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BREAKING: ECOWAS on high alert over another coup scare! *Security rumble in Sierra Leone

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Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), seems to be moving fast to contain a fresh coup within its region, with a warning to those it accused of plotting to jeopardise democracy and peace in Sierra Leone of the consequences of any such unacceptable action.

The warning is coming hours after Sierra Leone officials declared a nationwide curfew as of early Sunday following an attempted infiltration at the Wilberforce military barracks in Freetown, in a situation reports say is not immediately clear.

Media reports, quoting witness accounts, say sporadic gunfire erupted at or near the compound throughout the early hours of Sunday, November 26, with authorities said to have claimed they had repelled the attackers, during the incidents, which is coming few months after the last coup took place in Gabon, in Central Africa.

The coup in Gabon, which swept away Ali Bongo Odimba from power after decades of family rule on August 26, exactly three months of the Sierra Leonian incident, came on the heels of similar putsches in West Africa, with the latest being Niger Republic, where President Mohamed Bazoum, was ousted by Abdourahamane Tchiani, a General and Commander of the Presidential Guard.

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After the incident in Freetown the Sierra Leonian capital, officials advised the public to remain indoors; the duration of the curfew is unclear, against the reported expectation of heightened security and business and transport disruptions in the coming hours amid security operations and investigations.

ECOWAS, warning in Abuja, on Sunday, said: “The bloc has learnt, with utter disgust, a plot by certain individuals to acquire arms and disturb the peace and constitutional order in Sierra Leone. ECOWAS condemns this act and calls for the arrest and prosecution of everyone involved in the illegality.

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“The bloc has always maintained its zero-tolerance for unconstitutional change of government. We want to reaffirm our commitment to supporting the government and the people of Sierra Leone’s quest to deepen democracy and good governance by consolidating peace and security so as to foster socio-economic development.”

After the coup in Niger, on 26 July 2023, President Bola Tinubu, who assumed the leadership of the sub-regional body, weeks after his inauguration as Nigerian President on May, 29, 2023, had rallied other leaders of the group for action against the military leadership, which included military action.

However, the move seemed to have abated following the intervention of divergent stakeholders, including many leaders from Northern Nigeria, who warned that any military action in the country would have negative consequences due to its spillover effect as Niger bordered several states.

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BREAKING: One week after US Congress threat, Court frees, Binance boss

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Exactly one week after the US Congress, moved against Nigeria, Tigran Gambaryan, Head of Financial Crime Compliance of Binance, was let off the hook on Friday, as the Federal Government, dropped charges against him, with a Federal High Court in Abuja, discharging him on the four-count charge of financial crimes.

Sixteen members of the US Congress, had last week, written a letter of protest to President Joe Biden, demanding his intervention into the case of Gambaryan, who holds US citizenship, who they said was in danger of losing his life under terrible conditions in detention in Nigeria, while insisting on his immediate release.

The letter had alleged that Gambaryan, “has been wrongfully detained since late February after granting the Nigerian government’s request for discussions regarding the crypto giant’s business in the country. The government of Nigeria took Mr. Gambaryan hostage and thus needs his government’s help to be freed.”

Raising alarm over the state of his health, the group of lawmakers, which said: “Mr. Gambaryan’s health and well-being are in danger, and we fear for his life. Immediate action is essential to ensure his safety and preserve his life. We must act swiftly before it is too late,” had emphasised “on behalf of Mr. Gambaryan, his family, and concerned Americans, we, the undersigned, urgently request and strongly encourage the transfer of his case to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.”

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Confirming that the government had dropped the charges against the Binance boss, on Friday, Dare Adekanmbi, spokesman to the FIRS, said: “Please note that the charges are being dropped against the second and the third defendants in the matter,” adding that the accused had been confirmed not to be a decision-maker at the cryptocurrency firm.

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He said in a statement: “We are relieved that the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) has served and filed amended charges today, resulting in tax charges against Tigran Gambaryan being dropped. Further illustrating that Tigran is not a decision-maker at Binance and does not need to be held in order for Binance to resolve issues with the Nigerian government. We await the court’s ruling on this, discharging Tigran from this matter completely.”

Elsewhere in court, the Federal High Court sealed the freedom of the accused, whose ordeal began on February 28, with Justice Emeka Nwite, discharging him of all the charges, bothering on tax evasion charge preferred against the company by Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

Nwite, in a ruling, discharged and struck out the names of Gambaryan and Nadeem Anjarwalla, who had since fled Nigeria, after escaping from detention, in March, after Moses Ideho, lawyer to the FIRS, filed a fresh amended charge wherein Binance is listed as sole defendant.

Gambaryan, who was in court during Friday’s proceedings, had stepped into the dock, when Tonye Krukrubo, SAN, who appeared for Binance (1st defendant), then informed the court that the cryptocurrency firm had just appointed a representative in Nigeria in the name of Ayodele Omotilewa.

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Ideho, who confirmed that his office received a notice of appointment of a representative by Binance, also told the court that the notice was dated June 13, 2024, appointing Ayodele Omotilewa as its agent in the country, adding that against the development, an amended four-count charge listing Binance Holdings Limited as sole defendant was filed on June 13 and therefore Omotilewa should be docked to take a plea on behalf of the company.

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But Krukrubo in vehement disagreement argued that the company’s representative was yet to be served with the fresh amended charge, said Omotilewa was only appearing in court for the first time, adding: “I think my learner friend should confirm whether he has served him or not first. We are not there yet. The prosecution has not served us with the amended charges. He ought not to enter the dock. He was appointed for specific purposes, to receive processes. He is one of us; a legal practitioner. The proper thing for the prosecution to do is to address the court on the charge he intended to substitute.

Also arguing in the same direction, C.J. Caleb, who appeared for Gambaryan, argued that law on criminal trial of a corporation did not contemplate that a corporation or its representative should be in the dock, while the Administration of Criminal Justice (ACJA) Act, particularly Part 47, was very clear on how a trial should proceed in respect of a corporation.

“The Act also specifies all that is required for a representative in criminal trial in Sections 478 , 481, 482 and 483. So I align with my learner colleague that the representative is enough to be in court but does have to be in the dock,” he said.

Ideho, however disagreed, citing Section 481 of ACJA to back his argument, while adding: “If my lord is to look carefully at the provisions of this section and subsection, a representative cannot just sit in the gallery and watch like a spectator how the trial is conducted. He should be in the dock because this is a criminal charge not civil matter.”

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But, Krukrubo while jumping into the matter, argued that there was no where in the section cited by Ideho where it was said that a company’s representative must be in the dock, adding: Section 481 is written in black and white and it does not say that a representative of a corporation must be in dock. What he is saying is not contemplated by ACJA.”

When Nwite directed Ideho to move the latest application, the FIRS, lawyer, said: “We will like to amend and substitute the charge with the earlier one of May 17, 2024, which was our last amended charge my lord,” which neither Krukrubo, nor Caleb, opposed.

Subsequently, Caleb applied that the court should strike out the two earlier charges that listed his client, Gambaryan, as 2nd defendant, dated March 22 and the amended charge dated May 17, adding that Gambaryan should be discharged from the dock and from the proceedings in its entirety.

Nwite, before adjourning the matter to July 12 for pleas, granted the Federal Government’s request for the substitution of the June 13 amended charge for the May 17 one, set aside the earlier order, directing Gambaryan to be served on behalf of the company, and thereafter discharged him from the dock, while ordering parties to file written addresses as to whether Binance representative should be docked or not.

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NLNG signs agreement for new cooking gas vessel

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Shipping and Marine Services Limited (NSML), a subsidiary of the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) and Temile Development Company Limited on Tuesday, signed a Vessel Management Agreement (VMA) to provide comprehensive vessel technical management services for the new 23,000 cubic metre LPG vessel, LPG Alfred Temile 10.

At a ceremony in Abuja, NSML’s Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Abdulkadir Ahmed, and Temile’s Chief Executive Officer, Alfred Temile, signed the VMA at the event, witnessed by Adegboyega Oyetola, Minister of Marine and Blue Economy, represented by Ekanem Ogegere Celia, Deputy Director, Cabotage and Shipping; Felix Omatsola Ogbe, the Executive Secretary, Nigerian Content Development & Monitoring Board; Andy Odeh, General Manager, External Relations and Sustainable Development; Salihu Jamari, Chief Investment Officer, NNPC Gas & Power Investment Services, among others.

Speaking at the milestone event, NSML’s MD, Ahmed, emphasised that NSML will leverage its expertise and resources to ensure the safe, reliable, and efficient operation of the Alfred Temile 10. He stated that the relationship with Temile Development Company started with the delivery of the first LPG vessel – LPG Alfred Temile – to NLNG in 2020.

“The relationship grew and continued with the construction, supervision and delivery of the 2nd LPG Vessel – Alfred Temile 10 – to Nigeria in March 2024. This momentous occasion represents our shared commitment to excellence, safety, and innovation in the maritime industry. It also represents the tenacious can-do-spirit of Mr Alfred Temile who has grown his LPG vessel fleet within a span of four (4) years. The Alfed Temile 10 is a testament to our dedication to operating a modern, efficient, and environmentally responsible fleet. With its cutting-edge design and technology, this vessel will set a new standard for LPG transportation in Nigeria and the West Africa,” he said.

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Also speaking at the event, Mr. Temile, stressed that the new vessel will play a critical role in gas transportation in Nigeria, enhancing the company’s capacity to deliver high-quality services while adhering to the highest standards of safety and environmental stewardship.

“We are confident that this partnership will set a new benchmark in the industry, and we are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. As we embark on this new chapter, we also anticipate further strategic investment decisions including a third gas carrier later this year, demonstrating our commitment to deliver sustainable growth and value to our shareholders and Nigeria,” he added.

The keynote speaker, Engr. Felix Ogbe, commended NSML and Temile Development Company for partnering together. He stressed that there was ample human capacity, resources and tenacity in-country to achieve great feats, calling for increased colloboration and cooperation in the maritime industry.

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Presidency to get two new aircraft for Tinubu, Shettima

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President Bola Tinubu and Vice President, Kashim Shettima, would be cruising in brand new aircraft soon, going by the indications coming from the National Assembly, which has announced its approval to allow the acquisition of two of the flying birds for the Presidency.

The House of Representatives, which gave indications on Wednesday, explained that the need to acquire the aircrafts was to ensure maximum security for the President and his deputy, as part of its findings after an audit of the presidential fleet currently serving the two principal officers of the nation.

The House relying on the recommendations of its committee on National Security and Intelligence, said: “The committee is of the strong and informed opinion that considering the fragile structure of the Nigerian federation and recognising the dire consequences of any foreseen or unforeseen mishap that may arise as a result of technical/operational inadequacy of the presidential air fleet, it is in the best interest of the country to procure two additional aircraft as recommended.

“This will also prove to be most cost-efficient in the long run apart from the added advantage of providing a suitable, comfortable and safe carrier befitting of the status and responsibilities of the office of the president and vice-president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

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The investigation, which was sequel to the inability of the VP to travel with his aircraft in May this year owing to technical faults, was instigated by a motion by Satomi Ahmed, member from Jere Federal Constituency of Borno State, who had raised an alarm over the matter, on the floor of the House, leading to a comprehensive investigation being ordered by the members.

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Despite the heated debates over the matter, with some lawmakers, who were uncomfortable with the suggestion, citing the current poor economic situation in the country, urging the Tinubu and Shettima to use commercial aircrafts of travel by road, Ahmed explained that the proposal remained the best solution at the moment.

The committee had met the commanders of the Presidential fleet, when Shettima, was forced to use a chartered plane from the Netherlands to Saudi Arabia during his recent trip abroad, after initially cancelling a trip to the US to represent Tinubu at the 2024 US-Africa business summit.

Ahmed, who told reporters on Wednesday that the committee would set up a technical committee to interface with the officials at the presidential air fleet and come up with a resolution.

Reports say the six aircraft currently in the Presidential fleet, include one Boeing 737 (19 years old, currently unserviceable and undergoing maintenance); one Gulfstream G550 (13 years old, in good condition), one Gulfstream GV (23 years old, unserviceable); two Falcon 7Xs (one serviceable, one unserviceable); and one Challenger CL605 (12 years old, serviceable).

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The helicopter fleet includes two Agusta 139s (17 and 18 years old, both unserviceable); four Agusta 189s (no information on their condition).

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