- As Fed Govt, DISCOS clash over revenue accounts
The Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, has written to a former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, and an aide to Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, Mr. Lere Olayinka, citing character defamation over the allegation that he (the minister) owns the $43m (about N13bn) seized by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission in Ikoyi, Lagos.
Amaechi, in letters dated April 14, 2017, written on his behalf by his lawyer, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), to the two men, said his client had been defamed by the claims of the two men.
Fagbemi is demanding N500m from Fani-Kayode as compensation for the alleged malicious posts by the former minister on his twitter handle on April 14.
He is also demanding two separate sums of N750m totalling N1.5bn from Olayinka as compensation for the alleged “malicious” posts by the Ekiti State Governor’s spokesperson on his facebook timeline and twitter handle on April 14.
In his letter to Fani-Kayode, Fagbemi said it was wrong for the former minister to assume that Amaechi owned the flat and the money found in it.
Fagbemi said as a lawyer, Fani-Kayode knew that he ought to approach the Land Registry, especially in Lagos State, where he said there were proper records of property owners, in order to verify the ownership of the property in question.
He said the former deliberately refused to carry out a diligent search in order to achieve a malicious aim.
Fagbemi said Fani-Kayode had claimed through his twitter handle that “The $43m is Rotimi Amaechi’s. He owns the flat (where) it was found in too (sic.). NIA story is fake news. NIA does not keep cash in minister’s flats.”
He said the story was a lie and that it was aimed at impeaching the integrity of his client, who he described as a two-term speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly and a two-term governor of the same state.
Fagbemi said Amaechi neither owned the flat where the money was found nor owned the cash as well.
The letter reads in part, “Our client neither owns the cash nor the house where the cash was found and your story and claim are unfounded. As a matter of fact, our client does not own any house in Lagos State not to talk of keeping cash in one and your story is preposterous.
“Your twitter rant of 14/04/2014 at 04.16 was viewed by your 316. 000 followers, re-tweeted 1,209 times and made a favourite by 434 followers as of the time of writing this letter today at 7.15pm and the list is increasing by the minute and same has satisfied all the conditions needed for a successful defamation case against you.
“We have our client’s mandate to state to you unequivocally that the said twitter publication constitutes libel, and is defamatory of him as same (the claim) is aimed at impugning our client’s character and credit in the eyes of right thinking Nigerians and foreigners.”
In view of this, he gave Fani-Kayode a seven-day ultimatum to tender apology to the minister and that such apology be carried by five national dailies.
Fagbemi added that Fani-Kayode should pay his client N500m damages as “compensation for the malicious and defamatory claim.”
He threatened to sue the minister if the demands were not met within seven days.
The lawyer in two separate letters, each relating separately to facebook and twitter posts by Olayinka, demanded the sums of N750m as compensation for each of the posts.
In the meantime, electricity distribution companies (DISCOS) are kicking against the Federal Government’s plan to centralise their revenue accounts.
The decision is being taken by the Federal Government because of the DISCOS’ poor monthly remittances.
In a statement yesterday, the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED) said such a move amounts to the nationalisation of the DISCOS, which were franchised when the Federal Government unbundled the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) Plc.
The association recalled that the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) repeatedly published that the DISCOS remitted only 30 per cent of their monthly energy invoices in 2016.
The Market Operator (MO), an arm of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Mr. Moshood Saleeman, the Executive Managing Director, had in October last year, at a market participants’ workshop in Abuja, said if the poor collection continued, the DISCOS’ revenue accounts may be escrowed.
But ANED’s Director of Research and Advocacy, Mr. Sunday Oduntan, who signed the statement, warned: “Any attempt to centralise or escrow the DISCOS’ revenue accounts would be tantamount to nationalisation or appropriation of the DisCos.”
Oduntan said such action will negate the objectives of the National Electricity Power Policy, 2001 (NEPP) and the Electric Power Sector Reform Act, 2005 (EPSRA), of a private sector-owned and managed electricity sector.
The statement reads: “It would also send very wrong signals to domestic and international investors that Nigeria is not fully open for private sector investment and that we are still partial to the old habits of nationalisation, preventing the injection of the cheap and sorely needed capital injection that is critical to the rehabilitation and improvement of electricity infrastructure.”
Oduntan said it will be improper to have a, supposedly, private sector-owned and managed business having the government as the manager of its revenues.
ANED advised the Federal Government to avoid any consideration of regulations or action that intrudes into corporate responsibilities of procurement, financial management or personnel management.
“Relative to procurement, we are not aware that Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) issues regulations to guide the internal procurements of the telecommunication companies; Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), that of the banks; or the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), that of the oil companies”, the association said.
The power investors also said they learnt that the government was planning to call for the declaration of eligible customers for the electricity market.
Kicking against the move, Oduntan said that the minister can make such declaration only “when a competitive market exists in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).”
ANED said such competitive market, driven by efficiency, presence and utilisation of industry contracts does not exist now. It said the minister under Section 27 of the EPSRA 2005, has authority to determine “end-use customers’ who then constitutes eligible customers.
The investors, however, said Section 28 of the Act requires that the DISCOS must be compensated for any reduction in their ability to “earn permitted rates of return on their assets” or any inadequacy in their revenues, as a result of such determination.
They warned: “What this means is that, consumers will have to suffer an increase in their electricity tariff, to accommodate this premature declaration of eligible customers.”
Citizen with additional report from Nation