Barely two weeks after the United States indicted six Nigerians for alleged involvement in over $6m internet fraud, 11 more Nigerians have been arraigned over another $6m alleged bank fraud.
According to a statement by the US Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey, the defendants are Sulaiman Dosunmu, 39; Tunde Adeowo, 40; Muritala Adeowo, 55; Ayanniyi Alayande, 47; Ahmmed Ponle, 41; Margiettu Kamu, 34; Rafiat Sarumi, 36; Babatunde Oke, 40; Adekunle Owolabi, 49; Olayinka Olaseinde, 42; Olugbenga Oyedele, 47.
They were charged for their alleged roles in a conspiracy to commit bank fraud in Southern New Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania over the course of four years, US Attorney, Craig Carpenito said.
The suspects, said to have swindled hundreds of victims through accounts domiciled in American banks including Wells Fargo, were arraigned on multiple counts including fraud, forgery, amongst others.
The charge sheet partly read, “The defendants are allegedly members of a Nigeria-based, multi-layered organization that engaged in a massive bank fraud conspiracy in several states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Rhode Island, between June 2016 and March 2020.
“Members of the group stole numerous business checks from the United States mail, altered the payee on the checks to a fraudulent name, and deposited the checks in bank accounts that had been opened with forged foreign passport documents and fraudulent US visas that matched the names on the stolen checks.
“Members of the organization have used over 400 fraudulent accounts with fake identity documents to defraud the banks.
“The organization also laundered the proceeds of the fraud by several means, including using debit cards to purchase money orders from third-party stores and using those money orders to purchase used automobiles from different automobile auction companies in Pennsylvania.
“The vehicles were then exported to Nigeria and other countries in Africa to launder the stolen funds and to increase profits by selling the vehicles at the higher market values obtained for vehicles in these foreign countries.”
They risk a penalty of 30 years in prison and a fine of $1 million if found guilty.
Terrorism: Nnamdi Kanu in Fresh 15-Count Charges
On Monday, the Federal Government (FG) filed a new 15-count terrorism charge against Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the self-proclaimed leader of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The Federal Government upped the counts in the initial accusation it filed against Kanu from seven to fifteen in an amended charge filed before the Federal High Court in Abuja.
With the fresh charges, Kanu who has been facing a seven-count charge bordering on treasonable felony will now take a fresh plea to a 15-count amended charge marked FHC/ABJ/ CR/383/2015, signed by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) M. B. Abubakar.
The IPOB leader was scheduled to appear in court on January 18 (today) to argue his case in two separate applications contesting the competence of the earlier accusation leveled against him as well as the court’s authority.
Count one of the charges alleged that Kanu, sometimes in 2021, being member and leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra did commit an act in furtherance of an act of terrorism against the Federation Republic of Nigeria and the people of Nigeria by making a broadcast received and heard in the country with the intent to intimidate the population, and also threatened that people will die, the whole world will stand still, thereby committing an offense punishable under Section 1(2)(b) of the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2013.
Count 15 of the charge reads, “That you, Nnamdi Kanu, male, adult of Afaranukwu Ibeku, Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia state on diverse dates between the month of March and April 2015 imported into Nigeria and kept in Ubulisiuzor in Ihiala LGA of Anambra state, within the jurisdiction of this honorable court a radio transmitter known as Tram 50L concealed in a container of used household items and you thereby committed an offense contrary to Section 47(2)(a) of Criminal Code Act. Cap C45 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004”.
It would be recalled that the IPOB leader breached the bail conditions granted him by Justice Binta Nyako, before whom he was standing trial. He was however rearrested and brought back to Nigeria to continue with his trial.
Fuel Subsidy: States Kick As NNPC Continues Deductions, FAAC To Meet On Wednesday
As the Federation Account Allocation Committee meets for the first time in 2022 on Wednesday, there are significant indicators that state and federal governments are once again at odds.
Officials from the state, speaking to our correspondents on Sunday, criticized the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s continuous diversions from FAAC monies to support fuel subsidies, stating that the issue would be discussed at the meeting on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, the NNPC was set to remove N270.83 billion from the January FAAC allocations, which would be divided by state, federal, and local governments.
Asuquo Ekpenyong, Junior, the Cross River State Commissioner for Finance, verified to one of our correspondents that the FAAC meeting will take place between Wednesday and Thursday.
In its December 2021 report to the FAAC, the NNPC announced that it will deduct some monies as a value shortfall sustained by the oil company in January 2022.
During the FAAC meeting in January, the company said it would subtract N270.83 billion from the amount to be split by the three tiers of government.
It said, “The estimated value shortfall of N270,831,143,856.56 is to be recovered from December 2021 proceed due for sharing at the January 2022 FAAC meeting.
“This value shortfall consists of N220,110,853,427.56 for November and N50,720,290,429.00 deferred for recovery in December 2021 FAAC report.”
Deductions unjustifiable – Delta
Speaking ahead of the FAAC meeting, the Delta State Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Fidelis Tilije, in an interview, said that the Finance Commissioners’ Forum had made a series of conclusive resolutions on the deductions by the NNPC to finance fuel subsidy.
According to him, state governments will continue to oppose the deductions, which he described as non-transparent.
Tilije, who chaired the finance commissioners forum’s committee on the Petroleum Industry Act, said, “The issue of removal of fuel subsidy is the Federal Government’s responsibility and not FAAC responsibility.
“Ours is to look at sources of funding and expenditure. We have made a series of conclusive resolutions on the need for subsidy to be removed on one angle and secondly to also check the NNPC because we don’t know who is checking on what kind of subsidy they are paying.
“Because they are the one collecting the subsidy and they are the one spending it. Those issues have been queried, of course, the Federal Government is in charge of the NNPC and the NNPC also behaves like a law. Until the Federal Government can take a decision on the issue of subsidy and there is nothing anybody can do.
“But unfortunately the Federal Government is also saying that it will need the state governors to guarantee the wellbeing of the people and ensure that there is no labor strike in their various states before they can remove subsidy. Who does that?”
When asked about the stand of states ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, he stated, “We have always been kicking against it (deductions for subsidy) and we will continue to kick against it, what we are saying is that the subsidy they are paying cannot be justified.
“We don’t know the exact figure we are consuming on a daily basis but their own argument is that now the price of crude oil has gone up and if you sell the crude oil at a high price and import petrol, you will have to be buying the petrol at a high price but for me, it is not true.”
It’s injustice against Ekiti – Commissioner
On his part, the Ekiti State Commissioner for Finance, Akin Oyebode, expressed the opposition of the state government to the deduction of money for fuel subsidy from the Federation Account without the consent of states.
Oyebode, who said he could only speak for his state, said such deductions, which exemplified the country’s flawed fiscal federalism, amounted to injustice to some states including Ekiti.
The commissioner said, “I have been on record at the various Federation Accounts Allocation Committee meetings to state my vehement opposition to the continued deduction of subsidy without subjecting it to the consent of the states”.
He suggested two options for the Federal Government to resolve the issue going forward.
Oyebode said, “The issue is very clear, if the Federal Government decides in its wisdom to operate the subsidy on petroleum products without getting the consent of states, then it should bear the cost of the subsidy 100 percent and that cost should be taken from the Federal Government’s share of the Federation Account, not deducted at source from the Federation Account.
“And in the event that we, as a country, agree to continue with the subsidy regime, then the deduction should be made in line with the consumption of petroleum products in each state.
“A situation where Ekiti, for example, that consumes less than one percent of petroleum products gets a deduction of N3bn a month, is a significant loss to Ekiti. We could have used that money to meet all sorts of different demands from our people.
“We believe that this is again another example of the flawed fiscal federalism structure that we operate. Of course, this subsidy request has been tabled at FAAC, all we get at the meetings are reports of deductions taken at the source which I very strongly believe are even unconstitutional because these are not subject to appropriation.
“The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, in its wisdom, just comes and reports that this is how much was taken and they call it some funny names, but we know what it is – deductions for subsidy.”
Oyebode said that a curious aspect of the whole thing was that “there is even no basis for interrogating if in truth the volume of products on which subsidy had been charged had actually even got to the consumers.”
We are not in charge of Subsidy – NNPC
But when contacted, the spokesperson of the NNPC, Garba-Deen Mohammad, told our correspondent that the issue of petrol subsidy was beyond the control of the oil firm.
He stated that with the advent of the Petroleum Industry Act, the matter of subsidy was outside the control of the NNPC but was a matter being handled by the Federal Government.
Garba-Deen said, “Subsidy is not under the control of the NNPC. The subsidy is now a PIA issue and it will be determined by the principles of the Petroleum Industry Act. Not by the NNPC.
“The NNPC is an operator now in the market, just like Shell or Chevron or like any other oil company. So I don’t know anything you are talking about.”
When probed further on whether petrol subsidy would be stopped, replied, “We are speaking the same thing, I say I don’t know. I have no idea, I am just an employee of the NNPC.”
Nigeria’s Debt Stock Hits N39.6tn In 11 Months – Reports
The overall debt stock of Nigeria increased from N32.9 trillion in December 2020 to N39.6 trillion in November 2021.
The Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, in her presentation of the 2022 approved budget, disclosed that the government borrowed N6.7tn between January and November 2021, according to a copy of the presentation obtained by our correspondent.
The new borrowing in the period under review consists of N5.1tn domestic debt and N1.6tn. The domestic debt, however, includes borrowing from the Central Bank of Nigeria, according to the presentation document.
In March 2021, the Debt Management Office had disclosed that the country’s total public debt stock was N32.9tn as of December 2020.
An additional N6.7tn loan means the total public debt stock would be about N39.6tn as of November 2021.
The DMO had disclosed that the country’s total public debt increased to N33.1tn at the end of the first quarter of 2021, from N32.9tn in December 2020, showing an increase of about 200bn.
In Q2 2021, the total debt stock rose by N2.4tn to N35.5tn by June 2021.
The increase continued by N2.5tn to hit N38tn by Q3 2021, which was the last figure provided by the DMO.
However, based on the minister’s presentation, there was an increase of N1.6tn from September to November 2021.
The PUNCH had reported that within the 11-month period, debt servicing gulped N4.2tn which represents 76.2 percent of the N5.51tn revenue generated during the period.
The minister defended government borrowing and the country’s debt level, insisting the country had a revenue challenge, and not a debt problem, adding that the debt level was still within sustainable limits.
She had said, “This is to restate, that the debt level of the Federal Government is still within sustainable limits. Borrowings are essentially for capital expenditure and human development as specified in Section 41(1) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007.
“Having witnessed two economic recessions we have had to spend our way out of recession, which contributed significantly to the growth in the public debt. “It is unlikely that our recovery from each of the two recessions would have been as fast without the sustained government expenditure funded partly by debt.”
However, economic experts, including a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and former presidential candidate, Kingsley Moghalu, have countered the minister.
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