The 2018 budget has received a major boost in terms of funding as the federal government announced yesterday that it is almost concluding the processes of repatriating additional $500 million (about N180 billion) Abacha loot and others.
On different occasions, the federal government had listed stolen funds recovered from those that looted the economy among its source of funding the budget. The chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, had also disclosed that the federal government is to partly fund the proposed N9.12trillion budget for 2018 with N500billion recovered through its anti-corruption efforts.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), told to State House correspondents after yesterday's Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa that plans are at the concluding level to repatriate additional $500 million (N180 billion) Abacha loot and others.
He recalled that in December 2017, the federal government had participated in global forum on asset recovery in Washington DC where Nigeria and Switzerland signed agreement that paved way for the repatriation of $322 million relating to looted assets. On the account of that, he said the said amount was eventually repatriated back to Nigeria, just as he hinted that what transpired was only reported back to the council.
He noted that the report is not only about the signing of the agreement but the report of the eventual repatriation of the amount of money that was signed and agreed to be repatriated during the forum. "Nigeria has also engaged other countries, including the UK, US, France and others, in further negotiations relating to repatriation and I am happy to report that we are almost concluding the processes relating to the repatriation of additional $500 million", AGF Malami stated.
On the situation report about President Muhammadu Buhari's visit to the United States, particularly as it relate to the recovered asset, he noted: "The position of things is that we are discussing and making progress and arising from that discussions, we are at a point where we are trying to come to terms with the US Government as to the project that Nigeria intends to commit the money to.
"So, we have sourced information from various MDAs, as to what project they think are of interest to them so that we can now collate information relating to project of interest and make them basis for our further discussions. "We are at a point of trying to agree on the project the money is going to apply to for the purpose of proceeding further in terms of the repatriation process. So, it is a work in progress". The minister also disclosed that FEC approved the payment of professional fees to lawyers engaged by the federal government as counsel in the case instituted against it by MTN bordering on the penalty of over N1 trillion imposed by the government on MTN. He recalled that MTN instituted a case seeking to restrain the federal government from recovering the over N1 trillion fine imposed on it. He further explained that the federal government engaged the services of lawyers to put up defence on its behalf and as a result, the parties eventually settled the case amicably and arising from that settlement the lawyers were entitled to their fees. He continued: "The federal government has now sanctioned the payment of N500 million for the N330 billion agreed upon for the alleged certain breaches in their operations. This amount is less than one percent of the fee instead of the internationally recognized fee, which is pegged at 5%.
"On the question of the amount approved to be paid to the legal practitioners, l think in assessing the quantum, two factors must be brought to mind. One, the volume of the amount recovered, which, as l stated, is N330b. "So, if you look at the volume and the volume of the fee to be paid, you will agree with me that that N500m is justified. But then the other justification to it can equally be looked from the point of percentage. This is less than one per cent of the N330billion and the conventional practice internationally and locally is at least for the lawyers to charge not less than five per cent of the recovered sum. It is an Act of prudence of government under President Muhammadu Buhari that in the circumstances of the MTN, we are paying less than one per cent which indeed is less than what is internationally recognized, which minimally is five per cent internationally. So, I think it is in line with international best practices".
He added that the sensitivity of the case made it imperative for government to hire lawyers outside of the NCC and Justice Ministry in line with international best practices.
"It is of operating on the side of caution to ensure that diverse professionalism and expertise is brought into the Defence of federal government and that, I think, has paid off, taking into considerations the fact that the lawyers eventually by way of cross fertilization of ideas and working together in the spirit of ensuring the success of the case," he stated.
He also disclosed that council approved a memorandum that seeks to strengthen prevention measures and institutions on the part of implementations of Mr President's London commitment on anti-corruption and Open Government Partnership.
He added that council also approved the processing of the Copy Rights Act 2018, which seeks among others to strengthen copyright regime by way of protection of the creative industry, by ensuring that punitive measures are indeed in place for breaches to copyrights. "The bill was approved for transmission to the National Assembly for passage into law, the essence of which is to effect protection to creative and intellectual property", he stated. On the legality of the posthumous award for MKO Abiola, he said, "I think we need to make distinctions between the Nigeria National Merit Award Act and the Nigerian National Honours Act. They are two distinct and different applicable laws as far as National honours awards are concerned. You have the National Merit Award on the strength of which we have the law of the governing board come into effect and then as it relates to the National Honours Act, the board does not have any relevance in terms of processing of the Honours.
"For then, above all, we equally have in existence precedence as it relates to the award of posthumous Honours. I can recall that a former head of state, General Murtala Mohammed, was equally honored posthumously amongst others".
As it relates to public holidays, Malami noted that there is truly a public holiday Act, but it is about the process and process of amendment.
"At any rate, the Act can be amended and the process of amendment has been put in place. So, when the Act has been fully amended, the declaration of the President will come into effect. It is a declaration of intention, a declaration of desire and that will eventually be given effect with the act of amendment of the existing law," he stated.
FEC Okays N185bn For 14 Road Projects
Meanwhile, the federal government yesterday approved the rehabilitation and construction of 14 roads in different parts of the country at the total cost of N185.276 billion.
Special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, who disclosed this after FEC meeting listed the roads to include Gwoza - Damboa - Goniri - Ngamdu Road in Yobe/Borno States by Hajaig Construction Nigeria Limited at the cost of N34.608 billion; Mayo Belwa - Jada - Ganye - Torngo Road in Adamawa by Messrs Triacta Nigeria Llimited at the rate of N22.699bn and Ado - Ifaki - Otun - Kwara State border in Ekiti State at the rate of N6.002 billion.
Others are repair of Makurdi bridge in Benue State by Messrs AG Visio Construction limited at N4.617 billion; Ihugi - Korinya -Wuse -Ankor in Benue State by Datum Construction Limited at N15.641 billion; Gbagi - Apa - Owode in Badagry Lagos State by Messrs Smithcrown Nigeria Limited at NN4.366 billion; Construction of Ijebu Igbo - Ita Egba Owonowen in Ogun and Oyo States by Messrs DC Engineering at N9.833 billion
Others are the dualisation of Jattu - Fugar - Agenebode in Edo Phase II by Mothercat at N7.506 billion; Makurdi - Gboko - Wannune - Yander Section 1 in Benue State to Messrs Rockbridge Construction Limited at the rate of N18.669 billion; Old - Enugu - Port Harcourt Road at Agbogugu - Abia border Spur by Messrs Setraco Limited at N13.933 billion; Rehabilitation of Umulungbe - Umoka road at N6.249 billion; Amokwu - Ikedimkpe - Egede - Opeyi Awhum Road in Enugu State to Messrs IDC Construction N21.729 billion.
Others include rehabilitation of Nkwu Inyi - Akpugoeze in Anambra State by Anbeez Services at N2.595 billion; Construction of Sabon Birnin - Tsululu - Kuya - Maradi Junction road in Sokoto by Messrs China Zhonghao Nigeria Limited at N4.354 billion.
During his briefing , Health Minister, Isaac Adewole also disclosed that council approved the draft food safety and quality bill as well as the food safety institutional reform working document.
He also added that council approved a Draft National Tobacco Control Regulation.
On his part, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, hinted that Council approved the award of contract for construction of the phase II and the completion of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF) Multi-purpose conference center in Abuja at the cost of N6,540,385,908 billion inclusive of VAT.
PMB To Sign 2018 Budget Next Week
Meanwhile, the presidency has disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari will sign the 2018 budget into law by next week.
Presidential spokesman, Adesina, disclosed this to State House correspondents yesterday after FEC meeting at the presidential Villa.
The National Assembly had on May 17 passed the 2018 budget six months after President Buhari submitted the estimates to both chambers of the federal legislature.
The president had on November 7, 2017 submitted a proposal of N8.612trillion for the 2018 fiscal year, but lawmakers passed N9.12trillion as the budget, thereby increasing it by N508billion.