Sunday, December 04, 2016

Poverty, Prejudice Drive More Women To Join Boko Haram Militants

BY KIERAN GUILBERT
THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION




DAKAR, DEC. 5, 2016 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Failing to improve the lives of girls and women trapped in poverty and domestic drudgery in northeast Nigeria could drive them into the ranks of extremist groups, analysts said on Monday.

Many girls and women have been abducted by the jihadist group Boko Haram and used as cooks, sex slaves, and even suicide bombers, according to rights groups including Amnesty International.

Yet some women in the mainly Muslim northeast, frustrated by poverty, gender discrimination and deep-rooted patriarchy, have chosen to join Boko Haram voluntarily in the hope of a better life, an International Crisis Group (ICG) report said.

"For some women trapped in domestic life, Boko Haram offers an escape," Rinaldo Depagne, West Africa project director for the ICG, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Dakar, Senegal.

"But this reflects a huge abyss of desperation among women ... and a failure of society in the northeast," he added.

Rates of child marriage, school enrolment and literacy among girls, and women in positions of power are far worse in the north of Nigeria than the rest of the country, activists say.

But women often take senior positions in Boko Haram. Female members are almost as likely as men to be deployed as fighters, and may outnumber them in some roles such as recruiters and intelligence operatives, researchers said in a study published in October.

Boko Haram militants have killed about 15,000 people and displaced some 2.6 million in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria during a seven-year campaign to carve out an Islamist caliphate.

The army has driven Boko Haram out of much of the territory it held in 2014, but the government and aid agencies must focus on caring for and reintegrating women affected by the insurgency as the country comes back under their control, the ICG said.

Many women uprooted by the conflict and living in camps for the displaced have resorted to selling sex in exchange for food, while those who were married to or raped by the militants are often rejected by their communities.

For those women who chose to join Boko Haram, the power and freedom afforded to them means they are far more difficult than men to de-radicalise and reintegrate into their communities, according to Nigerian psychologist Fatima Akilu.

"Exclusion and abuse of women may undermine military gains and mean that they have same kind of grievances that pushed many to join Boko Haram in the first place," Depagne said.

"The state and civil society must improve the situation for women affected by Boko Haram, both victims and perpetrators, and ensure they play a role in rebuilding the northeast," he added. (Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Imprisoned Former CIA Officer Fights Conviction Over Leak

BY ALANNA DURKIN RICHER
ASSOCIATED PRESS


Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling leaves federal court in Alexandria, Va. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear Sterling's case on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. A jury convicted Sterling on all counts last year after he was charged under the Espionage Act for leaking details of a CIA mission to New York Times journalist James Risen.



RICHMOND, VA. (AP) — Once an employee of the powerful CIA, Jeffrey Sterling now sits behind bars at a federal prison in Colorado. He bides his time by reading and writing and working at the facility's recreational center.

Nearly two years after Sterling was found guilty of leaking government secrets to a reporter, the 49-year-old maintains that he is innocent. Sterling is now pinning his hopes for an early release on a federal appeals court, which will soon consider whether to reverse his convictions.

"I continue to have hope that the truth will come out," said his wife Holly Sterling, who travels to the prison from their home in Missouri once a month to visit her husband. Sterling is serving a 3 1/2-year prison sentence at an all-male prison that also houses former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and ex-Subway spokesman Jared Fogle.

A jury convicted Sterling on all counts last year after he was charged under the Espionage Act for leaking details of a CIA mission to New York Times journalist James Risen. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in Sterling's case on Tuesday.

Prosecutors portrayed Sterling as a disgruntled former employee who exposed a plan to stall Iranian ambitions to build a nuclear weapon in an attempt to discredit the CIA. That operation involved using a CIA agent nicknamed "Merlin" to deliver flawed nuclear blueprints to Iran in the hopes that they would spend years trying to develop a product that would never work.

Risen described the mission in his 2006 book "State of War." Citing anonymous sources, Risen suggested it was a reckless and botched operation that may have actually helped advance the Iranians' nuclear program. The CIA has strongly disputed that idea.

"Sterling's actions destroyed the program, endangered the lives of a covert human asset and his family, and compromised the United States' ability to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons," prosecutors wrote in their appeals court brief. U.S. Attorney Dana Boente's office declined to comment ahead of the 4th Circuit hearing.

Sterling has maintained that he was not Risen's source, and Risen never testified during trial. His attorneys argued that the leak likely came from a Capitol Hill staffer after Sterling shared his concerns about the program with staffers at a Senate intelligence committee in 2003.

His attorneys and other advocates claim prosecutors only went after Sterling because Risen's story made the CIA look foolish. "If Risen had written a story about how this was a superb operation that successfully set back the Iranian nuclear program, I don't think there is any chance whatsoever that Mr. Sterling would have been charged," said Barry Pollack, who represented Sterling at trial.

On appeal, Sterling's attorneys argue that, among other things, his conviction should be reversed because prosecutors never proved that Sterling ever disclosed any secret information in the Eastern District of Virginia, where the case was tried.

They also argue that the lower court inappropriately allowed prosecutors to tell jurors about Sterling's mishandling of other CIA documents. His attorneys are urging the 4th Circuit to grant Sterling a new trial.

Sterling's prison sentence currently expires in 2018, but his wife said he may be released as early as next December if he maintains good behavior. Holly Sterling said her husband has recently been struggling with health issues and fears he could die in prison. She said she knows that the odds that the 4th Circuit will side with Sterling are long, but she remains hopeful.

"We are very confident in our attorneys we are very confident that it can be overturned," Sterling said.

Follow Alanna Durkin Richer on Twitter at twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Nigeria To Have A Diaspora Policy Soon

BY ADEJOKE ADEOGUN
NEW MAIL DEC 3, 2016


Nigeria's Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama



Nigeria has begun the process of joining the league of countries with National Diaspora Policies following the setting up of a technical team saddled with the task of coming up with final draft of the Policy in January 2017.

This was the resolution of stakeholders after a seven –hour validation seminar in Abuja on the 68-page draft policy jointly organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Office of the Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora.

Declaring the seminar open, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama said there was the need to promote the capacity of Nigerians abroad so as to benefit from the “immense potential of the diaspora”

Onyeama, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Amb. Sola Enikanolaiye said the Federal Government would support all efforts to ensure the inclusion of Nigerians abroad in future elections.


He added that enhanced inclusion of Nigerians abroad in the voting process would support their contributions to national development; hence such policy that would see to their empowerment should be hastened up.

“Many of them (Diaspora) are deeply concerned about the situation in the country and have critical skills and potential that could be harnessed to solving Nigeria’s sociology-economic challenges.

“The ministry, therefore, is sharpening its in-house resources to effectively harness the potential of Nigerians wherever they are based,” Onyeama said.

In his key note speech, Prof George Obiozor, former Nigerian Ambassador to the United States of America and Director- General, Nigerian Institute for International Affairs (NIIA) said the time for a national policy on Diaspora has come.

“National Policy on Diaspora matters would expedite the integration and coordination of the skills and resources of Nigerians living abroad for the general development of the country,” he said.

Obiozor said the policy has worked successfully for other developing nations, urging the Federal government to expedite action on it as it would assist in harnessing enormous national resources of her Diasporas.

Both Chairpersons Senate Committees on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Monsurat Sunmonu and Rose Oko respectively pledged legislative support, such as passage of the Diaspora Commission Bill and amendment of relevant laws to support diaspora voting.

Earlier, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa also emphasised the need to have a national diaspora policy, saying a number of African countries already ahead of Nigeria in that regard.

“We cannot ignore our diaspora; when Ireland went into recession they reached out to their diaspora community and one thousand of them saved the country from recession. Now that Nigeria is going through challenges, we cannot have this enormous human resource and not engage with them’’, she said.

She urged all Nigerians home and abroad to contribute to the final draft of the policy as a technical committee would be set up to work on the recommendations agreed on and come up with an action plan for implementation.

Goodwill messages were received from the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps and High Commissioner of Cameroon, Amb. Salaheddine Ibrahima, Amb. Joe Keshi, former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr Senayon Olaoluwa from University of Ibadan, Prof Bolaji Aluko, Dr Rotimi Jayesinmi, Mr Hubert Sheyen and Mr Ibrahim Dauda of Nigeria in the Diaspora Organizations (NIDO).

Stakeholders at the event include representatives of various diaspora groups, Ministry Departments and Agencies such as EFCC, National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Nigerian Immigration Service, Nigerian Customs Service amongst others.

The principal objective of the Policy is to effectively leverage on the resources and technical knowledge of Nigerians in the Diaspora to contribute effectively to national development.

Rain And Sorrow Accentuate Memorial For Dead At Brazil Club

BY MAURICIO SAVARESE AND STEPHEN WADE
ASSOCIATED PRESS DEC. 3, 2016


Trucks carrying the coffins with the remains of Chapecoense soccer team members, victims of an air crash in Colombia, drive through the streets of Chapeco, Brazil, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016.


CHAPECO, BRAZIL (AP) — On a rainy Saturday that only accentuated the grief, 20,000 people filled a tiny stadium under umbrellas and plastic ponchos to say goodbye to members of the Chapecoense soccer club who died in a plane crash.

The accident Monday in the Colombian Andes claimed most of the team's players and staff as it headed to the finals of one of Latin America's most important club tournaments. Seventy-one of the 77 people on board died, including 19 players on the team.

Rain-soaked mourners jammed the modest stadium with four or five times that many outside to pay homage to a modest club that nearly reached the pinnacle of Latin American soccer. In total, about half the population of the southern Brazilian city of 210,000 gathered.

Thousands also lined the roads as the coffins were driven in a procession from the airport to the stadium memorial. "I've been here since early morning," said 19-year-old Chaiane Lorenzetti, who said she worked at a local supermarket frequented by club players and officials. "I'll never see some of my clients again. It's a devastating day that will last forever."

Soldiers wearing berets carried the coffins into the stadium on their shoulders, sloshing through standing water and mud on a field filled with funeral wreaths, club and national flags, and other tributes.

A tent, with the coffins placed underneath, stretched across the width of the soccer field. On top of the white tent, a sentence from the club's anthem was written for all to read. "In happiness and in the most difficult hours," it said. "You are always a winner."

Family members and friends wept under the tents. Many hunched over the coffins with photos of the deceased placed on top or alongside as almost everything got splattered by the non-stop rain. Brazilian President Michel Temer, who had not planned to visit the stadium for fear of being jeered, showed up after greeting the arrival of the bodies at the airport. He was treated respectfully and was joined by Gianni Infantino, the head of FIFA — the world governing body of soccer.

"This is a time for pain and suffering, not for talking," Infantino said. "No words can diminish the suffering." Marco Polo Del Nero, the head of the Brazilian Football Confederation, was mildly applauded but also had insults shouted his way.

Del Nero has been indicted by U.S. officials on corruption charges, although he has not been extradited. "You only came here because it's inside Brazil," one fan shouted, referring to the fact that Del Nero is likely to be arrested on a warrant if he leaves Brazil.

Del Nero's predecessor, Jose Maria Marin, is under house arrest in the United States awaiting a trial. He was among top soccer officials arrested 18 months in raids in Switzerland. The loudest applause was probably for Brazil's new national team coach Adenor Leonardo Bacchi — known universally as Tite (pronounced Chi-Chi). He has led Brazil to six straight victories since taking over, quickly becoming a national hero.

Ivan Tozzo, the acting president of the club, told fans the club would continue on, and reminded them that "it was here on this field where this club fought the good fight." "This team taught us that everything is possible," he added, recalling the team rose in less than a decade from the depths of Brazilian club soccer to the final of the No. 2 tournament on the soccer-crazed continent.

In closing he added, "We are all Chapecoense." Chapeco Mayor Luciano Buligon, like several speakers, praised the aid Colombia provided — along with the club Atletico Nacional, the team Chapecoense was to play in the two-game final.

"Atletico Nacional summed it all up on its website," the mayor said. "Atletico said Chapecoense came to Medellin with a dream, and it leaves a legend. Legends don't die." The stadium memorial came after a heart-wrenching week for residents and family members stunned by the crash.

Hundreds of banners, flags and handwritten messages hung around the stadium — in Portuguese, Spanish and English. One sign in Spanish was aimed at Colombian officials who helped with the rescue. Six people survived, including three players.

"Colombia, Thanks For Everything" it read. "They deserve a farewell of champions," said Tatiana Bruno, who stood inside the stadium in the rain, wearing a plastic poncho to stay dry. It wasn't clear exactly how many coffins were brought into the stadium, though television reports put a rough count at 50. Most of the people who died, including the 19 players, were not from Chapeco and were to be buried elsewhere.

The rain let up at the end of the two-hour memorial, lifting some of the gloom. It also allowed family members and friends to circle the field, many with photos raised high of the deceased. Ahead of the memorial, the bodies arrived in Chapeco on overnight flights from Colombia.

The caskets were received by soldiers waiting in formation on the tarmac. Under heavy rain, they removed one at a time, wheeling them through standing puddles to vehicles to transport them to the stadium.

Staff at the Jardim do Eden cemetery, where some victims will be buried, said on Friday they were used to the business of death, but not a tragedy of this size. "We bury two people every day. I've done this job for a long time, but this is different," said Dirceu Correa, caretaker of the cemetery. "It is a tragedy for the families, for the club, and also for us because we are a part of the city."

Savarese reported from Chapeco, and Wade from Rio de Janeiro.

Mauricio Savarese on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MSavarese .His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/mauricio-savarese

Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWade . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/stephen-wade

Houston Couple Pleads Guilty In Scheme To Obtain Tax Refunds

ASSOCIATED PRESS



HOUSTON (AP) — A Houston couple has pleaded guilty to stealing the identities of 50,000 victims in order to apply for fraudulent tax refunds.

Tom Emasealu and his girlfriend, Krystal Prophet, entered their guilty pleas Thursday following a four-day trial in Houston federal court.

Emasealu, from Nigeria, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, possession of at least 15 unauthorized access devices, access device fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Prophet, from Houston, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, access device fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Prosecutors say the couple from January 2014 through May 2015 used the stolen identities to apply for $1.9 million in fraudulent tax refunds. Investigators say the couple managed to get $250,000 in refunds.

Emasealu and Prophet each face up to 20 years in prison when sentenced on March 6.

(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

UN Doubles Humanitarian Appeal For Nigeria To $1 billion

BY DIBIE IKE MICHAEL
REUTERS/AFRICA NEWS


Image: Sunday Alamba/AP




The United Nations has doubled its humanitarian funding appeal for northeast Nigeria to $1 billion in 2017 in a bid to reach nearly 7 million people hit by the Islamist militant Boko Haram insurgency who are in need of life-saving help.

“We identified 8.5 million people in critical need in the three states that I just mentioned, but we will target 6.9 million people and we will do that, (which) requires 1 billion U.S. dollars for next year,” U.N. Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Northeastern Nigeria, Peter Lundberg said.

The United Nations has said some 75,000 children are at risk of starving to death in the region over the next few months if they do not receive humanitarian assistance.

Director of Operational Division at U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, John Ging called for immediate measures to be taken by international community.

According to him, the one billion dollars required is a “very small amount of money” for a rich world with the GDP of over 70 trillion dollars.

“So that is going to be something that we would be taking back to our capitals with a lot of energy and a lot of urgency that the money, the financial resources required to capacitate the international response is delivered immediately because it’s needed now,” he added.

The jihadist group has killed 15,000 people and displaced more than 2 million from their homes during a seven-year insurgency in Africa’s most populous nation.

Nigerian military forces backed by troops from neighboring states had, in the past few months, pushed Boko Haram out of areas they previously controlled, revealing thousands of people living in famine-like conditions.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nigeria Joins African Union Campaign To End Child Marriage

BY KIERAN GUILBERT
REUTERS, NOVEMBER 30, 201



DAKAR, NOV 30, 2016 (THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION) - Women's rights activists on Wednesday urged Nigeria to accelerate efforts to end child marriage after it joined an African Union (AU) campaign to eliminate the practice.

Nigeria launched this week a nationwide drive to end child marriage by pushing for policies that protect girls' rights and help the justice system to punish perpetrators, becoming the 16th country to join the AU's campaign.

The government made child marriage illegal in 2003, but only two-thirds of the country's 36 states have implemented the law.

At least four in 10 girls in Nigeria are married off before they turn 18, while almost a fifth are wed before they reach 15, according to the United Nations children's agency (UNICEF).

Early marriage deprives girls of an education, increases the likelihood of sexual violence and HIV, and puts them at risk of serious injury or death during childbirth, experts say.

"These (childbirth) complications are a leading cause of death among adolescents girls in countries like Nigeria ... this is unnecessary and unacceptable," said Mohamed Fall, UNICEF's representative in Nigeria.

Rates of child marriage vary widely across Nigeria, with figures as high as 76 percent in the northwest, and as low as 10 percent in the southeast, said campaign group Girls not Brides.

Women's rights group Donor Direct Action said the campaign to end child marriage was another positive step after a law banning female genital mutilation (FGM) was passed last year.

The prevalence of child marriage in Nigeria has dropped by nine percent since 2003, according to data from UNICEF.

"However, its decline needs to be dramatically accelerated, particularly in the north of Nigeria," Anber Raz of Donor Direct Action told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email from London.

"A lot of social and cultural change needs to happen, which may fall on the hands of local groups, who are under-resourced."

Nigerian organisation Women's Rights Advancement And Protection Alternative said the state also needed to address discrimination in access to education to prevent child marriage.

More than five million girls are out of school in Nigeria due to gender discrimination, said campaign group Girl Rising. (Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Major HIV Vaccine Trials Kick Off In South Africa After 7-Year Break






Still in the midst of a global HIV pandemic, scientists have shifted their focus to a vaccine that didn’t work seven years ago, but proved HIV prevention is possible. South African trials have now raised hopes that a modified miracle vaccine will be found.


The trial is to be the first to test an HIV vaccine in seven years. It will be carried out on South African adults – 5,400 men and women – and be the largest and most advanced trial of its type in the country, where 1,000 people are infected daily.

The current vaccine, dubbed HVTN 702, is a modified version of a previous one, which was itself a combination of two older ones.

Seven years ago, 16,000 people in Thailand tested a vaccine with a mediocre 31 percent success rate.

However, it did prove one thing: HIV can be prevented with a vaccine, however modest the success rate.

Monday’s trial will be the seventh ever to be conducted on humans.

“If deployed alongside our current armory of proven HIV prevention tools, a safe and effective vaccine could be the final nail in the coffin for HIV,” said the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., who is the trial’s co-funder. “Even a moderately effective vaccine would significantly decrease the burden of HIV disease over time in countries and populations with high rates of HIV infection, such as South Africa,” he said.

The location of the trial, South Africa, is also important, because of the aggressive strains and prevalence of HIV there. Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Guardian, “we have always said that if a vaccine is going to be ultimately effective, it is going to have to prove itself in a relatively high-risk group. So we always had the intention of extending and extrapolating the principle of the [older] RV144 study to a setting such as southern Africa.”


The current target is to bring RV144’s success rate up to 50-60 percent. “Obviously we’d like it to be 90 percent, but that is probably asking too much, given the complexity of HIV and the body’s immune response to it,” he added.

The new vaccine has been engineered to target the C clade – the southern-African strain of the virus. Those taking part in the trial will receive five vaccine shots and three booster shots, as well as additional therapy. The doctors will look at reducing the number of injections if the trials are successful.

Although treatment has reduced the number of AIDS fatalities, the disease still kills one million people per year, while two million people are infected, according to UNAIDS numbers.

If the trial is successful, the funders will receive a license to produce the vaccine.

“We are constantly aware of the desperate need and very excited that we are finally getting on and trying something again now,” Professor Linda-Gail Bekker of the University of Cape Town, who is president of the International AIDS Society, told the British paper. “We’ve never treated our way out of an epidemic. There’s no doubt we have to have primary prevention alongside treatment in order to get HIV control, but we are not going to get HIV eradication without a vaccine. That is very clear,” she said.

The trials and vaccines are both part of a larger HIV research initiative spearheaded by Pox-Protein Public-Private Partnership, or P5 – a group of influential private and government funders, among them Bill Gates and his wife, with their Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

ECOWAS Member States To Re-Engage In The AU’s Peer-Review Mechanism

AFRICAN BRAINS, NOVEMBER 28, 2016




The APRM Review Process gives member states a space for national dialogue on governance and socio-economic indicators and an opportunity to build consensus on the way forward

How can the adherence and active participation of ECOWAS member-countries in the processes of the African Union’s flagship governance initiative – the African Peer Review mechanism (APRM) – enhance regional integration in West Africa? This will be the subject of a two-day West Africa Regional Workshop on the APRM to bring together about 50 high-level delegates from the sub-region in Abidjan, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire from 28 to 29 November 2016. With the strong support of the Ivorian Government, the workshop has been jointly convened by the Secretariat of the AU’s APRM, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

The two-day event will aim to build on the gains of the last workshops, of the same series, held in Chad (for Central African countries) and Kenya (for East African countries) to breathe a new lease of life into adhering member states’ appropriation of APRM’s principles and utilisation of its tools and processes, to reinvigorate interaction among member countries in the spirit of peer learning and to stimulate enough interest in the four ECOWAS non-members of the Mechanism to come aboard the Continental Governance Mechanism. The four countries include: Cabo Verde, the Gambia, Guinea and Guinea Bissau.

Working sessions will focus on the methodology of the second-generation review of countries – which would be of great interest to the six APRM member States in ECOWAS that have already been peer reviewed, member’ sponsorship of the four ECOWAS countries not yet affiliated with the Mechanism and a systematic sharing of best practices from all countries that have signed up to it. Participants will also connect the dots between governance principles as captured in the context APRM processes and what they mean for regional integration in West Africa.

As has been the tradition of past regional workshops, the meeting will also feature a special conference by the APRM Panel of Eminent Persons on the theme: “Structural transformation and diversification of the economy in Africa: how to achieve it in a concrete manner.”
Context

The Abidjan workshop will be particularly exciting as it is being held in the ECOWAS sub-region, which has produced the largest number of committed member states (among the AU’s main regional economic communities) for APRM’s governance guiding principles and practices. From a total of 15 Member States belonging to ECOWAS, 11 are party to the APRM, which is just above 31 per cent of the Mechanism’s total membership as of 1 January 2016. In addition, out of the seventeen APRM members that have already been assessed and reviewed by the Heads of State and Government adhered to the Mechanism, six are ECOWAS members: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. This represents slightly over 35 per cent of all reviewed members. This context is particularly relevant to give traction to APRM in West Africa and especially recruit ECOWAS’ four countries that are yet to accede to the Mechanism.
About the African Peer Review Mechanism

A Specialised Agency of the African Union (AU), the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) was initiated in 2002 and established in 2003 by the African Union in the framework of the implementation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

APRM is a tool for sharing experiences, reinforcing best practices, identifying deficiencies, and assessing capacity-building needs to foster policies, standards and practices that lead to political stability, high economic growth, sustainable development and accelerated sub-regional and continental economic integration.

Member countries use the APRM to self–monitor all aspects of their governance and socio-economic development. African Union (AU) stakeholders participate in the self-assessment of all branches of government – executive, legislative and judicial – as well as the private sector, civil society and the media. The APRM Review Process gives member states a space for national dialogue on governance and socio-economic indicators and an opportunity to build consensus on the way forward.

30,000 Nigerians In Italy, Europe Involved In Sex Trade

NOVEMBER 28, 2016






Although the fight against human trafficking in Nigeria has not relented, about 30,000 Nigerians in Italy and across Europe are said to be involved in sex trade.

The Comptroller-General (CG) of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Muhammad Babandede, made this disclosure over the weekend at Sheba Event Centre, Ikeja, Lagos during the 23rd Crime Reporters Association of Nigeria (CRAN) annual lecture and award ceremony.

Speaking on the topic: 'Solving security problems through intelligence', Babandede noted that through intelligence, the porous borders will be better manned and child trafficking and arms proliferation would be checked.

He said, "Many of our children are being trafficked to other countries for child labour and sex slavery, but if there is proper intelligence, the crime would have been nipped in the bud.

"It is pathetic to note that some Nigerians are not aware that trafficking of persons is a grievous criminal offence on the same scale like terrorism, kidnapping, robberies and militancy.

"As we are speaking, about 30,000 Nigerians in Italy and Europe are involved in sex hawking for money.

"I call on the government to collaborate with other countries in the area of intelligence. As for Nigeria Immigration Service, we will work with other sister agencies in the area of intelligence as it is the best tool to fight crime."

Also, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, said to defeat the war on crime, security agencies should apply intelligence as the fight against crime has gone beyond carrying arms.

The IGP also said that to fight crime, there must be sincere synergy among the sister agencies and collaboration between Nigeria and other neighbouring countries.

Idris who was represented by the Assistant Inspector General Of Police(AIG) in charge of Zone Two Police Command, Lagos, Kayode Aderanti, said "Our intelligence gathering will make us proactive, rather than being reactive.

"To achieve this, we need to work together with sister agencies. We must share intelligence. The police must work together with other sister agencies while we will also collaborate with our neighbouring countries in the area of intelligence if the war against criminals will succeed.

"Whether it is insurgency, armed robbery, cyber crime, kidnapping and other crimes, we must be intelligence driven, because,the world is advancing.

"As the world is advancing, so also criminals are going sophisticated. We need intelligence to tackle security challenges."

The guest lecturer, Dr. Bone Efoziem, who doubles as the MD/CEO Strict Guard Security Ltd, said the problem of insecurity would be solved by policy formation and implementation through proper intelligence gathering.

He said intelligence practice by concept and nature is pro-active and therefore, is concerned with crime prevention rather than crime combating.

Efoziem said it's cheaper in both human and material cost to prevent crime through intelligence than combating it.

He said, "Asides from information gathering, the national Assembly must do something urgent to stop political office holders, especially the governors from eating security votes and channel it to solve security related issues."

Another security expert, Mr. Ubong King, MD/CEO of Protection Plus Service Ltd said, :"With an estimated 135 million out of the I80 million people below the age of 45 years jobless, crime trends could continue to be on the rise.

"With the galloping population, our society is fast becoming a technologically driven one in terms of criminality, so, we need to be intelligence driven.

"I call on security agencies to share intelligence if they want to win the war on criminality."

The royal father of the day, Oba Abdul-Rasheed, Olowo of Iwo land, in his talk said cultism is the bedrock of crime and one of the major causes of insecurity and should be banned by the government.

He said, "A father who belongs to secret cult will not have the moral courage to advise his son to shun cultism. I am calling those who are members of secret cults to denounce it or risk the law of the land.

"Once the problem of cultism is solved,armed robbery, kidnapping, street fights and other vices will reduce drastically."

Meanwhile, the Chairperson CRAN Planning Committee, Chiemelie Ezeobi said the lecture was geared towards solving security challenges through intelligence.

She said the topic was aptly chosen in the light of the escalating state of insecurity, created by kidnappers, terrorists, militants, armed robbers, hired killers and other sundry criminal elements in the society.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Cuba's Fidel Castro, Who Defied US For 50 years, Dies At 90

ASSOCIATED PRESS





With a shaking voice, President Raul Castro said on state television that his older brother died at 10:29 p.m. Friday. He ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: "Toward victory, always!"

Castro's reign over the island-nation 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Florida was marked by the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died 10 years after ill health forced him to hand power over to Raul.

Castro overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, exile in Mexico and a disastrous start to his rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana in January 1959 to become, at age 32, the youngest leader in Latin America. For decades, he served as an inspiration and source of support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa.

His commitment to socialism was unwavering, though his power finally began to fade in mid-2006 when a gastrointestinal ailment forced him to hand over the presidency to Raul in 2008, provisionally at first and then permanently. His defiant image lingered long after he gave up his trademark Cohiba cigars for health reasons and his tall frame grew stooped.

"Socialism or death" remained Castro's rallying cry even as Western-style democracy swept the globe and other communist regimes in China and Vietnam embraced capitalism, leaving this island of 11 million people an economically crippled Marxist curiosity.

He survived long enough to see Raul Castro negotiate an opening with U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 17, 2014, when Washington and Havana announced they would move to restore diplomatic ties for the first time since they were severed in 1961. He cautiously blessed the historic deal with his lifelong enemy in a letter published after a month-long silence. Obama made a historic visit to Havana in March 2016.

Carlos Rodriguez, 15, was sitting in Havana's Miramar neighborhood when he heard that Fidel Castro had died. "Fidel? Fidel?" he said, slapping his head in shock. "That's not what I was expecting. One always thought that he would last forever. It doesn't seem true."

"It's a tragedy," said 22-year-old nurse Dayan Montalvo. "We all grew up with him. I feel really hurt by the news that we just heard." Fidel Castro Ruz was born Aug. 13, 1926, in eastern Cuba's sugar country, where his Spanish immigrant father worked first recruiting labor for U.S. sugar companies and later built up a prosperous plantation of his own.

Castro attended Jesuit schools, then the University of Havana, where he received law and social science degrees. His life as a rebel began in 1953 with a reckless attack on the Moncada military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. Most of his comrades were killed and Fidel and his brother Raul went to prison.

Fidel turned his trial defense into a manifesto that he smuggled out of jail, famously declaring, "History will absolve me." Freed under a pardon, Castro fled to Mexico and organized a rebel band that returned in 1956, sailing across the Gulf of Mexico to Cuba on a yacht named Granma. After losing most of his group in a bungled landing, he rallied support in Cuba's eastern Sierra Maestra mountains.

Three years later, tens of thousands spilled into the streets of Havana to celebrate Batista's downfall and catch a glimpse of Castro as his rebel caravan arrived in the capital on Jan. 8, 1959. The U.S. was among the first to formally recognize his government, cautiously trusting Castro's early assurances he merely wanted to restore democracy, not install socialism.

Within months, Castro was imposing radical economic reforms. Members of the old government went before summary courts, and at least 582 were shot by firing squads over two years. Independent newspapers were closed and in the early years, homosexuals were herded into camps for "re-education."

In 1964, Castro acknowledged holding 15,000 political prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled, including Castro's daughter Alina Fernandez Revuelta and his younger sister Juana. Still, the revolution thrilled millions in Cuba and across Latin America who saw it as an example of how the seemingly arrogant Yankees could be defied. And many on the island were happy to see the seizure of property of the landed class, the expulsion of American gangsters and the closure of their casinos.

Castro's speeches, lasting up to six hours, became the soundtrack of Cuban life and his 269-minute speech to the U.N. General Assembly in 1960 set the world body's record for length that still stood more than five decades later.

As Castro moved into the Soviet bloc, Washington began working to oust him, cutting U.S. purchases of sugar, the island's economic mainstay. Castro, in turn, confiscated $1 billion in U.S. assets. The American government imposed a trade embargo, banning virtually all U.S. exports to the island except for food and medicine, and it severed diplomatic ties on Jan. 3, 1961.

On April 16 of that year, Castro declared his revolution to be socialist, and the next day, about 1,400 Cuban exiles stormed the beach at the Bay of Pigs on Cuba's south coast. But the CIA-backed invasion failed.

The debacle forced the U.S. to give up on the idea of invading Cuba, but that didn't stop Washington and Castro's exiled enemies from trying to do him in. By Cuban count, he was the target of more than 630 assassination plots by militant Cuban exiles or the U.S. government.

The biggest crisis of the Cold War between Washington and Moscow exploded on Oct. 22, 1962, when President John F. Kennedy announced there were Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and imposed a naval blockade of the island. Humankind held its breath, and after a tense week of diplomacy, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev removed them. Never had the world felt so close to nuclear war.

Castro cobbled revolutionary groups together into the new Cuban Communist Party, with him as first secretary. Labor unions lost the right to strike. The Catholic Church and other religious institutions were harassed. Neighborhood "revolutionary defense committees" kept an eye on everyone.

Castro exported revolution to Latin American countries in the 1960s, and dispatched Cuban troops to Africa to fight Western-backed regimes in the 1970s. Over the decades, he sent Cuban doctors abroad to tend to the poor, and gave sanctuary to fugitive Black Panther leaders from the U.S.

But the collapse of the Soviet bloc ended billions in preferential trade and subsidies for Cuba, sending its economy into a tailspin. Castro briefly experimented with an opening to foreign capitalists and limited private enterprise.

As the end of the Cold War eased global tensions, many Latin American and European countries re-established relations with Cuba. In January 1998, Pope John Paul II visited a nation that had been officially atheist until the early 1990s.

Aided by a tourism boom, the economy slowly recovered and Castro steadily reasserted government control, stifling much of the limited free enterprise tolerated during harder times. As flamboyant as he was in public, Castro tried to lead a discreet private life. He and his first wife, Mirta Diaz Balart, had one son before divorcing in 1956. Then, for more than four decades, Castro had a relationship with Dalia Soto del Valle. They had five sons together and were said to have married quietly in 1980.

By the time Castro resigned 49 years after his triumphant arrival in Havana, he was the world's longest ruling head of government, aside from monarchs. In retirement, Castro voiced unwavering support as Raul slowly but deliberately enacted sweeping changes to the Marxist system he had built.

His longevity allowed the younger brother to consolidate control, perhaps lengthening the revolution well past both men's lives. In February 2013, Raul announced that he would retire as president in 2018 and named newly minted Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel as his successor.

"I'll be 90 years old soon," Castro said at an April 2016 Communist Party congress where he made his most extensive public appearance in years. "Soon I'll be like all the others. The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof that on this planet, if one works with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need and that need to be fought for without ever giving up."

Cuba's government announced that Castro's ashes would be interred on Dec. 4 in the eastern city of Santiago that was a birthplace of his revolution. That will follow more than a week of honors, including a nearly nationwide caravan retracing, in reverse, his tour from Santiago to Havana with the triumph of the revolution in 1959.

Associated Press writer Michael Weissenstein reported this story in Havana and Peter Orsi reported from Mexico City. AP writer Anita Snow in Mexico City and AP news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mweissenstein

Peter Orsi on Twitter: at www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi

Friday, November 25, 2016

Switzerland Has ‘Impressive Results’ For Return Of Dictator Funds

SWISS INFO, FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2016



Nigeria's Dictator Sani Abacha


With a new law to help seize and repatriate illicit wealth stashed in Swiss banks by foreign dictators and a positive – but slow - track record, Switzerland is a leader in the return of illicit dictator funds, a top Swiss official claims.

Over the past 30 years Switzerland has returned almost CHF2 billion ($2 billion) misappropriated and deposited in Swiss banks by “politically exposed persons” (PEPs).


“This is more than all other financial centres in world by far,” Roberto Balzaretti, the new head of the public international law directorate at the Swiss foreign ministry, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.


Ever since the Marcos (Philippines) affair in 1986, the list of illicit potentate funds that have been seized in Swiss banks and later returned to the country has steadily grown to include Montesinos (Peru), Mobutu (former Zaire), Dos Santos (Angola), Abacha (Nigeria), Kazakhstan, Salinas (Mexico), Duvalier (Haiti), Ben Ali (Tunisia), and Mubarak (Egypt).


A number of cases are ongoing. In December 2015, the Swiss federal administrative court confirmed the blocking of CHF4.5 million placed in a Geneva bank by a former cabinet minister of deposed Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.


“We know more or less what Haiti wants to do with this money but it's still not been done. Not because we don't want to give the money back, but because it's difficult given the political situation in Haiti,” said Balzaretti. “There have been successive natural disasters or elections or a new government or new president. It’s quite complicated. The aim of the Swiss government is to conclude as quickly as possible an agreement to transfer the money. We need this legal framework but we are not there yet.”

Abacha

The return of CHF321 million siphoned off by the family of Nigeria’s former dictator Sani Abacha and confiscated by Switzerland is also continuing. Switzerland and Nigeria have signed a letter of intent aimed at the quick and equitable restitution of the money.

“The situation is a bit like Haiti, but a bit more advanced, as we have an accord with Nigeria - a letter of intent on the modalities of restitution - but now we have to agree on where the money can be used, the monitoring, follow-up and reporting measures for the money,” said the Swiss ambassador.


The government has also blocked about $570 million in the case of Egypt, $60 million in the case of Tunisia and about $70 million regarding Ukraine. The Tunisian assets are set to remain frozen until January 18, 2017, and the others until February 2017. The government will review next year whether to extend the asset freezes. Balzaretti said this was likely.


“Otherwise, there is perhaps a small bit of Kazakhstan money still here and some of the second part of Angola money to be returned, but there are no other cases to my knowledge,” he added.

Balzaretti is confident that a new page is being turned.

“The cases we talk about have been going on for a few years. Lots of procedures which have finished or are coming to an end concern a period which I feel is definitely long over. The laws have changed, such as those concerning money laundering, and there is a political will to have a cleaner, more transparent system,” he declared.


In July Switzerland introduced a new law to help seize and repatriate illicit wealth held in its banks by foreign dictators in cases which do not follow classic asset freezing-restitution procedures. It aims at helping Switzerland and its banks shake off their image as a secretive haven for ill-gotten riches.


The law lets Swiss authorities seize and return funds that foreign leaders looted, even in cases that cannot be resolved through standard international requests for mutual legal assistance.


“It reverses the burden of proof and obliges the account holder to prove the money was earned legally. The law foresees an administrative freezing of assets, which is much more flexible. It also enables us to give technical support such as sending a lawyer or technicians to countries to assist,” said Balzaretti.


He said the new law should help increase international awareness that ‘Switzerland is not a place where you can hide money with impunity’.


Despite the ‘impressive results’ and new legal arsenal, Balzaretti admitted that the lengthy procedures – some over 30 years – were problematic.


“We have a legal framework that we have to respect and appeals process before courts which can take years,” he said. “Some countries believe that once we block money it can be returned the next day but that's not the case. With this new legal instrument we feel we can become more efficient and targeted and faster. But it still takes time.”



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Nigeria: Govt's Peace Talks With Oil Rebels Deadlocked

BY SYLVESTER IDOWU
THIS DAY, FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2016







Just weeks ago, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, said output was almost back to normal after a year of devastating attacks on oil and gas infrastructure in the Niger Delta region.

But now it seems Kachikwu spoke way too soon about the 2.1 million barrel per day figure, reported AFP yesterday.

Hours after President Muhammadu Buhari held talks with representatives from the oil-rich region in the capital Abuja on November 1, the attacks resumed in spectacular fashion.

A blast on the Trans-Forcados pipeline just 48 hours after it reopened was a brazen provocation, casting doubt on the Nigerian government's ability to secure peace in the region. Forcados produces 215,000 barrels per day.

Then on November 5, the major pipeline was hit again by the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Mandate, a group that has stepped up its attacks in recent months.

In the middle of the month, the Niger Delta Avengers, the main group in the restive region, claimed to have bombed three Nembe creek trunk lines.

The Avengers said the ongoing sabotage was in response to the Nigerian Navy's "Operation Sharkbite" in the region aimed at stopping attacks by militants and pirates.

"We are determined to continue this war by all means necessary," the Avengers said.

The Nigerian army launched "Operation Crocodile Smile" in the oil hub of Warri earlier this year in an attempt to stop the pipeline sabotage hammering the economy.

But regional leaders said that the presence of the troops was stoking tension in a frustrated region, caught between violent militants and heavy-handed soldiers. Shootouts here have led to high-profile casualties.

In October, a Nigeria Premier League defender Izu Joseph was accidentally shot dead when soldiers raided his hometown of Okaki in southern Bayelsa State.

Last week, online newspaper Premium Times said that soldiers had killed a kidnapped pastor in August mistaking him for a militant. Fed up with the violence, women have started protesting.

"Only some days back, they (soldiers) invaded Oporoza community with two gunboats," Godspower Gbenekama from Gbaramatu community, near Warri, told AFP.

"Angered by the constant invasion, women from the community mobilised in protest, met the soldiers and told them that they were tired of their frequent invasion of their community."

There is a deep-rooted distrust of President Buhari, a northerner, in an impoverished region where people are cynical about politicians after years of broken promises.

Some feel they are being punished after not voting for Buhari's ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party in 2015.

"There is no desire to achieve anything through the deceit called peace talks," Niger Delta activist Annkio Briggs told AFP.

"The Niger Delta not voting for APC in 2015 was unforgivable and the people are being punished today."

Others feel that Buhari's pledge to create a $10 billion Niger Delta infrastructure fund is nearly impossible to achieve given Nigeria's economic crisis.



"I don't think that they really feel a sense of trust in the government," said Dolapo Oni, energy researcher at Ecobank.

"Unfortunately there's not much that government can do, I think the disruptions will likely continue," Oni said.

Charles Swabey, oil and gas analyst for BMI Research, echoed Oni, saying the attacks were pressure tactics that played havoc with production and showed the government the militants "have the capability to carry on".

The wave of attacks began in early 2016, tipping Nigeria into a recession in August.

Nigeria depends on oil for 70 per cent of its government revenue and the bulk of its export earnings.

The militants want more energy wealth to go back to the communities it is taken from and are calling for more development and a clean-up of the polluted environment.

Despite the recent uptick in attacks on oil infrastructure, Nigeria's security forces remained unrelenting in their efforts to stem the sabotage of facilities in the region.

Yesterday, operatives of the Joint Task Force (JTF) descended heavily on militants in the Delta State axis with heavy aerial and land bombardment on newly set-up militant camps in the state.

THISDAY learnt that the camps were set up by militants at Kosugbene village near Gbekubor in Warri South West Local Government Area of the state.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Demons, Aso Rock Villa And The Nigerian Gothic

BY OBI NWANKANMA, 
THE ORBIT, VANGUARD, SUNDAY, NOV. 20, 2016


OBI NWAKANMA


In the 21st century, when people in various parts of the world are making artificial intelligence, and there is increasing and scary talk about “singularity,” when kids in middle schools are in workshops creating robots and exploring robotic applications,

Nigerians, even those with doctorate degrees in the sciences and humanities awarded by Nigerian Universities are talking about haunted state houses filled with “demonic spirits.” Nigerian newspapers publish such accounts with relish. Nigerian newspapers also now rely on prophets to make economic forecasts and political predictions which they retail with gusto to the reading public.

Prophets and priests, not trained economists in universities, research institutes, policy councils, or the research arms of the civil service now guide our economic policies. Perhaps this is much so because, actually, and someone should correct me if I’m wrong, there are no Economic Research Institutes of any serious weight anymore in Nigeria, especially since places like NISER – the National Institute for Social and Economic Research founded by the indefatigable Kenneth Dike in 1960s in Ibadan following the dissolution of the West African Institute of Social and Economic Research have narrowed their mission to become policy wagons rather than drivers of the wagon of research since its appropriation by government in 1977.

 NISER no longer has the kind of weight it should command as a serious site for economic intelligence and research. Nor does the Center for Development Studies established at the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus, in 1963 to conduct social and economic research. These places have not only become bureaucratized out of their functions, they have stopped being go-to places for serious research into national economic and social behavior. The work done in these places are limited because it is generally incestuous.

 There are no residences for visiting scholars, research fellowships, and action plans. There is no connection between the works done in these places and government’s strategic economic masterplan, and yet these are centers established to provide serious economic and social research for the benefit of government and independent actors in the economy. 

Aside from the decline of these places, I need someone to also correct me on this: there is no contemporary Nigerian economist of the weight of a Pius Okigbo or Aboyade or even H.M. Onitiri: there is Charles Soludo, of course, but sometimes he feels like a flash-in the pan. There was a time when Ndu Ughamadu, now with the NNPC, but then Chief Economist and Business Editor of the now defunct Daily Times, used to be Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Economic Society, and you would think that with all his experiences in journalism and industry, particularly the oil industry, that some University, perhaps even his alma mater, Nsukka, would think to engage him as a Visiting Research Professor in the Economics Department, or a Senior Research Fellow at their Research Institutes. You would think that Ughamadu might even think to write a serious book based on his experience as a trained Economist, a journalist who covered the Economy of Nigeria and has watched and hopefully measured its transitions, and an industry player, particular in the oil industry that is crucial to Nigeria’s economic life.

 There is no sign yet, that such thinking is abundant in Nigeria. Such thinking is rather more prevalent, which prevented the University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, or even the University of Jos, for instance, from recruiting Odumegwu-Ojukwu or Yakubu Gowon as a visiting Professors of Politics in their political Science programs, or even Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, and the very many intellectually minded public servants like Asiodu or Ayida or Udebiuwa, or Anyaoku, Adamu Ciroma, or Jibril Aminu, and so on, who had attained high positions and acquired high degrees of experiences as top diplomats, 

Intelligence and National Security experts, Journalists, top civil servants, and industry leaders who retire or are suddenly disengaged from their services. Universities in other places in the world often search for and benefit from these people who they recruit into their faculty, one, to raise the timbre of work done in the universities form these uncommon experiences, two, to raise the profile of the universities who advertise these people and that is why Nigerian universities currently rate very low on the scale of the index of world universities, and three, to provide a good space for these individuals to be debriefed as a way of sustaining national institutional memory and discourse. 

The energies of these individuals are diverted towards creating national values. In sum, the connection between Nigeria’s national research infrastructure and its national policy infrastructure does not exist because these places have narrow missions; primitive orientations, and quite frankly, the disjunction reflects the state of public governance in Nigeria. 

Nigerian intellectuals are irrelevant in the affairs of the nation because those in the universities do not want to engage and create synergy with those outside the ivory tower. So, the cobwebs gather increasingly over the ivory tower while Nigerians now rely on soothsayers and Babalawos to deal with problems that require empirical solutions. 

As a matter of fact, the soothsayers are themselves establishing universities and the cultures of the academy are now increasingly determined and defined by faith healers and religious fanatics. As a matter of fact, I have heard it on good authority that in Nigerian universities these days, Lecturers begin their classes, but first after a “worship session.” Faith-healers and demon-hunters are now in charge of the Nigerian mind. And that is why PhDs can talk with bold faces about “demons” in Aso Rock and there is scant satire to it. 

Newspapers now go to prophets to predict the 2019 Nigerian elections: not political analysts, not empirical surveys commissioned or conducted by the research and investigative arm of newspapers to actually measure voter behavior. It seems that Nigerian newspapers did not learn anything from the faux pas of the pastor of the Synagogue of all Nations, a Joshua who saw “a woman” winning the US elections; nor have they yet discerned the signal lessons of the life, times and metamorphosis of the “magnificent” brother Jero, Wole Soyinka’s very prescient satire on faith in the Jero Plays. 

Perhaps it is all now entertainment, but when we now talk about demons in Aso Rock, and give it long, serious play in newspapers that take themselves seriously as purveyors of serious information to a reading public, we surely must see that the handshake has now crossed the elbows: the Nigerian mind is sick. It has been made sick by too much koolaid. 

All one needs to do is take a consistent look at the quality and pattern of comments in Nigerian newspapers, and some in response to newspaper columns, and it would be abundantly clear that the Nigerian mind has suffered terrible and tragic regression. But let me return to the question of demons in Aso Rock. I should now say that there may indeed be demons in Aso Rock. 

Yes! But hear me out. Every house is a haunted house. All you need do is listen very closely to the beat of your own heart in the dark, and you will see spirits moving. The swoosh of the curtain by a slight wind will take new significance, as would the rustle of branches behind the house. The glow of something in the dark, and yes, that footstep that sounds like something is stepping out of the closet. 

This is the quality of nightmare. But let me say that Reuben Abati’s ghost story of Aso Rock should now qualify as a genre of the Nigerian gothic alongside Amos Tutuola’s The Palmwine Drinkard and Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests. As for me, I think that the real demons in Aso Rock is the demon of inefficiency and ignorance; of unearned privilege and greed; of tribalism, nepotism; and religious fundamentalism; of corruption; profiteering; budget-padding; contract-inflation; push-me-I push you, arrogance, over-consumption, and selective amnesia. 

It continues to haunt that place with the current occupants. As for the symptoms that Dr. Abati identified, specifically the loss of erection and sundry appetites that afflicted his friends in the last regime: well, think about it folks: lack of exercise and sleep, alcoholism, over-consumption of the rich food freely available at Aso Rock, and depression are factors liable to cause that kind of energy crisis and the deflagging of the pole. So be warned guys. Seek help from the Aso Rock shrinks, and not your pastor or faith healer. Everyone in Aso Rock needs Prozac.