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Reps summon Gov. Alia’s Aide, others over missing N20bn Benue LG funds

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By Kayode Sanni-Arewa

The House of Representatives has summoned the Special Adviser to the Benue State Governor on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Dennis Akura and others, for interrogation over alleged embezzlement of 20 billion naira belonging to the 23 local government councils of the state.

Other persons to appear before the House with Akura are, the Directors-General Services and Administration (DGSAs) in the 23 local governments of Benue State, Cashiers and other key staff of the Benue State Government who will answer questions bordering on gross abuse of office and massive fraud.

Governor Hyacinth Alia’s Special Adviser, Akura and the others will be quizzed by the House of Representatives Committee on Public Petitions on Tuesday, 5th March, 2024 over the reported missing N20bn local government funds.

The letter summoning the LG Bureau Adviser and the others read that the petition will be heard and determined in their absence if they fail to honour the invitation on Tuesday.

“Whereas the above named petition is now pending before this Committee and the particulars aforesaid are already within your knowledge, and whereas, the petition has been assigned to be heard by the Committee for determination.

“YOU ARE HEREBY required to note Sections 88 and 89 (e) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and appear in person before this Committee on Tuesday, 5th March, 2024 at 2.00pm or so soon thereafter as the Committee shall direct.

“AND FURTHER TAKE NOTICE that if you do not attend the hearing as required, the case may be heard or determined in your absence”, the letter read.

The summon of Governor Alia’s Special Adviser by the House followed a petition brought to it by a pro-democracy, anti-corruption civil society organization, Global Integrity Crusade Network (GICN).

The group had written to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Department of State Services (DSS), as well as the National Assembly, demanding that the Special Adviser to the Governor Hyacinth Alia on Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Akura and others be arrested, interrogated and prosecuted for alleged diversion of local government funds.

In the said petition also sent to President Bola Tinubu, GICN, a group made up of lawyers, private investigators, human rights activists, media professionals and policy analysts, accused Akura of supervising brazen embezzlement and diversion of over N20 billion, being part of aggregate Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) funds which accrued to the 23 Local Government Councils in Benue State between June to November, 2023.

It said the LG Bureau under Governor Alia has been using some of its staff and privately owned companies to syphon the funds meant for local government councils in the state.

“From the records attached as APPENDIX 2A and 2B, the aggregate FAAC allocation received in the State Joint Local Government Account (SJLGA), maintained pursuant to Section 162(6) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) for onward disbursement to the 23 Local Government Councils within the period under review totals N55, 897,592,592.81 only.

“Out of the above sum, only N35,849,988,725.37 was disbursed to the 23 Local Government Councils. This left a balance of N20,051,603,867.44, which remains undisbursed, even though the SJLGA is supposed to be a transit account and not a savings account. It happened that Dr. Dennis Akura under the strict directives of Governor Alia, allegedly diverted the aforesaid N35,849,988,725.37 using staff of the Bureau as well as some companies they have registered mainly for that purpose…” the group stated.

The group urged the House, security agencies and anti corruption agencies, to ensure that Akura and others fingered in the petition are brought to justice and made to account for their actions.

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Nigeria becomes first country to introduce new 5-in-1 vaccine against meningitis – WHO

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By Francesca Hangeior

Nigeria has become the first country in the world to roll out a new vaccine – Men5CV – recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), to protect people against meningitis.

The World Health body, in a statement on Friday, said that the vaccine would protect people against five strains of Meningococcus bacteria and described Nigeria’s feat as historic.

It said that health workers would begin an immunisation campaign aimed at reaching one million people.

The statement said that the vaccine and emergency vaccination activities are funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which funds the global meningitis vaccine stockpile and supports lower-income countries with routine vaccination against meningitis.

According to the WHO, Nigeria is one of the 26 meningitis hyper-endemic countries in Africa, situated in the area known as the African Meningitis Belt.

It noted that in 2023, there was a 50 per cent jump in annual meningitis cases reported across Africa.

“In Nigeria, an outbreak of Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) serogroup C outbreak, led to 1,742 suspected meningitis cases, including 101 confirmed cases and 153 deaths in seven of the 36 Nigerian states between October 2023 and March 2024.
The states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Yobe, and Zamfara.

“To quell the deadly outbreak, a vaccination campaign was undertaken on March 25–28, 2024, to initially reach more than one million people aged 1-29 years,” it said.

The statement noted that meningitis is a serious infection that leads to the inflammation of the membranes (meninges) that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.

“There are multiple causes of meningitis, including viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic pathogens.

“Symptoms often include headache, fever, and stiff neck. Bacterial meningitis is the most serious and can also result in septicaemia (blood poisoning). It can seriously disable or kill within 24 hours,” the statement added.

It quoted Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, as saying that meningitis was an old and deadly foe, adding that the new vaccine holds the potential to change the trajectory of the disease, preventing future outbreaks and saving many lives.

“Nigeria’s rollout brings us one step closer to our goal of eliminating meningitis by 2030,” Ghebreyesus said.

He said that the revolutionary new vaccine offers a powerful shield against the five major strains of the meningococcal bacteria – A, C, W, Y, and X – in a single shot.

All five strains cause meningitis and blood poisoning.

According to him, this provides broader protection than the current vaccine used in much of Africa, which is only effective against the A strain.

He said that the new vaccine has the potential to significantly reduce meningitis cases and advance progress in defeating meningitis.

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Speaker Abbas mourns Ogbonnaya Onu

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By Gloria Ikibah
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Abbas Tajudeen, has expressed sadness over the death of Chief Ogbonnaya Onu, one of the founding fathers of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who died on Thursday.
Chief Onu, who was the first civilian governor of Abia State, served as the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation in the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari. He was aged 72.
Speaker Abbas, in his condolence message through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Musa Abdullahi Krishi, described the late Onu as a brilliant scholar, excellent engineer, disciplined politician and an elder statesman, whose passion for democracy and good governance was immeasurable.
The Speaker recalled how Chief Onu, as the national chairman of the defunct All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP), worked with leaders of other progressive legacy political parties to form the APC, with the aim of changing the country for the better.
Speaker Abbas commiserated with the Onu family, the people, and governments of Ebonyi and Abia States, while praying to God to grant him eternal rest.
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Hospital detains my wife, newborn triplets over unpaid bills – Physically–challenged photographer cries out

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My name is Maxwell Matthew. I was born in 1992. I am from Kogi State but I have lived in Edo State since childhood. I studied Biochemistry at Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, in the state. Before that, I ran a national diploma in Science Laboratory Technology at the Auchi Polytechnic, Auchi. I have been a photographer right from my secondary school days. I am married and live in Benin City with my wife. I am the first child of my family.

Were you born disabled?

No, I have not always been disabled. In 2014, I was involved in an accident when I was on my to cover a wedding in Benue State, and that was how I became disabled.

How has it been for you since then?

That year when I had that accident, I was about to enter the major seminary of the Catholic Church. So, I was in the hospital for almost a year. In 2015, I decided not to go back to the seminary because I was in a wheelchair.

All through the time I was in the hospital, I was confined to a wheelchair. I had to reach out to my catholic priest and tell him of my condition.

I told him that even if I were then on a wheelchair, I would love to go back to school. I had to sit the United Tertiary Matriculation Examination all over. I wrote the exam in a wheelchair. I also sat the Post-UTME and passed both. That was how I got admitted to study Biochemistry at AAU.

After a while, I started using a walker, the one that has four legs, to move. After a while, I was asked to start using crutches. So, from my 200 level to my final year, I was using crutches, and have been using them ever since.

What spurred you to continue schooling despite the disability?

I don’t want to be seen as a liability. I don’t want to have to beg to eat or be seen as a beggar simply because I have a disability.

I want to fulfill my destiny, and my life does not lie on my leg that was cut off. Whenever I go to the hospital, I always tell the nurses to stop telling me sorry because my head was not cut off.

If it was my head was cut off, then I would know that life is over. But, I am still alive. That means there is hope. I want to fulfill the destiny that God kept for me.

Education is part of the process that refines us to become who God wants us to become. I am the first child of my family, and I want to also be a role model to other of my siblings; because I feel that, if I give up now, it will affect my younger ones and those who are looking up to me.

This is why I decided to pick up the mess I found myself in and turn it into a message to the world so that the world would see that disability is not inability.

This was also why I reached out to my reverend father and he encouraged me to go back to school. He also supported me financially and morally. He was the one who bought my first JAMB form for me.

What are the difficulties you’ve faced so far?

The difficulties I faced, most especially during school days were the accessibility to the lecture rooms and the distance. It was not easy for me.

God helped me through, and a lot of people were involved in assisting me. My coursemates were nice to me and there for me. They helped me and assisted me in a way they could.

Was there any time you felt discriminated against?

Yes, of course. Discrimination has become part of me. A physically challenged person or a person living with a disability would always receive discrimination from one or two people in the community. Although we have loving people, who are always there to show us love, there are many good people out there who are ready to assist us.

Recently, I went to a particular church for a programme and I was asked to drop my crutches on the floor. They warned me never to put my crutches on the chair but on the floor. It got me so saddened. I looked at the usher in disbelief. I kept asking myself why an usher in the house of God would treat me like that. Those crutches are my legs; why should I drop them on the floor?

The pastor, who did not know what was going on, picked up the microphone and expressed anger. He wondered why I would be arguing with the ushers and disturbing the church. I was so embarrassed that day that I felt like the ground should open up and swallow me. I eventually walked out of the church feeling down, bad, angry, and deeply embarrassed.

There are always people who discriminate against me, even when I am trying to enter a public vehicle and some public places. As we receive warm welcomes sometimes, we also receive not-so-good ones at other times.

Some people don’t treat us well. I wouldn’t say because some people are not treating us well, we shouldn’t talk about those empathise with us.

Even during my service year, it was a wonderful experience, from my service to my PPA, God has always placed wonderful people on my way and I enjoyed my service year.

Where did you serve?

I served in the Edo State House of Assembly in Benin, and from 2022 to 2023; I was attached to the House of Assembly.

Did you get support from family?

My parents have been so wonderful. They always want to see me happy. I do not have anything to regret. My siblings, my friends, and especially two of my friends that I met at Auchi Polytechnic, have all been there for me.

How did you meet your wife?

Hmm… It’s been a wonderful experience getting married to my wife. I had known her from our secondary school days, but we were just distant friends. We didn’t live close to each other.

Funnily enough, she was a junior student in my secondary school. But, somehow, when she was serving, I was in my 300 level. One day, she reached out to me after she heard about my accident, and empathised with me. Apparently, since the accident, she had not been able to reach out to me.

So, she said that she would come to visit me. She asked me for my address and I sent it to her. So, when she got to Benin, I went to pick her up from a popular junction. When she saw me, she was shocked because she never knew how bad my accident was. We both went to the office where I was doing my internship. We spent the day together and she left.

We kept communicating until we fell in love. It was clear that we were both interested in each other.

At that time, a catholic priest encouraged me to settle down with a good lady. Then, I didn’t know how to go about it. He advised me to check amongst my friends and look for a good lady.

So, one day, I called my father and told him that there was a female friend of mine who came around and we used to know each other from secondary school. My father encouraged me to talk to her, so I later opened up to her.

What was her reaction when you told her?

It was like the same thing that was on her mind because there was no rejection or a no from her. It was as if she was expecting it.

What was the reaction of her family?

The truth is that, from the very first day, there was no discrimination, I was warmly welcomed by her dad and mum, and then I left.

It was after I left that I learnt that some distant relations, not the immediate family, started questioning my wife’s parents on why they would allow their daughter to marry a man with a disability.

You know there will always be bad eggs in the family. The tussle lasted for some months, but the parents stood their ground that since the daughter said it was me she wanted, they were going to support her.

The father called me and said I should bring my family to do the right thing. They also said they were not expecting a big wedding. They encouraged me to come with whatever I could afford and do the traditional marriage.

What year did you get married?

We got married in 2022 and we just gave birth to triplets. They were born on Good Friday.

So what was that thing that attracted you to your wife?

I will tell you that discipline is one of the core values that I saw in her. She is well-trained and an easygoing person. Then, we share the same ideologies. When you meet a real friend, you won’t have difficulty getting along with such a person.

She is not just my wife but she is my friend and sister. To date, she doesn’t look at my weaknesses or disability; she only concentrates on my ability. She became a good photographer because she was ready to learn.

When she told me she wanted to go and learn photography, I asked her if she wanted to learn because I am also a photographer, and she said no. Today, she is a good photographer and even better than I am.

Where is she from and how old is she?

She is from Isoko-North LGA in Delta State and I am a year older than her.

How did you feel when you heard about the news of the arrival of your triplets?

It was a mixed feeling, A few months into her pregnancy; we discovered that she was carrying triplets. I saw it as a challenge. I always had this feeling that whatever came my way, I could handle; not because I had the resources at hand but because God made it to come my way. That means God wants me to face it.

So, when I received the news, I was excited and joyful. At the same time, I began to wonder how I was going to survive in the economic situation. I am not that stable with my photographer. I just rounded off my national service. I don’t have a job that can sustain me and the family yet.

But, my wife has been a wonderful woman, very contented and managing what we have. She doesn’t complain or put pressure on me. She is a very strong woman who believes in me and that I can take care of her with the little I have, she never felt discouraged.

Since she gave birth on a Good Friday, she has been in the hospital with our triplets.

Why hasn’t she been discharged?

We’ve not completed our payments. The first bill we received was N455,000. I begged the doctor to reduce the money, explaining my condition, but there was no consideration.

I was only able to deposit N156,000. After some time, they brought another bill again, and up till now, my wife and triplets are still in the hospital.

So now, we still owe them close to N400,000 but I wouldn’t know what the next bill would be like including payment for the days they’ve been spending in the hospital.

I need good Nigerians to help me get a good job because if we can find our way to bring them out of the hospital, I need to take care of them and I wouldn’t want to keep managing terribly.

The mother and the babies have been in the hospital for more than two weeks now. They are in the Intensive Care Unit and are currently on oxygen because they are preterm babies kept in the incubator.

We need financial assistance to be able to take care of the children as I am not buoyant enough; I also need an artificial limb for easy movement.

Do you have a child before the triplets?

Yes, we have a son. The triplets are two boys and a girl. So, we have three boys and one girl in total.

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