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Reps grant states, councils the opportunity to share from recovered loot

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The House of Representatives may grant the 36 states and 447 local councils in the country the opportunity to share from the money and property recovered from looters by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

A bill aimed at achieving the goal yesterday scaled through the second reading during the sitting of the House presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Ahmed Wase.

Ozurigbo Ugonna (Imo, APC) who sponsored the proposed legislation argued that states and local councils feel distressed and cheated when recovered looted funds and property are appropriated by the Federal Government which already takes 52.68 per cent of the federation allocation.

He further stated that Sections 14, 20, 21, 22, 26, 29, and 31 of the EFCC Act “which deprives the states and local governments their right to repatriation and restitution as victims of crime are considered unjust and at variance with present realities, United Nations declaration, and the nation’s Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.”

The lawmaker argued that there was the cogent need to amend the aforementioned sections to address the perceived injustices that the EFCC Act unleashes on states and local governments with regard to recovered loot.

“This becomes more appalling when 40 per cent of states and local government allocations are adjudged to be looted by public officers. Recovering this 40 per cent and paying it to the Federal Government is most absurd.

“The practice of Federal Government appropriating looted states and local government funds and property is perverse and one of the root causes of underdevelopment in our rural areas.

“More so, section 26 of the EFCC Act is killing businesses and causing untold hardship to Nigerians who have after many years of waiting at home secured jobs in some companies or businesses considered being consequence of financial crimes.

“The same goes to closing down of companies or business entities whose activities are tangential to the economic development of Nigeria just because they are consequences of financial crimes.

“The right thing to do should be for government to take over the management or ownership of such companies and businesses, have them sold to subsequent investors who will retain the workers and keep the business on the path of economic prosperity for the benefit of Nigeria. Sealing and total shutdown of viable businesses is not good for growing economies like ours.”

He argued that section 338 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 permits the Federal Government to appropriate property, funds, or proceeds of crime only where the victim of crime is unknown.

“Therefore, the provisions of sections 14, 20, 21, 22, 26, 29, and 31 of the EFCC Act that allow the Federal Government to appropriate property, funds and proceeds of crimes against known and identified victims of crime contradict our Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, a UN declaration, equity, fairness and natural justice.”

Also yesterday, the lawmakers claimed that there was revenue loss of over $30 billion due to tax evasion by highly placed corporations in the country.

Adopting a motion under matters of urgent importance initiated by Mr. James Faleke, the lawmakers threatened to order the arrest of the chief executive officers of MTN, Glo, Airtel and 12 other telecom companies operating in Nigeria over an alleged failure to honour invitation on an investigative hearing by the House Committee on Finance.

The House directed Faleke, who chairs the House Committee on Finance, to summon the erring multinational companies and corporations within the next seven days to appear before his panel to explain their role in the alleged infractions or risk severe sanctions.

Faleke (APC, Lagos), while moving the motion, claimed that the leakages were attributable to corporations which systematically evaded the remittance of the appropriate taxes despite public declarations of huge revenues and profits.

The lawmaker explained that the sole objective of the investigations by his committee was to ensure that Nigeria’s tax regime remained fair and competitive, and the expected tax revenue by any organisation and or individual was paid appropriately and accordingly into the government treasury.

“The Committee on Finance and Banking and Currency, in furtherance of its obligations as directed by the House, issued letters of invitation to various corporations to submit documents of their full compliance with the laws of the federation.

“The House is amazed that some of these corporations, particularly telecoms operators under the aegis of Incorporated Trustees of Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, upon the receipt of the letters of invitation, chose instead to file cases in the court.

“The House notes that a judgment in favour of the National Assembly was delivered on the 13th of March 2020, by Her Lordship, B.F.M. Nyako J, which reiterated that ‘the National Assembly is empowered by sections 88 and 89 of the constitution to invite any persons for investigative purposes.’

“However, the telecoms operators under the aegis of Incorporated Trustees of Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria have contested the powers of the National Assembly, and have filed an appeal, seeking an injunction to restrain the National Assembly from investigating their businesses, operations and policies; summoning them; requesting any documents or books from them; conducting any investigative hearing or meetings against (them); and making oversight visits to their offices or premises for the purposes of investigating or demanding information.”

In his ruling, the Speaker, Femi Gbadabiamila said that the telecom companies were not above the law and must honour the parliament of the country in which they operate.

He said that the eighth assembly would do all it takes to protect the integrity of the National Assembly by ensuring that the telecoms operators obey the parliament.

“We will not sit and accept the parliament handicapped. If MTN was to be summoned by the South Africa parliament, it would hurry to honour the invitation. The consequence of their action is arrest and fine. The National Assembly has such powers and we will impose a fine if they refuse to appear.

“Let it be clear that any one who turns against the parliament will have himself to blame. On this backdrop, we will once again extend invitation to them, if they refuse to respond after seven days, we will then be forced to impose our powers, and call for arrest, and they will also be fined.”

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