Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Video - Nigerian community in America

A documentary that focuses on the Nigerian community living in America.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Ted Turner commits U.S.$1 billion to polio eradication

Chairman, United Nations Foundation, Mr Ted Turner, has committed one billion dollars to the fight against polio and other child killer diseases globally. Turner made the disclosure at the weekend, during a courtesy call to Sultan of Sokoto in his palace in Sokoto.

He told the Sultan that he was in the country to deliver a message to local community leaders that Nigeria must keep up the fight against child killer diseases by continuing to leverage the power of modern vaccine that are key to eradicating polio and reducing measles.

Turner acknowledged that Nigeria has made tremendous progress towards eradicating polio through partnership with community leaders that encourages parents to have their children immunized.

He stressed that the recent progress in stopping polio is a testament to Nigeria's power to accelerate progress in achieving the millennium development goals.

The founder of CNN added that the success recorded so far was as a result of the critical work of Emirs formed by the Sultan to ensure that everyone eligible for a polio vaccination receives one.

He maintained that by building on the success of partnership like these, measles and polio would be eliminated and children protected from other vaccine preventable diseases to achieve millennium development goals.

Responding, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar attributed the success recorded so far to concerted efforts between traditional rulers and community leaders in the sensitisation campaignon the need for parents to allow their children to be immunized.

He maintained that tremendous progress has been made in the reduction of polio and other child killer diseases in the North.

The monarch commended the Foundation in it efforts towards eradicating the scourge in the world, especially Nigeria.


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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Kidnapping - soldiers declare war in Abia

The Joint Task Force (JTF) tackling the menace of kidnapping in the south-eastern part of the country yesterday allegedly killed 172 persons suspected to be members of the different kidnapping gangs that have been terrorising residents of Abia State and its environs.

President Goodluck Jonathan had ordered deployment of military personnel to Abia State in the wake of high-level insecurity, including kidnappings in that part of the country.

The kidnappers allegedly fell to the superior gunpower of members of the JTF during a gun duel at the different parts of the state. It was also gathered that some 237 suspected members of kidnapping gangs that have been operating in the state have been arrested by the task force. The JTF, it was also learnt, has so far questioned seven local government chairmen in Abia State alone.

A competent police source who disclosed this to LEADERSHIP in a telephone interview from Umuahia, Abia State capital, also added: "So far I can say we have succeeded by 70 percent, because business houses, including banks have opened for businesses. private schools have resumed. In short, lives have returned to normal and we hope to consolidate on this."

The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Hafiz Ringim in a telephone chat stated that he can not confirm the casualty figure, "but I can tell you that, there have been casualties and we also made some arrests, including prominent Abia State residents. That is not the issue, the issue, is what we have been able to achieve in this short period and I can tell you that a lot have been achieved. Because banks in the state have returned back to work and there is relative peace in major cities of the state presently."

The police boss stated further that some security operatives had soiled their hands in the dirty business of criminality, stressing that those found wanting have been identified and shall be dealt with accordingly.

Ringim said that his dream is to leave Abia state and its commercial city of Aba, in peace. "We want to leave Aba, the way Aba used to be in those days. We cannot afford the activities of criminals in our midst, there is law and order in this country and it must be respected by all residents of Nigeria," the IGP stated.

He stated that his vision is to take kidnapping to zero level in Nigeria within the shortest possible time, arguing that no country progresses in the atmosphere of insecurity and fear. According to him, kidnapping is as worst as terrorism and armed robbery, stating that, every country that had advanced in the socio-economic life of the citizens must rise-up against criminalities of all phases.


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Friday, October 8, 2010

HIV-positive muppet to star in Nigeria's 'Sesame Street'

Big Bird and the Cookie Monster have some new friends, but they're a long way from "Sesame Street."

One of America's best-loved children's shows, which began life on a fictional New York street over 40 years ago, is about to land in Nigeria under the title of "Sesame Square" -- bringing with it some distinctly West African twists.

The show stars Kami, a girl muppet who is HIV-positive, has golden hair and a zest for adventure; and Kobi, an energetic, furry, blue muppet whose troublesome escapades help others learn from his mistakes.

In a country with a population of over 150 million -- where, according to the CIA World Factbook, nearly half are under the age of 14 -- the show will address some of the biggest challenges faced by young people in the region: AIDS, malaria, gender inequality, religious differences -- as well as many positive aspects of Nigerian life. In the case of Zobi, this is characterized by an obsessive love of yams -- a staple food in the Nigerian diet.

"We have a very focused health and hygiene umbrella concept area that we're concentrating on," Naila Farouky, senior director of international projects at Sesame Workshop, told CNN. "This is something our local advisors have prioritized -- something that absolutely has to be addressed on the show."

In one episode, Zobi gets tangled up in a mosquito net, much to the amusement of the local kids. But there's an important message behind the antics -- mosquito nets are the best way to prevent infection from malaria on a continent where, according to the World Health Organization, a child dies from the disease every 45 seconds.

There are also an estimated 278,000 HIV-positive children in Nigeria, according to the National Agency for Control of AIDS.

However, like its American predecessor, "Sesame Square" is not solely focused on health and social issues, but a host of essential learning skills.

Farouky told CNN, "The thread of the show continues to be about basic life skills -- literacy, numeracy and pre-school education."

Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind "Sesame Street," received a $3.3 million grant to produce the show for five years, from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and President Barack Obama's Emergency Plan for AIDS relief.

So how did the producers go about adapting such an iconic show for a Nigerian market?

"If we're writing scripts for programs in Nigeria, the writers will be Nigerian scriptwriters," explains Farouky. "We'll often look for people who already have some experience in writing, but because we're aware [of] the format that we use and the methodology that we use, we'll provide training on how to write."

According to Farouky, collaboration is at the heart of the production process. "We work with our local teams to find ways in which we take the content that's important to them, to infuse the project with the cultural values, making sure we know which the taboo issues are and which are not," she told CNN.

Farouky recalled how, when making an Egyptian version of Sesame Street called "Alam Simsim," the character of Oscar the Grouch was firmly rejected on grounds that he glorified living in a garbage can -- something at odds with the cultural values of the region. Were there any similar issues in the making of Sesame Square?

"Our program is hosted by two muppets, a boy and a girl," she told CNN. "And because there is an entire region in Nigeria up in the North which is very Muslim, we had to be very sensitive. Even our publicity pictures could not have the muppets hugging, which we would normally have," she explained.

Roughly a quarter of households in Nigeria own television sets, according to the country's National Bureau of Statistics, which will inevitably limit the scope of its reach. However, the Sesame Workshop has used a significant proportion of its funding to produce additional learning materials, and is examining ways that it can use radios and mobile phones to help promote the messages in the show.

"[The material] has been developed in a way so it could stand alone, to reach out in communities where there is no broadcast," Farouky said. "So even if a child is not able to watch a television show, they would at least be able to make use of the outreach material."

Although the first adaptation to reach West Africa, "Sesame Square" will be the latest in a long line of region-specific shows around the world, which include "Sisimpur" in Bangladesh, "Ulitsa Sezam" in Russia, and "Takalani Sesame" in South Africa.


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Goodluck Jonathan worried about prevalence of HIV

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Video - Alastair Soyode, from farming student to TV Network CEO

He may be the chief executive of a flourishing media company, but the last thing Alistair Soyode wants to be classified as is a media mogul.

"Classify me as someone like a farmer, because that's what I studied," he says as he attempts to describe a career arc that is as unorthodox as his television channel. "I'm a farmer who moved into television."

Soyode founded Bright Entertainment Network (BEN) television, the first and longest-running African and Caribbean-focused television channel in the United Kingdom, in 2002.

Eight years later, BEN TV's mix of entertainment, news and sports programs reaches nearly one million viewers daily -- not bad work for a man who originally came to England to play professional football.

However, his aspirations to become a pro footballer failed to materialize. "I think the chill and the weather didn't allow me to concentrate, so I decided to pack my bags and find something else to do," he says in an interview with CNN's African Voices.

After working in telecommunications and selling mobile phones, Soyode started BEN TV after trying and failing to find an appropriate production company to create shows for a Nigerian television station.

"I couldn't find a black TV station where I could go to ask them for programs ... so I thought 'if I set up a production house, I'll be able to produce a program and supply it to a Nigerian TV station'", he says. "And that's how the idea of BEN television came about."

While Soyode oversees BEN TV from offices in London, his first love is Nigeria, and he has two priorities toward this end. The first is to give something tangible back to his native country; the second to re-brand Nigeria as an iconic nation.

He is the European chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO), set up by the government in 2000 to unite Nigerians living abroad with an interest in contributing to the development of the nation.

Soyode said he recently joined NIDO members in installing solar panels on the roofs of villages in Niger State, giving its inhabitants electricity for the first time.

"We're not just talking about conferences where you go and present a paper and talk and at the end of the day nothing happens," he says. "NIDO is not just talking about things -- we're actually using our resources to build."

Soyode says that while the BEN TV brand may have grown and changed over the past eight years, the focus of the channel remains the same -- to promote the importance of media in African and Caribbean communities and to counter what Soyode sees as a negative worldwide perception of both Nigeria and Africa.

Soyode is also putting together an effort to rebrand Nigeria from the ground up, starting with Nigerians who he says are actively engaged with their communities, in order to reverse negative stereotypes of Africa's most populous country.

"The people in Nigeria need to know that the power belongs to them," says Soyode. "When people are corrupt, we need to challenge it. What is wrong is wrong, so what do we do to change it? The change begins with you."


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Yar'Adua's brother, Abdul'aziz, quits military for politics

Lt.colonel Abdul'Aziz Musa Yar'adua, younger brother to late President Umaru Yar'adua has resigned from the Nigerian military and may join the race for Katsina Government House.

Daily Trust learnt from sources close to the Yar'adua family that Abdul'Aziz, also known as Audu Soja, may be seeking to actualise his governorship ambition on the platform of the newly formed Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).

The source said the late President's younger brother tendered his resignation last week and it has since been accepted by the Nigerian military authorities, and that he had already handed over his official duties last Monday.

The source further confirmed that Yar'adua would be going into partisan politics but said he was yet to declare for any political party until his resignation notice expires at the end of October.

Before his resignation, Yar'adua was a Lieutenant Colonel in charge of records at the army secretary's office at the military headquarters, Abuja. He was closest to late President Umaru Musa Yar'adua amongst the family members.

Since the demise of the former president, rumours have been flying round Katsina that Audu Soja was joining politics and had since started mobilizing towards his ambition to contest the governorship race.

Daily trust gathered that Abul'Aziz is seen as the most appropriate and emerging leader of the late Yar'adua's family due to his acceptability in the family circle as well as his antecedents as a very religious, firm but easy going person.

Further checks revealed, however, that there may be a crack within the family if he decides to challenge the incumbent governor because some of the family members have public endorsed Shema for a second term.

Another hurdle the younger Yar'adua may face, sources say, is that the widow of the late President, Hajiya Turai Tar'adua may not support his candidature. Turai was said to have told her aides recently that she was not interested in supporting any politician or participating in any political activity.

Daily Trust

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sixteen local banks in Africa's top 100

THE reform exercise in Nigeria's banking industry is after all not a ruse, as 16 Nigerian banks have made the top 100 in Africa, according to the latest ranking by the African Business.

In the latest ranking, Zenith Bank Plc maintained its lead in financial strength across the West African sub-region. A survey carried out by best selling Pan-African magazine, African Business revealed that the financial giant had secured the choice position in the 2009 ranking.

In the Sub-Saharan ranking, Zenith also came first. According to the report, even though the bank's capital valued at $2.2 billion in this year's survey seemed to have downed from $2.9 billion it was in 2009, Zenith Bank appears to hold the number one position up till next year.

Statistics showed that the bank's pre-tax earnings for the first half of the year stood at N25.34 billion, a sharp rise from N12.63 billion for the period in 2009, even as year-on-year gross income fell by 12.8 percent due to low interest rate regime of the apex bank.

Already, as part of further consolidation strategies, new boss of the bank, Mr. Godwin Emefiele has revealed that Zenith bank is currently seeking to expand its branch network at a time it has equally implemented a "strategy of ensuring a large capital and liquidity ratio to protect against harsh operating conditions.

Closely trailed by Zenith according to the survey is First Bank even with a similar drop in capital from N2.8 billion to her current N2 billion. The bank remains the largest in ownership of asset base in the West African region, a factor that has kept it strong even in harsh business operating environment.

The survey further revealed that "although the number of non-Nigerian banks in the top 20 has increased from two to five in one year to include banks from Togo, Gabon, Mali, Coted'Ivore and Senegal, Ghana Commercial bank leads two others within the Top 30 after securing 22 spot.

Giving details of the ranking process, the group said "the Top 100 African banks were ranked according to shareholders' equity as defined by Basle-based Bank for international Settlements (BIS)".

BIS stipulates that commercial banks should hold capital against risk-weighted assets. The BIS definition refers to the banks' soundness or underlying strength - the shareholders' core capital available for absorbing actual or potential losses occurring from non-performing loans, bad debts and investments in risky securities or speculative investment activities.

It said: "We used a $20m capital base as the benchmark for our listing. A number of smaller banks were excluded from the rankings because data on and from these banks is outdated".

"However, we hope to include more banks to our 2006 survey as and when up-to-date data becomes available.

"Banking profitability is calculated before corporate taxes and minority interest payments for end-reporting period. The financial health of a single bank is measured by annual Returns on Total Assets (ROA) employed and Returns on equity (ROE).

"African banking can be roughly split into two systems - sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa. The sub-Saharan Top 70 listing is dominated by the 'big five' South African financial giants, notably Standard Bank, ABSA, Nedcor, FirstRand and Investec - the investment bank. African Bank, South Africa's micro-credit specialist, occupies sixth position in our listing, ahead of three of the largest Nigerian banks. In fact, African Bank is ranked as the world's 14th strongest capitalised bank with a total BIS capital ratio of 40.4 percent. This compares with an average of 14 percent for the big five.

Further details showed that "In 2004, South African banks accounted for about 75 percent of the sub-Saharan Africa's total Tier 1 capital, 83 percent of aggregate assets and 70 percent of the total pre-tax profit".

Experts say the new generation of Nigerian banks, led by Zenith International Bank, Guaranty Trust Bank and First Bank is emerging as dynamic players in regional markets, adding that in future, there will be fewer but more vibrant mega banks as a result of the consolidation drive currently driven by the on going reforms of the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Mauritius Commercial Bank, Barclays Bank of Zimbabwe, Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, Barclays Bank of Kenya, the Lome-based Ecobank Transnational, Socit Generale de Banque en Cte d'Ivoire, Banco Fomento Angola, Bank Windhoek (Namibia) and Ghana Commercial Bank, among others, are major financial institutions in their respective markets.

The UK bank Barclays' $5.5bn takeover of ABSA will create the biggest pan-African banking group - managed from Johannesburg rather than out of London. ABSA, ranked third-biggest by assets, is the largest South African retail bank with 6.3m customers, 700 branches, 4,500 ATMs, and about 20,000 staff. According to Barclays, synergies from the two banks should increase ABSA's pre-tax profit by R1.4bn ($223m) per year. ABSA will remain a South African-registered company with its primary listing on the JSE securities Exchange.

Daily Champion

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Transcript of Henry Okah's interview on Aljazeera

Henry Okah: On Saturday morning, just a day after the attack, a very close associate of President Jonathan called me and explained to me that there had been a bombing in Nigeria and that President Jonathan wanted me to reach out to the group, Mend, and get them to retract the earlier statement they had issued claiming the attacks.

They wanted to blame the attacks on northerners who are trying to fight against him [Jonathan] to come back as president and if this was done, I was not going to have any problems with the South African government. I declined to do this and few hours later I was arrested. It was based on their belief that I was going to do that that President Jonathan issued a statement claiming that MEND didn't carry out the attack because they were expecting a kind of retraction from the group

Aljazeera: So just to be clear, why do you think that political aide was asking you to ask MEND to make that retraction? What was the reason for that?

Henry Okah: They don't want it to seem as if Jonathan does not have the support of his people, you understand? For months now they have been lying to everybody that everybody is so pleased with Jonathan, that he is going to bring peace to the region which is entirely false.

This attack now was actually going to be a great smear on his aspiration. They just needed the group to retract that statement which was why I was contacted. But I declined to make any such move.

Aljazeera: As far as MEND is concerned, what is the situation with MEND, because Goodluck Jonathan is trying to say that this group is not a problem anymore; the previous president had tried amnesty and rehabilitation programmes, can you give us a summary of what the situation is with MEND?

Henry Okah:Not just with MEND, with everybody who is fighting and to whichever way they are fighting. You don't just give people an amnesty and ask them to forget about the reason why they are fighting. Every one of us is fighting for something and if what we are fighting for is not addressed, it ushers problem in the area. You understand. It is not about Jonathan being president or about an amnesty being given. I mean, why will you steal my land and you give me an amnesty and then you expect me not to continue fighting you? Why would that happen?

Aljazeera: Are you saying none of these concerns you have are been addressed by the government?

Henry Okah: Absolutely none. With Yar'adua it was much better. He had a good understanding of the problem. And regardless of the fact that he was from the north he was making good attempt at addressing these problems. But with Jonathan it is entirely a different story. He doesn't know what the problems are and is also being tele-guided by other people, you know, who are giving him very bad advice.

Aljazeera: So Henry what do you think is going to happen to you now?

Henry Okah: I don't care, I really couldn't care. But one thing I tell you for sure, is just like I was able to talk to you, it only shows that South Africa is not like Nigeria. In Nigeria I was held for one year and four months in solitary confinement. I didn't kill anybody, I had no books, no newspapers, no TV, no radio, not even electrified. But the fact that I can speak to you on phone, even though I am being detained, shows that I am in an entirely different country from Nigeria. And I am arrested here at the instance of Nigeria, which threatened the South African government with diplomatic action if they didn't arrest me. That is the only reason why I am in detention. All those people I learnt have been arrested in Nigeria I have no contact with any of them, I don't even know them. They are just trying to do this thing, to point the finger at other political opponents in order to scuttle their attempts at being president. But as you see I am not a politician and I have no any business with any of the other aspirants for the posts of president in Nigeria. I have no connection with them. The story that I have been given a lot of money by different politicians to do one thing or the other, but I promise you I don't even have that kind of money myself. I don't have money.

Daily Trust

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

FIFA suspends Nigeria

Lagos/Abuja — The crisis in the Nigerian house of football reached its zenith yesterday with the world football ruling body, FIFA, finally taking the decision to suspend the country's football federation (NFF) with immediate effect.

NFF got the FIFA hammer "on account of government interference" in football matters.

FIFA said in a statement announcing the ban that elected members of NFF executive committee were prevented "from exercising their functions and duties".

Other actions and decisions, which infuriated the world football body included "the stepping down of the acting NFF General-Secretary on the instructions of the National Sports Commission, the decision of the minister of sports to have the Nigerian League start without relegation from the previous season and the fact that the NFF Executive Committee cannot work properly due to these interferences".

The suspension of Nigeria from all football matters would, however, cease, according to FIFA, the moment the country put its football house in order.

One of the ways listed by the global body in putting the house of football on the right path is for all court actions against football administration in the land to cease and the duly elected NFF executive committee placed in a position to work without any interference.

The suspension means Nigeria cannot participate in all FIFA-organized football activities. This means the country will not be represented in any regional, continental or international competitions.

It will also involve bans at club levels including international friendly matches, grassroots football relationship with any other country and friendly matches for any of the country's national teams with other countries.

"In addition, neither the NFF nor any of its members or officials can benefit from any development programme, course, or training from FIFA or CAF while the federation remains suspended," said the FIFA statement announcing the ban.

Nigeria had emerged the top issue on the agenda of FIFA's emergency committee meeting in Zurich.

The meeting was called to discuss the immediate and constant threats to the game of football among other issues.

The ban is the consequence of the decisions and events of the last few months in the country, beginning from the middle of June after the Super Eagles was knocked out from the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

After the Super Eagles' ouster, President Goodluck Jonathan placed a ban on the national teams from participating in international football for two years in order to plan and reorganise the sector.

The ban was greeted with public outcry from both within and outside the country and following a threat of a possible sanction by FIFA, the Federal Government rescinded the decision.

But this was followed by moves suspected to be anti-football such as the sacking of top members of the federation and the inauguration of a government appointed interim board to run football.

Meanwhile, the Acting Secretary-General of NFF, Dr. Emmanuel Ikpeme, has disclosed that the Super Eagles will not be disbanded as the team will step up its preparations for the Africa Cup of Nations match against Guinea billed for Conakry on Sunday.

Reacting to the ban, Ikpeme assured Nigerians that everything would be done to overturn the ban before Friday.

By its action, FIFA had insisted on the validity of the August 26 board election, adding that it recognized Aminu Maigari as the elected president of the board of Nigerian football.

The home-based national players have been preparing for the Guinea match under the watch of interim national coach Austin Eguavoen since last week, while some of the foreign-based players were due to start trickling into Abuja last night.

"We won't disband the team, because the issue raised by FIFA disciplinary committee could be resolved at the higher level before we head for Conakry. While you can't be too sure what will happen I remain positive. We will sort the issues out before Friday. We don't want o dampen the morale of the players by asking them to disband," Ikpeme said.

The senior national team is due to travel to Conakry on chartered flight on Saturday, while the U-20 team, the Flying Eagles, will host Mauritius next week in Abuja in the second leg of the African Youth Championship qualifier.

It won the first leg away from home 2-0 to put its hope of a place at the African championship billed for Libya on course.

Ikpeme said he was not shocked by FIFA's action as the reasons given by the international governing body were very clear as it is against football matters being subjected to civil court dispute.

Maigari and 27 other people standing trial were yesterday cleared of contempt charges by Justice Okon Efreti-Abang at the Federal High Court of Lagos.

The NFF election became a subject of litigation arising from an application by the National Association of Nigerian Footballers (NANF) on the two grounds that its representative was not recognized to occupy one of the NFF board slots and the failure of the board to conduct the state FA elections as most of the state chairmen had overstayed their terms.

FIFA felt offended by NANF's action which was in violation of FIFA's statute and had asked NFF to sanction the footballers' body.

But a source at the NFF said the federation could not take action against the Harrison Jalla-led body because it is not affiliated to the NFF.

This Day

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Babangida campaign chief arrested over bombing

Barely 24 hours after President Goodluck Jonathan announced that the nation's security were closing-in on those who sponsored Friday bombings in parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), there are indications that the Director of the IBB Campaign Organization, Chief Raymond Dokpesi may have been arrested in connection with the Bomb blast that almost marred the Nigeria's Golden Jubilee celebrations.

Investigation revealed may have been picked up in the early hours of yesterday, following a revealing Short Message Service (SMS) text message sent to the Smartphone of one of the suspects in police, asking "if Dokpesi has paid the balance", and another SMS "inviting another suspect to a meeting at IBB Campaign office".

The alleged arrest of Dokpesi yesterday, it was learnt, bring to Seven the number suspects so far arrested out of the Nine in the wanted list of the police.

According to top security sources, Dokpesi was being detained for interrogation by the security agencies, following "a text message found in the phone of one of the arrested suspects. The text message reads: have you collected the balance from Dokpesi?"

The source said, "this was said to have send alarm signals across the nation's security apparatus, since the suspect concerned is considered to be neckdeep inn the bombing plot"

Vanguard further learnt that another text massage, said to be more dramatic, allegedly sent to the phone of another suspect in custody which reads: "lets meet at IBB campaign office"; thereby leading to what security operatives referred to as "a high tech sting operation which in a matter of hours, has netted a wider ring of suspects.

It was also gathered that a suspect who never knew he was already under surveillance confided in a friend that "na we do am… me make I brief u", is currently confessing more details to the security agencies.

More worrisome, it was told, is the confession of another suspect who alleged that "in the last two weeks he bought a brand new Muraino SUV from funds received from Dopkesi".

Part of the confession, according to our source, includes a directive from Mr Henry Okah that should distablise the government since Jonathan "was not ready to put serious money on the table".


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Monday, October 4, 2010

Thousands of trafficked girls found in Mali slave camps

Nigerian girls are being forced to work as prostitutes in Mali "slave camps," Nigerian officials say.

The girls, many of them underage, are often promised jobs in Europe but end up in brothels, said the government's anti-trafficking agency.

According to BBC correspondent, the brothels are run by older Nigerian women who prevent them from leaving and take all their earnings.

Nigeria's National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (Naptip) said officials visited Mali in September to follow up "horrendous reports" from victims, aid workers and clergy in Mali.The agency said it was working with Malian police to free the girls and help them return to Nigeria.

They said there were hundreds of brothels, each housing up to 200 girls, run by Nigerian "madams" who force them to work against their will and take their earnings.

"We are talking of thousands and thousands of girls," Simon Egede, Executive Secretary of Naptip, told a news conference in Abuja, adding that they were between 20,000 to 40,000.

He, however, did not give details as to how the figure had been reached.

In a statement, Egede said girls were "held in bondage for the purposes of forced sexual exploitation and servitude or slavery-like practices."

"The madams control their freedom of movement, where they work, when they work and what they receive," he said.

The trade is centred on the capital Bamako and large cities, but the most notorious brothels are in the mining towns of Kayes and Mopti, where the sex workers live in "near slavery conditions," said Naptip.

Many of the brothels there also had abortion clinics where foetuses were removed by traditional healers for use in rituals, said Egede.

Most of the girls were reported to have come from Delta and Edo States in Nigeria.

Many were lured with the promise of work in Europe, given fake travel documents and made to swear an oath that they would not tell anyone where they were going.

On arrival in Mali, they were told they would have to work as prostitutes to pay off their debts. Prostitution is legal in Mali but not if it involves minors.

Naptip said it had also uncovered two major trafficking routes used to transport the women from Nigeria through Benin, Niger and Bukina Faso to Mali.

Egede said Naptip was working with the police in Mali to return the girls to Nigeria safely, shut down the trade and prosecute the traffickers.


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Video - MEND attack on independence day

Militant group MEND claims responsibility for a pair of car bombs that rocked indepedence day celebrations in Nigeria.

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sixteen child hostages freed

Sixteen children who were kidnapped in Nigeria earlier this week have been freed. Police say no ransom was paid, and none of them were hurt. It's believed they were released in a joint police and military operation.

Police say some of the kidnappers were killed, and the rest are being pursued.

The hijacking occurred on Monday on the outskirts of the city of Aba in Nigeria's oil-rich south. Police have said the gunmen ordered the bus driver to stop at gunpoint before taking the children who studied at Abayi International School.

The authorities have said all the children, believed to be between three and 10-years-old, were Nigerian. Kidnappers had demanded a 20 million naira (95,650 euros) ransom, and parents of some of the children on Thursday begged the abductors to release them, saying they could not afford to pay the amount.

The hijacking signalled a disturbing escalation in the spate of kidnappings that had already provoked fear in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, while also drawing widespread condemnation in Nigeria.

Just last week, doctors in Aba state had gone on strike over what they said was the kidnap and murder of one of their colleagues. Much of the city was shut down this week after the hijacking out of fears of further such attacks, and the military patrolled the streets on Thursday.

Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta region has seen scores of kidnappings in recent years.

President Goodluck Jonathan, running in elections to be held early next year, called the hijacking "utterly callous and cruel" and pledged action to free the victims. The children's release comes as the country celebrated 50 years of independence.


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Friday, October 1, 2010

Nigeria at 50: What does Naija mean?

The word Naija aptly captures the variety of emotions I feel for my country, especially as it celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence.

We Nigerians are confident people - proud of our culture and identity, industrious, hard-working, ingenious and great survivors.

Let's face it, we need to be resilient - Nigeria can be extremely frustrating, annoying and inefficient.

But an optimistic outlook on life makes it a place where anything and everything is possible.

No wonder a survey once found that Nigerians are the happiest people in the world - we have a great capacity for laughing at ourselves.

Whether things are going well or whether it seems the world is about to come to an end, "Naija!" -also written 9ja - expresses it all.

It is about the food, the flamboyant dressing, the mannerisms, the boisterous - some say loud - interaction among complete strangers who on meeting immediately feel bonded by their "Naija-ness".

Like your family, you love them and you hate them at the same time.

You love them so much you would die for them, and yet you get so exasperated at the way they drive you up the wall.

And for the young, the word has entered their slang - spreading rapidly through social networking sites and through music.

My Nigerian colleague Peter Okwoche says this is because Naija denotes a new beginning or dawn for Nigeria.

"The word was coined by the country's youth as a way of distancing themselves from the old guard who they blame for Nigeria's woes," he says.

"Nigeria has a bad image abroad but the youth want the world to know that change is happening from inside the country."

And Naija is a word we Nigerians guard jealously.

We are most particular about how its pronunciation.

It must be punchy - both syllables should be emphasised but with a hook for the "Nai" and jab for the "ja".

Then you know you are in with the crowd. You are accepted. You are trusted.


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Proposed Death Penalty for Kidnappers

The House of Representatives has signalled its intention to introduce a bill to curb the menace of kidnapping and hostage taking in the country. The lawmakers expressed their support for capital punishment for anyone found guilty of the offences. They weighed in on the disturbing trend during a public hearing organized by the joint House Committee on the Judiciary, Justice, Human Rights and Police Affairs which held recently at the National Assembly.

Committee chairman Bala Na'Allah observed that unless stiffer penalties were meted out to perpetrators, prospective investors including expatriates would continue to be discouraged from investing in the country. Already, the Nigeria Immigration Service, the Nigeria Institute of Legal Arbitration and the Nigerian Legal Aid Council as well as the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) have all expressed support the introduction of the death penalty for these crimes. The committee is now expected to table its report for consideration and final passage as the House reconvenes from its recess. The severity of the problem was brought home two days ago when fifteen nursery and primary school children were abducted in Aba, Abia State.

The incidents of kidnapping and hostage taking started among militants in the Niger Delta as a form protest against unequal distribution of wealth. Today they have evolved into serious crimes and threaten social cohesion. Recently a medical doctor was murdered by his abductors even after his family had paid N30 million ransom money to his kidnappers. Currently, five members of the National Youth Service Corps, (NYSC) serving in Rivers State are in the hands of their captors who have demanded N10 million for their release.

One of the cardinal purposes of law is to prevent the commission of crimes, while another is to stipulate stiff penalties to act as deterrence. The crime of abduction and kidnapping negatively portrays Nigeria as anarchic and lawless, not worth taking the risk to do legitimate business in. It is understandable therefore the urgent need to redeem the situation.

A law such as has been proposed would have received wholesome accolade except that the social indices to back it hardly warrant it. Unemployment is highest among the youths suspected of being the kidnap and hostage kingpins. Our preventive, investigative and trial systems are highly defective leading to constant cases of maladministration of justice and summary or extra-judicial executions.

The death penalty is an irreversible punishment, which is usually applied in cases of heinous crimes; it should be sparingly invoked. In view of the state of the Nigerian it is necessary to sound a note of caution given that even in more mature societies there are documented instances of miscarriages of justice after a thorough judicial process. Although such miscarriage of justice leads to the payment of amends, no monetary restitution can compensate for a life taken even in the course of carrying out a judicial sentence.

A proper alignment of social indices should precede any addition to the list of crimes meriting the application of the death penalty. This is imperative especially in the light of emerging facts indicating that even in states with such penalties it has hardly serve as deterrence. A case in point is that of armed robbery which attracts a similar penalty. The crime has failed to abate and there have been confessions in which criminals wilfully killed others fully conscious of the penalty for their crimes. The first step in addressing the problem is to take measures to redress the imbalance created by unemployment. This should be followed with equipping the security forces with the tools necessary to prevent the commission of crimes and the possible miscarriage of justice. These would go a long way in curbing not just kidnapping and hostage taking but many other crimes in our society.

Daily Trust

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Pope Benedict XVI congratulates Nigeria at 50

 Pope Benedict XVI has congratulated President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the Federal Government and all Nigerians on the occasion of the country's 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations.

A personal congratulatory message from the Pope was delivered to President Jonathan on Thursday, September 30, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, by his special envoy and personal representative, Cardinal Peter Turson.

In the message to the President, Pope Benedict conveyed his "prayerful wishes for the continued well-being, growth and prosperity of Nigeria and its citizens".

Responding, President Jonathan asked Cardinal Turson to convey the appreciation of the Government and people of Nigeria to the Pope.

He said that Nigerian appreciated the Holy Father's prayers and will continue to have good relations with the Vatican.

Also today at the Presidential Villa, President Jonathan received the Chinese Minister of Industry and Information, Mr. Li Yizhong who is representing his country's leader, President Hu Jintao, at the celebrations.

Welcoming Mr. Yizhong and his delegation, President Jonathan expressed the hope that the already cordial relations between Nigerian and China will continue to be developed for the mutual benefit of both countries.

The Minister told President Jonathan that China attaches great importance to its strategic partnership with Nigeria and that President Hu Jintao could not personally honour his invitation to Nigeria's 50th Independence celebrations as he would have wanted because October 1 is also China's National Day.

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