- Buhari Resumes, Meets AGF, NNPC GMD, May Attend Council Meeting Wednesday
After weeks of absence due to ill-health, President Muhammadu Buhari resumed work on Tuesday and met separately with the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, and the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Maikanti Baru, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Buhari’s resumption at his office was bound to stem speculation and growing concerns about his health, which presidency sources informed media have been grossly exaggerated.
A source on Tuesday reiterated the statement by one of the president’s spokesmen Garba Shehu that Buhari had been advised by his doctors to rest more and take things slowly after his medical vacation in the United Kingdom, adding, however, that now he has resumed work, he would likely chair the meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) on Wednesday.
Since his return from the UK, Buhari has not attended any public function and was unable to attend two cabinet meetings last month and the Jumat service last Friday at the Presidential Villa.
The president was also absent at the May Day rally organised by the labour unions for the second time since assuming office in 2015, a development that caused commotion at the Eagle Square, Abuja.
Briefing State House correspondents after his closed-door meeting with the president, Malami said Buhari expressed concern over the perceived failure of the National Assembly to pass some bills meant to aid the fight against corruption, describing it as a major setback for the anti-graft war.
Malami, who disclosed that the assets recovered by the anti-graft agencies are scattered all over the country, added that the non-passage of the bills was worrisome to the president because it has resulted in a stalemate in stock taking and management of the proceeds of the anti-corruption war.
He made reference to Proceeds of Crime Bill which he said contains the legal backing for the establishment of an Asset Management Agency as one of such bills whose non-passage constitutes a threat to the progress of the anti-corruption war.
According to him, assets recovered by anti-corruption agencies are scattered across the country without any legal framework to aid their gathering and management.
He also explained that he had visited the president to brief him on developments in his ministry as well as the submission of the report of the Electoral Reform Committee to his office.
“It was a routine briefing to the president as it relates to general issues – the issues that have to do with anti-corruption.
“Mr. President is worried that the anti-corruption bills that are pending before the National Assembly, there has not been any expeditious determination on the passage of the bills and indeed the Asset Management Agency was also part of the discussion.
“Mr. President is worried that the assets that have been gathered over time by the agencies of government that are responsible for the fight against corruption are scattered all over the place.
“And embedded in the Proceeds of Crime Bill is the Asset Management Agency which is the agency put in place by the presidency for the purpose of managing the associated assets that are recovered.
“So, Mr. President is indeed worried and the discussions bordered on how best we can handle it. There are also limited issues that relate to the parastatals under the Ministry of Justice that were discussed.
“As you are aware, this afternoon, the Electoral Reform Committee that had been put in place submitted its report to my office.
“I equally briefed Mr. President on that and in addition to the report, there are bills that have been presented for the consideration of the Federal Executive Council as they relate to amendment to the electoral process.
“The whole essence of the meeting was to seek the view of Mr. President and the direction as to what to do next as it relates to the Electoral Reform Committee report that has been submitted and to consider routine processes under the Ministry of Justice,” he said.
Malami also disclosed that the presidential committee probing the allegations of corruption against the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, and Director-General of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Mr. Ayo Oke, over the discovery of N13.3 billion in an apartment in Ikoyi, would submit its report to Buhari on Wednesday.
The committee is chaired by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. Malami and National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno (rtd.) are also members of the committee.
Malami, who declined to make comments on the committee’s findings, said doing so would be pre-emptive, adding that the vice-president who is the chairman of the panel would brief the president on its findings after submitting the report today.
“Well, you know the presidential committee that is investigating the NIA and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation is supposed to make its submission by tomorrow.
“So it is pre-emptive now to discuss anything considering the fact that the committee is under the chairmanship of the vice-president who is supposed to brief the president in that respect and the schedule for the committee’s assignment has not elapsed,” Malami said.
Lawal and Oke were suspended by Buhari on April 19, after which the president constituted a three-man committee chaired by the vice-president to probe them.
While Lawal was accused of violations of due process in the award of contracts on the humanitarian crisis in the North-east, Oke was suspended over his claim that the money discovered in the Lagos flat belonged to the agency.
The committee was tasked with investigating “how and by whose or which authority the funds were made available to NIA, and to establish whether or not there has been a breach of the law or security procedure in obtaining custody and use of the funds”.
Lawal is being investigated over the management of the Presidential Initiative on the North-east (PINE) in his capacity as SGF.
He was alleged to have awarded a N220 million tree-cutting contract to his company, Rholavision Engineering Limited, in contravention of public sector rules barring government officials from awarding contracts to companies in which they have an interest.
During his briefing, Dr. Baru said he met with the president to update him on operations of the NNPC and its subsidiaries, and on the relative stability in the nation’s oil and gas sector in recent weeks.
He said the president expressed delight over the reported stability in the oil and gas sector.
“I briefed Mr. President on the state of the NNPC and its subsidiaries and also on the situation of fuel supply, crude oil production, gas production and by extension, ability to supply gas to the power sector,” he said.
“We had an extensive briefing as you can see; I passed here over two hours ago. I spent quite some time with him to discuss these national issues.
“He was happy with the state of the corporation and told us to continue with the efforts that we are doing and if we need any executive attention we should not hesitate to come back to him,” Baru said.
Baru disclosed that following the peace and stability being enjoyed in the Niger Delta, oil production peaked at two million barrels per day (mbpd) on May 2.
He also said NNPC has no plan to increase the prices of petroleum products.
2023 Voter’s Registration Will Be Online, Biometric To Be Captured Physically- INEC
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday unfolded plans to allow online filing during the continuous voter registration for the 2023 general election.
The National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, Mr. Festus Okoye, however, said only the biometric would be captured physically by INEC officials.
But the commission suffered another setback yesterday as arsonists torched its office in Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State.
Okoye, during a stakeholders’ meeting on expanding voter access to polling units in Kano yesterday, said: “On June 28, the voter registration exercise for those above 18 years and those who have not registered before will commence with two new innovations. Those versatile with computer can register online and only visit a registration centre to capture their biometrics.”
Okoye stated that the online registration would be introduced to reduce crowd at registration centres in line with COVID-19 protocols.
The commission called on citizens, especially those willing to contest elections, whose voter cards have been defaced, whose names were wrongly spelt or addresses and locations wrongly captured to present themselves for authentication or correction.
INEC also called for valid data of all those with disabilities or physical challenges to be captured during the continuous registration for proper projections ahead of the 2023 general election.
INEC also warned political parties and politicians who have started campaigning to desist from doing so.
Okoye said: “There is a ban on political campaigns which has not been lifted yet. And I find it necessary to draw your attention for you to understand the legal implication of violating this ban.
“I have listened to comments on radio stations, which are capable of heating the polity. Media organisations should avoid providing platforms for such comments. The media should try to curtail such tensions.
“Political parties, politicians and their supporters should understand there is a legal framework for campaigns and it has not commenced yet.”
No Plans To Relocate AFRICOM HQ To Nigeria Or Any Part Of Africa- U.S. Replies Buhari
The United States has said there is no plan to relocate its Africa Command from its current base in Germany to Nigeria or any other part of Africa despite the worsening state of insecurity in the region.
The US gave the response barely two weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari appealed to the US government to consider relocating AFRICOM to Africa to assist Nigeria and other adjoining countries to combat worsening terrorism, banditry and other security crises.
The President made the plea in a virtual meeting with the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, on April 27.
Germany-based Africa Command (AFRICOM) is the US military headquarters that oversees its operations in Africa.
Buhari’s request followed a series of recent military casualties in Nigeria’s decade-long fight against Boko Haram terrorists, fresh expansion of the insurgents’ bases to Niger and Nasarawa States, and heavy waves of abductions and killings by bandits in the North.
Buhari said, “The security challenges in Nigeria remain of great concern to us and impacted more negatively, by existing complex negative pressures in the Sahel, Central and West Africa, as well as the Lake Chad Region.
“Compounded as the situation remains, Nigeria and her security forces remain resolutely committed to containing them and addressing their root causes.
“The support of important and strategic partners like the United States cannot be overstated as the consequences of insecurity will affect all nations, hence the imperative for concerted cooperation and collaboration of all nations to overcome these challenges.
“In this connection, and considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, weighing heavily on Africa, it underscores the need for the United States to consider relocating AFRICOM headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa and near the Theatre of Operation.”
However, the US government on Thursday ruled out any plan to relocate AFRICOM from its current base in Germany to Nigeria or any part of Africa.
According to the United States Department of Defence’ Pentagon, previous studies have shown that the cost of relocating AFRICOM from Germany to Africa is very huge.
In an emailed response to The PUNCH, the Pentagon said although it would continue to value Nigeria and other countries in Africa as important partners, the American government would not consider relocating AFRICOM to any part of the African continent at the moment.
This newspaper had asked if the US would consider Nigeria’s request to relocate AFRICOM to the continent.
“It would be inappropriate to speculate on any future actions. However, at this time, moving this headquarters (AFRICOM HQ) to Africa is not part of any plans, but USAFRICOM’s commitment to their mission, our African and other partners, remains as strong today as when we launched this command more than a decade ago,” US Pentagon spokesperson, Ms. Cindi King, said.
King also ruled out any plan to consider Buhari’s request in an ongoing global US defence review.
She said, “Although there is an ongoing Global Posture Review, the relocation of Combatant Command headquarters is outside the scope of its assessment. In the case of AFRICOM, previous studies have concluded that the cost associated with the relocation of this headquarters is significant and likely to incur the expense of other engagement opportunities and activities that more directly benefit our valued African partners.
“We greatly value the partnership with Nigeria and appreciate President Buhari’s recognition of the United States’ positive contribution to African peace and security, as well as other regional partners that have made similar past pronouncements. The United States remains committed to continuing our close partnership with African countries and organisations to promote security and stability.”
It’s ‘near impossible’ for America to accept Buhari’s invitation –Campbell, ex-US ambassador
Meanwhile, a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, has listed reasons why it is “unlikely or near impossible” for the US government to relocate AFRICOM from Stuttgart in Germany to Nigeria or any part of the continent.
He said aside from the fact that the cost of doing so is very huge, the Nigerian military had proved to be a difficult partner for the US over the years.
China Urges U.N. States Not to Attend Xinjiang Event Next Week
China has urged United Nations member states not to attend an event planned next week by Germany, the United States and Britain on the repression of Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang, according to a note seen by Reuters on Friday.
“It is a politically-motivated event,” China’s U.N. mission wrote in the note, dated Thursday. “We request your mission NOT to participate in this anti-China event.”
China charged that the organizers of the event, which also include several other European states along with Australia and Canada, use “human rights issues as a political tool to interfere in China’s internal affairs like Xinjiang, to create division and turbulence and disrupt China’s development.”
“They are obsessed with provoking confrontation with China,” the note said, adding that “the provocative event can only lead to more confrontation.”
The Chinese mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ambassadors of the United States, Germany and Britain are due to address the virtual U.N. event on Wednesday, along with Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth and Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard.
The aim of the event is to “discuss how the U.N. system, member states and civil society can support and advocate for the human rights of members of ethnic Turkic communities in Xinjiang,” according to an invitation.
Western states and rights groups have accused authorities in Xinjiang of detaining and torturing Uyghurs in camps, which the United States has described as genocide. In January, Washington banned the import of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over allegations of forced labor.
Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training centers to combat religious extremism.
“Beijing has been trying for years to bully governments into silence but that strategy has failed miserably, as more and states step forward to voice horror and revulsion at China’s crimes against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims,” Human Rights Watch U.N. director Louis Charbonneau said on Friday.
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