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VAIDs: Saving Nigerians from UK law

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In our secondary school days, those unfortunate enough to lose their belongings would be admonished ‘lost property… careless owner’. The United Kingdom Government is planning to teach many high networth Nigerians and some members of our middle class, a financially painful school lesson.
In recent years, the UK had one of the best performing property markets in the world. It was buoyed by inflows from Russia, China, Dubai and Nigeria. With high global oil prices, this new class of super-rich were feted and courted by the British with few questions asked as they snapped up attractive UK properties. But there were warnings that all was not well. In March 2015, Reuters cited the UK as a haven for illicit funds.
Transparency International’s Executive Director, Robert Barrington, in 2015 said, “There is growing evidence that the UK property market has become a safe haven for corrupt capital stolen from around the world, facilitated by the laws which allow UK property to be owned by secret offshore companies.” Over 36,000 properties in London, mainly in highbrow areas, are said to be owned by offshore companies. Various reports cited London as a money laundering haven, but the UK Government was conspicuously silent on the issue, turning a blind eye as millions of dollars poured in.
Sceptics may suggest that the UK Government is looking for how to fund the bill for its Brexit divorce from the European Union or to finance its budget deficit. Whatever the reason, the new UK law that introduces ‘Unexplained Wealth Orders’ is a carefully devised move that could see a massive transfer of wealth from Nigeria and the countries mentioned above to Britain.
From January 31, 2018, new powers enable the UK government to query ‘Unexplained Wealth’ and seize assets whose funding source cannot be explained. UK Courts can grant Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) and forfeit property for which the owners are unable to prove the source of fund. The properties will be transferred to the UK Government and sold to fund their law enforcement efforts.
Whilst the narrative in the UK is that the plan is to tackle Russian oligarchs, Nigerians will undoubtedly be affected due to their love for all things British and the threshold is just £50,000 (N25 million).
According to a British law firm, Mishcon de Reya, the requirements for obtaining the UWOs include that “there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the known sources of the respondents’ lawfully obtained income would have been insufficient for the purposes of enabling them to obtain the property.”
There is a special focus on politically-exposed persons, but there is an implied presumption of guilt for non-politicians too. Interestingly, the orders can be obtained even if the property was purchased before the law came into effect and it does not matter where the property is located, whether or not the person resides in the UK or whether there may be other persons who hold the property. In summary, it will be relatively easy for UK Government to secure these orders against foreigners.
Those who have followed that standard advice to have two or even three layers of nominee ownership to shield the identity of the true owner will find themselves as targets. This standard structure, advocated by offshore specialists who set up trusts in Mauritius, British Virgin Islands and other havens, will not offer protection against UWO’s if the ultimate owner cannot explain the source of funds. The UK has already put in place the Beneficial Ownership register for Overseas Legal Entities. This means that a Nigerian who owns a UK property through a Mauritius-based Trust, for example, could see their names exposed and therefore need to prove the legitimacy of the source of funds.
However thankfully, for Nigerians there is a way out. This is one of those rare situations, where Nigerians should be extremely grateful to their government.
The ongoing Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme’s (VAIDS) tax amnesty is a potential escape. VAIDS allows Nigerians to regularise their tax status but importantly entails an asset declaration. This basically allows citizens to restate their income and assets over the last seven years and beyond. There is therefore hope of a valid defence against an UWO application. If a Nigerian is confronted with an UWO action, but had declared the asset and paid the right taxes no matter how many years after the purchase, it will be hard for the UK to justify a seizure.
Without the tax amnesty, Nigerians would be at serious risk, scrambling around to procure backdated tax clearance certificates which would be readily disregarded by the UK courts on the grounds that there would be no evidence of tax payment in the year under question. Of course, VAIDS was not designed as an amnesty for looted funds or hot money but it could offer a very valuable protection.
Nigerians have traditionally not paid taxes and have never been asked to fully explain their income. That era is over forever and with the volume of investments in the UK property market, we are particularly vulnerable. For the UK Government to dispute the validity of a VAIDS declaration that Nigeria has accepted and on which taxes have been paid, would violate the bilateral tax treaties between the two countries and would mean the UK questioning the legality of the Nigerian Government’s ongoing tax amnesty.
My simple advice to my fellow Nigerians first, is to thank President Muhammadu Buhari and his economic management team for this timely intervention but ask for an extension of time. Second, Nigerians should run, declare and regularise their tax status, so that the UK’s Unexplained Wealth law does not become an unexplained loss of wealth. Anyone ignoring this threat is doing so at his or her own peril.

·Olanitan, a tax lawyer, writes from South London

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Perspectives

Conjoined twins: The medical ‘miracle’ at FMC Yola

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The feat recorded at the Federal Medical Centre, Yola, recently, can best be regarded as a medical ‘miracle’. In view of the fact that members of the Joint Health Workers Union (JOHESU), were on strike, medical doctors, led by the medical director of the institution, Professor Auwal Muhammed Abubakar, embarked on a life-saving mission; a mission to separate a set of four-month old female twins joined together in the stomach named Fatimah and Maryam.

The twins were delivered by caesarean section in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital on November 25, 2017 with a combined weight of 4.5 kilograms. The twins shared a single umbilical cord and were joined from the mid thorax to the mid abdomen.

They were referred to the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Yola, Adamawa State, on March 25, 2018, to be separated and had been on admission since then. Preparations for the separation of the conjoined twins had been on since the arrival of the babies at the facility but the industrial action by JOHESU became a spanner in the life and death situation of the twins.

But not to be daunted by the strike, the medical team decided to separate the twins on Monday, May 14, 2018. Fatimah and Maryam, now having a combined weight of 11 kilograms, were moved to the theatre surrounded by more than 10 medical doctors. Other professionals deployed for the surgery included surgeons, anaesthetics, radiologists, laboratory scientists, preoperative nurses, cleaners, ICT and the media, to save lives.

After four hours of surgery, they were transferred to the intensive care unit of the health facility for post-operative management. In what looks like a miracle, Fatimah and Maryam were transferred to the ward on the second day after the surgery, after being certified fit following the resumption of normal feeding.

The leader of the operating team, Professor Auwal Muhammed Abubakar, who is also the Medical Director of the FMC, Yola, attributed the success of the operation to the spirit of team work and adequate planning.

He told the media at the end of the operation that: “You are aware that the team is a combination of different professionals; surgeons, anaesthetics, radiologists, laboratory scientists, the people managing the theatre, the cleaners, the media, information and communication talking about your people, you know.

We’ve had several meetings and drills. We made sure that the facilities to be used were set and the medical consumables necessary for the surgery were on ground. You see that everything worked according to plan. We successfully separated the conjoined twins,” Auwal said.

Though the cost of surgery for the separation of the conjoined twins would run into millions of naira, when asked about who shouldered the financial responsibility for the surgery, Prof. Auwal said that the surgery was carried out free of charge as a Corporate Social Responsibility on the side of FMC Yola.

“The Federal Medical Centre, Yola, actually took the financial responsibility, considering the fact that the parents would not have been able to afford to foot the bills and the bills are also so much that we didn’t want to burden them.

“During investigations, the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri did the CT scan free of charge. The Adamawa- German Medical Centre, Yola, also assisted. Another CT scan was also done free there. And everything for them has been free since they were transferred to this hospital”, Prof. Auwal said.

Prof. Auwal was asked how long the separated twins would stay in the health facility before they could be certified fit for discharge “Well, this is difficult to say, you know. It all depends on the postoperative outcome.

If they do very well, two weeks or less than two weeks will be enough for them to go home. We’re hoping that by two days’ time, they should be able to start oral feeding, this is going by the present assessment. Although, it is difficult to say for sure until the time comes. However, within two to three weeks, they should be able okay,” Prof. Auwal said.

He said that the cost of the surgery would come from the Hospital Paupers Fund, established by the hospital to raise money for the funding of indigent patients. Another prominent member of the facility that took part in the separation of the twins was Prof. Fola Faponle, a Professor of Anaesthesia, who was the leader of the anaesthetic team.

She said that after putting the babies to sleep before the surgery commenced, the team had the responsibility of observing them and stabilising them after the operation, in the intensive care.

She added that already, the babies were awake and stable. Prof. Faponla confirmed that positive postoperative management was expected, in the sense that the surgery was successful and that there was no complication relating to their hearts.

“We ensured that their drugs and everything necessary to ensure high level of care were readily available to take care of their needs; the blood was ready should in case they needed infusion, take care of their bowels and give them required anaesthesia and drugs”, she said. Dr. Raji Bello, Consultant Anaesthesia, is the head of anaesthesia department with FMC Yola. Like Prof. Faponla said, he reiterated that everything went well preoperatively, ‘We didn’t also expect much challenges during the postoperative period. It was to be a routine exercise; the babies would be given intensive postoperative support that patients need when they are recovering.

Other than that, we don’t anticipate much problem,” Dr. Raji said. Muhammad Ramat, 30, and Kellu Adam, 27, are the parents of babies Fatimah and Maryam. Married in 2015, the conjoined twins are their first and only children.

They were highly appreciative of the corporate social responsibility rendered to them by the management of FMC Yola. “We had faith that the surgery to separate our conjoined babies would be a successful one, especially when we were counselled by Prof. Auwal Muhammad Abubakar and Dr. Wabada Samuel to be strong, hopeful and confident. The contributions of Professor Fola Faponle in strengthening our faith is also worthy of mention.

“It was not only the surgery that was done free of charge, everything was free; our feeding, accommodation, medicine and general post operative management were all free. We thank the management of FMC Yola for their professionalism and philanthropy. “We are also soliciting on behalf of FMC Yola, for the government to provide the hospital with the needed hi-tech medical facilities like the MRI and the CT scan to be able to improve upon their efficiency and effectiveness.

Individuals could also make generous contributions. “We’re also soliciting for assistance from the government and individuals for the sake of our twin babies to have a meaningful future,” the parent said. JOHESU strike notwithstanding, the happy parents of Fatimah and Maryam would have positive things to say about the health care system in the country for good.

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Perspectives

2019: Now that the gloves are finally off

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About five years ago, a coalition of parties came together with much fanfare, to fight a common enemy – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The parties in question, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), led by Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha, realised that they really had no choice but to unite having gone to battle previously individually and lost every time against the then ruling party.

And so a common objective ensured that whatever doubts they had was suppressed, because they knew that this was the only way to achieve their desire of supplanting the PDP in Aso Rock. Just like a couple meeting each other for the first time when being smitten ensures that whatever flaws either party has will not be an issue because of the euphoria of being in “love”.

It is only when the couple finally get into the grove that they begin to notice the flaws in each other and doubts start to crop up prompting the parties to query if their union. And thus the “honeymoon” phase of the relationship of the four parties carried took them across the finishing line in the 2015 general elections, where they finally ended the 16 year rule of the “largest party in Africa”.

However, even the epoch-making victory was not enough to properly patch up the fault lines that had been simmering beneath the surface.

In fact I was told on good authority that tensions along the fault lines began almost immediately after the election when the main beneficiary, Muhammadu Buhari, opted to stay up north rather than coming down south to “celebrate” with those who played prominent roles in making his dream come true.

But like newlyweds the impact of the achievement meant that rather than making their disquiet known publically, the aggrieved parties opted not rock the boat and see how things would eventually pan out.

However, the first major public cleavage in the party was exposed on June 9, 2015 when it came to the issue of naming principal officers for both chambers of the 8th National Assembly. While the powers that be in the party had already decided on how the “sharing formula” would work, apparently more powerful forces ensured that they supplanted the “opposition” and got all their men into office.

Shockingly for the APC hierarchy, for the first time in the history of the Senate, the party that lost power, the PDP, ensured that they were still “in power” by securing the Deputy Senate Presidency slot for their person, Ike Ekweremadu. All efforts to get the “anomaly” reversed failed; instead the Senate leadership even waxed stronger and has often been at loggerheads with its own party which controls the execute arm of government.

Nonetheless, rather than the situation improving things only got worse with reports emerging that six months after the victory when the President finally revealed his ministers, one of the major protagonists behind the merger was short changed as none of his nominees made the “saints’ list”.

In fact, all his perceived enemies from the South-West were instead made ministers. Of course, the rumour mill went into overdrive with reports speculating that it was a deliberately action to whittle down the powers of the powerbroker in his zone. Despite this, however, the man in question still refused to rock the boat, but kept his powder keg dry; not expressing his anger with the very public slight.

Finally, just over one year of patching things the gloves came off with the fault lines in the party being laid bare for all to see, when on Sunday, September 25, 2016, the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, asked the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun to resign claiming he “had derailed from the path of progressives”.

But even though this was a major earthquake, more recent developments indicate that if the party is not careful, it will be in for more testing times which could ultimately lead to its break up.

First the elections at the ward and state levels of the APC, which have taken place over the two preceding weekends, have clearly shown that whatever pretences the dramatis personnel were having in the run up to next year’s elections is finally over.

In virtually all states the elections were actually test of might of the various interests groups jockeying for positions ahead of the 2019 polls. In some instances it was governors against ministers, in some other instances it was governors against elected officials at the federal level, or governors against interest groups in the states. However, whatever is the bone of contention, the party elections have shown the whole nation that at the end of the day, individual interests of the politician outweighs every other interest. Added to the volatile mix was the sudden re-emergence of the New PDP (nPDP) which warned that they were unhappy that their members have not been “carried along” and threatened to pull out of the APC.

This prompted Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai to say that Buhari is capable of winning Kwara State, among some other states being led by members of the nPDP, if they should revolt against the President in 2019. To which the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, fired back, dismissing the governor’s assertion as being “laughable”.

Saraki told delegates to the state congress of the APC, jokingly: “I read some people saying they don’t need us to win Kwara, hmmmm, I laugh. Those who say they will win 2019 without Kwara support are not versed in history,” he said.

In keeping with the theme of the build up to next year’s polls, during the week, President Buhari personally joined the fray, slamming a high profile critic of his, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, claiming the former President had spent $16 billion on the power sector with the nation still in darkness.

Of course, not one to shirk from a fight, the former military Head of State fired back, claiming Buhari was “ignorant” and should take time to read his book “My Watch” to find out what happened to the allegation.

However, while this may make for good headlines, at the end of the day the electorate must be discerning enough to sieve through the propaganda and vote for the right candidates who have their interests at heart!

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Perspectives

Dismissed policemen, military men and robbery gangs

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Stories abound about dismissed soldiers and policemen who joined robbery and kidnapping gangs to torment and turn the guns against men and women who contributed money through payment of taxes to train them before their dangerous voyage into the world of crime.

When such men chose to be on the wrong side of the law and turned to a life of violent crimes, they do it with uncanny precision. Having received formal training on how to handle arms and ammunition, their dexterity in handling guns coupled with the sophistication of their ammunition fortified them against attacks from the legitimate security agents.

For some policemen and military men still in service, they actively participate in crimes, some rent out arms and ammunition from the armoury to criminals. Yet some provide information to such deadly gangs that make them evade arrest and even make policemen detailed to arrest members of the gang vulnerable and prone to attacks.

It is not in doubt that robbery and kidnapping gangs that have in their midst either dismissed, serving or retired military personnel and policemen are usually a hard nut to crack for security agents. In recent time, quite a number of such criminal groups have met their Waterloo.

In 2017, the Oyo State Police Command arrested a police inspector and a soldier attached to the 2nd Mechanised Division of the Nigerian Army and seven others for alleged various robbery operations in Ibadan and other major towns in the state.

The two uniformed men were identified as Inspector Herbert and Corporal Sikiru (surnames withheld). The policeman was said to have deserted for about a year, having served for over 34 years. Apart from robbing people of their cash and valuables, the gang also hijacked six trucks laden with petrol at different times before the bubble burst.

In their last operation on April 4, 2017, they hijacked a fuel tanker and even abducted the driver of the tanker whom they later dropped off. Also not quite long, the Ondo State Police Command arrested two serving soldiers and four other suspects for alleged involvement in a robbery on the Akure/Owo Expressway in Emure Ile in Owo Local Government Area of the state. Although the identities of the alleged soldier- robbers were concealed, they were arrested following a tip-off.

A similar arrest was made by the Kano State Police Command. Two former soldiers – Magaji Musa Majia and Jaduwa Thalma – were arrested in the Nigerian Army uniform. They were ambushed following a tip-off after allegedly trying to cross the border to Niger Republic with a brand new vehicle suspected to have been stolen. According to the police, the suspects in their confessional statements snatched the car in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, during a robbery operation.

The suspects took to crime after they were allegedly dismissed for deserting their post when they were posted to Baga, Borno State, on ‘Operation Lafiya Dole’ in the fight against insurgents. Even the infamous kidnap kingpin, Chukwudumeje Onwuamadike, alias Evans, had military personnel in his notorious gang.

The suspect, Lance Corporal Victor Chukwunonso, a soldier in the Nigerian Army, allegedly “confessed to have gone with Evans for kidnapping in Lagos State three times where he got N2 million, N1.5 million and N3 million respectively as his share.” And yet again, on Thursday, the police in Oyo State paraded two military personnel who deserted the Army and a Naval rating.

Private Azeez Olaide serving in 202 Battalion, Bama, Borno State, and Ibrahim Lawal, who deserted from the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria, Kaduna State, in 2004 were arrested for alleged armed robbery, kidnapping and rape.

But the Naval rating, Jimoh Adesoye, was arrested for alleged armed robbery, using his uniform to transport vehicles stolen by his gang to dispose them off. Although the trends appear to be common in recent times, the unholy alliance between robbery kingpins and men in uniform either serving or retired seemed to have started way back in 1973 when Isiaka Busari, otherwise known as ‘Mighty Joe’ was arrested.

Shortly after the celebrated execution of Ishola Oyenusi, perhaps, the most dangerous and deadliest Nigerian armed robber in 70s, Mighty Joe, who was Oyenusi’s second in command, took over the crime scene as the king of the underworld. His reign of terror shook Lagos, which was the capital of Nigeria, to its foundation.

Mushin, where Mighty Joe resided, was a territory on its own, and he ruled the area with impunity until he had his back to the wall when he robbed a hotel bar attendant, Michael Osayunana of N10. This was at a time when naira was stronger than most currencies of the world. It was a period when N10 was enough to start a good business.

The man Mighty Joe had robbed repeatedly recognised him and pointed him to the police. Mighty Joe, who dubbed himself as ‘Strong man of Idi Oro’, an area in Mushin, was arrested with ease contrary to his claim that no man born of woman could arrest him. On the day he had a date with the executioner at the famous Bar Beach after he was found guilty and sentenced to death by a court, Mighty Joe was executed alongside his sidekick, Basiru Fatola, a former soldier.

His execution was of course the banner headline of Nigeria’s most famous newspaper then, Daily Times, with the headline: ‘As mighty bullets silence Mighty Joe, it is…THE END’, with his picture when he was tied to the stake as the major one on the cover of the newspaper.

Nigerians will also not forget so soon the role played by the police in the Lawrence Anini saga, the dare-devil armed robber who held the old Bendel State by its jugular in 1986 before he was smoked out of his hole by a 10-man police team led by Kayode Uanreroro. Although Anini, otherwise known as ‘The Law’, patronised herbalists who fortified him with amulets, the complicity of the policemen, particularly DSP George Iyamu made it extremely difficult to get him on time. Iyamu did not only give Anini and his gang intelligence report that placed him ahead of the police, he also provided arms and ammunition to the robbers that took delight in killing policemen at every given opportunity.

While many had thought, his assorted charms imbued him with the power to disappear whenever the police closed in on him, Anini, who chickened out immediately he was arrested, squealed like a stuck pig and sang like a parrot revealed how Iyamu would reveal police secret, their plans, provided logistics and later joined the gang to share in the booty after each operation.

And in the insurgency war, there are plenty stories of how serving, retired and dismissed soldiers have joined forces with Boko Haram terrorists to unleash mayhem on military men, military formations and even innocent civilians.

The recent Offa bank robbery in which nine policemen and many civilians were gruesomely murdered, the arrest of a dismissed policeman and a serving police sergeant is another sad reminder of involvement of policemen and military men in crimes. As a policeman is doing an atom of good somewhere, there are many others either aiding or abetting crimes or are actively taking part in crimes elsewhere.

The major breakthrough by the police in arresting the perpetrators of the Offa bank robbery has confirmed that given the right support, the Nigeria Police can break any criminal gang no matter how sophisticated the gang is.

But this can only be if the welfare of the men who risk their lives for Nigerians to sleep with their eyes closed is guaranteed. This is aside provisions of modern equipment and consistent training in line with modern policing. The case of the rank and file who actually confront criminals should not be a case of ‘monkey dey work, baboon dey chop’ as is often the case.

While taking to crimes should not be an option, aggrieved men in the police and military will always find a way to release their pent-up emotion and unleash their anger on innocent citizens.

A visit to some police barracks across the country, will give one the impression that some of those apartments are meant for pigs. It is a national disgrace that men saddled with responsibility of securing the lives and property of the citizens live in a filthy environment.

While excessive greed is a factor that drives some policemen and soldiers to crimes, it is also not right for policemen to be poorly remunerated while the senior officers live ostentatious lifestyle that is not commensurate with their legitimate earnings. It should be the concern of the police and military authorities to find out why some of their serving men take to crimes and how such practice can be stopped. Beyond greed, it could be a psychological problem that requires a continuous orientation as a solution.

It could also be a problem associated with faulty recruitment exercise that allows criminals to infiltrate the police and army. It is even worse when policemen and military men are dismissed without finding a way to monitor their activities when they are no longer in service.

Such men are usually aggrieved even if they deserved being pushed out of service for going against their rules of their engagement. The fact that they have been well trained to handle arms makes such them potential danger when they take to crimes.

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