aimed once again to stunt the growth of the agency established to improve the living conditions of the people of the region: NDDC. It is as a result of this that we bring this urgent message of life and death to Nigerians particularly the President.

NDDC can only be described as a woman of much sorrow. The Commission has received several billions of Naira and hundreds of millions of US Dollars yet it struggles to point to more than a few signature projects it has executed and yet fewer past victories. The axiom that the region is richly endowed by providence with human and material resources critical for its development and advancement is toothless because of the menacing grip of corrupt political elites on agencies such as NDDC.

The routine of the god fathers of NDDC has always been to secure appointments of their agents into the top three management positions on the board. These appointees now become puppets of hidden influence and can only act according to the dictates of their benefactors without regard to common good. There had been several instances where contracts were awarded according to their whims and caprices and payment schedules taken to them for approval or rejection in flagrant disregard to due process. Contractors borrow money at frightening interest rates, complete their jobs and remain unpaid for upwards of five years if they are not within the pecuniary influence of the god fathers. Budgetary provisions are not made for payments of on-going projects most times leading to abandonments. It’s no wonder that the Commission has not made much progress as it should because the god fathers must be settled at all costs.

It is this same strategy they have employed in the composition of the new board. Does it not bother the public that highly placed politicians some of who are in charge of political structures in the country, some with supervisory authority over all arms of government and others as Ministers with several parastatals under them (some with budgets running into billions of dollars, others generating several billion dollars revenue) are determined to employ warfare tactics to deploy their agents into the top management of NDDC. In their areas of influence, no one dares interfere with their activities and programmes yet they have consistently engaged in acts that have rendered the Commission comatose.

These politicians are consummate practitioners of the hawk strategy. The hawk might be the most watchful of birds and can hover for hours on end, priming its target making an effort to strike as precisely as possible-so one strike might be enough. As a result of their wide and varied reach into the inner recesses of power, they devised a scheme to watch and wait. They caused to be announced the composition of the Board in the absence of the President and have pushed for the confirmation of their nominees again in his absence. What a tragic coincidence?

We read with saddening amusement the story of the confirmation process. For an agency like NDDC where the President has ordered a forensic audit into its activities the members of the screening committee didn’t even bother to ask those who will be charged with its management any questions. They were asked to take a bow and go so much so that one of them had to also insist that a nominee whose CV contained contradictory information on the dates of his qualifications should also be extended the same courtesy. It is only a person who is devoid of reason, blinded by dark bias or who has an affinity with logic of desperation that cannot discern this clear plot.

It is even more worrisome that some of our brothers because of anticipatory profit would allow prejudice seize their intellect and let their names be used in vain in support of this scheme to keep our region perpetually underdeveloped. We are in a democracy and the basic tenet of democracy is the rule of law. It is a basic principle of law as has been ruled by the Supreme Court that once writs of summons have been filed and served on the parties, no party to the action should take further steps to destroy the substance of the matter. It is public knowledge that several groups, associations and persons have instituted court actions against the composition of the new NDDC Board not out of prejudice but solely on the ground that the board as constituted violates the provisions of the NDDC Act. Most of these court actions have been served on the Executive and the National Assembly, yet these politicians continue to drive a process that should have been halted. The law is clear. The god fathers know that it is not the turn of Edo to produce the Chairman of the Board neither is it the turn of Delta State to produce the Managing Director but they don’t care about the law. They know that the MD should come from Bayelsa or Ondo but it’s not in their immediate interest. They behave as if Ondo State is not a member State of the Commission even when it produces more oil than Edo State. They don’t care about the anger of the people nor the progress of the region. They only care about the capture of the Commission for their private interests. This is the attitude that has led to the description of NDDC as an agency of neo- patrimonial prebendalism. Transparency International describes prebendalism as a social or political order where patrons secure loyalty or support of clients by granting benefits from state resources while neo-patrimonialism often fails to guarantee fair distribution of resources. It is high time we changed the narratives coming out of NDDC.

We most heartedly welcome the forensic audit of NDDC as ordered by the President. It is the only viable means of arresting the decaying standards in the Commission. It will help it out of its numerous predicaments and refocus it towards greatness. The forensic audit would marshal out governance processes and lay the background for a paradigm shift, establish corporate codes that will instil the culture of virtue and shorn immoral acts. This singular effort to put the Commission on the path of efficiency and effectiveness should not be aborted by any means but must be supported so as to control the extent to which public power is exercised for the private gain of power influencers.

The current governance indicators on ground surely contribute to risks and uncertainty in the development potentials of the region. Those who want the status quo to remain are persons blinded by self-interest. The way the Commission has been run has remained harmful and unhealthy and has retarded the efforts of both the private sector and government to improve the well-being of the region. New and acceptable standards are needed and that is what we expect the audit to establish in its recommendations.

The god-fathers should redirect their energy to prevail on the government and oil companies operating in the region to pay up their backlog of outstanding debts to the Commission and ensure that projects are delivered as proposed. We are certain they won’t do this because it is not part of their agenda.

We applaud President Buhari for his determination to unveil the evil mask of retrogression that has held NDDC down for long. Let all hands be on deck to support the audit at the end of which a new board duly constituted according to law and equity can be inaugurated to drive the new processes. We have prayed for this and knew that despite all the coordinated efforts by god fathers to turn NDDC to their individual ATMs, a new beginning shall surely come.

The old fathers have thought us that no matter how dark the night, it soon passes and Kamanu the sun god erects his grandiose emblem the following day. We have seen it many times. Thank you Mr. President for this new day. Please don’t let anyone or group derail it.

SAVE NIGER DELTA COALITION is a group of associations whose sole objective is the development of the region.

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…Lagos’ll Always Keep Faith In The Rule Of Law, Says Governor

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has said his administration will not deviate from the tenet of constitutional democracy, promising that actions of the State Government under his watch will be kept within the ambit of the law.

He said his Government’s faith in the judicial system remained unshakable, adding that Lagos had been a beneficiary of the rule of law.

Sanwo-Olu spoke on Wednesday while receiving the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, on a courtesy visit at the Lagos House in Marina.

Justice Bulkachuwa, who was accompanied by other Justices of the Appeal Court, is retiring from the service after reaching the mandatory retirement period.

The Governor said Lagos would always stand on the good side of the law, adding that his administration would particularly stand in principle against actions that may undermine the independence of the Court.

He said: “Government in Lagos State is committed to ensuring that we all live within the ambit of the law. We will continue to engage the judiciary as an independent arm of the government. All of us in the executive arm will continue to uphold the tenet of the constitution that we swore to in our ways and deeds. We will not run foul of the law or any pronouncement of the Court.”

Sanwo-Olu saluted the outgoing Justice Bulkachuwa for her courage in driving far-reaching reforms in the Court of Appeal, saying her legacies would strengthen administration of justice across the country. The Governor said her legacies would be a guiding light for members of the judiciary and officers in the other arms of government.

The Governor said: “We are happy that you are proceeding to retirement at this prime age. You are now 70 years old but you are looking like a 50-year-old. Glory be to Almighty Allah for the grace of youthful appearance and energy. You have had a wonderful career in the judiciary.

“The several successes you have recorded during your tenure as President of the Court of Appeal will continue to be the legacy we will uphold in remembrance of your service to the nation. You are the oldest serving President of the Court of Appeal and you brought many reforms and laudable initiatives to strengthen the judicial process.

“Whoever is succeeding you will have enough to draw from your legacies. We hope you keep your doors open not only to the judiciary but also all of us who are looking forward to learn from your leadership skills.”

Justice Bulkachuwa said she would dedicate her retirement life to promoting girl-child education across the country, noting that she would not have achieved her potential had her father not given her a chance to go to school.

She was hopeful that the reforms and discipline she had instituted in the judiciary would be strengthened by the serving members, pointing out that she had mentored a new breed of judicial officers to entrench “good legacies” she is leaving behind.

“I will still be with my sisters and brother in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and High Courts. I have mentored so many young judicial officers and upcoming lawyers to carry on the legacies. I will still be part of the judicial system despite my retirement,” Justice Bulkachuwa said.

Asked why she chose to visit Lagos Governor in her first valedictory visit to any elected official, Justice Bulkachuwa said it was in Lagos the first Court of Appeal was set up among the three divisions created in 1976.

Besides, she said Lagos is playing pivotal roles in the administration of justice system, pointing out that majority of lawyers in the judiciary are serving in the State. She added that most of Appeal Court’s cases were being instituted in Lagos.

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Lagos State Government has reiterated that there is currently no multiple taxation in Lagos State revenue system.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu stated this during a courtesy visit to Lagos House, Ikeja by the Executive Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service, (FIRS) Mr. Muhammad Nami.

Placing emphasis on startups, the Governor stated that his administration will always improve on the ease of doing business in the State rather than stifle the economy with loaded taxes.

Mr Sanwo-Olu promised to embrace and support the activities of start-ups who are scared of the tax burden associated with businesses.

He also urged Nigerians to pay their taxes regularly in order for the Government to attain a balanced development at all levels, which according to him, include social infrastructure, security among others.

The Governor promised that Lagos State Government would continue with the existing relationship and further collaborate with the Federal Inland revenue Service in sharing information to aid revenue collection and ensure deliverables were met.

Sanwo-Olu lauded the Federal Government for considering the starte up businesses in the exemption threshold on taxation.

His said: “we will make sure that there is ease of doing businesses, especially start-ups, that are always scared that they have multiple taxation. There is nothing like multiple taxation in Lagos.

“It is clear that they are exempted but that doesn’t stop them from doing proper filing and ensure transparent reporting at whichever level of their business.

“We will also use this opportunity to encourage our citizens that it is only when they play their own part as responsible citizens both at the corporate and individual level that the government can come up and discharge its responsibilities.

“Development is by tax and it is only when we collect reasonably amount of tax that we can introduce development both at infrastructure level and more importantly on security so we cannot but ensure that we collaborate and corporate with you,” he said.

Responding to the Chairman on the N8.5 trillion target set by the President, Governor Sanwo-Olu said the country has the capacity to generate such amount but warned that it must be done cautiously.

Also speaking on the ongoing Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) 2020 meeting holding for the first time in Lagos, Sanwo-Olu said it was an opportunity to deliberate on the proceeds that State gets from the Federal Government was used judiciously.

He said: “I am sure they know clearly that you can live up to those bills and 8.5 trillion sounds a lot but they know you have the capacity.

The Executive Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, said the aim of the visit was to ensure effective performance of the service in meeting its target and in its request to share information, collaborate in building capacity as well as engage private sector on the Value Added Tax collection.

“We feel without this collaboration, we cannot generate this 8.5 trillion that we have been mandated by the President to generate,” he said.

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The 10-lane right-of-way already set by the Lagos State Government in the ongoing construction of Lagos-Badagry Expressway needs to be preserved, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu urged the Federal Government.

Sanwo-Olu said the ongoing construction work on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway would shoot up population upon completion and open the corridor up for more physical development.

The Governor stressed that the maintenance of 10-lane on the stretch currently being constructed by the Federal Government was necessary to help the State efficiently manage traffic and enhance safety of residents on the axis.

Sanwo-Olu spoke on Wednesday, while meeting with members of the Senate Committee on Works that paid him a courtesy visit at the State House in Alausa. The Committee was led by its chairman, Sen. Adamu Aliero.

The Federal Government is currently handling the construction of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway from Agbara to Seme Border, while Lagos Government is complementing the effort from Orile to Iba town, creating five-lane on either sides of the 22-kilometre-long stretch.

The Governor said reducing the expressway to two-lane highway could not be sustainable for future development, adding that the preservation of the 10-lane already set on the highway would make it easy for Lagos to extend its Blue Line Rail project into Badagry town.

Sanwo-Olu said: “I am happy that the Federal Government has taken up the construction of Lagos-Badagry Expressway from Agbara to Seme Border. But the challenge is that we don’t want them to reduce the expressway to two lanes. We’ve said to them that they should keep the 10-lane right-of-way, instead of reducing it back to two-lane. Even if what they are going to build is two lanes on either sides, let them keep the space for expansion to 10 lanes. So that in future, either State or Federal government can build on it.

“We also have our rail infrastructure along that Badagry corridor and we are hoping that it will be completed before the end of next year. With the rail corridor and the 10-lane expressway, it means we can extend the rail project to Badagry. That’s why we must preserve the 10 lanes for future development.”

The Governor thanked President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly for prioritising the rehabilitation of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the budgetary support being giving to the Ministry of Works and Housing handling the project.

Sanwo-Olu praised the Minister for Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, for the progress recorded on the ongoing construction work on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, while also urging the Federal Government to hasten the rehabilitation work on other inter-state expressways, including Ikorodu-Sagamu Highway, Itokin Expressway and Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway.

He said Lagos had already started to leverage Public Private Partnership (PPP) in providing requisite infrastructure to support businesses and enhance economic growth. He said the State was ready to support other private-led initiatives that would bring succour to commuters and residents of the State.

Aliero said the purpose for the Committee members’ trip to Lagos was to inspect the ongoing road projects being handled by the Federal Government in the State, noting that the Senators would be visiting Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonsoki, Lagos-Ibadan and Lagos-Badagry expressways to inspect the ongoing work on the roads.

The Committee chairman said Lagos deserved the attention being accorded to it by the Federal Government, describing the State as “strategic” for commerce and innovation in the country.

Although two of the road projects are being funded from Sovereign Wealth Fund and Budget, Aliero said there was need for Government at all level to partner with private sector for development projects. He said the National Assembly had start working on legislation that would make the Government to leverage PPP model in financing infrastructure.

He said: “We can no longer rely on budgetary allocations to continue funding projects. We have to find an alternative way of providing infrastructure, including roads, railway and power. Perhaps it is important now to go into PPP, giving the example laid down by Alhaji Aliko Dangote who is constructing and expanding Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonsoki Expressway. If we had gone by budget, it might take another 10 years to complete the road.

“If we allow the private sector to construct and manage the infrastructure, it would go a long way in making provision of infrastructure easier. This is why the Senate is coming up with strong legislation to enable the private sector to go into partnership with Government to build infrastructure. Whatever money remain can be invested in social sector, such as education and healthcare delivery.”

Aliero praised the Lagos Government for complementing the effort of the Comptroller of Works in traffic management and rehabilitation of failed sections of federal roads.

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