Joe Biden will make his first visit as US president to Saudi Arabia on Friday, where he will seek to persuade Riyadh to pump more oil to bring down prices that are fuelling inflation to the highest levels in decades.
Prior to his election, Biden had vowed that Saudi should be a “pariah” state following the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in a recalibration of relations with the oil-producing country that is a kingpin of the OPEC oil cartel.
However, since then, key crude producer Russia had invaded Ukraine, propelling oil prices to levels last seen during the 2008 global financial crisis.
That pushed US inflation to the highest rate in more than four decades — and this could yet persuade Biden to set aside human rights concerns before key US midterm elections in November, experts say.
“It highlights his desperation ahead of the midterms to at least be seen to be trying to alleviate the tightness in the market and bring prices back down,” OANDA analyst Craig Erlam told AFP.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
OPEC deal expiring
Biden’s chances could be boosted by the looming expiry of a crucial deal among the wider so-called OPEC+ group to boost oil production.
OPEC+ comprises the 13-nation Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries led by Saudi Arabia and its 10 partners headed by Russia.
The group had previously slashed output in 2020, when demand was decimated by Covid pandemic lockdowns worldwide.
But since last year, countries have been gradually reopening the taps as economies rebound.
Last month, OPEC+ stuck to a previously agreed output hike, shrugging off calls for bigger increases to tame elevated prices.
The deal will soon run its course once OPEC+ returns to pre-pandemic production after August.
“The expiration of the OPEC+ deal in September does create an opportunity and perhaps (Biden) would not be making such a move if he had not been assured that something is possible,” said Erlam.
The grouping will hold its next production gathering in August.
Yet Biden’s hopes for more oil could be dashed because elevated crude prices, despite recent losses, have energised state revenues and economies across the Middle East.
“It would be a massive surprise if Saudi Arabia produced more oil,” said independent analyst Stephen Innes.
Saudi Arabia’s oil-driven economy expanded by 9.6 percent in the first quarter, its strongest growth rate in a decade.
There is a “significant economic incentive to not increase production”, said XTB analyst Walid Koudmani.
Riyadh is already pumping close to maximum capacity.
In May, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan stated that the kingdom had “done what it could” for the oil market.
The industry needed to increase refining capacity instead of simply pumping more barrels of crude, he argued.
The Iran question
Iran is another major bone of contention between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh is leading a fight against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are supported by Tehran.
Meanwhile, Washington wants to restore the Iran nuclear deal abandoned by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump in 2018.
That could lead to the lifting of US economic sanctions on Iran — and pave the way for a return to the OPEC member’s full export capacity.
Chief negotiators from the US and Iran held indirect talks in Qatar in June, in a bid to revive the nuclear deal.
A nuclear deal “appeared to be within reach several times in the recent past, particularly after the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict”, said analyst Koudmani.
“It has failed to gain any traction and would likely be passed up by the US if they were to receive assurances (of higher oil output) from Saudi Arabia after this visit from President Biden,” the expert concluded.
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Private Jet Owners Sue Government Over N30 Billion Tax
Owners of foreign-registered private jets, comprising top business moguls, leading commercial banks and other rich Nigerians, have dragged the Federal Government to court seeking to prevent the government from grounding their planes for allegedly refusing to pay import duty on the jets.
The Federal Government had last November approved the decision of the Nigeria Customs Service to ground 91 private jets belonging to some wealthy Nigerians over their alleged refusal to pay import duties running to over N30bn.
As such, following a presidential approval, the NCS in a letter directed the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, and the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency to ground the affected private jets with immediate effect.
But owing to issues bothering on inter-agency rivalry and disagreements, the relevant government agencies could not ground the private jets.
However, in the past few months, the Customs has been making underground moves to perfect the process of grounding private jets whose owners failed to pay the import duty, multiple sources close to the development confirmed to The PUNCH on Tuesday.
17 jet owners
Also, further findings by our correspondents over the weekend revealed that at least 17 private jet owners had gone to court to stop the Federal Government from implementing the order.
According to the court papers seen by The PUNCH, the jet owners are seeking a judicial review as to whether it is lawful for them to pay the controversial import duty on their private jets or not.
The jet owners had sued the government using the foreign shell companies and trustees through which the foreign-registered jets were purchased.
Oftentimes, Nigerians and corporate bodies buy their foreign-registered private jets through foreign shell companies and trustees. Experts believe they often prefer to register the jets in foreign countries like the United States, United Kingdom, and Isle of Man, among others, to preserve the value of the aircraft in the event they want to sell it, as well as pay cheaper insurance premiums.
The latest findings showed that the jet owners had approached the Federal High Court Abuja seeking the court to determine, among other things, if they were liable to pay import duty.
The suit, with number FHC/ABJ/CS/1565/2021, is described as the matter of an application for judicial review by foreign registered aircraft against the Nigeria Customs Service and Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority.
According to the court document, the 17 applicants, which are mostly foreign companies of the Nigerian jet owners are: Aircraft Trust and Financing Corp Trustee, UAML Corp, Bank of Utah Trustee, Masterjet AVIACAO Executive SA, and Cloud Services Limited.
Others are MHS Aviation GmbH, Murano Trust Company Limited, Panther Jets, SAIB LLC, Empire Aviation Group, and Osa Aviation Limited.
The list also includes BUA Delaware Inc, Flying Bull Corporation Limited, Air Charter Inc, Sparfell Luftahrt GmbH, WAT Aviation Limited, and ATT Aviation Limited.
The NCAA and Customs were listed as respondents.
In a written address in support of the first respondents objector notice of preliminary objection, the court paper read in part, “The brief facts of this case are that the first respondents, having discovered that some operators of aircraft imported them under the guise of Temporary Importation Permit, were permanently imported into Nigeria and given TIP status to evade payment of lawful customs.”
A hearing date is yet to be fixed for the suit, according to preliminary findings by our correspondent.
However, there are strong indications that the NCS is making frantic efforts to get the private jet owners to pay the import duty.
Multiple sources confirmed on Tuesday that the NCS was not giving up on the decision to collect the revenue on behalf of the Federal Government, having obtained a presidential approval on the matter.
It was gathered that the agency might take a major decision on the matter very soon. It was further learnt that the Customs is in possession of government documents indicating that the private jet owners are by law required to pay import duty.
However, the spokesperson for NCAA, Mr Sam Adurogboye, said he was yet to be briefed but noted that, “’If a case is filed against an individual or organisation, what is to be done is to put up appearance and defend oneself.”
The NCS had in March last year embarked on a review of import duties paid on private jets brought into the country since 2006.
Following the alleged discovery that several private jet owners, under the guise of Temporary Import Permit, had failed to pay the statutory import duty to the coffers of the government, the CG of Customs, Hameed Ali, set up a verification panel to review all TIPs and the relevant aircraft import documents of all private jets in the country.
At the end of the 60-day exercise, 57 private jets, which had licences for commercial charter operations, were cleared and issued with Aircraft Operators Certificate by the Customs.
However, 29 private jets, whose owners came for the verification, were found to be liable to pay the import duty.
The Customs also compiled a list of another 62 private jets whose owners failed to appear for the verification exercise but were found liable for import duty payment.
However, other private jet owners seeking to pay their import duty were given a 14-day ultimatum to clear the debts.
It is unclear the number of the jet owners that later paid the duty.
However, a list of 91 private jets whose owners had failed to present themselves for the import duty payment were presented to the NCAA, FAAN, and NAMA for the immediate grounding of their operations.
Some owners of the 91 jets reportedly wrote protest letters to the NCS, arguing why they could not pay the import duty because the jets were under lease payments.
The Customs, in its response to the letters, queried the rationale for bringing in the planes and allegedly fraudulently exporting them under questionable documentation processes in the past 10 years.
Unconfirmed officials had said the Ministry of Aviation directed the NCAA, FAAN and NAMA to suspend the grounding of the flight operations of the affected private jets.
Aircraft owners speak
Speaking on the development on Tuesday, the President, Association of Private Aircraft Owners Association, Mr Alex Nwuba, there is a need for the government to become transparent in the process of registering private jets.
He also said it might be difficult for the government to collect tax on private jets that are not fully imported into the country.
“The idea is to ensure that people pay tax on imported aircraft. However, by keeping the registration of the jets offshore, how do you then pay tax on something that is foreign? The aircraft may have come and gone, but how do you pay tax on something that is not imported.
“The dilemma is if you register your private jet in Nigeria (5N), it is seen that it now have a lower value. The problem is that there is no transparency in our aircraft registration process. You cannot take the number of the aircraft, do a search and get the details. But if you do that for US-registered plane, you can get the details. But the summary is that you cannot collect duty on aircraft that is not imported.”
Nwuba, a pilot and former managing director of Associated Airlines, said the cost of duty might be one of the factors discouraging some private jet owners.
“Of course, you are made to put up a bond when you are bringing in an aircraft on a temporary basis. However, while we are looking for revenue, it is not everywhere we can get it. Another issue is that, if you buy a private jet for $80m, you may need to pay a duty of over $10m; that may be high to some people.”
Some of the 91 private jets meant to be grounded belong to the senior pastors of some popular Pentecostal churches in the country, some Tier-1 banks with one of the banks owning two upmarket jets, the CEOs of some indigenous oil companies, and the chairmen of some Tier-1 banks.
Governor Adeleke Reverses Self On Sack Of Civil Servants, Monarchs
Adeleke said yesterday his administration has not sacked any worker and dethroned three monarchs.
Adeleke spoke against the earlier announced Executive Order 3, 4 and 5, which stated nullification of employment, appointment made by former Governor Adegboyega Oyetola from July 17, 2022 till his inauguration and vacation of the throne of three monarchs appointed by past administration.
The order states: “All employments in the service of Osun State Government made in any capacity into any capacity in all the ministries, departments, agencies, commissions, boards and parastatals after July 17, 2022 are hereby nullified.
“All appointments in the service of Osun State Government made in any capacity into any capacity in the ministries, departments, agencies, commissions, boards and parastatals after July 17, 2022 are hereby reversed.
“All appointments of traditional rulers made by Osun State Government after July 17, 2022 are hereby ordered to be reviewed to ensure there was strict compliance with due process of chieftaincy declarations and native law, custom and tradition relating to such chieftaincies. In the case of Ikirun, Iree and Igbajo, to avoid further breakdown of law and order, the appointments of Akinrun of Ikinrun, Aree of Ire and Owa of Igbajo are hereby put on hold pending review. Subsequently, the palaces of Akinrun of Ikirun, Aree of Iree and Owa of Igbajo should remain unoccupied, while security agencies are hereby ordered to take charge.”
However, the governor through his spokesperson, Olawale Rasheed, speaking yesterday on a private radio station, Rave FM, in Osogbo, during a talk show programme, ‘Frank Talk’, said Adeleke had not sacked any worker.
He said the appointment and employment made by the Oyetola administration would be reviewed to ensure legality and due process, stressing that nobody had been sacked, the executive order was misquoted.
All Progressives Congress (APC) in Osun State has described the setting up of review panels by Governor Adeleke as an afterthought designed to arrive at predetermined outcomes.
The party urged the governor to settle down to study the handover notes, so as to prevent the blunders he was committing.
In a statement signed by its Director of Operations, Sunday Akere, APC said: “We told you from day one that these people have nothing to offer. We can all see from their first action that they are even confused.
“They had told us long time ago that they were coming to sack. They came and announced it. Why set up a panel after taking a decision? What they are doing can be likened to doing ablution after observing prayers. Who does that?”
Governor Adeleke has ordered the dissolution of non-statutory boards.
Spokesperson Malam Olawale Rasheed said in a statement that the directive was conveyed to heads of ministries, departments and agencies by Mr. Teslim Igbalaye, the Secretary to the State Government.
Secondary School Principal Beaten By Mob After Being Caught Pants Down With Student (Photo)
A South African Secondary school deputy principal got an instant mob justice after being caught pants down with a student.
The deputy principal at Kgagatlou Secondary in Polokwane, Limpopo was beaten after being caught having sex with a student during school hours.
In a video circulating on Twitter, the principal was seen being beaten while tied to a pole.
It was also alleged that this is not the first time he had been caught carrying out pedophilic acts in schools. He was reportedly moved from another school before taking the deputy principal post at Kgagatlou Secondary School.
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