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Buhari’s campaign criticises US ambassador, other Western diplomats

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President Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign organisation has criticised the United States’ Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, over his repeated calls for free, fair and peaceful elections in Nigeria.

The campaign organisation, in a statement by its spokesperson, Festus Keyamo, said it was “deeply concerned about many of the expressions” of Mr Symington and other “Western diplomats.”

“The continued warnings about ‘flawed elections’ is capable of casting an unwarranted cloud over the process,” Mr Keyamo said.

Read Mr Keyamo’s full statement below.

AMERICA’S UNGUARDED STATEMENTS ON OUR ELECTION: A CALL FOR CAUTION AND EQUITY.

We are deeply concerned about many of the expressions of the United States’ Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador W. Stuart Symington and other Western Diplomats which have been directed towards Nigeria’s upcoming elections. Whilst we laud and whole-heartedly welcome their interests in the elections, many of these expressions have been notably off- key. The continued warnings about ‘flawed elections’ is capable of casting an unwarranted cloud over the process. Instead of encouraging our country toward credible elections, such statements undermine public confidence. It would appear that these envoys seem to have discredited the election before it has even taken place.

We truly hope some of the statements attributed to these diplomats are inaccurate. For instance, the Premium News reported that Ambassador W. Stuart Symington threatened to “hold to account” anyone whose speech, no matter the motivation of that speech, engendered hatred. We all agree that any speech willfully intended to trigger violence is condemnable. However, in condemning other forms of political speech, the American envoy overstepped his ambassadorial brief. For instance, the American Ambassador was reported to have condemned a situation where a candidate says that his opponent’s political and economic policies are abhorrent and dangerous to the greater welfare of the people and calls on the citizens to hate and reject such policies. In our view, this is a correct statement because it is the duty of the candidate to tell the people these truths to protect the nation from subsequent calamity. But Ambassador Symington says his country would punish such necessary political speeches.

For us it is significant to note that such strong political speeches are not unlawful in the United States, but Ambassador Symington is seeking to penalize such speeches by Nigerians. He seeks to shrink our ambit of free speech so that we may behave in accordance with their vision of well-behaved Africans, rather than in consonance with our vision of our own democracy, no matter how tumultuous and dramatic we may be. It would appear that his position seeks to prohibit forms of expression integral to our political discourse. These forms of expression have time and time again been adjudged to be constitutionally-protected speeches by the United States Supreme Court.

However, Ambassador Symington intentionally issued his threats to place a chilling effect on speeches in Nigeria that, if uttered in America, would be constitutionally protected. Unfounded allegations and threats to penalize people for constitutionally-protected free speech is improper interference in our internal affairs. Sadly, what Ambassador Symington and some other western diplomats are doing border on the improper.

We take the view that the constant statements by Ambassador Symington and the other diplomats are implicit attacks against the government of Nigeria. These statements imply the Nigerian government is inclined to rig the election in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari. This is unfair and unacceptable to us. President Muhammadu Buhari has never been accused of electoral malpractice all his life. However, in contrast, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar publicly boasted a few months ago that he rigged the 2003 election in the Southwest States. Here, we have an open confession of blatant electoral malfeasance by the PDP candidate. But in all of these, there seem to be no concern by Ambassador Symington and other diplomats about this well-acknowledged proclivity of the main opposition.

We expected that such open confession to rigging in the past would have drawn condemnation from the United States. Rather what we witnessed recently was the ignoble act of giving such a self-confessed rigger with a decade-old indictment in America for corruption hanging over his head a special status to enter the U.S for a few days. Such is the double standard that America now displays for the whole world to see.

It is unfortunate that most of these countries that sermonize about free and fair elections have ugly histories of denial of voting right to people because of their colour and are still facing many challenges with their electoral systems till date.

The continued reference and praise of the 2015 election by Ambassador Symington clearly shows he needs further briefing about the Nigerian situation. For his information, the 2015 presidential election, at the end of the day, produced the correct outcome, but with flawed figures in many areas. Though they lost, the figures attributed to the PDP were inflated in many places, especially in the South South, to save the face of the past President and to reduce the margin of his defeat. President Buhari is determined to improve on the 2015 elections and so it cannot even be our benchmark.

An American ambassador has a great responsibility in representing the strongest economic and military power in the world. His comments carry weight because of the status of his nation. This means his comments should reflect a deep knowledge of the subject. Sadly, Ambassador Symington has not shown the deep knowledge of Nigerian situation. The impression he creates by constantly harping on suspected government interference with the electoral process is that President Buhari cannot win without tipping the results. He seems to be saying that only a PDP victory will be evidence of a fair election.

Again, he is in great error. From all of the information at our disposal, President Buhari can and should win a free and fair election. However, it appears to us that Ambassador Symington is substituting his subjective conclusions for the sovereign will of the Nigerian people. In doing so, he has abandoned the impartiality of a true envoy and has trespassed into interfering in our electoral process.

Instead of encouraging free and fair elections, these judgmental statements and threats only cast an unnecessary pall over the elections and the nation. This is an international disservice and not international diplomacy. The days of unquestioned condescension to Western powers are long gone and we are not prepared at this time in Nigeria to recede to that era.

Nigerians will define Nigeria’s democracy. We shall hold fair and just elections, not because of scolding by diplomats, but because we have sufficient intelligence and morality to do what is right for ourselves. If Ambassador Symington has familiarized himself with Nigeria’s history from 1999 till date, he would have realized that those in the main opposition are being haunted by their past: they think President Buhari would behave exactly like they did all these years when they consistently rigged elections and denied Nigerians the right to choose their leaders

If Ambassador Symington truly intends to be impartial, his statements should acknowledge that both Government and Opposition (particularly in States where the opposition have Governors in place) must respect the process and refrain from rigging. We expect him to counsel both governing party and the Opposition from any form of electoral malpractice. After all, it is not only Governments at the center that rig elections. Elections can also be rigged in opposition-controlled areas.

It is not too late for Ambassador Symington to repair the damage of his uninformed statements. He needs to speak as an impartial envoy instead of a person who appears to have prejudged the quality of the process and the outcome. Until he attains that level of informed impartiality, whatever good he seeks is better achieved by his silence than by tendentious utterances.

Thank you.

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Poor tax collection: Fowler replies Buhari’s query

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The Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Babatunde Fowler, has responded to a memo from Abba Kyari, the chief of staff to the president, who said there were significant variances between the tax budgeted collections and actual collections for the period 2015 to 2018.

However, Fowler in his response explained that the recession experienced by the Nigerian economy in 2016 as well as lower oil prices affected the revenue collected by the FIRS.

See Fowler’s response: “I refer to your letter dated 8th August, 2019 on the above subject matter and hereby submit a comprehensive variance analysis between budgeted and actual collections for each main tax item for the period 2012-2018 as requested (see appendix 1).

“Your letter stated that actual collections for a 3-year period were significantly worse than what was collected between 2012 and 2014. Total actual collection for the said period wasN14,527.85 trillion, while total actual collection between 2016 to 2018 was N12,656.30 trillion.

The highlight of these collection figures was that during the period 2012 to 2014, out of the N14,527.85 trillion, oil revenue accounted for N8,321.64 trillion or 57.28% while non-oil accounted for N6,206.22 trillion or 42.72% and during the later period of 2016 to 2018, out of the N12,656.30 trillion, oil revenue accounted for N5,145.87 trillionor 40.65% and non-oil revenue accounted N7,510.42 trillion or 59.35%.

FIRS management has control of non-oil revenue collection figures while oil revenue collection figures are subject to more external forces.” He wrote: “The non-oil revenue collection grew by N1,304.20 trillion or 21% within the period 2016 to 2018.

“Kindly note that the total budget collection figure during 2012 to 2014 stood at N12,190.52 trillion compared to N16,771.78 trillion for the period 2016 to 2018, which represent an increase of 37.58%.

“Please note that the variance in the budgeted and actual revenue collection performance of the Service for the period 2016 to 2018 was main attributed to the following reasons:

“1. The low inflow of oil revenues for the period especially Petroleum Profit Tax (PPT) was due to fall in price of crude oil and reduction of crude oil production. Notwithstanding government efforts to diversify the economy, oil revenues remains (remain) an important component of total revenues accruable to the Federation. The price of crude oil fell from an average of $113.72, $110.98 and $100.40 per barrel in 2012, 2013 and 2014 to $ 52.65, $43.80 and $54.08 per barrel in 2015, 2016 and 2017. There was also a reduction in crude oil production from 2.31mbpd, 2.18mbpd and 2.20mbpd in 2012, 2013 and 2014 to 2.12mbpd, 1.81mbpd and 1.88mbpd in 2015, 2016 and 2017 respectively.

“2. The Nigerian economy also went into recession in the second quarter of 2016 which slowed down general economic activities. Tax revenue collection (CIT and VAT) being a function of economic activities were negatively affected but actual collection of the above two taxes were still higher in 2016 to 2018 than in 2012 to 2014. During the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, GDP grew by 4.3%, 5.4% and 6.3% while in 2015, 2016 and 2017 there was a decline in growth to 2.7%, -1.6% and 1.9% respectively. The tax revenue grew as the economy recovered in the second quarter of 2017.

“3. It is worthy of note that strategies and initiatives adopted in collection of VAT during the period 2015-2017 led to approximately 40% increase over 2012-2014 collections. In 2014 the VAT collected was N802billion, compared to N1.1 trillion in 2018. This increase is attributable to various initiatives such as ICT innovations, continuous taxpayer education, taxpayer enlightenment, etc embarked upon by the Service.

“4. Furthermore, it is pertinent to note that when this administration came on board in August 2015, the target the target for the two major non-oil taxes were increased by 52% for VAT and 45% for CIT. Notwithstanding the increase, FIRS has in line with the Federal government’s revenue base diversification strategy has grown the non-oil tax collection by over N1.304 trillion (21%) when the total non-oil tax collection for 2016-2018 is compared to that of 2012-2014.

“I am confident that our current strategies and initiatives will improve revenue collection and meet the expectations of government.

“Please accept the assurance of my highest regards.”

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We’re not aware of Oyo-Ita’s purported retirement – Presidency

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The Presidency on Monday declared that it was not aware of the purported move of the Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, to retire from service.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had last week Tuesday grilled Oyo-Ita over alleged N3bn scam. The Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, in a text message said that the Presidency was not in possession of any letter of intent from Oyo-Ita to retire from service. “Thanks.

We have no such letter here, in the event that such a letter exists. This is our position,” he stated

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Alleged N3bn Contract Scam: Winifred Oyo-Ita sends retirement letter to Buhari

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Winifred Oyo-Ita, the head of service of the federation, has offered to immediately proceed on retirement in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari.

The widow had been under pressure from her immediate family to retire after news reports emerged that she was being probed over an alleged N3 billion contract scam.

Although she has vehemently denied involvement in any scam, she bowed to family pressures and sent in a letter on Sunday offering to proceed on retirement, we can report.

Buhari is yet to take a final decision on it but reports say he is favourably disposed to the option.

“Mrs Oyo-Ita has sent in her letter of retirement,” a family member, who asked not to be named, said on Monday morning.

She was absent at the presidential retreat for ministers-designate, federal permanent secretaries and top government functionaries held at the state house conference centre in Abuja.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recently questioned Oyo-Ita over allegations that she used front companies to get contracts when she was a permanent secretary before her appointment as head of service by Buhari in 2015.

There were insinuations that she was being “punished” for “falling out” with Abba Kyari but it was learnt that the president’s chief of staff was unaware of the EFCC probe until it was leaked to the media.

Oyo-Ita has also told her associates not to drag Kyari into the matter because “it is not true”, according to a family member.

The EFCC said the petition against her was written in 2014 when President Goodluck Jonathan was still in office. It was however, learnt that Oyo-Ita was not the subject of the probe.

It was also reported that N600 million was traced to the account of one of her aides who has been quizzed by the anti-graft agency and released.

However, Oyo-Ita also denied the allegation, saying the money was meant for the death benefits of staff and was meant to be kept in a designated account for that purpose by the project accountant.

“She denied knowing anything about where the money was kept and said there was no fraud involved, at least not from her end,” the family member said.

The Cable

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