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FG, resident doctors reach accord, may suspend strike on Monday

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The Federal Government is set to begin the implementation of the agreement it reached with the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) tomorrow.

This, in turn, is expected to lead to the suspension of the strike by the doctors.

The implementation comes 19 days after resident doctors, under the aegis of National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) embarked on an industrial action.

After a two-day consultative meeting, which had representatives of the Ministries of Labour, and Health, the Budget Office, NMA and NARD, among others in attendance, Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said the new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) duels on all the 12 disputed issues.

Regarding the issue of non-payment of some house officers, the Minister said NARD is expected to submit the list of the affected 114 officers for further verification and when confirmed that they are genuine, and their IPPIS particulars and BVN are in order, they would be paid in September with the outstanding arrears.

He said an agreement was reached on the Residency Training Fund outstanding for 2020 and 2021, after the Budget Office had explained that N617, 429, 121 was the outstanding to be paid for year 2020.

Ngige said: “There are reconciliations to be done here because the 2020 was done with some errors. Some people, who are not supposed to benefit from the fund, got money and because of that, the number of genuine people that were not paid also came to that quantum of persons.

“So, reconciliation is being done and some monies are being returned. We have given a timeline for this reconciliation to be done.

“And for the 2021, the money approved by Government is N4.802billion. This money like I said earlier was contained in the 2021 Supplementary Budget, which the President signed on the eve of his departure to UK for the meeting and medical check-up.

“So, between that time and now, it became a money law. The funds have now been sourced and it has gotten from the CBN to the Budget Office where we expect it to be processed in one week as undertaken by the Government side.”

Ngige added that the meeting agreed that by next Friday, August 27, residents in institutions would have started getting their money, with each receiving about N542,000.

He noted that the issue of consequential adjustment on National Minimum wage cuts across the health and educational sectors, which were both affected by the projection of N160billion done in 2019, but which fell short of the people that were to benefit from this.

“The meeting agreed that the Budget Office of the Federation should start from the 2021 service vote to start paying. And if we have any leftovers, we roll it into the 2022.”

“Coming to hazard allowance, everybody agreed that the discussion is still ongoing and therefore government wants to finish it up. We agreed with NMA position that they don’t want to discuss holistically anymore as an association and that they have their own peculiarities that are not same with other health workers.

“We are going to do two meetings, one for NMA and affiliates and one for JOHESU. But we are taking the meetings concurrently so that we don’t run into troubled quarters. We are starting next week,” he explained.

Ngige said the meeting equally noted that the non-payment of skipping allowance cuts across the entire health sector and therefore agreed that it was going to be handled holistically, while awaiting the court judgment on the matter.

He hinted that the NMA has been directed to submit a written position on the controversial withdrawing NYSC doctors and house officers from the scheme of service to point out the anomaly in the circular, for onward transmission to Head of Service of the Federation, who will look at the inputs given by NMA to the circular and process it to either the Council of Establishment or handle it administratively, if the issues are not such of fundamental nature to further clarify it, adding that a two-month timeline has been set for this.

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The Minister added: “We also agreed on the migration of doctors on GFMIS from some university teaching hospitals, like University College Hospital Ibadan, University of Calabar Teaching Hospital and University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital, which have recruited doctors on GFMIS and were unable to pay them when GFMIS was tampered with.

“We can resume when we verify those people. They can be there until the recruitment is perfected in order to migrate them to IPPIS. In this wise, the Head of Service has granted waiver and revalidation of old waiver for University of Port Harcourt and waivers for University College Ibadan and Calabar. But this is not without reprimand for CMDS who have flouted government regulations by recruiting people into the service without fulfilling the requirements of circular on this.

“We also have issue of hazard allowances for doctors in government hospitals that did not benefit from that 2020 payment. The Federal Ministry of Health has compiled a list and we said that the list should be forwarded back again to the Federal Ministry of Finance. For doctors in University Clinics and the rest of them, we said they should route their own through the Federal Ministry of Education, their parent Ministry and Employer.”

On the controversial issue of NSIWC circular, removing doctors in academia from CONMESS and also doctors who are doubling as honorary consultants/lecturers from CONMESS to CONUAS, Ngige said government had before NARD’s request, treated one leg of it by obeying the court order already gotten by them and in spirit of dialogue, government said further discussions should continue with NSIWC.

He said: “NMA has undertaken that they should tell the two members and their association to do an out of court settlement by withdrawing the matter from the industrial court until we finish the negotiation. We gave a time for negotiation.

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“We have empanelled a committee with NMA leading, including NSIWC, Federal Ministry of Health, Federal Ministry of Labour and others in the team. The first inaugural meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 31, we are hopeful that this meeting will give us suggestion on how to resolve the matter.”

On the issues relating to states, he said there is no way the Federal Government will start pulling the states on the issue of domestication of Medical Residency Training Programme by their various Houses of Assembly and Government and issue of Medical Training Residency Fund.

“We have before now made contact with the Governors’ Forum on these matters and the onus is now on us as the Ministry of Labour to talk to the Governors’ Forum and impress on them the need for this to be done. The Medical Residency Training and accompanying Fund is already in the Act, which the Federal Government has signed. We will impress it on them as part of strengthening the health system so that we are not starved of specialist doctors. There is an urgent need for them to adopt that. This will also help us to stem the issue of brain drain. The Federal Government cannot employ everybody. We want state governments to pay more attention to secondary and tertiary health,” the Minister said.

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2023: Disquiet as 12 PDP govs back northern President

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Ahead of its October 30 and 31 national elective convention, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, appears to have chosen to pick its National Chairman and 2023 presidential candidate from the South and North respectively.

Although, the zoning committee chaired by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State failed to make a categorical statement on the distribution of offices in the National Working Committee when it met in Enugu last week, it is expected to do so when it converges on Wednesday this week.

12 out of the 13 governors elected on the platform of the party, it was learnt, have unanimously endorsed the retention of the National Chairman in the South. Thus, despite the exit of suspended Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, the office will remain in the South, with the South-West tipped to produce the next Chairman.

Retaining the Chairman in the South automatically makes the North the preferred zone for the presidential ticket in 2023.

However, that Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State had done everything possible to prevail on the Ugwuanyi, committee to throw the race for the national chairmanship open to all zones.

His argument was premised on the notion that good, capable hands to steer the affairs of the party abound everywhere in the country. Wike had further argued that zoning any of the party offices may deny PDP the opportunity of having the best man for the job at the helm at Wadata.

Were this to have scaled through, the party would have been left with no option but to similarly throw open the presidential ticket to all party leaders regardless of their states of origin.

Plausible as the reasons he advanced were, the Rivers governor soon realized that he was a lone ranger as his colleagues faulted his stand and opted for a Chairman of southern extraction.

A national officer of the party, who joined hands with Wike in the clamour for Secondus’ removal, noted that the governors chose to back out of Wike’s ship because it is “more of personal interest than for the good of the party.”

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official said contrary to the argument of Wike, “his colleague governors are aware that he has his eyes fixed on the 2023 presidency. He knows that a southern chairman will make it difficult for the PDP to have a presidential candidate from the South. So, he wasn’t asking that the race be thrown open for no reason.

He wants to vie for the highest elective office in 2023 but I think it is clear to him now that the PDP cannot oblige his dream for now. The governors are of the opinion that if the ruling party is going South, it must head in the opposite direction to seize the moment,” he said.

A PDP governor from the North-East, this medium gathered, had argued convincingly in one of their meetings in Abuja recently on the danger of fielding a southern presidential candidate in 2023. He was said to have told his colleagues and other party faithful that a good number of northerners in the ruling party would vote the PDP if it fields a northern candidate as the APC is expected to field a southerner. The meeting attended by all the PDP governors lay to rest the possibility of zoning the presidency away from the North.

Although, the source noted that Wike has not completely ruled out his presidential ambition, he is now ready to team up with his colleagues to have the chairmanship retained in the South provided the South-South and South-East are excluded. This position was well received by the zoning committee’s meeting in Enugu last week.

“Wike, alongside the Oyo Governor Seyi Makinde wants to see Chief Olagunsoye Oyinlola as the next PDP Chairman. They are not alone in this. Ab initio, Wike knew that his pro-South presidency on the platform of the PDP is difficult to sell just as having a northerner as PDP Chairman is.”

The alternative choice is that yes, the South can have the chairmanship provided it is not going the way of the South-South. He won’t back the South-East for the position either because his long-time friend, Oyinlola, is interested in the office,” he added.

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SANs tackle Malami, insist VAT not on Exclusive List

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Senior lawyers yesterday faulted the claim by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), that the Value Added Tax (VAT) is on the Exclusive Legislative List.
In an interview in New York, Malami was quoted as saying that no state has the power to lay claim to the collection of the VAT across the federation.

“A lot has precluded the state from collecting value-added tax. One, generally speaking, as you rightly know, the issue of the Value-Added Tax is an issue on the Exclusive Legislative List,” Malami said.
“And the implication of being in Exclusive Legislative List matter is that only the National Assembly can legislate on it. The question that you may perhaps wish to address your mind on is whether there exists any national legislation that has conferred the power on the state to collect VAT. And my answer is ‘no’.

“In the absence of a law passed by the national assembly in that direction, no state can have a valid claim to a collection of Value-Added Tax.

“The responsibility, right and constitutional power to legislate on a collection of VAT is exclusively and constitutionally vested in the national assembly and not in the state,” Malami reportedly explained.

But in separate interviews, some senior lawyers challenged the minister to point out where VAT was mentioned in the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).

Human rights lawyers, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Dr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN), and Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (SAN), among others, faulted Malami in separate responses .

But another senior lawyer, Mr. Ahmed Raji (SAN) expressed the belief that Malami was misquoted, not heard properly, or misrepresented in his claim that VAT is on the Exclusive Legislative List.
On his part, Mr. John Baiyeshea (SAN) said whether it is the federal government or the state that is legally empowered to collect VAT, is a decision of the court and not the AGF or any lawyer.

The collection of VAT has been a subject of national debate since Justice Stephen D. Pam of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt ruled that the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) lacked the power to collect taxes not listed under Items 58 and 59 of Part I of the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution.

The FIRS had challenged the decision of the Federal High Court at the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division.
The appellate court had ordered the Rivers and Lagos State governments to maintain the status quo, pending the resolution of the legal dispute on the matter.

Dissatisfied with the decision of the appellate court that directed all parties to maintain the status quo, the Rivers State Government approached the Supreme Court, asking it to set aside the decision of the appellate court.

Citing different judicial precedents and constitutional provisions to disprove Malami’s position, Falana said the constitutional powers and competence of the federal government “is limited to taxation of incomes, profits and capital gains which does not include VAT.”

Falana argued that in both E.C. Ukala versus FIRS and Attorney-General of Rivers State versus FIRS, the Federal High Court held that there “is no constitutional basis for the FIRS to demand and collect VAT, Withholding Tax, Education Tax and Technology Levy in Rivers State or any other state of the federation.”

Specifically, the human rights activist contended that the federal government “cannot collect VAT or any other species of sales, or levy other than those specifically mentioned in items 58 and 59 of the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution.”

He, therefore, argued that the two decisions “cannot be faulted on legal grounds. Until the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court sets them aside, to that extent, the decisions of the Federal High Court remain the law and as they cannot be impugned by any ex-cathedral statement or political opinion of any public officer, no matter how highly placed.”

Falana said since it would be problematic to set aside the judgments of the Federal High Court, the federal government might wish to embark on a consultation to let all the stakeholders appreciate the need to have a central collection system through the FIRS.

Falana, a former President of the West African Bar Association (WABA), however, observed that the federal government should be prepared to review the unjust distribution formula if it wanted the FIRS to collect the VAT.

Falana said in 2020: “The total VAT collected was N1.53 trillion. Apart from the allocation of 15 per cent to the federal government, the FIRS deducted four per cent as a collection fee while the Nigeria Customs Service deducted seven per cent from import VAT. There are some criteria involved in the distribution of FIRS that ought to be reviewed.”

Falana argued that having acknowledged the lacuna in the Constitution, the FIRS had mobilised the National Assembly to amend the law, noting that the attempt to use the federal legislature “will not work, as it is a non-starter.

“In Attorney-General of Ogun State versus Aberuagba, the Supreme Court stated categorically that the Sales Tax Law of Ogun State was invalid as it encroached on the exclusive legislative powers of the federal government. That was the prevailing situation in the Second Republic. But the judgment is not applicable under the current political dispensation.

“In other words, the VAT cannot be located in either the Exclusive or Concurrent Legislative List. Hence, it is a residual matter within the legislative competence of the House of Assembly of each State of the Federation,” Falana noted.

He, however, explained that the federal government might wish “to propose an amendment to the Constitution by putting VAT in the Exclusive Legislative List since another constitutional review is in progress.

“It is pertinent to point out that VAT was increased by the National Assembly last year, albeit illegally. But the increase has not had any positive impact on the Nigerian people.
“The essence of paying VAT and other taxes has long been defeated as governments have abandoned the provision of social amenities for the people,” he said.

Faulting Malami’s position yesterday, Ozekhome observed that the VAT “is not anywhere reflected in the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution.”

The senior advocate noted the judgment of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt Division held that the VAT was not a matter within the Exclusive Legislative List.

He, therefore, added that the VAT “is a matter, which the state governments can or should legislate upon. As a result, there is now a law in Rivers State, which makes VAT an exclusive matter within the jurisdiction of the state. That is the present position.

“So, the mere pronouncement of the attorney-general in the faraway US cannot change the law, neither can it change an extant subsisting judgment of a competent court of law, which has not been set aside by the Court of Appeal. And that remains the law.”

On his part, Adegboruwa reinforced Ozekhome’s viewpoint, challenging the AGF to explain why the FIRS wrote a letter to the National Assembly to list the VAT on the Exclusive Legislative List if it was already there.

He, therefore, contended that the VAT “is not on the Exclusive Legislative List at all. If indeed it were on it, why would FIRS write a letter to the National Assembly, seeking to put VAT on the Exclusive Legislative List?”

The senior advocate added that all states across the federation “are thus entitled to make laws on VAT, through their various Houses of Assembly.
“This is the best way to end the controversy on the VAT. The federal government has no power in law to dabble into any matter that is not within its competence,” the senior advocate explained in his three-paragraph.

Another senior lawyer, Mr. Ahmed Raji (SAN) observed that a court of competent jurisdiction “has made a pronouncement which has been appealed. The matter is subjudice. The golden rule in ethics is that the appeal court should be allowed to rule before any further comments for or against”.

Raji expressed the belief that the AGF was misquoted, not heard properly, or misrepresented.
He, however, advised that all parties should focus their attention on the contents of their brief of arguments to be filed before the appeal court or Supreme Court as the case may be.

Similarly, Baiyeshea (SAN) said whether it is the federal government or the state that is legally empowered to collect VAT, is a decision of the court and not the AGF or any lawyer.
The senior advocate noted that he would not want to make the same mistake by the AGF by commenting on a case that is already before the court,

Baiyeshea said: “I will not like to make the same mistake with Malami by commenting on a matter that is before the Court of Appeal presently.
“All lawyers and indeed senior lawyers should know that we are not permitted to comment on or express an opinion on subjudice matters.

“Be that as it may, whatever the AGF has said will not matter. What matters is the decision of the superior court (in this instance, the Court of Appeal), which we are all waiting for. The matter will not stop at the Court of Appeal.

“It will certainly get to the Supreme Court. Whatever pronouncement the Supreme Court makes (based on interpretation of the relevant provisions of the Constitution), will eventually be the law. Therefore, what the AGF or any other lawyer or persons have said or may say, will at best be speculative opinions.”

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IPOB ‘bans’ Nigerian flag in South- east

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The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has declared October 1 a sit-at-home day and banned the Nigerian flag in the South-East.

The media and publicity secretary of the group, Emma Powerful, in a statement made available to the media in Awka, Anambra State, said the ban began on Saturday.

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The statement reads, “The IPOB has declared October 1, 2021 a total shutdown in Biafra land as a sign of our rejection of the evil construct called Nigeria and there shall be no movement in Biafra land on this day.

“Also, the IPOB has declared that from today, September 25, 2021, all Nigerian flags mounted anywhere in Biafra land must be brought down. The IPOB leadership will communicate to banks directly and give them a reason they must peacefully bring down Nigerian flags in their banking premises before we do it ourselves in our own way.

“Everybody must strictly adhere to this directive. We want to let the world know that Biafra land is not Nigeria and shall not be. A word is enough for the wise.

“In line with the memorandum of understanding and alliance between Ambazonia and Biafra nations, members of the IPOB, under the command of our great leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, wish to ask Biafrans to support and celebrate Ambazonia Independence anniversary on October 1, 2021.

The statement added, “We advise Biafrans to stand with Ambazonia people as they celebrate their God-given freedom and independence. We should bear in mind that our brothers and sisters in Ambazonia are passing through persecutions in the hands of murderous Cameroonian government, just like Biafrans are facing similar ordeals in the hands of the Federal Government of Nigeria, which sympathises with terrorists but kills peaceful agitators.

“We, therefore, urge world leaders to use the opportunity of the ongoing United Nations General Assembly meeting to discuss the sufferings of the two persecuted nations of Biafra and Ambazonia. Our people have suffered enough in the hands of our oppressors, who are in bed with terrorists but derive pleasure in crushing peaceful agitators instead of addressing our genuine concerns.”

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