The Joint Military Taskforce (JTF) code-named “Operation Delta Safe” said on Thursday that it freed seven kidnapped oil workers of a multi-national firm.
The agency also said it destroyed no fewer than 436 illegal refineries in the Niger-Delta region.
John Agim, acting director, Defence Information, disclosed this while briefing journalists in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa capital.
Mr Agim, a brigadier-general, said the task force identified active militant camps at Okparakiri, Sanikiri and Okporama communities, and on a tip-off, arrested suspected sea robbers and cultists terrorising Abonnema-Buguma in Rivers waterways.
“Seven Nigerian Agip Oil Company maintenance workers kidnapped while carrying out an assessment of a blasted wellhead in Azuama in Southern Ijaw Local Government of Bayelsa were rescued and released un-armed,” he said.
“We have also recovered several dangerous items such as 230 different types of arms, 240 assorted ammunition, 11 barges, 101 outboard engines, 135 pumping machines from the criminals,” he added.
The general said that the illegal refineries were destroyed in the operation carried out from October to-date which was named ”Operation 777.”
He said the task force also arrested 266 persons for alleged various offences and handed them over to the appropriate government agencies for prosecution.
“The force has nabbed a suspected notorious militant kingpin, Gift Apollo aka ‘Thousand’ whose gang is responsible for the attack and death of soldiers deployed to Abua/Oduma Creeks between Rivers and Bayelsa State.
“The operation has helped in destroying about 436 illegal refineries, 609 boats, 1,507 surface tanks and 1,538 drums used for illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta region.
“The operation has also recorded several significant achievements by men and officers of the JTF.
“Anti-illegal bunkering and illegal refining operation was carried out in Okaka community in Bayelsa State which has become notorious for crude oil theft and illegal refining,” he said.
Suleiman Apochi, the commander, “Operation Delta Safe,” said with the operation of the JTF in the region, the level of vandalism in oil infrastructures had drastically dropped.
The efforts of the security agencies in the Niger Delta, coupled with dialogue led by the federal government, have ensured steady production and export of Nigerian crude from the region.
In the past, activities of militants and armed groups in the region reduced Nigeria’s crude production by as much as 50 per cent.
Nigeria currently exports about 1.8 million barrels of crude daily although it has an OPEC (Oil Producing and Exporting Countries) quota of about 2.1 million barrels.
However, OPEC members are currently discussing a slash in production and Nigeria is one of the countries expected to have a reduction in its production quota.
Presidential Election: PDP inaugurates 27 sub-committees
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on Friday inaugurated 27 sub-committees with the mandate to work for its success in the February 16 presidential election.
The PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, inaugurating the sub-committees urged leaders and members of the sub-committees to quickly start work as there was limited time to the election.
Mr Secondus urged members of the committee to go back to their respective polling units and protect the party’s votes.
“The party believes that this is time for sacrifices by individuals and collective committees to be able to contribute by going to their constituencies and polling units to vote and protect our votes.
“By God’s grace, this election is already won, but must prevent the All Progressives Congress (APC) and government agencies from rigging the elections. So we require you to make necessary sacrifice for the party,” he said.
Mr Secondus added that the party rewards system had changed as it was no longer through lobby or for those close to the corridor of power.
“We will recognise first your contribution from the polling units, this would be extended to those who were able to win their constituencies and states,” Mr Secondus said.
He said the election must be free and fair, while the security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must be neutral.
“The duty of the police is to protect lives and property according to the constitution, not to get involved in politics. They should maintain their professionalism.
“If they go outside their constitutional responsibility, that is, where the crisis will come from. But we will say that we don’t want crisis in our country. If you want to avoid crisis, please be neutral,” he said.
The national chairman also advised INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, to show more commitment, strength and willingness toward the conduct of credible elections.
Onyema Ugochukwu, one of the committee Chairmen, responding on behalf of the committees, appreciated the party for appointing them and pledged that they would take the task with all seriousness.
“Nigerians have seen what the country has turned to, we will do our best to return the country to its rightful place in the comity of nations,” he said.
Again Buhari appeals to herders, farmers to live in peace
President Muhammadu Buhari Friday in Abuja appealed for accommodation and tolerance among cattle herders and farmers throughout the country.
Speaking at the State House when he received the leaders of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association on Nigeria (MACBAN) on a courtesy visit, the president appealed for calm among all citizens, saying that his government will give equal respect to all citizens irrespective of their ethnic, religious and geopolitical backgrounds.
According to President Buhari, “I appeal to all farmers and herders for restraint, mutual respect and tolerance for one another as people destined to live together in this great country. I appeal for patience and understanding as the administration works towards lasting solutions to these conflicts.”
He also urged the herders to support him in the task of bringing lasting peace to the country.
The president called on state governors to work with the Minister of Agriculture, who he said, had been mandated to work out a solution with the states by which herders will have access to water for their livestock, and farmers will have security against the destruction of their farmlands.
President Buhari attributed part of the conflict between the two groups to the climate change phenomenon and population explosion. He regretted that its politicisation by selfish individuals who did not mean well for the country did not also help matters.
He emphasised that this conflict was neither religious nor ethnic, but one that his administration has foreseen and warned about.
According to the president, “Before the Benue and Taraba crises, I called the Minister of Agriculture and the Governor of Central Bank and asked them to work with the state governors on rediscovering the gazetted cattle routes, clear of farmlands that had made for peace during the First Republic.”
President Buhari expressed strong confidence that a way around the problem will be found, working with the states which have an important role to play in finding a lasting solution.
“Whatever it will take, I am determined to bring peace between farmers and herders. I urge you all to be patient and exercise restraint while we are working for an enduring solution,” he stressed.
MACBAN, led by Mohammed Kiruwa, informed the President that the 20-million strong body had sent the delegation to endorse his bid for a second term of office on account of the administration’s achievements in office.
These, he said included, the successful clampdown on kidnapping and cattle rustling; and the fight against terrorism and corrupt elements in the society.
Mr Kiruwa said President Buhari’s personal qualities of honesty, integrity and his unparalleled commitment to the unity and progress of the nation, also informed his association’s support for a renewal of his tenure.
Supreme Court’s intervention needed to resolve Nigeria’s budget controversy
Long delays in approving federal budgets have been blamed on the constant tussle between the executive and National Assembly on which of the two arms of government has the power of appropriation.
The director general, Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, said the huge losses as a result of these delays were not in the interest of national development and the economy.
Mr Akabueze spoke in Abuja at a policy advocacy roundtable dialogue on “Budget Cycle, Budget System and Public Expectation” organised by the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) on Wednesday,
He said it was high time the Supreme Court intervened and gives a judicial clarification on the controversy.
“This matter has lingered for too long, and the economy has always been the worse for it. The Supreme Court must step in to give a judicial clarification on which, between the executive and National Assembly has the power of appropriation.
“The clarification is necessary so that Nigerians will know who to hold responsible for the delays. If the National Assembly has the right, let the Supreme Court say so clearly so that the executive will know its job ends with providing all the information required to prepare and pass the budget on a timely manner,” he said.
Participants in the dialogue decried the negative impact of the late approval of the national budget by the federal lawmakers on the country’s economy.
A former Minister of Health, Aliyu Idi-hong, who participated in the discussions, criticised the practice where the federal budget is always delayed for several months due to the absence of a definite cycle.
Mr Idi-Hong, who is also a council member of the chamber, also blamed the menace of “budget padding” on members of the National Assembly who he accused of always abusing the budget process.
He described as selfish the practice where lawmakers removed items in the draft budget proposal submitted by the executive for approval and replaced these with new projects without adequate costing and funding analysis to guide implementation.
In his presentation, the Budget Office DG said the executive has always followed the Constitution and the directive principles requiring it to submit a budget proposal to the National Assembly for approval based on estimates from the ministries, departments and agencies.
According to the DG, although the country has the capacity to prepare bigger annual budgets, government proposals have always been limited to projections from available revenue sources and current priorities.
He said unauthorised insertion of items into the budget by the National Assembly without subjecting them to the due scrutiny of the budget process results in serious distortions and projects abandonment.
To resolve the crisis and end the delays in approving annual budgets, Mr Nwabueze said a Bill, titled “Organic Budget Law, was submitted to the National Assembly in 2006 for consideration and approval.
He said the Bill spelt out a specific budget calendar requiring the executive to submit the budget proposal not later than September each year, while the National Assembly is allowed to complete work on the document by mid-December and return to the president for final assent.
However, the DG expressed regrets that the Bill has since been abandoned in the National Assembly, as nothing is being done to approve it.
“Until 2016, I have been associated with budget preparation for a long time. I have never heard of ‘budget padding’, which relates to unauthorised insertion of items in the budget proposal submitted for approval.
“In 2016 budget, budget padding occurred at two levels – at the Budget Office (where some of the staff inserted some unauthorised items in the budget that did not originate from the MDAs), and National Assembly (where, after the lawmakers passed the budget, at the committee stage, several new items were inserted that were not in the passed version),” he said.
Automated Budget System
With effect from the 2017 budget, he said the budget preparation process was automated, replacing the previous practice where the MDAs were bringing physical proposals to the Budget Office for the staff to manually key them into the system.
“Since 2011, the government had licensed the budget applications under the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) that enabled MDAs to input their budget proposals directly online to the budget system,” he said.
Since the automated budget system took off, he said the Budget Office only communicates the cost and revenue ceilings to the MDAs to help them upload their budgets directly to the system.
He said the system has an audit trail, where only authorised personnel with personal identification numbers can access and work on the system.
“At different levels, you have the ‘Data Inputer, Checker and Authoriser’, to allow the system monitor the points people put things in the budget.
“The only thing the Budget Office does after the MDAs have uploaded the proposals is to go online to review them to ensure conformity with coded guidelines and instructions to adjust them as appropriate.
“If the MDAs fail to make the adjustments, the Budget Office, through authorised staff, can step in and effect the adjustments. And any item in the form of padding that was not authorised could be traced and removed.”
At the National Assembly, the DG said since 2016, the practice where the appropriation committee was usually asked to forward a copy of the Appropriation Bill to all its members for them to work on, has been jettisoned.
From 2017, he said, the National Assembly also changed its system of handling the budget document.
The appropriation committee, he said, no longer brings only the copy of the bill to its members, ”but the full details (about 2000-page document) to every member before the National Assembly passes the budget”.
“If anything changes from what was already passed, members can remove what was not passed. I believe with this arrangement, the incidence of budget padding is behind us,” he said.
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