Tuesday, June 25, 2019

77 year old widow opens her doors to refugees

 When the insecurity in Cameroon’s restive western region forced Susan Agbo to leave her home, she did not know what lay ahead. All she knew was that she needed to get her eight grandchildren to a safer place. She found that safer place in Nigeria.

“When I came to Nigeria, I had no place to stay,” says Susan, who fled Cameroon nearly two years ago.

She struggled with homelessness for months, relying on the goodwill of the local Nigerian community for shelter.

“I was staying with people for a few weeks here and there and then I would leave and stay somewhere else for a month,” explains Susan, who is in her 60s.

Escalating violence in Cameroon has displaced hundreds of thousands of people within the country’s borders and forced about 37,000 more like Susan to seek safety in Nigeria.

The constant movement from one place to another, with her grandchildren in tow, was exhausting for the sickly grandmother who longed for a lasting solution to her situation.

Lucia Ikuru, who lives near Agbokim Waterfalls on the border with Cameroon, sympathized with Susan’s predicament and offered her shelter without a second thought.

“I saw she had run away and had no place to stay,” says the 77-year-old Nigerian widow. “I gave her a house and told her to stay there.”

Lucia’s large compound has several rooms that she has turned into shelters for other Cameroonian refugees including Susan.

“I try to help them, and whatever little I have, I give them,” adds Lucia.

Susan is grateful for the shelter, solace and friendship that she has found here and is especially grateful for the food that Lucia provides her grandchildren.

“When she cooks, she feeds my grandchildren and they eat. I am happy,” says Susan, adding that she has no means of supporting them herself.

She explains that due to the conflict, their parents’ whereabouts is unknown – a constant source of worry for her.

“I don’t know where they are since they ran away so now the children are here with me,” she says.

To keep her worries at bay, she talks to Lucia often, sitting with her in the courtyard and carving wooden sticks into toothbrushes and toothpicks to sell at the local market.

“I’m happy that I have her staying here with me,” says Lucia. “If something happened to her, I wouldn’t feel happy.”

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has launched an urgent appeal to increase support for displaced Cameroonians who have survived nearly two years of ongoing violence. But of the US$184 million required for UNHCR’s operations in Cameroon and Nigeria – including US$35.4 million needed urgently for critical life-saving assistance to newly displaced Cameroonians – just four per cent has been raised.

The majority of the refugees - over 50 per cent of the population - live in host communities in over 47 villages along the border. The support they receive from kind Nigerians like Lucia is crucial and reflective of the sense of solidarity that most refugees experience from their Nigerian hosts.

Susan hopes that the situation back home will improve so that she can return. But for now, she continues to adjust to life here and is grateful for Lucia’s kindness and that of the Nigerian people.

“I don’t know where I would have been,” she says. “I am happy because we are like friends.”

UNHCR continues to seek funding to provide basic assistance to refugees and carry out projects that empower the host communities, also in need.


Monday, June 24, 2019

Nigeria Women's World Cup squad protest due to unpaid wages

The World Cup journey for Nigeria is only partially over after being eliminated from the tournament by Germany in the round of 16 on Saturday.

Nigeria’s athletes had refused to leave their hotel and head home until all players have been paid their outstanding wages — including daily allowances while competing in France as well as bonuses owed from two years ago. According to ESPN, the members of the Nigerian team had previously only been paid half of the nearly $5,600, or two million Nigerian naira, owed from matches that took place in 2016 and 2017.

A deal was finally brokered between the Nigeria Football Federation and the women’s team that brought the sit-in to an end, however a complete resolution is still pending.

“They paid us 1 million [naira] and said that is all. We want them to pay the balance,” one player told ESPN before the team agreed to leave the hotel. “Part of that money is from two years ago, the other is from three years ago. And they are also owing us five days' daily allowance here in France.”

The Nigeria Football Federation previously disputed the claims, saying the players have been paid “everything they are being owed”, per president Amaju Pinnick, with the exception of the World Cup participation fee, which the tournament organizers are scheduled to pay out in September.

To end the protest, the team agreed to begin heading home as long as they received their bonuses on Monday.

Nigeria’s women’s team has protested over unpaid wages and bonuses on multiple occasions in the last two decades. In 2016, the team held a public rally in the Nigerian capital of Abuja due to unpaid allowances, while in 2004 the team held a similar sit-in at their hotel in South Africa until their allowances were paid. Both protests came after the team won the Africa Women Cup of Nations.

The athletes attempted to avoid another conflict on the world stage before traveling to France, telling ESPN they asked for a meeting with the federation to discuss bonuses as the men’s team did in 2018, however their letter was “ignored”.

This tournament marked the eighth World Cup appearance for the Nigerian women, with their best finish coming as a quarter finalist in 1999.

By Blake Schuster


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Former minister's son freed from kidnappers in Nigeria

Authorities in Nigeria on Thursday confirmed the release of Dayo Adewole, the son of a former minister of health Isaac Adewale, who was kidnapped on Tuesday by unknown gunmen in Nigeria's southwest Oyo State.

Oyo police chief Shina Olukolu, who disclosed this to Xinhua, declined to give a detailed account of the release but simply said the abducted former minister's son was freed "unhurt" by his abductors had been reunited with his family.

It is still unclear if any ransom was paid to secure the release of the kidnapped victim.

Dayo was kidnapped at about 6 p.m., local time at gunpoint on his farm in Iroko town of Akinyele area of the state.

The police chief added that the only suspects arrested so far in connection with the incident were three of the victim's farm workers.


President Buhari appoints new head of NNPC

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari appointed a new head of the country's under-performing oil company on Thursday, amid plans to resume searching for oil in Lake Chad, an area wracked by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Mele Kolo Kyari, a geologist from the volatile northeastern Borno state, will take over as group managing director of the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) from Maikanti Baru, who was appointed in 2016, the company said in a statement.

Seven other senior officials were also appointed to head NNPC's subsidiaries.

Until his new appointment Kyari, 54, was group general manager of the NNPC's crude oil marketing division and has represented Nigeria in the OPEC oil cartel since May 2018.

Buhari, who was re-elected for another four year-term in February, has vowed to reform the NNPC, which has for years been beset by inefficiency and corruption.

Proposed legislation to overhaul the company has been stuck in parliament since 2012 because of disagreements with some of its provisions by stakeholders.

Kyari's appointment comes the country looks to revive its search for oil in the conflict-riven Lake Chad region, which comprises Nigeria's northeast, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

"We will go back there as soon as we receive security clearance," outgoing NNPC chief Baru was quoted in the local media on Thursday as saying.

"There seems to be some prospects there because Niger Republic drilled over 600 wells and now they are producing while we have only drilled 23," he said.

Nigeria is Africa's largest crude producer, accounting for a daily output of two million barrels -- much of which lies in the southern Niger delta and offshore.

The country halted its oil search in the Lake Chad area in July 2017 following a Boko Haram attack on an NNPC exploration team in which at least 69 people were killed.

Four oil exploration workers were abducted, one of whom was among the dead.

Boko Haram, which seeks to impose a hardline Islamic law in Nigeria's mainly-Muslim north, has killed 27,000 people and forced some two million others to flee their homes since 2009.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Villagers in Nigeria lament government failures to protect them from suicide bombers

Mohammed Bomboi is in shock and mourning as he sits in a raffia hut less than a metre from where his friend was killed by one of three suicide bombers.

Local officials say 20 people died in this small fishing and farming village, though emergency workers in Borno state put the death toll at 30. Villagers say between 21-25 died.

"We were resting on that mat in this tent Sunday night when I heard a loud sound outside," Bomboi said, pointing to the sandy floor where he had slept.

"It was Boko Haram again. I saw many bodies outside as they were scattered on the road."

One target was a thatched hut in the centre of the village, where people gather after work to watch movies or gossip. On Sunday, a Women's World Cup football match had attracted a crowd.

"People usually come to watch matches in the viewing centre. One match was playing in the TV. We didn't know Boko Haram was watching us. My friend went to join them and he died," Bomboi said.

Boko Haram not far

There were three suicide bombers: an adult male and two young girls who blew themselves up among those watching football and enjoying tea at a shop along Sambisa street, named for the Sambisa Forest - the notorious stronghold of Boko Haram less than 100 kilometres away.

Villagers say the bombers mingled with them earlier in the evening before rushing into the crowd and detonating the explosives strapped to their bodies.

"Twenty persons were killed in all - one of them died in the hospital while the other 19 died here in the village. Thirty-eight persons were injured and are receiving treatment in the hospital," said Sadiq Usmobik, a police spokesman of Borno state.

The casualty figures could potentially have been higher but one of the bombers, a girl, tripped while running towards a crowd and her bomb went off early.

Usman Kachalla, head of operations at the State Emergency Management Agency, put the death toll at 30.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it has been strongly linked to Boko Haram insurgents, who are known to use children in suicide bomb attacks targeting civilians in churches, mosques, markets, schools and other small gatherings.

The UN children's agency, UNICEF, did not single out Boko Haram on Monday.

"UNICEF condemns the use of children as human bombs and in any combat or non-combat roles in the conflict in northeast Nigeria," it said in a statement.

"This incident brings the number of children who have been reported as having been used as human bombs to five since January 2019. In 2018, 48 children - including 38 girls - were used in suicide attacks."

Assaults by Boko Haram since 2009 have killed more than 27,000 people and forced two million to leave their homes.

'It was too late'

Such carnage in places such as Mandarari is not just a reflection of the ruthlessness of fighters, but also underlines the failures of the state.

Villagers say fewer people would have died if emergency services arrived more quickly, or if there were better health facilities available in the area, just 40km from Maiduguri, the state capital.

"At first his injuries were not that bad. But with time they got worse," said Awolo Abubakar, whose 30-year-old son was caught in the attack.

"So when help came, it was too late. That's why my young son, without any children of his own, is in a grave today."

Over the years, Boko Haram has evolved; moving into far-to-reach communities and dominating the lives of millions. The Nigerian military has been unable to establish order in the vast expanse of the country's northeast.

The attacks have forced many to leave their homes. Along the short trip between Mandarari and Maiduguri, vacated farm land and empty villages show the extent of the exodus.

"The current approach has failed. It's not enough to fight this war through the military alone. Good governance, economic policies and mass education are all part of the war the government has refused to fight. That's why Boko Haram is not ending soon," security analyst Nnamdi Anekwe-Chive told Al Jazeera.

"The people are disappointed in their leaders. The leaders in northern Nigeria have failed the people. It's the underdevelopment they created in the north that is helping all these crises thrive," he said.

'Can't fight back'

Another deadly crisis has also emerged in Nigeria's northwest, with more than 300 people killed this year by bandits and kidnappers.

In Mandarari, Bomboi stands over a pile of victims' shoes partially buried in the dust. The various sizes and colours reflect the diversity of those who last wore them - children, women and men.

"Boko Haram is near here" said Bomboi, "and they have continued to kill this way. They keep using some to bomb us. They keep attacking our villages and we can't fight back. It has happened many times."

The mood in the village is not just mournful, it also anticipates the future with fear.

Survivors know by living so close to Boko Haram-controlled territory it is likely attackers will again make their way into the community, along with hundreds of others in Konduga, Bama and Gwoza - all in restive Borno state.

By Orji Sunday

Al Jazeera