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THE NATION

Presidency backs El-Rufa’i, says ‘he spoke in defence of national interest’

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KADUNA State Governor Mallam Nasir El-Rufai has stirred the hornet’s nest, with his warning that foreigners  should not interfere in the conduct of the general elections.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday threatened to pull out of the peace accord it signed with other parties before the National Peace Committee (NPC) chaired by former Head of State Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.

The opposition party hinged its decision on the “death threats” issued by the governor, according to it, to officials of the United States (U.S.), United Kingdom (U.K.) and the European Union (E.U.).

But the Presidency dismissed it all as a storm in a tea cup. “There is nothing more to sneeze at”, it said.

Besides, the governor denied calling for violence.

Also yesterday, the EU Election Observer Mission (EOM) said its men were in Nigeria on the invitation of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and that they will remain in the country to monitor the elections billed for February 16 (presidential/National) and March 2 (governorship/state Assembly).

Speaking on an NTA live programme El-Rufai was reported to have threatened the foreign nationals who might interfere with Nigeria’s upcoming elections with violent attacks.

“Those that are calling for anyone to come and intervene in Nigeria, we are waiting for the person that would come and intervene, they would go back in body bags,” he was quoted as saying.

The governor, however, explained himself yesterday, insisting that his comments were not in any way calls for violence, but a defence of Nigeria’s sovereignty.

El-Rufai said he merely stood up for Nigeria’s dignity as against those who would traduce their country and reduce it to a colony in their vain quest for power.

In a statement last night, the Presidency said: “The Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari would cooperate with election observers and would not let the international community down in the conduct of the coming elections.

“The Presidency assures Nigerians and the international community that the President would do everything within his power to ensure free, fair and credible elections in the country.

“We have taken note of the clarification to a reported earlier statement by the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufa’i concerning opposition call for foreign interference in our domestic affairs and to say that latest statement by him should rest the issue for good. There is nothing more to sneeze at. The Governor spoke strongly in defense of of national interest. It is clear that El-Rufa’i, our party the APC and all its candidates have reposed their faith in democracy through general elections. They are all of the view that there is no place for violence against local people or foreign citizens in our midst.

“Opposition PDP ought to own up to the mistakes of their own policies for 16 years which have led the country to a sorry pass that has cost lives, jobs and growth instead of dwelling on diversionary issues.”

The PDP’s threat was issued at a news conference in Abuja. Its spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan described El-Rufai’s comments as inimical to peaceful, free and fair elections.

He said: “The PDP is left with no option than to consider a review of its signatory in the National Peace Accord, if no action is immediately taken to curb this trend.”

But a pro-Buhari group, the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), said neither the PDP nor its presidential candidate, was genuinely committed to any peace deal.

According to the BMO, PDP’s presidential candidate signed the peace accord reluctantly.

The main opposition party called on the international community to immediately impose a travel ban on El-Rufai for what it described as the inciting comments against peaceful elections.

Ologbodiyan also called on the Gen. Abdulsalami to summon El-Rufai on the threat.

He said: “The PDP holds that any situation that seeks to allow the APC to abuse the tenets of the accord will definitely force our party to review our signatory to the peace process.

“We therefore call on the NPC to immediately summon El-Rufai on his inflammatory remarks against peaceful election in our country.

“In that regard, we might have no option left than to allow our members to defend their votes with whatever that is available to them.

“This country belongs to all of us and no individual or group, no matter how highly placed, can subjugate other citizens, or seek to appropriate any sort of absolutism to himself.”

The PDP also kicked against what it described as an alleged plot by the police authority to redeploy Kayode Egbetokun as Commissioner of Police to the Kwara State Command.

The opposition party alleged closeness of Egbetokun to a section of the leadership of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC).

This, according to the PDP, might lead to Egbetokun taking sides in the ongoing supremacy tussle between the PDP and the APC chapters in Kwara State.

Ologbondiyan said: “This is in line with plans by the Buhari Presidency and the APC to effect a mass deployment of top security officers, particularly the police, to intimidate, harass and manhandle Nigerians that will not support the self-succession bid of President Muhammadu Buhari as well as aiding APC thugs to snatch ballot boxes and orchestrate violence in the elections.

“Nigerians are aware of how CP Kayode Egbetokun was posted to Lagos State by the former Inspector-General of Police, Idris Ibrahim, to serve the same partisan interest and how that posting was stopped by the new IGP Adamu Mohammed. Now, he is being redeployed to Kwara State for the same ignoble plot.

“It is necessary to state that the PDP is a party of peace and we are committed to the peace accord. However, the deployment of Kayode Egbetokun as Kwara CP directly negates the principle of the Peace Accord and can only hurt the fragile peace that currently exists in Kwara state.

“We wish to remind the acting Inspector General, Adamu Mohammed, that his acceptability among Nigerians across party line was based on the pedigree, which was presented to Nigerians before his appointment.

“These pedigree and exposure place on his shoulders, the responsibility to be just, firm, equitable and professional in the discharge of his duties. We therefore urge him not to allow his reputation to be mired in controversial political activities.”

The party called on the National Peace Committee to note the alleged infractions by the APC and its leaders to the peace accord.

-THE NATION

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THE NATION

Court acquits, discharges suspended SEC DG, Gwarzo

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A Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court on Tuesday discharged the suspended Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mounir Gwarzo, of the charge of fraud filed against him.

Mr Gwarzo’s co-defendant, Zakwanu Garba, who was the Executive Commissioner of the commission, was also discharged and acquitted.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had arraigned the two officials before Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf on a five-count charge bordering on fraud.

The former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, suspended Messrs Gwarzo and Garba from their positions in November 2017 over allegations of corruption.

The minister then set up a panel to investigate the alleged issues, after which the ICPC arraigned them in court.

Delivering judgment on the case on Tuesday, the judge, Mr Baba-Yusuf, held that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused persons committed the offence for which they were charged.

The judge said by its own admission, the prosecution through its witnesses and evidence confirmed that the action of the defendant was by a decision of the governing board of SEC, which is the highest decision-making body of the commission.

Ruling on the first count of a five charge of use of office for personal enrichment against Mr Gwarzo, the judge said the ICPC did not prove its allegation.

He held that while the first prosecution did not implicate the first defendant in her testimony, the remaining witnesses who are operatives of the ICPC contradicted themselves.

“Furthermore, exhibit 19, which is a memo from the governing board of SEC, has clearly demonstrated that the decisions of the board of SEC as the highest decision and policy-making body of commission is legal.

“As a result of this, the first defendant is acquitted on the first charge,” the judge ruled.

The judge also absolved Mr Gwarzo of the allegations that he used his official position to corruptly enrich himself by using the monies paid to him as car grant as the DG of SEC.

Mr Baba-Yusuf held that: “The burden of proof was on the prosecution but through its own exhibit, which includes a board resolution which approved the car benefit for an executive director who had spent more than two years in office, the charge against Mister Gwarzo has not been established,” he said.

He said the fourth witness under cross-examination agreed that the board resolution was lawful and that the car grant was non-refundable.

Mr Baba-Yusuf held that the testimony of Prosecution Witness Two clearly showed that the first defendant had no role in deciding what he was entitled to and as such could not have used his office to enrich himself.

The judge, however, concluded that the evidence as a whole cannot be used by any court or tribunal to convict him.

He, therefore, discharged and acquitted him.

The court in the fourth count also discharged Mr Garba on the grounds that the evidence that he aided the suspended director-general of SEC to use his office to corruptly enrich himself was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The judge then held that no prima facie case was established against Mr Garba who acted based on a decision of the governing board of SEC, which is the highest decision-making body of SEC.

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THE NATION

Kwara governor denies alleged attempt to tele-guide recruitment of KWASU VC

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Kwara State Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed has denied an alleged attempt by him to tele-guide the selection process of a new vice chancellor for the Kwara State University (KWASU) in favour of particular candidates.

He said such recruitment is entirely the prerogative of the institution’s Governing Council, as the incumbent’s tenure expires.

Ahmed, in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Communications, Dr. Muyideen Akorede, dismissed the allegation circulating on social media as an attempt to blackmail him.

He also dissociated his office or his aides from any attempt to foist anyone on the university as vice chancellor.

Ahmed said he has been briefed by the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science and Technology, KWASU’s supervisory ministry,  that the university is yet to receive any response to its recent advertisement for a new vice chancellor, not to talk of skewing the selection process in favour of any candidate.

The recruitment of a new vice chancellor for KWASU,  Ahmed reiterated, would follow guidelines enshrined in the law establishing the university.

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THE NATION

Stop blaming NASS for delayed budget passage, Dogara tells Buhari

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Speaker Yakubu Dogara has chided the Executive led by President Muhammadu Buhari for constantly blaming the Legislature for delays in the passage of the country’s annual budgets.

In his opening address at the national budget hearing organised jointly by the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Dogara drew the attention of the Executive to late presentation its part.

He also lamented poor implementation of previous budgets and he stressed that the Parliament won’t “rubber stamp” budgets merely for the sake of early passage.

According to him, “the budget is the most important law that is passed yearly, consequently, no parliament anywhere in the world rushes it. Let me re-emphasize that this Parliament can never be a rubber stamp and neither are we prepared to surrender our constitutionally assigned rights of checks on the Executive. It is unfortunate, however, that many commentators always ignorantly accuse the National Assembly of delaying the Appropriations Bill as if we are meant to urgently rubber stamp whatever budget estimates that is submitted to us by the Executive. If we fail to scrutinize the budget proposals, it will not only amount to abdication of our constitutional responsibilities as legislators but a betrayal of the mandate of our constituents.

“Let me also add that it is very unfair for the Executive to consistently and repeatedly blame the National Assembly of delaying passage of the budget while failing to address the issue of late budget submission on its part. The Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, provides that the Appropriations Bill be submitted not later than September of the preceding year which will give the Parliament ample time to process the document and pass it in good time. Unfortunately, the 2019 Appropriations Bill was submitted on December 19, 2018, just 12 days to the end of the year and the earliest time an Appropriation Bill has ever been presented to the National Assembly in this dispensation was on November 7, 2017.”

Dogara however noted that in a bid to address the issue the National Assembly passed a Constitutional Amendment Bill which sought to compel the Executive to submit the Budget proposals to the National Assembly not later than 90 days to the end of the fiscal year and also to limit expenditure that can be incurred in the absence of the  Appropriations Act from six (6) months to three (3) months.

Dogara added that: “In yet another effort to improve institutional capacity of the Parliament to process and pass budget expeditiously, the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) establishment Bill was passed into law. It was closely modeled after the American Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Unfortunately, I regret to inform this gathering that these laudable efforts and initiatives were thwarted when the President withheld his assent to these two important Bills.

“Consequently, efforts to enact a Budget Process Bill which will spell out timelines for every activity concerning the budget is stalled because it would be ineffective to enact a law that will run contrary to Section 81(1) of the Constitution which allows the President to submit the Budget estimates, ‘at any time’ before the end of the financial year.”

The Speaker concluded by assuring that the National Assembly will endeavour to speedily pass the budget as he called on the heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to appear before relevant committees and urged the Executive to ‘to muster the will to honestly and diligently implement’ the budget when passed.

In his comments, the Chairman Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe) observed that the public hearing was crucial to inclusive and active participation in the process of passage of the 2019 budget.

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