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$15bn arms scandal: Presidential panel uncovers massive fraud in Army

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  • FG ignores N56, 000 minimum wage PROPOSAL, on May Day 

The presidential panel set up by President Muhammadu Buhari through the Office of the National Security Adviser to probe arms procurement between 2007 and 2015 has allegedly uncovered massive fraud in the Nigerian Army, The PUNCH has learnt.

It will be recalled that the panel had, so far, submitted two reports on its probe to the President.

While the first interim report was submitted in November 2015, the second report was submitted in January following which Buhari ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate 18 serving and retired military officers, mainly from the Air Force.

The PUNCH’s investigation on Sunday revealed that the panel, which has Air Vice Marshal J. O. Ode (retd.) as its chairman, was concluding work on the probe of the Army.

It was gathered that part of the panel’s discovery was that the total amount involved in arms fraud was $15bn and not $2.1bn.

The PUNCH had, on Wednesday last week, reported that $15bn arms funds were diverted by top military officers.

According to the report, the $2.1bn earlier reported as the mismanaged arms procurement money was just for one transaction.

A top government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity on Sunday, described the fraud uncovered by the panel in the purchase of arms in the Army as “enormous.”

“The committee is still working. What they discovered in the Army is enormous,” he said.

When asked when the third report would be submitted to the President and be made public, the source said Buhari had directed the panel to change tactics.

“The President has directed that we explore the option of prosecuting indicted persons immediately instead of first publicising their names, thereby giving some of them the leeway to escape justice,” he explained.

The source added that as of last week, efforts were ongoing by the committee to discuss the prosecution of the freshly indicted persons with the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN).

He added that efforts were ongoing to make public some achievements of the panel, especially in the recovery of funds, ahead of a summit on anti-corruption that Buhari would attend alongside other world leaders in the United Kingdom next week.

In announcing the establishment of the committee last year, the Presidency had given its mandate to include identifying irregularities and making recommendations for streamlining the procurement process in the Armed Forces.

Following the submission of the panel’s second interim report, Buhari had, on January 15, directed the EFCC to carry out further investigation into the alleged misconduct established against some retired and serving officers of the Nigerian Air Force and Nigerian Army.

Meanwhile, in a continuation of the probe into how the Peoples Democratic Party allegedly bribed some officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission before the 2015 presidential election, the EFCC has arrested an oil tycoon, Mr. Laitan Adesanya, for his alleged role in the $115m (N23bn) bribe funds.

It was learnt on Sunday that Adesanya, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Lenoil Nigeria Limited, was arrested by the EFCC in Lagos on Friday.

The anti-graft agency had, last week, arrested the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank Plc, Mr. Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo and the bank’s Head of Operations, Mr. Martin Izuogbe.

Adesanya was alleged to have handed $1.85m to the bank based on the instruction of a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke.

Other companies, which allegedly handed over money to the bank MD, included Northern Belt Gas Company Limited ($60m); Auctus Integrated ($17.8m); and Midwestern Oil and Gas ($9.5m).

Diezani was also alleged to have given the bank MD $26m in cash which was ultimately disbursed to officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission ahead of the 2015 presidential election as bribes.

A reliable source at the EFCC said Adesanya was in the custody of the commission in Lagos and was being grilled as of Friday.

He said, “We are asking him about the $1.85m he dropped and what purpose it was supposed to serve.”

According to the United Kingdom Financial Times, Adesanya is an international oil businessman, who has been in the business for decades.

The newspaper states that Adesanya made huge profits during the military administrations of the 1980s and 1990s.

Also, sources within the EFCC have denied claims by Fidelity Bank Plc that it reported all its financial dealings to the appropriate authorities

The bank had, in a statement last week, stated that “transactions were duly reported as required by the regulators and the bank is cooperating fully with the authorities on the investigation.”

However, the source said the $26m, which the MD allegedly collected directly from Diezani, was neither reported to the Central Bank of Nigeria nor the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, which is domiciled in the EFCC.

The source added, “The $26m cash that was collected from Diezani was not deposited into any account. So, how could they say they reported it? They didn’t report anything because the money was given to the bank for safekeeping and there was no intention for it to be used to open an account.

“If it was put in the system, then, there must be records. Who brought the money? They don’t know. They were supposed to have reported the transaction to the CBN and NFIU, which is domiciled in the EFCC but there is no such report.

“The money was meant for distribution to INEC officials. When the bank MD was collecting $26m cash from a serving minister, why didn’t he ask her where she got the money from?”

In the meantime, the Federal Government on Sunday kept mum over the recent demand by the organised labour for a new minimum wage of N56,000.

The issue of the minimum wage was not mentioned by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, who represented President Muhammadu Buhari, at the May Day rally in Abuja.

Officials of the Nigeria Labour Congress expressed disappointment at the failure of the President to personally attend the annual event which would have given him the opportunity to address some of the issues raised by the workers.

For instance, the National President of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, Alhaji Ibrahim Khaleel, who doubles as the National Treasurer of the NLC, said that the President’s absence was a minus as he missed the opportunity to hear directly from the workers.

He said that Buhari would have had the opportunity to directly respond to the workers who believed in his cause as President.

The last time the President openly identified with labour unions was at the 11th delegates’ conference of the NLC in February, 2015, shortly before his election.

When asked that both the President did not mention the issue of the new proposed minimum wage, he said that the President’s absence caused it.

“That is one of the bad feelings we have as workers representatives on May Day. We believe that it was as a result of the absence of Mr. President. There is no way the President of the country would grace an occasion and salient issues like that would be raised, without Mr. President at least responding to them.”

Khaleel said that while the organised labour did not have the exact reasons for the government’s refusal to comment on the issues, it was a fact that labour had always achieved welfare demands for its members through sustained struggle.

“We cannot say sincerely or talk about the reasons behind the government side not to say anything about it. But we believe that nothing, absolutely nothing, comes to the working class in the history of struggle free of charge, so we are determined and we are ready to pursue our agenda because we believe in our cause,” he said.

There were high expectations that the Federal Government would comment on the issue of the minimum wage during the event.

The expectations of the President’s personal presence at the even reflected in the address read by the President of the NLC, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, who expressed gratitude to the “President for accepting our invitation to personally grace this May Day celebrations.”

NLC’s Deputy Director in charge of Press, Mr. Samuel Olowookere, had told our correspondent in a telephone conversation on Saturday to wait for the response of the Federal Government on the issue of the proposed new minimum wage on May Day.

In an address read on his behalf by Ngige, the President called on the workers to collaborate with the government in the fight against corruption in the public service.

He said, “In this fight against corruption, I need you all to be very willing partners. Fighting corruption in the public service in particular requires the workers to play major roles by cooperating with the government.

Punch

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WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

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…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

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Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

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The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

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…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

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