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NATIONAL NEWS

Nigerian Supreme Court Spent N12bn Illegally In 5 Years, Audit Report Reveals

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An audit report revealed that Nigeria’s Supreme Court spent more than N12 billion in violation of financial regulations over a five-year period.

The Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation (OAuGF) has recommended that the funds be recovered and remitted to the treasury by the Chief Registrar of the Court.

The report focuses on the federal government’s expenditures and finances for the 2020 fiscal year. However, for the Supreme Court, it also includes payments and transactions from 2017-2021.
The current Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Hajo Sarki-Bello, took office in 2021, a year after the alleged infractions occurred under Hadizatu Uwani-Mustapha.

Mrs. Uwani-Mustapha, the Supreme Court’s chief registrar during the flagged transactions, retired from the position in June 2021.

Between 2016 and 2019, Walter Onnoghen was the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), followed by Tanko Muhammad from 2019 to 2022. They oversaw the Supreme Court during the period of controversial payments and transactions highlighted by Nigeria’s auditor-general.

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Mr Muhammad abruptly resigned from office in June 2022, citing health issues, amid a raging, unprecedented protest from his fellow Supreme Court justices over his handling of the court’s finances and other affairs at the time.

Highlights of the issues raised in the 2020 audit report regarding transactions totaling N12.335 billion include: payments for contracts without budgetary provisions, diversion of government assets for private use, contract price inflation, irregular contract award, and contractor overpayment, among others.

The Supreme Court violated regulations by appropriating and receiving N645 million for broadcast equipment in 2017.

However, the court did not provide “relevant documents such as vouchers, vote book, store receipt vouchers, store ledger and invoices” for audit.

Following the court’s silence in providing an explanation for its failure to tender the documents, the audit report attributed the “anomalies” to “weaknesses in the Supreme Court’s internal control system.”

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According to the report, the court funnelled over N10.223 billion through 124 vouchers to “various beneficiaries” in 2020, violating constitutional and financial regulations. The report stated, however, that the paid vouchers and other supporting documents were not presented for audit.

The report asked the Chief Registrar to justify a contractor’s overpayment of N826.75 million to the National Assembly, citing irregular contract awarding practices.

The Supreme Court’s accounting officer, the chief registrar, has been asked to recover the N826.75 million and remit it to the national coffers. Failure to do so will result in statutory sanctions under the Financial Regulations 2009.

The report described the circumstances surrounding the issue of overpayment to a contractor, revealing that a contract was awarded for the construction of an access road to justices’ quarters (Yellow Houses) in Abuja in April 2021, just as Ms Uwani-Mustapha left the Supreme Court.

The contract was awarded for N990 million (N990,494,207.80 in total). The level of work completed was valued at 50%, which amounted to N495 million (N495,247,103.90).

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However, “the contractor was paid N827 million (N827,075,713.04 in total), representing 83.5 percent of the contract sum, resulting in an overpayment of N331,815,559.61,” the report stated, adding that the court provided no explanation for the violation.

In another case, the court awarded contracts totaling N371.5 million (N371,541,636 in total) for supplies, works, and services in 2017 with no budgetary provisions.

However, payments of N112 million (N112,117,106.37) were made in 2018, 2019, and 2020 “without evidence of appropriation.”

The report also revealed the sale of four landed properties owned by the court in Lagos.

The plots of land at 72 Alexander Avenue, 2 Club Road, 20 Cameron Road, and 15 Ikoyi Crescent, all in Abuja, were “disposed of without due process.”

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The audit did not include evidence of the disposal, including authorisation, board of survey report, auctioneer engagement, advertisement, and disposal proceeds.

According to the report, the Supreme Court paid more than N3 billion for 45 vehicles between the fiscal years 2017 and 2021 in a case involving illegal possession of government property.

The report detailed the vehicle purchase, revealing that 18 of the 45 vehicles costing more than N515 million were assigned to seven Supreme Court justices for official use.

However, after the justices retired from the court, the official cars assigned to them were not returned for inspection, which the report described as “diversion of government assets for private use.”

Among the numerous violations detailed in the audit report, court management addressed the issue of justices’ retirement with official vehicles attached to them.

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“The vehicles are part of the Supreme Court justices’ entitlements,” the court stated in the report.

However, it did not address other egregious violations in the report.

Lawyers and anti-corruption activists have questioned the National Judicial Council’s (NJC) illegal practice of concealing the judiciary’s budget details from public scrutiny, even resisting Freedom of Information requests.

The extent of the NJC’s desperation to keep financial details hidden from the public became clearer in 2022, when Abubakar Malami, the then-Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, challenged it to open its budget for transparency.

Despite the secrecy surrounding the judiciary’s budgets and finances, which the NJC helps to maintain, allegations of corruption and mismanagement of funds loom over the judiciary, sometimes coming from high-ranking insiders.

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In his valedictory speech in May 2022, retiring Supreme Court Justice Ejembi Eko lamented corruption in the judiciary’s financial management.

He urged anti-graft agencies to investigate the financial records of the judiciary.

“Nothing prevents the Auditor-General of the Federation, the ICPC, and other investigatory agencies from opening the books of the judiciary to expose corruption in the management of budgetary resources,” Mr. Eko stated.

“That does not jeopardise the independence of the judiciary. Instead, it encourages accountability.

Within a month of Mr. Eko inviting anti-corruption agencies to investigate the judiciary’s finances, internal rumblings about corruption and financial mismanagement within the Supreme Court erupted.

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In June 2022, in an unprecedented protest letter to then-CJN Tanko Muhammad, 14 Supreme Court Justices demanded “to know what has become of our training funds,” rhetorically asking, “Have they been diverted, or is it a plain denial?”

Later that year, in September, Abdu Aboki, one of the justices who authored the protest letter, used his valedictory speech before retiring from the Supreme Court bench to advocate for financial transparency and accountability in the judiciary.

In his valedictory speech, titled ‘My valedictory messages to the nation and judiciary in particular,’ Mr. Aboki urged “those in charge of administering the funds allocated to the judiciary” in Nigeria to be prudent, transparent, and accountable.

In a more direct and critical tone, another Supreme Court Justice, Dattijo Muhammad, who will retire as the court’s second most senior justice in October 2023, accused widespread corruption in the Nigerian Supreme Court and lower levels of the judiciary.

Mr Muhammad was one of 14 Supreme Court justices who drafted the protest letter sent to then-CJN Tanko Muhammad in June 2022. However, by the time Dattijo Muhammad retired in October last year, Olukayode Ariwoola, who had led the 14 protesting justices more than a year before, had succeeded Tanko Muhammad as CJN.

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In his valedictory speech last October, Dattijo Muhammad criticised the handlers of the funds allocated to the judiciary, claiming that despite the “phenomenal” increase in the judiciary’s budgets over the years, there had been no commensurate improvement in judges’ welfare.

He also called for an investigation into the judiciary’s handling of its funds.

He stated, “Unrelenting searchlights must be beamed to unravel how the sums are expended.”

With the Supreme Court’s silence on the infractions highlighted in the most recent audit report, Nigeria’s auditor-general’s office directed the chief registrar to account for, recover, and remit the funds to the federation account.

It specifically requested that the chief registrar provide proof of compliance with the recommendations of the National Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee.

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However, this is not the first time that the Auditor-General of the Federation has indicted ministries, departments, and government agencies for serious violations of financial regulations.

However, the audit reports’ recommendations are never implemented by the National Assembly or adopted by Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies, emboldening public institutions to commit grand corruption in the form of diversion of public funds.

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NATIONAL NEWS

Nigeria’s Aviation Team Visits Abia, Inspects New Airport Site As Gov Otti Announces Access Bank Partnership

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The visiting federal government aviation team

In a renewed commitment to providing Abia State with a suitable airport, a federal government team from the Ministry of Aviation this week visited the state to inspect a proposed site for the planned new airport.

This comes as Abia State Governor, Dr. Alex Otti, announced that Access Bank, one of Nigeria’s leading financial institutions, has expressed a willingness to collaborate with the State Government on the airport development.

According to a press release from Kazie Uko, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, the Federal Government team was led by Dr. Emmanuel Meribeole, Permanent Secretary of, the Ministry of Aviation.
The team stated that it was in the state to ensure that the land and location approved for the project complied with regulatory requirements for airport siting.

Dr. Meribeole stated that the Federal Government is eager to complete the airport promptly, which prompted the visit of a team comprised of representatives from all of the country’s aviation agencies in charge of airport approvals and supervision to ensure compliance with required standards.

The team included aviation agencies such as the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA).

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Meribeole, while acknowledging Governor Otti’s visionary leadership, stated that members of his team are experts in their respective agencies and that the Abia airport project has already been included in the 2024 Federal Appropriation Act, albeit as an airstrip.

He acknowledged that airport projects are capital intensive, but emphasised that the benefits of having an airport cannot be overstated, as they would lead to the state’s accelerated development through job creation, commerce promotion, revenue generation, and other factors.

Governor Otti, who welcomed the Federal aviation team, thanked President Bola Tinubu for approving the construction of an airstrip in Abia.

He stated that while the national budget included funding for an airstrip, the Abia State Government would collaborate with the Federal Government to expand the airstrip into a full-fledged airport, as the primary distinction between an airport and an airstrip is the length and size of the runway.

“First and foremost, I would like to thank the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for agreeing to build an airstrip in Abia and including it in the approved budget for 2024.

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“Even if the money is insufficient, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. So, we are grateful to him.

“We also want to thank my friend and brother, the Hon. Minister of Aviation, Barr. Festus Kyamo, SAN, for everything he has done to make this a reality. We are constantly on the phone, discussing and brainstorming ways to accelerate this process.

“I would like to thank you for joining us in our hurry to complete this project. Once we had reached an agreement, we began looking for suitable land, which is the most important aspect of an airport. There were a few places that were previously mapped out, but when we went for a physical inspection, we discovered that some of them did not have enough space or were not properly located for the airport.

“Another important aspect of an airport is location, so we have now narrowed it down to the location that you are currently looking at. We did more than just identify the location; we also identified the landowners because it is a large parcel of land. “We had already begun engaging with them,” Governor Otti stated.

The Governor assured the team that the State Government is ready to see the project through in record time, as the people of Abia are eager to have their airport, as the state is one of only two in Nigeria that does not have one. The other is Osun State.

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“One thing you can take away from here is that the State will be in charge, and if anything is delayed, it is because it is coming from the centre; however, we are in a hurry.”

“I am personally involved in this, and I receive daily briefings. If I do not receive a briefing, I check in with them to see where we stand.

“So, this is to assure you that we are more than prepared and that you will receive everything you require in record time. And we hope that at least one airport will be built within the next year. “Once we have the runway and the terminal building, the rest will come in time,” he said.

The Federal Aviation team’s visit coincided with that of Access Bank, which was led by Mr. Roosevelt Ogbonna, Managing Director/CEO.

Governor Otti expressed Access Bank’s willingness to participate and partner with the Abia State Government on the airport project “to ensure that liquidity does not become a problem.”

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According to Governor Otti, Access Bank has some experience financing airport projects, having helped deliver the Ogun State airport.

“I suggested to the CEO that the team meet with him so that we can bring them on board early enough. Our policy is not to borrow until necessary. If they had also been involved in one and delivered it, we could learn from their mistakes and build on the positive aspects,” the Governor said.

 

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NATIONAL NEWS

Obi To Tinubu: A Nation That Budgets N10bn For Car Parks And N1bn For Hostels In 12 Tertiary Institutions Not Normal

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Peter Obi and Bishop Ezeokafor at the occstion

*Donates N10m, Elevates Adazi College To World Class*

Peter Obi, the Labour Party’s 2023 Presidential Candidate, has once again condemned the federal government’s obvious financial recklessness and misplacement of priorities in funding allocation.

Obi condemned the continued allocation of public resources to non-essential areas of development.

The bearer of the LP standard emphasises Nigeria’s poor and embarrassing position in the global average in school enrollment, despite the government’s budget of N1 billion for the construction of hostels in 12 tertiary institutions in Nigeria, while N10 billion is allocated to the construction of parking lots and recreational facilities.

Writing on his X platform, the former Anambra State Governor said
“As Africa’s economic powerhouse, I am still concerned about our country’s fiscal indiscipline.
“Consider the situation in our education sector, where the global average for secondary school enrollment is more than 80%, but Nigeria’s is only 28%.”
“The global average for tertiary school enrollment is greater than 55%, while Nigeria has less than 15%.
“Our budget for National Assembly Car Parks is N6 billion. The National Assembly Recreational Facilities have a budget of N4 billion.
“The total amount approved for the construction of hostels in 12 tertiary institutions is N1 billion.
It is time to put an end to this financial indiscipline and embrace financial discipline by allocating resources to critical areas of human and national development.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Amanda State, Mrs Ezenwuba Mary-Michael, Head of Department of Nursing, reports that Mr. Peter Obi’s ongoing support for the School of Nursing in Adazi, both as Governor and as a private citizen, has propelled the school to world standards.
She spoke on Monday evening, when Mr. Obi paid a visit to the school and presented a cheque for N10 million in additional assistance.
Ezenwuba praised Obi’s dedication to the school, stating that it is now on track to become a world-class nursing school with his support.
“The college’s history would be incomplete without mentioning his contributions. These include: he donated two coaster buses and one 18-seater bus to the school; he constructed two-story administrative and academic buildings, as well as a two-story student hostel.”
Mrs. Ezenwuba continued, “With Obi’s assistance and the school’s efforts, the college is now a full-fledged college of Nursing Sciences that has scaled accreditation by the National Board for Technical Education and the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria and now awards Ordinary and Higher National Diplomas in addition to professional Certificates by the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria”.
She, on the other hand, begged Obi to bring more students to the college.
Obi, for his part, promised to continue to assist the school.
He described healthcare as the most important aspect of development, and no discussion of it could be complete without mentioning nurses and midwives.
Obi said, “I will return.We are investing in a brighter future. If we do not train our children, including Almajiris, they will pose a threat to us tomorrow. “I will return this year to support what you are doing,” he concluded.
The Catholic Bishop of Awka, Most Rev. Pius Chukwuemeka Ezeokafor, who accompanied Obi to the College, stated that Obi has been very helpful to society and the church since before he became Governor.
Bishop Ezeokafor stated that Obi has done so much for the church that he has yet to see an equal in that regard, and that even though he is no longer governor, he continues to do so.
He stated that Obi is the best candidate for the presidency of Nigeria and apologised on behalf of Nigerians who had their hopes dashed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) following voting counting in last year’s election.
However, he believes that God is still at work.
Obi was surrounded by enthusiastic students who freely approached him during the event.

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NATIONAL NEWS

Nigeria Signs New Plan For Effective Water Resource Management

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The signing of the Strategic Catchment Management Plan (SCMP) by the Nigerian government is a significant step towards ensuring the long-term management and utilisation of the country’s water resources.

The Agro-Climatic Resilience in Semi-Arid Landscapes (ACReSAL) project, sponsored by the World Bank, is heavily reliant on the Strategic Catchment Management Plan.

Speaking at the signing ceremony on Monday, Hon. Balarabe Lawal, Minister of Environment, said it was an honour and privilege to sign the agreement for a critical initiative that will affect citizens’ lives and environmental health.

He stated, “Today marks a significant milestone in our collective efforts to protect the environment and ensure sustainable development. The Signing Ceremony for ACReSAL’s Strategic Catchment Management Plan (SCMP) is a significant step towards responsible natural resource management.”

He defined catchments as areas where water is collected and drained into natural or man-made channels. They are the foundation of our ecosystems, supporting livelihoods, agriculture, and biodiversity.

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He went on to say, “As we all know, catchments are critical ecosystems that support livelihoods, provide high-quality water, and safeguard biodiversity. However, they face numerous challenges, including soil erosion, insufficient waste management, and climate change. The SCMP aims to address these issues through management practices that are efficient, effective, and sustainable.

“The Integrated Catchment Management Plan lays out a long-term strategy for the sustainable development and use of water and other resources. It ensures that land, water, and related resources are developed and managed in a coordinated manner while preserving the viability of critical ecosystems.”

He stated: “The goal of this CMP is to provide several agreed-upon investments in infrastructure as well as other interventions and actions to help resolve conflict, conserve and protect the catchment and its natural resources, and ensure equitable access to and use of water resources.”

He said, “The Ministry of Environment, under my leadership, has promised Nigerians improvements in environmental sustainability interventions and initiatives. Indeed, what we are witnessing today demonstrates President Tinubu’s administration’s commitment to nature restoration and ecosystem protection.

“By implementing the SCMP, the ministries of Environment, Agriculture, and Water Resources will not only ensure long-term agro-climatic and land management but also improve the living conditions of northern Nigerian communities. This catchment plan will help to reduce poverty, promote sustainable agriculture, and safeguard the environment. Providing livelihoods for future generations.

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Previously, the consultant in charge of the project and the Managing Director of Mecon Geology and Engineering Services Ltd, Chuka Offodile, explained that the strategic catchment management plan study of the northern parts of Nigeria begins first with the scientific delineation of the entire northern Nigeria into 20 mega-catchments, then the scientific assemblage and analysis of data in that framework as a planning tool with its component natural and environmental resources.

He went on to say, “Water is central to environmental issues!” In many areas of northern Nigeria, there is either too little available, resulting in desertification and deforestation with badland topography, or too much water, resulting in flooding, gullying, soil leaching/erosion, and possibly water pollution due to contaminants in the air, on the surface, or groundwater resources, resulting in minimal to no available water resources for livelihoods, skewed biodiversity, and other socio-economic land uses, leading to lower agricultural production. There could be little surface water but plenty of groundwater, or vice versa, with all of the interacting components within each catchment’s communities!!!”

He stated: “In other words, we would identify and study the most significant water resource or resources within each catchment, as well as the challenges/environmental problems associated with anthropogenic (socioeconomic activ es ities) and natural phenomena, evaluating the geospatial relationship or interplay of all factors within each catchment.

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