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Former Special Adviser on Communication to ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, has said Nigerians are desirous of seeing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) return to power in 2019.

Ugochukwu who was ex – chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), added that PDP remained the only party that could put a stop to the pall of “confusion and uncertainty” in the country and run the government better.

He spoke with reporters in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital,  after monitoring the PDP ward congresses held across the 236 wards of Ogun State on Saturday under the supervision of officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ahead of the December 9 National Convention of the PDP slated for Abuja.

Ugochukwu, who is chairman of the state’s Ward Congresses Committee, said the PDP still remained formidable and acceptable to majority of Nigerians irrespective of it is being perceived  in some quarters.

He hailed the peaceful conduct and high turnout at the ward congresses, saying it showed that the party is viable for the next general elections.

“We have to give some credit to the caretaker committee. The tendencies and all that are natural; every political party have people leaning to this way and that way.

“But they’ve been able to come together in the interest of the party to have peaceful congresses and that is a great thing. We are not expecting that everybody would be happy. You probably heard that some people went to court on Friday (to stop the congresses) but the court rejected them.

“But the great majority of our party people want to come together to end this period of confusion in the country because Nigerians are waiting for us to get our act together to run the government the way it should be run.

“We’ve gone round to some wards, not all of them. From what we saw, we are quite happy with the turnout. It just shows that the PDP is strong. That’s why people want to come out and participate. There were no impositions,” Ugochukwu said.

Also, the chairman, Ogun PDP Caretaker Committee, Tunde Odanye, said Nigerians have unwavering faith in the party.

Odanye said: “you know when things are tough, people always start looking at where lies their hope and I think people are looking at PDP as the alternative; they hope for them for the future. So, the turnout was proof that PDP is alive and well.

“When I came in, we first analysed what the problems were and we discovered that there were about seven tendencies. We’ve been able to unite five and half. Five are fully on board.

“Half of one – the key person in that one has one foot in another party, of which he is directly related to, so we can’t blame him, while some of his followers are with us. But I also have a feeling that he knows what his followers are doing with us.

“The one tendency who is totally against us, I think there was nothing we could do. Not that we didn’t try, we spoke to his people. Some of his people who saw reason with us or who are tired of being on the opposition all the time within the party moved over to us. But, of course, he still has his own bloc. His grouse doesn’t even seem to be with us alone.”
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Catholic bishops have called for justice and equity in trade in goods and services, and natural resources exported each year from Africa.

They also favour the promotion of local industries and sustainable development of agriculture to help reduce the stress that force young people to leave their homeland.

This would also help to reduce what they called ‘brain drain’.

The position was taken by the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences in the European Union (COMECE) and the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) on Sunday.

In a communique, the bishops appealed for more understanding from their nationals that would provide economic opportunities for youths from both continents.

It was signed by Bishop Emmanuel Badejo, the SECAM bishop for Social Communication and bishop, Catholic Diocese of Oyo.

They said that migration had always been a constant feature of human coexistence in society, saying that migration had come to stay, it would not go away.

The bishops, however, said that it was the responsibility of the political leaders to make sure that migrants were treated with dignity and protected against criminal exploitation.

“In particular, young people will continue to choose to migrate out of professional reasons.

“We hope for a strong statement from the participants of the AU – EU Summit on migration and, especially, the fight against human trafficking.”

In the preparation of future EU-AU summits, we propose to set up a dialogue between political and religious leaders.

The fifth summit of the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) which would take place by November in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire

“We will expect the summit to reinforce its commitment for sustainable development programmes on the occasion of the summit,’’ the bishops said.

They noted that Africa and Europe were destined for a common future.

They , howeever, said that many of the youths from both continents did not have trust in some of the political and private institutions in both continents.

“To gain or restore trust, participation and a sense of belonging is the key. Effective participation demands transparency and accountability from all parties.

“At the Abidjan Summit, opportunity should be given to young Africans and Europeans to share their hopes and expectations about an adequate environment for sustainable development.”

The bishops said that peace, justice and care should be the guiding principles for long-term policies and strategies designed to prepare their common future.

The bishops commended the theme of the summit which is “Youth’’ adding that it was the same theme of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church scheduled for next year in Rome.

The bishops said that the opportunities from the summit would also favour the creation of jobs, especially for young people, in local industries and sustainable development of agriculture.

“In order to make use of the opportunities in education and training for all, boys and girls need to be strengthened and redesigned in view of the newly needed communication and technological skills.

“Answers must be given to the youth as they face new ideologies regarding culture, the sanctity of human life, marriage and the family, and loss of spirituality in a world where a materialistic culture is dominant.”
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Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello

Kogi State Government on Sunday admitted that it owed the late Mr Edward Soje, eight months of unpaid salary before he committed suicide on Oct.16.

The state Head of Service, Mrs Deborah Ogunmola, admitted in a statement in Lokoja.

She said that Soje received his monthly salary up till December 2016 when it was suddenly stopped by the government.

“His pay was stopped after proof emerged that he falsified his age records. His confession to the offence is on video to justify government stoppage of his salary, ’’Ogunmola said.

Soje, a Director in the state Teaching Service Commission was found hanging on a tree at the back of army barracks in Lokoja.

He was among workers being owed arrears of salaries ranging from two to 21 months by the state government.

Ogunmola, however, explained that following engagements with the labour which spanned several months, the Kogi governor magnanimously commuted the disciplinary action due against Soje and other certain categories of offenders by granting them pardon.

“Pardoned members of staff were processed for reinstatement and payment in batches. Mr Soje was in the September 2017 batch and he was aware of this fact.

“The Kogi State Teaching Service Commission, where he worked has forwarded a template for payment to government and Mr Soje was aware that he was listed to receive six months back pay.

According to her, this leaves only 2 months (August and September) outstanding.

Ogunmola, who also hailed from Ogori, the same town with the deceased, said government was saddened in no small measure by the alleged action of Soje.

She described Soje as a level 16 officer and a director in the Kogi State Civil Service.

She, however, deplored media reports attributing Soje’s alleged decision to commit suicide to non-payment of salary.

“Edward Soje was not just my staff, he was also married to my sister-in-law. His death is shocking, both as one related to him in some way and one responsible for him in an official capacity.

“I met with him earlier last week and we discussed his situation, including the progress made in resolving his employment issues.

“There was no hint of this horrible decision in his demeanour. He did he appear to me as one who was depressed, let alone contemplating suicide. I am, therefore, understandably shocked by all of this.

“Government condoles with his family, especially his wife and three children. While we will not intrude into their grief over their sad loss, we will stand with them.”
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Illustration: How developing countries and Africa enter into information sharing treaties – Report

By most accounts developing countries especially in Africa are worst hit by illicit financial flows even as multinational companies and rich individuals evade taxes.

The 2015 leaks by the Panama Papers reports showed how many countries had lost huge sums as monies, carted away to offshore accounts and tax heavens.

Indeed, the leak came as a surprise as many countries realised that there were grave loopholes through which they were being short-changed.

Having identified the problem, the solution lied with countries agreeing to share information with one another to checkmate such activities.

The G20 and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have drafted a Common Reporting Standard (CRS) to serve as a foundation for a global network of automatic exchange of information.

The goal is to allow a country to exchange the financial information of foreigners, like names, addresses, tax identification numbers and account balance information, at regular intervals with the account holder’s home country government.

That way, a country like Nigeria can know all the businesses being entered into by its citizens in other countries and can monitor the financial flows of such a citizen and companies owned by such individual.

However, this seeming solution to the problem may not be a solution at all for developing countries as a report by Financial Transparency Coalition shows that African countries were being “Blindfolded” in this “fight” against secrecy.

It is not enough to sign the CRS as the report tagged “Unequal Exchange”  showed that countries were not bound by the CRS to automatically share information and as such a pattern had been established over time were rich countries only share information with fellow rich countries.

Perhaps it could be argued that the rich countries have more financial flows from their countries, but when compared in relation to percentage of Gross Domestic Products (GDP), then developing countries are being ripped off even way more.

For instance, the report quoted that: “the Democratic Republic of Congo had nearly five times more offshore wealth connected to the Swiss Leaks scandal than Germany, when considered as a percentage of GDP.

“Similarly, the exposure of Central African Republic was eleven times that of the USA and the figure for Kenya nine times that of Canada. The list goes on.

“And this is not a theoretical concern. With the information made available through Swiss Leaks, in 2015 Spain claimed it recovered roughly 340 million dollars in taxes and fines.

“When applying a similar rate of return to the money connected to Sierra Leone, for example, the potential revenue could be about 4.95 million dollars

“Though 5 million dollars may sound paltry at the onset, the fact that the potential tax revenue from just one bank in just one secrecy jurisdiction could equate to roughly 19 per cent of the country’s health budget is simply shocking,” it stated.

An estimate from the report shows that about 33 per cent of all assets of the Middle East and Africa are held offshore while Latin America has 25 per cent of its assets offshore.

One then wonders why the pattern of information flows seems to favour the developed countries like the U.S. and other European nations while the developing countries of Africa who suffer the most are left blindfolded and in the dark.

In Africa, only South Africa had established sharing relationships with European countries: Nigeria just signed the report but it is said to come into effect in 2018.

According to the statistical map made available by the report, no other African country was receiving any information from the rich economies.

Conceivably, these information sharing treaties, developed by the Western countries are originally skewed to further favour the developed countries rather than the developing countries.

According to the report: “When the OECD and G20 began designing the CRS, they did so without meaningful consultation of low-income countries.

“The result was a system designed by wealthy nations, with wealthy nations in mind, making many of the prerequisites impossible for countries that don’t have sizable tax administration budgets or advanced technical capacity.

“To make matters worse, some wealthy countries are choosing to share information predominantly or exclusively with other wealthy countries.

“In our analysis of information exchange agreements in place around the globe, we found a stark political reality in which high-income countries receive the lion’s share of information, while some of the World’s poorest are receiving none at all.

This therefore may explain why a country like the United States of America receives information from 113 countries but only shares with 57 while other rich countries in the West only shares information with other wealthy countries.

In Africa, only South Africa has good sharing relationships while other African countries have either one relationship or none at all as they have either not signed on or no country has agreed to information share with them.

In some cases, a developing country may only have a relationship with a fellow developing poor economy: “Of what use will information exchange between Nigeria and Kenya be if all the money stolen from both countries are stolen by Western multinationals and hidden in offshore accounts in Europe and America.

Switzerland, a favorite hiding place for “kleptocrats” and the corrupt, has agreed to exchange information with just 9 high-income jurisdictions under the CRS (in addition to members of the European Union, under a separate EU agreement).

None of the world’s 31 low-income economies are on the receiving end of any automatic information exchange, while just 21 of the world’s 109 middle income economies receive automatic information.

Even if the poor economies were to receive the information, they do not have the capacity to digest it or make meaning of them as the CRS requires high technical capability.

The Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo at the launch of the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) announced that Nigeria was now party to the Automatic Exchange of Information through the CRS, which comes into effect in January, 2018.

In his excitement, he said “this means that Nigeria will automatically have all the information to successfully pursue tax evaders across the World.

“Specifically, we will have information on beneficial owners of assets held abroad, including those in tax havens,” he said.

However, a source at the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) said that looking at all the requirements and procedures to get access to information through the CRS, Nigeria is likely to qualify for automatic information by 2019.

The source explained that the process was highly technical and staff of the FIRS and the Federal Ministry of Finance, who would be getting direct access to these information when it comes into effect would require intensive capacity building.

“Once we meet the requirements, our focus areas would be information about Nigerians with properties in Europe. Yes Nigerians are everywhere, but we believe that a large chunk of the stolen assets are hidden in Europe,” the source said.

Also, The FTC Media and Digital Officer, Mr Christain Freymeyer said that solely joining the CRS does not mean Nigeria would have access to all the data from whatever country it wants.

“This barrier to access is what we tried to highlight in the Unequal Exchange report.

“Because Nigeria isn’t entering until 2018, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t already have some exchange relationships set up.

“For example, Switzerland is not joining until 2018/2019, but they’ve already entered into preliminary exchange agreements with other countries in the CRS,” he said.

Analyst are of the view that one of the main problems of the CRS is the undemocratic process by which it has been designed and defined by the OECD, a club of developed countries.

They believe that it would make more sense to have a truly international and more representative institution like the “United Nations Tax Committee” to be in charge of the Country Reporting Standards.

They argue that an agreement or treaty that is not binding or compulsory should not be entered into. “Of what use is signing a treaty when i still have to negotiate with the other countries to share information with me. Isn’t that the reason i signed the treaty in the first place”?, an economist Amarachukwu Nwosu argued.