2021 Budget: Omo-Agege warns FG to address issues provoking agitations in Niger Delta

By Ignatius Okorocha

The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, Wednesday, warned the Federal Government to address all issues provoking agitations in the Niger Delta region, to ensure uninterrupted oil production.

The Deputy Senate President, gave the warning while contributing to the ongoing debate on the general principles of the 2021 Appropriation Bill.

He lamented that the region that was producing the larger chunk of the nation’s revenue was being neglected in areas of infrastructural development and job creation, lamenting that roads linking states in the region were in deplorable conditions.

The politician also urged the oil companies operating in Niger Delta to relocate their operational headquarters to the region and also provide employments for the youths of the area as a way of guaranteeing peace.

He also frowned at a situation where oil from Niger Delta was being treated a common wealth while Zamfara State Government was selling the gold mineral to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as the state’s wealth.

His words: “Like I indicated in the debate for the 2020 budget, for us to be able to achieve this 1.86mbpd, certain things must be in place. We must maintain the peace in the Niger Delta region before we can achieve this. Mr. President when I say this, it begins to sound like a broken record.

“Everyday, for those of us who represent the Niger Delta, we hardly sleep. We are very worried of every concern because these are the people, the golden eggs that take care of this economy. But Mr. President, they are jobless. There is nothing for them to do. It is very important that the youths of these communities are engaged.

“The only way to engage this youths is for the oil companies who explore oil in these communities in the Niger Delta that they help in creating jobs for the youths and the only way to do that is to have their business operations headquarters located within the Niger Delta.

“In the absence of this, you will have all the youths participating in this agitation against SARS. The only reason they are in the streets is because there are no jobs to engage them. Once again, I want to appeal that the oil companies doing businesses in this country should relocate their headquarters to the region.

“Having said that, I also want to touch on something else. In the absence oil companies operating within the states, the infrastructure in the region is in a serious state of decay.

“As we speak right now, major roads connecting Delta State to Edo State has been cut in half. A journey that normally takes about 40 minutes from Warri to Benin, now takes about six hours. How do we explain this?

“We can probably explain this that we have failed the people. Six hours for a journey of 40 minutes? I have spoken to the Minister of Works and he laid the blame at the feet of the national; that because of the budgetary process, we have now adopted that there is no more room for contingency provisions in the budget.

He said that in the past there were contingency provisions in the budget to undertake this type of repairs. But this time around, the budget as written, there is no such contingency.

“We may understand that here but the people in the streets in Delta, Edo and in each of those Niger Delta states, they don’t understand that. So, it is bad enough that the economy is in a state it is right now, we also need to at least maintain the little infrastructure we have.

“Finally, there is also something that is troubling our people which I think I should also bring up here. It is clear that the only two sources identified in the budget for the funding of the budget is the revenue from oil on the most part and borrowings both local and foreign.

“But we also have other sources or potential sources if revenue that is not being looked at. We often talk of leakages (in the system) but why even go into leakages when we can go directly to the solid mineral sector?

“Mr. President, not too long ago, we saw the Governor of Zamfara State come before the CBN to present a gold bar worth close to about N5 billion. The gold bar was presented for sale to the CBN.

“Mr. President, our people are beginning to wonder who owns this gold that is being sold to the CBN. They don’t sell oil in any of the Niger Delta states. I am wondering why a Governor of a state should be selling gold bar from Zamfara to the CBN.

“There are two problems with that. We believe that whatever revenue that ought to come from that transaction belongs to the entire country and not belonging to the state government. That is number one and we should actually look into that.

“That is an area we really need to develop. There is a lot of revenue that could come from there that will take the burden from this international borrowings. On this note I will like to say that I support the passage of this budget.

NCC set to execute counterpart funding agreements with licensed INFRACOs

From Cyriacus Nnaji, Lagos

Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta has disclosed that the regulatory body is in the process of executing the counterpart Funding Agreements with licensed INFRACOs to facilitate increase in fibre deployment around the country.

He said “The NCC is in the process of executing the counterpart Funding Agreements with licensed INFRACOs to facilitate increase in fibre deployment around the country to enhance the digital transformation agenda of the Federal Government. These timely measures have been very instrumental to the survival of SMEs that have had to ride on the backbone of Telecoms infrastructure in order to survive the pandemic.”

Danbatta made the disclosure at the 2020 National Information Technology Reporters Association (NITRA) Virtual Innovative Tech Forum Webinar on Wednesday.

Speaking on the topic “Multi-Stakeholder Approach to National Recovery Post-Pandemic”, Danbatta said that it has become imperative for the Commission to introduce drastic measures aimed at providing proper regulatory framework for the industry and also to ensure that Nigerian subscribers receive value for money.

“It became imperative for the Commission to introduce drastic measures aimed at providing proper regulatory framework for the industry and also to ensure that Nigerian subscribers receive value for money. We set out to license Infrastructure companies (INFRACOs) with the sole purpose of bridging these existing gaps.

“In line with our determination to drive broadband access, we have six (6) licensed INFRACOs, with one in each geo-political zone of the country. Lagos State receives special recognition and possesses its own license because of its commercial centrality to the country. The seventh license for the North-Central region is being processed.”

Danbatta also said that NCC has intensified its engagements to resolve the issues of multiple taxations which have become a problem to the operations of the Telecoms companies in the country.

“Achieving rapid connectivity means that we must engage with stakeholders to facilitate infrastructure deployment in the sector. To this end, the Commission has intensified its engagement, collectively with Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and individually with state governors to push the National Economic Council’s resolutions on multiple taxation, multiple regulations and minimum uniform Right of Way (RoW) charges, as well as address other issues impeding telecoms infrastructure deployment in some states.

“Furthermore, we are working with the Nigeria Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council (critical Infrastructure Sub-Committee) under the auspices of the Vice President on various initiatives towards identifying and implementing initiatives aimed at improving broadband penetration in the country,” he disclosed.

The EVC also maintained that ensuring cyber safety is critical to the regulatory body “The safety of our cyberspace remains critical as businesses, governments and individuals rely more intensely on ICT for their day-to-day activities following the pandemic. The re-direction of human traffic to online portals for major transactions as a result of social distancing also meant that cybercriminals have a larger audience and a much bigger playground to unleash malicious attacks.

“In the post-pandemic era, cyber threats are likely to become the most effective way to attack an organization or a country, and the trends indicate that cyber criminals are finding even more sophisticated ways of carrying out their nefarious activities. It is instructive to note that NCC adheres strictly with ITU guidelines for the global telecoms industry and has been actively in support of initiatives to propagate a safe online community.’

He added that the NCC, CBN, major financial institutions and Security Agencies have been working diligently at ensuring that Nigeria’s ICT space is safe and secure “The NCC, CBN, major financial institutions and Security Agencies have been working diligently at ensuring that Nigeria’s ICT space is safe and secure, particularly as the economy migrates to significant online and electronic financial transactions.

“The NCC is responding to the challenge of new financial technologies and electronic innovations in the financial systems riding on telecommunications networks as the nation’s economy seeks to reboot post pandemic. These innovations are driven by the availability of a robust communications infrastructure made possible by the Commission’s continuous quest for investment in the sector.

“In this regard, collaborative partnership between the NCC and the CBN has been very effective, leading to the emergence of various brands of electronic transaction models which have totally reformed banking in Nigeria making it possible for instant cash transfers which have cut out waiting times at banking halls and simplified online transactions,” Danbatta stated.

Earlier the EVC commended NITRA for possessing the reporting skills which have helped to disseminate information about the various policies of the commission “I am indeed delighted to be in the midst of ladies and gentlemen who possess the skills for reporting, interpreting and translating our activities into a language that our stakeholders appreciate. More importantly, your role has been critical in informing the public about the various policies implemented by the Commission that subsequently prepared the industry for such an unpredictable pandemic.”

Senate to investigate gas tanker explosions

By Ignatius Okorocha

The Senate on Wednesday directed its Committees on Petroleum Downstream, Gas Resources to investigate the remote and immediate causes of gas tanker explosions in parts of the country, with a view to preventing a reoccurrence and report back in two weeks.

The resolution was reached sequel to the consideration of a motion brought to the floor by Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeolu (APC – Lagos West).

Coming under Order 42 and 52 of the Senate Standing Rule, the lawmaker noted that on September 24, 2020, a massive gas explosion occurred at Cele Bus Stop, Iju-Ishaga in Ifako-Ijaiye LGA, Lagos State.

According to him, “the explosion caused serious body injuries to no fewer than 44 persons while destroying 36 buildings including a church, an event centre and a plank market as well as destroying 26 vehicles within a radius of 300 metres of the explosion.

“Regrets that the explosion believed to have been caused by the burst tyre igniting a gas leak of a stuck 30 tonne Gas Tanker attempting to extricate itself from mud totally destroyed multi-billion naira properties and businesses of many citizens.

“Further notes that just about two weeks later on October 10,2020, a similar gas explosion occurred at Candos Road, Baruwa, Ipaja-Ayoba, Alimosho LGA when an LPG Tanker in process of discharging gas at a gas plant exploded from sparks of a running power generator in the plant.

“Regrets that in this second tragic incidence 18 lives including a father and child were lost with scores sustaining injuries while 25 houses and 16 lock up shops fill with good worth millions of naira were burnt.

“Aware that Tanker Owners Association in Nigeria estimates that over 80% of all articulated vehicles as the ones involved in this incidents lack safety protocol requisite to their operations and plying of public roads.

“Further Aware that there have been a recurrence of similar explosions in recent times in the same senatorial district as happened in 2016, 2018 (Abule-Egba), 2019 (Abule – Egba) 2020 (Ijegun), 2020 (Ile-Epo, Oke-Odo) and Abule Ado.

“Worried that Nigerians living and conducting legitimate businesses in my densely populated senatorial district now live in justifiable fear of not only losing their lives or those of love ones from these frequent explosive fire disasters but also their properties and investments.

“Commends officers and men of LASEMA, Lagos State and Federal Fire Services, Nigeria Police Force, Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps and ordinary Nigerians on their prompt roles in putting out the inferno resulting from these explosions and mitigating its spread as well as rescuing victims.”

Accordingly, the Senate urged the Regulatory and Licensing Authorities of the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, State Town Planning Authority, the Fire Service and the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC to review the modus operandi, safety procedures and licensing regimes of this potentially combustible business and mode of transportation of gas in Nigeria.

The upper chamber also directed NEMA and Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to immediately send relief materials to affected victims and offset medical bills of hospitalized victims.

The Senate after observing a minute silence in honour of innocent Nigerians that lost their lives in the unfortunate national tragedy, resolved to write a condolence letter to the People and Government of Lagos State and Osun States.

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