Saturday, December 31, 2016

UN Backs Russian-Turkish Syria Efforts, As Cease-Fire Wavers


Members of the United Nations Security Council vote at the United Nations headquarters on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, passing a resolution supporting efforts by Russia and Turkey to end violence in Syria and jumpstart peace negotiations.

BEIRUT, LEBANON (AP) — The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution supporting efforts by Russia and Turkey to end the nearly six-year conflict in Syria and jump-start peace negotiations. The resolution approved Saturday afternoon also calls for the "rapid, safe and unhindered" delivery of humanitarian aid throughout Syria. And it anticipates a meeting of the Syrian government and opposition representative in Kazakhstan's capital Astana in late January.

The resolution's final text dropped an endorsement of the Syria cease-fire agreement reached Thursday, as Western members of the council sought changes to the circulated draft resolution to clarify the U.N.'s role and the meaning of the agreement brokered by Moscow and Ankara.

Meanwhile on the ground in Syria, rebels warned on Saturday that cease-fire violations by pro-government forces threatened to undermine a two-day-old agreement intended to pave the way for talks between the government and the opposition in the new year.

Airstrikes pounded opposition-held villages and towns in the strategically-important Barada Valley outside Damascus, activists said, prompting rebels to threaten to withdraw their compliance with a nationwide truce brokered by Russia and Turkey last week.

Rebels also accused the government of signing a different version of the agreement to the one they signed in the Turkish capital of Ankara, further complicating the latest diplomatic efforts to bring an end to six years of war.

Nearly 50,000 people died in the conflict in 2016, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which maintains networks of contacts on all sides of the war. More than 13,000 of them were civilians, according to the Observatory. Various estimates have put the war's overall toll at around 400,000 dead.

If the truce holds, the government and the opposition will be expected to meet for talks for the first time in nearly a year in the Kazakh capital of Astana in the second half of January. Those talks will be mediated by Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem and Major General Ali Mamlouk, head of the National Security Bureau, were in Tehran Saturday to discuss developments with their Iranian counterparts, according to Iranian state media. They met with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

The Kremlin meanwhile said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani confirmed their commitment to negotiations in Astana, in a phone conversation between the two leaders. Iran and Russia have provided crucial military and diplomatic support to Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the conflict, while Turkey has served as a rear base and source of supplies for the opposition.

The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT) to vote on a resolution to endorse the cease-fire and the Astana talks, in line with previous agreements mandating a transitional government for Syria.

The resolution also calls for "rapid, safe and unhindered" access to deliver humanitarian aid throughout the country. The developments follow months of talks between Ankara and Moscow that culminated in a cease-fire agreement that went into effect Friday at midnight.

But in a statement issued by a coalition of 11 rebel factions, including the powerful Army of Islam group operating in the Damascus countryside, rebels said they could not abide by the cease-fire if the government continued its assault on Barada Valley.

The statement also complained that the government's version of the agreement signed in Ankara last week had deleted "a number of essential and non-negotiable points." It said the opposition had agreed to a cease-fire encompassing the whole of Syria, without any exceptions to region or faction.

The Barada Valley Media Center said Lebanese Hezbollah militants were firing on villages and towns in the water-rich region as Russian and government aircraft carried out raids for the 10th consecutive day Saturday. The Lebanese militant group is a key ally to President Assad's forces.

The Barada Valley is the primary source of water for the capital and its surrounding region. The government assault has coincided with a severe water shortage in Damascus since Dec. 22. Images from the valley's Media Center indicate its Ain al-Fijeh spring and water processing facility have been destroyed in airstrikes. The government says rebels spoiled the water source with diesel fuel, forcing it to cut supplies to the capital.

The Observatory reported at least two civilians and five militants have been killed in battles over opposition-held Eastern Ghouta and Barada Valley regions around Damascus, since the truce came into effect Thursday at midnight.

The Syrian military on Friday denied attacking the valley, saying it respected the Russian and Turkish brokered truce. Meanwhile, Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reported the death of an Islamic State commander in a Turkish airstrike near the north Syrian town of al-Bab on Friday. The truce does not cover operations against the Islamic State group or al-Qaida's Syria affiliate, the Fatah al-Sham front.

Anadolu identified the commander as Abu Ansari. The report could not be independently verified.

Associated Press writers Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, James Heintz in Moscow, and Mohammad Nasri in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

Ban Ki-Moon Buoyed By Climate Accord But Laments Conflicts

NEWS DEC. 31, 2016

 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, poses for a selfie photo with one of his staff members on his last day at the U.N. headquarters on Friday, Dec. 30, 2016.

UNITED NATIONS (ASSOCIATED PRESS — Ban Ki-moon ends 10 years at the helm of the United Nations lamenting the "fires still burning" from Syria to South Sudan but buoyed by a global agreement to combat climate change and new U.N. goals to fight poverty and inequality.

As a final act before his term ends at midnight on New Year's Eve, the secretary-general will push the button starting the descent of the glittering 11,875-pound ball in New York's Times Square in the countdown to 2017's arrival. At that moment, former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Guterres will start his tenure as United Nations chief for the next five years.

Looking back at his stewardship of the United Nations at a farewell news conference earlier this month, Ban told reporters "this has been a decade of unceasing test." While he has seen collective action improve millions of lives, Ban expressed frustration at the failure to end Syria's war, now in its sixth year, and conflicts in South Sudan, Yemen, Central African Republic and Congo, to name a few.

And in rare criticism of world leaders, he blamed unnamed presidents, prime ministers and monarchs for the turmoil in the world today — and expressed disappointment many care more about retaining power than improving their people's lives. He singled out Syria, saying he can't understand why it is being held hostage to "the destiny" of one man, Bashar Assad.

Even after leaving the U.N., Ban said he will keep urging new and longstanding leaders to embrace the "pre-eminent 21st century fact" — that "international cooperation remains the path to a more peaceful and prosperous world" — and to demonstrate "compassionate leadership."

To reinforce this, the secretary-general's final trip this month was to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. "Lincoln was a heroic force for equality, integration and reconciliation; and desperately, we need that spirit today," Ban said of the U.S. leader during America's Civil War.

Ban has also expressed frustration at the way the U.N. operates and expectations in some quarters that the secretary-general has the power "to be some almost almighty person." That's impossible, he told the AP in September, because the U.N.'s 193 member states make decisions and the secretary-general implements them. The U.N. chief cannot implement his or her own policies and initiatives.

John Bolton, who was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. when Ban was selected to be secretary-general, said President George W. Bush's administration supported him because "we wanted someone who would do what the member governments wanted" — and not take the lead on issues and act as the world's top diplomat like then-secretary-general Kofi Annan.

"I think Ban Ki-moon lived up to our expectations, which is not to say I agreed with every position he took on climate change and things like that," Bolton told AP. When the former South Korean foreign minister, who grew up during the Korean War, took over as secretary-general from Annan at the start of 2007, he promised his tenure would be "marked by ceaseless efforts to build bridges and close divides." And he made tackling global warming, then on a back burner, a top priority.

During his first term, he won plaudits for helping move climate change close to the top of the global agenda, for creating UN Women to focus on the fight for gender equality, and for speaking out early and strongly for demonstrators in Tunisia and other countries that rose up in the Arab Spring.

During his second term, his campaign for a new global climate deal culminated in the December 2015 Paris agreement. He got all 193 member states to agree on 17 new U.N. goals and 169 targets to combat poverty, achieve gender equality, protect the environment and ensure good governance by 2030. He called early on for an end to the Syrian conflict and he strongly backed gay rights despite opposition from many countries.

But Ban also faced criticism — in his first term for not speaking out against human rights abuses in China and Russia. In his second term, the U.N.'s handling of the cholera epidemic in Haiti and its failure to deal effectively with sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic and elsewhere were widely criticized. Ban's temporary removal of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen from a U.N. blacklist for allegedly killing children after coalition supporters threatened to stop funding many U.N. programs was sharply rebuked as well.

A workaholic, Ban traveled more than any of his predecessors on U.N. business. He said most Western leaders speak through statements, but he believes face-to-face meetings with world leaders are critical to getting support to end conflicts or promote action on issues like climate change and combatting poverty.

Despite his decade as U.N. chief, Ban Ki-moon is hardly a household name. He has been criticized for his lack of charisma and communication skills crucial in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, though in private and at the off-the-record U.N. Correspondents Association's annual gala he has regularly displayed a good sense of humor.

France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told AP he deeply values Ban's "sense of humility." "The world owes him a lot, both as a man whose commitment to common good is second to none and as a leader whose secret weapon is a genuine respect for others — the best tool for real leadership," Delattre said.

When Ban came to the U.N., he had been in the forefront of South Korea's nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang. He said he planned to travel to North Korea as secretary-general, something Annan never did, but he didn't get there.

His hope of using his U.N. position to promote peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula "and a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue" remained unrealized. But after some time off, he will return to South Korea amid widespread speculation he will be a candidate to replace the country's impeached president. If so, North Korea will again be at the top of his agenda.

Boko Haram Leader: Violence To Continue

Associated Press

Boko Haram Leader Abubakar Shekau (Image: AP)

MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA (AP) -- Boko Haram's leader has declared in a new video that he is alive, denying Nigerian government claims that his Islamic extremist group has been crushed.

President Muhammadu Buhari said last week that soldiers had driven Boko Haram from its last forest enclave in the northeast, boasting "the terrorists are on the run, and no longer have a place to hide."

In a video posted on YouTube, Abubakar Shekau announced: "I am here, well and alive" and that "the battle is just beginning." He urged his followers, in graphic terms, to continue the campaign.

Nigeria's military has claimed to have killed Shekau at least three times, and earlier this year declared he had been fatally wounded. This week, the army said it seized Shekau's Quran in the Sambisa Forest assault — wanting to indicate he was on the run.

Each time such claims are made, the Boko Haram leader reappears in a video to mock them.

In the latest, posted on YouTube on Dec. 29, he reiterates that "our mission is to establish an Islamic caliphate" in Nigeria — whose 180 million people are divided almost equally between mainly Muslims in the north and a predominantly Christian south.

In the video, Shekau does not mention some 200 schoolgirls kidnapped from a school in Chibok town who were believed to be held in the Sambisa Forest.

Nigeria is unlikely to see an end soon to the deadly suicide bombings, village attacks and assaults on remote military outposts in northeastern Nigeria. The Islamic State group, to which one faction of Boko Haram belongs, announced an attack on an army barracks "killed and wounded many" soldiers on Dec. 22 — the same day the army said it seized the forest hideout.

Already, there are reports that the insurgents have been regrouping south of their northeastern stronghold.

The seven-year-old Islamic uprising has killed more than 20,000 people, spread across Nigeria's borders, driven 2.6 million from their homes and created a humanitarian disaster with some 5 million people facing starvation.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Volunteer Jo Brings Hope And Books To The World's Poor


Georgetown, Guyana school kids looking at the children's books

WHILE her former classmates are enjoying Christmas unwrapping presents under the tree one Borders girl is busily bringing hope and books to some of the poorest parts of the world.

Jo Bailey from Hawick is spending the festive season volunteering on board the world’s largest floating book fair, Logos Hope.

The ship’s crew reaches out to the world’s poorest port communities, bringing access to knowledge through the range of books on sale at reduced prices.

It also lends practical and medical help, from building libraries to testing eyesight, and offers hope as crew members visit those in hospital, prison, or on the streets; sharing their own personal experiences of faith.

Jo left Scotland in August, for a two-year commitment on board Logos Hope, which is operated by the Christian charity, Operation Mobilisation (OM). The 18-year-old had just graduated from Hawick High School and now works in the ship’s galley, preparing and serving food for the onboard community of 400 people.

She receives no pay, but her living costs are covered by sponsorship from her church and individual supporters.

Jo loves the fact that there’s always something different going on in the floating community, which contains 400 volunteers drawn from 60 nationalities.

She told us: “My favourite thing is the change every day.

"It feels like we are our own unique country, sailing around and visiting other countries. It’s a very varied life, but it still feels very stable - and that's because we are all united by our faith in a never-changing God.

“But this Christmas, I will definitely be missing spending time with my family in Scotland – as well as snow.

"I will miss a cold Christmas."

Since she embarked in Ghana, west Africa, the vessel has made calls in Cape Verde and the Canary Islands, before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

The 12-day voyage is the longest many of Jo’s shipmates have made, with rough seas making the crossing a challenging, yet memorable experience.

The community will spend Christmas and the new year in Guyana, South America.

While Christmas Day will be a holiday, most other days over the festive period will be ‘business as usual’.

Renowned for offering literature at heavily-discounted prices in parts of the world where people may not get access to the variety of books available, Logos Hope regularly sees upwards of 10,000 visitors a day.

Her crew members also go ashore to join churches and charities in outreaches and aid projects.

Israel Retaliates For UNSC Resolution With Series Of Countermoves

Netanyahu recalls ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal, stopping aid to the West African nation, and mulling cutting ties with UN agencies operating in Israel. He also cancels planned visit of Ukraine's prime minister to Israel.


Benjamin Netannyahu of Israel

Israel has taken a series of diplomatic moves against nations that voted in favor of the contentious UN Security Council resolution calling for an end to settlement construction, from recalling ambassadors to cutting ties and canceling official visits.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked the Foreign Ministry to "reevaluate all of our ties to the UN within a month," and said he had already cut NIS 30 million in funding to five UN institutions. "Five institutions that are particularly hostile towards Israel," he explained.

Israel is also considering stopping work visas to employees of these UN agencies and expelling UNRWA spokesman in Israel, Chris Gunness, who Jerusalem is accusing of inciting against the State of Israel.

Another measure being examined is to stop payments of NIS 186 million a year (about 46.5 million euros) to the UN in membership fees.

Netanyahu, who is also the foreign minister, recalled Israel's ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal soon after the vote and has summoned the ambassadors of all nations who voted in favor of the resolution—except the US—to his office on Sunday morning to rebuke them.

He also instructed the Foreign Ministry to cancel a scheduled visit of the Senegalese foreign minister to Israel in three weeks as well as cancel all Israeli government aid to the West African nation.

"Those who work with us will gain, because Israel has a lot to offer the nations of the world. But those who stand against us will lose, because there will be a diplomatic and economic price to their actions against Israel," he said in a speech on Saturday night.

One of the aid projects Israel is leading in Senegal is of drip-irrigated vegetable farms, which are part of an initiative to alleviate poverty through agricultural innovation. The program is based on low-pressure drip-irrigation that saves water and produces improved quality of vegetables and fruits.

As part of the project, Israeli experts train locals in advanced irrigation methods and help construct infrastructure like greenhouses, nurseries and study centers. Several dozens of Senegalese arrive in Israel every year for further training.

Israel has invested hundreds of thousands of shekels a year in this project over the past decade, and it is one of the biggest projects in Africa.

New Zealand, which is ending its two-year term as a member of the UN Security Council at the end of this month, has in the past submitted its own initiative that included an expression of commitment to the two-state solution, condemnation of settlement construction, condemnation of incitement and violence on both sides of the conflict and addressing the humanitarian situation. The initiative was not taken seriously and New Zealand's representatives had to withdraw it but decided to support the original Egyptian resolution draft that was also adopted by Malaysia and Indonesia.

And while New Zealand and Senegal submitted the resolution along with Venezuela and Malaysia, Israel has no diplomatic ties with the latter two nations, so there are no countermoves it can take against them.

Israel was disappointed with some of the countries that supported the vote, primarily Britain (whose Prime Minister Theresa May is leading a pro-Israel policy), Ukraine, Japan and Uruguay.

Ukraine, which is a normally friendly state towards Israel, voted in favor of the resolution. In protest, Netanyahu decided to cancel a scheduled state visit to Israel by Ukraine's Jewish Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman.

Ukraine’s decision to vote in favor of the resolution appears to demonstrate the extent to which President Barack Obama was behind the decision.

According to officials in Israel, Groysman is thought of as one of Israel’s main supporters and even wanted that his country not be involved in the consultations held on the resolution.

However, Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko decided to vote in favor of its passage following a telephone conversation with US Vice President Joe Biden.

Jerusalem did not expect much from France or Spain, but has hoped Russia's President Vladimir Putin would veto the decision. Netanyahu even called him twice last week.

Sierra Leone Is Fast Becoming The Murder Capital Of West Africa

DECEMBER 24, 2016

Barrister Imran Rahman

SIERRA LEONE (SIERRA LEONE TELEGRAPH) -- Communities around Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone are tonight gripped by fear and shock after the brutal murder last night of another well know public figure – the highly acclaimed Barrister Imran Rahman. (Photo: President Ernest Bai Koroma).

The former Magistrate and Barrister is reported by police to have been strangled at his home by unknown armed men who broke into the house in Marjay Town in the west of Freetown.

His death comes just two days after the retired head of the country’s military – Lieutenant General S.O. Williams, was shot dead by armed men at his home in the east of the capital. Police are still investigating his killing.

Lawyer Rahman was aged 78 and comes from the very popular Rahman family in the Foulah Town community of eastern Freetown.

His murder has once again raise serious questions about the ability of the Koroma government in running the country, as well as the capacity of the police in maintaining law and order in the capital Freetown. How safe is Freetown tonight?

If top military men and senior lawyers are not safe in Sierra Leone, then what chance do ordinary men and women have in their own homes? (Photo: Barrister Imran Rahman).

Since coming to power in 2007, president Koroma has failed to stem the rising levels of serious crime in Sierra Leone, including armed robbery, hijacking, and brutal murders.

In his end of year speech delivered to the people of Sierra Leone in 2015, president Koroma mentioned the alarming rise in lawlessness, and promised to do whatever it takes to bring law and order to the country.

But it seems the president has woefully failed the people of Sierra Leone and the international community, that has invested millions of dollars in promoting law and order as well as building the capacity of the judiciary and criminal justice system.

Sierra Leone is ranked in the Global Human Development Index as one of the poorest nations in the world, and by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt countries in Africa.

Soon the country will be ranked as one of the most dangerous nations in the world, and the murder capital of Africa, if the current senseless killing continues.

Few overseas investors are brave enough to invest their capital in Sierra Leone today, with the exception of the chinese – whose imported security experts are looking after the chinese community, despite recent improvement in the country’s business environment.

Two weeks ago, the residence of the popular opposition politician and one of the aspiring presidential candidates for the SLPP – Alie Kabba, was attacked by heavily armed men in military uniform in the capital Freetown. No one has been arrested for that attack.

The current spate of high profile murders will only serve to drive away investors from Sierra Leone to other West African countries where their capital will be safer.

As the Koroma government continues to lose control of the streets of the capital to armed gangs, one has to wonder how long before they start planning armed insurrection against the government itself?

No government should sit idly by and watch the life of its citizens routinely snuffed away by criminals, in such despicable, cold blooded and brutal manner.

Whilst the ruling APC party may be enjoying enormous political capital from large sections of the unemployed youths, the president must remember that turning a blind eye to criminality simply to curry votes at elections is morally wrong, if not damn right unconstitutional.

Those of us that have campaigned against the reintroduction of the death penalty for those found guilty beyond all reasonable doubt by a court of law, are now calling for the government to bring back the death penalty.

If this is what has to be done and quickly, in order to restore confidence on the streets and in the homes of citizens, as well as guarantee public safety, then so be it.

Of course the government should have done more to diversify the economy, so that jobs can be created for the millions of young people that are out of work in the country.

But it seems there is a growing number of hard core criminals that would continue to kill their fellow citizens for their property, regardless of their employment status.

Two months ago the minister of the interior – Palo Conteh, a man many would not trust with the key to the gallows, announced that he has completed the refurbishment of the gallows.

Well if he had thought then that his public show of the newly refurbished gallows, would serve as a deterrent to murderers, then he too must be in a state of shock tonight after the killing of Barrister Rahman in cold blood.

The blood of the former head of the military and Barrister Rahman is in the hands of Minister Palo Conteh (Photo).

Both he and the chief of police – Francis Munu, must go out there and bring those responsible for all the recent murders in the capital to justice.

According to police report, a few suspects were earlier today arrested at Funkia Junction in the west of the capital.

The suspects were driving the stolen vehicle of Barrister Rahman.

Such is the brazenness of the criminals in Freetown today. Are they hired by highly connected individuals in the country to go out and steal from the rich and to assassinate?

What is tonight puzzling analysts is the question as to why is it that, whenever the All People’s Congress Party (APC) is in power, Sierra Leone is at risk of becoming a failed state – characterised by lawlessness, armed robbery, violence, breakdown of law and order in society, and the flagrant abuse of power with impunity by those in authority?

As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission found in its enquiry, the seeds of the brutal ten year civil war in Sierra Leone were sown in the 1970s and 1980s by the ruling APC. And it seems very little has changed today.

Poverty, mass unemployment, thuggery, armed robbery, highway robbery, street violence, mental disorder, drugs and alcohol abuse, are changing the psyche of young people into highly dangerous, professional and hardened criminals.

Soon they will be large enough in numbers and brave enough too, to turn their weapons against the government as rebels. No one should want this for Sierra Leone. But it seems the choice once again, remains with the Koroma government.

As 2016 comes to a close, we must ask: Where is Sierra Leone heading?

May the soul of Barrister Rahman rest in perfect peace.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Life In Libyan Cells Where Europe-Bound Nigerians Die Like Chickens


In this report, KUNLE FALAYI sheds light on the plight of Nigerians who are arrested in Libya after paying a lot of money to make the treacherous desert-to-Mediterranean journey to Europe but end up dying or wishing they are dead in one of Libya’s detention facilities

Every day for the last eight months, when 31-year-old Osas Ekhaguere woke up in the dingy cell he shared with about 125 other inmates, mostly Nigerians, he believed it was going to be his last.

In the world in which the former computer operator lived in as a prisoner in one of the detention facilities for migrants in Tripoli, Libya, hope is a luxury he could not afford.

“How do you begin to have hope when you see death almost on a daily basis? Surely, it was going to be your turn sometime. I believed I would die a nobody, not even buried in an unmarked grave but thrown in the desert like all my friends, who died in that prison,” Ekhaguere said.

Full of hopes of a golden life in Europe, a place he knew nothing about, Ekhaguere, the last child of 11 children born to an Edo State father, vowed in November 2015 to make the journey to Europe.

“One day, I called my father and told him I would make the journey to Europe. I told him it was either I die or become rich. To make it in life, I knew I had to take some risks,” he said.

But looking into the hollow eyes of the gaunt man, who clasped and opened his calloused hands intermittently as he sat across our correspondent, little doubt remains that something had died in him, least of which is hope of ever travelling to Europe through the desert again.

Ekhaguere, who was one of the 140 Nigerian immigrants, who were brought back from detention facilities in Libya by the United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration, never imagined he would ever step foot in his country again.

As he stepped off the Libyan Airline plane, which transported him and his cohorts, our correspondent watched as he staggered as if his emaciated body was being pushed here and there by wind. He went down on his knees slowly, as if to minimise the pain in his bones, raised his hands to the heavens and said loudly, ‘Nigeria I love you. Thank God I made it back.’ Then, tears flowed freely from his eyes.

An official standing by remarked, ‘The way this man is walking, he is very ill’. The yellow pallor of Ekhaguere’s skin and the vacant hollowness of his eyes said much about his current physical state.

As they were loaded in a bus, which was to transport them to a holding area at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, where they would be fed, registered and given a stipend which would help get them to their various destinations, our correspondent sat beside him.

Without prompting, he began talking. Even as tears flowed from his eyes, he did not pause. He seemed to have a lot to get off his chest.

Ekhaguere’s story bears much resemblance to many other African migrants who had the hope of travelling to Europe.

“Life was very hard while I was in Nigeria and I found my way to Ghana in company with some friends. I got to Ghana in March 2015 and got a job as a computer operator,” he said.

With a poor father who could hardly feed himself, Ekhaguere’s hope of getting help from his three sisters working in Europe soon evaporated.

The woman Ekhaguere was working with in Ghana encouraged him to start a little business of his own and even supported him with $700, but he had different ideas.

With part of his savings, Ekhaguere put the money into obtaining travelling documents to Libya, where he hoped to find his way to Italy.

“I went to Libya legally with appropriate documents. If anybody had warned me of the impending doom in Libya, I would have described the person as an enemy of progress,” he said.

To obtain “divine” backing for his journey, Ehhaguere visited a prophet in Ghana, who told him that evil people in his family were trying to prevent his success. This spurred him more, to make it in life.

‘Every migrant gets kidnapped’

Ekhaguere said he eventually met a Ghanaian “burger” (trafficker), who told him to pay N260,000 (about $830), his entire savings, for the journey to Libya.

On February 14, 2016, he along with 45 other Europe-hopefuls started the four-day journey from Ghana to Sabha, Libya.

Sabha, a city with a large population of migrants is 770km to the south of Tripoli and is the capital of Libya’s expansive southern Fezzan region. But more importantly, it is the hub of the country’s smuggling and human trafficking network.

Ekhaguere had hardly breathed the air of Sabha, when the traffickers who facilitated his journey “tranque” (kidnapped) him, a popular method of getting migrants to pay more.

He told our correspondent that every Nigerian immigrant in Libya had been kidnapped one time or another. “Everyone gets kidnapped,” he said.

Held and beaten daily for about one month in a house where he was shackled, Ekhaguere was given a phone to call a relation in Nigeria who later wired another N260,000 for his release.

After roaming the streets of Libya and doing unspeakable jobs just to get some money to get him to Libya, he again found another “burger” whom he paid the equivalent of N50,000 to get him to Tripoli, where he would make the journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Journey into the belly of the beast

Tripoli was symbolic for Ekhaguere. It was the darkness before the morning; the tunnel at the end of which he saw light. But it turned out to be dusk before the darkness.

One evening in April, his group of 40, whose journey was facilitated by the same “burger” arrived Tripoli and were herded in a room, where they slept till morning. They were supposed to go to the seaside in the morning for the onward voyage to Europe.

By December 2016, the number of migrants who made the journey across the Mediterranean sea to arrive in Europe in the last 12 months had reached 358,156. According to the IOM, 22,000 of those are Nigerians like Ekhaguere. An equally large number of migrants die at sea. The IOM declared that 3,700 migrants have so far gone missing or died in the Mediterranean journey to Italy in 2016 alone.

But for Ekhaguere, death would not come from the sea.

At dawn, a heavy bang burst open the door of the room in which he slept with his group. Then, Libyan officials carrying guns rounded them up.

“I did not know what was going on. They were shouting words I did not understand. But they took us all to prison,” he said.

That would be his home for the next eight months; a detention facility that he said was best described as hell. It was his journey into the belly of the beast.

“If there is hell, I think it will look like the prison in which we were kept,” he said.

According to Ekhaguere and other inmates our correspondent spoke with, the male cell in the detention facility measured about 20 feet by eight feet. In it, about 170 inmates, mostly Nigerians, slept “lappa-lappa”. He said that was the term used for sleeping on one’s side in a spoon position to make them all fit into the floor.

Libya’s Department for Combating Illegal Migration admits that officially, there are 24 of such detention facilities for migrants.

In September, the IOM estimated that about 770,000 migrants and asylum seekers were in Libya. Of these, between 4,000 and 7,000 are held in detention facilities operated by DCIM.

But these are not detention facilities like any other. Ekhaguere said they were designed for migrants not to survive.

He had said a lot about his journey to Libya, but when it was time for Ekhaguere to explain what he went through in the detention facility, he became more emotional.

Tears streamed from his eyes afresh now.

“Jesus! I have known suffering in my life. But I never imagined suffering could be that bad,” he said.

As he spoke, it was clear all was not well with Ekhaguere. He started breathing heavily as a sudden cough took his voice away.

After several minutes of being attended to by officials around, he assured them that he would be fine and insisted on continuing his story.

“I was a healthy young man before I went to Libya. Would you see me now and not think I have a terminal illness?” he said, as he gestured at his 5’11”-foot frame, on which bones jutted out from under-malnourished skin in different places.

In the detention facility Ekhaguere was held in Tripoli, drinking water and an overflowing toilet were just one foot apart.

“The toilet was always overflowing because the officials made water available once a week to flush the toilet. For some reasons, the drinking water tap is placed on the ground beside the overflowing toilet. So, if you wanted to use a drinking bottle to fetch it, you had to place the bottle horizontally on the ground before water could get inside,” he said.

But that was barely the worst in the prison.

Death is cheap, survival a miracle

The frequency in which Nigerian inmates died in the prison, had made thought of death a monster that would simply not go away, Ekhaguere said.

According to him, he initially coped by waking up and repeating a mantra to himself: “I will make it. I will make it”. But he soon gave up.

He recalled one instance when another migrant from his native Edo State, Fide, whom he befriended in the prison, became so frustrated with life one morning and went to an official to ask him what he did wrong.

“Fide went to the official and asked if they wanted him to die in the place even though he had complete travelling papers. The man told him, ‘Please die soon, so you can make space for others’ For the next three days, Fide cried bitterly. I would tell him to have hope, even though mine was dead. I kept assuring him that we would survive the place. But he refused to eat for three days.

“Our food was bread the size of a table-tennis ball once a day. They fed us that at 8pm every day. Fide always slept beside me. One morning, I woke up and wanted to go and ease myself. I roused him that we should pray. But Fide was stiff. He had died in the night in our ‘lappa-lappa’ sleeping position.”

According to him, Fide’s body was wrapped in a blanket and taken away. By the time the officials came back, they told the migrants that their friend had been thrown in the desert.

So many people died within the eight months I was in that prison. Unfortunately, their families in Nigeria would never know.

In one instance, three young Nigerian women died through an accidental discharge by an official.

It was learnt that the three women sat together eating one afternoon in the female wing of the facility.

Ekhaguere said one of the officials sat few metres away smoking hash. As he stood from where he sat, he tried to lift his gun and his finger touched the trigger. The three women were sprayed with bullets and died immediately.

“They just took their bodies away as if nothing happened. That was the day I realised any one of us could die in that prison at any time,” he said.

He said every week, bodies were taken away and because most of them at that particular facility were Nigerians, words always circulated among them later that “he was from this Nigerian state or that state”.

A migrant, Juliet Edopolo, 36, who was held in the female wing of the same facility, said women rarely died.

“The reason is that they did not beat us like they beat the men. They beat us so that we could get few broken bones. They beat the men like they wanted them to die. The only time I remember women dying was when the three women were sprayed with bullets in my wing. One of them was from Delta State, the other two from Edo State,” she said.

10 pieces of macaroni per day

At Ekhaguere’s detention facility, a time came for a change of food from the regular tiny piece of bread. Migrant inmates’ hope rose for better meal.

Then, one day, officials came with a large bowl of macaroni, the hollow curve type with each piece measuring about half an inch.

Each inmate was required to take a handful. Then, the shock came.

“When you dipped your hand and brought out the macaroni, you would be asked to count five of them and return the rest under the watchful eyes of the officials. You dipped your hand in the bowl a second time and took another five, making 10 altogether. We ate 10 pieces of macaroni per day, washed down with water from beside the overflowing toilet,” he said.

In the facility, if disease from the horrible cell, toilet, or food did not kill the migrants, the bone-cracking beating by officials did.

The abuse in Libya’s detention facilities for migrants is so widespread that the UN has clamoured for an end to the torture, calling on the country to close all unofficial detention centres, dismiss and prosecute anyone suspected of abusing the migrants and asylum seekers.

“The UN has made clear that Libyan authorities should end the torture, forced labour, and sexual violence that has been the lot of detained migrants for years,” The partners in Libya’s policies toward migrants, including the EU, should insist on nothing less,” the Human Rights Watch, Middle East and North Africa Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said.

At Ekhaguere’s detention facility, migrants are flogged on a daily basis with a long pole. The hollow in the pole was filled with concrete to make it heavier, according to the migrants.

Ekhaguere, said he recalled a Nigerian who could not stand or sit up for five days after being flogged. He himself was flogged more times than he could remember.

The pastor with bullet in the arm

Like Ekhaguere,Tunde Ejirense, 27, another Edo State indigene, who said he was a pastor before he left Nigeria, had been flogged so many times that he even sustained a fracture on his left arm. But that was not the worst.

On Ejirense’s right arm is a two-inch lump with a pointy end, which on a second look resembled a bullet under a layer of skin. That was exactly what it was.

Ejirense decided to seek a better life in Europe and made his way to Libya after someone died in his church in Nigeria.

“Things went bad,” he said. I sited my church, Altar of Bethel Ministry, on a small rented land in Benin, Edo State. One day, they brought an ill patient to me for prayer and healing. He later died in my church. I was arrested by the police after being accused of using the patient for rituals. That was the end of my church. After I was released, I thought my life could become better if I could get to Italy,” he said.

Ejirense made the desert journey from Agadez, a transit point in Niger Republic to Sabha, Libya. Through being kidnapped, forced to pay more money by his trafficker and spending a total of N730,000 (about $2,322)to facilitate his journey, he was shot in the arm by Libyan officials who arrested his group on the journey from Sabha to Tripoli.

“I was screaming in pain. I thought I would die that day. But the policemen did not care. They just dumped me in the prison where I found so many other Nigerians. I did not get any medication, no first-aid and wasn’t taken to any hospital.

“For four months before the skin closed up on the bullet, the pain was hell. There was nothing I could use to treat the wound myself. So, I just cleaned it with water until it healed. Yet they beat me and broke my second arm, which again took forever to heal without treatment,” he said.

As he prepared to make his way back to his native Edo State, Ejirense said he would finally find a way to remove the Libyan bullet that had stayed in his arm for 11 months.

But the bullet would not be the only souvenir of his horrible time in Libya.

“Right now, I don’t know if my manhood still works because of the torture. I was flogged in every part of the body including my manhood with the pole the Libyan officials used. If I pull down my trousers, you will scream,” he said.

When Ekhaguere, Ejirense and 138 other voluntary returnees from Libya landed at the Murtala International Airport in Lagos, there was no doubt that these were men and women, who would forever be thankful for being back in their country.

“Lord! I have now realised how beautiful my country is,” one of them said as he stepped down from the plane.

One of them, a young lady of about 20 years was too dazed to even speak as she sat glumly in an ambulance in which she was immediately taken to for preliminary treatment. Officials said had she spent few more days at the Libyan facility, she would have died.

The Deputy Director, Search and Rescue, National Emergency Management Agency, Onimode Abdullahi, who received the migrants at the airport on behalf of the agency’s DG, Sani Sidi, said out of the 140 migrants, there were 14 children, four of whom were unaccompanied.

“NAPTIP and other agencies concerned would do family tracing to ensure that the children are united with their families,” Abdullahi said.

Of the accompanied children, our correspondent met 10-year-old Esther Ogbeide, a secondary school girl, Juliet Edopolo’s niece, who simply wanted to go and “work in Libya like my aunty”.

So, when Edopolo’s younger sister, Osahon, was preparing to join her sister in Libya, Esther asked to be taken along. The trafficker who organised the trip had no objection, only asked for more money.

Arrested during a midnight migrant raid by officials in Tripoli, Edopolo, had been in prison for five months when a batch of migrants arrived one morning. Among them was her sister and little niece.

“I cried for so many days when I saw Esther. I never imagined she would end up like us. I knew Osahon was coming but not Esther,” she said.

Detention in areas controlled by militia

In Libya, the plight of migrants is worsened by the fact that there are numerous detention facilities controlled by militias in areas where the UN-backed Government of National Accord has no authorities.

In fact, there are three rival authorities in Libya.

Saturday PUNCH learnt that many of these militia-held areas are too “hot” to even be accessed by IOM officials to get Nigerians and other African migrants held there released. In such places, what horrible fate Nigerians would be subjected to can only be imagined.

Head of IOM in Nigeria, Mr. Nahashon Thuo, told our correspondent that the security situation in many of such areas would determine if IOM could get Nigerians out or not.

Thuo said, “Many of these detention centres are controlled by militias. Our ability to bring people home from Libya would depend on funding and security situation in the areas in which the detention facilities are located. Some of the migrants came from within the city and voluntarily told IOM they wanted to leave.”

The trip is IOM’s fifth in 2016. In March, 172 migrants were brought back home from Libya. In June, August and October, there were 162, 241 and 154 respectively.

The UN estimates that up to one million migrants are trapped or living in Libya with or without hope of crossing to Europe. Out of this lot, the IOM’s latest Displacement Tracking Matrix of Round 5, 2016, has been able to identify and locate 276,957 migrants in the country.

Many of these are Nigerians, the organisation says.

But at the end of the day, risking death is better than staying in Libya for many migrants.

“Many migrants who had originally intended to stay and work in Libya eventually choose to take the journey across the Mediterranean Sea, perceiving this option as a safer living environment than remaining in Libya,” the IOM said.

Saturday PUNCH contacted the Libyan Embassy in Nigeria about the situation of Nigerian migrants in their country and accusations of human rights abuses in at least the government-controlled detention facilities.The embassy has yet to reply to an email as of the time of filing this report.

Treacherous journey in the face of poverty

Migrants like Ekhaguere came back home with thanksgiving for surviving an experience that claimed the lives of many. But numerous others continue to make the treacherous journey every day, travelling from northern Nigeria through the Sahel to Libya as recession, rising unemployment and a plummeting currency value make life unbearable for many.

In August, the National Bureau of Statistics states that Nigeria’s unemployment rate had risen to 13.3 per cent. In October, inflation rate in the country hit 18.3 per cent.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Double Life In The Buhari Presidency


Babachir David Lawal, Secretary to Government of the Federation, the SGF

It is only those who have been inordinately enamoured of the Buhari presidency who are now shocked at the bleak fate that has befallen its anti-corruption campaign. But for critical observers who have been contemptuously branded as the stabilising forces for the regeneration of an era reeking with corruption, the campaign was bound to suffer a calamitous end. It was expected, like most of the policies that have been associated with the Buhari government, to be afflicted with the reverse Midas touch. Indeed, the crash of the anti-corruption campaign that has been so much-hyped as the lynchpin of the Buhari government’s quest for the development of the country is symptomatic of the failure in every other provenance of governance in this current administration.

Clearly, the policies of the government are sullied by a certain antithesis to the improvement of the wellbeing of the citizens because they have been underpinned by unrelieved provincialism that has made them turn out badly. In the case of the anti-corruption, it was bound to fail because the presidency did not pursue it in a way that would have ensured its success. There was no way it would have succeeded when it was not targeted at all corrupt persons who have benefited from the national treasury at the expense of the common good. It was rather targeted at perceived or real enemies of the president, his cronies and political party. This is why politicians who are patently corrupt keep on decamping to the All Progressives Congress (APC) to seek protection from prosecution. And this is why those who consider their political careers endangered by decamping from their parties keep on taking full pages of advertisement pledging their support for Buhari and his anti-corruption campaign. If they knew that whether they decamped or pledged support for the anti-corruption campaign they would be prosecuted, they would not bother themselves with all this.

Because it was not to serve the interest of the country, Buhari did not bother to prosecute the campaign in line with the constitution of the country. The campaign that should have been for the whole country became defined by an us versus them mentality. It was thus inevitable that Ibrahim Magu who knew that he had breached fidelity to constitutionality in a bid to please the president would end up resorting to the same illegality to enrich himself at the expense of a genuine and selfless anti-corruption fight. With the approval of Buhari, Magu prosecuted an anti-corruption campaign that brooked no obedience to the rule of law. Court judgments were remorselessly disregarded. In this atmosphere of illegality, a former National Security Adviser Col. Sambo Dasuki is being held in detention despite judgments from the nation’s courts and even the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice.

So, the fall of Magu is a sad reminder of the corruption scandals dogging some of the prime actors of the Buhari government and the double life that has smudged it. It is double life when the Buhari presidency claims to be fighting corruption and yet tolerates its officials who have been accused of corruption. Before the news broke about the scandalous patronage of Magu by those he was supposed to prosecute for corruption, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal was accused of diverting money meant for the welfare of displaced victims of Boko Haram insurgency. The chief of staff, Abba Kyari, was embroiled in N500 million bribery allegation involving MTN. The chief of army staff, Tukur Buratai was accused of acquiring property abroad with funds from questionable sources. Now, it is only the rejection of Magu by the Senate that has prompted our corruption-loathing president to decide to investigate the charges of corruption against some of his officials. And this is coming after the president’s triumphant declaration that none of his aides was corrupt. It is part of the double life when the president tells the citizens to sacrifice in the midst of a recession but he enjoys the luxury of a robust presidential fleet that was only slightly reduced when he could no longer ignore the citizens’outrage. It is double life when Buhari says he is cutting his salary but he has not given up his security vote for the improvement of the wellbeing of the citizens. Forget the reduction of salaries and allowances. After all, our political leaders do not become billionaires at the end of their so-called service because of their legitimate salaries and allowances.

To be sure, there is no altruism in the action of the Senate that has rejected the confirmation of Magu as the EFCC boss. Indeed, since most of the lawmakers are corrupt, their hostility to a Magu should be expected. Some of the nation’s lawmakers are former governors who after wrecking their states financially came to the National Assembly as a sanctuary against prosecution for their corruption. Some of the lawmakers are already being prosecuted. However, the lack of sincerity and patriotism on the part of the lawmakers should not make us, like Ali Ndume, to seek the confirmation of Magu, or like that professor who has become an uncritical defender of Buhari and his misbegotten policies, to declare that Magu must remain the EFCC boss whether the Senate approves this or not.

Buhari must see the silver lining in the Magu saga. But of course, this is only possible if he is really sincere with the campaign against corruption. The fact that the anti-corruption campaign under Magu has been discredited is an opportunity for Buhari to overhaul it. In this regard, he must not re-nominate Magu to the Senate. Thankfully, the president appears to be embarrassed by the revelations about Magu and this was why he reportedly blocked access to him.

Drawing from the sad experience with Magu, the president must be diligent in recruiting a new EFCC boss who is a person with an unimpeachable character. This person must be allowed to do his or her work without watching the body language of the president, but diligently hewing to the template of his or her constitutional duties. He should be allowed to prosecute all corrupt persons whether they are the supporters of the president or not. There is also the need to confirm the appointment of the new EFCC boss on time. An EFCC boss whose appointment is not confirmed would tread carefully to avoid hurting the president who would nominate him or her for confirmation, and lawmakers who would eventually decide his or her eligibility for the job.

The president’s proposed cabinet reshuffle is another opportunity for him to demonstrate that he is sincere with prosecuting a campaign against corruption. He cannot claim to be fighting corruption and yet appoint as ministers those who have been accused of looting their state treasuries. He must not only bring to his new cabinet those who are competent but those who would not continue their careers of corruption under the guise of serving the nation. Indeed, if Buhari is sincere with his acclaimed zero-tolerance for corruption, he must begin with convincing the public that his presidency is not weighed down by the incubus of double life.

Buhari’s Cabinet: An Assessment Of The Torch Bearers

DECEMBER 22, 2016

In his illuminating book,From Third World To The First, Lee Kuan Yew, the visionary and transformative Singaporean leader, affirmed that an essential ingredient of effective leadership is the ability of the leader to select and motivate a team of capable lieutenants. With purposeful teams, leaders, past and present, have been able to transform their countries.

In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, understanding the need for a result-oriented team, took very good time to assemble his cabinet after his swearing in at the end of May last year. When he eventually did, among his ministers were some known and unknown names, who put together, inspired hope that the change agenda, which was the campaign mantra of Buhari will be actualised to the relief of downtrodden Nigerians.

But more than one year in office, Buhari’s ministers have collectively recorded a less than inspiring story. Little wonder that the story of an imminent cabinet shakeup is presently making the rounds in the public space. Nonetheless, counted among many ministers with uninspiring records are a few who have shown promise by their modest and commendable feats in office. A few examples will suffice.

Works, Housing and Power Minister, Babatunde Raji Fashola may not have totally lived up to the expectation of his teeming admirers, who have fond memories of his superlative performance as a two-term governor of Lagos State, yet he remains one of the shining lights of this administration.

Notwithstanding the weight that shouldering three major ministries rolled into one brings on him, the former governor has acquitted himself fairly well. While intractable poor power situation has not improved in any remarkable way, it is apparent that concerted effort is on-going to tame the hydra headed monster. Fashola has told us of a well laid out plan to increase generation and even diversify the source of energy and reduce the emphasis on gas and water. There is evidence that the years coming bear hope.

In the same breath, road infrastructure has recorded appreciable improvements with Fashola leading the very impressive decision to continue some of the projects initiated by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Notable amongst these are the Lagos –Ibadan Expressway and as well as the Sagamu- Ore portion of the Sagamu-Benin-Ore Expressway. The minister has also promised that the blue print for the delivery of modern and affordable housing for the people is ready for implementation.

Veteran politician and Minister for Agriculture Audu Ogbeh is another member of the Buhari cabinet to whom much is given and much is expected. This is more so as the primacy of food security as an index of human progress cannot be overemphasised. With an inspiring track record that dates back to his days as an effective Minister of Communication in the second republic government of President Shehu Shagari and a visible party leader in the fourth republic, much was expected from Ogbeh. More than one year after, his achievements sans the grazing field controversy is still appreciable and inspires hope for a better lap of honour in the year ahead.

Recently, Ogbe, at an event where he represented Buhari promised that the administration had plans to build 400 dams to aide irrigation all over Nigeria even his ministry is said to be committed to see Nigeria self-sustaining in rice production before 2018.

Another Minister who has made a mark under this administration is newly appointed Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed. Since her appointment by President Buhari last year, Mohammed has displayed undeniable passion in the discharge of her duties. Her commitment to the job has, without doubt, aided the launch the implementation of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Climate Change Agreements.

The ministry under her also launched the Sovereign Green Bonds even as it flagged off the Ogoni Clean up Programme, an important exercise that has been held off for years due to lack of political will as well as the complex security and socio- economic conditions attached to it. Although Mohammed will be leaving for the UN soon, her achievement, especially the development of the Great Green Wall and the Ogoni clean-up would remain indelible in the minds of Nigerians.

Evidently, the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu has been leading a quiet revolution in that sector. Now, in spite of its importance to survival, water resources is one of the few areas in government that hardly attracts the interest of Nigerians Nevertheless, Adamu has repositioned the ministry for efficient service delivery. He has created more alternative sources of funding projects and strengthened river basins operations as well as enhanced monitory and evaluation

The minister has concluded the implementation plan for each item of the immediate and long term plans (2016 – 2030 Roadmap); conducted Technical Audit and Prioritization of all on-going 117 Projects in the ministry. The ministry also launched the Graduate/Youth Farmers Employment Programmes in seven locations nationwide, including Kampe Irrigation Project, Kogi State, Integrated Farming Project, Abeokuta Ogun State, Talata Mafara Scheme, Zamfara State, Kadawa Integrated Centre, Kano State, Ogoja Irrigation Scheme, Cross River State, Agbala Integrated Farm Project, Imo State and Doma Dam Irrigation Project, Nasarawa State. This is a continuous programme that mirrors the Songhai Integrated Farm model and engaging carefully selected participants in batches of 50 to be trained in various agricultural activities and to be extended to 109 Senatorial Districts of the country.

It has also completed and commissioned the Central Ogbia Central Water Supply Project in Bayelsa State for provision of potable Water Supply to Otuoke and 12 other communities of Central Ogbia Local Government Area. This is in addition to developing a new national programme on Partnership for Expanded Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (PEWASH), 2016-2030 to attain universal access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation as well as guidelines for Investment Opportunities in Hydropower and Irrigation Projects in Nigeria among others.

And then, there are those whose ebullient personality, qualification or vocal aptitude have presented as achievers even when there is very little to show. Here are a few examples.

Although it is said that revenue from Solid Minerals have increased significantly, Dr Kayode Fayemi who is in charge of this ministry has spent the best part of the last one year presumably straightening the intricate web of chaos and spoilage that had held down the solid minerals sector. It is expected that the rewards of his backroom work so far will start showing early in the New Year.

Irrepressible politician and Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi has also done more talk and promises making than effectiveness in the past one year. However, Amaechi has shown great determination in tackling the multifarious issues that surrounds rural, urban and maritime transportation. Among several initiatives, he has enunciated a road map which if well implemented will make the much desired difference.

Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama in spite of his affable and suave personality can also do more to bolster the image of a big country in deep recession. Viewed critically, Onyeama possesses the verve required for real diplomacy but needs to up the ante in the months ahead.

Internal Affairs Minister, Abdulrahman Dambazua, on his part, seem to have just stepped out from a strings of unhelpful controversy to face his onerous tasks which has not been made any easier by frequent jail breaks and ill-equipped penitentiaries. A battle tested and cerebral general, he is likely to be a hit in the Defence Ministry

And there is a final group of people who have largely done nothing to impress Nigerians. Some of these are the duo of Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun and Budget and National Planning Minister Udoma Udo Udoma. The more these two strive to perform, the less output is recorded hence; they have remained in the eye of the needle. Their respective performance is often viewed from the prism of a parlous economy and an unhelpful howbeit under implemented budget.

Same can be said of Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, who has earned a reputation as a lousy, ineffective minister as well as Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu, whose only achievement has been assorted controversy in the ministry. Starting with the illegal removal of university councils and vice chancellors to the increase in fees paid by student of unity colleges, this ministry has done nothing to earn the confidence of Nigerians this past one year.

On the whole therefore, the Buhari cabinet could be likened to a perennially underachieving team as they say in football. The cabinet consists of eminent Nigerian players who at the discretion of the President were selected to start the match against a rampaging opponent in the mold of a tottering economy. Close to the half time mark, the team appears to be loosing steam in spite of the efforts of a few gifted players. The President, as any good coach is wont to act, will have to make necessary changes by infusing few fresh legs that will collaborate with the performing players to win the game.

Overall, the Buhari administration has towered more by what it promised to do while seeking office than what it has done while in office. As the economic recession persists, it behoves the President to rejig his cabinet. Transformative leaders depend partly on the force of their character and vision to lead effectively. Yet they do better when they are able to retain good hands, replace not so good hands and evolve a team of the competent since only a tree cannot make a forest. As we count down to 2017, Nigerians demand from the President a result oriented team that will talk less and do more for a better Nigeria.

Dialoke wrote from Lagos

Monday, December 19, 2016

Los Angeles To Extradite Bloke From Nigeria After Scores Of City Workers Fall For Phish Scam

County Claims Chap Tried To Infiltrate Medical, Social Services


Los Angeles wants to extradite a Nigerian man accused of swiping the passwords of more than 100 workers in 15 city and county departments via a phishing attack.

The metropolis' prosecutors have obtained arrest warrants seeking the extradition of Austin Kelvin Onaghinor from Nigeria to face charges of identity theft and unauthorized access to a computer.

The LA district attorney's office claimed on Friday that in May of this year, Onaghinor sent the emails to more than 1,000 of Los Angeles County's 120,000 employees. Of the 1,000, 108 of the messages tricked users into handing over their login credentials to city service portals.

If convicted, Onaghinor could face up to 13 years in prison.

The second-largest city in the US says that while it "thwarted" the attack, it is warning some residents that their personal information may have been exposed, and it's offering free identity protection services to the affected people.

The notice, which will be mailed out to the affected citizens, warns that the exposed data includes "first and last name, date of birth, Social Security number (SSN), driver's license or state identification number, payment card information, bank account information, home address, phone number(s), and/or medical information, such as Medi-Cal or insurance carrier identification number, diagnosis, treatment history, or medical record number."

"Due to the ongoing investigation by law enforcement, we were advised to delay notifying you of this incident until now, as public notice may have hindered their investigation," the notice reads.

Those whose personal information was exposed will receive one free year of credit and identity monitoring services.

The city says it will be improving its internal security and providing additional training to help employees spot and report phishing scams. ®

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Talks Stall Over Congo's Delayed Election; Violence Feared


FILE- In this Thursday, June 30, 2016 file photo, Congolese President Joseph Kabila, center, waves as he and others celebrate the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, independence in Kindu, Congo. Officials in Congo say negotiations between the country’s political parties are now on hold until Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. The announcement Saturday comes as the Catholic church attempts to resolve the impasse between President Joseph Kabila and opposition parties over delayed elections. (AP Photo/John Bompengo, File)

KINSHASA, CONGO (AP) — Talks in Congo between President Joseph Kabila's party and the opposition are on hold after they failed to reach an agreement before the date Kabila was originally supposed to step down from power, mediators said Saturday.

Kabila's original mandate ends Monday, and many fear widespread unrest if he stays in office unless some kind of political compromise is reached. Anti-government demonstrations are expected Monday and Tuesday. Police and military forces were already patrolling, searching cars and setting up checkpoints Saturday in Kinshasa, the capital. Authorities plan to cut off access to social networks Sunday for an undetermined period of time.

The national election once set for November in this Central African nation has been delayed indefinitely, allowing the president to remain in power until a vote is held. Congolese authorities say that updating the voters' registrar will take until at least until July 2017 and budgetary constraints may delay the election even further.

Catholic church officials who have been mediating the talks announced Saturday evening that the negotiations won't resume until Wednesday, raising fears of potential violence in the sprawling nation that has suffered decades of dictatorship and back-to-back civil wars.

"Given the breadth of the topics, participants came to the conclusion that these questions should not be dealt with hastily," Monsignor Marcel Utembi said in a statement Saturday, adding that several church officials are now headed to Rome for a few days.

"Meanwhile we ask everyone to pray for our country," he added.

Opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi said he and his supporters maintain that a new election "must be held and can be held in 2017," despite calls from the presidential majority to hold them in April 2018.

Opposition parties also want political prisoners released and for the case to be dropped against opposition politician Moise Katumbi, who left the country after prosecutors said they would charge him with hiring mercenaries for his protection.

Justice Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba said the presidential majority was taking part in the talks with "an open mind to put an end to the crisis." He said while some prisoners could be released immediately, others might have to be pardoned by a commission.

Kabila came to power in 2001 after the assassination of his father. Congo suffered through years of civil war, and some observers fear that tensions over Kabila's continued rule could once again unleash fighting in the mineral-rich country.

Massive demonstrations broke out in Kinshasa and several other cities across Congo in September when the electoral commission failed to call an election and clashes with police left over 50 people dead.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Saturday that concerns about unrest are high, especially since "no one to date has been held accountable" for the protesters' deaths in September.

"We call on the government, and especially its security forces, to take all necessary measures to guarantee the rights to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly," he said.

Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.

West African Leaders Aim To Enforce Gambian Election Upset



ABUJA, NIGERIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — West African leaders promised Saturday to enforce the results of a Gambian election that was won by a challenger but is being rejected by the country's longtime coup leader.

A summit of the Economic Community of West African States ended with all leaders stating they will attend the Jan. 19 inauguration of Gambia's new president, former businessman Adama Barrow.

They also pledged to "guarantee the safety and protection of the president-elect," who has said he fears for his life.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh surprised his fellow citizens by conceding defeat the day after the Dec. 1 vote, and then changed his mind and called for a new election. The United Nations, the United States and the African Union have all condemned the move.

The summit Saturday in Abuja, Nigeria, attended by 11 presidents with Jammeh absent, agreed "to take all necessary actions to enforce the results" of the Gambian election. It called for Jammeh to accept the results and refrain from compromising a peaceful handover of power.

It named a mediation committee headed by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari with his deputy Ghana President John Dramani Mahama, who conceded defeat in an election a few days after Gambia's. It was Ghana's first electoral defeat of a sitting president.

The president of the West African community, Marcel de Souza, said this week that if diplomacy fails, a military intervention and "draconian measures" must be considered for Gambia. He spoke in an interview with Radio France International.

Jammeh's defiance challenges the first regional community in the world to agree to military interventions in member states accused of abusing human rights and democratic principles. It has spent 25 years nurturing democracy in a region once prone to military coups.

Jammeh acted after an opposition coalition official in Gambia said he should be prosecuted for gross human rights abuses. Jammeh is accused of arbitrarily detaining, torturing and sometimes killing political opponents.

Jammeh used the excuse of errors in the vote tally, ignoring the country's Independent Electoral Commission, which said the winner remains Barrow, who won with a revised count of 227,708 votes to Jammeh's 208,487.

The ruling party filed a court challenge against the results Tuesday, a constitutional move complicated by the fact that Gambia's Supreme Court does not have a quorum. The United States said it doubts it is "a credible court dedicated to ensuring the integrity of Gambia's democratic process."

Jammeh on Tuesday sent troops to take over the electoral commission's office in Banjul, the capital, shortly before a delegation of West African leaders arrived on an inconclusive mission.

Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994 in the country of 1.9 million people known for its beaches.

Friday, December 16, 2016

President Buhari’s Scandals Are Almost Exactly Like Jonathan’s

Y-NAIJA, DEC. 17, 2016

President Muhammadu Buhari

ABUJA, NIGERIA (Y-NAIJA) -- With each passing day since President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as president in May 2015, his administration has been characterized by scandals relating to corruption, ineptitude and mismanagement all played out by cabinet ministers, lawmakers and the most recent, being the Secretary General of the Federation, Babachir Lawal.

Findings from the Senate ad hoc committee’s investigations into the mismanagement of funds originally meant for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North East reveal that an ICT company, Global Vision Ltd, purportedly owned by the SGF was awarded a grass clearing contract worth over N200 million. According to the Nigerian Senate, Babachir Lawal was a director of the company up until September 2016 when he resigned – and the said contract was awarded by the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE) in March.

All of these going against the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution which states that: “A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities,” and right under the watch of President Buhari who was voted in for what Nigerians supposed was an iron hand – the type that would rid the country of corruption in all its form, as he swore to do.

The Buhari administration promised to be a whiff of fresh air, “a new era” like every government on all the levels promise upon inauguration. But it’s been one year and seven months and the signs are loud and clear. President Buhari’s government appears no different from his predecessor’s, the promise of Change was a bait-and-switch. Nothing has changed and from what we see, in the next two and a half years that constitute the rest of this administration, more scandals will arise.

The previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has been heavily condemned and blamed for the malfunctioning economy by President Buhari but in comparing both administrations, it’s not a tough job deciphering that they are becoming almost exactly alike.

When Stella Oduah, aviation minister in Jonathan’s administration was accused of massive fraud in the remodelling of 22 airports in the country and the purchase of two bullet-proof cars, President Jonathan purposely stayed away from the controversy. No reactions whatsoever and of course, no actions on his part. Today, the same woman who was paraded as heavily corrupt is a member of the upper legislative chamber of the 8th Senate.

In similar circumstances, the infamous budget padding scandal that rocked the House of Representatives had every concerned Nigerian weighing in on the matter, except President Buhari. In place of his silence, he held four separate meetings with the Speaker of the House who was at the centre of all the padding accusations and till date, no arrests or prosecutions have been made by the EFCC.

We can never forget the Dasuki scandal that amounted in the embezzlement of $2billion that was originally allocated for the procurement of arms to fight the Boko Haram insurgency at the time. The diversion of the arms funds was diverted through the office of the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki. At the time, there were allegations that some of the funds were channeled towards President Jonathan’s re-election. Investigations into the scandal did not begin until the new administration was ushered in.

Though this may not carry the same weight when it comes to the amount of money involved but the Babachir Lawal scandal earlier referenced is similar to the Dasuki scandal. Two top government officials allegedly siphoning funds that are meant for easing the pain of Nigerians in the North who are victims of insurgency. We are waiting to see how President Buhari will deal with this scandal before him. It’s another test of the president’s anti-corruption stance and though he has failed on this too many times, here’s another chance to prove himself.

The unsolved deaths that have plagued the NYSC scheme till now are not new. During the Jonathan administration, scores of corps members were killed during elections in different parts of the country. Calls were made for the scheme to be scrapped as it has outlived its relevance but no action was taken to that effect.

We have seen the same under President Buhari, the NYSC just like many other government agencies has not seen any improvement in performance, productivity, and attitude to work. Things may have gotten worse in fact, as the president proved himself insensitive when he reacted to the recent deaths of three corps members two weeks after the tragic events.

We can go on with the examples but the point is clear, the scandals springing up under this administration may end up overrunning those of the previous administration. This will be blight on Buhari’s image as he has spent a better part of his term in office blaming the previous administration for everything that has gone wrong. Mr. President desperately needs to do better.

Exhumed Bodies Reveal South Africa's Deep Apartheid Wounds


A forensic anthropologist exhuming the remains of one of 14 political prisoners' bodies, hanged under the South Africa's apartheid regime in 1964, on December 14, 2016 at the Rebecca cemetery in Pretoria. AFP PHOTO | MUHAJID SAFODIEN 

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA (AFP) -- After 52 years, Mncedisi Tyopo finally stood beside his father's grave, looking down at remains being exhumed as part of South Africa's attempts to come to terms with its painful past.

Tyopo's father Bhonase Vulindlela was an anti-apartheid fighter who was hanged along with 11 comrades in 1964.

Their bodies were crammed into four unmarked graves on rough ground in a bottom corner of cemetery beside a road in the capital Pretoria.

The exhumation will allow Tyopo to give his father a proper ancestral burial — one small attempt at healing the wounds of decades of state violence and repression that marked South Africa until the end of white-minority rule in 1994.

"For so long we didn't know where the body was. We had no information. I feel happy," Tyopo, who was just four when his father was hanged, told AFP.

His father Vulindlela was one of a group of 12 activists from the Pan-African Congress (PAC), an anti-apartheid party that was banned by the segregationist government.

All were hanged — including four other family members — for the murder of five white people in an attack in Eastern Cape province.

This week, forensic anthropologists equipped with trowels, spades and brushes excavated a hole two metres deep, gradually revealing skulls — some very damaged — femurs and tibias, as well as the handles and steel nails from disintegrated coffins.

"The fingers, the ribs, the vertebrae have been reduced to dust," Kavita Lakha, one of the anthropologists, said.

"But for the families, to be able to identify a head or a major bone, that is better than nothing."

Anti-apartheid activists hanged under the regime were often buried in paupers' graves without headstones.

Their relatives could not attend the burial and were never told where their loved ones lay.

Only the cemeteries' neat registry books, now yellow and faded, recorded the name and location of each corpse.

Property of state

The bodies even remained property of the state, inflicting a "final punishment beyond death," said Madeleine Fullard, head of the Missing Persons' Task Team.

"This is one step in the family coming to some sense that their journey is ending," she added.

"We are not necessarily looking to heal... but certainly many of the families feel that once they are able to bury the remains, they have done what they can to make right what was done wrong."

At the Rebecca Street cemetery in Pretoria, the hanging victims were buried in the "Africans and paupers" section, far from the peaceful jacaranda-lined avenues reserved for white Afrikaners.

The government-organised exhumation was the first of its kind in South Africa, which plans to unearth scores of bodies of political prisoners executed between 1960 and 1990.

Justice Minister Michael Masutha, who attended the graveside scene, said the hangings and treatment of the bodies reflected the criminal justice system at the time.

"It was common for black people convicted of murdering whites to be sentenced to death, but very rare for whites who murdered blacks," he said.

The exhumation policy follows the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 1996, which revealed the full horrors of crimes committed during apartheid.

South Africa has been assisted in the task by Argentinian authorities, experienced in handling bodies of victims from the country's dictatorship.

Now the families hope to re-bury the remains early next year in the Eastern Cape, in line with tradition that demands a correct burial to protect the surviving family.

"Every movement has a responsibility to look after its own soldiers," said Phillip Dhlamini, national PAC chairman.

"Where your fighters are captured by the enemy, there will be no peace until their remains are returned to you. So this is the first step towards a lasting peace in this country." (AFP)