Monday, March 26, 2012
In bemoaning the extent to which corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation, former senate president, Mr. Adolphus Wabara, said at the weekend:” Sometimes I watch the television and feel that the other name for Nigeria is corruption. In America and other countries, they have hurricanes and other natural disasters. It, however, appears to me that Nigeria has its own natural disaster, which is corruption.”
Whatever the misgivings anybody may have about that seeming generalisation, we should all have cause to be worried about the rate at which our country is being systematically looted on virtually all fronts. The continuous revelations of monumental fraud being perpetrated at the Police Pensions Office alone lend credence to Wabara's assertion. Perhaps more bizarre in this incredible story of graft is the arrest last week of a serving permanent secretary who was said to have in his possession the sum of N2 billion in cash!
Details of the racket as revealed before the Senate committee showed that officials of the board falsified documents to withdraw N24 billion from the Budget Office for the payment of pensions that required only N3.5 billion. These civil servants also falsified death certificates in order to claim the benefits of supposedly dead pensioners. Incidentally, the fraud took place right inside the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation. In a classic, only-in-Nigeria revelation, the syndicate behind the scam made daily withdrawals of up to N300 million from banks through issuance of multiple cheques with fictitious names--all with the knowledge and collaboration of senior government officials.
Obviously piqued by the sordid revelations, Senate President David Mark placed a curse ex cathedra on the perpetrators of the heinous crime: “These people, the administrators stealing pension funds, can never live in peace because the prayers of these old men and women who have diligently served the country will haunt them and their children’s children.”
Whatever the potency of Mark’s curse, it is not enough. Everyone involved in the racket must be made to face the full force of the law. Evidently, there are two principal characters in this sordid drama: Assistant Chief Accountant, Police Pension Office, Mr. Toyin Ishola and the Chairman of the Police Pension Reform Task Force, Mr. Abdulrasheed Maina. The two gentlemen have been giving conflicting accounts at the Senate and passing the buck from one to the other. According to the accountant, Maina reportedly made a secret deposit in Fidelity Bank, Central Business District Branch in Abuja that is still yielding a reported N100 million interest monthly without any documentation.
It was also revealed that within the period of the Task Force’s assignment, the chairman allegedly exceeded his brief by spending N240 million to conduct biometric data capture exercise for only 20 retirees in the Diaspora and another N220 million for a similar exercise locally. Worse still, Ishola claimed that Maina distorted the existing police pension account and allegedly transferred a total of N21 billion into three different accounts including Fidelity Bank, N8 billion; UBA, N3 billion; and First Bank, N10 billion - all these without recourse to extant financial rules and approvals from the Accountant General of the Federation and the Minister of Finance. The accusations and counter-accusations go on ad nausea.
Unfortunately, victims of this heinous crime remain the old men and women who have been denied their dues. And many of them have been sent to their untimely death as a result. Yet for these public officials to make multiple withdrawals of such large sums of money on a daily basis in this era of electronic banking, some bankers must have been made willing accomplices to this mindless racket.
The Central Bank of Nigeria and other regulatory agencies must therefore investigate the culpability of all the banks involved in this huge scam and apply appropriate sanctions. We also call on the relevant authorities to ensure a thorough investigation of this organised crime so that it is not only the foot soldiers that are apprehended but also their godfathers.
Minister for Power, Barth Nnaji
Government will tap a small percentage of the National Pension Fund NPF) to finance some of the power projects
The Federal Government has sealed a $10 billion (about N1.56trillion) agreement with General Electric (GE) towards the construction of power plants that generate a total of 10,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity in the country.Minister of Power, Barth Nnaji, who signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on behalf of the Federal government on Sunday in London, said the agreement, under which GE would be an equity participant, provides for the construction of a “series of power plants” to be located at various locations across the country.“In the past, GE only supplied the equipment, but now, they will be investing 10 to 15 per cent as equity for every single project,” Mr. Nnaji said. “The government will match them in such investments, while the private sector will bring the balance.''The minister told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that government would tap a small percentage of the National Pension Fund NPF) to finance some of the power projects.“What the pension money is meant for is investment. But you invest in more secure instrument and this project is one of them,’’ Mr. Nnaji said. “Pension Fund is a secure fund, so nobody can play around with the people’s retirement money. So, it is very important that everyone understands that the plan is not to just take the money and invest in project that are risky.”Mr. Nnaji explained further that infrastructure, including road tolls and transmission lines, were guaranteed income earners, “because charges that accrue from them can fund the borrowed money from the pension fund”.“There are not many projects that are more secured than the power plants. Investments in this sector are constant, because people must buy electricity, while government provides the guarantee,’’ the minister said.
Nigeria had signed a similar MoU with GE in 2009, but the minister insisted that the new arrangement was more detailed in specifics.
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SaharaReporters has learnt that former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos has demanded that the Lagos State government and various local government councils in the state contribute huge sums of cash to fund his 69th birthday celebration.
Reliable sources told SaharaReporters that Mr. Tinubu, a professed opposition figure and leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), made it compulsory that the chairmen of all local governments under the party contribute cash to give him a birthday that one of his critics has described as “obscene and immoral.” In all, the ACN chieftain has asked the state and local governments to cough up N1 billion.
“The birthday party is being planned as a month-long affair and will be celebrated in phases,” said one source.
In addition to the funds from his state, Mr. Tinubu has also asked that the governors of Oyo, Ekiti, Edo and Ekiti make significant cash donations to the planned events.
Our sources revealed that tension may be brewing between Mr. Tinubu and Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State over the latter’s refusal to contribute towards the lavish birthday party.
Mr. Ajimobi recently hosted President Goodluck Jonathan's wife, Patience, during her visit to Oyo State. A source close to the governor told SaharaReporters that Mrs. Jonathan told Mr. Ajimobi not to create enmity with PDP elements in his state. She reportedly described former Governor Tinubu as a closet member of the PDP.
Our source said Mrs. Jonathan, who was piqued by Tinubu’s recent criticisms of her husband’s policies, also revealed that Mr. Tinubu has met secretly with her husband on several occasions. She said that, at one such private meeting last year in France, President Jonathan and Tinubu struck a deal to quash a case against the former governor for violations of Code of Conduct provisions.
After portraying Mr. Tinubu as a selfish politician out for his personal financial interests, Mrs. Jonathan told Ajimobi to contact her directly if he needed anything from Mr. Jonathan.
A source in Oyo stated that Governor Ajimobi’s decision not to bankroll Tinubu’s birthday extravaganza may signal the governor’s determination to escape from under Mr. Tinubu’s tyrannical style of leadership within the ACN political orbit and Ajimobi's move to start a gradual migration back to the PDP.
Ajimobi is generally described as a non-performing governor by Oyo indigenes.
Although Mr. Tinubu claims to be 60 years old, a source told us that he is at least 67 years old.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
|By CHIOMA OBINNA|
Nigerian scientists at the National Roots Crops Research Institute, NCRI, in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, IITA, have developed and released the first ever African set of pro-vitamin A-enriched yellow cassava as part of strategies to curb the prevalence of malnutrition in the country.
The three varieties which include UMUCASS 36, UMUCASS 37 and 38 will provide more vitamin A in the diets of more than 70 million Nigerians who eat the root crop every day.
Launching the varieties at the NCRI, Umudike, Abia State weekend, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, in his paper entitled; "Pro Vitamin A Cassava: A Revolution for Nutrition and Health in Nigeria" explained that the successes achieved in Nigeria with the control of the cassava mealy bug and cassava mosaic virus came from improved application of science, especially plant genetics and integrated pest management practices.
Describing it as a giant stride in the pursuit of better nutrition for vulnerable Nigerian groups, Adesina noted the success was part of the drive to transform agriculture through the Federal government Agricultural Transformation Action Plan, ATA, to ensure additional 20 million metric tonnes of food to the domestic supply and to focus on agriculture as a business.
"Cassava is one of the major crops under this Transformation Agenda. Our focus is to create new markets for cassava: these include high quality cassava flour, to be used in replacing some of the wheat flour being imported to produce bread, high fructose cassava syrup to replace the 200,000 metric tonnes of sugar currently being used in the juice manufacturing industry, dried cassava chips, and the production of ethanol. Our goal is to add an additional 17 million metric tonnes of cassava to our domestic food supply.
Maintaining that producing more food is not enough, he stressed the need to ensure that there are enhanced food nutrition and health.
His words: "UNICEF reports show that 43 per cent of under-five children in Nigeria are stunted. This is high when compared to 39 per cent for all developing countries; 26 per cent in Ghana; 25 per cent in Benin; 29 per cent in Botswana, Burkina Faso and Cameroon; and 33 per cent in Kenya.
Nigeria's ranks 158th out of 182 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI), with life expectancy of 48 years; risk of maternal death of 1 in 18; and under_five mortality rate of 186 per 1,000 live births. Nigeria's stunting prevalence puts it as the 32nd highest out of 136 countries.
"Nigeria has the third highest absolute number of children, who are stunted, with 41 per cent of children under the age of five stunted, 23 per cent underweight, and 14 per cent wasted. Moreover, 14 per cent of infants are born with a low birth weight.
Adesina stressed the need to accelerate efforts and policy measures on improving health and nutrition of vulnerable groups, especially women, infants and children.
"Scaling up core micronutrients interventions would cost less than US$188 million per year. This can be achieved through nutritional supplementation, diversity of diets and bio-fortification. Although the overall prevalence of stunting and underweight has been decreasing over the past two decades, progress in
Nigeria may not be sufficient to meet MDG's goal of halving 1990 rates of child underweight by 2015.”
He noted that annually, Nigeria loses over US$1.5 billion in GDP to vitamin and mineral deficiencies as many staple foods are low in essential micronutrients, hence the need for home fortification.
He said bio-fortification provides one of the best ways to achieve improvements in nutrition and explained that out of over 20 varieties earlier identified, more intense selection and conventional breeding work have brought at least three varieties that compare favourably in pro Vitamin A.
"These Pro Vitamin A or beta carotene varieties of cassava would go a long way in correcting the deficiency of this nutrient in diets, particularly those of the poor and the vulnerable.
By SaharaReporters, New York
Arewa Youths Forum (AYF) has called on past and present leaders of Northern Nigeria to apologize to the North as a matter of morality and sincerity, specifically naming former military leaders Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar.
“We got to the mess we are in due to their insensitivity, and approach to governance, which was contrary to the principles of our leader Sir Ahmadu Bello,” they said in a statement issued on Sunday following an emergency meeting in Kaduna attended by Northern Muslim and Christian youths.
Lamenting the “avoidable quagmire” in which the North has found itself, the AYF said, “We are at the bottom of every index ranging from health, education, social amenities, and several other sectors. Worst of our woes is the insecurity ravaging the North.”
The youths blamed for that situation “all Northern leaders who held several positions, i.e. Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, and others, whom they said received “golden opportunities” to turn the fortunes of the region around but failed to do so.
“This they should know and accept much of the blame,” they said, dismissing as a “ruse” the continued search by those former leaders for what went wrong. “Our indigent peoples are not in any way responsible for our predicament but the elites, who on several times Allah has willed leadership.”
The statement said: “Northerners and the world needs explanation as to what led the North to the rut it is today. It was not magic but man-made as a result of deliberate manipulation of religion, self enrichment and pervasive corruption our leaders adopted to the detriment of the lager peoples of the North. It must be further explained to tell undiluted history, that had our elites continue in the way and direction erected by our leader Sir Ahmadu Bello, it would have been a different ball game, but sadly, our region is now being mocked and laughed upon, we are being denigrated and termed as "parasites" and those "benefiting" from where they have not sown.”
The AYF called on the people of Southern Nigeria also to recognize that their own elites cannot be exonerated from the mess Nigeria is in today, and to discontinue unnecessary “mischievous” generalizations about the North, as most Northerners do not fit into them.
They concluded that what the North and Nigeria in general need now is “practicable good governance on the basis of unity, justice, equity, oneness and togetherness.”
You Must Apologize For Impoverishment of North, Arewa Youths Tell IBB, Abdusalami | Sahara Reporters