Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nigeria's contreversal National ID card in legal limbo

The National Identity Management Agency [NIMC] has been engaged in expensive media razzmatazz and glitzy photo ops with top politicians and other prominent Nigerians in the past year. But these may just be a facade to hide the fact that the national identity card project currently lie in a legal limbo that may eventually cost the government as much as N44 billion of tax payers money in damages for an alleged breach of contract.

The current legal logjam hovering over the project was occasioned by what the Managing Director of Chams Consortium Limited, Demola Aladekomo, described as an abuse of office and executive highhandedness by the Director General of NIMC, Chris Onyemenam.

Chams, which was the initial concessionaires of the project, has therefore dragged NIMC to a Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking an order to stop further implementation of the programme. It is also asking the court to order the Federal Government to pay N44 billion in damages.

In interviews with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Aladekomo said his company was awarded the concession in a transparent bid process that involved 65 international companies in 2007, following the recommendations of a 2006 Presidential Implementation Committee, headed by the then Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Nasir El-Rufai, on how to deliver on a project that has gulped several billions but has remained largely in limbo for decades.

Other notable members of the committee were the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Managing Director of Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia and Chairman of Heir Holdings, Tony Elumelu, Mr. Aladekomo said.

He said trouble soon started after Mr. Onyemenam started dilly-dallying in getting the concession agreement ready. He said it took the NIMC chief executive three years to prepare the concession agreement.

“Unfortunately for us, the DG NIMC just got a law degree a year before he was appointed,” Mr. Aladekomo told PREMIUM TIMES in his office in Lagos.

“He then used us as guinea pigs to practice his law. From May 24th when the contract was signed it took him to July 26, 2010 that he signed the concession agreement. He became more Catholic than the pope. He became more civil servant than the civil servant. He asked us to draft the concession agreement we drafted one and gave it to him. He appointed a law firm, Banwo Ighodalo and Co. He said what they drafted was not good. He now started to write the concession agreement himself in 2008 and finished in 2010.”

He explained that in-between that time the company had invested upwards of N7.1 billion into setting up the facilities for the kick-off of the project.

“Meanwhile, because we have promised the president that we were going to deliver in 2009 and he said ‘don’t wait for the concession agreement, start work’. We invested. We did an IPO, raised N8.4 billion, spent N7.1 billion on the project. One of the things we got out of the project was the Guinness World Record for the Chams City that we built. We built a switch that could handle 100 million Nigerians. We built a card plant that could produce 1.7 million cards a day in Abuja for national ID. We spent 7.1 billion of shareholders money preparing for the take off so that we can do consumer finance and credit bureaus, this man was busy writing concession agreement,” he explained.

Mr. Aladekomo said by the time the concession agreement was ready for signing, Mr. Onyemenam had another surprise waiting for Chams.

“By the time the concession agreement was ready we said let’s start he said. ‘No no no, I want to see all your designs, I want to see all your partners’. We gave him all our designs and showed him all our partners and had a big meeting in Abuja. We gave him our final design and showed him all our partners in 2012.

“The day we showed him all our partners and gave him all our design that was the last day he spoke to us. The same night we introduced our partners to him in Abuja he went to all their rooms in the (Transcorp) Hilton that they should be dealing with him directly,” he said.

When contacted Mr Onyemenam said he was not interested in engaging in media debate of the issue with Chams as it is a subject of an ongoing litigation.

“As of today I am under advise to not speak on the concession which has been cancelled and over which Chams has gone to court and the next hearing has been fixed for sometime in June 2015,” he said in an email.

A black hole

The current controversy surrounding the project is not unprecedented. In fact, it is just another chapter in the troubled history of the Nigeria national identity card project. Since 1981 when the first contract was signed by the Shehu Shagari administration, the project has been a prime waster of taxpayers’ money.

It is a financial black hole that consumes everything thrown at it without a trace. Like a compromised slot machine, it consumes but never regurgitates. From then to date, more than N121 billion has been spent on the project, meant to authenticate the true identity of every Nigerian, with nothing to show for it.

An extensive review of government papers, contracts, court documents, newspaper articles and interviews with people who knowledgeable about the deals and agreements by PREMIUM TIMES shows that the project has been repeatedly torpedoed by executive high-handedness, mind-boggling corruption, sheer irresponsibility of government officials and asinine abuse of power.

But how come a project that would have been immensely beneficial to Nigerians as the national Identity card project ends up stymied every step of the way.

The answer could be traced to its corruption-laden beginning.

The Stillbirth

In 1976, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, then a military head of State, first conceptualised the national identity card project. However, the kick-off of the project didn’t happen until 1981 after Mr. Obasanjo had transferred power to a civilian elected government headed by Mr. Shagari.

The project was rigged to fail from the beginning. According to a 2001 TELL magazine report, six companies originally bided for the project but the contract was awarded to Avant Incorporated, a company disqualified by a technical committee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for its inability to provide a performance bond and its annual reports for three previous years.

But the absurdity had only just begun. The project had a price tag of a $100 million, an amount too high for the government of the time to raise. So it ran to politically connected Arab-Jew, Nessim Goan, who brought in Optife of Switzerland, a company where he is major shareholder. While Avant handled the procurement and supply, another company owned by Mr. Goan, Afro-Continental, was to build the infrastructures across the country. By this calculation, Mr. Goan became the financier and the executor of the contract.

The Shagari government also naively signed a loan repayment agreement that was not tied to the completion of the project. Though the contractors had 18 months to deliver the project, it became clear that Afro-Continental didn’t have the requisite know-how about identity card technology. Also not a single computer was even supplied.

In a scramble for it to deliver on the project, which by this time was way past its deadline, Mr. Goan sublet the infrastructure phase of the contract to French technology heavyweight, Sagem. The arrival of Sagem marked another phase in the sordid history of the identity card project. Meanwhile Mr. Goan wasn’t done with Nigeria yet.

Before Sagem could unpack its bags after it arrived the shores of Nigeria, the Shagari government was overthrown in a military coup. The identity card project was abruptly discontinued by the Muhammadu Buhari-led military junta.

But after the Buhari regime was overthrown in 1985, the Ibrahim Babangida regime went back to doing business with Mr Goan. In fact, it ironically compensated Afro-Continental for not delivering on its earlier contract by awarding the company a new contract worth N70.7 million to refurbish containers for shipping goods to Nigeria, upgrade some of the computer supplied by Avant in 1982, install equipment as well as construct 20 computer centres across the country.

This contract also fell through following alleged sharp practices between civil servants and officials of Afro-Continental. As if the old cow hasn’t been over milked already, in 1992, Afro-Continental was awarded another $73.4 million contract for the procurement of Automatic Finger Print Identification System (AFIS) and the re-activation of the computer centres across the country.

Again, in 1998, the Abdulsalami Abubakar regime called for tender that would kick-start the national identity card project from scratch. This time, a consortium, led by a Nigerian company, Chams Limited, was awarded a $38.4 million contract to produce 52 million cards within four years. In April 1999, Chams delivered a pilot of 1 million cards.

The era of Sagem

In 2001, as Chams was waiting for the government to fulfil its obligations such as the purchase of four personalisation machines as stipulated in the contract for the second phase of contract to begin, the Obasanjo administration called for the submission of tenders for the printing of a new 70 million identity card. The administration explained that it meant to harmonise the identity card project so it can be used for voters’ identification during the 2003 general elections and for the 2006 population census. But it soon became clear that the entire process was actually set up to hand the contract to one company – Sagem.

According to the Mr. Aladekomo, the company immediately informed the Obasanjo administration of the subsisting contract it signed with the Abdulsalami regime to produce 51 million cards and the legal implications of continuing with the fresh call for tenders. But Mr. Obasanjo and other top ministry officials ignored several letters explaining the subsisting deal sent to them by Chams and went ahead with the fresh tenders.

In fact, the counsel to the government, F.B.I Egolum, testified at a Justice Kayode Esho arbitration hearing on the matter that officials of the Internal Affairs Ministry recommended that Chams should either be allowed to completely execute the subsisting contract or handed an upgraded one.

“At the end of the day, even the though the claimant [Chams] was recommended by officials of the Ministry for the award of the contract, the government in its wisdom decided to award it to someone else,” he said while answering questions during the arbitration hearing on why the deal was not awarded to Chams but to Sagem.

In the statement of his ruling on the matter, Justice Esho said the Obasanjo administration acted with unprecedented irresponsibility.

“The respondent [government] showed obvious legally indefensible irresponsibility on the part of a government which could not complain of lack of warning not of the knowledge of the legal consequences.

“The respondent intended to and did commit a breach of the agreement. They went on a curious voyage of governmental legal recklessness, probably unprecedented in a government wishing to be guided by law. They deliberately jettisoned the contract, which they had with the claimant,” he explained.

While ruling against the government, Justice Esho awarded total damages of $410,390.60 to Chams. The government appealed the arbitration judgment and the case dragged up to the Appeal Court before it eventually settled for an undisclosed negotiated settlement with the company.

The Sagem contract turned out to be another fiasco. The company managed to print only 35 million cards. Along the line, three ministers – late Internal Affairs, Sunday Afolabi, his successor, Mohammed Shata, former Labour Minister Hussain Akwanga – were implicated in a $2 million bribery scandal and the company was eventually blacklisted by the government.

In awarding the contract, Mr Obasanjo also ignored warning from Nigerian intelligence agencies that Sagem was too close to the French intelligence network and that there was no telling what it could do with the data gathered from the project.

Sources familiar with the behind-the-scene deals leading to the award of the contract to Sagem told PREMIUM TIMES that the French technology company had no business winning the contract in the first place. They claimed Sagem didn’t even make the initial shortlist from the bidding process.

“Sixty-eight companies bided worldwide,” one of our sources said. “It was an international bidding in 2001 but it took about a year and two months before the bid could be analysed because some people tried to compromise the process. Eventually the first six companies were invited. The first company was Chams followed by MINT [Nigerian Minting and Printing Plc], then a Nigerian company and an American company. Sagem was the fifth company. The way tender was done in those days was that only the one to three is called, but they took it to six because Sagem was in number five.

“At the end of the presentation to the exco, the companies retained their ranks but when the recommendation got to the president, some civil servants from internal affairs got Sagem to meet Obasanjo and said that the committee decision was wrong and that Sagem had made a lot of promises.

“The French foreign minister flew in on a Thursday night, met the president Friday evening. The president called the 16 ministries involved, including INEC and the National Population Commission to a meeting on Saturday morning, Late Afolabi was there, Shata, his minster of State was there, late Guobadia of INEC was there, Akwanga was there.

“The meeting held on Saturday 11 am, the president asked if anybody has taken money from Chams? They all said no that the process was transparent. The president said if nobody is confessing that they took money from Chams, he is going to give it to Sagem. That was how it was awarded to Sagem,” he added.

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Related story: Nigerians outraged at new government issued electronic ID cards branded with Master Card

Asisat Oshoala wins Women's Footballer of the Year award

Nigeria and Liverpool forward Asisat Oshoala has been named as the BBC Women's Footballer of the Year.

The 20-year-old forward is the first player to win the new award from the BBC World Service, voted for by football fans around the world.

She beat Spain's Veronica Boquete, German Nadine Kessler, Scot Kim Little and Brazilian Marta to the honour.

"I would like to say thank you to the BBC, to my fans around the world and to everyone who voted," she said.

The award is the first of its kind hosted by a global broadcaster.

Oshoala, who was the youngest player to be shortlisted, was the leading scorer at the Under-20s World Cup in Canada last summer and was voted the tournament's best player.

Her performances led Nigeria to the final, where they were narrowly beaten by Germany, and she was also a major influence in the senior Nigeria team who won the African Women's Championship in October.

That ensured their qualification for this summer's World Cup in Canada, which begins on 6 June with full coverage on the BBC.

Oshoala said the honour was a big lift for Nigeria before the World Cup and would help inspire young players in her homeland.

"It's a really good thing for us as a team because we now know that we have something great and now we want to go at the trophy," she said. "We can do it, we did it in 2014 we can also do it this year as well.

"There is going to be a lot of motivation for women's football in Nigeria now because of this award because there are a lot of fans out there.

"Support for women's football in Nigeria is now growing very high.

"I know my Liverpool Ladies coach is going to be happy right now. Before I left the UK he called me and said to me 'don't worry I hope you win the award and we're going to celebrate it when you come back'."

Oshoala signed for Liverpool Ladies in January 2015, becoming the first African to feature in the Women's Super League, with manager Matt Beard calling her "one of the world's top young footballers".

Mary Hockaday, controller of BBC World Service English, paid tribute to Oshoala.

"At still only 20, she's proved herself a formidable talent on the pitch," she said. "I'm proud BBC World Service is supporting the women's game and thrilled with the interest in the award."


Nigeria to pay $800 million to end fuel crisis

Nigeria's outgoing government has agreed to pay a debt of $800 million to resolve a months-long fuel crisis crippling the economy days before the inauguration of a new president in the country, oil suppliers said Wednesday.

Chaos reigned Tuesday at Nigerian airports where most flights were cancelled. Foreign airlines flew to other African countries to refuel. Cars and other vehicles formed queues two and three deep blocking roads for more than 2 kilometers (a mile) outside of gas stations. Attendants turned away people carrying yellow cans to buy kerosene for cooking. There was none.

Banks started closing at lunchtime on Monday and cell phone companies warned they would be forced to shut down service countrywide for lack of diesel to fuel generators.

Nigeria — Africa's biggest oil producer— generates more than 2 million barrels of petroleum a day but imports the refined product because its refineries are not maintained. A woeful national grid that offers only a few hours of electricity on a good day failed to generate any electricity recently because of shortages of thermal gas to fire its generators. That leaves all businesses and homes that can afford it dependent on diesel-powered generators. The country frequently suffers fuel shortages, but the disruption caused by the latest is unprecedented.

President-elect Buhari's party accused President Goodluck Jonathan's administration of sabotage to ensure it inherits "a nation in crisis."

Months of backlog mean the shortages still will be biting when dozens of presidents and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are scheduled to arrive for Friday's inauguration.

The Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria said the finance minister agreed Monday to pay them $800 million. It said companies started distributing oil Tuesday and unpaid tanker drivers stopped striking.

There was no immediate statement from the finance minister, who accused the suppliers of holding Nigeria to ransom over the disputed debt, bemoaning "so much fraud allegations and scams in this business of oil marketing."

Nigeria's government, hit by halved prices for the petroleum that provides 80 percent of its revenue and a massive slump in its naira currency, has been borrowing to pay salaries.

Suppliers, hit by tightened credit lines and naira repayments to pay dollar debts, worried they would not be paid by the incoming government of Muhammadu Buhari, who has pledged to fight endemic corruption.

Buhari's party accused the outgoing government of President Goodluck Jonathan of sabotage to ensure it inherits "a nation in crisis."


Related story: Fuel shortage in Nigeria

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Deal reached to end current fuel crisis in Nigeria

Nigeria's fuel wholesalers say they have reached a deal with the government that should soon see the end of the crippling fuel crisis.

The agreement was reached after talks with the finance minister, Danladi Fasali from the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association told the BBC.

The wholesalers had stopped distributing fuel after alleging the government owed them $1bn (£625m).

The shortage has had an impact on the country's aviation and banking sectors.

The party of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, who is due to take office on Friday, had accused the outgoing government of "sabotage" for failing to deal with the crisis.

At the heart of the shortage has been a row over the payment to wholesalers of the difference between the subsidised pump price and the international market price.

The wholesalers say they were waiting for a $1bn payout from the government before they released more fuel.

But now the marketers association has told its members to start transporting fuel from the depots in the commercial capital, Lagos, and fuel stations have been instructed to reopen, Mr Fasali told the BBC Hausa Service.

A committee will now be set up to verify the $1bn figure and then pay the outstanding money. The government has not yet confirmed the details.

It appears the fuel importers and marketers who operate a multi-billion dollar scam have blackmailed the government into agreeing to one more payout as they are not sure how much longer the fuel subsidy racket will go on.

The details of the payout are not clear.

Over the last few weeks, they literally shut down the nation saying they were owed $1bn in arrears, but no-one has yet seen how that figure is worked out.

Many government officials, including employees of the state fuel company, are so intertwined in the fraud it is hard to know who is scamming who.

One thing is clear. Nigerians across the country trying to earn a living to feed their families are facing a new level of hardship.

When it comes to the fuel sector the incoming president is inheriting one hell of a corrupt mess.

Most Nigerian businesses and homes rely on diesel-powered generators because of the poor electricity infrastructure.

On Monday, some of the country's leading banks introduced shortened branch opening hours.

Three of the country's mobile phone companies, MTN, Airtel and Etisalat, warned that the fuel scarcity could affect their services as they were finding it difficult to supply diesel to the base stations.

Many domestic flights have been cancelled and some international flights have been landing in neighbouring countries to refuel.

Traffic on the roads has also reduced as many fuel stations have stopped selling petrol and there are long queues at places where petrol is available.

It is not clear how quickly the fuel will now reach the petrol stations and queues are likely to remain for the next day or two, our correspondent says.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Nigeria draws with Canada in women's football friendly

Canada’s women’s soccer team kept a duo of strong Nigerian strikers at bay but did little else during a scoreless draw against the African team on Monday, their first since returning to home soil ahead of June’s Women’s World Cup.

“We had a good fifteen minutes, and that’s about it really,” said coach John Herdman following the match, which saw the Canadians battle not only the Nigerian’s unfamiliar man-marking system but a blustering wind during the game at TFC’s training facility at Downsview Park.

The Nigerians are a tournament dark horse. Lead by forwards Desire Oparanozie and Asisat Oshoala, the Super Falcons will compete in Group D with the Americans, Australia and Sweden. It’s deemed this year’s “Group of Death.”

They also are a coach’s nightmare because of their alien man-to-man style of play, said Herdman, who oscillated between a high perch atop a parked scissor lift and his regular position on the sidelines during Monday’s game.

Setting up the training match, which saw every uninjured Canadian player on the pitch over the four quarters, was a tactical move, said the Englishman.

“We could’ve went in for a European team with a nice zonal system, but said we were going to thrown the cat among the pigeons and put them in against man-markers and a direct team.”

The Nigerians were the first to register a shot on net early in the first half, when a shot from forty yards out ricocheted off Karina LeBlanc’s crossbar.

It was Canadian midfielder Sophie Schmidt who had the most — and arguably best — of her team’s chances. A free kick in the first half banged off the crossbar, while a low shot following a driving run into the 18-yard box hit outside of the left post and into the side netting, early in the second half.

King City-born Adriana Leon, who will participate in her first senior World Cup come June 6, nearly directed a glancing header into the bottom left corner late in the game, but fellow striker Christine Sinclair couldn’t capitalize on a slight fumble by the Nigerian ’keeper.

The Super Falcons are one of the most physical teams Kadeisha Buchanan has ever faced, the central defender said following the match.

Buchanan, one of the only Canadian players to feature for the full 90 minutes Monday, is familiar with Nigeria’s striker Oshoala. Both played in the 2014 under-20 World Cup in Canada last year, though they didn’t face each other. Germany defeated the Canadians in the quarter-finals before besting Nigeria 1-0 to hoist the trophy.

Buchanan said she shadowed the forward, who won both the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot award at last year’s tournament, and was happy the team was able to keep her off the scoresheet Monday.

It’s one of the only pluses Canada can take from the match, though Herdman said he was comfortable with the performance and did praise the team’s physicality.

Now the focus turns to nursing some new injuries back to health ahead of the friendly match against sixth-ranked England in Hamilton on Friday.

Right-backs Rhian Wilkinson and Marie-Eve Nault were both out injured Monday, as was striker Jonelle Filigno, who broke her nose while training down south last week. Midifielder Diana Matheson, who tore her ACL last fall before breaking her foot in March, did not dress.

England’s zonal defence will make for a more conventional match later this week, Herdman said.

“They’ll be on this blade of grass when the ball’s here, on this blade of grass when the ball’s there. It’s a lot more predictable, and that’s what we train for.”

The Star

Video - President-elect Muhammadu Buhari may pardon death-row soldiers

Dozens of Nigerian soldiers could be spared in the coming months. A military court sentenced them to death for refusing to fight Boko Haram. But president-elect Muhammadu Buhari's plan to review all military operations against the insurgent group could see the soldiers spared.

Related story: 54 Nigerian soldiers sentenced to death by firing squad

Video - Nigeria Super Eagles coach talks about challenges ahead

Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi says he is determined to leave a lasting legacy as he begins a second stint as coach of one of Africa's most famous footballing nations.

The 53 year old will hope for an improved relationship with the new officials at the Nigeria Football Federation as he tries to steer the 2013 champions back to the top in his second coming.

Nigeria's economy grinds to a halt as fuel crisis continues

Nigeria is facing a full-blown national crisis as virtually all sectors of the economy has grounded to a halt as the fuel scarcity bites harder across the country.

As the economy races to breakdown, the Nigerian government appears helpless, with President Goodluck Jonathan merely counting days to hand over the problem to the incoming government of Muhammadu Buhari on Friday.

From the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to the 36 states of the federation, reports are that virtually all public and private institutions have shut down in the face of shortage of fuel to maintain normal businesses.

Worse hit are hospitals, schools, banks, transportation companies and telecommunication operators, which have either suspended normal operations or issued notices of closure or scaling down on full business hours for lack of fuel to power the engines that power their activities.

For most part of last week, several airline operators announced plans to significantly alter their normal flight schedules, blaming it on their inability to get aviation fuel for their aircraft.

“Due to the current scarcity of Jet-A1 fuel being experienced in the country, we regret to inform you that all our flights will not operate regularly as scheduled,” one of Nigeria’s premier arlines, Aero Contractors, informed its customers on May 22. “We regret any inconveniences the changes will cause. All efforts are being made to ameliorate the situation and revert to our regular flight schedule.”

At the airports in Abuja and Lagos, thousands of travellers were stranded as most airlines cancelled their scheduled flights.

Both MTN and Airtel, two of Nigeria’s major telecommunications operators, have all notices to their customers to inform them that their services might be disrupted till the fuel supply situation improves.

The text message from Airtel management to its customers on Sunday read: “Dear Valued Customer, this is to inform you that due to nationwide fuel crisis our services may experience some strain. We are doing everything possible to manage the situation. Thank you for understanding.”

In a similar message on Sunday, the management of GTBank issued notice of early closure of its branches nationwide.

“The current shortage of petroleum products in the country has limited our ability to supply diesel to all our branches, in order to continue normal branch operations.

“Due to this, we unavoidably have to close our branches nationwide at 1 pm, from tomorrow Monday, 25th May 2015,” the bank said in the text message.

In its own notice to customers, MTN announced that the intractable fuel shortage might force it to shut down some of its base-stations that are powered by diesel-operated generators.

“The management of MTN states that the current diesel scarcity in most parts of the Nigeria is posing threat to quality of services and the ability to optimally operate the network,” the company said in a statement released on its Twitter handle.

“MTN’s available reserves of diesel are running low and the company must source for significant quantity of diesel in the very near future to prevent a shut down of services across Nigeria. If diesel supplies are not available within the next 24 hours the network will be seriously degraded and customers will feel the impact.”

Car dealer, Cosharis Motors, has also warned buyers of its new BMW cars to park them until fuel is available, apparently in other to avoid using adulterated fuel purchased from the black market to run the vehicle that may cause serious mechanical damage in the cars. Experts say the new BMW cars have zero tolerance for adulterated fuel.

Throughout last week, as the fuel scarcity took its toll on businesses, parents experienced difficulties transporting their wards to school and back, as no filling station opened for business following the continued strike action oil workers.

Some schools’ management in Abuja and environs were compelled to order early closure of their schools for mid-term break, as most teachers and parents could not cope with the unprecedented pressure imposed on them by lack of fuel.

On Sunday, the Divine Scholars School in the Lekki area of Lagos informed parents it is closing for mid-term break till June 1, although insiders in the school said the forced holiday was caused by the biting fuel shortage

A visit to some public hospitals, including the National Hospital and Garki General Hospital, witnessed significant reduction in activities at the weekend.

Similarly, churches and other places of worship in the Federal Capital Territory also witnessed low turnout of the usual population of worshippers, most of whom found movement difficult.

At Jabi and other locations where there are motor parks, the usual hustle and bustle of activities by travellers were almost absent, as very few commercial transport operators were on duty.

The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) on Sunday called on the incoming administration of Muhammadu Buhari to consider the deregulation of the oil and gas downstream sector as a priority on assumption of office.

The President of the Chamber, Remi Bello, said the current fuel scarcity and power supply situation in the country have grounded the economy
Mr. Bello said only the immediate deregulation of the sector would help resolve the recurring problem of scarcity of petroleum products in the country.

The Chamber identifies massive corruption in the fuel subsidy regime, collapse of the country’s refineries, dwindling investment in the downstream sector and loss of jobs as some the key challenges the sector was facing.

The current fuel subsidy regime and government’s direct involvement in the operations of oil and gas sector should be stopped if normalcy is to be restored in the nation’s economy.

Regardless, while the people continue to suffer untold hardship as a result of the fuel supply crisis, the oil marketers and the outgoing government continue to bicker in their unending blame game over unpaid subsidy claims.

The marketers, under the umbrella groups of Major Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), the Depot and Petroleum Marketers Association (DAPMA) and the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), have continued to accuse government of refusing to pay outstanding claims of about N200 billion.

But the outgoing Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Saturday accused the marketers of blackmail, claiming that government had agreed with marketers that N159 billion would be paid after a reconciliation by a committee constituted for that purpose.

Meanwhile, another systems collapse has been reported at Shiroro Power Plant on Sunday amid the worsening energy crisis.

The latest systems collapse reported at about 4.10 pm on Sunday by the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) said the development has left the zone with just 15 mega watts (MW) at about 5.05 pm.

The AEDC said at about 6.50pm, only sensitive installations within the Central Business District had electricity supply.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Power, Godknows Igali, had on Friday reported that power generation nationwide had dropped from 4,800MW to 1,327MW, leading to the massive load shedding ongoing across the country.

The AEDC said it has sent alerts to customers in the FCT, Kogi, Nasarawa and Niger states to apologise to them for the difficult situation caused by the huge drop in power supply from the national grid, from about 450MW daily to less than 200MW in recent times.

The company said allocation to the zone for Friday, May 22 was 145MW, while allocation for both Saturday and Sunday, May 23 and 24, was 115.6MW.

“The situation has been worsened by the system collapse at Shiroro this evening, which brought our supply down to 15MW,” the company said in a statement.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

President elect Muhammadu Buhari confirms outgoing President and team yet to brief incoming government

The President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, on Thursday confirmed claims by his party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, that the incoming administration has yet to receive any briefing from the Goodluck Jonathan government as the country prepares for the transfer of power in a week.

Mr. Buhari opened up while receiving the Interim Report from the 19-man Transition Committee he set up under the Chairmanship of Ahmed Joda.

The APC has repeatedly accused the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, administration of withholding information and seeking to frustrate the transition.

The party’s claim was however disputed by Mr. Joda, who said last week that his team had received enough cooperation from the outgoing government. The APC maintained its position.

But speaking Thursday, Mr. Buhari said the government’s committee, headed by Vice President Namadi Sambo, had yet to furnish the committee with any information.

Mr. Joda also backtracked, and said his committee managed to prepare the report based on guesswork.

Mr. Buhari expressed disappointment that the incoming government was misunderstood.

“The incoming government was misunderstood. It is not that we are preparing for indictment. What we are trying to get is a starting point, where we are exactly going to start from,” the president-elect said.

“We have seen the debt profile and the performance of the economy.

“The question is what can we do about it especially the urgent ones like social security, lack of fuel in the country and fraud. The list is endless.

“I thank you for what you have done and I hope that the subsequent submission by the government will make your job easier and more efficient and tell us where to begin from.”

The president-in-waiting thanked the committee and assured that he would read the initial report before the final report comes in.

“My expectations were that each ministry makes its own presentation. The politicians know that they are going while the bureaucrats who do the job know they are staying.

“They are the ones who are going to do the job and they are going to be available to help crosscheck the information.

“I think that this research you have made will help the incoming government to cross check the information on paper given by the outgoing government,’’ he added.

On his part, Mr. Joda said they had to prepare the interim report by guesswork adding that they were expecting the government to make a presentation to the committee on Friday.

He said the report would be built into the final report which will be submitted to Mr.Buhari after inauguration.
He complained of inadequate time and members to adequately cover all areas.

“In spite of limitations, we were able to cover all areas by breaking into four sub-committees.

“We received lots of contributions from Nigerians who have served the country both in the private and public sectors and in various fields,” Mr. Joda said.

On the state of the economy, Mr. Joda said “Nigerians know that the economy is bad, some of us here are directly affected.

“Salaries and wages in some cases have not been paid for months. The situation may even be getting worse,” he said.

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Video - Fuel shortage in Nigeria

Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer, but fuel shortages have paralyzed the country that just a year ago was declared Africa's largest economy.

At one gas station in Lagos, crowds push at the gates waving empty jerry cans. Cars queue for a kilometre down the road creating gridlock.

Similar scenes are being repeated at almost every petrol station across Nigeria.

"I've been here since 4 a.m. It's not good," says local resident Abdulsalam Mohammed as he finally drives his car to the petrol pump. "Now it's almost 3 p.m. Nobody can work today."

"We are an oil producing country, very rich, a giant in Africa," says Seun Olewale, another driver who is carrying empty fuel cans. "But the experience we are getting now is so hard."

The shortages have been going on since March despite the fact that, according to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Nigeria produces about 2.5 million barrels of crude oil per day.

The problem is Nigeria does not have the capacity to refine enough of its own oil into fuel to meet the needs of its population of 150,177 million people.

Fuel in Nigeria is used not just to run cars and transport for goods and services, but also to power generators for homes and businesses; most Nigerians get only a few hours of electricity a day.

The companies that import fuel claim they have not been paid by the Nigerian government -- and so they cut off the supply. As a result, Africa's largest economy has ground to a halt.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria's finance minister, told CNN's John Defterios the situation was complex.

"You have to verify the claims of the marketers before they are paid, and because the government is coming to an end, they are getting quite nervous," she said.

"They are pushing very hard and they are using this shortage as an instrument to try to get the existing government to pay them quickly, without going through the thorough verification, and we are not going to do that."

Nigerians are no strangers to fuel shortages -- the country was subject to similar shortfalls in 2012.

The obvious solution would be to simply pay the fuel importers, but the Nigerian government subsidizes the country's fuel prices, and with oil prices falling, it needs to save money.

And that, says Seun with his two jerry cans, is the real problem. He says the government's policies are hurting Nigeria's economy, and hurting ordinary Nigerians even more.

"This is a war on the poor," he insists.


Related stories: Video - Black market worsens Nigeira's fuel crisis

Aliko Dangote to invest $2 billion in oil refinery

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Nigeria drops charges against 15 year old bride accused of killing 35 year old husband to be

Nigerian prosecutors on Wednesday withdrew murder charges against a 15-year-old girl who was accused of using rat poison to kill the 35-year-old man she had married.

Prosecutor Lamido Abba Soron-Dinki asked the High Court in Gezawa, Kano state, to "terminate the case of culpable homicide against Wasila Tasi'u", who was 14 when she married Umar Sani.

"With a heavy heart, I apply that the accused be discharged," he added.

Judge Mohammed Yahaya told the court he required either a written or oral presentation from the office of Kano's attorney general before formally dropping the charges and agreeing to Tasi'u's release.

He ordered that presentation to be made on June 9.

The defendant, who has grown emotional during past hearings, stood silently in court on Wednesday.

As much of the discussion occurred between the judge and lawyers in English with no translator, it was not clear if she understood the events as they were unfolding.

Legal sources in Kano told AFP separately that Nigeria had faced pressure to drop the case which has angered rights activists.

Soron-Dinki told AFP that the Emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi II, who is Nigeria's second most powerful Islamic cleric, had offered to "shelter" Tasi'u following her release.

The emir is also known as Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, a Western-educated former central bank governor whom many people saw as a progressive leader when he served as the country's top banker.

It was not clear if the emir had any role in the prosecution decision to apply to drop the charges.

- Divisive case -

The murder charge dates back to April 5, 2014, when Sani hosted a small wedding celebration at his home in the small Kano village of Unguwar Yansoro.

Prosecutors claimed that Tasi'u prepared the food and laced it with rat poison before serving it to her guests. Four people, including Sani, died within hours of eating the meal.

Judicial sources said the Kano state government intended to offer financial compensation to the victims' families.

The case highlighted starkly contrasting attitudes towards underage marriage, especially in the north, where the practice is widespread.

Locals in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north, Tasi'u's home region, had rejected claims that she was a victim forced to marry a man more than twice her age, noting that 14 was a standard marrying age in the deeply conservative area.

Sani's family and even Tasi'u's parents said she chose her husband from a range of suitors and told close friends that she wanted to marry.

Some in Unguwar Yansoro called for Tasi'u to face stiff punishment to discourage other girls from taking similar action if they become unhappy in their marriage

But rights activists maintained that Tasi'u was a minor in need of rehabilitation and could not be charged as an adult with murder.

The judge had previously rejected calls for the case to be transferred to juvenile court.

The case was further complicated by the co-existence of both secular and Islamic law in northern Nigeria.

While both are technically in force, the precise relationship is poorly defined, leaving law enforcement officials to seek their own balance.

The southern half of the Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, is mostly Christian.


BBC apologises for false Nigeria cannibal restaurant story

The British Broadcasting Cooperation has apologised for wrongly publishing a story about a restaurant in Anambra State, Nigeria, where human flesh is served as meat.

In the report, BBC had said suspicious residents in Anambra told police about rumours that the restaurant was cooking human meat for customers.

It also said when police raided the restaurant, fresh human heads, still bleeding were discovered.

The BBC said the blood found in the restaurant by the police were in the process of being drained into a plastic bag.

The BBC has, however, published an apology, saying the story was false and inappropriate.

BBC said it had already begun investigations to confirm what led to such publication and will take necessary steps to ensure the mistake does not occur again.

“The story about the Nigerian restaurant which we published here frame a mistake and we apologise. It was incorrect and BBC published without the proper checks. We have removed the story and have launched an urgent investigation into how this happened,” BBC said.

It added that the BBC Burmese service’s reputation for accuracy and balance remains important.

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579 Nigerian soldiers facing court martial

Nigeria's military said Wednesday that 579 officers and soldiers were facing two separate trials over indiscipline, after 66 troops were sentenced to death last year for mutiny.

"We have about 473 officers and soldiers being tried at the Army Headquarters Garrison and 106 in 81 Division," said army spokesman Sani Usman.

He did not specify the charges against those currently facing court martial but Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer working on the case, said some had been accused of mutiny.

Many Nigerian troops based in the northeast have defied orders to battle Boko Haram Islamists, citing a lack of adequate weapons and other essential equipment.

"The essence of all these trials is just to emphasise on discipline, professionalism and some other things," Usman told reporters in Abuja, without giving further details.

Falana, who defended the 54 soldiers sentenced to death last year and was familiar with the fresh cases, told AFP the charges included "cowardice, mutiny and disobedience to authorities".

The military and independent sources have said conditions for soldiers in the northeast have improved over the last six to eight months, with Nigeria securing additional weaponry needed to tackle the rebels.

Experts say the new hardware has helped troops liberate a series of Boko Haram strongholds in an operation launched in February with backing from neighbouring armies.

Despite the reported improvements, complaints of soldiers being underpaid or poorly equipped persist.

Last year, soldiers based in the northeastern city of Maiduguri set up a protest camp after being ordered to deploy to a remote part of the region to fight Boko Haram.

Wives of soldiers launched a separate protest outside a barracks, claiming their husbands were being used as cannon fodder and were being sent to battle insurgents who had vastly superior weapons.

A military court last December sentenced 54 soldiers to death for refusing to deploy and take on Boko Haram in the northeast.

Twelve received the same sentence in September last year for mutiny after shots were fired at their commanding officer.

Falana said the death sentences had not yet been approved by military top brass and there was still hope of a reprieve.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Video - Black market worsens Nigeria's fuel crisis

With motorists still wasting hours in queues waiting for fuel, Nigeria's fuel shortage is far from over. This latest supply crunch was brought about by a stalemate over the government's failure to pay fuel subsidy claims to fuel retailers.

Suicide bomber kill 9 in Nigeria

A suspected male suicide bomber yesterday afternoon attacked the Garkida Cattle Market in Gombi Local Government Area of Adamawa State, killing no fewer than nine persons and wounding several others.

Reports from the area indicated that the incident occurred in the afternoon when the suspect who posed as a cattle dealer detonated the explosives on entry into the market.

Another version of the story however, had it that the bomb had earlier been planted within the area of vegetable sellers in the market from where the explosive went off. Garkida town shares borders with Borno State and the Sambisa forest, the dreaded base of the Boko Haram insurgents.

The member representing Gombi constituency in the Adamawa State House of Assembly, Jerry Kumdisi confirmed the incident even as the police authorities could not confirm or deny the attack, saying that the incident fell within the purview of the military.

Garkida, where the early missionaries settled in Adamawa State and had witnessed series of Boko Haram attacks in the past.


Video - Nigeria Super Falcons determined to win the FIFA Women's World Cup

In under three weeks this year's women's football world cup will begin in Canada. African champions Nigeria's Super Falcons have wrapped up their training in Abuja as they head off to Canada.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

British Nigerian John Boyega and Star Wars lead actor talks about growing up in England

John Boyega has risen to fame by reason of his acting talent and a will to succeed — shooting as far as the biggest roles in Hollywood.

This came after another Nigerian, David Oyelowo, featured prominently in the 2014 Selma, a chronicle of Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights through an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

Defying the odds in a notorious Peckham neighbourhood in England, Boyega, 22, would be playing a lead role in one of Hollywood’s biggest blockbuster films, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

He had featured in a number of movies, including Attack The Block, The Whale, Imperial Dreams, the film adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun as well as popular TV series 24: Live Another Day.

But Boyega’s story tells of a life pitched with the harshest of conditions in Peckham, a rough area, where surviving as a young Nigerian was difficult. The area has remained a black spot in the minds of Nigerians living in the United Kingdom since 2000 when 10-year-old Abimbola Taylor was stabbed to death in the neighbourhood.

Boyega was born to Nigerian parents in Peckham, where “gangs, guns and knives were part of everyday life.

“To us that was normal; it was just how we grew up,” a friend who was raised on the same estate as Boyega and his two older sisters, Grace and Blessing, told The Daily Telegraph.

“But theatre kept John out of trouble completely. The theatre was his second home, it was the only place I saw him,” he continued.

Damilola was about the same age as Boyega when he was discovered bleeding to death in a stairwell of North Peckham Estate, just before his 11th birthday.

He had left Nigeria with his parents for England, where his sister was to seek medical care for epilepsy. The trial of his murderers lasted almost 10 years, with two brothers eventually convicted of the crime and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Another Nigerian, Samuel Ogunro, when he was 17, was found shot in the back of the head in a burning car in Peckham in 2010. His murder allegedly had been ‘arranged’ by a South London gang member, who was in prison at the time.

Boyega’s friend said that “not a lot of people knew” about Boyega’s acting because he kept it quiet.

“Everyone else does football when they’re young,” he explained to the newspaper, adding: “John didn’t play football, he was more interested in acting, so he didn’t want to make a big fuss about it.”

He noted: “It was a rough area but he had a nice family, I saw him going to church with them every Sunday.”

Another friend, 22-year-old Daniel Ross, said that the area had been “very, very violent” when he and Boyega were teenagers.

“There were drugs, stabbing, a lot of gang affiliation. You would never see John on the street or hanging around gangs though. I only saw him in church or in acting school,” he stressed.

Demi Rump, 22, was a close friend of Boyega’s during their school years. He went to Westminster City School while she attended a girls’ school next door.

“A lot of boys in his year are now in prison or dead. Everyone was going down one route towards the end of school – taking drugs, selling drugs, gangs, that sort of thing – but John went down another. I am so thankful he got out of it,” she said.

Boyega found solace in Theatre Peckham, a performing arts centre on the corner of his Fifties Estate.

Teresa Early, the theatre’s artistic director, recalled the first time she saw Boyega act, aged nine, in a play at Oliver Goldsmith Primary School, saying she knew he was talented at the time.

She invited Boyega to join the theatre school, a special programme for talented children aged nine to 14, and, after securing financial assistance from a hardship fund, he enrolled.

Boyega spent almost every day after school at the theatre, as well as weekends, Mrs. Early told The Daily Telegraph. “He was (at the theatre) 24/7, it was what he thrived on. His father was a preacher and he wanted him to be a preacher too,” she said.

His father, Samson, mother, Abigail and Blessing are all trustees at the Wall of Praise Christian Centre in South Bermondsey.

Ms. Early said: “I had a chat with John’s father when he was about 12 or 13. As long as John stayed out of trouble they were quite happy. And as John made his way, his father began to think there was some wisdom in it.”

At 16, Boyega moved to South Thames College to study Performing Arts, and joined the Identity School of Acting in Hackney, which helps aspiring actors from multicultural backgrounds.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Video - 12 year old girl carries out suicide bombing in Nigeria

A girl about 12 years old carried out a suicide attack at a bus station in northeastern Nigeria on Saturday, killing seven and injuring 31, witnesses said, shortly after officials revealed that Boko Haram militants had recaptured a strategic town in the region.

“A girl aged about 12 detonated an explosive under her clothes as she approached the station’s perimeter fence,” said Danbaba Nguru, a shopkeeper who witnessed the attack in the town of Damaturu.

The head of the local Sani Abacha hospital, doctor Gara Fika, said six bodies and 32 injured had arrived there with one person dying after being admitted.

The Damaturu bus station has been repeatedly targeted in a string of previous suicide attacks.
“I was in the station when I saw the young girl arrive,” said bus driver Musbahu Lawan. “I think she noticed the guards checking people at the gates and she decided to detonate the explosives in the middle of the crowd outside the gates.” Nguru added: “The road leading to the gates is always full of small traders... I was lucky not to have been hit.”

No claim of responsibility for the attack has been made. In February, a woman suicide bomber attacked the same bus station, leaving seven dead and 32 injured.

The deputy governor in neighbouring Borno state, Mustapha Zannah, said Friday that he had seen a security report indicating that Boko Haram has recruited several suicide bombers to help counter a regional military operation against them.

And on Saturday Zannah announced the fall of Marte, located on a strategic trading route between Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon and Chad, to the Islamists.

“It is sad as we have been made to understand that Marte has today completely fallen under the control of the insurgents, which to us is a very huge setback,” he said.
The town has changed hands between the jihadists and government troops numerous times since 2013.

A regional military coalition of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon has claimed a series of major victories against Boko Haram since launching sweeping offensives against the jihadists in February.
But the Islamist fighters, who recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State extremists controlling swathes of Iraq and Syria, have been pushing back. The jihadists killed at least 55 people in two raids on villages near Maiduguri, the first assault on the northern city in three months.

“Even if 90 percent of our communities have been liberated, the war is not yet over,” Zannah cautioned early Saturday. Boko Haram’s six-year insurgency has claimed some 15,000 lives and displaced about 1.5 million people.


Nigeria military destroy 10 Boko Haram camps

Nigeria's military says it has destroyed 10 Boko Haram camps, killed many militants and captured heavy weaponry in the northeastern Sambisa Forest.

This comes after a surge in attacks by the Islamic extremists including suicide bombings, assaults on a business school and villages and a repelled night-time raid by hundreds of fighters on the biggest military base in northeast Nigeria.

One soldier was killed by a land mine and two were wounded when troops overran 10 Boko Haram camps on Saturday, said the Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, in a statement Sunday night.

Olukolade and other Nigerian officials had said Boko Haram's main fighting force was trapped in the vast Sambisa Forest following a 14-week multinational offensive that drove them out of dozens of towns and villages where they had declared an Islamic caliphate.

But some must have escaped to press last week's attack on Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri, the biggest northeastern city about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the forest.

The forest offensive had destroyed some 20 other camps, according to the military, before getting bogged down by land mines and other booby traps laid by the insurgents, soldiers told The Associated Press. They insisted on anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to reporters.

"The operation to clear the terrorists in Sambisa and other forests is continuing as troops in all fronts have been alerted to be on the lookout for fleeing terrorists," Olukolade said. "The Nigerian Air force is maintaining an active air surveillance to track the movement of terrorists for appropriate action."

The ground offensive, backed by bombing by jet fighters and covering fire from attack helicopters, had allowed the military to free some 700 girls and women captives. There has been no word on the fate of boys and young men kidnapped by Boko Haram.

The Defense Ministry has made no comment about the latest Boko Haram surge, which killed at least 60 civilians in the past 10 days, half of them villagers who died in army shelling to repulse the Maiduguri attack.

News Tribune

Friday, May 15, 2015

Drug trafficker extretes 70 wraps of cocaine while in custody

 A suspected drug trafficker has told officers of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency how he ended up attempting to smuggle cocaine into Nigeria from Brazil.

Celestine Okonkwo, who was returning from Sao Paulo, was arrested at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, after he tested positive to cocaine ingestion.

The suspect later excreted 70 wraps of cocaine weighing 1.326 kilogramme, according to Hamisu Lawan, NDLEA commander at the airport.

Mr. Okonkwo told investigators that he sold used clothes at Idumota market, in Lagos, before he was lured abroad with a promise of better job.

“I will never forget the day a young man came to my shop to buy shirt,” said Mr. Okonkwo, 39. “He told me he is from Anambra and that he lives in Brazil. He also promised to help me with a good job opportunity over there.

“Honestly, I was excited and felt it was answer to my age-long prayer. He collected my phone number and left. This was how it all started.”

Three months later, according to the suspect, the man called to inform him he had prepared an international passport and also secured a travel visa.

“Then he told me to get set to travel any time,” Mr. Okonkwo said. “Few weeks later, he brought my ticket and I travelled to Brazil in January 2015

“He gave me the name of the hotel where I will stay pending when he will get me a job. I was eventually abandoned to suffer. When I exhausted my money, I began to sleep in a church. I also began to work for a Nigerian woman who owns a restaurant in order not to starve to death.”

The suspect stated that drug trafficking was not originally discussed with his supposed benefactor before he left Nigeria.

“Nobody discussed drug trafficking with me while in Nigeria,” Mr. Okonkwo said.

“It was after I had lived in the church for some months that my sponsor located me in Sao Paulo. I was told that there is no free lunch in Brazil and that I have suffered and experienced difficult life in Brazil.

“This was the point they introduced drug trafficking as the only way out. They said that was what people do to make money. It took me about seven hours to swallow 70 wraps of cocaine. I was inexperienced because it was my first time. They promised to pay me N400,000 when I get to Nigeria.”

Mr. Okonkwo said he regretted his actions, more so as he had ended up disappointing his wife and daughter who are living with his parents in the village.

“God bless Nigeria,” he said. “There is no poverty here except the person chooses to be poor.”
Ahmadu Giade, chairman of NDLEA, said Mr. Okonkwo’s story should serve as a warning to those seeking to travel out of the country in a hurry.

“There is nothing wrong in seeking greener pastures but people must be properly guided,” said Mr. Giade.

“Travelling out of the country without money to pay for your accommodation and feeding is ill-advised. Those who promise job opportunities abroad are after their selfish interest.”

Mr. Giade also added that his agency is determined to investigate and expose Mr. Okonkwo’s sponsors.

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28 children killed by lead poisoning in Nigeria

Nigerian health officials say 28 children have been killed by lead poisoning from illegal gold mining in a remote west-central village. Dozens more are sick.

The outbreak is in the same region where doctors still are treating children from a 2010 mass poisoning in Zamfara state that killed 400 kids and left many paralyzed and blind because of delays in government funding for a cleanup.

Doctors Without Borders said Friday it has cured half the 5,500 infected there and has started closing clinics.

Junior Health Minister Fidelis Nwankwo said Thursday all those newly infected in neighboring Niger state are under 5 with a 43 percent fatality rate. He says they have started treatment.

It's not known when a clean-up is planned. Villagers also have to learn safe mining practices.


12 dead after Boko Haram attack Maiduguri

At least six civilians and six members of a youth vigilante group were killed in an attack by Boko Haram militants on Nigeria's northeastern city Maiduguri, two military sources said on Thursday.

The attack was reported late on Wednesday in Maiduguri, which is the capital of Borno state and the birthplace of the Islamist jihadi group.

One of the sources said the vigilantes in the so-called civilian joint taskforce died after they mistook female suicide bombers for residents fleeing the Boko Haram raid.

Boko Haram, which has killed thousands in its attempt to carve out an Islamist state in the country's northeast, is on the backfoot foot following a co-ordinated offensive by military forces from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

However, Wednesday's assault shows it is still capable of pulling off bloody assaults.

Defence spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade said the insurgents began their attack on the outskirts of Maiduguri with the detonation of two female suicide in Ladi Kayamla area.

He said the attack was likely intended as a diversion to "slow down the ongoing assault on the Sambisa forest, it was carried out by those insurgents escaping from locations that have been destroyed".

Boko Haram has become scattered across Borno, but maintains a final stronghold in the Sambisa forest reserve. Nigeria began a ground assault on the area in April and said it has overrun many camps and freed over 700 abducted women and children.

The army imposed a 24 hour curfew on Maiduguri following the attack.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Former Nigeria Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi comments on audit that proves missing $18.5 billion

A former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Lamido Sanusi, has reacted to the recent audit report by PricewaterhouseCoopers on the alleged missing $20 billion oil money, saying the report has confirmed in the first instance that at least $18.5 billion was indeed missing.

Mr. Sanusi faulted the petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, who said the report had exonerated the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, earlier accused of diverting the money.

In an opinion article published by the Financial Times of London, Mr. Sanusi, who is now the Emir of Kano, said the argument that the outstanding amount was used by the NNPC for apparently unlawful purposes such as kerosene subsidy, does not dismiss the notion that the NNPC illegally withheld billions of oil dollars from the government.

“Contrary to the claims of petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, the audit report does not exonerate the NNPC. It establishes that the gap between the company’s oil revenues between January 2012 and July 2013 and cash remitted to the government for the same period was $18.5bn,” Mr. Sanusi said.

The former CBN governor said of the $18.5bn in revenues that the state oil company did not send to the government according to PwC, “about $12.5bn appears by my calculations to have been diverted”.

“And this relates only to a random 19-month period, not the five-year term of Mr Jonathan, the outgoing president,” he wrote.

As CBN governor, Mr. Sanusi had accused the NNPC of failing to pay about $20 billion in oil revenue to the government between 2012 and 2013.

The government denied any money was missing, even before an investigation. Mr. Sanusi was later fired by President Goodluck Jonathan.

On his suspension by the president, Mr. Sanusi said he had made it clear that “you can suspend a man, but you cannot suspend the truth”.

The publication of the PwC audit report into the missing billions, he said, has brought the nation a step closer to the truth.

He said the report has suggested lines for further investigation into the matter, and urged the Buhari government to follow the leads and ensure anyone found culpable is punished.

“Nigerians did not vote for an amnesty for anyone,” he said. “The lines of investigation suggested by this audit need to be pursued. Any officials found responsible for involvement in this apparent breach of trust must be charged.”

Mr. Sanusi noted the various duplicated expenses, unsubstantiated costs, computation errors and tax shortfalls listed in the report against the NNPC.

The former CBN governor said although PwC report concluded that a significant part of the unremitted funds were used to finance kerosene subsidy, such decision lacked presidential approval as former President Umaru Yar’Adua had stopped kerosene subsidy at the time.

In spite of the subsidy claims for which NNPC withheld $3.4 billion for the period, Mr. Sanusi said Nigerians were still made to pay an average of N120 and N140 per litre of kerosene, far more than the supposed subsidised price of N50.

“I have consistently held that this (subsidy of kerosene claim by NNPC) was a scam that violated the constitution and siphoned off money from the treasury,” the former CBN chief said.

On the transfer of oil assets belonging to the federation to the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, the upstream petroleum industry subsidiary of the NNPC, Mr. Sanusi expressed regrets that his removal did not allow him conclude the investigation he was doing on that transaction.

He said although the NPDC paid about $100 million for the assets, from which it had extracted crude valued at $6.8 billion, it had only paid about $1.7 billion as tax and royalties for the period under review.

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Bomb blast victims of Boko Haram attack in Abuja wage peaceful protest against Nigerian government

The Abuja bomb blast victims on Wednesday carried out a peaceful protest at the National Assembly to urge the Federal Government to fulfil its promises to them.

It is recalled that government had promised to foot the medical bills of the blasts which killed more than 100 people in Abuja.

The victims, who converged on the premises of the National Assembly, carried placards with different inscriptions expressing their anger, some of which read:

"It has been 10 months and nothing has been done for us; most of us still have medical challenges’’ and ``We are dying slowly, we need government support.’’

Some of the victims that they could not do follow up treatments in the hospitals.

The Coordinator of the group, Mr Arthur Vav, told NAN that they wanted the Federal Government to reopen their medical files in the hospitals for follow-up treatments.

Vav said most of the victims had undergone series of surgical operations, while some still had sharp objects lodged in their bodies that needed to be removed but could not afford the cost of treatment.

"The last bomb blast was June 25 which would be one year next month, while Nyanya already was one year April 14, since then we have been paying most of our medical bills.

"The government paid some bills for us but I strongly believe there are supposed to be a follow-ups after you have been discharged from the hospital.

"This is because when you get back to your house, you find out some sharp objects in the body and you discover you still need some medical treatment,’’ he said.

Vav said the group had written to the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), the President of the Senate and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation but received no response.

He said the peaceful demonstration was to express their grievances.

"We have been neglected by the government because for one year now nothing has been done,’’ he said.

Mr Thomas Aduche, another member of the group, said they were left to fate without any support from the government.

Aduche said he paid for the last operation carried out on his neck and pleaded with the government to empower them as most of them had lost their jobs.

Two women who lost their husbands, Mrs Favour Ndubisi and Mrs Sarah Andy called on government to empower them to enable them to take care of their children.

"I am a qualified teacher but due to the lack of job I teach in private school where the salary is very small; if government will employ me, I will be happy,’’ Ndubisi said.

Mr Victor Dike, representing the Sergeant-At-Arms for the Senate, who addressed the group promised to look into their case.
Dike told NAN that the group wrote a letter to the Senate last two weeks and did not follow up to know the outcome.

"I promise to look for the solution to their problem through the letter they submitted and once we get the letter I will tell them the action they have taken on the letter and that is the normal procedure.

"They just submitted their letter two or three weeks ago and have not followed up the letter only to come for demonstration, it is not okay,’’ he said.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Video - Nigerian migrant Stephanie Samuel talks about giving birth during harrowing sea crossing

The story of the baby born aboard a navy ship captured international media attention at the end of one of the busiest weekends for sea crossings from Libya to Europe. The mother of the baby says she is glad she took the risk because her little girl will have a better life in Europe.

Largest wind power plant in West Africa about to be completed in Nigeria

The Nigerian government says a 10MW capacity wind farm is almost complete and has already begun functioning on trial basis. Situated in the Northwestern state of Katsina, the project is the first wind-based energy development in the country and the largest in West Africa.

The 10MW wind power project can provide power for over 2,200 homes, according to industry calculations. The farm is situated in Rimi village, 25 km south of Katsina City. It is made up of 37 turbines, each with a capacity of 275kW. The state government first envisioned the project, inspired by the high wind velocity in Katsina, and gained the support of the federal government. The project was funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and developed by French company Vergnet S.A.

The Permanent Secretary of Nigeria’s power ministry, Godknows Igali, said the plant is 98 percent complete. He told journalists that five of the turbines in the wind farm have been successfully tested, and confirmed that the transmission line was ready. Igali added that wind energy is an integral part of the National Policy on Sustainable Energy and Energy Efficiency, and described the wind farm as part of several other clean energy projects being planned or executed in the country.

About 80 million people in Nigeria lack access to electricity; it is one of the key hindrances to human and economic development in Africa’s largest population and biggest economy. However, the present government has initiated several measures to remedy the energy crises. Among them is the liberalization of the power industry to inspire public private partnership in the sector. The country has also been attracting interest in the harnessing of its renewable energy sources, particularly solar energy. Last year, Gigawatt Global, announced that it was building a 100MW PV station in the north. Motir Seaspire, a US investment consortium, also signed an MoU recently with the Nigerian government to deliver up to 1,200MW of solar-powered electricity in the country by 2017.


Related story: Video - Electricity shortage threathening Nigeria's economy

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Chinese company completes power project in Nigeria

Chinese construction company Sinotec has completed a major power project in Nigeria which links the capital city, and expected to contribute immensely to the country's national grid.

The project, which included the construction of a 330 kilo volts (kv) new-built transformer substation, 132kv substation extension, 330kv transmission line and 132kv tubular poles, was commissioned on Monday by Nigeria's Vice President Namadi Sambo.

Designed to be one of the biggest substations in the West African country, the project, located in Gwagwalada city of Abuja, was completed within 14 months after the site work commenced, Sinotec's deputy managing director, Bu Songbo, said at the commissioning ceremony.

"We have completed many projects in the past 10 years (in Nigeria). However, this is the only one which covered so many types of work scope," the company manager said.

Chinedu Nebo, Nigeria's minister of power, described the project, executed under the National Integrated Power Project scheme, as "a very critical link in the national grid" of Africa's most populous country.

He said the Niger Delta Power Holding Company of Nigeria, which constructed the facility through Sinotec, will be in its second phase of the project, focus mainly on the construction of hydro power plants in northern Nigeria to assure a mixed grid distribution of power.

"All these will contribute immensely to the national grid," said Sambo, noting he commissioned a similar power project six days ago in the north central state of Benue.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Boko Haram attack school in Northern Nigeria

Suspected Boko Haram extremists attacked a business school in northeast Nigeria on Friday with gunfire and two bomb blasts.

A suicide bomber died when he blew himself up prematurely in the car park of the College of Administrative and Business Studies in Potiskum, according to a security officer and a hospital worker. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to reporters.

A second bomb exploded in the college dormitory, but all the students apparently were already in classrooms.

Five students were wounded by gunfire and another 45 people are being treated for injuries sustained as they jumped out of windows and over walls to escape the attackers, the hospital worker said.

Those injured include schoolchildren from the neighbouring Government Science Secondary School, who also thought they were under attack. At least 40 students were killed when Boko Haram attacked that school last year.

In Friday’s attack, the gunmen arrived around 8 a.m. (0700 GMT) and opened fire at the gate of the business school, witnesses said. Security guards armed only with clubs ran away, said the witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

It is the first school attack reported since a 3-month-old multinational offensive drove Boko Haram out of towns and villages seized last year where the insurgents, who have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group, declared an Islamic caliphate. Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful.”

Troops from neighbouring countries joined the fight as Nigeria’s home-grown Islamic extremist group began attacking across borders.

Nigeria’s military says the main fighting force of Boko Haram has fled to strongholds in the vast Sambisa Forest of northeast Nigeria, where Nigerian troops this month rescued nearly 700 girls and women held in captivity by the insurgents and destroyed about 20 camps.


Civil Servants in Nigeria to go undergo mandatory screening

All civil servants on the Nigerian federal government payroll are to undergo compulsory verification and revalidation of their credentials and service records.

The Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Danladi Kifasi, directed officials handling the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System to undertake the exercise.

The exercise, Mr. Kifasi said in a circular issued by the Permanent Secretary (Special Duties) in his office, Amina Shamaki, that screening should cover the verification and revalidation of vital documents belonging to all workers in the core Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

The Head of Service said staff of all Federal Government agencies in outstations in all the states of the federation would be screened in collaboration with other IPPIS stakeholders.

The exercise, which is in its second phase, would begin in Abuja from Monday, May 11 to May 22, 2015, and May 18 to 22, 2015 in the North-East and North Central zones.

When the exercise is concluded, Mr. Kifasi said it would provide a centralised database for the Nigerian Public Service with a single, accurate source of employee information that would aid government’s manpower planning and decision making.

The Nigerian government’s decision to screen its workers came about two months after PREMIUM TIMES exposed a case of certificate forgery involving a staff of the National Broadcasting Commission, Caroline Animan.

Ms. Animan, a confidential secretary at NBC, said to have been an employee of the Commission for over 20 years, presented a forged National Diploma certificate in Secretarial Studies purportedly issued by Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta, Ogun State (formerly Ogun State Polytechnic).
But the institution eventually confirmed the “certificate” presented by Ms. Animan (formerly Carolene U. Umelue) as fake, following an official investigation and document verification by the NBC.

The Principal Assistant Registrar (Exams and Records) of the Polytechnic, Olusegun Ogunpola, through a letter titled: “Re: Request for Document Verification: Carolene U. Umelue” dated June 23, 2014 categorically said the certificate was fake.

Subsequently, the NBC official saddled with the responsibility of verifying the document presented by Ms. Animan submitted a report titled “Re: Report On Document Verification: Statement Of Result Presented By Caroline Animan (Mrs)” to the Director General of the NBC through the Zonal Director, Ibadan Zone, on June 24, 2014.

The report indicted Ms. Animan and recommended she be ultimately dismissed after facing appropriate disciplinary committee, in line with Public Service Rule. It attached the letter from the Polytechnic and the forged certificate marked “fake” by Mr. Ogunpola of the Exams and Records of the institution.

Ms. Animan was investigated following noticeable poor work output.
Nigeria’s public service rule considers the presentation of forged credentials a case of gross (serious) misconduct for which erring officials should be punished with dismissal, once the allegations are proven.

It is uncertain at this time whether the NBC has taken disciplinary action against Ms. Animan, although insiders in the Commission suggested she has been suspended from duties.

Premium Times

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Video - Freed hostages from Boko Haram talk about their ordeal

More rescued women in Nigeria have been recounting their ordeal at the hands of militant group Boko Haram. But they've also been speaking out about apparent divisions in the ranks.

Asaba airported downgraded due to safety concerns

The Nigerian Government has downgraded the Asaba Airport over the failure of Delta State Government to put in place safety and security measures at the airport, an Assistant Director, Press & Public Affairs, Ministry of Aviation, James Odaudu,​said Tuesday in Abuja.

Mr. Odaudu said with the downgrading, the airport would now be allowed to accommodate the operation of only Dash 8-Q 400 aircraft or its equivalent until all the safety issues were addressed.

He stated that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority has raised several safety concerns.

The safety concerns according to the statement, were over undulations on the airport’s runway, the lack of the required strip, perimeter fencing, drainage, as well as lack of adequately trained technical personnel.

Mr. Odaudu said the decision was taken since no concrete steps had been taken to address the issues which were capable of compromising the safety of flight operation and the passengers.

“It has therefore become a matter of serious concern that despite a series of meetings with, and assurances given by the operators of the airport.

“The Federal Government has also drawn the attention of the owners of the airport to the fact that it has, through its inability to address the issues, violated compliance with safety standards.

“Safety standard as stipulated in the Nig. CARs Part 12.6.2 and 12.6.3 in respect of the airport runway and its associated facilities as well as adequately trained personnel were violated,” Mr. Odaudu said in the statement.

He quoted the Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka, as saying that the downgrading was done in public interest.

“Because the Federal Government places very high premium on the safety and security of aviation passengers and would never compromise set standards for whatever reason. “The minister, however, assures that the airport would revert to its previous status as soon as all the safety concerns are adequately and satisfactorily addressed,” Mr. Odaudu said in the statement.

Premium Times

Nigerian government burrows money to pay salaries

Africa's richest economy is borrowing money to pay salaries as it struggles through a "difficult cash crunch" brought on by halved oil prices, Nigeria's finance minister revealed.

The news comes as Nigeria prepares to welcome a new government at the end of this month and the country's naira currency remains in a slump, hovering between 180 and 220 to the US dollar. It was trading at 160 a few months ago.

Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala tried to be upbeat in a speech on Tuesday after lawmakers approved the 2015 budget - revised three times because of slashed oil prices that provide 80 percent of revenue for the government of Africa's biggest petroleum producer.

She said "revenue challenges" had prohibited the release of any funds for capital expenditure this year but that food prices and single-digit inflation remained quite stable. And she said the economy still was on course to grow 4.8 percent this year.

"We have front-loaded the borrowing programme to manage the cash crunch," Okonjo-Iweala told lawmakers.

"Out of the 882 billion naira budgetary provision for borrowing, the government has borrowed 473 billion naira to meet up with recurrent expenditure, including salaries and overheads."

That is bad news for the incoming government of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, who takes over on May 29 from incumbent Goodluck Jonathan.

Buhari acknowledges that constricted revenue and endemic corruption threaten his will to deliver on development and reconstruction of areas devastated by a nearly 6-year-old rebel uprising in the northeast.

He says his fight against corruption should produce the money needed to bring change to a country where oil proceeds benefit a small clique while the majority of the 170 million people in Africa's most populous nation live hand to mouth.

Critics blame the financial crisis in part on the most expensive election ever held in Nigeria, though no one knows how much politicians from both sides spent during their campaigns.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Aliko Dangote still interested in buying Arsenal F.C.

Five years after he was turned down by Arsenal, Nigerian billionaire industrialist Aliko Dangote said he still wants to buy the storied English Premier League soccer team—for the right price.

Dangote—who lost some $10 billion in net worth in 2014 due to a crash in the Nigerian stock market and value of the Nigerian naira but is still Africa’s richest person—told Bloomberg that he is interested in taking control of the club, of which he is a big fan.

“I still hope, one day at the right price, that I’ll buy the team,” he said. “I might buy it, not at a ridiculous price but a price that the owners won’t want to resist. I know my strategy.”

The north London club is currently controlled by US billionaire Stan Kroenke, who also owns other sports teams including the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NFL’s St Louis Rams. Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov also owns just under a third of Arsenal.

It is not clear that Kroenke or any of the minority shareholders have put any stakes up for sale at this stage. If Dangote did make a bid it is likely he would be going up against Usmanov, who is worth some $15 billion and has long coveted full control of the club.

Arsenal has the longest serving manager in the league in Arsene Wenger, who brought many trophies early in his reign but has faced questions about the team’s inability to win the Premier League since 2004. Of Wenger, Dangote told Bloomberg: “He needs to change his style a bit. They need new direction.”

English soccer clubs in its top flight league have rocketed in value in recent years, buoyed by rising domestic and international TV rights that have pumped huge wads of cash into the 20 teams in the league—especially top teams like Arsenal. According to Bloomberg, Arsenal Holdings Plc, which trades on the UK’s ICAP Securities & Derivatives Exchange, is valued at 988 million pounds ($1.49 billion).

English soccer has risen rapidly in popularity globally, nowhere more so than in African countries, partly driven by an increasing number of African-born stars playing for the top teams, players such as Manchester City’s Yaya Toure and Chelsea’s Didier Drogba. If Dangote were to buy Arsenal, he would be the first African to own a Premier League team.


Related story: Video - Aljazeera speaks with Africa's richest man Aliko Dangote 

Video - Electricity shortage threatening Nigeria's economy

A shortage of electricity is threatening Africa's biggest economy. Cities across the Nigeria, including Abuja and Lagos, have been experiencing some of worst black-outs in years these past few weeks with power available for only five hours a day in some area.

Related story: Electricity bills in Nigeria cut by half

Video - Aljazeera covers Nigeria's steps to improve its poor electricity supply

Monday, May 4, 2015

Video - Will an African country ever win The World Cup

Soccerholics Billy, Ben, and René discuss the chances of an Africa country lifting the FIFA World Cup.

Rescued women and children report Boko Haram killed men and boys

Boko Haram fighters killed older boys and men in front of their families before taking women and children into the forest where many died of hunger and disease, freed captives have revealed.

Hundreds of women and children were rescued by the Nigerian army last week from Islamist fighters in northern Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest in a major operation.

After days on the road in pickup trucks, hundreds were released on Sunday into the care of authorities at a refugee camp in the eastern town of Yola, to be fed and treated for injuries.

Some told reporters about their ordeal. “They didn’t allow us to move an inch,” said Asabe Umaru. “If you needed the toilet, they followed you. We were kept in one place. We were under bondage.

“We thank God to be alive today. We thank the Nigerian army for saving our lives.”

The camp took in 275 women and children, some with heads or limbs in bandages, late on Saturday.

Nearly 700 kidnap victims have been freed from the Islamist group’s forest stronghold since Tuesday, with the latest group of 234 women and children liberated on Friday.

“When we saw the soldiers, we raised our hands and shouted for help,” Umaru, a 24-year-old mother of two, told Reuters.

“Boko Haram, who were guarding us, started stoning us so we would follow them to another hideout, but we refused because we were sure the soldiers would rescue us.”

The prisoners suffered malnutrition and disease, she said. “Every day, we witnessed the death of one of us and waited for our turn.”

Another freed captive, Cecilia Abel, said her husband and first son had been killed in her presence before the militia forced her and her remaining eight children into the forest.

She barely ate for two weeks before the military arrived. “We were fed only ground dry maize in the afternoons. It was not good for human consumption,” she said.

“Many of us that were captured died in Sambisa Forest. Even after our rescue, about 10 died on our way to this place.”

The freed prisoners were fed bread and mugs of tea as soon as they arrived at the government camp. Dr Mohammed Aminu Suleiman of the Adamawa state emergency management agency said 19 were taken to hospital for special attention.

The army said troops patrolling on Saturday discovered 260 women and children wandering in Adamawa state. Some had fled their homes during fighting while others had been abducted but managed to escape from the Islamists.

The military said a supplier of food and fuel to Boko Haram was arrested on Sunday morning.

Amnesty International estimates the insurgents, who are intent on bringing western Africa under Islamist rule, have taken more than 2,000 women and girls captive since the start of 2014. Many have been used as cooks, sex slaves or human shields.

The prisoners freed so far do not appear to include any of more than 200 schoolgirls snatched from school dormitories in Chibok town a year ago, an incident that drew global attention to the six-year-old insurgency.

Umaru said her group of prisoners never came in contact with the missing Chibok girls.