2019 General elections in danger – Senate cries out

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According to reports, the Senate yesterday expressed the fear that the 2019 general elections may suffer serious hitches. Its apprehension was born out of what it considered as critical issues of illegitimacy bedeviling the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

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With the absence of Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in 20 of the 36 states, the Senate noted that the INEC cannot conduct any legitimate election at the moment.

Adopting a motion sponsored by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, the upper chamber observed that the non-appointment of RECs to fill the 20 vacancies is in breach of Section 14 (2) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.

The senators called on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately nominate suitably qualified persons to fill the vacant positions in line with the constitution to enhance the capacity of the electoral commission to conduct conclusive polls. They further called on INEC to immediately conclude all pending elections in the country. The lawmakers mandated the Committee on INEC to hold a public hearing to review the performance of the commission in the last one year with a view to ascertaining the factors that may have caused the perceived “decline of the electoral system.”

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In his concluding remarks, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki urged INEC to conclude elections in the affected constituencies. “Buhari should ensure that those vacant positions are filled,” he said.

While explaining what inconclusive elections portend for the nation’s democracy, Ekweremadu said the whimsical postponement of polls is a wrong signal that cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand.

The lawmaker from Enugu State noted that the trend of inconclusive elections had left both chambers of the National Assembly and some state houses of assembly without the full complement of their membership, while millions of Nigerians are left without representatives for a long period of time.

Also yesterday, the Senate ordered a probe of Minister of Industries, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Elenemah, over an alleged fraudulent movement of funds amounting to $13.92 billion from Nigeria.

Adopting a motion sponsored by Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West), the lawmakers directed its Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions to carry out a holistic investigation into the matter and report back in two weeks.

In a motion titled “Unscrupulous violation of the foreign exchange (Monitoring and Miscellaneous) Act”, Melaye drew the attention of the Senate to “the illegal repatriation of $13.92 billion out of Nigeria by Mobile Telecommunication Limited (MTN) through its bankers between 2006 and 2016.”

But the minister denied all allegations and submitted that as an internationally acclaimed investor, he had never engaged in any shady deal.

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The Director of Press in the ministry, Greyne Chukwu Anosike, who spoke on behalf of the minister wondered why the same Senate that screened and cleared Elenemah for a ministerial appointment in 2015 could turn round now to accuse him of participating in a fraudulent movement of money as far back as 2008 and 2009.

He recalled that Elenemah has played useful roles in the diplomatic relationship between Nigeria and South Africa, particularly last year when Nigeria’s government imposed a fine of N1.04 trillion on the MTN.

Asked whether the minister had had any investment in Mauritius, Anosike simply replied: “The minister is an internationally acclaimed investor and he could have made investment anywhere, but I can only speak on the activities of the minister not what happened before he became a minister.”

Melaye alleged that Elenemah and other individuals whom MTN used in moving $13.92 billion out of Nigeria floated and incorporated offshore SPVs (Special Purpose Vehicles) in Cayman Island, Mauritius and British Virgin Island.

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He said that when “MTN was incorporated in Nigeria as a private limited liability company on November 8, 2000 and obtained its operating licence with $284,906,275.89 on February 6, 2001, it did not request a certificate of capital importation from its bankers (Standard Chartered Bank) within the regulatory period of 24 hours of the inflow.”

Melaye further alleged that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was not notified of this inflow by Standard Chartered Bank within 48 hours of receipt and conversion of the proceeds to naira as required by regulations.

“We are alarmed that Elenemah, owner of CELTELCOM Investment Limited with address at No.608 St James, Denis Street Port Lewis Mauritius purportedly claimed to invest in MTN on 7th February, 2008, got certificate of capital importation and filled form A on the same date, (7th February, 2008) and closed his investment in Nigeria after receiving dollars payment for repatriation to New York same day.”

After the debate on the motion, Saraki, declared: “This motion is based on facts and figures and there is no doubt that this is a weighty issue, so it must be properly investigated.”

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