Friday, December 19, 2014

54 Nigerian soldiers sentenced to death by firing squad

A human rights lawyer says 54 soldiers have been sentenced to death because they embarrassed Nigeria's military by demanding weapons to fight Islamic extremists, and says they were justified in not going on what would have been a suicidal mission.

Defense attorney Femi Falana said Thursday he will take all legal measures to prevent authorities from carrying out a "genocidal verdict" of death by firing squad delivered Wednesday night by a court-martial.

A statement from Falana describes evidence given during the court-martial that is an indictment of Nigeria's military establishment and, the lawyer said, the reason journalists were barred from the trial.

All the soldiers convicted are aged between 21 and 25 and most joined the army around 2012, he said.

With little or no training, they were deployed against Nigeria's home-grown Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram. The lawyer charged that money for salaries and to purchase arms is often diverted by corrupt officers.

"Instead of bringing such unpatriotic officers to book, the military authorities have engaged in the diversionary tactics of wasting the lives of innocent soldiers by sentencing them to death without any legal justification," Falana charged.

He said Boko Haram on July 9 attacked the soldiers when the battalion of 750 troops was down to just 174. The extremists killed 26 soldiers including three officers and seriously injured 82. The soldiers demanded to be properly armed and were assured this would happen, he said.

Instead, the battalion was ordered Aug. 4 to recapture three towns controlled by Boko Haram. The few soldiers who deployed were ambushed and kidnapped. When some weapons were made available Aug. 8, a second group of soldiers recaptured the towns and liberated their colleagues, Falana said.

"They were commended for their bravery and sacrifice. But for some inexplicable reasons, the army authorities ordered that the soldiers be charged with mutiny for allegedly exposing the armed forces to embarrassment by asking for weapons!" his statement said.

Falana told The Associated Press another 43 soldiers including a few officers remain on trial for mutiny and cowardice for refusing to fight the extremists.


Related stories: 12 Nigerian soldiers sentenced to death for mutiny

Some Nigerian soldiers refuse to fight Boko Haram until given new weapons

Wives of Nigerian soldiers protest the lack of resources troops have to combat Boko Haram

Nigeria fighting to defend currency after global oil price drop

Nigeria's central bank has brought in further measures to support its currency, the naira.

Buyers of foreign currency must use that money within 48 hours or be forced to sell it back at the rate set by the central bank.

The naira hit record lows this week of more than 187 against the dollar.

The prolonged fall in the oil price is causing serious problems for Nigeria, which is heavily dependent on the commodity.

Nigeria, which is Africa's largest oil producer, receives 70% of government revenue and 90% of all foreign exchange earnings from oil.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) warned it would impose sanctions on anyone who did not follow its new rules. Bet

Speculators are betting on further falls in the naira by buying foreign currency in the hope that they will be able to buy more when they reconvert their money back.

In November, the CBN devalued the naira to 168 against the dollar, but its action has not stopped it falling further.

Earlier this week, Nigeria was forced to revise its budget because of the dramatic fall in the price of oil.

Its finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said its economy will now grow at 5.5% this year, rather than 6.4%.

In a separate development, Nigerian oil workers agreed to call off a strike that started on Monday.

A spokesman for one of the unions involved, Pengassan, said the government had given assurances that it would address union concerns over refinery maintenance.

This includes a renewed push to get a long-delayed bill passed in parliament, aimed at overhauling the industry and improving maintenance.


Related story: Nigeria cuts oil price benchmark due to falling global oil prices

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Boko Haram kidnap 100 villagers

Militants have stormed a remote village in north-eastern Nigeria, killing at least 33 people and kidnapping at least 100, a survivor has told the BBC.

He said that suspected Boko Haram militants had seized young men, women and children from Gumsuri village.

The attack happened on Sunday but news has only just emerged, after survivors reached the city of Maiduguri.

Meanwhile, Cameroon's army says it has killed 116 Nigerian militants who had attacked one of its bases, AFP reports.

Residents told the BBC the armed militants attacked the border town of Amchide on Wednesday, arriving in two vehicles with many others on foot.

They raided the market area, setting fire to shops and more than 50 houses.

No group has said it carried out either attack but officials have blamed Nigerian-based Boko Haram militants.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in militant violence this year alone, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, near the border with Cameroon.

The villagers who were kidnapped were from Gumsuri, not Bintiri, as was earlier reported by the BBC.

The survivor of the Gumsuri attack said that afterwards he returned to the village, about 70km (43 miles) south of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, and helped bury 33 bodies.

He said he went from house-to-house to ascertain how many people were missing.

His testimony was confirmed to BBC Hausa by a local official. Neither person wanted their names to be published.

An official told the AFP news agency that a vigilante group that had protected the village from previous attacks was overpowered.

"After killing our youths, the insurgents have taken away our wives and daughters," a resident who fled to Maiduguri told AFP.

In Cameroon, the army said vehicles from its elite battalion had been caught in an ambush on Wednesday.

"At the same time... the Amchide military base was attacked by hundreds of fighters from the sect, but the response from our defence forces was instant and appropriate," AFP quotes it as saying.

One Cameroonian soldier was killed and an officer is missing, it reports. Death penalty

BBC Nigeria correspondent Will Ross says the kidnappings are yet another example of just how vulnerable the communities of north-east Nigeria are and how the military has not been able to offer sufficient protection, despite promises of a massive deployment of soldiers supported by the air force.

The military has had problems of indiscipline amid reports of soldiers being poorly equipped, he says.

On Wednesday a Nigerian court martial handed down death sentences to 54 soldiers who had refused to take part in an operation last August to recapture three town overrun by the militants.

The soldiers, who were found guilty of mutiny, had complained that they did not have the weapons needed to take on the jihadists.

Boko Haram has been waging an insurgency since 2009 and is seeking to create an Islamist state in north-eastern Nigeria.

Attacks have increased since three states - Borno, Adamawa and Yobe - were put under emergency rule more than 18 months ago.

The kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state in April sparked international outrage.

Despite military assistance from countries such as China, France, the UK and US, the girls have not yet been rescued.


Related story: Video - The state of Nigerian governance and Boko Haram

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Adidas to extend kit sponsorship with Nigerian Football Federation

Adidas, has provisionally extended its kit sponsorship deal with the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, pending a contract renewal.

The Chairman of NFF, Amaju Pinnick, told reporters on Tuesday in Abuja that the football house plans to renew the contract, which would expire at the end of December.

According to Mr. Pinnick, the leadership crisis that engulfed the NFF is responsible for the delay in the renewal of the kit sponsorship contract.

"We requested for an extension which has been granted to us and we will see how we can tidy up and get Adidas back because we have a prime commodity in the Super Falcons playing in the World Cup next year.

"We have thirteen national teams not just the Super Falcons; the truth is, if we don't sit down to do things properly, there is no way you are going to achieve any good result.

"If you jump into a problem, it lingers as a problem.

"So we are taking our time sitting down and looking at it to come out with something that you will see and say I am proud to be a Nigerian".

Adidas, which has been kitting Nigerian national teams for about a decade now, entered into the about-to-expire deal with NFA in 2011.

The total value of the deal is worth about 10 million euro, a massive increase from the 200,000 euro deal of the contract which expired in 2010.

Premium Times

Related story: Adidas drops Nigeria Football Federation

$7.92 billion lost by Nigeria in 1 year due to corruption

A total of $7.92billion in illicit capital flowed of out Nigeria in 2012, according to the latest report released by the US-based non-profit research and advisory organisation, Global Financial Integrity (GFI).

For the year 2012, only Nigeria and South Africa are the two African countries ranked in the top 20 countries for illicit financial outflows. Nigeria was ranked 17th behind South Africa, which ranks 9th with cumulative illicit financial outflows of $29.13 in 2012.

According to the report, “Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: 2003-2012,” emerging economies lost a whopping $991.2billion in facilitating crime, corruption and tax evasion.

However, in the 10-year period between 2003 and 2012, Nigeria was ranked 10th with a cumulative of $157.46billion, surpassing South Africa which was ranked 12th with a cumulative $122.14billion. Also, Nigeria and South Africa are the only two African countries that were ranked for illicit financial outflows in the 10-year period between 2003 and 2012.

“The fraudulent mis-invoicing of trade transactions was revealed to be the largest component of illicit financial flows from developing countries, accounting for 77.8 percent of all illicit flows, highlighting that any effort to significantly curtail illicit financial flows must address trade mis-invoicing,” said the report.

Frontline political activist, Chris Nwokobia, said that the report vindicates the position of former CBN governor, Sansui Lamido, that $20billion was missing from the coffers of the federal government.

According to Nwokobia, when Sanusi said that $20billion was not missing, many dismissed him as playing politics and he was harassed out of office.

“This report is only saying that what Sanusi said was correct. Nigeria has always been corrupt but this is the first time that corruption is driving the wheel of state,” Nwokobia said.

The report, authored by GFI’s chief economist Dev Kar, and GFI’s junior economist Joseph Spanjers, reveals that “illicit financial flows hit a historic high of $991.2 billion in 2012 – marking a dramatic increase from 2003, when illicit outflows totalled a mere $297.4 billion.”

It also notes that illicit outflows are “growing at an inflation-adjusted 9.4 percent per year, amounting to double global GDP growth over the same period.”

“As this report demonstrates, illicit financial flows are the most damaging economic problem plaguing the world’s developing and emerging economies,” said GFI president Raymond Baker, a longtime authority on financial crime. “These outflows – already greater than the combined sum of all FDI and ODA flowing into these countries – are sapping roughly a $1trillion per year from the world’s poor and middle-income economies.”

Fuel scarcity: TOTAL is holding Nigerians to ransom – SSS

The Department of State Services (DSS) has blamed the ongoing nationwide strike embarked upon by members of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) on oil giant, TOTAL Nig. Plc., saying that the company reneged on an agreement with the union.

DSS spokesperson Marilyn Ogar, while addressing the media yesterday on the strike, urged Nigerians associated with TOTAL’s management to compel it to end the suffering they had imposed on Nigerians by keeping the said agreement.

Ogar further disclosed that the matter was brought to the DSS office by PENGASSAN officials in November, following which the Service summoned TOTAL’s managing director Elizabeth Proust, saying the oil giant’s recalcitrance triggered the industrial action.

“The issue is the ongoing strike by NUPENG and PENGASSAN which is biting hard on all Nigerians. We want to state that in November, 2014, PENGASSAN had written the Service to make a formal complaint about the transfer of Elo Victor Ogbonda to Lagos from Port Harcourt by TOTAL after she was elected as a zonal executive of the union,” said Ogar.

“Consequently, this Service summoned the managing director of TOTAL, Elizabeth Proust, on November 5, 2014, to resolve the dispute. It was agreed that Ogbonda would be re-instated, posted back to Port Harcourt and granted leave of absence for the period she would serve as an executive of PENGASSAN.”

Ogar said that PENGASSAN later informed the DSS that TOTAL had reneged on its promise to recall Ogbonda.

“Consequently, this Service contacted TOTAL and was informed that the company will not go back on its sack order. All entreaties to the company failed, thus culminating in the current strike and the attendant fuel scarcity,” Ogar said.

Fuel scarcity continues as oil workers shun FG meeting

- Oil workers insists on meeting with President

The ongoing fuel scarcity in the country may continue as the meeting called at the instance of the supervising minister of labour and productivity, Kabiru Turaki, to broker peace and resolve the industrial action by the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) has been rescheduled for Thursday, December 18, 2014.

The development followed the inability of the aggrieved oil workers’ unions and their officials to turn up for the meeting earlier scheduled for Tuesday, December 16, at the minister’s office.

However, Kabiru Turaki was absent at the meeting, officials from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, top directors at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity, including the permanent secretary, Clement Iloh, were all present.

After several hours of waiting for NUPENG and PENGASSAN executives to turn up for the meeting, the permanent secretary then publicly announced the postponement of the meeting to Thursday.

He said, “This meeting was called by this ministry to trash out the issues that must have necessitated this current strike and other problems in the sector. However, this meeting has been postponed to Thursday, December 18 by 11am. We sincerely apologise for this postponement”.

As the strike enters the third day, both unions have hinged the latest strike on federal government’s inconsistent policy in carrying out turnaround maintenance of the nation’s ailing refineries, including effecting reduction in pump prices of petrol in line with the slump in global prices of crude oil.

They also accused the government of not being able to evolve new strategies to combat issues related with pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft, and the delay by the National Assembly to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

Others are the non-implementation of the Nigeria Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act, expected to reflect Nigerians in management positions and expatriate quota law.

Despite federal government’s self-rating of having accomplished so much in road construction, NUPENG and PENGASSAN have expressed sadness at the appalling state of access roads to refineries and oil depots’ facilities, as well as insecurity all over the country that has reportedly led to the death of their members.

NUPENG president, Igwe Achese, however, told reporters that the union shunned the meeting because “it will lead to nothing at the end of the whole exercise.”

Inside sources told our reporter that the oil workers would only attend a meeting which President Goodluck Jonathan will preside.

According to Achese, government has a penchant for organising meetings when industrial issues have gone from bad to worse but has never shown consistency in implementing resolutions that emanate from such meetings.

He said there has been series of meetings between the oil unions and the minister of petroleum resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke, to resolve these issues but such meetings failed to yield any tangible results.

He chided government for abandoning the Turnaround Maintenance (TAM) policy of the refineries, adding that their major grouse was poor supply of crude oil to service the refineries while several oil vessels with fuel products are at the seaport waiting to be discharged for sale in Nigeria.

“We cannot be party to a meeting that will ultimately lead to nothing at the end of the day. What we want to see is a situation where government makes commitment by implementing some of these demands we have raised, not series of meetings.

“It will surprise you to know that in the past eight months, we have been meeting with the minister of petroleum resources and other stakeholders in the petroleum industry, yet these meetings yielded nothing.

“You heard the ministry of petroleum resources bragging that there are over 17 oil vessels at the seaport waiting to discharge fuel, how do you explain the turnaround maintenance initiated by the government itself.

“We want to see regular supply of crude oil to the refineries so as to stop the importation of fuel from other countries which do not even have oil deposits in their soil. What is government doing about the turnaround maintenance it initiated and the Petroleum Industry Bill before the National Assembly?” he queried.