Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nigeria Joins African Union Campaign To End Child Marriage


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOVEMBER 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Weissenstein on Twitter:

Peter Orsi on Twitter: at

Friday, November 25, 2016

Switzerland Has ‘Impressive Results’ For Return Of Dictator Funds


Nigeria's Dictator Sani Abacha

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Balzaretti is confident that a new page is being turned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nigeria: Govt's Peace Talks With Oil Rebels Deadlocked


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Demons, Aso Rock Villa And The Nigerian Gothic



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Nigeria: Hunger Crisis Could Kill 200 Children Per Day

Save the Children warns 200 children could die of hunger every day as conditions in north steadily decline.

November 15, 2016

Boko Haram Controlled Areas. Image Courtesy Of Polgeo Now

Two hundred children could die each day from hunger in northeastern Nigeria as a result of the ongoing conflict in the country, a humanitarian agency has warned.

Up to half of all children under the age of five are acutely malnourished, international charity Save the Children said on Monday, after screening the health of boys and girls in the region between June and October in 2016.

The figure could be even worse in areas that are out of reach because of insecurity, according to the report.

"Children are presenting in desperate conditions and facing severe malnutrition, often in combination with other life-threatening illnesses like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea," said Ben Foot, Save the Children country director.

"For some cases this may be the second or third time they have fought malnutrition so their immune systems are already severely weakened."

Violent attacks on civilians since 2009 by the armed group Boko Haram have affected almost 15 million people in northeastern Nigeria, according to the World Health Organization.

Zainabu Ibrahim, a mother of five severely malnourished children who escaped the clutches of Boko Haram three months ago, lives in a Bakassi camp, in Maiduguri, which is home to almost 21,000 other displaced people.

"Boko Haram fighters stopped us from farming. We were really living on wild fruits and leaves," Ibrahim told Al Jazeera.

"When we came here months ago, six of us were registered as a family and were given two measures each of corn, rice and beans to take us through the month. We tried to convince them that won't be enough but no one pays any attention."

More than 2.2 million people have fled their homes in the region, while seven million people are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the WHO.

Roughly three million people lived in unknown conditions in inaccessible areas in 2015.

Boko Haram's goal is to enforce a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Since 2009, at least 14,000 people have died at the hands of the armed group in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Top Tomato Paste Maker Quitting Nigeria For Kenya, Ethiopia, Others

NOVEMBER 6, 2016

Eric Umeofia image courtesy of Brand Power

LAGOS, NIGERIA (VANGUARD) – Africa’s top tomato paste maker, Chief Eric Umeofia, has set machinery in motion to set up manufacturing concerns in four additional African countries—Kenya, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Ethiopia. The venture into four other African countries is a fallout from Umeofia’s decision to close shop in Nigeria.

Umeofia, who confirmed the development in an interview with NAN correspondents in Lagos on Sunday said that his goal was also to have dominant tomato paste manufacturing presence in at least 20 African countries in the near future. He said that ease of doing business was his attraction in opening shops in the African countries, following his plans to move out of Nigeria because of “the harsh realities of doing business in the country’’. 

Umeofia had recently announced that he was relocating his key manufacturing plant to China, following what he described as policy inconsistencies now crippling his Nigeria operations. According to him, undue favouritism to Lebanese, Indian and Chinese businessmen in the allocation of foreign exchange to import tomato pastes and other items, including frozen fish, has dealt serious blow to his company, Erisco Foods Ltd. and also to other Nigerian companies involved in manufacturing. 

Erisco Foods, which has had dominant presence in Liberia and Angola over the years, is listed as Africa’s top tomato paste manufacturer, and the company is the fourth largest of its type in the world, according to records. But policy inconsistencies and alleged connivance of officials of some key government agencies to deny foreign exchange allocation to indigenous companies in preference for foreigners have left many Nigerian companies struggling or closing shops in recent times. 

On Oct. 5, Umeofia announced plans to shut down operations and sack some 1,500 workers at his expansive factory in Oregun, an industrial area of Lagos. The industrialist said that he decided to relocate to China to produce at cheaper cost and then, sell the goods in Nigeria and other African markets, stressing that he would even make more profit doing so. 

“This appears to be the only reasonable thing for me to do since my cries appear to have no meaning for those stifling our operations.’’ Umeofia said that he brought his manufacturing concerns worth about $150 million in Dubai and Angola to Nigeria in 2009 in what he described as his patriotic zeal to contribute to the growth of Nigeria.

 “But dumping of sub-standard tomato pastes from mainly Asian nations has resulted to Erisco Foods losing up to N3.5 billion in recent years. “More so, our products worth about N6 billion remain unsold, due to the flooding of our markets with sub-standard tomato pastes from foreign countries. 

“If we don’t leave Nigeria now we’ll go bankrupt and I believe that my leaving will open up the environment for government to understand the dilemma facing Nigerian manufacturers like me,’’ he stated. The Amichi, Anambra State born industrialist restated that Erisco Foods would also no longer go ahead with its plan to set up a plant to manufacture tractors and other agricultural accessories in northern Nigeria, due to foreign exchange challenges to purchase machinery. 

“We had to return the certificate of occupancy for some 2,400 hectares of land, graciously given to us by the Katsina State Government for our tractor manufacturing factory because we’re not able to source forex to push the venture,’’ he stated. Umeofia pleaded with President Muhammadu Buhari to use his good offices to look into the activities of top officials of some government agencies conniving with foreigners to short-change Nigeria. 

“Some government agencies are impeding and frustrating us in our bid to create jobs for Nigerians. The agencies prefer to favour dubious Chinese, Indian and Lebanese businessmen, making them to create jobs in their countries and depleting Nigeria of jobs. 

“Favouring foreigners doing business in Nigeria is counter-productive because no foreigner can love Nigeria better than Nigerians,’’ he added. Erisco Foods has a plant capable of producing 450,000 metric tonnes of tomato paste and ketchup annually but the company is producing at below 20 per cent of its installed capacity, due to sundry challenges.