Saturday, 18 November 2017

ENTERTAINMENT

The spectacular success while it lasted, of Chukwudi Onuamadike, alias Evans, in his line of ‘kidnapping business’ necessarily elicits endless questions and speculations about the nature and the values that, made possible his exploits and on the other hand, the capacity of the state and its law enforcement apparatus to assure the most fundamental purpose of government which, to quote the extant constitution of the country is ‘the security and welfare of the people’. Nevertheless, the Nigerian Police must be commended for diligence and the arrest of Evans.

For nearly a decade since he started in 2008 but created his own gang in 2015, Evans roamed in what may be described as a derring-do manner, the length and breadth of the land taking on ‘jobs’ as he called kidnapping, from informants and collaborators. He made millions in local and foreign currencies, acquired foreign citizenship, owned luxurious houses complete with bullet-proof doors and Jacuzzi-equipped bathrooms within and outside the country, expensive cars and personal accessories, and generally lived it up like a genuinely successful businessman. He lived in a respectable, upscale neighbourhood too while his family lives abroad. Given the prevailing money-centered ethos of this society, Evans was, until caught, the kind of man who might be invited to sponsor or chair the wedding of a young honest couple, launch a book titled The evils of Kidnapping, give a lecture on the evils of criminality, or even donate to the fund-raising of a religious organisation. If Evans is not a traditional chief, with an honorary doctorate to boot, it is only because he has not sought to pay for it. Alas, this was a criminal of so sufficiently heinous type as to be punishable with death in some states of the federation!

The sordid details of Evans’ operational methods- information gathering mechanism, groups with sectional heads in different locations, weaponry, detention houses and camps, cooks, huge proceeds and more, are still being revealed. One thing is certain: More than other kidnappers who have been caught by law enforcement agents such as a certain Terwase ‘Ghana’ Akwaza in Benue State, Samaila Madu in Edo State and one ’Vampire’ in Imo State, Evans was a smart, calculating, sophisticated, cold-hearted criminal whose life purpose appeared to make big money irrespective of the darkness of the source. But only for a time and a season.

Many reasons can be offered for his staying power in his kidnapping enterprise. For one, and this cannot be denied him, Chukwudi Onuamadike treated kidnapping as a structured business and he invested in recruitment, arms, including the assault rifles AK 47, AK 49 and thousands of rounds of ammunition, multi-million naira high-end phones equipped with anti-tracking device so that his conversations with his operatives in the field could not be monitored. He kept his gangs ignorant of each other and only gave the most limited information necessary to execute assigned duty. And he made working for him worth the risk too, saying ‘I usually pay Uche N20 million for every operation’ and N2 million to others on every operation.’ It is no wonder that he was not caught through whistleblowing, of course, of the security officers.

Evans has been able to gather information on people through the Internet. Again, the cheap vain and senseless urge of some people to flaunt material achievements overexposes them to men of criminal intentions.

It is certain that the Nigerian legal and cultural system is yet to, as a rule, interrogate, the source of wealth of any man or woman who appears to live lavishly without an identifiable source of income. In some other societies, the first question asked of a man who flaunts wealth is ‘what does he do?’ And if he is said to be a businessman, intelligent people ask further what line of business. It is regrettable that here, any man who is rich by whatever means is admired, eagerly courted and revered by even those who should know better.

Again in other climes, a big house, a big car and other display of wealth attract, naturally, the attention of the tax man who would politely request to know how much the person earns vis-à-vis his/her tax returns. It is not difficult therefrom to detect a criminal. Again, not so here. With the right price, the inquisitive official, who may be poorly paid anyway, can be paid off with more money than he earns in a year.

In this same country, but in another age, by the dictate of social mores and norms, parents would frown at their children owning things that they could not explain how they were acquired. The times are different now and parents gladly benefit from the proceeds of crime by their children.

Modernity and urbanism has encouraged a lifestyle of individualism. Neighbours hardly know or interact with one another especially in the estates of well-to-do- families. Thus, a respectable judge may be living next door to a vicious but successful armed robber or an Evans. This may be good for privacy, but it can endanger collective safety. Unless of course, there is in place, a know-your-neighbour mechanism, as well as some neighbourhood security structure.

Nigerians must also consider the socio-economic conditions that make possible rampant kidnapping. Jobs are scarce because the funds to create openings have been stolen by the managers of national business. Those lucky to hold jobs are poorly paid, or are not paid as and when due. Opportunities for self –employment are constricted by an economic system skewed against the average citizen. It is easier to make money by crooked means and flaunt it. These of course, are no excuse but the sad reality.

The police have done a good job to track Evans and arrest him. It is evident that, given the right equipment, training, and incentives, the Force can do great things. But with only 300,000 personnel in 5,303 divisions, it is still numerically inadequate to maintain law and order among a Nigerian population of 178 million. Government must move very quickly to empower the police force because, it bears repeating that security is one of the two primary purposes of government’s existence.

The point must be made that with a stream of self-confessions and revelations, the Evans story is assuming a saga of a man with exploits of sorts. This is needless. The police can assemble sufficient information from confessional statements to open a case against Evans and his gang. Let the prosecution begin forthwith.

By The Guardian Editorial Board, NIGERIA
Published in Parliament

Ghana's President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has urged all Ghanaian Muslims to be wary of ideologues who may pervert a beautiful religion like Islam for selfish and destructive ends.

According to President Akufo-Addo, religion is a double-edged sword that can also be invoked for destructive purposes, and as such urged all Muslims to continue to hold hands in brotherhood and unity, for that is the essence of Islam.

“Whether you are Ahl-Sunna, Tijaniyya, Shia or Ahmadiyya, I remind you of the words of Allah as captured in Quran Chapter 3:103: And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah stretches out to you, and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you; for you were enemies and he joined your hearts in love, so that by his grace you became brethren…’”, he said.

The President made this appeal on Monday, June 26, 2017, when he delivered a speech at the at the Edi-ul Fitr prayers, at the Independence Square, his first Eid as President of the Republic.

Describing Ghana as a nation where people of different faiths live together in peace and harmony, the President urged Ghanaians to cherish this long-standing bond that exists amongst them and use it as a basis for advancing the cause of our country.

“On my part, I continue to commit myself to the principles of our Constitution, which enjoins on me fairness towards all Ghanaians, irrespective of their religious creed. As a Christian, I am deeply respectful of the Islamic faith, which, together with Christianity and Judaism, are called the Abrahamic faiths. We must, therefore, emphasise the things that bind us, rather than the ones that divide us,” he added.

Gender and Development

As the African Union Spokesperson on Gender and Development, and as a person fully committed to gender equality, President Akufo-Addo noted that one of the cardinal teachings of the Prophet Muhammad is gender justice.

He explained that before the advent of Islam, women in Arabia were treated as second-rate citizens, and female infanticide was rife.

“The Prophet restored the dignity of the woman, which we are required to uphold. It is not for nothing that the Prophet urges us to learn half of our religion from Aisha, a woman. This Prophetic admonishment resembles Kwegyir Aggrey’s oft-quoted statement that ‘if you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation’,” he added.

Published in Headliners

The President of the Republic, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has stressed that his government will not shield anyone found to have broken the laws of the country.

President Akufo-Addo stated that the application of the laws of the land must occur, in the words of the judicial oath, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, and, therefore, without recourse to the political, religious or ethnic affiliations of any citizen of the land.

“When you fall foul of the law, you must be dealt with accordingly, and the law enforcement agencies, including the Judiciary, must ensure this is done. To persons perpetrating acts of lawlessness in the name of being members of the ruling party, let me make it clear to you that you will find no shield in my government from the law,” he said.

President Akufo-Addo was speaking at the swearing into office of the new Chief Justice of Republic, Justice Sophia Abena Boafoa Akuffo, on Monday, 19th June, 2017, when he made these known.

Recent disturbances in Savelugu, for example, where, allegedly, a handful of party executives and youth are trying to prevent the Municipal Chief Executive, who has been duly appointed with the requisite approval of the Municipal Assembly, from working, according to the President, are obviously unacceptable.

“I urge the Police to do everything in their power to bring to book all those who fall foul of the law. We cannot have development, which will bring jobs to our youth, without order,” he said.

The President continued, “With the Office of the Special Prosecutor in the offing, to ensure the prosecution of public officials, past and present, who engage in acts of corruption and financial malfeasance, it is my expectation that the Judiciary will help facilitate the work of this body.”

He reiterated the commitment of his government to building a new Ghanaian civilisation, where the rule of law is not a slogan, but an operating principle for the development of our State, where the separation of powers is real and meaningful, where public officials behave with honesty and integrity, where the liberties and rights of our people are fully protected, and where law and order provide a firm basis for our social and economic development, so that the dreams of freedom and prosperity that animated the great patriots, who founded our nation, can find expression in our generation.

“All of us, from the public sector, the security agencies, the private sector, the political parties, the civil society, the religious bodies, and the traditional authorities, have a joint responsibility to work together, with our different views and our different perspectives, for the Ghana project,” he said.

The Ghana Project, he noted, is “a united Ghana, governed according to the rule of law, respect for individual liberties, human rights and the principles of democratic accountability; a Ghana that meets fundamental requirements of social justice and solidarity; and a Ghana where we look past commodities to position our country in the global marketplace.”

The President urged all Ghanaians to help work and “free ourselves from a mindset of dependence, aid, charity and hand-outs, and rather concentrate on mobilising Ghana’s own considerable resources to resolve Ghana’s problems.

It is a collective enterprise to which we should all commit ourselves, in unity and in sincerity. For my part, I have an unshakeable faith in the boundless prospects of Ghana’s future and will work for it, the radiance of the Black Star.”

Published in News & Stories

It is with considerable pleasure that I welcome you formally to Accra, and to the seat the Ghanaian Presidency. I recall fondly my participation in the 2011 London and 2014 Seoul Party Leaders’ meetings of the International Democratic Union. On both occasions, I attended in my capacity as leader of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the then main opposition party in Ghana. Nearly three years down the line, by the generosity of the Ghanaian people and the grace of Almighty God, I am hosting you to lunch in a different capacity, as President of the Republic of Ghana. Akwaaba, as you know by now, is our word of welcome to all of you, old and new friends. I hope you enjoy your stay amongst us, a people who pride themselves on their sense of hospitality.

I applaud the IDU for the decision taken to hold its Executive Meeting and IDU Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Meeting in Ghana. This is the first time such a meeting is being held in the country of a member party south of the Sahara, and, dare I say, it is right that you chose Ghana for this meeting. After all, we were the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence in 1957, which led rapidly to the liberation of our continent from colonial rule, and we are, today, in all humility and modesty, the beacon and symbol of democracy in Africa. We are, indeed, privileged to host such a gathering in our country.

When the members of the United Gold Coast Convention, UGCC of blessed memory, the first nationalist party of Ghana, the party which gave birth to the NPP, gathered in the historic town of Saltpond, some 150 kilometres west of Accra, in 1947, to lay the foundation for a democratic and prosperous Ghana, free of colonial rule, they did so against the backdrop of the emerging Cold War. The promise that freedom would lead to a significant improvement in the quality of life of the African peoples was, however, cruelly subverted by decades of authoritarian rule in post-colonial Africa.

Yet, through it all, democratic forces in Africa, like my party, the NPP, continued to believe that the application of democratic principles and the operation of strong, private sector dominated market economies, with good, honest management of public finances, provided the most effective platform for Africa’s development. Hence, the NPP’s motto: Development in Freedom. These beliefs, in our view, have been vindicated by today’s paradigm.

In West Africa, we have made significant progress in our regional body, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). For the first time in the 42 year history of ECOWAS, all 15 member states have democratically elected leaders. This is an indication that democracy, equality of opportunity and respect for human rights, ideals which have stood the test of time, have now found firm anchor in our collective body politic. Indeed, this evolution inspired the decision by ECOWAS to intervene, earlier this year, in the electoral impasse in the Gambia, which ensured the enforcement of the rule of law and the assumption of the reins of government by the rightfully elected leader.

It is now generally accepted that we, who are gathered here and other like-minded people, have won the ideological battle that raged for much of the twentieth century. But, the war to build a better world, by strengthening freedom and democracy and improving the living standards of the citizenry, is far from over.

It is for this reason that the Ghanaian people, dissatisfied with their living conditions, and unhappy with the direction in which the country and, indeed, the economy was headed, voted decisively for change on 7th December, 2016, by the overwhelming victory they conferred on the NPP and my modest person. That is why I am here, today, as President. They voted for us to fix the economy and put our country on the path of progress and prosperity.

To deliver on the wishes and aspirations of the Ghanaian people, I have put before them the most ambitious programme of social and economic transformation of any government in the history of Ghana’s 4th Republic, if not in our entire history.

This programme is hinged on restructuring the institutions of our governance, modernising our agriculture to enhance its productivity, a clear industrial policy, and rationalising the financial sector so that it supports growth in agriculture, and growth in manufacturing and industry. To this end, my government has, in our first budget in March, introduced measures to stimulate the private sector. A monetary policy that will stabilise the currency and reduce significantly the cost of borrowing, in addition to a raft of tax cuts, has been put in place to bring relief to and encourage businesses. These interventions are already lowering the cost of doing business, and shifting the focus of our economy from taxation to production. We aim also to enhance further the business atmosphere and make Ghana an easier place to conduct business through paperless transactions at our ports, and the removal of all internal customs barriers by the beginning of September. Our flagship programmes, “One District, One Factory”, and “Planting for Food and Jobs”, have been launched. We aim to reach our target – to make Ghana’s economy the most business friendly on the continent of Africa, and, why not, in the world.

This process of economic and industrial transformation is going along with ensuring that the most basic elements of social justice are met – making quality basic education and healthcare accessible to all – to promote a culture of incentives and opportunities.

We have been in office barely five months, but we are taking concrete action to fulfil our manifesto pledges and commitments.

We are determined to build a new Ghanaian civilisation, a Ghana beyond Aid. It is a Ghana where we aim to be masters of our own destiny, where we marshal our own resources for the future, breaking the shackles of the “Guggisberg” colonial economy of a producer of raw materials, and a mind-set of dependency, bailouts and extraction. It is an economy where we look past commodities to position ourselves in the global marketplace at the high end of the value chain. It is a country where we focus on trade, not aid, a hand-up, not a hand-out. It is a country with a strong private sector. It is a country that recognises the connectedness of its people and economy to those of its neighbours. It is a country that is governed according to the rule of law, respect for individual liberties and human rights, and the principles of democratic accountability.

Our global village is being buffeted by some stormy, adverse winds – vicious terrorism; religious extremism; resurgent populism in the Western democracies; potentially devastating climatic and environmental changes; and growing inequality between the North and the South. In my view, never has the necessity to organise, mobilise and articulate clearly our values and message been greater. I have no doubt that, in doing so, we shall prevail here on this continent and around the world, and create harmony, serenity and progress for our common planet and our common humanity, and, thereby, banish global poverty and hunger.

My expectation, at the end of this meeting, is that we share best practices in governance, marketing strategies for winning elections, and refining the tools needed to ensure that we continuously gain and maintain the support of our electorates with each other. Our political parties are at the helm of some of the biggest and most successful economies and emerging markets in the world, and are having a positive impact on this generation. We must ensure that, with the aid of science and technology, the promotion of enterprise, innovation and creativity, and the spread of democratic values, we offer the prospects of a constructing a new era of prosperity in freedom for all the peoples of the world. I am confident that we can work together to achieve this noble goal.

Thank you, welcome to Ghana, and may God bless the IDU and us all.

Remarks By The President Akufo-Addo, At The 2017 Idu Executive Meeting Lunch At The Presidency

Published in Parliament

After several denials, suspected kidnap kingpin, Chukwudumeje George Onwuamadike, alias Evans, has finally admitted some prominent southeast businessmen provided information on victims and shared from the ransoms.

The Nation gathered yesterday that the suspect had given a lot of names to the police, most of whom were currently being tracked.

It was gathered that the kingpin also disclosed that some of his accomplices were based in Europe, which explained his craze to collect ransoms in foreign currencies.

According to a source, Evans explained that he usually shared the loot with his informants on a 60%/40% basis.

The source said Evans had threatened to make a public announcement should the police fail to arrest those he mentioned.

He said: “It is true. He has mentioned some very prominent businessmen from the southeast as those who provided information on people he kidnapped.  He claimed that they shared from the ransoms he collected.

“Evans claimed that most of his accomplices were based in Europe and that they were into drug business. The information he provided is being investigated. You do not expect the police to go and arrest people just like that.

“We have to be sure there is a connection between Evans and those mentioned. Once that is established, they would all be arrested. But he has been threatening to go public, if people mentioned are not arrested”

Published in News & Stories
Saturday, 24 June 2017 01:59

Pessimism About CAR Peace Deal Widespread

A new peace deal between the Bangui government and 13 major rebel groups in the Central African Republic is being met with criticism and skepticism domestically.

The agreement signed Monday in Rome promised an immediate cease-fire in exchange for political representation for the rebels.

The new accord followed a series of peace deals signed by armed groups in the CAR during 2014 and 2015. All fell apart.

"As one of the armed group representatives said, 'We have signed a good paper,' " said Igor Acko, the U.S. Institute of Peace's national program specialist in Bangui. "But the only worry is that it can remain just a 'good paper.' "

Acko received word of the new deal while in Bambari in central CAR, and said he went directly to members of the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic, one of the country's major armed groups. The militia members told him they were not aware of the deal or its contents.

"So they are waiting for their representative to come back, and they will ask about the content, and they will think [decide] if they fully follow or they don't," Acko said.

In this photo taken May 26, 2017, U.N. peacekeepers patrol outside Bria, Central African Republic. The United Nations said at the time that about 300 people had been killed and 200 wounded in the previous two weeks in Bria and a handful of other towns.
In this photo taken May 26, 2017, U.N. peacekeepers patrol outside Bria, Central African Republic. The United Nations said at the time that about 300 people had been killed and 200 wounded in the previous two weeks in Bria and a handful of other towns.

Battle in Bria

Just hours after the accord was signed, fighting broke out in Bria, the country's center of diamond mining, nearly 600 kilometers from the capital. The town's mayor said more than 100 people were killed, and the medical charity Doctors Without Borders said 43 wounded people required hospital treatment.

With dozens of houses burned to the ground in Bria, more than 40,000 people are displaced and are relying on humanitarian assistance. Across the country, more than 100,000 people have been displaced since last month, when violence increased.

Since cycles of inter-religious and intercommunal violence began in 2013, hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted from their homes in CAR, a former French colony that is one of the world's poorest nations.

Central African Republic
Central African Republic

Lewis Mudge, who does research on the Central African Repulic for Human Rights Watch, said the fighting in Bria does not bode well for the accord signed in Rome. He noted that the previous deals all collapsed very quickly.

Members of civil society in CAR are most concerned about the new deal's failure to discuss issues of justice and accountability arising from the conflict. Some are concerned this could be a first step toward granting amnesty to the rebels, which would be seen as an affront to the victims of months of escalating violence.

Need for justice is 'clear'

Mathias Barthelemy Marouba, who runs the Central African Human Rights Observatory, said his group does not oppose a peace deal, but does not see the Rome accord as a substitute for justice.

"Those who committed these reprehensible acts must be brought to justice," Marouba said. "That's clear."

The new deal calls for establishment of a truth-and-reconciliation commission, but that assurance failed to sway Mudge of Human Rights Watch.

"Truth telling is all nice and good, but it can never come in the place of free and fair trials that hold perpetrators accountable," he said. "If we can stop the fighting, that's a very good thing, but I'm not convinced that this deal is putting accountability first."

FILE - United Nations peacekeeping force vehicles drive by houses destroyed by violence in September, in the abandoned village of Yade, Central African Republic, April 27, 2017.
FILE - United Nations peacekeeping force vehicles drive by houses destroyed by violence in September, in the abandoned village of Yade, Central African Republic, April 27, 2017.

The only way to break CAR's cycles of violence, Mudge said, is to "finally hold some of these individuals to account."

Marouba criticized U.N. peacekeeping forces in the country for not taking more aggressive action against rebel groups.

"Why aren't they protecting the civilian population?" he asked. "They have all the means to neutralize these bandits. Why haven't they done that?"

On the streets of Bangui, maintenance worker Kevin Vreka, 35, agreed, and said the U.N. force, known as MINUSCA, should be doing much more to stop the rebels' violent tactics.

U.N. peacekeepers "are there to secure the country," Vreka said. "They are in the countryside, but they do nothing. The United Nations, what did it come to Bangui to do? They do nothing ... except harass our women!"

'Nothing is going to change'

Carlos Bunju, a translator for a Chinese company in the capital, does not expect the peace deal to accomplish anything.

"Whatever they do, nothing is going to change," Bunju said. "Because some people, some armed groups, they want some part in the government, but other people, they're not going to allow them. They're going to fight over and over."

The armed groups are battling over CAR's natural resources, Bunju said: "That's all they want. They don't see the people. And even though they come and we allow them to be a part of the government, I don't think there's going to be any change. If they love this country, they're not going to fight anymore."

Iloua Banoua, 58, a tailor, had not heard about the new accord either, but for him, it's simple: "We want peace. We don't want violence. Peace is the purity of each country; without it, we can't live."

Published in News & Stories

Germany coach Joachim Low said he never expected his new-look squad to be "perfect" after they were given a fright by Australia at the Confederations Cup on Monday.

The reigning World Cup champions are without the likes of Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller for the tournament in Russia Russia, with Low experimenting to find a team for the future.

Lars Stindl and Leon Goretzka both scored their first international goals, though goalkeeper Bernd Leno's two blunders made the game a little close for comfort.

And though Germany held on for a 3-2 win, Low said some growing pains were to be expected.

"Who would expect it to be perfect?" Low said. "This is a team that never played together so we have done a lot of work over 10 days.

"We were losing our thread, our attacks were not as consistent and we weren't single-minded.

"We need to work on maintaining our stability... but this is a new team and things have worked very well."

Leno demonstrated that he's far from being able to replace 31-year-old Neuer in the German goal, as he was wrong-footed on Australia's first goal and spilled a soft deflection for their second.

But Low ultimately backed his keeper despite acknowledging his errors.

"He could have held on to that ball but he is a good goalkeeper, no doubt about it," Low said. "Maybe that was a mistake."

Much of Germany's threat came from the right flank, where Brandt and Joshua Kimmich were given space to unsettle Australia.

"We invested a lot in the first half and ran a lot," Kimmich said. "So in the second half, Australia had a bit more possession but I didn't think they had a lot of opportunities and chances."

Still, Julian Draxler, one of the more experienced members in the squad, said the team had plenty to work on before their next game against Chile.

"Obviously, we'll have to improve," Draxler said, "but we will do that."

Published in Sports

The Federal Government is set to release the first tranche of capital release of N350bn to its Ministries, Departments and Agencies for implementation of the 2017 budget.

The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, disclosed this on Monday in Abuja during the public presentation of the 2017 Federal Government budget.

The event was attended by top officials in government, including the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma; Minister of State for Budget, Zainab Ahmed; Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole; and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, among others.

The 2017 budget christened, ‘Budget of Recovery and Growth’, was presented to the National Assembly on December 14, 2016, and passed by the lawmakers on May 11, 2017.

It was signed into law by the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on June 12, 2017 and had a total expenditure outlay of N7.44tn, out of which N2.99tn was for non-debt recurrent spending; N2.36tn for capital expenditure; while debt servicing is to gulp N1.66tn.

Adeosun said her ministry was ready to make the release as soon as the budget was loaded, adding that a cash plan meeting would soon be held where the funds would be released to the MDAs.

“We are ready to make releases as soon as the budget is loaded. We have a cash plan meeting and we will release the first tranche of N350bn for capital projects,” she stated.

Udoma, in his presentation at the event, said the 2017 budget would run for one full year till June next year.

He, however, said that both the executive and the legislature were working on a template that would enable the country to commence a predictable budget year that would run between January and December of every year.

He added that if this arrangement was to commence from the 2018 budget year, then the 2017 budget would cease once the next year’s budget was passed and signed into law in January.

The implication of this, according him, is that some of the programmes of government contained in the 2017 fiscal document would be re-introduced in the 2018 budget.

Udoma explained, “The period of the 2016 budget was up till May and the period of the 2017 budget is again by the provision of the bill that was sent to us, which is now an Act of Parliament, continues again, this time, till June.

“However, whenever a new Appropriations Act comes into law, it overtakes the previous Appropriations Act. This means that assuming we were as we intend to achieve this year, we pass the 2018 budget into law; when it is signed into law, then the other one ceases to exist.

“So our aim is by January 2018, we want to get back to the January to December budget year. That means some of the projects in the 2017 budget will have to be carried over.”

He added that the budget that was passed by the National Assembly was what was signed into law by the Acting President, adding that an understanding had been reached for the submission of virement application to adjust the budget to reflect some of the projects, which the lawmakers tinkered with.

Such projects, according to him, are the railways, health and Federal Capital Territory projects.

Udoma said, “We identified some of our priority projects where the allocations have been reduced and discussed with the National Assembly and they graciously agreed that we can bring a virement application to restore the amount of those projects.

“Those projects include the railways, some health projects and Federal Capital Territory projects. But until that is done, the budget and the Appropriations Act reflect exactly what was passed by the National Assembly, and this is what the law is as I speak.

“However, we will be bringing virement application on a number of these projects under consideration. It’s only after they have approved it before it now becomes a law, and the budget will be adjusted to reflect that.”

The minister said the capital allocation of N2.36tn, which represents 31.7 per cent of the total budget, was directed at projects that were aligned with the core execution priorities of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.

Udoma noted that allocations had been targeted at critical economic sectors that had quick transformative potential such as infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, solid minerals, services, and social development.

For instance, he said the government would be embarking on a rail modernisation programme for which N148bn had been allocated mostly as counterpart funds on projects to be financed by China.

They are Lagos-Kano, Calabar-Lagos, Kano-Kaduna, Ajaokuta-Itakpe-Warri, Kaduna-Idu and other rail projects.

In the area of electricity, the minister said the sum of N40bn service-wide provision had been made to settle reconciled outstanding bills of government agencies as part of the strategy to revamp the ailing power sector.

For the housing sector, Udoma said the sum of N28bn was allocated in the budget for the Federal Government’s National Housing Programme nationwide.

He stated that the government was concerned about the number of abandoned projects scattered across the federation, adding that more targeted releases of funds would be done to relevant agencies of government.

The minister noted that in this year’s budget, funds had been allocated for construction and rehabilitation of over 65 roads and bridges across the six geo-political zones of the country.

Some of them are N10bn for the rehabilitation/reconstruction and expansion of Lagos-Shagamu-Ibadan dual carriageway sections I and II; N13.19bn for the dualisation of the Kano-Maiduguri road Sections I-V; N10.63bn for the rehabilitation of the Enugu-Port Harcourt dual carriageway Sections I-IV; and N7bn for the construction of the Second Niger Bridge phases 2A & 2B, including the access roads.

The Director-General, Budget Office of the Federation, Mr. Ben Akabueze, said the government would be engaging the citizens more in its budgeting process in order to enable the country to have a document that would be all inclusive.

He added that steps were being taken to bridge the gap between the people and the government by promoting transparency and accountability in the entire budget process.

Published in Headliners

Brighter days may lie around in the corner for prospective homeowners, following plans to introduce a public private partnership initiative that seeks to increase access to housing finance in Nigeria through mortgage guarantee insurance and microfinance scheme.

The scheme, ‘My Own Home’ comes as an offshoot of the Nigeria Housing Finance Programme (NHFP) set up by the Federal Government and implemented by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) with the support of World Bank’s $300 million loan.

NHFP is creating the enabling environment for strengthening the nation’s housing sector by setting up sustainable framework by mortgage originators to access long-term refinancing. The new scheme is expected to scale-up mortgage and housing finance awareness.

Under the ‘My Own Home scheme, eight micro finance banks have been selected to stimulate housing finance for low-income earners in the formal and informal sectors. They will benefit from a $15 million technical assistance, which LAPO Microfinance Bank is piloting in the housing sector.

Specifically, the eight micro finance banks are expected to facilitate access to flexible housing finance for low-income earners for incremental construction or home improvement. “It could be financing to buy a piece of land for building or laying foundation on an existing land and commence building stage by stage.

“After every stage of building, and with a good history of repayment, the microfinance bank keeps financing the customer until the building is completed. Housing microfinance is not a mortgage and is not for the purchase of homes.

“Housing microfinance is closer to our traditional sense of incremental construction. Not everyone has money to finance mortgage but under the microfinance scheme, a homeowner can stretch his building plan in such a way that he takes different tranches of loan as he builds,” according to Mr. Adedeji Adesemoye, CBN’s Head, Project Administration Team of the National Housing Fund Programme.

He revealed in Lagos that the technical assistance would be provided in partnership with the Frankfurt School of Management and AFC Consultants International, Germany. “The objective is to catalyse the growth of the housing sector through de-risking the housing finance value chain and improving access to finance,” he said.

Adesemoye stated that the programme is targeted at inspiring the younger generations of Nigerians on the need to key into mortgage process and start owning homes. “We need to educate our people that owning a home with a mixture of equity and debt is not a negative thing; having a home that you will live in the next 50 years does not require you to spend all your life savings,” he said.

Published in Business and Economy

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez says Cristiano Ronaldo's apparent dissatisfaction is "all very strange," but that both he and the club expect the superstar to stay at the Bernabeu this summer.

Ronaldo, the reigning Ballon d'Or award winner, feels he is being treated unfairly by Spain's tax authorities, whose "persecution" has made him determined to leave Real Madrid and the country, a source confirmed to ESPN FC.

After initially avoiding the burning question Ronaldo's future during the address he gave to mark his re-election on Monday evening, Perez opened up in an interview on radio station Onda Cero for the first time since the news broke on Friday.

"I have not spoken with Ronaldo," Perez said. "During the election period, I've tried to be respectful and keep out of everything.

"I learned of the [reports] through what a newspaper said. He's immersed in the Confederations Cup [with Portugal] at the moment, which is an important competition, and for the moment there's nothing until that ends. Like the all other players, though, he has a contract and is a Real Madrid player.

"In football and life, in general, we encounter situations which we don't expect and we have to find the best solution for everyone. I know Cristiano and he's a good guy, not just with the ball, but as a person. This is all very strange, I will have to speak with him to see what's going on."

Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain have been linked with a move for the Portuguese forward, while Bayern Munich denied interest on Monday.

But Perez was adamant that Real Madrid were not prepared to allow Ronaldo to move on.

"Not I or anyone at Madrid is contemplating that Cristiano could leave the club," Perez said. "He is not a business, he forms part of this club's history, he's at the level of [club legend Alfredo] Di Stefano."

Florentino Perez believes Cristiano Ronaldo is innocent of the tax accusations levelled against him.

Real Madrid previously released a statement supporting Ronaldo after prosecutors announced that they were seeking €14.7 million in taxes they felt the player hid in offshore accounts, and Perez reiterated his belief in Ronaldo's innocence on Monday.

"I will defend [Ronaldo] at all costs as both a player and as a person. [I have] complete confidence [that he is innocent], he has always wanted to fulfil his fiscal commitments," Perez said.

"There must be some sort of confusion which will be clarified. What I have been told is that he has the same structure [in Spain] that he had in England -- and there was no problem there.

"I'm sure Cristiano wouldn't want us to pay his fine if there was one, he's not like that. If he's angry it's because he feels unjustly treated.

"I've been affected by how the Cristiano news has been treated by the media. The presumption of innocence has not been respected. The only thing I know is that he's angry about the treatment the media have given him. [Jorge] Mendes called me and told me that."

Ronaldo, 32, only signed a new deal with Real in November and is under contract until 2021, though his disgruntlement has caused an issue for Perez as he begins his new term as the head of the European and Spanish champions.

When speaking publicly on Monday having ran unopposed to return as president for the next four years, Perez did not reference Ronaldo when discussing the current state of Los Blancos. Perez read a prepared speech and did not take questions from journalists at the event.

In quotes published on Marca's website, Perez said: "We have built a legendary team with the best players from Spain and the world, but also with many players from our youth academy.

"This is the model that will continue to define Real Madrid. When united, this club is practically indestructible."

Perez's latest four-year term has started as many of his previous ones have -- with frenzied transfer speculation about which big-name players might arrive at the club and, perhaps more crucially in this instance as Ronaldo's future dominates the headlines, who might end up leaving.

The Madrid electoral board met overnight and, with no other candidate putting themselves forward for election ahead of the deadline, it was confirmed that the long-serving Perez would continue in the role, taking his overall stay in the position to 18 years.

Published in Sports
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