Monday, January 20, 2020

Pipeline Fire Kills Three in Lagos

A fire on a pipeline owned by Nigeria's state oil company in the commercial capital Lagos killed three people on Sunday, a Reuters witness said.

The blaze broke out in the Abule-Egba district of the southwestern megacity. Residents said it started shortly before 8 p.m. (1900 GMT).

A Reuters television camera operator counted three dead bodies at the scene. The fire burned nearby houses and vehicles.

Another witness, resident Ayo Adewale, said there were "many dead people". Reuters was unable to verify the claim.

Many fires on pipelines in Nigeria, Africa's biggest crude oil producer, are caused by theft and sabotage. The methods used to steal oil often result in accidents that cause fires.

"People were running and I was asking where was this happening, then I got near here and they said pipeline vandals did this," said Adewale, who was in the area when the fire took hold.

Oluwafemi Damilola, director general of Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), said he and his team were told "some undesirable elements vandalised the pipeline".

It was not immediately clear what, if any, impact the pipeline fire would have on the operations of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

NNPC spokesman Samson Makoji late on Sunday the state oil company was assessing the situation.

(Reporting by Seun Sanni; Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Kim Coghill)


Friday, January 17, 2020

Video - Nigeria celebrates selfless efforts of it's armed forces

Nigeria has marked its 50th armed forces anniversary in the capital Abuja. The ceremony celebrated the selfless efforts of its servicemen and women. Tributes were paid especially to those killed in the line of duty. CGTN's Kelechi Emekalam reports.

Fifty years on, Nigeria struggles with memory of Biafra civil war

Diekoye Oyeyinka, 33, has been billed as one of the most promising Nigerian writers of his generation.

He went to some of the finest schools in his West African homeland but says that, like the majority of his classmates, he “didn’t know about Biafra until I was 14.”

When he did begin to find out about the brutal civil war that nearly tore Nigeria apart, it was not in the classroom. Instead it was a schoolmate in his dormitory who showed him a separatist leaflet demanding Nigeria’s southeast break away from the rest of the country.

Before then, Oyeyinka had known nothing about how leaders from the Igbo ethnic group declared the independent state of Biafra in 1967.

He knew nothing of the conflict that resulted and the 30 months of fighting and famine that are estimated to have cost over a million lives before the secessionists surrendered 50 years ago in January 1970.

“We’ve had a very brutal history, the older generation went through a lot of trauma,” Oyeyinka said. “We just sweep it under the carpet, pretending nothing happened. But without knowing our history, we will repeat the same mistakes. Our history is a succession of deja vu.”

It was to try to break this cycle of ignorance that Oyeyinka wrote the novel “Stillborn” — a historic epic about Nigeria from the days of British colonial rule in 1950 to 2010. In it the civil war is the pivotal event.

Unlike other famed Nigerian writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, with her novel “Half Of A Yellow Sun,” or Chinua Achebe’s memoir “There Was A Country,” Oyeyinka is one of the few non-Igbo writers to have dwelt on the conflict.

“An Igbo friend got angry at me and said ‘You can’t write about us, it’s our conflict,'” he recounted.

But Oyeyinka insists that all Nigerians need to be made aware of what happened.

“We need to address these traumas ourselves, as a country, otherwise we are a tinder box ready to explode.”

While in the rest of Africa’s most populous nation many know little about the history of Biafra, in the former capital of the self-proclaimed state at Enugu the memory of those years lives on.

Biafran flags — an iconic red, black and green with a rising golden sun — make appearances on the front of buildings and hard-line separatists still demand independence.

The security forces — deployed heavily in the region — are quick to stamp out any clamor for a new Biafra.

At the end of the war in 1970, Nigerian leader Yukubu Gowon famously declared there would be “no victor, no vanquished” as he sought to reunite his shattered country.

The leader of the breakaway Republic of Biafra, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, went into exile for 13 years before being pardoned. He returned to Nigerian politics but was detained for 10 months in prison.

Leading Nigerian intellectual Pat Utomi says that many Igbos — the country’s third-biggest ethnic group, after the Hausa and the Yoruba — still feel marginalized.

One key event was when current President Muhammadu Buhari — then a military chief — seized power in 1983, and stopped the only Igbo to get close to leading Nigeria since the war from becoming head of state.

“In the early 1980s, people had forgotten about the war, but this succession of poor leadership brought bitterness among the new generations,” Utomi said.

Nowadays any incident — from the closure of the only airport in the southeast last year to the sacking of Igbo shops by customs officials in economic hub Lagos — can cause grievances to flare.

“It’s important to deal with history, to write it down. In Nigeria, we try to cover it up,” Utomi said. “We are more divided today than we’ve ever been before the civil war. We learnt nothing from it.”

In order to try to heal the rifts, Utomi helped organize the Never Again conference aiming to bring together key cultural and political figures to discuss the lessons of the Biafra war half a century after it ended.

He is also a patron of the Center for Memories in Enugu, a combination of a museum and library where visitors can come and “dig into history.”

History itself has been absent from Nigerian schools.

The current government reintroduced it only from last term as an obligatory subject for pupils from ages 10 to 13, after more than a decade off the curriculum.

“Teaching history is essential to build our identity as a country, and defend our patriotic values,” said Sonny Echono, permanent secretary at the education ministry.

But schools still remain woefully short of qualified history teachers, and there is no unified narrative about the civil war that does not figure in the lessons.

“We need to teach the war in our schools,” said Egodi Uchendu, a history professor at University of Nsukka, in the former Biafra territory. “Eastern Nigeria is completely different from how it was experienced in other parts of the country. We need to bring in the different angles to it.”

Chika Oduah, a Nigerian American journalist, has crossed the country to collect hundreds of testimonies of the victims and combatants of the Biafra conflict, which she publishes on her website Biafran War Memories.

She says that for many of those she interviewed it was the first time they had retold the horrors of the period.

“A seventy-something former soldier … broke down crying, when he told me how he lost his brother during the war,” she said.

She herself only learned at the age of 17 that her mother as a child spent two years in a camp for displaced people.

“Our parents wanted to move on, not look at the past,” Oduah insisted.

“But we need to talk about it, otherwise we won’t heal.”

By Sophie Bouillon

The Japan Times

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Video - Nigerian government to financially support families of fallen soldiers

The Nigerian government says it will make budgetary allocations to support families of the country's fallen soldiers. Hundreds of troops have been killed and their families left destitute during the country's decade-long fight against Islamist militant groups Boko Haram and ISWAP. But the country is now remembering the sacrifices of these men and women as CGTN's Kelechi Emekalam now reports.

Armed group frees kidnapped hostages in Nigeria

An armed group has released three aid workers and other civilians who had been held hostage in northeast Nigeria since late December, according to a United Nations official.

The people were kidnapped on December 22 by fighters posing as soldiers who stopped a convoy of commercial vehicles travelling towards the city of Maiduguri, state capital of the northeast state of Borno.

Armed groups have waged an uprising in northeast Nigeria that has killed at least 35,000 people since 2009 and left 7.1 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

Boko Haram, a group seeking a separate state in northeast Nigeria adhering to a strict interpretation of Islamic laws, began the unrest.

"I am deeply relieved that some civilians, including three aid workers, who were abducted by non-state armed groups along the Monguno - Maiduguri road on 22 December 2019 have been released yesterday and are now safe," Edward Kallon, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, said in a statement on Thursday.

Kallon said he was concerned about the "increasingly insecure environment that humanitarians are working in". He said a total of 12 aid workers lost their lives in 2019, more than twice the 2018 total, making it one of the most dangerous years for humanitarian actors in Nigeria.

According to AFP news agency, citing security sources and one of the freed hostages, a total of five aid workers were released on Wednesday, after they were seized in two separate incidents in December.

Asabe Musa, a hygiene specialist with ALIMA (Alliance for International Medical Action), a French NGO, was among those freed.

Musa told AFP news agency that those captured were another colleague from ALIMA, a Red Cross worker, a member of NGO Solidarity and one person from the International Office for Migration.

The UN did not state whether those behind the abduction were associated with Boko Haram or a faction that broke away in 2016 and pledged allegiance to the ISIL (ISIS) group.

The group - Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) - has been the dominant armed group in Nigeria in the last two years.

ISWAP in December said it executed 11 Christian captives it had previously kidnapped in Borno State.

A security source told AFP that the fighters who released the hostages were from ISWAP.

In his statement on Thursday Kallon also expressed concern for aid worker Grace Taku and nurse Alice Loksha, who were abducted in July 2019 and March 2018 respectively and are still being held.

Al Jazeera