Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, ordered the interim forfeiture of 48 choice properties, allegedly belonging to the former chairperson of Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Funds, NSITF, Ngozi Olejeme.
Mrs Olejeme who was also the Treasurer of the Jonathan-Sambo Campaign Organisation in 2015 has been on the run since 2016 and was in September, 2017, declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC for criminal conspiracy, abuse of oﬃce, diversion of public funds and money laundering.
She was alleged to have, along with Umar Munir Abubakar, former managing director of NSITF, mismanaged and diverted over N69 billion, belonging to the federal government into their personal accounts through the award of spurious contracts to proxy companies.
The forfeiture order was granted after counsel to the EFCC, Ekele Iheanacho, convinced the court that the said properties were purchased with proceeds of crime. He buttressed his position with 14 exhibits, attached to his affidavit, filed on May 29, 2020.
In granting the application, Justice Taiwo ruled that the interim order should be published in a leading newspaper within seven days of receipt of the order and for any interested party to show cause within 14 days as to why the properties should not be permanently forfeited to the federal government.
COURT ORDERS INTERIM FORFEITURE OF OLEJEME’S ASSETS He adjourned the matter till July 27, 2020.
Trouble began for Mrs Olejeme, who was NSITF chairman from 2009 to 2015, when the EFCC in 2016, received two petitions detailing multi-billion naira fraud allegations against her, Mr Abubakar and some bureau-de-change operators.
The Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) has claimed the ownership of the 46 properties seized from its former chairman, Ngozi Olejeme, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the 46 properties, including houses and parcels of land, are located in states like Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Abuja.
Justice Taiwo Taiwo had, on July 1, granted the ex-parte application by the EFCC for temporary forfeiture of the identified property.
Justice Taiwo directed the EFCC to publish the order in a national daily to enable anyone who is interested in the affected property to show cause, within 14 days, why the asset should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
When the case came up before Justice Taiwo, the management of the NSITF, through its Counsel, Okereke Ezechi, appeared before the court to claim ownership of the property.
Mr Ezechi, who filed a motion to that respect, urged the court to pass the property to NSITF should they be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
He said that NSITF was the principal victim of the alleged crimes purportedly committed by Olejeme, who served as the chairman of the agency’s management board between 2009 to 2015.
The lawyer stated that the property suspected to have been acquired by Ms Olejeme, through proceeds of crime, were allegedly acquired with funds stolen from NSITF.
Mr Ezechi, in a supporting affidavit, claimed that N62 billon was received during Ms Olejeme’s tenure, but was allegedly diverted through phoney contracts.
“NSITF received N62 billion as grants and mandatory contributions from the Federal Government and the private sector employers for the implementation of the employees’ compensation scheme designed to provide fair and adequate compensation to employees who are victims of workplace or work related injuries.
READ ALSO: I didn’t breach presidential directive by suspending NSITF officials – Ngige “Within the tenure of Ngozi Olejeme as the Chairperson of the Management Board of the NSITF, several contracts/consultancy services were not executed, but heavily paid for.
“Some of the contractors/consultants, who were awarded contracts and consultancy services running into billions of naira and never executed them, but fully pad by the NSITF under strict instructions from Ngozi Olejeme, are Excellent Solicitors & Consultants, who was paid over N1 billion under the guise of consultancy services which was never executed; Fountain Legal Services and Fountain Media Consults was paid N5,984,056,110.00; Hybrid Investment Advisors Ltd, etc.
“During the tenure of Ngozi Olejeme as Chairperson of the Management Board of the NSITF, over N60 billion was transferred out of the account of the NSITF with instruction and authorisation by Ngozi Olejeme under the guise of payment for contracts and consultancy services purportedly executed in total breach of procurement requirements.
“The NSITF, since after the tenure of Ngozi Olejeme and following the monumental withdrawals from its account of monies amounting to several billions of naira, has been grappling with the difficulty of fully implementing the employees’ compensation scheme due to paucity of funds occasioned by the fraudulent misappropriation of funds contributed by the Federal Government and private employers for the scheme.
“It is so bad that the management board of the NSITF had to go borrowing funds to meet up with its statutory obligation of payment of fair and adequate compensation to employees who are victims of workplace or work related hazard and payment of salary to staff.
“The property listed by the applicant in this suit for an order of forfeiture were acquired by Ngozi Olejeme during the period she served as chairperson of the management board of the NSITF and the monies that she used in acquiring the said property were funds belonging to the NSITF,” the affidavit read in part.
It alleged that all legitimate entitlements or benefits of Ms Olejeme for the period she served as chairman of the management board of the agency could not have purchased her all the property listed in the suit. (NAN)
A Chinese court sentenced a Canadian national to death on Thursday in a ruling that could further inflame tensions between China and Canada.
The Guangzhou Intermediate Court said in a statement it had handed Xu Weihong a death sentence for manufacturing drugs, and said all his personal property would be confiscated.
According to China’s state-run Global Times, Xu had bought raw materials and tools for drug production in October 2016 and worked with an accomplice, Wen Guanxiong, to make ketamine.
The drugs were made in Wen’s home and stored in Xu’s residence in Guangzhou, with public security officers seizing over 120 kilogrammes of ketamine from the pair, the report added.
The ruling comes after China sentenced two other Canadians to death on drug trafficking charges last year, and as tensions soar between the two countries on a number of fronts including the arrest of top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Beijing has also detained two Canadian nationals, including a former diplomat, on spying charges, in a move widely considered retaliation for Meng’s arrest in Canada.
The United States wants Meng extradited to face trial on charges related to the Chinese telecom equipment maker’s alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran.
On Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing that “Chinese judicial organs handle all criminals of different nationalities according to law”.
Referring to the latest case involving Xu, Wang added: “I don’t think this should have any impact on China-Canada relations.”
Diplomatic relations between Canada and China have deteriorated over China’s arrests and Meng’s case, damaging trade between both countries.
Canadian pleas for clemency for its citizens previously sentenced on drug charges, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg and Fan Wei, have so far not been successful.
Meanwhile, in June Beijing formally charged the other pair of detained Canadians — ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — for spying, in a move that came just weeks after a key ruling in the Meng case.
A Canadian judge had ruled that proceedings to extradite her to the United States will go ahead.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed disappointment with the formal charges in June, renewing calls for their release.
Monthly consular visits for Kovrig and Spavor have been suspended since the coronavirus outbreak started in China as well, sparking concerns over their health.
Although China’s foreign ministry insisted the pair were in good health, people familiar with the matter have told AFP they endured hours of interrogation and in the first six months of detention were forced to sleep with the lights on.
China keeps data secret about the number of death sentences it carries out every year.
But according to Amnesty International, China is the world’s top executioner, with thousands believed to be killed each year.
Manchester United’s Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez has signed a three-year contract with Inter Milan, the Italian club announced on Thursday.
“Alexis Sanchez has joined the Nerazzurri on a free transfer,” the Serie A side said in a statement.
The 31-year-old, who had been on loan from United this season, signed a contract until June 30, 2023.
More to follow . . .
The United States has called on the Nigerian government to take the lead in the fight against insurgency in the country.
The Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command in Africa, Major General Dagvin Anderson, gave the advice at a digital press briefing on Wednesday.
He said the insurgents have started penetrating the north-western part of the country where they were already making some inroads, adding that they were looking to expand further south into the coastal areas.
Anderson said the U.S. would continue to support the Nigerian government with intelligence sharing on what the terrorists are doing.
He noted that this would also include supplying constant information on the operations of the insurgents in Borno State and the North-West.
The major general stated that for international efforts to yield desired results in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria, the government must take the lead.
He made the remarks while responding to questions from journalists about the insurgency in Nigeria which has claimed many lives and displaced millions of people in the North East.
The briefing was organised to discuss U.S. partnerships with African nations to reduce extremism, combat terrorist organisations, and bring about peace and prosperity throughout the African continent.
Read excerpts of Major General Anderson’s comments on the insurgency in Nigeria below:
When it comes to Nigeria in general, Nigeria, obviously, is a critical nation to West Africa. It is huge just in its economy, in its population, and just its influence in the region. It is a critical nation and we realise that Nigeria is a lynchpin.
For that to have an effect against the VEOs and to have an effect against these stressors, it really takes the Government of Nigeria to lead that effort and to build that energy to coalesce around. So no nation can come in and fix that problem for Nigeria.
We can assist with that – and it’s the United States can assist, the United Kingdom, other countries can come in, many countries can come and assist with that partnership – but ultimately it takes leadership from Nigeria in order for us to focus our efforts. We need to understand where Nigeria wants to focus those efforts so we can partner appropriately to have the best effect.
We have partnered with great effect with Nigeria in counterterrorism in the past. We have had good engagements with their air force in particular and providing C-208 capability, which is a light, fixed-wing ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] platform, very capable, and we’ve had good engagement.
We have had good engagements with their air force in integrating their air force with their ground forces in order to make their air force more effective. Nigeria is a large country, it’s got a lot of territories to cover, and so it’s critical that they have that air component and that air engagement. So, we have had positive engagements there.
Recently, the Nigerian coast guard went out and rescued some Chinese fishermen that were adrift out off their coast. That was a combination of engagement from the U.S., where the U.S. had engaged with their maritime forces and helped build their maritime awareness along their coast.
And that was in partnership with their neighbours in Togo and Benin as well, who helped with that whole operation to understand the intelligence that led them to where these fishermen were, but then it was the unit that went out and did that was a Nigerian special operations unit that our Navy SEALs had trained a few years previously.
So sometimes it’s not the immediate effect, it’s the effect that happens two or three years later as you combine these engagements that have a greater effect later on. I know that’s just one small example and it’s not directly against terrorism, but being able to engage in that maritime domain and to be able to understand what’s going on out there is critical, and that has been an engagement the United States has had over several years with Nigeria and those other coastal states in both the naval and the special operations forces.
More directly to his point, we have engaged with Nigeria and continue to engage with them in intel sharing and in understanding what these violent extremists are doing, and that has been absolutely critical to their engagements up in the Borno State and into an emerging area of northwest Nigeria that we’re seeing al-Qaida starting to make some inroads in.
So, this intelligence sharing is absolutely vital and we stay fully engaged with the Government of Nigeria to provide them an understanding of what these terrorists are doing, what Boko Haram is doing, what ISIS-West Africa is doing, and how ISIS and al-Qaida are looking to expand further south into the littoral areas.
So these are all places where we stay engaged and we stay in great partnership with Nigeria, but I share the – and I can’t remember who asked the question, unfortunately, but I share the sentiment that it is quite disturbing that despite all this assistance, the VEOs are continuing to make progress and continuing to be a threat.
I think there are two factors in that. One, it goes to that each government has to focus on this and provide that focus for international partners to engage with. The other partner – the other part of this is we can’t underestimate the threat these violent extremist organizations pose.
We, as a community of international nations, keep thinking we have defeated them, or we have put them on their back foot and that they’re just moments from disintegration. I think after 20 years we have seen they are very resilient organisations that, although small, they’re able to leverage social media and other forms of media to have an outsized voice and that they continue to recruit and they continue to find opportunities.
And so, they have evolved. What they were in the ’90s and what they preyed upon in the ’90s is different than what we saw in the 2000s in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, and now as we see them come back into Africa and engage more in Africa, we see them exploit other grievances and other divides.
So, we see them being very resilient, creative, and flexible. So I’d ask all of the partners, all of our partners, not to underestimate the threat and not to underestimate what they’re capable of doing and that they are very patient and that they are willing to look for opportunities as they emerge.
So, you can’t just say ‘we’ve defeated them,’ you have to continue to address weaknesses and places where these terrorist groups can – that they can exploit.
The government of Lebanon has given an “investigative committee” four days to determine responsibility for the devastating explosion in Beirut port on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe told French radio Thursday.
“This morning, a decision was taken to create an investigative committee which in four days maximum must provide a detailed report on responsibility — how, who, what, where? There will be judicial decisions,” he told Europe 1 radio.
“It is serious, and we take it seriously,” Wehbe said.
“Those responsible for this horrible crime of negligence will be punished by a committee of judges,” he added.
The provisional death toll from the massive blast stood at 137 Thursday, but with dozens missing and 5,000 wounded, the number of victims was expected to rise as rescue workers continued to comb through the rubble.
The Beirut governor estimated up to 300,000 people may have been made temporarily homeless by the disaster, which he said would cost the debt-ridden country in excess of $3 billion.
On Wednesday, the government called for the house arrest of those responsible for the storage of a large quantity of ammonium nitrate, a substance used in fertilisers and explosives, in the port of the Lebanese capital.
According to Lebanese officials, the explosion was caused by a fire igniting 2,750 tonnes of the substance in a portside warehouse.
“It is an accident… preliminary reports indicate it is mismanagement of explosive products. This is a very serious neglect that continued for six years,’ said Wehbe.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab and President Michel Aoun have promised to put the culprits behind bars, but trust in institutions is low and few on the streets of the Lebanese capital hold out hope of an impartial inquiry.
Human Rights Watch on Thursday supported mounting calls for an international probe as the only credible option.
“An independent investigation with international experts is the best guarantee that victims of the explosion will get the justice they deserve,” the watchdog said.
In France, prosecutors on Wednesday opened a probe into the blast over injuries inflicted on 24 French citizens.
Flights carrying medical aid, field hospitals, rescue experts, and tracking dogs have been flying into Beirut airport since Wednesday.
And French President Emmanuel Macron was expected in Lebanon later Thursday, the highest-ranking foreign leader to visit since the tragedy.
Macron was due to meet Aoun and other political leaders as well as civil society representatives.