Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Agitation For Biafra

A FACT of Nigeria’s democratic experience in the last 16 years is that every new political administration springs forth a new uprising from disenchanted interest groups. Such seems to be the case of the Muhammadu Buhari administration and the recent series of protests by youths of South eastern extraction seeking secession from Nigeria and demanding the unconditional release of Nnamdi Kalu, the detained director of the pirate Radio Biafra.
But contrary to the position of some informed commentaries denouncing the ongoing agitation for secession or self-determination as a rally of miscreants, the obviously expanding Biafran factions are gradually crystallising into a global clamour for the actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra. Whatever the motives of this agitation, it must not be taken lightly.
Whilst, at face value, the wave of protests dotting south eastern cities and Port Harcourt, Rivers State, may be construed as another activity of unscrupulous, business-minded men exploiting gullible youths, the motivations for such uprising rest on the skewed nature of the Nigerian society.
For many years, successive administrations have maintained a portentous imbalance and inequitable structure that disfavours meritocracy. They have glossed over the continuous capitulation of the political class in a progressive fashion to a point of disaffection. And by so doing they have fostered a forced unanimity.
With this groundswell of protests, the unity of Nigeria, for want of a suitable metaphor, seems to be held at gunpoint. Perhaps, this agitation points to issues that have not been resolved. It is noteworthy that while these protests persist, a section of the Igbo elite have either only dismissed the agitation in the fashion of President Muhammadu Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, or continually recycled the narratives of Nigeria’s skewed political economic structuring. What they should do instead is that, they, with well-meaning Nigerians, should find a midway and a basis for which the nation’s diversity can be respected, and a sense of belonging maintained. Standards have to be respected and established constitutional rights must be protected without making others feel any loss of their identities.
While the unity of Nigeria should be discussed, the agitators must be strongly cautioned to channel their grievances without perpetrating acts that could be interpreted as an attempt to enthrone instability and dismember the country.
Concerning the substance of the agitation, the veracity of a unified Biafran agenda is already being called to question by the absence of a clear-cut philosophy or any articulated strategy of effective social mobilisation; the result of which is the emergence of various factions in the Biafra cause. Following allegations of sabotage, intimidation, pecuniary conflicts, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is said to have broken into Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM), led by one Benjamin Onwuka, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), led by Nnamdi Kanu, and the United Eastern Congress led by Sam Ike, all of which work at cross-purposes.
The disorganised manner of this agitation, the indecorous, offensive, and irreverent verbiage coming from their spokespersons make a mockery of any claim they may lay to a legitimate cause. It should be borne in mind also that every part of the country has one thing or another to agitate for. If every aggrieved company were to carry on the way these aspiring Biafrans are going, the chaos the nation would face can only be imagined. This is a bad signal to the dissatisfied others. It is for this reason the secessionist tendencies of the leader of MASSOB, Ralph Uwazuruike, who is set to present an alleged 2016 budget “to actualise Biafra and liberate the people of former Eastern region,” is condemnable.
Those in the streets, whose only political education comes from misguided verbiage of clannish role models, should be cautious not to become cannon fodders for mischief-making. Whilst it is part of democracy that people should air their views, however jaundiced, they should, all the same, not translate grievances into violence and bloodshed.
Just as it is true for the agitating pro-Biafra demonstrators, the army should not be provoked into violence-inciting utterances as the response of the Deputy-Director, Army Public Realtions, 82 Division, Enugu, Col. Hamza Gambo, portrayed the other day. It is not the business of the army to tell Nigerians what to say or what not to say in a democracy. The role of advising the presidency on when to use force in its reaction to the Biafran protests rests on the National Assembly.
Notwithstanding, it is simplistic to view the agitation for Biafra as an event orchestrated by disgruntled elements reliving a frightful reverie from the Civil War, or some business experiment. Although it may seem like exuberant Igbo youths excitedly seeking avenues to vent, the deeper import of the Biafra agitation transcends its narrow-minded Igbo agenda. It is as one commentator suggested, a living philosophy of justice that appears wherever and whenever oppression, impunity, injustice and structural violence rear their heads. What is going on is symbolic of the discontent experienced by many ethno-political interests for whom the Nigeria question remains unanswered. Nigeria tends to be living a lie. It wants to be a prosperous and politically stable country, yet it is holding down this potential for prosperity and stability by maintaining a supercilious unitary government, whilst paying lip service to federalism.
In the event, any government carrying on this way should not feel that all is well with the national political configuration. For too long, successive governments have undermined the essential differences in the various interests of the Nigerian people; and so unresolved matters about the aspirations of Nigeria’s heterogeneous interests have become an ongoing concern. To assume that these do not exist, or to gloss over them even when we are aware of them, is to play the ostrich.
So, rather than shout down at agitators and wish them away with a wave of the hand, this government should find answers to the thorny issues that created this monstrosity in the first place. Fortunately, the answers to many of these problems are contained in the report of the National Conference. It was with patient expectation of good fortunes that Nigerians committed themselves to the National Conference convened by former President Goodluck Jonathan. True to Nigerians’ expectations, the report of the Conference made recommendations that should augur well for this country’s future.
The Muhammadu Buhari government should look into the report if it is to make any headway in addressing the renewed agitations across the nation. Nigerians must press for the implementation of the National Conference Report as an answer to the renewed agitation for Biafra.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Cash-Strapped U Of R Students 'Abandoned' By Nigerian Scholarship Program

Nigerian Students Fear Lack Of Funding Will Lead To Deportation

Wisdom Eji, a University of Regina student who's on a scholarship from a Rivers State government agency in Nigeria, says he feels 'abandoned' by the program that brought him to study in Canada. (Geoff Leo)

Wisdom Eji says he and his fellow Nigerians, here on scholarships for underprivileged students, have been left to fend for themselves after the government-funded program that brought them to Canada has failed to pay.

"We have been abandoned," said Eji, a University of Regina (U of R) engineering student. "We live right now like we don't have sponsors."

Across Canada, 246 Nigerian students, in 14 universities were promised their tuition and living expenses would be covered during their four-year degree program.

However, they haven't received their living allowance for the past 11 months and their tuition is millions of dollars in arrears.

"You just wish you didn't even have the scholarship in the first place," Eji said. "Like things get bad — I just wish I didn't even come here. I just wish I was at home."

Eji is one of 40-50 students enrolled at the U of R under a scholarship paid for by the Rivers State Sustainable Development Agency (RSSDA); an organization owned and funded by the Rivers State government in Nigeria.

The organization sponsors hundreds of poor but academically gifted students to study at universities in 14 countries, including Canada.

The students were promised tuition and a living allowance of $1,100 a month to cover their rent, food and other expenses.

"Before we left Nigeria they are like, 'Don't even work,'" Eji recalled. "''We'll give you everything you need.'"

The RSSDA owes Canadian students about $3 million in living allowance, forcing many like Eji to find jobs. He is working part-time while continuing his full-time studies.

He said he's behind on his rent and other bills, is often hungry, stressed and sleepless. He said as a result his marks have dropped 15-20 percentage points.

In addition to what it owes in living allowances, the RSSDA admits it also owes $2.5 million in tuition to 14 Canadian universities. More than half of that, $1.3 million, is owed to the U of R for the 2014/15 academic year, during which 124 RSSDA sponsored students studied at the institution.

Vanessa Ikeogu, an RSSDA student who's studying criminology at the U of R, said she's angered by the behaviour of her government and sponsoring agency.

"Ignorant, reluctant, irresponsible government officials," Ikeogu said. "I just feel like I have been lied to."

However, the acting executive director of the RSSDA, Godwin Poi, said the government-owned agency will keep its promises.

"It is absolutely correct to do so. It's a government, and we can't afford government obligations and responsibilities to fail," Poi told CBC's iTeam.

Nigeria has fallen on hard financial times because of the collapse of the price of oil, he said, pleading for patience.

"It is tragic and sad that we're in the situation we are in. To the best of my knowledge all the governments have done their best to fund the situation for them," Poi said. "We have gone through a very very serious phase of funding for the country and the state."

The U of R has admitted more Nigerian students through this program than any other university in Canada. At its peak, during the 2012/13 academic year, there were 155 RSSDA sponsored students at the U of R.

The director of executive reporting services at the U of R, Lamont Stradeski, says the university's relationship with the RSSDA dates back to 2008. And he fully expects the university will be paid.

"I guess the recourse the university has is we can stop students from registering further.," he said. "However, we wouldn't do that unless we had serious concerns that we would not receive payment, which at this point we don't."

The RSSDA owes more than $250,000 to the University of Manitoba (U of M) and that institution appears to be taking a harder line.

Gift Ahmadi is sponsored by the agency to pursue a political science degree at the U of M, but his tuition bill is past due, and the university is asking him to pay.

"The school is saying you have just about 30 days left to pay what's left for this term," Ahmadi said. "If not I won't be able to register for the winter term."

He said the lack of scholarship funding has been "very devastating."

"Right now I'm taking classes and I'm thinking of feeding. I haven't eaten since morning and I'm in class," Ahmadi told CBC's iTeam, when reached in the evening at the U of M.

The associate VP of Outreach and Engagement at the U of M, Leah Janzen, said she's sympathetic.

"I know some of them have accessed our student food bank," Janzen explained. "It's a very difficult situation."

She said the university is working with the students to develop payment plans and find other funding.

Some RSSDA students have paid their own tuition, borrowing money from friends, family or churches. But for others, time is clearly running out.

For about a dozen students, tuition hasn't been paid for the summer or fall term, putting their stay at the university in jeopardy.

​"Our policy is you can't go into a third term having not been able to pay for the previous two terms in their entirety," Janzen said. "So we don't want to get to that position with these students."

If an international student on a visa is no longer registered at an educational institution, they aren't able to stay in Canada, according to immigration rules.

Recently, 19 RSSDA-sponsored students had to flee the U.K. in order to avoid deportation from that country because their tuition had not been paid by the agency.

Many students in Canada worry they may end up in the same situation.

"Terrified — because you don't know if you're the next," Eji said. "I can't get that money, so if I don't have that money the only option is going back to Nigeria."

Ahmadi says ongoing political instability in Nigeria has made it easy for politicians there to ignore this problem, so he and the other students have decided to take action.

They've formed a committee to mobilize friends, family and the media to pressure the Nigerian government.

He said students are worried they may face retaliation by speaking out about this issue, but added his political science studies have taught him that sometimes it's necessary to take calculated risks.

"It may not be convenient, it may not be comfortable for you, but someone has got to stand to say 'OK, this is the right thing and we can do it if we stand for what is right and we speak up about it.'"

He said it's ironic that his government sent him to Canada on a scholarship to study political science, the knowledge he's now using to pressure that same government to keep its word.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Facebook Activates Safety Feature After Nigeria Bombing

© Provided by AFP Facebook has activated its "Safety Check" feature for the first time in Nigeria, after a bombing likely carried out by Boko Haram killed more than 30


Facebook has activated its "Safety Check" feature for the first time in Nigeria, after a bombing likely carried out by Boko Haram killed more than 30 late on Tuesday.
"We've activated Safety Check again after the bombing in Nigeria this evening," co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on the site.
The social network had come under criticism from those caught up in last Thursday's blasts in Beirut that they were not offered the service but those in Friday's Paris attacks were.
The tool allows users to check whether friends are safe after attacks or natural disasters such as earthquakes.
Zuckerberg said at the weekend the feature would be used more widely in the future.
Tuesday night's bombing at a crowded lorry park in Yola, northeast Nigeria, was the first attack this month and left at least 32 dead and some 80 others injured.
The explosion bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram Islamists, who have repeatedly hit civilian "soft targets" in their six-year insurgency.
At least 17,000 people have been killed and more than 2.6 million made homeless by the violence in that period, with suicide and bomb attacks an almost daily occurrence in the northeast.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Republicans On Paris: What Happened To US Shock And Awe?

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. speaks in Orlando, Fla. Republicans are using the latest attacks in Paris to appeal to U.S. voters jittery about terrorism. Several Republicans, including presidential hopeful Jeb Bush and former candidate Mitt Romney, appeared on the television networks Monday to decry President Barack Obama's policies as half-hearted and to suggest that a U.S. ground war against the Islamic State may be inevitable.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans on Monday tried to appeal to U.S. voters jittery about terrorism by decrying President Barack Obama's policies as half-hearted and suggesting that a U.S. ground war against the Islamic State may be inevitable.

The tough-talk is a political gamble. Obama was elected by war-weary voters in 2008 after promising to end the U.S. presence in Iraq. But U.S. sentiment can be fickle and the GOP's message might appeal to many Americans much as President George Bush's vow of "shock and awe" did following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Returning to the work week for the first time since the Paris attacks, Republicans took to U.S. television networks demanding a new military strategy. "We can't negotiate with this threat," GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush told Fox News. "We should have no empathy for our enemies. We should destroy them."

Added another GOP presidential hopeful, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: "I want to fight them in their backyard, so we don't fight them in our backyard." Graham appeared on MSNBC alongside Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who said Obama should bring back retired Gen. David Petraeus to lead the fight against the Islamic State.

"Frankly I'm not overwhelmed with 20 airstrikes by the French," he said. "I think it's wonderful but ... more of the same is not going to stop this virus and this disease, which will lead to a threat in the united States' national security."

Mitt Romney, Obama's presidential rival in 2012, said another Democratic president would be dangerous. "There's no question Hillary Clinton has a lot of experience, it's just bad experience.... She's just been wrong time and time again," he told MSNBC.

Romney said he has no intention of running for president in 2016 and declined to endorse any one GOP candidate.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

France Vows To Punish IS For Paris Attack That Kill 127

By Lori Hinnant and Greg Keller, AP

Fans gather on the pitch during the International friendly match between France and Germany on Nov. 13, 2015, after an attack. (Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE (AP) — French President Francois Hollande vowed to attack the Islamic State group without mercy as the jihadist group admitted responsibility Saturday for orchestrating the deadliest attacks inflicted on France since World War II.
Hollande said at least 127 people died Friday night in shootings at Paris cafes, suicide bombings near France's national stadium and a hostage-taking slaughter inside a concert hall.
Hollande, who declared three days of national mourning and raised the nation's security to its highest level, called the carnage "an act of war that was prepared, organized, planned from abroad with internal help."
The Islamic State group's claim of responsibility appeared in Arabic and French in an online statement circulated by IS supporters. It was not immediately possible to confirm the authenticity of the admission, which bore the group's logo and resembled previous verified statements from the group.
As Hollande addressed the nation, French anti-terror police worked to identify potential accomplices to the attackers, who remained a mystery to the public: their nationalities, their motives, even their exact number.
Authorities said eight died, seven in suicide bombings, a new terror tactic in France. Police said they shot and killed the other assailant.
Prosecutor's office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre said authorities couldn't rule out the possibility that other militants involved in the attack remained at large.
World leaders united in sympathy and indignation, New York police increased security measures, and people worldwide reached out to friends and loved ones in France.
The violence raised questions about security for the millions of tourists who come to Paris and for world events routinely hosted in the normally luminous capital, where troops were deployed to support police trying to restore order.
One of Europe's most heavily visited tourist attractions, the Disneyland theme park east of the capital, announced it would not open for business Saturday, a rarity.
Hollande said France — which is already bombing IS targets in Syria and Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition, and has troops fighting militants in Africa — "will be merciless toward the barbarians of Islamic State group."
Reflecting fears in other European capitals of the risk of coordinated or copycat attacks, the British government scheduled a meeting of its own emergency COBRA intelligence committee overseen by Prime Minister David Cameron. Italy said it, too, was raising security levels on borders and major public places.
Friday night's militants launched at least six gun and bomb attacks in rapid succession on apparently indiscriminate civilian targets.
Three suicide bombs targeted spots around the national Stade de France stadium, north of the capital, where Hollande was watching an exhibition soccer match. Fans inside the stadium recoiled at the sound of explosions, but the match continued amid rising spectator fears.
Around the same time, fusillades of bullets shattered the clinking of wine glasses in a trendy Paris neighborhood as gunmen targeted a string of cafes, which were crowded on an unusually balmy November night. At least 37 people were killed, according to Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins.
The attackers next stormed a concert hall, the Bataclan, which was hosting the American rock band Eagles of Death Metal. They opened fire on the panicked audience and took members hostage. As police closed in, three detonated explosive belts, killing themselves, according to Paris police chief Michel Cadot.
Another attacker detonated a suicide bomb on Boulevard Voltaire, near the music hall, the prosecutor's office said.
The Bataclan was the scene of the worst carnage.
Video shot from an apartment balcony and posted on the Le Monde website Saturday captured some of that horror as dozens of people fled from gunfire outside the Bataclan down a passageway to a side street.
At least one person lies writhing on the ground as scores more stream past, some of them bloodied or limping. The camera pans down the street to reveal more fleeing people dragging two bodies along the ground. A woman and two others can be seen clinging to upper-floor balcony railings in an apparent desperate bid to stay out of the line of fire.
Le Monde said its reporter who filmed the scene from his apartment balcony, Daniel Psenney, was shot in the arm after he stopped filming, when he went downstairs to help someone who had collapsed in the alley.
Sylvain, a tall, sturdy 38-year-old concert-goer, collapsed in tears as he recounted the attack, the chaos and his escape during a lull in gunfire.
"I was watching the concert in the pit, in the midst of the mass of the audience. First I heard explosions, and I thought it was firecrackers.
"Very soon I smelled powder, and I understood what was happening. There were shots everywhere, in waves. I lay down on the floor. I saw at least two shooters, but I heard others talk. They cried, 'It's Hollande's fault.' I heard one of the shooters shout, 'Allahu Akbar,'" Sylvain told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition that his full name not be used out of concern for his safety.
He was among dozens of survivors offered counseling and blankets in a municipal building set up as a crisis center.
Jihadis on Twitter immediately praised the attackers and criticized France's military operations against Islamic State extremists.
Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced renewed border checks along frontiers that are normally open under Europe's free-travel zone.
In a televised Friday night address he appealed to citizens to maintain "a determined France, a united France, a France that joins together and a France that will not allow itself to be staggered, even if today there is infinite emotion faced with this disaster, this tragedy, which is an abomination, because it is barbarism."
President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters in Washington, decried an "attack on all humanity."
A U.S. official briefed by the Justice Department says intelligence officials were not aware of any threats before Friday's attacks.
The Disneyland Paris theme park announced it would not open for business Saturday but billed the move as a matter of sympathy, not security.
Disney said in a statement it would remain closed "in light of the recent tragic events in France and in support of our community and the victims of these horrendous attacks." Some 14.2 million people visited the attraction last year.
Paris is expected to host 80 heads of state, including Obama, for a climate summit in two weeks. In June, France is scheduled to host the European soccer championship — with the Stade de France a major venue.
And Paris-based UNESCO is expecting world leaders Monday for a forum about overcoming extremism. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani canceled a trip because of Friday's attacks. Hollande canceled a planned trip to this weekend's G-20 summit in Turkey.
France has been on edge since January, when Islamic extremists attacked the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had run cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, and a kosher grocery. Twenty people died in those attacks, including three shooters.
On Friday night they targeted young people enjoying a rock concert and ordinary city residents celebrating the end of the work week and cheering their nation's soccer squad as it took on the defending World Cup champions.
France has seen several smaller-scale attacks or attempts this year, including on a high-speed train in August when American travelers overpowered a heavily armed man.
French authorities are particularly concerned about the threat from hundreds of French Islamic radicals who have traveled to Syria and returned home with skills to mount attacks.
"The big question on everyone's mind is: Were these attackers — if they turn out to be connected to one of the groups in Syria — were they homegrown terrorists or were they returning fighters?" said Brian Michael Jenkins, a terrorism expert and senior adviser to the president of the Washington-based RAND Corporation. "That will be a huge question."

Scenes Of Horror As A Paris Night Becomes A Bloodbath

Investigating police officers inspect the lifeless body of a victim of a shooting attack outside the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, France, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. Well over 100 people were killed in Paris on Friday night in a series of shooting, explosions. French President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and announced that he was closing the country's borders.

PARIS, FRANCE (AP) — The assailants' weapons were those of war: automatic rifles and suicide belts of explosives. The killing was indiscriminate, spread across a swath of the city, in at least six different sites. An ordinary Friday night in Paris transformed into a bloodbath. The word Parisians used over and over as they tried to make sense of the horror was "carnage."

At the packed Bataclan concert hall in eastern Paris, the attackers opened fire on a crowd waiting to hear American rock band Eagles of Death Metal perform. One witness told France Info radio he heard them yell "Allahu Akbar" — God is great in Arabic — as they started their killing spree and took hostages. The city's police chief, Michel Cadot, said the assailants also wore explosive belts, which they detonated.

About a mile (1.5 kilometers) from there, attackers sprayed gunfire at the Belle Equipe bar, busy as ever on a Friday night with patrons unwinding from their week. One witness, also speaking to French radio, said the dead and wounded dropped "like flies" and that "there was blood everywhere. You feel very alone in moments like that."

The preliminary death toll there appeared to be 18 dead, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said. White sheets were laid over bodies. To the north, loud explosions reverberated around the national stadium, packed with some 80,000 fans watching France beat Germany in a soccer exhibition match. One of the loud detonations in the chill air so startled French player Patrice Evra that he paused in mid-run, seemingly lost, and kicked away the ball.

A police union official, Gregory Goupil, said the two explosions were suicide attacks and a bombing that killed at least three people — near two of the entrances to the stadium and a McDonalds. The stadium was the first site targeted.

From there, the wave of killings quickly spread. There were 14 dead on one street, five on another, Molins said. The spread of the killings added to the confusion and made a coherent picture slow to form. But the shock was instantaneous, as was the understanding that this was terror and killing on a scale unseen in Paris since World War II.

"The terrorists, the assassins, sprayed the outsides of several cafes with machine guns and went inside," Cadot, the police chief, said. "So there were victims in terrible and atrocious states in numerous places."

Pierre-Henri Lombard was dining in a restaurant in the trendy neighborhood when he heard sounds like the fireworks for France's Bastille Day national holiday. Then the panic began. "Waiters went outside and said it was a shooting. We saw dozens of people rundown the street, a couple were bleeding," he said.

As police, soldiers and the emergency services sprang into action, sirens wailing, helicopters whirring overhead, medical personnel started reporting for work of their own accord to help treat the injured. Five subway lines were shut down entirely, and Paris police told people to stay at home and avoid going out unless absolutely necessary.

At the Bataclan, police launched an assault to free hostages. Haggard-looking survivors were bused away. At the stadium, fans streamed onto the pitch after the match, preferring the relative safety of inside of the stadium to the chaos outside. Police forensic officers dressed in white scoured the blast sites for evidence.

French President Francois Hollande was quickly evacuated from the stadium and soon after declared a state of emergency.

Greg Keller, Samuel Petrequin and Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Cameron: Not Certain 'Jihadi John' Dead

The militant known as Jihadi John. A U.S. drone strike targeted a vehicle in Syria believed to be transporting the masked Islamic State militant known as "Jihadi John" on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, according to American officials. Whether the strike killed the British man who appears in several videos depicting the beheadings of Western hostages was not known, officials said.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. drone strike targeted a vehicle in Syria believed to be transporting the masked Islamic State militant known as "Jihadi John," according to American officials. Whether the strike killed the British man who appears in several videos depicting the beheadings of Western hostages was not known, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday.

Mohammed Emwazi was the target of an airstrike in Raqqa, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement. Officials were assessing the results of the strike, he said. A U.S. official told The Associated Press that a drone had targeted a vehicle in which Emwazi was believed to be traveling. The official was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

Cameron said officials are not yet certain whether a U.S. drone strike killed Emwazi. He said the strike had been a joint effort and that British intelligence agencies were working around the clock to find the British-accented militant, whom Cameron called the militant group's "lead executioner."

Cameron also said the U.S. strike had been "an act of self-defense" and the right thing to do. He said targeting Emwazi was "a strike at the heart" of the Islamic State group. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, appearing at a news conference in Tunis, Tunisia, on Friday said, "We are still assessing the results of this strike." He told reporters extremists "need to know this: Your days are numbered, and you will be defeated."

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that U.S. coalition warplanes struck an IS vehicle as it left the governor's office in the city of Raqqa, killing four IS foreign fighters, including a British commander. The Observatory said the bodies were charred, and Observatory chief Rami Abdurrahman said the commander killed in the attack was most likely Jihadi John but that he does not have 100 percent confirmation.

Emwazi, believed to be in his mid-20s, has been described by a former hostage as a bloodthirsty psychopath who enjoyed threatening Western hostages. Spanish journalist Javier Espinosa, who had been held in Syria for more than six months after his abduction in September 2013, said Emwazi would explain precisely how the militants would carry out a beheading.

Those being held by three British-sounding captors nicknamed them "the Beatles" with "Jihadi John" a reference to Beatles member John Lennon, Espinosa said in recalling his months as one of more than 20 hostages.

Cameron said Britain has been "working, with the United States, literally around the clock to track him down." "This was a combined effort," he said. "And the contribution of both our countries was essential."

Cameron said that "it will demonstrate to those who would do Britain, our people and our allies harm: We have a long reach, we have unwavering determination and we never forget about our citizens." Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem Friday, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, "If these reports are correct and several of those people from ISIS were killed today, I mean these people who were brutalizing, terrorizing, murdering people, of course it is really important that we take the fight to them and make them realize that they are going to be contested heavily."

"It's no great secret; I think it is essential for Britain to play its part in the fight against this hideous extremism that is brutalizing the lives of so many people," Blair said. "It is important we play our full part alongside America and other allies and so if the UK government wanted to commit Britain to this fight in Syria, where after all ISIS are really headquartered, of course I will be fully supportive of that."

Among those beheaded by Islamic State militants in videos posted online since August 2014 were U.S. journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, U.S. aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, and Japanese journalist Kenji Goto.

A friend of Henning has said she is still "skeptical" following news that "Jihadi John" may have been killed. Louise Woodward-Styles, who organized a candlelit vigil for the taxi driver after he was captured by the terrorists, said that, even if Emwazi had been killed, the family of the 47-year-old would not get closure following his brutal murder.

She said: "I don't think there will be closure, particularly for Alan's family and close friends. "His body wasn't returned home and from that aspect it was something they had to deal with privately. For them to say that Jihadi John has been killed doesn't mean anything. It is something that the Government can say they have done successfully," she said.

She added that she would have preferred Emwazi to have been brought back to the UK to face justice. In the videos, a tall masked figure clad in black and speaking in a British accent typically began one of the gruesome videos with a political rant and a kneeling hostage before him, then ended it holding an oversize knife in his hand with the headless victim lying before him in the sand.

Emwazi was identified as "Jihadi John" last February, although a lawyer who once represented Emwazi's father told reporters that there was no evidence supporting the accusation. Experts and others later confirmed the identification.

Emwazi was born in Kuwait and spent part of his childhood in the poor Taima area of Jahra before moving to Britain while still a boy, according to news reports quoting Syrian activists who knew the family. He attended state schools in London, then studied computer science at the University of Westminster before leaving for Syria in 2013. The woman who had been the principal at London's Quintin Kynaston Academy told the BBC earlier this year that Emwazi had been quiet and "reasonably hard-working."

Officials said Britain's intelligence community had Emwazi on its list of potential terror suspects for years but was unable to prevent him from traveling to Syria. He had been known to the nation's intelligence services since at least 2009, when he was connected with investigations into terrorism in Somalia.

The beheading of Foley, 40, of Rochester, New Hampshire, was deemed by IS to be its response to U.S. airstrikes. The release of the video, on Aug. 19, 2014, horrified and outraged the civilized world but was followed the next month by videos showing the beheadings of Sotloff and Haines and, in October, of Henning.

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

NIGERIA: Creating Demand For Uptake Of HIV Counselling And Testing

By Aradhna Duggal, Health Communications
International Federation Of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies
Anne Madden/British Red Cross

According to UNAIDS, Nigeria has the second highest number of new infections reported each year. An estimated 3.6 per cent of the population aged 15-49 years are living with HIV. Even though the situation is dire, the uptake of HIV counselling and testing (HCT) remains low, especially in rural areas. This is mainly because the rural population has limited knowledge about HIV and AIDS and HCT facilities, are far and few.
Some of the towns in Cross River State such as Calabar South have a high prevalence rate of 7.1 per cent, which is above the national prevalence rate of 3.6 per cent. To increase the demand for HCT and other health services at community level, the Nigerian Red Cross Society in collaboration with the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) planned and implemented a community-based HCT in three local government areas of Cross River State - Calabar South, Boki and Yala.
Advocacy with community leaders and key decision makers in the target communities was carried out to introduce the project and ensure buy-in from the community. To show their support and consent, town criers announced the presence of the Red Cross in the communities and asked that all community members support the initiative.
To ensure that the volunteers were equipped with adequate knowledge and skills, trainers from Local Agency for the Control of AIDS (LACA) and HCT centres were recruited to train the community-based volunteers and supervisors. During a three day orientation session, 400 community-based volunteers, most of whom are community health workers and staff of LACA, received training. The orientation was carried out simultaneously in all the three local government areas under close supervision of the NACA technical team.
Following the training, the community-based volunteers were deployed to carry out a five day house-to-house visit and counsel people on HIV prevention, treatment and the need for everyone to get tested and know their status. Volunteers used community gatherings, church visits and other social avenues to create awareness on HIV and AIDS and other diseases like malaria.
During this period, volunteers assembled at the health facility on daily basis to register and collect kits and client intake forms. At the end of the day, they returned the forms and kits (both used and unused) to their supervisors. The supervisors in turn handed over these to the health personnel for proper documentation of results and safe disposal.
Out of the 39,248 persons counselled, tested and given results, 330 persons tested HIV positive - 265 in Calabar South; 35 in Yala and 30 in Boki. "Those who tested HIV positive were immediately referred to the health facilities for confirmation and treatment. Their data was also collected and sent to the health facilities for follow up", says Samuel Matoka, IFRC's Health Delegate in Nigeria.
Ten health facilities were identified for referral: four in Yala and Boki and two in Calabar South. "These facilities are managed by health personnel who are trained on HCT and prevention of mother-to-child transmission and other health services. The test kits and monitoring tools are kept at the health facilities, under the supervision of the personnel who were also facilitators of the training", adds Samuel.
While the overall experience of HCT in Cross River State was good, the team faced several challenges. The coordination mechanism between the National Red Cross office and State offices was weak and there were gaps in communication between stakeholders. More time should have been allotted for advocacy, community mobilization and stakeholders involvement.
"Even though those who had tested HIV positive were immediately referred to health facilities, there was no mechanism in place to follow up whether they actually reached out to the health facilities or not", says Samuel. He goes on to add that, "Volunteers should be able to provide long-term support to the communities by following up with people who have tested positive and continue raising awareness about HIV and AIDS".