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[naija-news] - ThisDay News, Jan 26th, monday, 2004.

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  • Henry Umeana
    L-R: Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, widow of the late Hon. Justice Michael Ekundayo Ogundare, Chief (Mrs.) Tunde, and his son, Jide, Executive Director,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 26, 2004
      L-R: Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, widow of the late Hon. Justice Michael Ekundayo Ogundare, Chief (Mrs.) Tunde, and his son, Jide, Executive Director, Guaranty Trust Bank, at a funeral service for the late jurist in Ikere, Ekiti State... weekend

      Photo: Godwin Omoigui
      Warri: 7 Die in Fresh Violence
      From Onwuka Nzeshi in Warri

      Seven persons were feared killed at the weekend in fresh outbreak of violence in riverine parts of Warri, Delta State.

      The clash involving Itsekiri and Ijaw ethnic militia groups was said to have begun with a midnight ambush on Ogbeh Ijoh, the stronghold of the Ijaws.

      After the ambush on Ogbeh Ijoh, the Ijaws reportedly mobilised and marched down to Ode Itsekiri and occupied the place. While this was going on, the Itsekiris also mobilised from another base in three speed boats and reattacked Ogbeh-Ijoh.

      In the process, about seven lives were said to have been lost.

      The commander of the joint military task force "Operation Return Hope," Brigadier-General Elias Zamani, confirmed the clash but was silent on casualty figures.

      He, however, said that his men have started intensive patrols of the riverine areas but assured that the situation has been brought under control.

      Security sources, however, told THISDAY that those who began the latest skirmish are the youths that kidnapped 18 workers of US oil major, ChevronTexaco early this month.

      The youths who demanded N260 million ransom to release the hostages, were said to be unhappy with government for forcefully setting the hostages free.

      A Nigerian Navy ship had in rescuring the hostages killed one of the kidnappers.

      Only last week, Governor James Ibori had told the press after the state security council meeting that peace was in sight.

      According to him, the various ethnic groups have been meeting with a special committee appointed by the state government to design a lasting solution to the problem of Warri.

      He said the committee had made appreciable progress.

      Meanwhile, the Okpe Traditional Council in Delta State has condemned the recent outbreak of communal hostilities between Okpe indigenes and the Itsekiri people in Sapele local government area during which 17 people reportedly lost their lives.

      Briefing newsmen on the attack on Ugbukurusu, Ugbor-hen, Ikeresan and Igbeku the elders of Okpe Kingdom described the invasion as "a pre-meditated, unprovoked and calculated" attempt by the Itsekiri to extend the ethnic feud plaguing Warri into other parts of the state in order to attract undue attention in their quest to reclaim some "imaginary homelands."

      The senior Okakuro of Okpe Kingdom who spoke on behalf of the traditional council, Chief Patrick Gbinije recalled that although Okpe Kingdom and the Itsekiri people do not share common land boundaires, many Itsekiri families have lived in Okpeland for generations without major incidents of conflict.

      "More than five decades ago, when Itsekiris made spurious claims to Sapele and Ugbukurusu territories including the so-called Obotie settlement, the court cases were settled and rested by Supreme Court judgments.

      "There are Itsekiri residents in Okpe and Sapele local government areas of Okpe Kingdom. We want, however, for now, to restate that there are no 'Itsekiri homelands' in Okpe Kingdom and they should therefore keep off Okpe Kingdom in their search for homelands," Gbinije warned. In a statement Okpe Traditional Council, alleged that the Itsekiris in recent times have adopted various measures to provoke crisis in Okpeland. Such measures include writing quit notices to various towns and villages announcing that these communities were part of Itsekiri homeland and threatening to forcefully possess them.

      Fuel Tax
      NBA President Leads NLC Defence

      As Appeal Court resumes hearing
      From Lillian Okenwa in Abuja

      President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), will today lead the defence of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) as

      the Court of Appeal, Abuja division resumes hearing in the suit filed by the Federal Government challenging labour's decision to protest the collection of the fuel tax.

      The Appellate Court last week ordered the Federal Government to suspend the contentious N1.50 fuel tax on every litre of fuel. The court also directed the NLC to suspend its proposed nationwide industrial action initially scheduled to commence last Wednesday, pending the determination of the substantive suit.

      The court presided by Justice Isa Ayo Salami explained that failure by parties in the suit to reach an agreement to maintain the status quo prompted the court's interim order.

      "We have carefully considered the arguments of the learned counsel. Since the counsel have failed to come to an agreement to maintain the status quo, we have to make the following interim orders. The Federal Government should suspend the fuel tax of N1.50 and the Nigeria Labour Congress should put the planned strike on hold.

      "The orders will last till January 26, 2004 when this court will hear the appeal. On this merit the parties are directed to effect services of processes latest by (last) Friday," said Justice Salami, who led Justices Zainab Bulkachuwa and Albert Oduyemi.

      During the last hearing, counsel to NLC, Mr. Femi Falana had said organised labour will only agree to suspend the strike if the Federal Government is willing to suspend the fuel tax.

      The NLC had suspended the strike after the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) had issued a directive to oil marketers to suspend the collection of the N1.50 fuel tax. Labour leaders also went round some petrol stations in Lagos and Abuja to monitor compliance with the directive.

      Also, the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) had been closing down some fuel stations on account of their non-compliance with the PPPRA directive. The NLC had vowed to resume the strike without notice if the government resumes collection of the fuel tax.

      Nigeria Has Highest Rate of Illiteracy-UNESCO
      From Chuka Odittah in Owerri

      The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has rated Nigeria among the nine countries with the highest rate of illiteracy in the World.

      Education Minister, Professor Fabian Osuji, dropped the hint at a press conference in Owerri at the weekend.

      The minister who was in the state to pay condolence to the widow of late Dr. Sam Mbakwe, said that Nigeria was unfortunately among the E-9 group (educationally disadvantaged) of the world. He said that the grouping was done by UNESCO after its investigations.

      He noted that Egypt and Nigeria were the African countries on the list, while Brazil, Bangladesh, India, Indonosia and China were also among the E-9.

      Osuji stressed the UNESCO a United Nations organ had been involved in making strategic contributions to the development of academic in the E-9 countries.

      He said that the objective of UNESCO had been the attainment of the Dakar agreement which is that the girl-child and the boy-child should be given equal opportunity to have good education.

      Speaking on the new University calendar year starting from September to June, Osuji said that plans are underway to effect the change.

      He noted that when operational, Universities would reopen for the new academic year in September and close by June of the following year.

      Osuji stressed that the policy which was currently receiving government attention would take off soon. He however said that the resumption dates might be a little different in some other Institution of the senate of each University.

      FG Raises Oil Production Target
      Firms pump $4.6bn into oil search
      By Mike Oduniyi

      The Federal Government has reviewed upwards, Nigeria's crude oil production target to 4.5 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2010. The earlier set target was 4 million bpd production capacity, and hydrocarbon reserve levels of 40 billion barrels.

      However, under the revised oil and gas production targets circulated among Nigeria's joint venture partners last week, the Federal Government said it had set a new national aspiration for the industry.

      The new targets envisioned that Nigeria's oil reserves should hit 36 billion barrels and a production capacity of 4.0 million bpd by 2007.

      "Year 2010 aspiration is to achieve 40 billion barrels reserves and 4.5 million bpd production," the government said.

      Official figures put Nigeria's hydrocarbon reserves at 34 billion barrels and production capacity at around 3.0 million bpd as at the end of 2003.

      THISDAY checks revealed that multinational oil companies spent a cumulative sum of $4.6 billion over the last 10 years on crude oil exploration in the deep offshore.

      The expenditure, which covered seismic survey, exploration and appraisal drilling and development of wells discovered in the deep offshore blocs, added about 6.0 billion barrels to the country's reserves.

      Under the new industry targets, the Federal Government projects that annual revenue from oil will hit some $22 billion by 2006 at a projected oil price of $24 per barrel.

      Crude prices are presently well over $30 per barrel, while the Federal Government has fixed $23 a barrel as the official selling price for the nation's crude for 2004.

      Total capital investment in Nigeria's upstream oil sector has grown steadily from $4.5 billion in 1998 to about $10 billion in 2002. This had shot the country's production capacity from around 2.0 million bpd to some 2.5 million bpd during the same period.

      For the natural gas sector, the Federal Government said it was aiming at developing the domestic gas market rapidly and ending flaring, as well as capturing economic value and generating as much revenue from gas as oil within the targeted period.

      The Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Engineer Funso Kupolokun, confirmed the review in the country's oil targets.

      "The new target of 4.5 million bpd is achievable. We have checked the figures and we know we can meet it," Kupolokun told THISDAY at the weekend.

      The NNPC boss said to achieve the new production target, government is banking on such factors including, the vast unexplored basins and new frontiers, undeveloped marginal fields, poorly explored oil blocs and highly prospective deep and ultra-deep offshore blocs.

      Government's ambitious oil production target has been at the heart of calls from some quarters for Nigeria to review its membership of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), because of the group's tight production quota.

      President Olusegun Obasanjo at the weekend in London, called on OPEC to raise production in order to bring down oil prices. Analysts, however, viewed the call as part of the moves to get a higher production quota for Nigeria.

      Nigeria's current OPEC quota is fixed at 2.018 million bpd, representing 67 percent of the country's output capacity.

      On gas, Kupolokun said the country was losing $2.5 billion yearly to the flaring of 45 percent of the gas produced in the country.

      To check the waste, he said the government was raising capital and operating expenditures on natural gas to about $3 billion by 2005.

      Five major gas projects are under way to boost gas utilisation, Kupolokun said. These are the West African Gas Pipeline project, the ChevronTexaco Escravos Gas Pipeline Phase 3, the Brass LNG project and the Shell/Statoil Nwadoro Floating LNG project.

      Space Craft Lands On Mars

      Science recorded another major breakthrough at the weekend as a Space craft named Opportunity Rover successfully landed on Mars sending signals to Earth.

      Opportunity Rover landed gracefully according to a document published by the United States' National Space Agency (NASA) after it came to rest on one of the three side petals of its four-sided lander.

      Mission engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California received the first signal from Opportunity on the ground at 9:05 p.m. Pacific Standard Time Saturday via the NASA Deep Space Network, which was listening with antennas in California and Australia.

      "We're on Mars, everybody!" JPL's Rob Manning, manager for development of the landing system, announced in ecstasy to the cheering flight team.

      NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said at a subsequent press briefing, "This was a tremendous testament to how NASA, when really focused on an objective, can put every ounce of effort, energy, emotion and talent to an important task. This team is the best in the world, no doubt about it."

      Opportunity landed in a region called Meridiani Planum, halfway around the planet from the Gusev Crater site where its twin rover, Spirit, landed three weeks ago. Earlier on Saturday, mission managers reported progress in understanding and dealing with communications and computer problems on Spirit.

      "In the last 48 hours, we've been on a roller coaster," said Dr. Ed Weiler, NASA associate administrator for space science at the weekend. "We resurrected one rover and saw the birth of another."

      JPL's Pete Theisinger, project manager for the rovers, said, "We are two for two. Here we are tonight with Spirit on a path to recovery and with Opportunity on Mars."

      By initial estimates, Opportunity landed about 24 kilometers (15 miles) down range from the center of the target landing area. That is well within an outcropping of a mineral called gray hematite, which usually forms in the presence of water. "We're going to have a good place to do science," said JPL's Richard Cook, deputy project manager for the rovers.

      Once it pushed itself upright by opening the petals of the lander, Opportunity was expected to be facing east. The main task for both rovers in coming months is to explore the areas around their landing sites for evidence in rocks and soils about whether those areas ever had environments that were watery and possibly suitable for sustaining life.

      Pro-IBB Campaigners Locked Out of Hilltop
      From Jide Orintunsin in Minna

      Efforts by a group operating under the name "IBB Vision 2007" to seek approval as the sole campaign organ for the actualisation of the 2007 presidential ambition of General Ibrahim Babangida hit the rocks at the weekend as the former military leader locked the gates of his Hilltop Villa against them.

      Members of the group who had been in Minna the Niger State capital for a two-day convention since Friday were surprised on Saturday when the gates of Babangida residence were closed against them.

      Sources close to the former military leader said the gates were closed against the campaigners following intelligence reports that members of the group were only in Minna to extort money from Babangida.

      THISDAY gathered that no sooner had the group concluded its convention at the U.K. Bello Arts Theatre, than members led by its executive national chairman, Alhaji Hameed Makama, drove to Babangida's house in a Lincoln Navigator Jeep with registration BD 12 ABC at about 4.30 p.m. in company of five other cars.

      The group, however, were told by the security officers at the two gates that the former military leader has directed them not to allow the members in, despite the presence of a Minna-based IBB loyalist in the team.

      We further gathered that members of the group which stood unattended to at the main gate of the General's residence for over 30 minutes were surprised when they saw the former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Salihu Ibrahim (rtd.) emerging from the house after having audience with Babangida. The development gave a clear signal to the campaigners that the earlier information that Babangida was not prepared to receive any visitor was only a decoy to turn them back.

      THISDAY learnt that the cold reception by General Babangida was informed by his decision to keep his 2007 presidential ambition under wrap for now so as to give the Obasanjo administration condusive political atmosphere.

      Earlier on Friday, indication that the members of the "IBB Vision 2007" will be shunned by the former president came to the fore, when the group led by a Minna-based IBB loyalist led a team to seek audience with the leader, only for him to delegate former military Governor of Niger State, Colonel Lawan Gwadabe (rtd) to meet with them.

      It was also gathered that the convention of the group nearly ran into a hitch, as most of the expected personalities failed to show up, while those that arrived on Thursday night sneaked out of the town on Friday morning.

      The convention which was mostly populated by delegates from the South-west zone, was designed by its conveners to fashion programme for the campaign and actualisation of Babangida's 2007 presidential ambition.

      Adamawa Labour Leaders Are Ingrates - Gov
      From Abel Orih in Yola

      Governor Boni Haruna of Adamawa State has described the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in the state as ungrateful lots who do not appreciate the efforts of his administration to better the lots of workers in the state.

      He said this at the weekend while reacting to the ultimatum issued to the government by the state chapter of NLC.

      Describing the ultimatum as "injurious, malicious and unfortunate," Haruna said the position of the Labour leaders who described his administration as "nonchalant" towards the welfare of workers could have made the government to contemplate reviewing some of its earlier decision to better the welfare of workers and public office holders in the state.

      He noted that his administration had extended its olive branch to the workers by providing them with owner-occupier housing scheme, an exclusive opportunity for only the workers among other incentives and wondered why the Labour leaders have remained ungrateful after government's efforts to better the lives of workers in the state.

      The governor who was visibly angry with the Labour's ultimatum said his administration had on a second thought decided to forget recalling 3,000 retrenched workers, cancel leave and leave grants to all workers, including public office holders, stop teachers' car revolving loan scheme and as well join the league of states that enjoys irregular payment of workers' salaries.

      According to him, "Leave and leave grants in civil service is not a right and government could afford to be irregular in payment of salaries so that such funds can be used to provide services prioritized by Labour in the state"

      Medical Workers Poised for Showdown with Plateau Govt
      From Jide Orintunsin in Minna

      An industrial face-off is brewing between Plateau State government and the National Medical and Health Workers Union (NMHWU) over non-payment of salary of local government health workers.

      Rising from the North Central Zonal meeting of the union in Minna, NMHWU gave Governor Joshua Dariye, up till March 1, to pay up all the arrears or all health workers in the state will go on strike.

      The Zonal Secretary of the union, Comrade Daniel Bisallah, said that members in 11 local government councils are being owed salaries of between three to 17 months, while those in the state employment are owed three months.

      Describing the state as one with worst industrial relations, the labour leader said that efforts in the past to make the government to meet its obligation to the workers have failed to yield results.

      Citing Bassa Local Government as the highest debtor where workers are owed 17 months salary, he also gave the debt profile of Mant, Jos South and Barkinladi councils at 15, 14 and 11 months respectively.

      Bisallah who visited Plateau State last month lamented that most of his 5,000 strong members are shadow of themselves, due to non-payment of salary and allowances.

      He told THISDAY that the non-payment of salary to health workers in the state was traceable to improper use of the state Joint Local Government accounts and the councils have no direct control over their allocation.

      "It is what the state releases to the councils that they (councils) can make use of," he said.

      The labour leader then called on the Federal Government to impress on all local governments not to dip hands into local government joint account, thereby denying the grassroot government funds to meet her obligations.

      "We have tried our best. We have reached out to the Plateau State government, we have even tried to seek for audience with the state governor, but to no avail. If by March, no positive step is taking to offset all the debts owe us, we may go on strike," Bisallah declared.

      He further said, "our people are dying on a daily basis, our children are suffering for non-payment of salaries. If the state failed to redeem the 2002 and 2003 salary arrears of our members both at local and state levels, we shall embark on an industrial action."

      The secretary noted that "what we are asking for now is the salary and we are yet to ask for the leave grant, promotion and other benefits."

      On other states in the zone, the secretary gave Niger State and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) clean slate while Nassarawa, Benue, Kogi and Kwara are owing between two and three months.

      He noted that the states have shown some commitment to pay the arrears.

      Senate May Get Code of Conduct
      Parties want Nzeribe probed
      From Kola Ologbondiyan and Chuks Okocha in Abuja

      Smarting from the second bribery scandal this term, the Senate is making efforts to establish a code of conduct through which the actions and inactions of its members would be assessed.

      The chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, who disclosed this at the weekend said his committee is perfecting the code of conduct that would serve the Senate.

      He said his committee would be relying on Order 96 (4c) empowering it to "recommend to the Senate from time to time such administrative actions as it may deem appropriate to establish and enforce standards of official conduct for the senators."

      According to him, "we should have code of conduct for senators through which the actions and inactions of senators would be assessed and judged but before it would become effective, it has to be presented to the Senate and adopted so that it will be part of our rules."

      Mamora, who examined the explanation of Senator Uche Chukwumerije's bribery allegation against Senator Arthur Nzeribe, maintained that the latter's procedure was faulty. "We talk of rights and we talk of privileges but it is not without procedure.

      Chukwumerije's procedure was faulty. "He had three options. One was to use the South-east caucus where he is a member by asking for the meeting of the members from that zone to trash the matter. He could also come to request for executive session and say this is happening but we should not allow this while the third option is for him to even allow the so-called motion to come and he would now lobby senators.

      "But since he put words on paper, it is cowardly that he did not mention names. I find it amusing that some of our colleagues were congratulating him for his courage. If he was courageous, what prevented him from mentioning names until he was harassed and forced to give names. Why didn't he address the letter to Nzeribe?"

      Asked if he was making case for Nzeribe, Mamora said, "without being immodest, I was the first to call Nzeribe to order in this Senate when he called the Senate President a sell out.

      "I think Chukwumerije was just playing to the gallery. He manoeuvred himself to pull out of a cul-de-sac by saying that he was trying to alert the Senate. This was depressing to me because it may mean that senators don't have the mind to assess issues. It's like a slap on the intelligence of each senator or the whole Senate as a whole.

      "Section 305 of the 1999 Constitution is clear and if the motion (state of emergency) was brought to the floor, it would have been unconstitutional ab-initio and some of us would have raised that. What Chukwumerije did is to try to abort a pregnancy that had not been established," he said.

      Meanwhile, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) has called on the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to investigate Chukwumerije's bribery allegation against Nzeribe.

      In a statement by the CNPP Publicity Secretary, Osita Okechukwu, the coalition of opposition parties challenged the ICPC to investigate the allegation that Nzeribe attempted to bribe the senators to support the motion whenever it is presented.

      The statement said the CNPP has clearly examined all the process of imposing a state of emergency in a troubled state and found that none of the conditions exist in Anambra state.

      "CNPP accordingly is at a loss, where the mischief and perfidy of the senators involved emanated from, as there was neither request from the Governor of Anambra state to the President nor proclamation from the President, unless anticipatory," the group said adding, "this calls for investigation."

      The coalition of opposition parties said that the ICPC "on no account should allow this scandal to be swept under the carpet as usual, because its image is highly threatened in public court. It is imperative of the ICPC to purge corrupt officials in order to save democracy, restore its image and fulfill its mission."

      Noting that the real threat to democracy is corruption, the CNPP said the probe has become necessary to save democracy in the country and enthrone transparency in the affairs of governance.

      Chukwumerije had last week in a letter to his colleagues (senators) named Nzeribe as the conspirator who offered senators bribe to pave way for the declaration of a state of emergency in Anambra state.

      Chukwumerije said, "Senator Arthur Nzeribe actually attempted to entice senators with money to support the motion for a state of emergency...and most of you know that am saying the truth, if the anger is that I said the truth, then I am sorry."

      FG to Clampdown on E-mail Fraudsters - Okonjo-Iweala
      Nigeria, Italy sign MoU on human trafficking
      From Iyefu Adoba in Abuja with agency reports

      As part of the reforms to build investors confidence in Nigeria, the nation's envoys, as well as trained law enforcement agents are to be co-opted into the war against e-mail scams. Theh e-mail scam is one method used to defraud victims by luring them with promises of business deals running into millions of Naira.

      Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala speaking in Switzerland also said a global advertising campaign would soon be launched by the Federal Government to warn potential victims of conmen who rip people off via e-mails.

      "As Nigeria's Minister of Finance, I am extremely angry at these people who conduct fraud by e-mail. We will no longer allow them ruin our country's reputation," Iweala was quoted as saying.

      While Nigerian Ambassa-dors have been asked to raise the issue of Advance fee fraud popularly known as 419 with the governments of their host countries, other reforms, according to the Minister include the establishment of a financial intelligence unit and new legislation to stop money laundering, which is expected to be passed into law this year by the National Assembly.

      Reiterating government's commitment to come down hard on conmen, the Minister disclosed that three people have been arrested for running an e-mail fraud ring.

      She, however, condemned victims of e-mail scams whom she described as people driven by greed.

      "Most of the letters offer access to money stolen from the Nigerian government. Those responding are driven by simple greed to join a criminal activity. In Nigeria, we are always amazed that anyone could be so stupid as to respond to such an offer. People do not deserve to lose their money, but you do have to be extremely greedy and stupid to respond.

      "These messages are written in such poor English with bad spelling. Don't they realise that Nigeria was a British colony and anyone with an education speaks English?" she asked.

      Meanwhile, Nigerian and Italian officials have signed a Memorandum of Understan-ding to formalize their joint commitment to fighting human trafficking in Rome.

      The agreement is expected to put a stop to the trafficking of women and children into Italy for sexual exploitation by organised crime groups and also to assist victims.

      An action programme that will focus on co-operation between judicial and law enforcement agents of both countries is to be finalized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, while the Italian government is to fund the programme. A public awareness campaign is also being planned.

      FG Raises Panel to Reposition Customs
      By Francis Ugwoke

      A Presidential Committee to reform the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has been set up by the Federal Government.

      The Committee which is headed by the Minister of State for Finance, Mrs. Esther Usman, has the former Justice Minister, Mr. Kanu Agabi, Chairman of the Financial Crime Commission, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, Chairman, Presidential Committee on Trade Malpractices, Mr. Waziri Mohammed, and two unidentified persons as members. The Committee meets tomorrow in the Finance Ministry, Abuja.

      Last week the six-man committee sent out letters inviting maritime industry stakeholders for position papers on how best to reform the Customs Service.

      In one of the letters signed by a Director in the Ministry, Mr. J. I. Zarewa, the Comm-ittee's terms of reference includes total restructuring of the Customs, which involves, "reforming, refocusing and repositioning for greater efficiency and effectiveness".

      A source close to the Ministry told THISDAY that the government is bitter over deteriorating conditions in the Service and is poised for drastic changes.

      The Committee, our source said, is expected to address the problem of corruption in the service, redundancy and poor working condition.

      It was gathered that the Service is saturated at the top with very senior officers remaining in one rank for over 15 years.

      The Service has not recruited officers for the past 13 years, a development that is described as not good for the economy.

      Equally, there are problems of non-functional zonal and command offices, a situation that has been described as a drain on the resources of the Service.

      The Committee, according to our source, is expected to carry out the reform programme side by side with the appointment of the Customs Comptroller-General.

      President Olusegun Obasanjo had recently bemoaned the decay the Customs Service, stating that if he had his way, he would do without it. "We just have to beg them. Customs. I think other than begging, I do not know what else I can do. If it is possible to run a nation without Customs, I will do it", he had said, while responding to complaints from manufacturers who visited him.

      Reception, Not a Political Event - Minister
      By Bukola Olatunji

      Minister of Education, Prof. Fabian Osuji has denied media insinuations that the recent reception organised by his friends in his honour at the Owerri Township Stadium was a disguised flag-off of either a gubernatorial or presidential campaign come 2007.

      Osuji, who today flags off the students' orientation programme of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) in Kaduna told THISDAY in an exclusive chat that "the Owerri reception was a perfectly harmless reception by a group of friends. The kinds of persons that it attracted were not even politicians. I did not make any political statements, neither did anybody make any on my behalf."

      The Minister added that, "it was even difficult to get that date for me to attend because I don't have the time. The matter of education is taking the whole of my time. I have not attended any political meeting. I can't attend one, I can't call any.

      "Somebody is talking about 2007 because that is where his own interest is. I am still battling with 2004 education for Nigeria. In any case, if I want to run for Governorship in Imo State in 2007, do I need a reception in 2003? Of course not."

      Asked to confirm if he plans to run for any elective office in 2007 Osuji said, "I am not talking about politics now. I am not talking about elections, not even Local Government chairmanship. If I want anything in 2007, I will emerge then not now.

      "Those who are interested in 2007 can go on talking about it. I do not have time now. I have enough to keep me busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week", he concluded.

      On the 2004 budget for education, Osuji said, "one guarantee that Mr. President and the Minister of Finance have given is that any money budgetted would be spent. In other words, whatever is approved for any ministry or department in the 2004 budget will actually be applied to that ministry or department's programmes to ensure that Nigerians get the full value of that budget.

      Since the National Assembly is going through the budget, Osuji said it was not possible to pronounce actual figures. The present administration's position is that adequate funds should be provided for recurrent spending, administration of education and capital projects.

      According to him, "capital grants have been increased across board for the Unity Schools, the Polytechnics, Colleges of Education and the Universities.

      PDP Protests Piecemeal Dissolution of Boards
      From Chuks Okocha in Abuja

      The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will this week meet President Olusegun Obasanjo to protest what it said is piecemeal dissolution of boards of government parastatals and appointment of non-members of the party into government boards.

      The decision to protest the non-appointment of its members into government boards was one of the highpoints of the meeting of the National Working Committee (NWC) last week in Abuja.

      According to an NWC source at the meeting, the ruling party "took exceptions to the piecemeal dissolution of boards of government parastatals."

      The source added that "the way, it is being dissolved points at vendetta by the President. So, we decided at the meeting that we should seek audience with the President to explain our position and how to use the board appointments to enhance the fortunes of the party."

      The source noted that the President recently dissolved the boards of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

      "The NWC also protested the appointment of non-politicians and non-PDP members into some of the recently reconstituted boards of government parastatals," the source said.

      He noted that the idea of appointing non-PDP members into the board negates the party policy and programmes. The source also disclosed that the NWC of the PDP at its last Wednesday meeting condemned the reconstitution of the Nigeria Telecommuni-cation Limited (NITEL) board and the subsequent appointment of non-members of the party into its board.

      "It is on account of these two issues that the NWC is planning to meet the President this week," the source said.

      Last year, President Obasanjo reconstituted the NITEL board and named Chief Vincent Maduka as the new chairman.

      Also, this week, the NWC will meet the 28 governors of the party over the need to conduct a uniform local government election and ensure that it takes place only in the 774 local government councils recognised by the 1999 Constitution.

      The party at last Wednesday's meeting insisted that the newly created councils were not done in consonance with the constitution.

      'Presidential Fleet: 11 Jets Enough'
      From Ahamefula Ogbu in Abuja

      As opposition to the request by President Olusegun Obasanjo for N10 billion in the 2004 budget for the purchase of a Presidential jet continues to mount, Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Aviation, Hon Hadi Sirika has said that with 11 jets in the Presidential fleet, another plane was not a priority and therefore should not be approved.

      Sirika said that unless there were shady deals about being struck with the aircraft in the fleet, the President could transparently swap some of the aircraft in its fleet for brand new and more sophisticated jets without spending any money.

      Also condemning the request, Hon Usman Bugaje, Chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs said such an approval would be reckless and a nod for the President to fly over the poverty- stricken populace, which he said would be unfair to the suffering masses.

      He suggested that such funds should be ploughed into agriculture so that the nation would have food security and alleviate poverty through enhancing agriculture on which over 75 percent of the public rely.

      Sirika said that in normal circumstances, such a request was not out of place but that for a prostrate economy like Nigeria's, such huge sum should be channeled into productive sector, as there were enough in the fleet for his purpose.

      The lawmaker contested the submission from some quarters that the aircraft has outlived its mechanical given days since it was recently refitted to the extent it was tagged a "Super 727", the first to be so tagged in the word, thereby bringing the life span to a zero point or infinity.

      "But dear Speaker and Honourbale members, the big problem is that the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has as many as eleven aircraft. You will agree with me that six may be necessity but certainly eleven is absolute luxury for an economy like ours for a 'reformist' regime. Point of note here is that two other arms of government function without a single aircraft. To commit N10 billion for a luxury item is not only insensitive but callous," he contended.

      Sirika, who was a pilot for many years described as misleading, the contention that the boeing 727 the President uses was 22 years and therefore not airworthy.

      He argued that the aircraft in question was better than some of the Air Force One on the American Presidential fleet where some aircraft are more than 50 years old and still flying with passenger and cargo.

      The lawmaker said the lifespan of an aircraft cannot be predicated on such factors as the Presidency was bandying "since one can truly put the life of an aircraft back to zero through series of non-destructive tests (NDTs), checks, repairs, modifications, overhauls, replacements, and by complying with bulletins."

      He contended that what mattered was how well-maintained an aircraft was, recalling that government just spent colossal amount on the 727 which saw the installation of brand new engines, change in "avionics" as well as a brand new interior and winglet. He added that the jet now carries a noise reduction device called "hush kit" which makes it meet European requirement contrary to the explanations being given to Nigerians.

      "Infact, these changes earned it the name Super 727, the first to earn such an envious status in the whole world. Was this a sheer waste or was it on purpose for some unpatriotic parasites to turn round and acquire this Presidential treasure?" he asked. He suggested the use of the money to install Radar that would cover the whole of the nation's airspace and help in positioning of planes to avoid disasters adding if the President desired another plane, he should go into negotiations and get same without any payments as in trade-offs.

      Lagos 'll Not Succumb to Blackmail, Says Alake
      By Joseph Ushigiale

      Lagos State government has stated that irrespective of the controversies that trail its position on both the newly introduced, but later withdrawn, fuel tax by the Federal Government and its newly created local government councils, "no amount of blackmail will deter the Alliance for Democracy-controlled government of Lagos State from its focused programme."

      The State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Oladele Alake, said Governor Bola Tinubu should rather be commended for "consistently mirroring the views of the vast majority of Nigerians and articulating the correct constitutional position on the matter".

      Speaking on why Tinubu should not be vilified by the South-West Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alake stated that "the tacit withdrawal of the fuel tax from the 2004 budget by Mr. President is a vindication of the governor's insistence that it is the State Houses of Assembly and not the Federal Government that has jurisdiction to legislate on any consumption tax."

      He accused the South-West PDP of chasing shadows and choosing to resort to the media to bash Tinubu rather than articulating and gauging public opinion on key policies that are to be implemented by a government controlled by it.

      According to Alake, "we are of the firm view that the President would not need to engage in so many embarrassing policy somersaults if the South-West PDP as his primary constituency within the party offered a viable platform for critical internal policy brainstorming rather than playing to the gallery".

      He pointed out that "it is scandalous, to say the least, that a party which is supposed to help articulate and aggregate public interest should take a position so diametrically opposed to the public mood on fuel tax as the South-West PDP does," adding: "who can then blame the President if he does not have accurate reflection of public perception of issues?"

      On the PDP's version of why local councils created by Alhaji Lateef Jakande's administration were scrapped, Alake pointed out that "Jakande's administration created additional nine councils. However, following the Abacha/IBB military coup, the new military administration reversed this popular decision."

      Alake described as baseless and unfounded the allegation that the Tinubu administration was engaged in political vendetta against its perceived enemies asking "why would anyone waste valuable time and resources victimizing a party that hardly exists on the ground and does not constitute any meaningful threat?" He restated that "our campaign against Indiscipline (KAI) has no party label, wears no religious garb and has no tribal marks. No undisciplined party leader who runs foul of the law will be allowed to go scot-free by resorting to partisan blackmail."

      Polio Vaccine: FG Team, Experts Disagree
      From Agaju Madugba in Kaduna

      A delegation from the Federal Government and medical experts representing islamic groups in the country have expressed divergent views on recent foreign tests conducted on the controversial Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV).

      A section of muslim groups in the country had alleged that the OPV administred to children contains certain substances which induce infertility, among other negative side effects.

      At a meeting with the Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI) in Kaduna weekend and chaired by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido, the various stakeholders comprising states, the Federal Government and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO's), rose in sharp disagreement even as the JNI insisted that the vaccines are contaminated.

      A pharmacist from the Ahmadu Belo University (ABU), Zaria, Dr Haruna Kaita, who the JNI sent to India to conduct tests on samples of the OPV, told reporters that "the tests have confirmed our fears."

      He said that samples of the OPV were taken from Sokoto, Zamfara and Kaduna States, adding that, "the vaccines contain undeclared contaminants which can cause malfunctioning of the testes and cause infertility in women, and we also found some toxic substances.

      "Polio controversy started long ago. If you find one batch defective, you should condemn the whole batches. What these people are saying is unethical, illegal and criminal and they know that these things are contaminated and they have the potential to cause human hazards, they should be banned rather than cause diseases on innocent children.

      Kaita demanded the criminal prosecution of those who aided the importation into Nigeria of what he described as the offensive vaccines.

      Meanwhile Professor Umaru Shehu, who conducted a similar test in South Africa on behalf of the Federal Government dismissed Kaita's claims on the OPV, stressing: "The best methods and equipment were used and no such thing as Dr Kaita described were found in the OPVs."

      He recalled that the ABU and the National Hospital, Abuja, had earlier conducted tests which did not find any foreign substances in the OPV.

      Bugaje Wants Nigeria's Debts Probed
      From Ahamefula Ogbu in Abuja

      Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hon Usman Bugaje has called for a probe of the Nigerian debt profile said to stand at about $39 billion.This, the lawmaker suggested shoud be done through a public hearing to be conducted by the National Assembly where those who borrowed the money on behalf of the nation would be made to account for what they used the money for.

      Bugaje said it was not morally right for the country to be enslaved by debts it was not sure of its origin and most of which the creditors connived with public officials to siphon back to their countries.

      He suggested that since most of those in government when the debts were accumulated are still alive, they should be invited to appear at such a public hearing to either explain or defend their roles, so as to enable the country ascertain which of the debts are genuine..

      "You know that even if the people come and offer explanations, whether it is tenable or not, at least Nigerians would feel they have been carried along, and that their leaders are responsible to them since they will say what they borrowed and the conditions as well as what the money was used for.

      The lawmaker also expressed concern over some provisions in the 2004 budget, especially the allocation of 30 percent of the budget for repayment of external debts, saying it was capable of perpetually enslaving Nigerians and the economy.

      While addressing newsmen weekend in Abuja Bugaje stressed that allocating meager amount for the repayment of the debts has the implication of spreading the debt almost over a lifetime with the attendant effect that the economy will remain stultified

      "No country in the world can sustain using 30 percent of its budget to service debts. There are two issues here that if you extrapolate this amount for the next 20 years, given the debt profile we will not be able to finish paying this debt especialy given the fact that every year you can only have about 22 percent capital budget.

      "It is the capital budget that really develops an economy. The productive capacity of any economy is a measure of how much you have to give in the capital budget. It also determines the level of activity of the private sector, so I am really worried that Nigeria has this debt, which is strangulating us. The questions here are whether we can sustain the payment at that percentage.

      SON to Meet Stakeholders on Quality of Condoms
      By Ndubuisi Francis

      The Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) disclosed at the weekend that it will soon convene a meeting of stakeholders including the National Action Committee on AIDS (NACA), manufacturers, distributors and health institutions, to brainstorm on the draft document on the quality of condoms in the country.

      SON said the proposed meeting was sequel to laboratory investigations it carried out on samples of different brands of condom in the country following public outcry.

      SON Director-General, Dr. John Ndanusa Akanya who spoke at a forum with airport correspondents in Lagos stated that many Nigerians had complained that some of the condoms in circulation were leaking, resulting in unwanted pregnancies and in some cases, people contracting sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs).

      "Yes there were complaints by Nigerians that some of the condoms are leaking and some women get pregnant and some contract HIV/AIDS. Scientifically, we keep telling you that condom does not prevent AIDS. We took samples of all condoms leaking and we are going to call on stakeholders to come and deliberate on the standards for condoms", he said.

      Akanya noted that since SON began the registration of condoms in the country, the quality has improved stressing that although the issue of legislation was very dynamic, users must be sure of what they are paying for.

      He disclosed that SON was planning to sponsor a bill in the National Assembly to ensure that people get value for products or services rendered to them, adding that a consumer advocacy standard was being put in place to facilitate consumers' complain to the suppliers.

      The SON boss who expressed concern over the rise in the cases of collapsed buildings wondered why there should be such occurrences when a regulatory body for engineers, Council for the Regulation of Engineering (COREN) exists.

      Describing the problem of collapsed buildings as worse than the dreaded Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Akanya noted that while the former kills en masse, the latter kills individuals gradually.

      He affirmed that the nature of SON made its mandate cut across all segments of the society, adding that the organisation was unrelenting in performing its duties to ensure that Nigerians get the best of everything. Akanya disclosed that about N10 billion was needed by SON to set up at least two laboratories of international standard to enable the organisation make more meaningful impact in the society, stressing that its fight against sub-standard products led to the destruction of N8.3 billion worth of electrical cables last year.

      Wabara Inaugurates Owerri Accord Implementation Panel
      From Ahamefula Ogbu in Abuja

      To ensure compliance with the Owerri Peace Accord reached between Anambra State Governor, Dr. Chris Ngige and Chief Chris Uba, the Senate President, Chief Adolphus Wabara will tomorrow inaugurate the implementation committee on the accord.

      According to a statement by Special Adviser to the Senate President on Special Duties, Prince Obinna Okwuaka, the committee is expected to see to the implementation of the Owerri Accord to the letter and report back within two weeks of its inauguration.

      Those expected to be present at the Apo Mansion residence of the Senate President for the inauguration are His Royal Highness, Igwe Alex Nwokedi (chairman), His Royal Highness Igwe P. N. Anugwu, Chief Joseph Okonkwo, Sir Chris Atuegwu, Chief Dan Ulasi, Chief Ifeatu Obi Okoye, Dr. Okey Udeh, Senator Ikechukwu Abana and Dr. Ugochukwu Uba
      Obasanjo's Foreign Trips Fruitless, Says Nas
      From Agaju Madugba in Kaduna

      Former Minister of Special Duties, Alhaji Wada Nas, has described President Olusegun Obasanjo's trips abroad, in the quest for foreign investments in Nigeria, as an exercise in futility.

      In a press statement in Kaduna, Nas regretted that economic policies of government make foreign investments in Nigeria unattractive.

      Nas urged the President "to sit down at home," and address a number of socio-economic problems plaguing the nation.

      He noted however that "it is now clear tha the president

      has no solution to our economic problems except auctioning of public property and increasing fuel price, without appreciating that the auctioning programme is an indication of our incapacity to manage our affairs, while the fuel price increases have forced many companies to close shop."

      According to the statement, "who will invest in a country where its leaders are corrupt, the environment violence-prone, arising from poor economic policies, infrastructure decaying.

      "If (President Obasanjo) is sincere about attracting foreign investments, he must address these and other issues rather than wasting public funds, travelling abroad in the name of attracting foreign investments which wehave not seen since he came to power in 1999.

      "No foreign investor will patronise a country where rules are not obeyed, where agreements are violated by government and where people have to bribe their ways to engage even in small scale economic enterprises."

      Nas asked the National Assembly to use proceeds from the aborted N1.50 fuel tax as well as other levies which the Federal Government illegally imposed on Nigerians.

      "The nation should also be told if these monies were paid into the Federation Account as required by law and shared according to the existing revenue formula."

      'Ogun Indigenes in Leadership Positions by Accident'
      From Toba Suleiman in Abeokuta

      President Olusegun Obasanjo at the weekend said leadership roles of Ogun State indigenes in the history of Nigeria have been accidental, but always having positive effect on nation building.

      He statedthis in Abeokuta at the National Merit Award for winners from the state and old students of Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta following allegations from a quarter that Ogun State indigenes are trouble makers.

      Speaking at theValley View Hall of Government House, Abeokuta, venue of the ceremony, Obasanjo debunked the allegations, explaining that if the accident that brought him and other kinsmen into power is anything to write home about, he prayed for further accidents.

      Citing the likes of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late Chief MKO Abiola, Professor Eyitayo Lambo and Professor Wole Soyinka and a host of others, the President, emphasised that the accident that brought them into limelight contributed immensely to the nation building.

      His words "God does not make mistakes but allow accident to happen for a purpose, if success of Ogun State indigenes is by accident, then it is designed for a purpose."

      Obasanjo added "The accident that has produced likes of Chief Awolowo, Professor Lambo, Professor Wole Soyinka, Prince Bola Ajibola that accident is hardwork," may we continue to have that accident.

      Speaking further, the President however called on Nigerians to work hard for the country to get to her dream land.

      However, the chairman of the joint occasion Justice J.A.O. Sofolahan in his speech likened Obasanjo to Moses, who led the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.

      While praying that Obasanjo shall lead the country to the promised land, the legal luminary, however, appealed to the President to do more towards nation development.

      Recipients of the honours include Chief H.I.D. Awolowo, Chief Kehinde Sofola (SAN), Oba Michael Sonariwo, Reverend Peter Akinola and Dr Sunny Kuku.

      Others were Chief Segun Osunkeye, Oba Yinusa Adekoya, Major Jonathan Dipeolu and Oye Hassan-Odukale.

      Seven persons were feared dead at the weekend in fresh outbreak of violence in riverine parts of Warri, Delta State.

      The clash involving Itsekiri and Ijaw ethnic militia groups was said to have begun with a midnight ambush on Ogbeh Ijoh, the stronghold of the Ijaws.

      After the ambush on Ogbeh Ijoh, the Ijaws reportedly mobilised and marched down to Ode Itsekiri and occupied the place. While this was going on, the Itsekiris also mobilised from another base in three speed boats and reattacked Ogbeh-Ijoh.

      In the process, about seven lives were said to have been lost.

      The commander of the joint military task force "Operation Return Hope," Brigadier-General Elias Zamani confirmed the clash but was sieltn on casualty figures.

      He, however, said that his men have started intensive patrols of the riverine areas but assured that the situation has been brought under control.

      Only last week, Governor James Ibori had told the press after the state security council meetin gthat peace was in sight.

      According to him, the various ethnic groups have been meeting with a special committee appointed by the state government to design a lasting solution to the problem of Warri.

      He said the committee had made appreciable progress. However, the weekend's mayhem may have dealt a heavy blow on that peace plan.

      Kwara NSE Boss Crushed to Death
      From Tunde Sanni in Ilorin

      The Ilorin branch Chairman of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Alhaji Abdulrafiu Raji, was at the weekend at Eyenkorin, one of the entry points into the Kwara State capital, crushed to death by a hit and run trailer.

      Raji was at the Ilorin outpost at the head of a team rehabilitating federal roads that have become death traps in recent times.

      Sources told THISDAY that the NSE boss, who was supervising the project was rounding up for the day and pointing out some fresh spots to his site workers when a trailer coming from behind crushed him.

      According to the sources, "We had almost concluded the day's job but Engineer Raji being a meticulous person wanted to point out some new potholes for us that needed to be filled the next day."

      Because it was dark, around 7.30 p.m, the engineer got into his car and was using his car's headlight to direct our attention to it when this trailer merged from nowhere and rammed into the engineer's car from the front. He died instantly.

      Raji emerged the new chairman of the NSE in a keenly contested election last month.

      He was buried on Saturday while the fidau in a solemn way came up in Offa on Sunday.

      His immediate past predecessor in office, Engineer Bashir Lawal lamented his death which he described as gruesome and shocking.

      Interestingly, Lawal and Raji belonged to the Project Comittee of the Ilorin branch of NASFAT.

      The NSE chairman's father, Alhaji Sheikh Raji who is the Noibi (Deputy) Imam of Offa said he has taken his son death philosophically.

      The deputy chief missioner of NASFAT in Ilorin, Alhaji Toyin Salati remarked at the fidau that death is an inevitable end of all creatures and enjoined muslims to get prepared for the ultimate end.

      He prayed for the repose of Raji.

      ' No Plan to Boycott LG Polls'
      From Chuka Odittah i n Owerri

      The coalition of registered political parties in Owerri in Imo State, has said that it had no plan to boycott the local government elections scheduled to hold in the 27 local governments of the state, in March.

      According to a statement signed in Owerri by the coalition and made available to THISDAY, the parties comprised eight political parties called on the state electoral commission to be a fair umpire.

      The coalition parties however said that should the PDP state machinery, State Government, or ISIEC manipulate election figures, it would �fearlessly, bluntly, candidly and patriotically resist� same.

      The parties also demanded that law enforcement agencies, state governments and state electoral commission, be non-committal.

      The coalition called on

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