The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has declared billionaire businessman and Managing Director of Aiteo Group, Mr. Benedict Peters, wanted for his alleged role in the $115m (N23bn) bribe given to officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, during the build-up to the 2015 election.
The EFCC said in an official gazette signed by its spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, that Peters was wanted for criminal conspiracy, diversion of funds and money laundering.
The notice read in part, “Dark-complexioned Peters is wanted in connection with a case of criminal conspiracy , diversion of funds and money laundering. He hails from Abakaliki Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. His last known address is 8B Agodogba Avenue, Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos.”
Peters is alleged to have given Diezani about $60m during the build-up to the 2015 presidential election.
The EFCC had alleged that the MD of Fidelity Bank Plc, Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo, helped Diezani convert $115m to N23bn after which it was disbursed to INEC officials.
Some of the money was said to have emanated from some oil companies including Northern Belt Gas Company Limited which allegedly gave $60m to Fidelity Bank on behalf of Diezani.
An EFCC source told our correspondent that Peters was the person behind Northern Belt Gas Company Limited.
The source said, “We have launched investigations into the companies that gave Diezani money in form of kickbacks. About $60m came from Northern Belt Gas Company Limited. We have not been able to ascertain the directors of the company. However, we found out that Mr. Benedict Peters is the sole signatory to the account at Fidelity Bank.
“All attempts to get him have proved abortive. We currently do not know where he is and he is hardly ever in one place because he has a private jet.”
The oil magnate, who owns oil facilities in several countries, is said to own tank farms in Lagos and Port Harcourt. Under former President Goodluck Jonathan, Peters acquired an 85-per cent stake in block OML 29 from Shell Gas Company for $2.56bn. OML 29 potentially holds up to 2.2 billion barrels of oil and about 300 million standard cubic feet of gas.
He was also alleged to have taken part in the controversial crude oil swap deal involving the exchange of crude oil for refined petroleum products in which the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation gave out 445,000 barrels of crude per day to nine companies through the Pipelines Product Marketing Company, a subsidiary of the NNPC.
However, Peters had in an advertorial in Sunday PUNCH of May 8, 2016, denied the allegations levelled against him.
The statement read in part, “In order to put the facts clearly and correctly in the public domain, both AIETO Group and Mr. Peter would like to state categorically that Mr. Peters has not been officially invited by the EFCC on this matter.
“As a law-abiding citizen and a significant participant in Nigeria’s key oil and gas sector and an accomplished global businessman with significant interests in different parts of the world, Mr. Benedict Peters will upon receipt of an official invitation from the EFCC, cooperate with such relevant authorities.
“Mr. Peters who is currently out of the country will certainly attend to an invitation from the EFCC upon return to Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, the anti-graft agency has also declared one Mr. Johnson Salako wanted for allegedly defrauding the Bank of Industry of N1.424bn.
Russia-Ukraine Conflict: U.S Prepares to Send Troops to Europe
Crisis talks aimed at averting a military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine appear to be faltering, as Western allies prepare for a possible conflict between the neighbors that could be “painful, violent and bloody.”
Western allies are preparing for some kind of military confrontation, with NATO putting more forces on standby and looking to reinforce Eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets. The U.S. Department of Defense, meanwhile, said Monday that about 8,500 American troops are on heightened alert and awaiting orders to deploy to the region in the event that Russia does invade Ukraine.
The 8,500 troops are based in the U.S. and would be part of the NATO Response Force if that group is activated, the U.S. Department of Defense said on Monday.
The NATO Response Force is a 40,000-strong, multinational force made up of land, air, maritime and Special Operations Forces that NATO can deploy quickly, wherever needed. Its overarching purpose is “to provide a rapid military response to an emerging crisis,” NATO says. It has not yet been activated.
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby stated on Monday that the American forces being put on standby would be in addition to the significant combat-capable U.S. forces already based in Europe “to deter aggression and enhance the alliance’s ability to defend allies and defeat aggression if necessary.”
“Secretary [of Defense Lloyd] Austin has placed a range of units in the United States on a heightened preparedness to deploy, which increases our readiness to provide forces if NATO should activate the NRF or if other situations develop,” the press secretary said.
If it is activated, Austin’s order would enable the U.S. to rapidly deploy additional brigade combat teams, along with units specializing in logistics, aviation, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, transportation and more, Kirby noted.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, warned on Monday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a “painful, violent and bloody, business” and a “disastrous step.”
“The intelligence is very clear that there are 60 Russian battle groups on the border of Ukraine. The plan for a lightning war that could take out Kyiv is one that everybody can see. We need to make it very clear to the Kremlin that that would be a disastrous step,” he told reporters.
Europe in the back seat
But as the U.S. and NATO officials plan for a potential conflict, Europe seems to have been conspicuously absent from many of the proceedings leading up to this point.
Many last-ditch negotiations aimed at preventing tensions between Russia and Ukraine from spilling into conflict have gone ahead without the bloc, leading Eurasia Group’s Emre Peker and Alex Brideau to believe that Europe has been “sidelined on its own turf.”
“The EU has failed to unequivocally rally behind a strategy to counter Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture against Ukraine, and will struggle to do so going forward. That will relegate Brussels to the sidelines as the U.S. and Russia discuss the future of Europe’s security architecture,” they noted on Monday.
Several European officials have complained that the EU has been sidelined during discussions on Ukraine between the U.S. and Russian officials; Ukraine has also complained that it has also been left out of talks in which it is the central focus and concern.
But part of the European Union’s difficulties when it comes to dealing with its bellicose neighbor Russia is that there is division within the bloc over how to deal with Moscow. Some countries take a more dovish stance toward Russia (such as France and Germany), whereas others, such as those in Eastern Europe or those that used to be part of the Soviet Union like the Baltics, are more hawkish.
In addition, the EU has an awkward reliance on Russia for a large chunk (around 40%) of its natural gas supplies, meaning that Russia can use this resource, particularly in winter, to its own advantage. Germany in particular is in a difficult situation because the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is yet to be approved, will transport gas directly into Germany and is designed to boost Russian gas supplies to the continent.
Another part of the problem is that there is no consensus in the EU over its future security landscape. Some countries, like France, are pushing for more strategic autonomy from the U.S. and NATO, while others (again those in Eastern Europe and the Baltics where NATO troops are deployed) are more comfortable with remaining under the aegis of the military alliance.
Europe won’t act ‘unless there’s an invasion’
“Barring invasion, Europe can’t and won’t mobilize,′ Eurasia Group’s analysts warned, predicting that the EU “will struggle to bridge internal divides between Russia hawks and doves over Ukraine tensions.”
“These dynamics will put yet another nail in the coffin of EU defense integration, and exacerbate the bloc’s split into pro-U.S. and more-Europe camps on security,” Peker and Brideau noted, effectively meaning that “U.S.-Russia talks will decide the future of Europe’s security architecture, which the EU will follow.”
Crisis talks between Western officials and Russia have been taking place for a number of weeks now, and follow high-profile discussions between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Concerns over Russia’s behavior toward Ukraine grew amid reports that it had deployed around 100,000 troops and military hardware to various positions along its border with Ukraine. There have also been some intelligence reports that it is planning to invade.
Russia has denied these reports repeatedly.
In talks with the U.S. and NATO, Russia sought legal assurances that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO, as Putin seeks to stop any eastward expansion of the military organization, and pushes NATO to roll back deployments in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. So far, the U.S. and NATO have refused such demands, among others.
As Ukraine is not a member of NATO, the military alliance is not obliged to defend it, posing the question over just how far the U.S. and EU are willing to go to defend the country — one that aspires to both membership of the EU and NATO. Russia vehemently opposes these aspirations.
While the U.S., Europe and NATO have all talked tough when it comes to Russia, vowing “massive consequences” as U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken said on Sunday, if Russia does invade, so far it looks like more sanctions on key Russian sectors would be the primary response deployed by the international community.
While the U.S. and U.K. have sent military equipment to Ukraine to help it defend itself, the response from EU nations has been more nuanced — Germany has refused to provide Ukraine with direct military support and reportedly blocked Estonia from sending German-made weapons to Ukraine.
NATO has itself been bolstering its military capabilities in Eastern Europe by putting forces on standby and deploying more ships and fighter jets to the area. Some European countries, including Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands, have announced their intention to send military hardware to bolster NATO defense capabilities.
The Kremlin accused the U.S. and its allies on Monday of escalating East-West tensions by announcing plans to boost NATO forces and the U.S.′ decision to evacuate the families of diplomats from its embassy in Ukraine.
Europe preparing for conflict
The EU said on Monday that it will continue to stand by Ukraine’s side and, despite preparations for conflict, diplomats in Europe continue to push for peace.
A flurry of diplomatic meetings has continued in the region this week, with the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holding talks with foreign affairs ministers from Finland and Sweden.
On Monday afternoon, Biden held a video call with a number of European leaders and NATO chief Stoltenberg.
In a statement, the European Commission said the meeting “aimed at coordinating the collective response to the aggressive behaviour of Russia with regards to Ukraine. Leaders shared the assessment on the seriousness of the situation. They wished for diplomacy to succeed but are undertaking preparations for all eventualities.”
It added that it was “working on a wide array of sectoral and individual sanctions in the case of further military aggression by Russia against Ukraine,” as well as working with EU states and allies on preparedness, from energy to cyber-security.
On Monday, the EU announced a new financial aid package for Ukraine of 1.2 billion euros ($1.36 billion) in the form of an emergency financial assistance package and 120 million euros in additional grants. European Commission President Von der Leyen said the aid was aimed at helping Ukraine “address its financing needs due to the conflict,” adding: “Let me be clear once more: Ukraine is a free and sovereign country. It makes its own choices. The EU will continue to stand by its side.”
European leaders are also looking to try their hand at bringing Russia and Ukraine closer together this week, with political advisors from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany due to hold “Normandy format” talks on eastern Ukraine in Paris on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Such talks have in the past produced the so-called ‘Minsk Agreements’ — peace deals to stop the ongoing lower-level conflict in eastern Ukraine — but the accords did not stop ongoing skirmishes and some fighting in the Donbass region between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops, and both sides have accused the other of flouting the agreements.
As such, there is not much expectation that the Normandy talks will be fruitful. Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets sovereign strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, said that “Normandy and Minsk processes are dead,” with Moscow showing what he said was “zero interest” in the peace talks continuing.
Npower: FG Yet to Engage Exited Npower Beneficiaries
Exited batches A and B beneficiaries of the N-Power scheme are yet to be formally enrolled into the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the federal government.
This is contrary to the promise made by the scheme before it exited the beneficiaries.
Investors King recalls that the beneficiaries who were engaged in 2016 and 2017 respectively, were successfully exited from the scheme in May 2020.
The Federal government had, through its Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development which is handling the scheme, launched a portal for the 500,000 exited beneficiaries to apply for their exit packages.
Also, plans were made for the transition of the N-power batch A and B through the creation of the NEXIT portal, which would allow those who choose to sign up to access other government empowerment opportunities.
Despite these promises, the exited beneficiaries are yet to access these promised opportunities.
Investors King also recalls that the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq had encouraged the beneficiaries to exercise more patience and await the result of her efforts.
She had disclosed that the ministry directed Focal Persons of National Social Investment Programmes in the states to submit an updated list of the exited N-Power beneficiaries that are interested in participating in the transition plans of the ministry.
She had further stressed that N-Power beneficiaries who have concluded the 2-year job programme will now be able to access permanent job opportunities or business prospects in line with the N-power exit strategy now activated by the Buhari administration.
“Under the plan, 200,000 beneficiaries will be engaged as financial services operators under a Shared Agent Network Expansion Facility (SANEF) scheme operated by the Central Bank of Nigeria; over 30,000 have already been engaged as geospatial experts and enumerators in the Economic Sustainability Plan’s Mass Agric programme, while several others will have the option of benefiting from the GEEP micro-enterprise loans,”the minister had said.
Meanwhile, at least 200,000 former N-Power beneficiaries will be onboarded on a scheme known as the Shared Agent Network Expansion Facility (SANEF) while at least 30, 000 others would be deployed for the Mass Agric programme, a component of the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP).
SANEF scheme is a project powered by the Central Bank of Nigeria, Deposit Money Banks, Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement Systems, Chattered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Licensed Mobile Money Operators, and Shared Agents with the primary objective of accelerating financial inclusion in Nigeria.
2023 Presidential Candidates: Hidden Hands Now Publicly Raised
As the 2023 presidential election draws near, more anxieties have enveloped Nigerians. Who will the cap fit? Who will wear the crown and who can handle the baton the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari is about to pass on? These and more questions linger in the hearts of the citizens.
While some have voiced that it’s time for a southerner to rule, some others have opposed it, saying no law in the land states that. This has intensified the heat and raised more eyebrows.
After the announcement of the election dates by the nation’s electoral body, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), some undecided and hidden aspirants have publicly raised their hands.
Slated to hold February 18, 2023, the general election updates have seized the space and dominated the media, even small circles.
In this, aspirants– both old and new have been largely analysed as the line drawn becomes wider.
Cheers and frowns were accorded to the aspirants as they declare their intention to run and make promises to the people. Below are your 2023 Presidential Candidates compiled by Investors King.
On Thursday, January 13, a veteran Journalist and Publisher who jostled for the cap in 2011, Dele Momodu declared his interest to run in 2023 as he said he is not giving up on his presidential ambition.
He had earlier explained that he joined the presidential race in 2011 because of frustration. He said he was tired of lamenting about Nigeria’s bad leaders, so he decided to bring himself into it to make a difference.
Dele Momodu, who was a member of Labour Party (LP) and 2011 presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP) joined the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in October, 2021.
Momodu, who polled 26,376 votes which ranked him 11th in the 2011 election, stated in an interview that he won’t join the list of serial contesters who contest and lose at every election. He said, ‘The day my country needs me, they will find me,’ this made him return to his business until October when he joined PDP.
Declaring his 2023 ambition at the national headquarters of the Peoples Democratic Party in Abuja, Momodu apologised for his role in bringing Buhari to power in 2015 as he canvassed both online and offline against the re-election of former President Goodluck Jonathan and further governance of PDP.
The veteran journalist, while featuring on a radio programme in December, 2021 stated that the All Progressives Congress (APC) should be held responsible for the nation’s woes and shouldn’t be given another privilege to come into power.
When asked if he would support Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Yemi Osinbajo in the next general election considering their closeness, he hinted that his allegiance is to the candidate of his party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and that he will support anyone his party picks.
He added that Tinubu and Osinbajo are not technocrats and they might continue to carry the liabilities of politicians. “For me, I don’t think after Buhari, APC deserves to govern Nigeria,” he concluded.
Bola Ahmed Tinubu
Similarly, the recent declaration of the former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu has solved the puzzle on Nigerians’ table and took over the media as the election knock gets louder. It’s now very clear that he is in the race.
First, was the inauguration of South West Agenda for Asiwaju, SWAGA’23 a year ago with the aim of mobilising youths, women, market leaders among others in the South-west to support Tinubu in the next general election.
The movement was launched in all South-West states– Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, Osun and Lagos. Tinubu, during the period was in London where he was recuperating after undergoing surgery.
In the mobilisation, loyalists of Asiwaju have said he is the most qualified to run for presidency in the South West. This gospel, they are ready to take to not less than four hundred traditional rulers and several communities in the South West of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, Tinubu officially stated his interest on Monday, January 10 in a closed-door meeting with president Muhammadu Buhari before addressing the press. He described it as a lifelong ambition which he is ready to pursue.
Speaking with newsmen, he said, “I have informed the President of my ambition but I have not informed Nigerians yet, I am still consulting. I have no problem consulting. And I’ve not set a parameter of limitation to the extent of how many people I will consult.”
Subsequently, just a day after Tinubu’s declaration, the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, on Tuesday, January 11, visited the president and informed him of his intention to contest in the next presidential election.
He noted that he is not disturbed by Tinubu’s recent declaration as he said, “I’m not in contest with anybody, I’m in contest with myself.”
He said that if the party makes the race open, he would contest for the presidency with a mission to replicate the infrastructural development in his state to the country.
Umahi, who left the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) because of its refusal to zone the presidential ticket to southeast insisted that Tinubu isn’t seen as a threat to his ambition.
Orji Uzor Kalu
Another aspirant, Orji Uzor Kalu, chief whip of the Senate also wants the presidential ticket zoned to southeast.
After Tinubu’s declaration, Kalu became uncertain about his presidential ambition but stated that he will contest if the ticket is zoned to southeast.
“I am not against his ambition of becoming the president. It is the choice of the party to determine who becomes the presidential candidate.”
Another political bigwig on the growing aspirants’ list is Pius Anyim, former Senate President and former Secretary to the Government of Federation.
He declared his interest in the presidential race, whether his party, PDP zones the ticket to the southeast or not.
Anyim, who banked on the experience he has said “I am willing and available, ready and equipped, by experience and exposure, temperament and humility, capacity and competence to serve Nigeria at this point in time as the country’s president.”
He also enjoined all the political parties in the country to zone their presidential tickets to the Southeast for equity and fairness.
Sometime in June 2021, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Kingsley Moghalu declared his intention to run for the presidency. He is referred to as the first to openly raise his hand.
He joined the African Democratic Congress (ADC) to pursue his presidential ambition as he said the party’s policies align with his ideologies.
Moghalu, who was formerly in Young Progressives Party (YPP) and 2019 presidential candidate of the party renounced his membership in October, 2019.
He said, “I’m making myself available to lead our country as a competent 21st century president. My desire is to make Nigeria the envy of other nations if I become the president.”
He also mentioned that since the formation of ADC in 2005, the party has remained consistent to its beliefs, passion and idea in nation-building.
The unending list is not void of the female gender as 38-year-old Khadijah Okunnu-Lamidi, daughter of former Federal Works commissioner, Femi Okunnu, SAN joined the race.
Khadijah, a renowned entrepreneur and youth development advocate publicly made known her interest in Lagos.
She is also a media expert, the founder and chief executive officer of Slice Media Solutions.
Unfolding her vision, she said she is set to harness the potentials of the country to become the Nigeria its people have always dreamt of, moving the country from a third world country into a developed nation with innovation and technology.
“I believe in the possibilities Nigeria holds; that is why I have taken this first step, not because there are no fears, but the will to bring about the Nigeria we all wish, hope and believe we can make a reality together,” she affirmed.
Nigerians await other interested persons to openly declare their ambition and goals as the social media platforms are filled with advertorials. Posters and fliers of some persons that are yet to clearly declare that they are in the race have also gone round.
Eyes are still on the incumbent vice-president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who has disassociated himself from a group mobilising support for him online ahead of the 2023 general election.
Former Vice-president, Atiku Abubakar and former president, Goodluck Jonathan are also yet to openly declare their stance on the presidential race.
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