Sunday, September 29, 2013

Boko Haram attack college - Dozens dead

Suspected Islamist gunmen have attacked a college in north-eastern Nigeria, killing up to 50 students.

The students were shot dead as they slept in their dormitory at the College of Agriculture in Yobe state.

North-eastern Nigeria is under a state of emergency amid an Islamist insurgency by the Boko Haram group.

Boko Haram is fighting to overthrow Nigeria's government to create an Islamic state, and has launched a number of attacks on schools.

Classrooms burned

Casualty figures from the latest attack vary, but a local politician told the BBC that around 50 students had been killed.

The politician said two vanloads of bodies had been taken to a hospital in Yobe's state capital, Damaturu.

A witness quoted by Reuters news agency counted 40 bodies at the hospital, mostly those of young men believed to be students.

College provost Molima Idi Mato, speaking to Associated Press, also said the number of dead could be as high as 50, adding that security forces were still recovering the bodies and that about 1,000 students had fled the campus.

A Nigerian military source told AP that soldiers had collected 42 bodies.

The gunmen also set fire to classrooms, a military spokesman in Yobe state, Lazarus Eli, told Agence France-Presse.

The college is in the rural Gujba district.

In May, President Goodluck Jonathan ordered an operation against Boko Haram, and a state of emergency was declared for the north-east on 14 May.

Many of the Islamist militants left their bases in the north-east and violence initially fell, but revenge attacks quickly followed.

In June, Boko Haram carried out two attacks on schools in the region.

At least nine children were killed in a school on the outskirts of Maiduguri, while 13 students and teachers were killed in a school in Damaturu.

In July in the village of Mamudo in Yobe state, Islamist militants attacked a school's dormitories with guns and explosives, killing at least 42 people, mostly students.

Boko Haram regards schools as a symbol of Western culture. The group's name translates as "Western education is forbidden".

Boko Haram is led by Abubakar Shekau. The Nigerian military said in August that it might have killed him in a shoot-out.

However, a video released last week purportedly showed him alive.

Other previous reports of his death later proved to be unfounded.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Nigeria's answer to

There’s an old saying in Nigeria that one can outfit an entire home in a single drive across Lagos, buying everything from cutlery and furniture to food and decor from the thousands of hawkers that aggressively sell their wares along -- and in the middle of -- the congested city’s potholed streets.

Now Nigerians have another option for comprehensive shopping. It’s a website called Jumia, and because it’s based online, shoppers don’t have to brave mind-numbing traffic to get their goods as the budding retail portal handles nearly all the schlepping with its nationwide network of 120 delivery trucks.

Jumia co-founder Tunde Kehinde sat down with International Business Times at the company’s massive Lagos campus earlier this month to discuss the company’s humble beginnings, its massive growth and the goals and challenges that lie ahead for the site, which is the country’s most popular online retailer.

Jumia is not a name known to many Westerners, but it can best be described as Africa’s answer to Jeff Bezos’ multibillion-dollar Amazon empire, though its tale of ascendancy tracks to a much shorter timeline.

Officially launched under the name Kasuwa in June 2012, the company that was later rebranded as Jumia has definitely captured the attention of investors, as top firms including J.P. Morgan Asset Management and Summit Partners have already backed the start-up to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, though Kehinde declined to discuss its balance sheet.

“We launched in a small conference room in Lagos with initial funding from Rocket Internet, a German tech incubator, and we simply went about getting as many local suppliers as we could and building a quality team to create an amazing shopping experience,” said Kehinde, a tall, mild-mannered man who wore dark-blue traditional batik clothing for our interview.

From that low-key start, the company has quickly grown to become a major player in the continent’s retail industry, currently offering more than 100,000 different products from computers and books to makeup and clothing to consumers in six countries across Africa.

The company -- which grows and changes at lightning speed, meaning this information will likely soon be outdated -- currently promises to deliver any item in its 90,000 central warehouse in the Ikeja district of Lagos to any location in the city within a single day, and anywhere in the entire country within five days.

It’s a lofty guarantee, and one that seems to be working fairly well for the company.Though circumstances and travel difficulties occasionally make it impossible for Jumia to fulfill their promise, the company's commitment to fast service despite the challenges mirrors co-founders Kehinde and Raphael Afaedor’s visionary approach to the African market.

Big plans

If Kehinde's dreams come to fruition, Jumia will soon serve the shopping needs of every West African nation and beyond. And if any company can pull off such a feat, it appears Jumia is the best placed to do so, as it has exploded from five employees to more than 500 in the short period since its launch, and its Lagos nerve center is now the largest e-commerce campus in Nigeria.

Kehinde’s parents are both entrepreneurs, and he says that he “was almost destined at some point to start [his] own business.” He and Afaedor are both native Nigerians who travelled to the United States to get top-flight educations -- they both graduated from Harvard Business School -- then returned to their home country to take advantage of the nation’s burgeoning business and tech climate.

“The vision of the company is to be the biggest and best retailer -- online or offline -- in West Africa within the foreseeable future,” Afaedor said while sitting in the orange-dominated, fluorescent-lit offices of Jumia’s Lagos headquarters. “To get there, we’re going to have to open up more categories of goods and have more physical locations so when people think of shopping in their country, they think of Jumia.”

Afaedor sees Jumia at the vanguard of a growing tech commerce industry in West Africa and Nigeria in particular, where many startups have launched in recent years that offer services similar to popular Western websites such as eBay, Seamless, Fresh Direct and

“The good thing is you’re seeing more innovation, more entrepreneurs and more job creation with all these ventures coming,” he said.

Challenges remain

Despite the bullishness of Kehinde and the international investors who have backed Jumia, the company faces a range of obstacles on the road to becoming the singular, indispensable African online retailer its founders want it to be.

One is the question of its ability to make good on its guarantee to deliver high-quality, well-priced products within set timeframes to any place within its metastasizing distribution areas.

Ife, a Lagos businesswoman who asked to be referred to only by her first name, said that her limited experiences with Jumia have not quite lived up to its promises.

When asked in an unrelated interview if she had dealt with the company, she said her boss once ordered a smartphone and several tubes of toothpaste from the website, and when it arrived at their office a day later the package instead included more toothpaste than he had requested and no smartphone. Never mind the fact that she says the price was “was like 10 times higher than it would have been around the corner” at a locally-owned store.

But Ife says the company’s impressive costumer service team -- Kehinde says Jumia employs 85 customer service agents -- resolved her issue “quickly and efficiently” and that she will definitely use the site again, as she chalked the snafus up to “growing pains” and said she was satisfied overall. She also said most of her friends have nothing but good things to say about Jumia.

Kehinde acknowledges that other hindrances lie ahead, not least of which are the complications inherent in trying to fulfill Jumia’s promise of delivering any item to any place in Nigeria within five days, and other similar pledges in other nations served by the online marketplace.

“Fortunately, most of the orders we get right now are centered in urban areas that are easy to get to, but for the harder-to-reach areas we partner with DHL and other third-party providers,” he explained.

“For the most part you can get there if you have a bike of some sort or a car that can maneuver; it’s just about knowing the local terrain. If we’re not able to get you your item within our delivery promise, we’re learning to deal with customer expectations and let them know in a text or email if there may be a more convenient delivery time available.”

Despite these relatively minor frustrations, it appears that Jumia is on track to continue to grow into one of the most important and dominant retail operations in Africa. What once required a trek to the market now only requires the click of a mouse or the submission of a form on a smartphone app.

“To be honest, we’ve grown so fast I don’t know if we ever took the time to reflect on it,” Kehinde said. “But we just go day by day to continue building an amazing shopping experience.”

Written by Connor Adams Sheets

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Being gay in Nigeria

LAGOS, Nigeria -- Life in Nigeria, one of the world’s most anti-gay nations, is a daily struggle for Adeola (not his real name), a closeted, working-class homosexual man living on the outskirts of Abuja, the nation’s small, central capital.

Adeola has been called names, insulted and ostracized over assumptions about his sexuality, so he shields his true self in fear that coming out would only attract more intense abuse.

Meanwhile, some young, wealthy gay Nigerians who spend most of their time in the louche, Westernized Victoria Island section of Lagos -- the massive, quickly modernizing megalopolis on Nigeria’s southwestern coast -- are able to live a quasi-open life despite the virulent homophobia that rules in much of the rest of the country.

For Adeola, a portly man in his thirties who earns a modest living as a cook at a catering company in Abuja, that life of openness is difficult to imagine.

Adeola said he worries about discrimination every time he walks out the door, especially in light of a law passed this year that, should it be signed by President Goodluck Jonathan, would make the sheer act of being gay punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

“It’s extremely difficult because everyone sees you as abnormal,” Adeola said while running errands at a busy Abuja shopping center. “Everything has to be in secret.”

Adeola’s fears are supported by statistical evidence: A study of 39 nations published by the Pew Research Center in June deemed Nigeria the least-accepting nation of the lot for gays, with 98 percent of survey respondents saying society should not accept homosexuality, inching out ultraconservative Jordan by a single percentage point.

An Accepting Bubble

Six upper-class gay professionals who met with the International Business Times at a Victoria Island restaurant last week say that because they mostly stay within that neighborhood’s fairly tolerant bubble, they are largely able to avoid Adeola’s constant state of fear. Still, they, like everyone else interviewed for this story, asked to be assigned pseudonyms because of the harsh penalties that can result from being identified as gay in the press.

“I’ve been very fortunate in Lagos because I’ve been around people who understand these things, who are accommodating, who understand, are very enlightened and don’t judge,” said Olawale, the owner of a high-end baking company, between sips of his Long Island iced tea.

Fatima, a Lagos content manager, has had a somewhat different experience. Although she grew up in the sprawling city, she attended private school on Victoria Island and was isolated from the poverty and chaos of the mainland during her youth. But after attending a London university, she returned to her home country and said she was shocked when she visited a friend’s home on Lagos mainland for the first time. It was her first exposure to what locals call “the real Nigeria.”

Fatima is not gay per se -- she describes her sexuality as “fluid” and said she is open to relationships with men or women -- but she mostly dates women. She said her first real lesbian experience was when she was 18 and in London, where she fell in love with a Trinidadian girl: “great skin, great hair, very pretty, great cook.”

The relationship didn’t work out, but it was obvious to her then that her sexuality didn’t fit neatly in the “straight” box. Over the years, she has repeatedly attempted to talk to her parents and siblings about her relationships, but found them unwilling to have an open conversation about her orientation or her love life.

“I think it’s easy hanging out with your friends, but it’s more difficult with your family. I’m not really close to my family because of it,” she said. “Not because they’ve done anything mean to me, but because I fear that they would. I’ve had friends whose parents kicked them out or disowned them because they told them they were gay.”

Criminalizing Homosexuality

Being gay in Nigeria has long meant hiding in the shadows of society, but fear and anxiety among most members of the nation’s gay community have grown markedly since May 30, when the Nigerian Senate passed a bill making the simple act of being homosexual a crime punishable by as long as 14 years in prison.

Jonathan has not yet signed or vetoed the bill -- which was previously passed by the Nigerian House of Representatives -- nor has he sent a clear signal of which side he will eventually take on the controversial measure.

The bill, coupled with legal restrictions on gay marriage, is actually lenient compared with the situation faced by gays in the Muslim-dominated north of the nation, where Shariah Islamic law makes homosexuality a capital offense punishable in some areas by stoning to death.

Even though the measure is not yet officially on the books, it has already had a chilling effect on gay life in Nigeria, according to Aisha, a lesbian friend of Fatima’s.

“Prior to the law, there was a sort of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ thing going on,” Aisha said. “It was frowned upon -- just don’t do anything in anyone’s face.” But now, she said, there is a widely held, albeit premature, belief that “it’s illegal and it carries a sentence” of more than a dozen years behind bars, which further intimidates Nigeria’s gay population.

Although Fatima considers Abuja to be “like gay central of Nigeria,” the place she said she would go to “hook up with a girl, several girls, in one weekend,” that side of gay life isn’t accessible to many homosexual residents of the capital who aren’t as well-heeled as her.

Adeola said that due to the discrimination he faces in Abuja, he uses underground channels and word-of-mouth to find other gay people to interact with or date. “It’s just about networking. Someone you’re sure is gay introduces you to someone else who is, who introduces you to someone else who is, and so on,” he said.

Still, Adeola has been threatened and insulted on numerous occasions. “I have lots of name-calling, but no violence. They call me feminine names. For instance, if your name is Oliver, they’ll call you Olivia,” he explained.

Kingsley, a straight friend of Adeola’s who has witnessed anti-gay discrimination of others firsthand in Abuja and surrounding areas, said that such sentiments are sadly quite common in Nigeria. Although he is not gay, he did not want his real name to be used because he associates with gay people.

“There are people like me who accept them, but then there are lots of people who once they find out someone is gay, they refuse to have any kind of contact with them,” Kingsley explained as we sat in his sedan, waiting out one of Abuja’s notorious “go-slow” traffic jams. “Name-calling happens a lot. They will make fun of the person, say things like ‘This guy’s homo,’ stuff like that, ‘Faggot.’”

And Kingsley said the fear of being tormented for their sexuality infiltrates the social lives of his gay friends. “They don’t stay in groups, they’d rather remain not mixing with other gay people, because they don’t want other people to be able to say, ‘Those guys are gay,’” he said.

Fear Of The Unknown

Kingsley is rare among straight Nigerians in that he has a well-developed sense of the nuances of human sexuality, and he has chosen to understand and accept the gay community rather than deride it for its otherness.

A large proportion of Nigerians draw their intolerance of homosexuality from religious and cultural traditions ranging from fundamental Christian and Islamic teachings to centuries-old tribal norms. But even some highly educated, fairly secular and otherwise progressive Nigerians simply consider homosexuality to be transgressive or against nature, and therefore refuse to accept it.

Typical is Azu, a well-traveled, affluent Lagos businesswoman who simply doesn’t believe that a person can be born gay. “Every woman or man is born to be attracted to the opposite sex, but I don’t know, if maybe there’s a change in [gay people’s] brains somehow, there has to be a reason,” she posited over drinks. “Being gay is something that develops in a later stage of your life, but whether we believe it or not, all girls are attracted to men growing up.”

Azu said she has had several gay friends over the course of her life and that she does to this day, but she still describes gay individuals in condescending terms that illustrate her views on their sexual orientation.

“I haven’t met that many gay people, but I find the guys a bit stranger than the girls because it’s hard to comprehend a guy acting like a woman. ... For gay guys, it’s a bit more crazy when they go ‘Eh’ or how they eat,” she said. “I had a gay friend who used five times as much makeup as I did, but I liked him because he was like a puppy dog.”

Aisha said people often question her “decision” to be gay, and that she believes their attitudes represent a critical misunderstanding of the nature of homosexuality. She said she was deeply disturbed when a colleague at the governmental office where she works who is not aware of her sexuality said in a discussion once, “Gays should all be killed,” but that such violent remarks are rare in her world, where casual ignorance is much more common.

“One guy said, ‘I don’t mind when two ugly girls get together, but I mind when two beautiful girls do,’” Aisha said. “A lot of people feel like it’s a personal offense if you don’t accept a man’s advance, no matter if you’re gay or straight, because the penis is God’s gift to humankind.”

Hope Amid The Despair

Persecution of gay Nigerians still leads to violence fairly often, particularly in the country’s more rural states. In January, four men were arrested, stripped naked and paraded along a public street in Imo State on suspicion that they were homosexual, as noted by OnlineNigeria News. And in August, an Ogun State man was brutally beaten for allegedly being gay, as reported by the same site.

And the laws aimed at criminalizing gayness and same-sex marriage threaten to codify a new paradigm of heightened intimidation and marginalization for the nation’s gay residents.

But for urban Nigerians with enough money, there are some hopeful signs in the face of so much discrimination and misunderstanding.

Kingsley said that in Abuja “things are getting better” as people in the urban center appear to be less concerned with persecuting gays. “You’re OK until the authorities catch you in the act of sleeping with or making out with the same sex,” he said. “Only then will they go after you. It’s only certain individuals who actually bother you or discriminate against you.”

Aisha pointed to another promising trend, in which Abuja and certain parts of Lagos can be much safer for moneyed gays than elsewhere in the country, although limitations exist and endure.

“Abuja is the gay capital of Nigeria for the rich kids, but you can’t just go into the market totally out. You’ll get discriminated against and they’ll act out,” she said, adding that in more distant, isolated areas of the country, “there’s widespread ignorance. If you go to the poor areas, someone will do something about their hate.”

And a small but growing number of openly gay activists speak out regularly in support of gay rights in Nigeria without being slammed with lengthy prison terms, although they are still often harassed and attacked by individuals for their outspokenness.

Fatima said that despite all the challenges, life as a homosexual Nigerian can approach normalcy for members of her economic class.

“If you’re economically independent, you can be fine being gay in Nigeria,” she said. “If I walk into a restaurant and say, ‘Shut it down, I’m having dinner with my girlfriend,’ they’re not going to say, ‘Oh, 14 years.’ Money talks.”

Written by Connor Adams Sheets

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Nigerian wins World Muslimah beauty pageant in Indonesia

Obabiyi Aishah Ajibola, 21, won the World Muslimah 2013 title on Wednesday.

Twenty finalists showed off Islamic fashions and worked to demonstrate religious values during the contest.

The pageant was held before the upcoming Miss World competition, which has drawn protests from hardline Indonesian Muslim groups.

Finalists in World Muslimah were chosen from more than 500 who took part in an online selection process.

One of the rounds involved contenders comparing stories of how they came to wear the hijab (Muslim headscarf) - a requirement for all those taking part.

The finalists hailed from countries including Bangladesh, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria and Brunei.

In the run-up to the final, contestants underwent three days of "spiritual training", waking before dawn to pray together and to study the Koran.

Ms Ajibola, 21, cried and recited a verse from the Koran when her name was called as the winner. She was awarded 25m rupiah ($2,200, £1,360) and trips to Mecca and India.

She had said in an interview before she won that she was just trying "to show the world that Islam is beautiful".

Eka Shanti, who lost her job as a TV news presenter for refusing to remove her headscarf, started the pageant three years ago.

She told Agence France-Presse news agency they held the pageant days before the Miss World final "to show that there are alternative role models for Muslim women".

"But it's about more than Miss World. Muslim women are increasingly working in the entertainment industry in a sexually explicit way, and they become role models, which is a concern," she said.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Islamic country.

The Miss World grand final had been scheduled for 28 September at a venue near Jakarta, but is now being held in Hindu-majority Bali after strong protests by Islamic groups.

Miss World organisers have criticised the Indonesian government for not supporting the event.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Nigeria wants to ban fish imports

The Minister of Agriculture in Nigeria has proposed a ban on the import of fish and sea food. The government wants to boost local industry, but a ban will not be easy to enforce.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Nigeria barred from US visa lottery

Nigeria and some other countries will no longer be eligible to participate in the America Diversity Visa lottery programme.

Information from the United States Department of State sighted on Sunday said Nigerians and citizens from few other countries were not eligible for DV-2015

The department said Nigeria was excluded since over 50,000 Nigerians had immigrated into the United States in the last five years.

The department listed other countries not eligible as Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador and Haiti.

Others are India, Jamaica, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam

However, many African countries would continue to enjoy the programme.

Some of them are Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Djibouti, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia and Ghana.

Others are Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles and Sierra Leone.

Diversity visas are said to be distributed among six geographic regions, while no single country could receive more than seven per cent of the available space in any year.

Already, advertsiements for the 2015 US DV lottery have started with several businesses inviting Nigerians to apply for the program.

Applications for the 2015 US DV lottery is expected to take off from October 1, 2013.

In 2012, 14,769, 658 persons were said to have qualified worldwide for the US DV lottery among the 19, 672, 269 which applied.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Video - Shell negotiating compensation for oil spills in Nigeria

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell may have to pay millions of dollars in compensation for some of the worst oil spills in Nigeria's history. A pipeline owned by the company burst twice in 2008, causing massive damage.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Video - Reforms boost Nigeria's cement industry

Economic reforms helped large scale industries get off the ground in Nigeria, like cement, creating much needed employment. Government used to spend more than a billion dollars a year importing it, but that has changed in the space of few years.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Video - Nigeria's growing aviation industry

More than 10 million people travel through Nigeria's 22 airports every year, and that number is set to increase rapidly in the coming years.The country is working on a major overhaul of its airports in order to deal with the increased traffic, and is getting some help from foreign investors to be able to follow through.China has given Nigeria a huge loan to build new international terminals, and there is training and investment going on in virtually every area of the aviation sector.