The Department of State Services (DSS) confirmed on Monday, June 1, that its investigation revealed alteration in the exemption certificate issued by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Lawrence Oborawharievwo Ewhrudjakpo.
The Head, Legal Department, DSS, Abdulsalam Ibrahim, who represented DSS’ Director General, told the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Tribunal in Abuja that his agency was ordered by an Abuja court to investigate allegation of certificate forgery against Ewhrudjakpo.
Ibrahim was at the tribunal to tender documents and testify for the petitioner upon a subpoena issued on the DG, DSS by the tribunal.
The candidate of the Liberation Movement (LM) in the November 16, 2019 governorship election in Bayelsa, Vijah Opuama had petitioned the tribunal, alleging that Ewhrudjakpo submitted forged exemption certificate and documents that contain false information to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) before the election.
Ibrahim, led in evidence by petitioner’s lawyer, Pius Danbe Pius, said: “My lord, on the 22nd of February 2020, we received a letter from an Area Court in Lugbe, Abuja asking the DSS to investigate the NYSC exemption certificate of Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, the present Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State.”
He said his agency conducted investigation by reaching out to the NYSC. He said the DG, NYSC wrote to the DG, DSS confirming alteration in the surname in the exemption certificate issued Ewhrudjakpo.
Ibrahim however told the tribunal that the alteration was done by the NYSC at the instance of Ewhrudjakpo.
The petitioner’s lawyer later tendered a copy of the subpoena, a copy of the letter from the Area Court and two investigation reports dated May 27 and 28, 2020, including an annexture from the NYSC, through the witness.
Respondents’ lawyers, including Ibrahim Bawa (SAN), Chris Uche (SAN) and Chukwuma Machwkwu Umeh did not object to the tendering of the documents, following which the tribunal admitted them and marked them Exhibits P1, P2, P3 and P4.
Upon a request by Pius, Ibrahim read the conclusion of the report of the investigation conducted by his agency, which the tribunal had admitted in evidence.
The conclusion of the report, as read out by Ibrahim, went thus: “Based on the foregoing and the relevant documents forwarded to this service, it is evident that the subject altered the spelling of his surname to reflect the letter D as against the letter O in the certificate of exception earlier issued by NYSC.”
Under cross-examination by lawyer to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Emmanuel Enoidem, Ibrahim confirmed that the alteration in the certificate was effected by the NYSC.
The witness agreed with Enoidem that it is the bearer of a name that knows how best to spell his/her name.
Under cross-exemination by Chris Uche (SAN), lawyer to Duoye Diri (the Bayelsa State Governor), the witness said the alteration was done by the NYSC upon the request by Ewhrudjakpo.
Uche later asked the witness to read paragraph 7 of a document marked “P3” (one of the reports the investigation by the DSS), which Ibrahim read,thus: “it is based on this recent finding, that we wish to bring to the notice of the DSS that we (the NYSC) corrected the certificate of exemption to read Ewhrudjakpo. Only the last letter A was corrected to read letter O.”
When asked to identify an attachment to the report, the witness identified it as “Annexture 2,” which he explained “is a letter to the NYSC seeking a request for correction, following which the correction was now made.”
At the conclusion of the witness’ testimony, Pius said his next witness is Ewhrudjakpo, who he said has been subpoenaed to produce the original copy of the certificate of exemption.
Pius said, by his case plan, the Deputy Governor was the next appropriate witness for the petitioner.
The tribunal’s Chairman, Justice Ibrahim Sirajo adjourned till Tuesday (June 2) for the hearing of a motion by Ewhrudjakpo, challenging his invitation as the petitioner’s witness.
Earlier the tribunal in a ruling, rejected an application by LM to be made a party in the case.
Justice Sirajo upheld the arguments of the respondents, to the effect that the party failed to justify why it filed the application late.
Justice Sirajo held that there was no exceptional circumstances to warrant the granting of the applicant’s request to have its application heard outside the tribunal’s pre-hearing session.
He noted that the time for the hearing of such application has elapsed, with the applicant not being able to justify why it delayed in seeking to be made a party in a petition filed by its candidate.
Reps Probe Oil Spills At Three OMLs, Abandoned Oil Wells
The House of Representatives has resolved to investigate abandoned oil wells and spills from at least three Oil Mining Leases.
The House mandated its Committees on Petroleum Resources (Upstream) and Environment to “investigate the actual cause of the oil leaks at OML 18, OML 29 and OML 63, with a mandate to utilise experienced professionals to provide required insight, support and results.”
The committee is also to “determine the magnitude, scope, and effect of the leaks on affected hast communities; examine the scope and liability for required relief and compensation, including the status of provision of same; inquire the nature and details of the JV agreement between Aiteo and NNPC to determine veracity of ownership of percentage stake and financial obligations.
“Confirm the claim by Aiteo of engagement of a foreign company to stop the leak, the cost of doing so and the financial claim made by Aiteo to NAPIMS in this regard; and examine the nature and details of the JV agreement between Eroton and NNPC to determine completion of financial and other obligations for ownership.”
Furthermore, the panel will “verify the numbers of idle and isolated wells currently existing on Aiteo, Eroton and other indigenous and international oil companies’ oil fields across Nigeria, the condition of these wells and the status of their management and abandonment in compliance with statutory provisions and international best practice.”
In addition, it will “explain the potential for significant residual deposits from identified idle and isolated wells across the country, the best methodology and strategy to achieve this additional revenue stream and the best international best practices being employed by other oil producing countries to achieve this.”
The committee is to report back to the House within two weeks for further legislative action.
These resolutions were sequel to the unanimous adoption of the motion moved by a member, Ibrahim Isiaka, titled ‘Urgent Need to Investigate Oil Spills at OML 18, OML 29, OML 63 and the Status of All Idle, Isolated and Abandoned Wells on Order to Avert Renewed Hostilities in the Niger Delta Region of the Country.’
Isiaka said he was raising the alarm over the confirmation by the National Oil Spill Detection Agency on June 25, 2022, of an ongoing oil leak for one week, from Cawthorne Channel Well 15, an idle and isolated well on Oil Mining Lease 18.
He noted that it is a large oil bloc located towards the south of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, operated by Eroton Exploration and Production Limited, which has 45 per cent stake in a Joint Venture Agreement with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (now Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited) after Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited divested her interest in the bloc, in 2015.
The lawmaker added that the Corporate Communications Lead of Eroton reported an oil leak, which eventually resulted in a blowout of crude oil and gas into the environment on June 15, 2022, “whereas NOSDRA only reported the incident on June 25, 2022 – 10 days thereafter.
He stressed that the expected required Joint Investigation Visit by the relevant stakeholders – Eroton, Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NRC), NNPC and the Rivers State Ministry of Environment – “has still not been conducted almost two weeks after the occurrence.”
Isiaka added, “No effort has been made to either stop or control the oil leak and this portends grave consequences to the ecosystem and the affected host communities.”
The lawmaker also noted that Aiteo Group, operator of another JV with NNPC, also reported an oil leak from its “idle and isolated” Santa Barbara oil well Head 1 on OML 29 in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State on November 5, 2021.
“The leak, which persisted for 32 days, was alleged to have spilled hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude into the Santa Barbara River and its tributaries, which traverse three kingdoms in Bayelsa State destroying sources of drinking water, fishing and farming ecosystem. Over six months later, the cause of the oil leak on OML 29 is still unknown,” he said.
According to the lawmaker, like OML 29, the unending phenomenon surrounding the current spill on OML 18 has not been conducted about two weeks after the occurrence. He added that the NAOC oil spill at OML 63 in Lasukugbena, Bayelsa State, lasted over one month, yet the root cause analysis has not been officially determined till date.
Isiaka said, “The House is also disturbed about recent statistics that show Nigeria has probably the worst oil spill record in the word with over 4,919 oil spills between 2015 and 2021, releasing over 400,000 barrels into the environment and ecosystem of affected communities.”
The lawmaker noted that there were allegations that “Aiteo, Eroton, and almost all indigenous and international oil companies operating in Nigeria have idle wells on most of their fields, which are not properly managed or abandoned and are likely to experience a blowout at any time, with potentially very grave consequences to the environment, health, safety, and socio-economic well being of millions of innocent Nigerian Citizens who inhabit the affected host communities.”
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He said, “The House is curious about the postulation by industry professionals that in the light of current dwindling crude oil production output in Nigeria, up to 800,000 barrels of residual crude oil deposits can be obtained from idle and isolated wells across different oil fields in the country, with huge economic benefit to the country, similar to several oil-producing countries around the world who have consciously developed a strategy in this regard.”
Institute Launches Volunteer Mediation Scheme In Edo
The Institute of Chartered Mediators and Conciliators (ICMC) on Wednesday in Benin inaugurated volunteer mediation scheme for Edo State.
In his address, Dr Agada Elachi, President of the ICMC, said the scheme was part of the institute’s strategic plans to standardise and expand the frontiers of the practice of mediation in Nigeria and Africa.
The scheme, Elachi said would offer a platform for the speedy and at no cost resolution of small claim disputes for the business community, as well as Matters bordering on domestic disputes and interpersonal conflicts.
He said the scheme would also be a vehicle for delivering corporate social responsibility by the institute to a Nigerian society, which he said was at this time greatly fragmented by conflict and disagreements.
“We call on development partners and relevant stakeholders to support this initiative.
“We are available to discuss the modalities for such support. In this respect, we salute the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) SEDIN programme for its support to the volunteer mediation scheme.
“It is hoped that members of the public particularly the indigent will utilise the scheme.
“This measure, we believe, will promote access to justice,” he said.
In his remark, Justice Joe Acha, Chief Judge of Edo assured the ICMC that the state judiciary was ready and willing always to give endorsement to whatever settlement agreements reached through the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
“It is suffice to say where it is properly deployed, ADR is cost effective, and undoubtedly will help to decongest our court as well as promoting cordial relationship in our homes, offices, business places, society, nation and ultimately, our world,” said the chief judge.
The Edo State chief judicial officer commended the GIZ for to living up to its core principle of capacity development and international cooperation through sponsorship of various ADR training over the years.
In her welcome address, Ms Blessing Ajimoti, Edo State Coordinator of GIZ’s SEDIN programme, said the programme had been working with Edo and other focal states, to improve the system for commercial dispute resolution and contract enforcement.
Under this partnership, she said SEDIN had supported the Edo Judiciary and other partners since 2020.
“This June and July, SEDIN is expanding its collaborations on affordable and timely dispute resolution through our support for the Benin Branch of the ICMC, to launch the Volunteer Mediators Scheme in the state,” Ajimoti said.
Reps Approve Special Bank For Entrepreneurs, Small Businesses
The House of Representatives has passed for second reading, a bill seeking to establish an Entrepreneurship Development Bank of Nigeria, with the aim of providing soft loans for small and medium-scale enterprises in the country.
The consolidated bill was jointly sponsored by Messrs Benjamin Kalu and Olalekan Afolabi
The legislation is titled ‘A Bill for an Act to Establish Entrepreneurship Development Bank of Nigeria to Charge It with the Responsibility, Among Other Things, to Provide Medium and Long-Term Finance for Indigenous Small Businesses and to Provide for Establishment of Nigerian Entrepreneurship Development, Encourage Aspiring Entrepreneurs and Small Scale Enterprises in Nigeria.’
Leading the debate on the bill at the plenary on Wednesday, Kalu said the proposed bank would be charged with the responsibility, among other things, of providing medium and long-term finance for indigenous small businesses.
He added that the bill, which July 18, 2019, focuses on Nigerian youths and contemplated providing improved access to finance for youth entrepreneurs in innovation, manufacturing, agriculture and trade.
Kalu said, “In Nigeria today, due to numerous socio-economic challenges, many youths depend on themselves and drive their own future by creating opportunities for themselves and others, by undertaking different entrepreneurial ventures toward self-reliance. However, this group of people still need capacity building, financial support and favorable policies.
“The strength of any nation depends on the policy framework and initiatives put in place to develop and empower the youth in order to maximise their potentials, talents and untapped capacities in nation building. Without a vibrant, skilled, focused and equipped youth, no nation can rise to its full potential because the youth are the visionaries and producers who power nations to greater heights.
“Youths are estimated to constitute about 70 per cent of the population of Nigeria. This is a huge advantage for a nation that is seriously and furiously pursuing national development. The youth are assets to a nation, not liabilities. The youths, if well-educated, trained and motivated, can utilize their mental, technical and visionary power to develop the Nigerian economy.”
According to the lawmaker, a fundamental challenge to youth entrepreneurship capacity is the lack of access to functional and effective finance. He stated that the existing financial institutions are not really servicing the real needs of the indigenous business or initiatives owned and run by the youth.
“In most cases, their requirements are way beyond the reach of such entrepreneurs; and their operational modalities are not really designed to deliberately encourage indigenous small businesses. A closer look at the operational modalities of the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture and the Development Bank of Nigeria would show that there is no clear-cut intention and support for indigenous small businesses owned and run by youth.
“Commercial and microfinance banks are not even feasible options for indigenous small businesses. This is the gap which the contemplated bank would fill. There is a need for a specialised bank, which would target the youth at different levels and scope with emphasis on harnessing abundant potentials for economic growth and greatness of the nation,” he said.
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