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Downing Street refurb: PM cleared of breaking ministerial code despite Lord Geidt criticism

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Boris Johnson offered his “humble and sincere” apologies to Lord Geidt this afternoon for his failure to pass on evidence to the enquiry into the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.

The peer described the omission as “plainly unsatisfactory”, but exonerated the prime minister for breaking the ministerial code.

Last month, the Electoral Commission issued the Conservative party with a £17,800 fine for failing to properly declare £52,801 in donations via Lord Brownlow’s company (Huntswood Associates Ltd).

Lord Geidt, the government’s independent adviser on ministerial interests, published his initial inquiry earlier in Spring 2021, stating the prime minister knew nothing of the payments that funded the refurbishment of his N0 11 Downing Street flat until “immediately prior” to newspaper reports in February 2021.

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Lord Geidt was unaware of the exchange between Boris Johnson and Lord Brownlow in November 2020, which the Cabinet Office claimed was because the prime minister had to change his phone number due to a security breach.

This afternoon, Downing Street released letters between Lord Geidt and the prime minister which confirmed the he did not break the ministerial code over the flat donation.

On December 17, Lord Geidt wrote to  Johnson, maintaining his original judgment that the prime minister did not break the ministerial code.

“The Missing Exchange does not alter the facts on which this assessment is based”, he said.

However, Lord Geidt did give Johnson a heavy dressing down for not having been notified about the missing exchange, supplied by the Electoral Commission.

“It is plainly unsatisfactory that my earlier advice was unable to rely on the fullest possible disclosure of relevant information.

“Had I been aware of the Missing Exchange, I would have had further questions and drawn attention to it in my report.”

In the missing exchanges from the 29 November, the prime minister described his Downing Street flat as a “bit of a tip”, asking Lord Brownlow to approve funding for a refurbishment that eventually cost up to £140,000.

At the Downing Street lobby briefing this afternoon, the prime minister’s spokesperson defended the PM’s use of language. “I think the PM’s words reflect the fact that works were incomplete, refurbishment and renovation works were incomplete, at that point, which meant the further expenditure was necessary to complete them.”

The WhatsApp exchanges also raise questions over whether the prime minister sought funding for the Downing Street refurbishment, in return for assisting Lord Brownlow with a project referred to in the messages as the “Great exhibition.”

The prime minister’s spokesperson claimed the plans were “not taken forward”, and instead, the government pushed ahead with plans for Festival UK, now known as Unboxed.

Interestingly, in January 2021, two months on from the WhatsApp exchange, then culture secretary Oliver Dowden met with Lord Brownlow to discuss plans for a ‘Great exhibition 2.0’.

The prime minister’s spokesperson was unable to provide a clear answer as to the difference between the shelved plans, referred to in the exchanges between Johnson and Lord Brownlow, and Unboxed.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner responded to Lord Geidt’s findings this afternoon, describing the prime minister as having “little regard for the rules or the truth.”

Rayner said: “it is simply impossible to read these exchanges and conclude that the prime minister has not breached these aspects of the code.”

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said the letters were “just another day in the Number 10 circus act”.

Lord Geidt made clear his displeasure at the whole episode.

“It is of grave concern to me that, neither at the time when the Cabinet Office was collecting information ahead of my report, nor subsequently when the device had been activated again, was any attempt made to check for information relevant to my enquiries.”

Lord Geidt concluded with a stark warning about his role: “The episode shook my confidence precisely because potential and real failures of process occurred in more than one part of the apparatus of government”.

It is expected he will be given greater support and powers in a review of his role with the prime minister later this month.

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Ohanaeze hopes that with time, govt’ll see need for State Police

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Prof. George Obiozor 1

Pan-Igbo social-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has expressed its disappointment over government’s rejection of the proposal for State Police in Nigeria.

The reaction came after the House of Representatives Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution this week rejected a bill seeking the creation of state police.

The House Committee scrapped the idea after 14 members of the committee voted against the amendment to section 214 of the 1999 constitution while only 11 others voted in support during a meeting to consider the bill.

Reacting to the rejection, National publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Alex Chidozie Ogbonnia hammered on the importance of having a State Police department, adding that the government would eventually see the beed for it.

“The issue of central police has already collapsed in Nigeria,” said Ogbonnia.

READ ALSO: ‘South-East wants political solution to Kanu’s case,’ Ohanaeze tells Buhari

“In a Federation, there ought to be multiple levels of security architecture, even down to the local Government Area. There is no Federation without multiple levels of security architecture. They compliment the central police.

“Here is the South East, that is why Ohanaeze supports the formation of Ebubeagu, they operate at local levels to compliment the central security architecture.

“They (Ebubeagu personnel) have a relationship with the rural communities and make the job of the central police easier because they understand the environment more than somebody from outside.

“Evidently, there is a need for them to complement each other. I want to believe that with time, they will understand the need for state police”.

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Ekiti Guber: Biodun Oyebanji wins APC primary election

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Biodun Oyebanji

The immediate past secretary to the Ekiti State Government, Biodun Oyebanji has been declared winner of the All Progressives Congress (APC), governorship direct primary election held in the State.

Oyebanji, who is widely perceived as Governor Kayode Fayemi’s anointed candidate, emerged the winner with 101,703 votes.

He defeated seven other aspirants who had earlier protested against the electoral process, and pressed for it to be canceled.

READ ALSO: Ekiti APC in disarray, as seven guber aspirants withdraw from primaries, blame Fayemi

They had claimed, among others things, that the Chairman of the APC primary election committee, and Governor of Jigawa State, Mohammed Abubakar Badaru, had handed Oyebanji’s supporters the result sheets to write the results before the election.

The aggrieved governorship aspirants include: Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, Senator Dayo Adeyeye, Hon Bamidele Faparusi, Demola Popoola, Afolabi Oluwasola, Hon Femi Bamisile and Kayode Ojo.

However, Badaru noted that the election which took place across 177 wards was peaceful, credible and transparent.

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Buhari appoints Tahir new MD of NEMSA

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Buhari appoints Aliyu Tukur Tahir new MD of NEMSA

President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the appointment of Engr. Aliyu Tukur Tahir as the substantive Managing Director/Chief Electrical Inspector General of the federation (MD/CEI) of the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA).

The Honourable Minister of State, Power, Goddy Jedy-Agba, OFR, who’s the supervising Minister of the agency confirmed this in a statement issued on Wednesday in Abuja.

Jedy-Agba who congratulated the new MD charged him to see the new responsibility as a call to continue to do his best towards the actualization of President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s power agenda.

He said Engr. Tahir whose appointment is for a period of four years and subject to renewal for another term will be sworn in on a date to be communicated.

Tahir is to replace Engr. Peter Ewesor who retired last year from public service. Ewesor was the pioneer MD of the agency and held the position for eight years, covering two terms.

The new MD who hails from Yobe State in North-Eastern Nigeria was until his appointment, the General Manager, Technical Standard and Inspectorate Services Department of NEMSA.

He holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University. He is a fellow of the Nigeria Institute of Power Engineers (NIPE), the Nigerian Society of ENGINEERS (NSE), the Institute of Electrical Electronics ENGINEERS (IEEE) as well a member of the Council of Regulations of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN).

During the Power Sector Reform Programme, Engr. Tahir served as the Secretary of the Presidential Task Force on Power (PTFP) Board.

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