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Missing N4.4bn: SERAP Drags National Assembly to Court

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national assembly

By Adedapo Adesanya

In a fresh round of action, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against the Senate President, Mr Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila over their failure to probe an alleged misappropriated N4.4 billion public money budgeted for the National Assembly.

The suit followed the publication of annual audited reports for 2015, 2017, and 2018 in which the Auditor-General of the Federation raised “concerns about alleged diversion and misappropriation of public funds, sought the recovery of any missing funds, and asked that the evidence of recovery should be forwarded to his office.”

In suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/366/2021 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court in Abuja, SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus directing and compelling Dr Lawan, Mr Gbajabiamila and the National Assembly to perform their constitutional oversight functions to ensure the prompt and transparent investigation into the allegations that N4.4 billion budgeted for the National Assembly may be missing and unaccounted for.”

In the suit, the association argued that “by the combined reading of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended], the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the UN Convention against Corruption, which Nigeria has ratified, the National Assembly has legal duties to combat corruption, and promote transparency and accountability in the management of public resources.”

According to SERAP: “transparency and accountability in the management of public resources and wealth is essential for promoting development, people’s welfare and well-being, and their access to basic public services, as well as good governance and the rule of law.”

SERAP is also arguing that “The National Assembly has the legal responsibility to ensure that the serious allegations of corruption and mismanagement documented by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation are promptly, independently, thoroughly, and transparently investigated, and to end the culture of impunity that is fuelling these allegations.”

According to SERAP: “The failure of the National Assembly to promptly and thoroughly investigate, and to refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies the allegations documented in the annual audited reports for 2015, 2017 and 2018 is a fundamental breach of the oversight and public interest duties imposed on the legislative body by sections 4, 88 and 89 of the Nigerian Constitution.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers Mr Kolawole Oluwadare and Ms Adelanke Aremo, read in part: “Granting this application would serve the interest of justice, reduce corruption and mismanagement, as well as end impunity of perpetrators, and advance the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.

“This suit seeks to vindicate the rule of law, the public interest, and to promote transparency and accountability. Government agencies and institutions are responsible to a court of justice for the lawfulness of what they do, and of that the court is the only judge. The National Assembly has no legally justifiable reason to refuse to investigate the allegations documented by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.

“Obedience to the rule of law by all citizens but more particularly those who publicly took an oath of office to protect and preserve the Constitution is a desideratum to good governance and respect for the rule of law. In a democratic society, this is meant to be a norm.

It would be recalled that SERAP had in a letter dated 30 January 2021 requested Dr Lawan and Mr Gbajabiamila to “use their good offices to urgently probe and refer to appropriate anti-corruption agencies allegations that N4.4 billion of public money budgeted for the National Assembly may have been misappropriated, diverted or stolen.

The letter, read in part: “The Auditor-General noted in his 2015 report that the National Assembly account was spent N8,800,000.00 as an unauthorised overdraft, contrary to Financial Regulations 710. The National Assembly also reportedly spent N115,947,016.00 without any documents. Another N158,193,066.00 spent as cash advances to 17 staff between January and June 2015 is yet to be retired.”

“The Senate reportedly spent N186,866,183.42 to organise Senate Retreat and Pre-Valedictory Session for the 7th Senate, although the money was meant to pay vehicle loan. The Senate also reportedly spent N15,964,193.63 as bank charges between July and December 2015, contrary to Financial Regulations 734.

“The House of Representatives also reportedly spent N624,377,503.30 to buy 48 Utility Vehicles. However, 14 vehicles were not supplied. The House also failed to make the 34 vehicles supplied available for verification. Similarly, the House spent N499,666,666.00 as cash advances to staff to carry out various assignments but has failed to retire the money.

“The House of Representatives also reportedly paid N70,560,000.00 as overtime and ‘special’ allowances to officials who are not legislative aides between November and December 2015 without any authority.

“The National Assembly Service Commission reportedly failed to remit N30,130,794.10 deducted from the salaries of the Executive Chairman and the Commissioners as car loan.

“The National Assembly Budget and Research Office reportedly spent N66,303,411.70 as out-of-pocket expenses without any documents. The National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies paid N246,256,060.51 by cheques, despite the prohibition of payments by cheque by the Federal Government, except in extreme cases, and contrary to Financial Regulation 631.

“According to the Auditor-General Report for 2017, the House of Representatives reportedly spent N95,212,250.00 without due process and without any documents. The National Assembly Management Account also reveals that N673,081,242.14 was spent between April and October 2017 without any documents. The Auditor-General reported that the funds may have been misappropriated.

“The Senate Account also reportedly shows that N1,364,816,397.95 was spent on store items without any documents to show for the spending. The Auditor-General stated that his office was denied access to the store and to the Senate’s records.

“The National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies also reportedly failed to remit N2,181,696.50 from a contract of goods and services. The Institute also paid N67,296,478.00 without any payment vouchers.”

Business Post understands that no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

Adedapo Adesanya is a journalist, polymath, and connoisseur of everything art. When he is not writing, he has his nose buried in one of the many books or articles he has bookmarked or simply listening to good music with a bottle of beer or wine. He supports the greatest club in the world, Manchester United F.C.

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InTouch, GTP to Unlock Financial Inclusion for African Consumers

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InTouch GPT

By Modupe Gbadeyanka

A partnership targeted at unlocking financial inclusion for African consumers has been entered between GTP, a specialised provider of prepaid and virtual card processing solutions, and InTouch, a leading pan-African fintech.

This collaboration will commence in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire and expand into the rest of the continent. The goal will be achieved by democratising access to card credentials for millions of African consumers, as it would bridge the gap between digital payment platforms and card-based transactions, giving InTouch customers access to cross-border transactions through Visa credentials.

“With this partnership, we are democratizing access to card payments and enabling international and online payments as well as cash in and cash-outs in our TouchPoint network in Senegal and Ivory Coast and very soon in 16 other African countries.

“Our goal is to offer the simplest and most accessible solutions for digital payments to millions of customers across the African continent,” the founder of InTouch, Omar Cissé, said.

Also, the chief executive of GTP, Christian Bwakira, said, “InTouch is an innovative pan-African payments aggregator that has demonstrated consistent innovation in markets in which it operates.

“By working together, we will unlock the power of card credentials for millions of Africans across the continent and make borders matter less for them in the global digital economy.”

Access to card credentials plays a pivotal role in Africa’s financial ecosystem, opening doors to a wide range of economic opportunities and driving financial inclusion.

Studies currently estimate that 90 per cent of transactions conducted in Africa are still reliant on cash, highlighting the significant gap in digital financial inclusion across the continent.

But McKinsey argues that card-linked digital wallets are already a significant driver of growth in the issuance and usage of cards.

Prepaid cards are decoupled from the traditional banking infrastructure, allowing banks and fintech companies to give more people access to a globally accepted payments method without a need for a traditional bank account.

By partnering with GTP, an MFS Africa company, InTouch aims to democratise access to card credentials for its African customers across its 13 markets. This collaboration will enable users of InTouch’s innovative digital platform, which aggregates over 400 services through its API` to seamlessly link their digital wallets to card credentials, enhancing their access to the global digital economy.

Through the integration of GTP’s robust prepaid and virtual card processing solutions, InTouch users will be able to tap into the advantages of card-based transactions, including wider acceptance, enhanced security, and seamless integration with global payment networks.

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Nigeria’s Acute Food Insecurity May Worsen from June— FAO, WFP

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Severe Food Insecurity

By Adedapo Adesanya

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that Nigeria remains among the highest-level countries facing acute food insecurity, which is likely to deteriorate further during the outlook period from June to November 2023.

For the outlook period, FAO and WFP issued an early warning for urgent humanitarian action in 18 hunger hotspots, including two regional clusters comprising a total of 22 countries.

According to the report, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen remain at the highest alert level. Haiti, the Sahel (Burkina Faso and Mali) and Sudan have been elevated to the highest concern levels; this is due to severe movement restrictions for people and goods in Burkina Faso, Haiti and Mali and the recent outbreak of conflict in Sudan.

All hotspots at the highest level have communities facing or projected to face starvation or are at risk of sliding towards catastrophic conditions, given they already have emergency levels of food insecurity and are facing severe aggravating factors. These hotspots require the most urgent attention, the report warns.

The Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan and Syria are hotspots with very high concern, and the alert is also extended to Myanmar in this edition.

All the above hotspots have a large number of people facing critical acute food insecurity, coupled with worsening drivers that are expected to further intensify life‑threatening conditions in the coming months. Lebanon has been added to the list of hotspots, joining Malawi and Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) that remain hotspots.

In the hunger hotspots, parts of the population will likely face a significant deterioration of already high levels of acute food insecurity, putting lives and livelihoods at risk. Targeted humanitarian action is urgently needed to save lives and livelihoods in all 18 hunger hotspots.

In eight of these – Afghanistan, Haiti, Nigeria, the Sahel region (Burkina Faso and Mali), Somalia, South Sudan, the Sudan and Yemen – humanitarian action is critical to prevent starvation and death.

Speaking on this, Mr QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General, said, “Business-as-usual pathways are no longer an option in today’s risk landscape if we want to achieve global food security for all, ensuring that no one is left behind.”

“We need to provide immediate time-sensitive agricultural interventions to pull people from the brink of hunger, help them rebuild their lives, and provide long-term solutions to address the root causes of food insecurity. Investing in disaster risk reduction in the agriculture sector can unlock significant resilience dividends and must be scaled up,” he added.

“Not only are more people in more places around the world going hungry, but the severity of the hunger they face is worse than ever,” said Ms Cindy McCain, WFP’s Executive Director.

“This report makes it clear: we must act now to save lives, help people adapt to a changing climate, and ultimately prevent famine. If we don’t, the results will be catastrophic,” she warned.

The report warns of a major risk of El Niño conditions, which meteorologists forecast to emerge by mid-2023 with an 82 per cent probability. The expected shift in climate patterns will have significant implications for several hotspots, including below-average rains in the Dry Corridor of Central America, and raises the spectre of consecutive extreme climatic events hitting areas of the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.

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Adegoke’s Murder: Court Sentences Ife Hotelier Rahman Adedoyin to Death

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Rahman Adedoyin Timothy Adegoke

By Modupe Gbadeyanka

The owner of Hilton Hotel in Ile-Ife, Osun State, Mr Rahman Adedoyin, has been sentenced to death by hanging over the death of a postgraduate student of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Mr Timothy Adegoke.

Mr Adegoke was murdered in his hotel in 2021 after he lodged in the facility. His corpse was moved away from the hotel and hurriedly buried in the vicinity.

The hotelier was arrested and has arraigned in court.

On Tuesday, according to Vanguard, the Osun State Chief Judge, Justice Oyebola Ojo, found Mr Adedoyin culpable in the murder of the deceased.

The judge also found other suspects guilty in the murder of the deceased and dismissed the alibi that the hotel owner was in Abuja for many days around the time the death of the late Adegoke occurred.

But four members of the staff prosecuted alongside Mr Adedoyin were discharged and acquitted of charges against them.

The matter became known to the public after his family raised an alarm that he had been missing after he lodged in the hotel and that efforts to reach him were abortive.

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