Thursday, September 18, 2014

Prophet T.B. Joshua under fire for building collapse in Lagos, Nigeria

He’s the charismatic Nigerian preacher whose prophecies of death and disaster, and improbable claims to cure HIV and Ebola, have brought him vast wealth and a devout following among many of Africa’s most powerful politicians and celebrities.

But it’s a disaster that T.B. Joshua failed to prophesize that has gotten him into serious trouble. One of his church buildings in Lagos, Nigeria, has collapsed, killing at least 70 people, including 67 South African pilgrims – the biggest loss of life among South Africans outside the country in recent history.

The disaster has shone a spotlight on one of Africa’s most controversial televangelists. The Nigerian preacher has become famous for his estimated wealth of $10-million to $15-million (U.S.), his weekly sermons to 15,000 people, his loyal following from African presidents and prime ministers, and his claim that he prophesized everything from the death of Michael Jackson to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

When the five-storey guesthouse suddenly collapsed into rubble at his church headquarters last Friday with hundreds of pilgrims inside, Mr. Joshua at first tried to minimize the disaster. On his Facebook page, his ministry dismissed it as a mere “incident” in which a “few people” were affected but were “being rescued.”

Later, the preacher tried to blame the Boko Haram terrorist group, claiming, bizarrely, that a mysterious low-flying airplane had caused the building’s collapse by spraying it with an unknown substance, although officials said there was no evidence of a terrorist link.

Instead, there is mounting evidence the building collapsed as a result of poor construction. Three additional storeys were being added onto the original two-storey building when it imploded. Similar collapses have become common in Nigeria, where construction regulations are often evaded, sometimes with bribes.

There are also growing allegations Mr. Joshua and the Nigerian authorities have tried to cover up the extent of the disaster. His church officials refused to allow emergency officials to participate in the rescue of survivors until Sunday. Nigerian officials were slow to co-operate with South Africa, even though an estimated 300 South African pilgrims were in the guesthouse when it collapsed.

As recently as Monday, three days after the collapse, the South African government was still struggling to find out if any of its citizens were killed. South African diplomats told local media that Nigeria was “completely stonewalling” their investigation.

Nigerian officials even allegedly told the diplomats the disaster was “not that bad.” One diplomat was quoted as saying: “When we got here, the entire building was flattened. How can it be not bad?”

South African President Jacob Zuma finally announced the deaths on Tuesday night. “We are all in grief,” he told the nation. “Not in the recent history of our country have we had this large number of our people die in one incident outside the country. The whole nation shares the pain.”

On Wednesday, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said the information about the deaths came from South African diplomats at the scene, rather than from Nigerian authorities as one would expect. But she said she would not do any “finger-pointing.”

In Nigeria, many people vented their anger through social media, saying Mr. Joshua should not be above the law. But the reality is that he has powerful friends and huge financial resources – enough to get away with a lot in Nigeria. Thousands of his followers are reportedly pressured into donating 10 per cent of their income to him.

His disciples have included the presidents or prime ministers of Ghana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo. He is particularly beloved in South Africa, where his followers include Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, opposition leader Julius Malema and Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.

Mr. Joshua’s vague “prophecies” have been celebrated by his fans. He gained massive publicity when he said an elderly African leader would die in 2012 – a fairly safe prediction, since so many of the 54 leaders are elderly. When Malawi’s president died, Mr. Joshua was again hailed as a prophet.

Medical experts have sharply criticized him for his claim that he can cure HIV, cancer, paralysis and even Ebola. Last month, he sent 4,000 bottles of “anointing water” to Sierra Leone to “heal” people with Ebola.

Globe and Mail

Related stories: Woman buried alive for four days rescued from collapsed building in Lagos, Nigeria

41 dead in Church collapse in Lagos, Nigeria

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Suicide bombers kill 17 at College in Kano, Nigeria

Gunshots and an explosion have been heard at a teacher training college in the northern Nigerian city of Kano.

Students were seen fleeing from the city's Federal College of Education.

One student told the BBC by phone that he had seen 17 dead bodies at the scene.

It is not clear who was responsible, although suspicion will fall on militant Islamist group Boko Haram, which has been waging an insurgency in Nigeria since 2009.

"Our men are already there. I've called them and they've said the crowd is too big. We are yet to establish the exact number who were injured or killed," a military spokesman in Kano told Reuters.

In July the city suffered a spate of five attacks in four days, one of which also targeted a college and killed six people.

In May 2013, Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency in the northern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, vowing to crush the insurgency.

However the militants have stepped up attacks, killing more than 2,000 civilians this year, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Boko Haram's name translates as "Western education is forbidden", and it has carried out several attacks on schools and colleges, seeing them as a symbol of Western culture.

In April, it raided a boarding school in Chibok town in the northern state of Borno, and is holding more than 200 girls that its gunmen abducted during that attack.


Nigerian IT worker steals $40million from Bank

 A Nigerian IT worker is being sought by police for his alleged role in co-ordinating a £25m ($40m) cyber-theft at a bank in Abuja where he worked.

Godswill Oyegwa Uyoyou is being sought by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

A wanted notice claims he helped conspirators dressed as maintenance staff get into the bank so they could use computers to transfer cash.

Local reports suggest the theft was spotted when stolen cash was withdrawn.

Although no members of the gang have been caught, several are being "tracked", Wilson Uwujaren, a spokesman for the EFCC, told News Nigeria.

Details of the robbery are scant but it is thought that Mr Uyoyou and conspirators entered the bank on a Saturday when it was closed and no other staff were working.

The IT staffer was key to the robbery, said the EFCC, because of the access he enjoyed to the computer systems at the bank. This was used to siphon 6.28bn Nigerian Naira into accounts of the conspirators, said the EFCC. So far, the bank at the centre of the theft has not been named.

The EFCC has issued a warrant for Mr Uyoyou's arrest and he is being actively sought in Nigeria.

John Hawes, a computer security researcher at Sophos, said the amount of cash stolen was "unusually large" but the method the gang chose was "all too common".

"Insider risk is a major problem for banks," he wrote on the firm's security blog, "they still have to rely on trusted employees to behave themselves, resist temptation and keep their hands off the huge amounts of funds they may find themselves dealing with every day."


$9.3 million in cash seized in South Africa traced to Nigerian intelligence agency

Following the admission by the Nigerian government that the $9.3 million cash, which was seized by South African customs officials, was legitimate and had the stamp of approval of the Nigerian intelligence community, the federal government has opened diplomatic talks with the South African government to reach an amicable resolution of the incident, THISDAY has learnt.

The South African police had on Monday said they had launched an investigation, following the seizure of the $9.3 million cash found stashed in the luggage of two Nigerians and an Israeli who had flown into Johannesburg’s Lanseria Airport in a private aircraft.

The money, which was meant for the procurement of arms, was detained and passed on to the South African central bank, because it was undisclosed, undeclared and above the prescribed legal limit for bringing cash into the country, the country’s customs officials explained.

However, a source from the presidency, who disclosed the government-to-government talks yesterday to some select journalists, also said the federal government had released data and documents on the arms deal to the South African authorities.
According to the source, “The bi-focal diplomatic talks with South Africa are at the governmental level and exchanges by intelligence services of the two nations.”

The source said following the preliminary diplomatic talks, the Bombardier Challenger aircraft, with US registration N808HG, might have been released to the Nigerian government pending the conclusion of a comprehensive investigation by the South African government.

It was further revealed that the high level discussion also covered sharing of vital security information to prove that the deal was legitimate and necessary.
The government’s position was said to have been strengthened by the fact that findings revealed that the South African government had only faulted the non-declaration of the cash by the two Nigerian passengers and the Israeli.

Speaking on the efforts being made so far to resolve the incident, the source said: “Nigeria and South Africa are getting closer to a diplomatic resolution of the incident over the $9.3 million cash. The two nations have opened up discussions.

“The federal government has submitted relevant data and documents on the arms transaction to South Africa and insisted that the transaction was legitimate.

“It also clarified that the funds were not laundered or smuggled for any covert activites. No person will be that audacious to fly into a country in a chartered jet with such a huge amount of cash.

“The technical details on security matters, which necessitated the desk had been availed to South Africa for screening, but a procedural error occurred.”
Based on initial scrutiny of the documents, the source disclosed that the Challenger aircraft has been released to the Nigerian government, pending the conclusion of a full-scale investigation by South Africa.

The source further provided clarification on why South Africa impounded the cash, saying: “There was a procedural error at the airport, the team did not declare the $9.3 million contrary to the aviation and customs laws in South Africa.

“So there was an oversight on the part of the delegation that went to complete the transaction. Nigeria is trying to complete the formalities and we are confident that the cash will be released for the purpose it was meant for.”

He maintained that the movement of cash for the strategic purchase of security equipment by the intelligence service is not new, adding, “It is a global trend. The FBI, KGB, MOSSAD and others do it.”

THISDAY further learnt that the ammunition, which was being procured for the immediate prosecution of the war against Boko Haram, included arms and a military helicopter, and was approved by an intelligence office close to the presidency.

An official in the office informed THISDAY that the matter would soon be resolved and that the decision to use cash instead of routing it through the banking system stemmed from the urgency of the transaction.

He said the purchase of arms from countries like the US and other Western nations often take much longer because of compliance issues.

As a result, certain security organisations resort to the use of cash for the purchase of ammunition from certain defence equipment manufacturers to speed up the process.

Meanwhile, a news report linking the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, with the aircraft was clarified by the cleric yesterday.

In a statement by his aide, Bayo Adewoye, Oritsejafor admitted that he owned some residual interest in the company, Eagle Air, but said he was not the operator of the aircraft.

In the statement, the CAN president said: “The Word of Life Bible Church has been made aware of the recent media interest regarding an aircraft (Bombardier Challenger 600, Registration No N808HG) owned by The Company Eagle Air in which our Pastor, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, holds a residual interest.

“We can confirm that although he holds an interest in Eagle Air, the aircraft in question is not operated by Pastor Oritsejafor.

The aircraft owned by Eagle Air Company, which has confirmed that since 2nd August 2014, the aircraft has been leased to and is operated by Green Coast Produce Limited.”

He explained that this is standard practice in the industry and advised that any and all enquiries in respect of the day-to-day operations of this aircraft should be directed to the management of Green Coast Produce Limited.
He added that he would be happy to help the authorities with any enquiries.

In addition, Green Coast, in a statement issued by Dr. Shima Adun said: “A Bombardier Challenger 600 aircraft, Registration No N808HG, was leased to us, Green Coast Produce Company Limited, on the 2nd of August 2014.” Adding that it had since that time been running and managing charter services with the aircraft in accordance and compliance with global best practices.

It further revealed that on the 5th of September 2014 the aircraft was hired from us by a John Ishyaku. The charter to John Ishyaku was upon the following documented terms: a) Depart Abuja-Johannesburg on the 5th of September 2014; b) Return to Abuja on the 6th of September 2014; c) To wait and return with the passengers."
The said terms are normative within the industry," it added.

It went on to state that as with every other aircraft charter company, “our knowledge of the cargo carried on the aircraft was in accordance with the information provided by ABC Limited (name withheld by Gold Coast).

“All cargo was accompanied by passengers who could readily defend the contents. We are not and cannot be privy to any alleged extraneous cargo transported on the aircraft other than that declared in the agreed terms of hire.

“We are not liable and cannot be construed as a party to any alleged infractions, either in Nigeria or South Africa as he case may be, after the hire of the aircraft.

“We issue this statement without prejudice to any statutory or commissioned investigation being conducted or to be conducted in South Africa or Nigeria."

In its clarification, Eagle Air confirmed that the said aircraft has since the 2nd of August 2014 been leased to and is operated by Green Coast Produce Limited”, adding that any and all enquiries in respect of the day-to-day operations of this aircraft should be properly directed to the management of Green Coast Produce Limited.

However, CAN yesterday deplored comments credited to former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, and the All Progressives Congress (APC).

In a statement signed by CAN Director of National Issues, Sunday Oibe, the association said: “Our attention has been drawn to the desperation of some elements working for a particular political party within our society to tarnish the image of the President of Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.

“They are working for the All Progressives Congress and they are not unknown to us. Let Nigerians have this background for them to judge themselves”.

Oibe said: “These shameless characters including a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, and National Publicity Secretary of All Progressives Congress, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, went to the UK to embark on an image laundering for their political party, the APC.

“El-Rufai had once said there are three sets of Boko Haram in Nigeria: Islamic Boko Haram, Politicians’ Boko Haram and Christians’ Boko Haram which he said are being funded by President Goodluck Jonathan and coordinated by CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.

“He went further to claim that the CAN president has been given N50 billion by the president and a jet.

“The same characters went ahead to sponsor a negative report in Sahara Reporters. I had expected that by now no sane mind will take any report by Sahara Reporters serious because it is an online news medium which thrives on falsehood and survives on false propaganda and blackmail.”

Explaining further, CAN restated that the aircraft is owned by Eagle Air but was leased to Green Coast.

“They lease this aircraft and people rent it from them. Anybody in this country will attest to the fact that Pastor Ayo Oritsejfor has been following Chartered Airlines," he said.

Recalling the alleged antics of the former minister against Christianity, Oibe stated that el-Rufai and his group had met and decided to blackmail Oritsejafor because he is an ardent supporter of President Goodluck Jonathan.
“This, he did, to elicit sentiments from the society. We want Nigerians to ponder over this: if Nigeria wants to buy arms, the government knows where to get their weapons. How did Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor come into this?" He asked.

He observed that the report was a well organised, orchestrated plan, all because of their desperation for the 2015 general election, adding, “If not for the blindness and intellectual myopia of some Nigerians, people in the calibre of El-Rufai should not be taken seriously and should not be walking the streets.”

In a related development, Konduga, the Borno State town where over almost 200 Boko Haram terrorists met their waterloo last week was again turned into a battle ground last night as the terrorists returned for a fresh face off with soldiers, security operatives confirmed.

Sources within the said that the insurgents had come to exact revenge following the heavy casualties they recorded last Friday.

A military source added that the attack started about 7pm, even as he said the soldiers were engaging the terrorists in a deadly shootout.

“From the information we have so far, the insurgents were armed to the teeth. They have mortars, anti-aircraft missiles, rocket propelled grenades, assorted guns and an armoured personnel carrier.

“Our men are engaging the terrorists. Their ultimate target is to subdue our men in Konduga so that they can advance to Maiduguri,” he said.

This Day

Related story: 2 Nigerians attempt to smuggle $9.3million into South Africa

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Nigerian mobile online wallet service SimplePay now accepting Bitcoin

 Nigeria’s web and mobile-based wallet service SimplePay has announced it is now allowing its users to fund their wallets from their Bitcoin accounts.

In an exclusive interview with HumanIPO, Rich Tanksley, Director of Operations, SimplePay Ltd said the startup will use a payment API from its Bitcoin wallet.

He said: “People will enter their details and send the Bitcoins (or fractions of Bitcoins) to our Bitcoin wallet. We will then credit their account for the Naira equivalent of the amount they sent. Easy as that. Will be instant.”

“It’s officially available now, but we are still working on the API integration so people can do it from our web site. I would guess a week.”

When users fund their SimplePay wallet, they can pay for about 150 different services like mobile recharges, DSTV, federal taxes, school fees, church donations, etc.

“We are adding services weekly,” he said.

The company was founded in 2013 by Simeon Ononobi in Abuja and won the Seedstars World competition.

“With the funding that came from that we are positioned for rapid growth. We make money by charging small transaction fees on each transaction. Typically 1% plus US$0.06 (NGN10) except for small transactions like mobile recharges where we charge NGN10. We have a partnership with a bank so we have an international remittance license and can receive funds from overseas. We are growing all our services and trying to expand our user base,” Tanksley told HumanIPO.


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