Monday, December 24, 2018

Video - Nigerian parliament approves funds to revive Ajaokuta steel plant

After 38 years, Nigeria’s parliament has finally approved $1bn to revive one of Africa's biggest steel plants. The approval came after an exclusive Al Jazeera report on how corruption was blocking the company's revival.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Video - Nigeria, Cameroon kept apart in final draw of Under-17 AFCON

Rivals Nigeria and Cameroon found themselves at the opposite ends following the draw for the final tournament of the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations Tanzania 2019.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Video - Can Nigeria’s next president revive the country’s economy?

A new report alleges that Nigeria has now replaced India as the country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty. Nigeria has the highest GDP in Africa, but according to a study by Brookings earlier this year, a record 87 million people are living in poverty. Segun Sowunmi, spokesman for opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar, says that President Buhari is responsible for the country’s high unemployment and inflation. 

But President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman, Festus Keyamo, argues that the economic woes are “a direct consequence of the prior state of the economy they left that we’re trying to rebuild.” Now, he says, things “are on upward swing.” Atiku Abubakar has promised that if elected, he will lift at least 50 million people out of extreme poverty within the first two years of his presidency. “We are aware that there is a ticking time bomb for Africa, especially for Nigeria, with our young population, if we don’t deal with unemployment,” said Sowunmi. But is ending poverty for 50 million people that quickly, a feat that has never been achieved before, even possible?

In this UpFront web extra, we discuss the future of Africa’s biggest economy and debate who is the best candidate to lead it into the future.

Nigeria to host Egypt in football friendly on 26th of March 2019

The Egypt Football Association has announced that the Pharaohs will play Nigeria in a friendly on 26 March.

The match will be played in Nigeria during the international break in March.

Both nations have already qualified for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals but will play their final qualifying games ahead of the friendly encounter.

Nigeria host Seychelles in Group E while Egypt travel to face Niger in Group J.

Egypt and Nigeria met in 2017 Nations Cup qualifying with The Pharaohs earning a 1-1 draw away from home before winning 1-0 in Alexandria to qualify for the finals ahead of the Super Eagles.

It will be the 18th meeting between the two sides with Nigeria holding the upper-hand having won seven times to Egypt's five with another five matches drawn.

Fear of Nigeria becoming a Narco State

In the early hours of a humid November morning, a 16-car convoy rolled into Obinugwu village in southeast Nigeria and stopped outside the iron gates of a non-descript house.

More than 50 drug enforcement officials crept through the compound and surrounded the methamphetamine lab hidden by overgrown jungle behind the property.

The bust happened just before daybreak. Dozens were arrested, including the suspected kingpin at his mansion in the nearby city of Owerri.

“It took one year of surveillance,” a National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) officer, who was involved in the raid, told AFP. “They were all sleeping. We took them by surprise.” Inside the lab there was 78 kilograms (171 pounds) of meth — a drug as notorious for its exhilarating highs as its life-destroying, addictive lows.

But the haul, worth tens of thousands of dollars, was not for domestic consumption. Instead, it was probably destined for South Africa and Asia, investigators said.

Drug trafficking is nothing new to Nigeria, which has long been a transit point for cocaine and heroin going to Europe and North America. The difference is that now Nigerians are producing the drugs.

With vast quantities of chemicals entering the country, porous borders and corrupt law enforcement, Nigeria is an ideal place to produce the drug.

Since the country’s first meth lab was discovered in 2011, authorities have found 14 more producing mass quantities of the stimulant, while seizures of the drug have jumped from 177 kilos in 2012 to 1,363 kilos in 2016.

“It (meth production) is on the increase, significantly on the increase. Meth today is a serious threat to Nigeria,” said Sunday Zirangey, NDLEA Special Enforcement Team commander.

“If this continues, Nigeria may turn into a narco-state.” Glen Prichard, Nigeria project coordinator with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, agreed. “Nigeria is potentially following the same footsteps as Mexico that led to instability, organised crime and an infiltrated government,” he added.

Church massacre 

Reliable data on meth production in Nigeria is hard to come by and seizures are small compared with global giants Mexico and Myanmar.

But evidence on the ground points to a much larger industry. Nigeria‘s estimated need for the stimulant ephedrine, which is used as a medical decongestant, is 771 kilos, according to a US State Department report on international narcotics.

Yet Nigeria imports over eight tons a year, with the difference suspected of either being used to produce meth or trafficked elsewhere. Despite the risks of arrest and even execution for traffickers in Asia, the profits are irresistible in a country where the minimum wage is just 18,000 naira ($50, 44 euros) a month.

A kilo of meth sells for $3,500 on the streets of Lagos but by the time it reaches South Africa it is worth $12,000 and $150,000 in Japan — and the stakes are rising. Last year, the fight for control of the lucrative South African market more than 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) away came to St Philip’s Parish in Ozubulu, a village in the southeast Nigerian state of Anambra. Thirteen people were shot dead in an apparent reprisal attack between Nigerian drug barons operating in Johannesburg.

Piles of trash line the dirt road leading to Ozubulu, where an endless stream of people hawk everything from adulterated fuel to plastic flip-flops. But among the grinding poverty are huge villas with grand columns and intricate wrought iron gates — glaring anomalies in a region with epileptic power and disintegrating roads. In August last year, unknown gunmen interrupted the 6:00 am Sunday mass in Ozubulu, hoping to kill Aloysius Nnamdi Ikegwuonu, a Johannesburg drugs kingpin known as “The Bishop”.

He wasn’t there but his father and a one-year-old child were among the victims. Details of the shooting remain clouded in secrecy. “What we had is gunshots, sporadic and reckless shootings. That’s what I can say,” said parish priest Father Jude Onwuaso standing by the victims’ marble graves wearing a sky-blue cassock. Ozubulu has made headlines for drugs before. In 2015, the NDLEA busted a meth lab belonging to Ikejiaku Sylvester Chukwunwendu, also known as “Blessed Benita”. He was charged with meth production and trafficking in the village. “He’s one of the biggest kingpins we’ve got,” said state prosecutor Lambert Nor, who said some of Chukwunwendu’s couriers had been executed in China for drug trafficking.

Ideal conditions

As the popular US television series “Breaking Bad” showed, meth can be made by almost everyone in their own kitchen if they have the right ingredients and background knowledge in chemistry. Cocaine and heroin, on the other hand, are bigger-ticket enterprises. They require land dedicated to plantations and a specific climate to grow the crop. But Nigerians were paying thousands of dollars a week to Mexicans, Colombians and Bolivians to teach them a new form of production that pumps out bigger, purer batches of meth.

Two years ago, Nigerian authorities arrested four Mexicans from Sinaloa, the epicentre of one of the world’s biggest drug trafficking cartels and birthplace of the infamous drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. “When you found labs before you always had Mexicans and Bolivians behind it but now the Nigerians are on their own and they do even better,” said Kayode Raji, NDLEA assistant commander in Imo State.

Experts fear that as production increases, meth will find a domestic market like in South Africa, where “tik” — as it’s known on the street — has been described as an “epidemic” and is the most abused drug in the Western Cape province. But there is no easy way to stop the rise of meth in Nigeria. “It will become uncontrollable unless decisive measures are taken,” said Nor, warning: “Otherwise what we have in Mexico will be a small thing compared to Nigeria.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Civilians are stepping in to keep the peace in the deadly feud between herders and farmers

Farmers and herders once lived harmoniously on Nigeria’s bucolic central plateau, but when Amos Lenji, a farmer, caught a young herdsman grazing cattle in his cornfields this October, he feared for his life.

His fear was rooted in a massacre that took place in June. More than 200 people, mostly farmers, were slaughtered by a gang of masked men dressed in black who marauded through the county of Barkin Ladi. Although no one was apprehended, the killers are suspected to be herdsmen.

It was the biggest bloodbath yet in a cycle of retaliatory killings between farmers and herders competing for space across Nigeria’s hinterlands. At least 1,300 were killed in just the first six months of 2018, according to the International Crisis Group. That is more than six times as many as were killed in Nigeria in the same period by Boko Haram, one of Africa’s deadliest terrorist groups.

Nigeria’s population has grown exponentially and is projected to surpass the United States’ by 2050, although Nigeria is 11 times smaller in area than the United States. Amid the boom, land has become increasingly scarce, and disputes over ownership are frequently turning bloody. New generations of farmers are planting on land traditionally used for grazing, and out of desperation, herders are grazing their cattle in fields still full of crops, destroying harvests. Many in the two groups now see each other as existential threats.

The near-constant violence has catapulted the farmer-herder crisis to the top of an already long list of security concerns in Nigeria. The country is roughly half Christian and half Muslim, and because farmers tend to be Christian and herders tend to be Muslim, the crisis has worsened the friction between the two religious communities. So far, Nigeria’s government has shown little capacity to prevent the fighting from spiraling further.

In the absence of an effective government response, locals have cobbled together groups of peacekeepers who have become the plateau’s de facto law enforcement. Barkin Ladi’s vigilantes, as they’re known, are particularly effective because they include farmers and herders. Bitrus Dung Pam, the local group leader, says he commands 30 times as many recruits as there are police in the whole county.

“When people see us, they trust us,” Pam said. “It’s not like the army or the police. We are the community.”

Pam was who Lenji thought of, standing there in the cornfield. He picked up his cellphone and asked for immediate help. The herdsman ran away.

“I had no other option,” Lenji said.

‘Vigilantes are our eyes’

Nigeria’s police and security forces are underequipped, underpaid and often deployed to unfamiliar areas of this diverse country of almost 200 million people.

Vigilante groups have proliferated out of necessity. They have formed a national umbrella organization that says it has nearly 350,000 members. They fill a giant law enforcement vacuum, but they also represent a homegrown approach to peacekeeping.

They build trust by settling not only potentially explosive disputes between farmers and herders, but also smaller ones. The process often resembles a court proceeding. On a recent day, vigilantes spent hours smoothing out a disagreement over money among women trying to raise chickens collectively.

The volunteers are everyday people, mechanics and bricklayers, men and women, and Muslims and Christians, and they represent all the plateau’s ethnic groups, including the two largest, the Berom and Fulani. Most farmers here are Christian and Berom, while most herders are Muslim and Fulani.

That inclusiveness commands the respect of local officials.

“No one will accuse them of being partisan or conniving with one tribe against the other,” said Yakubu Dati, a spokesman for the state government. “That is what we want, that is what this administration is all about, and we are doing everything to encourage other vigilante groups to emulate that so that peace can return permanently.”

But that doesn’t translate into any tangible state assistance. The volunteers pay for their own uniforms, and they carry hunting rifles and rubber pellets from home. In Barkin Ladi, they coordinate their patrols from donated office space in a small house and have just one vehicle.

They maintain a heavy presence along backcountry roads and man dozens of checkpoints in spots where violence has flared in the past. Since many are guarding their own villages, they simply walk to their posts. They are everywhere the police are not.

“If you call the police, they may tell you, ‘We don’t have fuel, give us some, and we will help you,’ ” said Edward G.M. Bot, the traditional leader of Barkin Ladi’s Berom community. “It is not like that with the vigilantes. The level of determination is totally different. They show up immediately. They stay overnight. They know who we are.”

Maj. Gen. Augustine Agundu, who commands Operation Safe Haven, the Nigerian military’s response to unrest on the plateau, said the volunteers were essential to his mission. The military, police and even aid groups have organized training for them, and Operation Safe Haven coordinates some of its patrolling activity with them.

The Nigerian government has struggled to come up with a comprehensive policy to address the crisis. In some states, grazing has been banned entirely, while in others, herders have been asked to move their cattle to ranges set aside for them. On the plateau, the main policy seems to be Operation Safe Haven’s military intervention and tacit support for the community-led effort.

“The vigilantes are our eyes,” Agundu said.

‘Poisoned relationships’

The violence between farmers and herders is Nigeria’s deadliest, but it is just one of three major conflicts exposing the fraying social fabric in this country.

For a decade, Boko Haram has terrorized the northeast, killing tens of thousands, burning entire villages and kidnapping an untold number of children. And in the Niger Delta in the country’s south, guerrilla groups continue to target foreign oil companies and the government, slowing Nigeria’s oil-dependent economy.

All these crises have led local communities to arm themselves against perceived enemies, while in the background, gargantuan challenges such as rapid population growth, climate change and religious rivalries deepen.

On the central plateau, Berom farmers are in the majority. Many believe that they are indigenous and that nomadic Fulani herders are either interlopers or invaders. The same dynamic is playing out across semiarid parts of Africa, but most violently here, where the plateau’s edges seem to provide a closed arena for battle.

“I won’t be sad if all the Fulani leave this place,” said Rose Mashinging, 36, a farmer who lives in a village that was attacked in June. “It is Berom land anyhow.”

The polarization has penetrated Nigeria’s politics. The country is set to hold a presidential election in February, and many in the mostly Christian south accuse President Muhammadu Buhari, an ethnic Fulani, of siding with herders.

His predecessor was voted out partly because he was perceived as weak against Boko Haram. Buhari’s reelection will partly rely on convincing skeptics that he is serious about peace in the Middle Belt, an ethnically diverse band across the country that is home to Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, though his government has done little to intervene in the conflict so far.

On the plateau, Fulani leaders say that members of the state security forces, who are mostly Christian, actively discriminate against the herders, and the leaders also allege that security personnel have engaged in revenge attacks. (Agundu, the commander of Operation Safe Haven, denies those charges.) Local ardos, or Fulani traditional headmen, complained that police don’t take cases they file seriously. And reports of Berom farmers stealing cattle are common, and the subsequent clashes often result in the deaths of herdsmen.

“It is a mess of poisoned relationships — layers of grievance that accumulated for generations are exploding,” said Adam Higazi, an anthropological researcher at the University of Amsterdam who has been based on the plateau for more than a decade. “Most people on the plateau don’t think of anything else now except the animosity.”

‘They can’t save us’

The vigilantes’ biggest hurdle is that they don’t have the strongest tool available to state law enforcement: lethal weapons. Without them, they can be easily overrun by the kind of marauding gang that terrorized Barkin Ladi in June. With such weapons, however, they might become more like soldiers or bandits themselves and be implicated in the killings.

Idris Gidado, the ardo of the villages worst affected in June, said that he would ordinarily commend the civilian peacekeepers for their bravery but that a recent incident had disillusioned him.

A Fulani man from Gidado’s own village had robbed a family of farmers. The volunteers caught him and handed him over to the police. The police released him quickly, and the ardo suspects that money was exchanged. The man robbed another family, and the sequence of events was repeated. In late October, the man raped a woman in his village, the ardo says.

“We want the vigilantes to succeed,” Gidado said. “But there is no system of justice here to allow that.”

The local police commissioner, Austin Agbonlahor, said he did not doubt the ardo’s story, but he said no formal complaint had been lodged.

Most of the tens of thousands of people who have been displaced by the fighting are too fearful to return home. Maren Zachariah’s entire village, Garwaza, was abandoned in June. Garwaza was ransacked by the attackers, and its central church — with its fresco of Jesus and painted map of Africa — was left gutted and burned. It has been colonized by thousands of bees.

“We want to return, but the government doesn’t provide security. They only come as far as the nearest town. And our vigilantes can warn us, but they can’t save us,” Zachariah said. “The big trouble started on a sunny day like today. It can happen again any time.”

Amid the distrust, Barkin Ladi’s multiethnic vigilantes are setting an example for peaceful coexistence.

Mangwei Mashinging, the brother of the farmer who wishes the Fulani would leave the plateau, said he thinks peace is possible. That is why he joined the volunteer group.

“We thank God for the Fulani,” he said. He says Fulani neighbors saved many farmers during June’s massacre. “It is not as if the world is so simple — that Fulanis are bad and Beroms are good. Both groups have both kinds of people. We have to be on the side of peace.”

In October, when the vigilantes brought together Amos Lenji, his farmer neighbors and the family of the herdsman whose livestock trampled their cornfields to discuss compensation, everyone was a bit surprised to find out that the opposing parties shared close family friends.

The tension lifted. The farmers proposed that instead of paying for the damaged crops, the herdsman’s kin pay their mediators for fuel to keep doing their work. The two sides shook hands and headed home.

This project was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Nigeria is third most terrorised country in the world

Nigeria, for the fourth consecutive year, occupies the third position among countries worst hit by terrorism, globally, according to the 2018 ranking on terrorism. This has been blamed on the activities of Boko Haram and herdsmen.

Apart from 2014 when Nigeria was ranked fourth, it has remained in the unenviable third position in the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) ranking since 2015.

Mixed reactions have trailed the report. While former vice president and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, said the country’s ranking in terrorism shows the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) failed promises, the APC said report was far from reality.

In the latest report released on Wednesday, Iraq, a country in the Middle-East, is ranked first, a position it has held since 2014. Afghanistan has ranked second since 2013. Syria and Pakistan are ranked fourth and fifth respectively.

Others among the top 10 countries worst hit by terrorism in 2017 are Somalia (6th), India (7th), Yemen (8th), Egypt (9th), and Philippines (10th).

The good news, however, is that there has been a reduction in the number of deaths caused by terrorism in Nigeria in 2017, just like the other three preceding years, according to the report

“When compared to the peak of terrorist deaths in 2014, the largest falls in
the number of deaths occurred in Iraq, Nigeria, and Pakistan, with falls of 6,466, 5,950, and 912 deaths respectively,” said the 2018 GTI report.

The report said deaths from terrorism in Nigeria fell to 1,532 in 2017, a decrease of 16 per cent from the prior year.

There were 63 per cent and 34 per cent drop in deaths in the country in 2016 and 2015 respectively, according to the report.

“This highlights the effectiveness of the counterinsurgency operations undertaken in Nigeria and its neighbours, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad,” the report said, adding that the world has also experienced a drop in deaths from terrorism in 2017.

The GTI, while analysing global trends in terrorism in 2017, described the reduction in deaths in Nigeria and Iraq “the most dramatic.”

Boko Haram attacks, the report said, have substantially reduced in Chad and other neighbouring countries; and Al-Shabaab, in 2017, overtook Boko Haram as the deadliest terror group in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The GTI report raised concern over the killings by herdsmen, saying terrorism was shifting from Nigeria’s North-East region to the country’s Middle-Belt.

The report said: “In Nigeria in 2018, there has been a dramatic increase in violence involving Fulani extremists even as deaths committed by Boko Haram are falling.

“In 2018 alone, deaths committed by nomadic Fulani herders are estimated to be six times greater than the number committed by Boko Haram.

“In 2017, 327 terrorism deaths across Nigeria and Mali were reportedly committed by Fulani extremists, along with 2,501 additional deaths in the three years prior with the vast majority of these deaths being civilians.

“While deaths (killings) committed by Fulani extremists decreased following the peak of 1,169 deaths in 2014, violence from the group in 2018 is expected to surpass that peak. Nearly 1,700 violent deaths have been attributed to the Fulani Ethnic Militia from January to September 2018. An estimated 89 per cent of those killed were civilians.”

According to the report, two, out of 20 most fatal terrorist attacks, occurred in Nigeria. One was on March 20, 2017, when assailants identified as “Fulani extremists” opened fire at a market in Zaki Ibiam, Benue State killing 73 people. The other was on July 25, 2017, when Boko Haram terrorists opened fire on a Frontier Exploration Services team convoy at Jibi, killing 60 people.

The GTI, which is in its sixth edition, is produced annually by the Institute for Economics & Peace, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank with offices in Sydney, New York, and Mexico City.

Reacting to Nigeria’s rating, former Vice President Atiku has described this as a function of the failure of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to keep its campaign promises to Nigerians.

Atiku, who is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate for the 2019 polls, said it was unfortunate that the present administration could not deliver on its campaign promise to secure the country.

Speaking through his media aide, Paul Ibe, the former Vice President noted that that is the more reason Nigerians cannot take the APC serious in the run-up to the 2019 polls.

According to him, “it is very clear that this coincides with the era of the APC led administration. Again, it is also a confirmation of their failed promises. They have failed on economy. They have failed on alleviating poverty. They have again, failed on security. Then
you ask yourself without security, what can we do? That explains why every nook and cranny – the North West, the North Central, the North East, the South South – everywhere is a theatre of one war or the other.

He said: “It is not about promises. It is about policies. That is why we are different from them. You look at the well articulated policy, which Atiku has reeled out; it is a framework, and Nigerian are interrogating it. And security is an integral part of it.” In its reaction, the APC has dismissed the report, describing it as rating faraway from the reality on ground.

According to National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, the rating was wrong, stressing that Nigerians who are on ground have the accurate rating.

Said he: “We cannot join issues with people far away from the reality. Nigerians have their own rating because Nigerians who could not move freely in Abuja before the APC came in have their rating. The residents of Abuja formerly perpetually under fears of insurgents attack have their ratings. People of the North East have their own rating because they understand the difference between when they could not even live in Borno or Yobe and Adamawa states and now. They know that insurgency has been degraded to the extent that they don’t have any community under their control.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Nigeria arrest 'fake first lady'

A woman who used various false identities to gain access to Nigeria's presidential complex to allegedly run business scams has been arrested.

The secret service said Amina Mohammed initially posed as Kogi state's first lady to gain entry to the presidential villa in the capital, Abuja.

She then allegedly invited people to the villa making them believe it was at the invitation of the president's wife.

At a press briefing about the arrest, Ms Mohammed shouted: "It is a lie."

Peter Afunanya, a spokesman for Nigeria's domestic spy agency, known as the Department of State Security (DSS), told reporters the scandal took place while First Lady Aisha Buhari was out of the country in November 2017.

Wealthy businessman Alexander Chika Okafor, invited to the the presidential villa by Ms Mohammed, accused her of defrauding him of 150m naira ($414,000, £323,000) over a property deal in the main city, Lagos, the secret service spokesman said.

"Investigation has shown that this unholy enterprise is not to the knowledge of the first lady," Mr Afunanya said.

Ms Mohammed "took advantage of the fact that personalities such as first ladies, ministers and certain categories of officials are not taken through rigorous protocols and security checks at the villa posts", he added.

The BBC's Ishaq Khalid in Abuja says the security breach is shocking as the presidential complex, known as Aso Rock, is well guarded by the DSS and police officers.

All staff working there have to have passes, that include biometric data, and all visitors need to be signed in, he says.

In September, the DSS arrested one of the first lady's aides for allegedly raising funds under false pretences. He denies the allegations.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who faces re-election in February, came into office promising to tackle the "enormous" scale of corruption in Nigeria.

Arrest warrant issued for Nigeria ex-oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke

Nigeria’s main anti corruption body has issued an international arrest warrant for its former oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke.

The authorities accuse her of misappropriating public funds worth several millions of US dollars.

Alison-Madueke is currently being investigated in the United Kingdom but Nigeria wants her to face trial in her country for an alleged act of illegal acceptance and giving gratifications.

The former Nigerian Minister in charge of oil is currently in London. She is to appear before Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on February 25, 2019.

Alison-Madueke is also associated with alleged money laundering cases in several countries like the United States and Italy.

She’s been released on bail from the British courts, which arrested her in 2015 and seized her passports.

Alison-Madueke, was oil minister of former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan from 2010 to 2015.

She became the first woman to lead the organization of oil exporting countries (OPEC).

President Muhamadu Buhari pledged to fight corruption when he assumed office as president of Africa’s most populous nation in 2015.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Video - Striking teachers, rigid government and students’ misery in education in Nigeria

It has been nearly a month since the students of government universities in Nigeria have had any class. For, the teachers have been on a strike protesting funding for education in the country. While those who can afford are moving towards private institutions, those who can’t are staring at an uncertain future as the deadlock between the government and the teachers continues.

Nigerian Moses Peter becomes 2018 Africa Scrabble Champion

Just as the Super Falcons overcame South Africa to win the Africa Women Cup of Nations football title in Ghana on Saturday, Nigeria’s Scrabble national team captain, Moses Peter, also emerged the new Africa Scrabble Champion in the 13th edition of the championship held at the Resort Centre, Kiriyangi, Kenya at the weekend.

The Africa tournament, which featured seven countries that included Nigeria, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia with 62 players in attendance, saw Nigeria once again stamping its feet at the African scrabble scene by retaining both the individual and country titles for the 12th time.

Peter proved beyond reasonable doubt that he was the world second best player and Africa’s number one scrabble player when he defeated his opponents after game 30 of the just concluded Africa Scrabble Championship.

The national scrabble coach, Anthoney Ikolo, commended the 11 players that took part in the Africa championship and for giving their best and flying high the nation’s flag in Kenya.

He noted that the country’s representatives would not relent in dominating the continent in the game scrabble in Africa, adding that Nigeria’s success in the East Africa country could be attributed to hard work and determination to succeed by the players.

President Muhammadu Buhari denies death and body double rumours

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has denied rumours that he had died and had been replaced by a lookalike.

Some people thought he had been "cloned", but "it's [the] real me, I assure you," Mr Buhari said.

Rumours that he had been replaced with a body double called "Jubril" from Sudan had been widely shared online.

The 76-year-old Mr Buhari, who is seeking re-election in February next year, has been beset by ill health since taking office in 2015.

He was on "medical leave" in the UK for three months in 2017.

He revealed after his return to Nigeria that "I have never been so sick", but did not disclose what he was suffering from. He insists he is now in good health.

According to an AFP Fact Check investigation the rumours began late last year and have appeared on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Posts promoting the rumours have been viewed more than 500,000 times.

A former aide to Mr Buhari's predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, is among the high profile individuals who have promoted the rumours.

Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of secessionist group Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob), has also been fuelling the rumours, AFP found.

In one instance, Mr Kanu shared two images of Mr Buhari, one reversed, to allege that the Nigerian leader, who is right-handed, was using his left hand - "proving" that that meant he was a body double.

One of Nigeria's main newspapers, Guardian, published a story in November about the rumours which the paper said "has refused to go away".

A scene from the 1997 film "Face/Off" has also been used by those promoting the rumours to show how a dead Buhari's face could have been transplanted to a body double.

Mr Buhari, who is in Poland attending a UN climate change conference, was asked about the rumours during a meeting on Sunday with Nigerians in the country.

Mr Buhari said those spreading the rumours about his health and identity were ''ignorant and irreligious.''

''A lot of people hoped that I died during my ill health. Some even reached out to the vice-president to consider them to be his deputy because they assumed I was dead.

"That embarrassed him a lot and of course, he visited me when I was in London convalescing… It's [the] real me; I assure you,'' Mr Buhari added.

A former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, 72, has emerged as Mr Buhari's main challenger in next year's election.

The opposition is expected to make the president's health a major campaign issue, but he insists he is healthy and fit to serve a second term.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Boko Haram overrun army base in Nigeria - 3 soldiers dead

Boko Haram jihadists have killed three soldiers in an attack on a military base in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state near Lake Chad, military and civilian sources said.

Fighters from Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) driving in several trucks attacked the base in Cross-Kauwa village on Tuesday and engaged troops in an hours-long gunfight, the sources told AFP late Wednesday.

“We lost three soldiers in the fight,” said a military officer who asked not to be named. “The soldiers fought the terrorists but were overpowered and had to withdraw from the base,” he added. A Cross-Kauwa resident said the Islamists stormed the village in trucks fitted with anti-aircraft guns around 8:00 pm (1900 GMT). 

“The insurgents fought the soldiers for three hours and forced them to abandon the base,” said the resident who wanted to be identified only by his first name, Bukar, for fear of reprisals. Buba said troops withdrew to the garrison town of Monguno, 18 kilometres (11 miles) away while others stopped at another base in nearby Kekeno which Boko Haram has made several failed attempts to overrun in recent weeks. 

The news of the attack was slow to emerge due to a lack of communications in the region following destruction of telecom facilities by the jihadists. Boko Haram has in recent months intensified attacks on military targets in Borno and Yobe states in the northeast. Since July, AFP has tracked 17 attacks on military bases, most of which were claimed by ISWAP. 

In the most audacious attack on November 18, ISWAP fighters killed at least 43 soldiers when they overran a base in Metele village near the border with Niger, although soldiers who survived the raid said more than 100 of their colleagues were killed. On Wednesday, President Muhammadu Buhari visited troops in Maiduguri, the epicentre of the insurgency and urged the military to show more commitment in fighting the jihadists. 

The Nigerian leader was due in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, on Thursday for talks with his regional counterparts in a fighting force against the jihadists. Buhari who came to power in 2015 on the promise to end the violence has come under pressure following the recent surge in Boko Haram attacks as he seeks re-election in February polls.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

President Buhari approves pay rise for Nigerian police

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has approved a hike in salary and allowances for police officers. Nigerian police are rated among the most corrupt on the African continent which many say is due to low wages and poor working conditions.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Museum in Britain to return Benin bronzes to Nigeria

More than a century after British soldiers looted a collection of priceless artifacts from the Kingdom of Benin, some of the Benin bronzes are heading back to Nigeria - with strings attached.

A deal was struck last month by the Benin Dialogue Group (BDG) that would see "some of the most iconic pieces" in the historic collection returned on a temporary basis to form an exhibition at the new Benin Royal Museum in Edo State within three years. 

More than 1,000 of the bronzes are held at museums across Europe, with the most valuable collection at the British Museum in London. 

Nigerian governments have sought their return since the country gained independence in 1960.

Temporary solution 

The agreement represents a breakthrough for the BDG, which was formed in 2007 to address restitution claims. 

The group comprises of representatives of several European museums, the Royal Court of Benin, Edo State Government, and Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

The returns are contingent on the timely completion of a new Royal Museum, adjacent to the Royal Palace that once housed many of the bronzes. Nigerian officials presented plans for the Museum at a BDG meeting in October. A spokesman for the Governor of Edo said that designs are being finalized in collaboration with the Royal Court of Benin. 

A spokesman for the British Museum said European museums would play an active role in developing an elite institution suitable for housing exhibits that are considered to be among the greatest ever African artworks.

"The key agenda item (at the October meeting) was how partners can work together to establish a museum in Benin City with a rotation of Benin works of art from a consortium of European museums," the spokesman said. 

"The museums in attendance have all agreed to lend artifacts to the Benin Royal Museum on a rotating basis, to provide advice as requested on building and exhibition design, and to cooperate with the Nigerian partners in developing training, funding, and a legal framework for the display in a new planned museum."

Details about which pieces will be returned and how many are yet to be established. Dialogue is ongoing between the parties of the BDG, and the group is scheduled to meet again in Benin City next year. The present agreement notes that Nigerian partners have not ceded claims for permanent restitution, and officials remain determined to secure the bronzes on a permanent basis. 

"We are grateful these steps are being taken but we hope they are only the first steps," Crusoe Osagie, spokesman for the Governor of Edo, told CNN. "If you have stolen property, you have to give it back."

Osagie called for greater pressure on European governments to return the bronzes.

Breaking the deadlock

Nigerian claims received a boost with the release of a new report commissioned by the French government that calls for wholesale restitution of artifacts seized during the colonial era.

The report from academics Felwine Sarr and Benedicte Savoy, prompted by President Emmanuel Macron's 2017 commitment to return African heritage, recommended that items taken without consent should be liable to restitution claims. 

Many of the estimated 90,000 artifacts of sub-Saharan African origin held at French institutions could be contested under the report's criteria.

Sarr and Savoy further recommended that key, symbolic pieces long sought by claimant nations should be immediately returned - including several French-held Benin bronzes.

The report also proposed a series of bilateral agreements between the French government and African states to bypass French laws barring museums from releasing their collections, which have proved a longstanding barrier to restitution. Such agreements would allow for permanent restitution rather than loans. 

The French government has responded to the report by announcing an initial 26 artworks will be returned to the state of Benin, with further restitution to follow.

Pressure building 

France's example will increase the pressure on museums across Europe, which has been building on several fronts. 

Grassroots campaign groups within European countries are demanding restitution, such as in Germany, where 40 organizations recently signed an open letter calling for the return of historical artifacts.

The letter prompted German institutions to conduct inventories of their collections to determine which items were acquired illicitly. 

There is also growing recognition of the validity of restitution claims from a new generation of political leaders. Leader of the UK Labour party Jeremy Corbyn has said that if elected, his government would be willing to discuss the return of "anything stolen or taken from occupied or colonial possession."

Several influential private collectors have also taken the side of African claimants, such as British citizen Mark Walker, who voluntarily returned a set of Benin bronzes captured by his grandfather.

Museums are also facing a raft of increasingly determined claims from the governments of dispossessed nations across the world, from sub-Saharan Africa to Greece's claims for the Elgin Marbles, to Chile's appeal for Easter Island statues. 

Few longstanding observers of a saga that has been taking place since the end of the colonial era expect these matters to be resolved quickly. President Macron's initial commitment to return just 26 pieces suggests a long term process.

Museums and national governments are likely to resist wholesale restitution, and national laws preventing museums from disbursing their collections will continue to present a formidable barrier.
But if the wheels are turning slowly, they do at least appear to be shifting.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Video - Nigerian authorities move to tackle corruption at seaports

Nigeria has been trying to grab a larger share of the traffic in West African waters. However, despite some improvements, its ports are still considered some of the worst in the world because of delays, corruption and a lack of infrastructure. And that means it's losing about $2.8bn every year to competitors.

Video - Craftsmen showcase wares in Abuja, Nigeria

The 11th edition of the International Arts and Craft Exhibition in Nigeria's capital Abuja is drawing visitors from all over the country and beyond. This year's expo aims to promote the indigenous cultural industry as a way to generate more revenue for the economy.

Video - Boko Haram kidnap 50 loggers in Nigeria

In Nigeria, Boko Haram jihadists have kidnapped around 50 loggers in the northeastern part of the country, close to the border with Cameroon. The abduction took place at Bulakesa village in Borno state. The incident comes hours after the country's army conceding they lost hundreds of their own to insurgency just a week ago.

Islamic State kill scores of soldiers in military base attack in Nigeria

Islamic militants in Nigeria may have killed as many as 100 soldiers in an attack on a military base, according to media reports and security officials.

The reported death toll is among the highest since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 and comes as the country prepares for elections in three months.

The worst losses came when militants overran a military base in the village of Metele in the north-eastern state of Borno on Sunday.

The area is the centre of an insurgency waged by Boko Haram, which was founded nine years ago to bring strict Islamic law to swaths of Nigeria, and a second newer group linked to Islamic State.

Nigeria’s military and government have repeatedly said they are on the point of defeating the militants. However, raids on military bases have continued over recent months, inflicting significant casualties. One assault on an army post on the border with Niger in September left 48 people dead.

An officer among the troops attacked at Metele told Reuters: “The insurgents took us unawares. We lost about 100 soldiers. It is a huge loss.

“We all [ran away] because we didn’t know where the bullets were coming from. They killed some of us who went to evacuate the bodies of the killed soldiers. We left our armour, tanks and weapons … The village is still under their control.”

Islamic State said on Monday it was responsible for the Metele attack and claimed to have killed at least 40 Nigerian soldiers.

On Thursday, the senate, which is controlled by the opposition People’s Democratic party, suspended its session in honour of the soldiers who died at Metele, and put the death toll at 44.

A soldier who survived the assault, told the Vanguard newspaper that at least 70 soldiers were killed, blaming a lack of “adequate weapons” and ammunition.

Reuters said four security sources had put the total at about 100.

The increase in violence in north-east Nigeria follows a power struggle among militant leaders.

In the first major rift, the Isis-linked group split from the one led by Boko Haram’s veteran leader, Abubakar Shekau, after arguments over his indiscriminate targeting of civilians in raids and suicide bombings.

Analysts believe this breakaway faction, known as the Islamic State in West Africa, has a new hardline leadership after a further internal struggle and is responsible for the recent kidnapping and killing of aid workers.

A study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a US-based thinktank, estimated there were between 3,500 and 6,900 Islamist fighters in Nigeria.

The study concluded there were at least three times as many armed jihadis today than before the 9/11 attacks of 2001.

The Nigerian army has been hit by a series of mutinies as soldiers refuse deployments to the frontline in the north-east, saying they lack basic equipment and supplies, including adequate weapons and ammunition.

A spokesman for the presidency on Thursday said the military would issue a statement, while the military did not respond to requests for comment. The government and military often decline to acknowledge the scale of losses in the north-east.

The re-inventors of banking in Nigeria

Key contributors to the growth of the Nigerian economy, they have redefined banking by leveraging technology and connecting people to market. From just £100 in his bank account, Pascal Dozie has built a business empire his son Uzoma is taking to the future.

It’s always a difficult proposition, handing over the reins of a business you have painstakingly built ground-up. But for Pascal Dozie, Nigeria’s self-made investment and finance guru, there could not be a better successor than his eldest son, Uzoma Dozie, Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Bank. But Uzoma has learned from the best.

The rise of Pascal Dozie can outrival any rags-to-riches Dickensian tale. He gained a fortune through tenacity, hard work and wit, on a long and difficult road from Owerri in Imo State where he was born in 1939. His entrepreneurial journey began against the backdrop of a Nigeria marred by the bloody Biafran war waged between 1967 and 1970 that saw over 30,000 Igbo lives lost. Pascal, at the time, was finishing his degree at The London School of Economics where he shared a class and rubbed shoulders with The Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger, who dropped out to form the English rock band.

The war back home meant he had to find alternative means of making a living. Learning to be independent since the loss of his father when he was only 15, Pascal’s major influence was his mother who owned a bakery.
As a young man, he found himself on the streets of Uganda cutting his teeth in the exchange business until the Idi Amin coup truncated his work.

“When Amin took over, we were no longer wanted, so we had to come back to Nigeria but there was no money to come back home with.”

Pascal and his wife were unemployed and as a result, the couple planned to relocate to the United States (US) in search of greener pastures. But they changed their plans in the last minute due to his mother’s ill-health and her wish to be closer to her first grandson, Uzoma.

Pascal had to quickly find another way to make ends meet. He decided to start a consulting firm, the African Development Consulting Group, where he worked for multinationals like Nestle and Pfizer.

“My first objective was survival and of course I had an ambition. You set up a company, you want that company to grow; you want it to be robust and profitable. Being in consulting was a tricky affair because you have a lot of receivables. It was a hustle job. A hustle to get payment and a hustle to do the job all the time.”

Then there was the issue of rudimentary communication systems to contend with.

“There were no phones. At one point in time, I had to meet someone in Sokoto, and I boarded a flight to go there. Lo and behold, in the queue boarding that plane was the man I was going to see, catching a flight to another destination. So he apologized because there was no way for him to tell me not to come. So he asked me if it was possible to wait for two days. We had no choice and we found a hotel and waited for the man to come back. If there was any delay, there was nothing we could do but keep waiting until he showed up,” says Pascal.

Slowly but surely, his business began to prosper, but Pascal had even bigger aspirations. During the days of his consulting business, he conducted a feasibility study of banks and unearthed a hidden opportunity. But that was the easy part. At the time, Nigerian law stipulated that to set up a bank, no one single person could have more than 5% shareholding in the bank and the firm’s shareholders must be representative of Nigerians from all over the country.

“Now the problem was how do you find them? That was a major challenge. Once they are found, you are now dealing with so many different people from different backgrounds, which means a lot of time; there were a lot of quarrels. We traveled around all of Nigeria to find people who will invest in the bank.”

Secondly, Pascal had noticed traders from the remote villages in the east of the country, where he grew up, faced the problem of carrying huge bundles of cash when they traveled to Lagos on business, making them prone to robberies. To make matters worse, there were a number of shortcomings in the banking system. For example, to deposit money in a bank, one would have to wait long, sometimes queuing up for almost four hours before a single transaction.

“And to cash a cheque was also difficult. You could go to the bank and they will give you a number in the queue. You could then leave the bank, go to the shop and do so many errands that by the time you come back, your number would still not have been called. There was that gap in service,” says Pascal.

With a passion for economic development, he believed that without a strong financial sector, the Nigerian economy was not going to develop.

“You need a robust financial system to get the economy working, so I said ok, ‘why don’t we try looking at this and provide a solution’. I said ‘if we could get a bank to mitigate against all the things we are lacking, then we can create value for businesses and also contribute to the economic development of Nigeria’,” says Pascal, who was featured on the cover of FORBES AFRICA in October 2012.

Meanwhile, Uzoma, the eldest of his five sons, was contemplating which career he was going to pursue. The choices boiled down to engineering, medicine or law. He had witnessed the tough early days of his father’s entrepreneurial journey.

“I think my parents were hustling when I was born. We were five boys and I remember we lived at 27 Commercial Avenue, which was also my father’s office. It was a three-bedroom flat and I remember two of the rooms were offices and one was the bedroom for all of us. My dad was a consultant, so he didn’t have a fixed job then and I think my mother had a more stable job than him. Because they were hustling, life was very practical,” says Uzoma.

Where his father is assertive and confident, with each word measured and delivered as though he was giving a keynote address, Uzoma’s youthful exuberance is infectious. But there are similarities too. Pascal is a gentleman in every sense of the word, who loves Mozart and Bach, while Uzoma also has a calm down-to-earth demeanor.

Watching both father and son speak is like looking at two old friends catch up over drinks. Affectionately calling his father ‘PD’, there is an air of reverence and respect for the man who has orchestrated the Dozie legacy and built a multi-million dollar empire from a modest consulting firm, today spanning banking, private equity and telecommunications. Pascal commands his investment and finance empire through the family-owned investment company Kunoch, which pours money into everything, from power generation to gas processing, oil exploration, real estate and banking.

However, for Uzoma, banking was not his first calling. After some initial soul-searching, he opted to be a doctor and that journey led him to the United Kingdom (UK).

After studying Chemistry at the University of Reading, he pursued a masters in Chemical Research at University College London (UCL) before completing an MBA at Imperial College London.

A serendipitous recession in the UK meant Uzoma was unable to find a job, and decided to relocate to Nigeria to enrol into the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme set up by the government.

It involves Nigerian graduates in nation-building and the development of the country. Pascal, through his contacts, secured a role for Uzoma at Guaranty Trust Bank, which was the start of the latter’s love affair with banking.

“When I left university in the UK, I had a lot of credit from banks. I had a credit card, I had a debit card, I had a cheque guarantee card, I was using ATM and when I came back to Nigeria, it was like going back into time. None of those services existed. You had a chequebook, which may be, only one of the new generation banks offered, and one of the motivations or aspirations for me with Diamond Bank was trying to deliver in the Nigerian market those services which I was used to in the UK,” says Uzoma.

Both father and son fervently believe in the power of technology to drive efficiency in the financial sector. The first thing Pascal did to solve the issue of carrying cash over long distances was to set up the Diamond Integrated Banking System (DIBS).

This meant that you could carry a chequebook instead of cash and when you came into the bank, you received your cash. It may sound pretty easy and standard now but at the time in Nigeria’s history, it was revolutionary.

“Nigeria has come a long way. The area that we have not had much success is on our political front. There has been a lot of progress on the economic side; [but] individually, almost everybody is working in silos. But until we have that political will to get the economy to where it ought to be, we are just paying lip service.”

He sold the consulting business to raise the capital to start Diamond Bank. Soon, another opportunity presented itself to Pascal, this time in the telecoms industry. A South African company was looking to set up shop in Africa’s largest economy and Pascal saw in this an opportunity too good to pass up.

“So many companies were interested in the MTN project. The Nigerians didn’t know much about what it was about. All they knew was that there was this new way of communicating, which was by mobile telephones, and nobody knew what that was all about. It was one of the first few transparent projects the government ever conducted. The government practically vetted all the shareholders of the company,” says Pascal.

The South Africans wanted to pump millions into a 60% stake in MTN Nigeria, with Nigerians owning 40%. Pascal managed to raise a 20% stake in the new company. But before the deal could close, he says his name was published in the newspapers for unethical trading.

“The MTN people came to me to say ‘we do not want anything to do with you again’. Some mischievous people accused me of playing both sides and the main fact that I was double dipping would have cost us the project. So they wrote a letter to me and I didn’t reply. So they didn’t want to see me, I was more or less like an outcast. So I was not even there the last day of the bidding,” says Pascal.

“It was later on that the chairman of MTN was going back to South Africa and he met that company I was supposed to be involved in and they asked about me and the man said he didn’t know who I was. Then they realized that somebody was trying to be mischievous and they came back to me and apologized,” says Pascal, and the rest as they say is history. Today, the company is one of the most successful in Nigeria and Pascal maintains his position as chairman.

The apple did not fall far from the tree. Uzoma religiously preserves the organizational culture, using new technology to democratize the dissemination of financial services to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Pascal had always put employees in the saddle, empowering them to take decisions. That philosophy has worked well for the organization. Furthermore, his decision to realign the structure of the organization and create accessibility for tech-savvy millennials has helped the bank maintain its position as one of the leading financial services institutions in the country.

Uzoma has had varied roles within the organization, starting as an assistant manager and head of the bank’s oil and gas group, where he expanded the oil and gas businesses. One of the things Uzoma also pioneered was leveraging the power of mobile apps to make transactions easier for customers. “We used mobile apps to stop people from coming to the branches and put everything you wanted to do in the bank, apart from withdrawing cash at the bank, on the mobile app. Now, it’s a platform where it’s beyond banking and one of the new things we are doing is to provide a relationship officer and democratize banking so that even the guy at the bottom of the pyramid will get premium banking services and we can only do that through technology,” says Uzoma.

Next, the bank began automating the customer transaction experience by enabling customers to do self-service. Robots were introduced to reduce the workload and allow humans to concentrate on the things they are good at such as creativity and innovation.

“We have eight million people who use their mobile phones to do banking and we have a partnership with MTN. I see Diamond Bank as a platform to help people connect to market. When you talk to people we helped open a bank account into the market place, the first thing they will tell you is that ‘I can now save to take my children to school, I can now save to improve my business’. Diamond Bank is a platform for transformation by connecting people and their market,” says Uzoma.

The way the company has managed to achieve this is by leveraging technology and redefining the business model, which goes beyond banking and coming up with a sharing and collaborating approach as well.

“If I want to lend to a customer, I need to know much more than his financial record, I need to know about his non-financial records so it gives me a better understanding. We use other platforms to connect and engage with our audience like Diamond TV and we also get feedback from what our people want and what the trends are,” adds Uzoma.

Under his leadership, the bank has become one of the most-successful middle-market banks. According to Uzoma, this was as a result of understanding customer cash flows which made it easier to lend to them.

“I don’t know when was the last time I went into a banking hall to do a transaction. Young people have a good opportunity in the tech sector. I would like to see Nigerians developing software and looking at it from our own perspective and being original. One of the things I found in our financial system is the banking system is not technologically advanced like some of the banks we have in Europe,” says Pascal.

“We can use technology to solve a lot of problems in agriculture and a lot of problems in banking. Even deploying technology in a social and economic area. For example, our population, VAT registration, national identity and so many applications. People are working in various silos, why can’t we get all these systems to be coordinated? If you go to Dubai and you enter a taxi and you lose something, you can retrieve it. Once you enter a taxi, it is entered in a central location and everything is harmonized.”

They are a team that work well together. Uzoma is a tech visionary who believes in the power of technology to provide opportunities to leapfrog as a people, and he is relentless in pursuing that goal.

For Nigeria to harness that power, however, there has to be effective leadership to create impact and transformation. According to Uzoma: “We have everything we require in Nigeria to really leverage technology, but we haven’t been able to do that. We need the leadership to put the policy, regulation and legislation in place to help us achieve this. One of the things I am passionate about is educating investors to invest in Nigerian businesses. People are going outside to get investors from venture capital from the US and in 10 years’ time, we are going to find that we have a few Nigerian companies that are very successful globally but they will be owned by foreign companies because Nigerian investors who had the capacity did not understand what they are letting go,” says Uzoma.

Pascal echoes his sentiments. “You will not find any company owned by Nigerians being managed by the third generation or fourth generation as such but you will find that among Indians in Nigeria, and the Lebanese in Nigeria. But ours [Nigerians] have been short-term because the first generation sets up the business, then the next generation tries to develop it and the third generation squanders it.” These days, that has been Pascal’s real focus. He believes in order for Nigeria to effectively compete globally, there has to be a focus on succession-planning. At 79, he is full of life and bursting with ideas. His goal is to create an awareness of building generational wealth through family offices. This dynamic father-son duo is here to stay and set a sterling example for African business.

From modest beginnings – just £100 in his bank account in Lagos when he started – Pascal has built an empire his son is determined to take to Africa’s glorious future.

Nigeria might lose $6bn due to corrupt oil deal

A court in Milan is considering charges of corruption against Eni and Shell in a controversial oil deal that led to Nigeria losing an estimated $6bn.

The campaign group Global Witness has calculated the OPL 245 deal in 2011 deprived Nigeria of double its annual education and healthcare budget.

Eni and Shell are accused of knowing the money they paid to Nigeria would be used for bribes.

The Italian and Anglo-Dutch energy giants deny any wrongdoing.

This unfolding scandal, which is being played out in an Italian court, has involved former MI6 officers, the FBI, a former President of Nigeria, as well as current and former senior executives at the two oil companies.

The former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete, was found guilty by a court in France of money laundering and it emerged he used illicit funds to buy a speed boat and a chateau. It is also claimed he had so much cash in $100 bills that it weighed five tonnes.

Global Witness has spent years investigating the deal which gave Shell and Eni the rights to explore OPL 245, an offshore oil field in the Niger Delta.

It has commissioned new analysis of the way the contract was altered in favour of the energy companies and concluded Nigeria's losses over the lifetime of the project could amount to $5.86bn, compared to terms in place before 2011.

The analysis was carried out by Resources for Development Consulting on behalf of Global Witness, as well as the NGOs HEDA, RE:Common and The Corner. The estimated losses were calculated using an oil price of $70 a barrel as a basis.

Eni has criticised the way it was calculated because it ignores the possibility that Nigeria had the right to revise the deal to claim a 50% share of the production revenues.

Deal or no deal

Campaigners say the deal should be cancelled.

"We discovered that Shell had constructed a deal that cut Nigeria out of their share of profit oil from the block," Ava Lee, a campaigner at Global Witness told the BBC's World Business Report.

"This amount of money would be enough to educate six million teachers in Nigeria. It really can't be underestimated just how big a deal this could be for a country that right now has the highest rates of extreme poverty in the world."

Nigeria is the richest economy in Africa, but despite having large resources of oil and gas millions of people are poor.

Lucrative OPL 245

It is understandable why Eni and Shell wanted to acquire the rights to develop OPL 245, because it is estimated to contain nine billion barrels of oil.

But the process of how they secured the contract is dogged by claims of corruption.

The court in Milan is weighing evidence of how a former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete, awarded ownership of OPL 245 to Malabu, a company he secretly controlled.

He is accused of paying bribes to others in the government, such as former President Goodluck Jonathan, to ensure that process went smoothly.

Shell and Eni are accused of knowing the $1.1bn they paid to Nigeria would be used for bribes, claims based on the content of emails which have since emerged.

"Looking at the emails it seems that Shell knew that the deal they were constructing was misleading but they went ahead with it anyway even though a number of Nigerian officials raised concerns about this scandalous, scandalous deal," says Ava Lee from Global Witness.

No wrongdoing

The Anglo-Dutch and Italian energy giants insist they have done nothing wrong, because they paid the money to secure the exploration rights directly to the Nigerian government.

Shell issued a statement to BBC World Business Report saying: "Since this matter is before the Tribunal of Milan it would not be appropriate for us to comment in detail. Issues that are under consideration as part of a trial process should be adjudicated in court and we do not wish to interfere with this process.

"We maintain that the settlement was a fully legal transaction and we believe the trial judges in Italy will conclude that there is no case against Shell or its former employees."

Eni has also denied any wrongdoing and told the BBC that it questions the competence of the experts commissioned by Global Witness and its "partners", as well as raising the possibility that the report by the campaign group is defamatory.

The Italian oil and gas company said "as this matter is currently before the Tribunal of Milan, we are unable to comment in detail".

In a statement it noted: "Global Witness together with its partners Corner House, HEDA Resource Centre and Re: Common had requested twice to be admitted as aggrieved parties in the Milan proceedings. On both occasions, the request was firmly denied by the Tribunal of Milan."

Eni also said it "continues to reject any allegation of impropriety or irregularity in connection with this transaction".

Biggest ever corruption case

Campaigners believe this is a landmark case and the outcome of the trial in Milan will cause an earthquake to reverberate through the oil and gas industry.

Nick Hildyard of the Corner House wonders if investors are comfortable. "Fund managers should be alarmed at this brazen dishonesty," he said.

Nigeria's leader is being encouraged to intervene by Olanrewaju Suraju, from HEDA. "President Buhari should reject any deal," he said.

The contrast between the way Italy deals with migrants and the actions of one of the nation's biggest companies has been raised by Antonio Tricarico of Re;Common.

"The Italian government is discouraging Nigerian migrants trying to reach Italy by claiming that it will help them at home, but Italy's biggest multi-national, part owned by the state, is accused of scamming billions from the Nigerian people."

The outcome of the unprecedented court case in Milan could force the oil industry to change how it conducts its business, especially in countries where corruption is rife, because more transparency about contracts and payments made would discourage fraud.

The despair of Nigeria's poor

Emita Dida, a widowed mother of six, has been living in "Monkey Village" for more than a decade.

She is one of thousands of Nigerians to be calling this informal settlement in Lagos' Ikeja neighbourhood home, sheltering in small shacks jammed together and constructed of rusted zinc.

"Life is difficult," says Dida, who runs a street-food stall.

After the death of her husband, Dida has been been finding hard to sustain her children on a meagre income. Unable to pay for their school fees, she relies on support from aid organisations to cover the cost of education.

"The little money I make is never enough," she says. "I have to feed my family from the food I sell, I can't afford to buy them other food."

Dida is among the millions of Nigerians struggling to make a living in the country's commercial capital - and beyond.

According to a report in June by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, DC-based think-tank, Nigeria has overtaken India as the world's poverty capital.

The study estimated that 87 million people in a country of nearly 200 million were living in extreme poverty, compared with 73 million people in India.

The report also projected an increase in extreme poverty in Nigeria - Africa's leading oil producer and most populous nation - until at least 2022.

Government officials have said the report does not reflect the true state of the country. Analysts, however, blame weak governance for the increasing poverty rate and say the heavy dependence on oil and gas is leaving the economy exposed to external risks while complicating development efforts.

"The Nigerian economy is an economy that depends on oil and earns what is called 'economic rent' - the income that comes from things that are not from our direct productive effort," says Professor Olufemi Saibu, an economist at the University of Lagos, urging the government to step up efforts to alleviate poverty.

Shrinking middle class

A crash in oil prices in 2014 hit Nigeria hard, sparking a financial and currency crisis and plunging the country's economy into recession two years later - the first in a quarter of a century.

Nigeria is now slowly exiting the downturn but growth remains sluggish, at about two percent, and inflation stubbornly high, an estimated 16.2 percent in 2017.

The unemployment rate, meanwhile, has soared in recent years, while the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen.

"There is a high level of unemployment and less engagement of the people [in the job market]," says Saibu.

"And when people are not engaged, they earn so little which in turn makes them fall below the poverty line," he adds.

According to a 2018 African Development Bank report, "nearly 80 percent of Nigeria's 190 million people live on less than $2 a day".

February elections

With Nigeria now stepping up preparations to hold a crucial presidential election, scheduled to be held in February 2019, the issue of the economy is expected to dominate public debate in the months leading up to the vote.

The race will see a record 79 candidates vying for the country's top seat, with incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and ex-World Bank Vice President Oby Ezekwesili seen as the main contenders.

"The most germane issue is the capacity of any candidate to ameliorate the economic situation," says Uche Ezechukwu, a Nigerian political analyst.

Another major concern for voters is corruption, an issue that has long plagued Nigeria due to public officials feasting on funds generated from crude oil exports.

Last year, Nigeria ranked 148th out of 180 countries on Transparency International's corruption index.

The country produces more than two million oil barrels per day and holds one of the world's largest gas reserves, but can barely produce electricity to power many of its households and factories.

The shortage is also pushing the price of goods up, as they are mostly produced by manufacturing firms running on costly diesel-powered generators.

"My salary is never enough for me," says Esan Monday, a 25 year-old who has lived in the "Monkey village" slum for 22 years.

He has no formal education and currently works in a bakery.

"I work so hard and am paid very little money, which I try to save up a bit to be able to buy some personal belongings," Monday told Al Jazeera.

After decades of high-level corruption and a lack of basic services, Monday says he expects little to change following the upcoming elections.

"The politicians have failed us," he says.

"I feel like all those elected into office only care about themselves. They only want our votes and don't provide us with the basic needs we demand for."

Friday, November 23, 2018

Video - TIZETI a solution for Nigeria's internet problem

Necessity, it's said, is the mother of invention. For tech entrepreneur Kendall Ananyi, this couldn't be more accurate. He and a friend set out to establish a video curating company, to become the Netflix of Nigeria. But they lacked fast and affordable Internet services to run their business. Realising the magnitude of the challenge, the two abandoned their initial plan and decided to solve the Internet problem instead.

50 staff members sacked at Nigeria High Commision in London

Over 50 Staff of the Nigerian High Commision London were dismissed and asked to accept a letter dated 22nd of November, 2018, Meanwhile, the Commission claims the dismissal took effect from 1st of January 2018.

The staff of the commission have been working all year (2018) with months of no pay. The letter of termination came due to continual outcry from staff members of the commission demanding their salary arrears.

In the letter signed by Helen Nzeako on behalf of the Nigerian High Commission UK, the termination of employment is as a result of restructuring of the organization and due to budgetary constraints. The staff members of the Commission have received this news in dismay and disappointment as most have served the Federal Government of Nigeria meritoriously. A source alleged that the exercise is a plot by the management to disengage every staff to so as to pave way for them to employ their friends & family members into these positions. The letter of termination or disengagement instructed staff to reapply for the same job if they so wish.

“We want the World to see how we are been ill-treated just because we asked for our salaries. This is so unfair and an injustice to democratic rule”. As quoted by a displaced staff of the commission. However the aggrieved staff are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari, the Federal Government of Nigeria to look into the matter.

Bring Back our Girls activist runs for top office and vows to disrupt 'Nigeria's politics of failure'

Bring Back our Girls activist and former Nigerian minister Oby Ezekwesili has thrown her hat into the election ring for Nigeria's upcoming 2019 elections and says her candidacy will "disrupt the politics of failure" in Africa's most populous nation.
Ezekwesili in an interview with Christiane Amanpour said bad governance had become endemic in Nigeria and citizens no longer hold leaders accountable for corruption or corrupt acts.
"It [Nigerian politics] produced dismal results such that today Nigeria is the world's capital of extreme poverty," she said.

"It's totally unacceptable. What I intend to do is to disrupt this and build a nation that is based on prosperity, stability, cohesion, and equality of opportunities for our people."

Around 87 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty, according to the 2018 World Poverty Clock, despite the country's vast oil wealth and human capital.

Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, who is also running for a second term, vowed to tackle corruption in his first term, a promise many Nigerians say he has not fulfilled.

Ezekwesili, who announced she was running for Nigeria's top office in October, is towing the same path, with a campaign promise to weed out corruption, which she calls a "malignant and cancerous action."

"We know that corruption is a tax on the poor. And we already know there are ways to tackle corruption. You prevent opportunities for corruption; you reduce corruption.

"What my agenda is to deregulate the economy in the kind of way that public officials don't have too much presence in the economy to be able to utilize it for personal gain," she said in the interview.

Anti-corruption campaigner

Ezekwesili is one of the co-founders of Transparency International, a global watchdog fighting corruption. She has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

She leads the Bring Back Our Girls group calling for the safe return of kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by terror group Boko Haram since 2014.

Ezekwesili faces an uphill task as a female presidential candidate, but most significantly, she will be running against incumbent President Buhari and Nigeria's former vice-president Atiku Abubakar in February next year. 

The activist said the candidates' popularity does not faze her and her ambitions to lead the West African nation. Ezekwesili believes she stands out from other candidates.  According to her, leadership is "gender neutral" and she brings "character, competence, and capacity" to the race, she said.  

"I am a better candidate than the men that are in this race, and even they will tell you that. I'm simply going to keep on with the issues that I want to solve and be a problem solver," Ezekwesili told CNN.
Her record of fighting corruption and plugging financial leaks in Nigeria's public sector, when she served as a minister proves she will deliver on her campaign promises, she said.

"I believe I am the candidate of the Nigerian people as I am not running alone. We are all running together. All of us that want a new direction for our country are running together," Ezekwesili said.
"This is a contest between the established class of politicians who have not delivered anything meaningful in governance and the rest of us. I'm simply a candidate who is providing a direction for the rest of society to take on these folks."

Ezekwesili served as Nigeria's minister of education in 2006 where she championed educational reforms to get more girls to attend school, especially in northern Nigeria.

50 loggers kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria

Boko Haram militants have been kidnapped 50 loggers in north-eastern Nigeria close to the border with Cameroon, the Daily Nation reported on Friday.

The abduction took place at Bulakesa village, 25 kilometres from Gamboru in Borno state.

Gunmen loyal to factional leader, Abubakar Shekau, carried out the abduction of the loggers, who were in a camp for people displaced by jihadist violence, last weekend according to a local militia.

The news took a while to reach the media due to limited communications with residents in the area. Two of the loggers, however, succeeded in escaping and fled home warning others of the kidnapping.

Thousands of people have lost their lives and more than two million have been displaced since Boko Haram’s 2009 uprising. In 2014 Boko Haram gunmen seized 276 girls aged 12 to 17 from a secondary school in the remote town of Chibok, also in Borno state.

Following repeated attacks on loggers, the Nigerian military managed to rid the nearby town of Wulgo and surrounding areas of the militants in 2017.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Video - Nigerian businessmen on benefits from Chinese Expo

African nations continue to reap benefits following the conclusion of the first China International Import Expo. Many products and services from Africa made their debut in the Chinese market. These have attracted a lot of attention. Exhibitors from Nigeria say the Expo opened a channel for African companies and products looking to enter the Chinese market.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Video - President Buhari, 78 others in the fray for Nigerian polls

Campaigning has begun for what is expected to be Nigeria's most expensive presidential election. A record 79 candidates are in the race, including the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari. But his hopes of re-election are threatened by criticism of his handling of the economy and the war against Boko Haram. The Nigerian presidential election will be held in February 2019.

Video - Nigeria's Buhari launches campaign for second term

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has launched his re-election bid. Buhari was the sole candidate of his ruling party and hopes his anti-corruption agenda can win him a second term in next year's election. He will face former vice president Atiku Abubakar who is also expected to unveil his policy plans.

Doctors are leaving Nigeria in droves

Each week, at least 12 Nigerian doctors are employed in the United Kingdom. More than 4,000 are already practicing in the United States, while Canada continues to attract medical professionals from Africa’s most populous nation.

But there are no full-time specialists at most Nigerian public hospitals. They are largely staffed by retired nurses, community health officers, and new doctors with little clinical experience. More than half of the doctors remaining in Nigeria work in a handful of major cities.

Doctors are leaving Nigeria — and the government seems to be making little effort to convince them to stay. In a recent viral video widely ridiculed on social media, health minister Isaac Adewole suggested that doctors who couldn’t find work should turn to alternative careers.

“It might sound selfish, but we can't all be specialists,” Adewole said. “Some [doctors] will be specialists, some will be GPs [general practitioners], and some will be farmers.”

A similar approach was taken by President Muhammadu Buhari last month. “You don’t have to be in [a doctor’s] uniform to be loyal,” he said. “Others who feel they have another country [to go to] may choose to go. We will stay here and salvage it together.” Online, citizens drily pointed to the president’s habit of going abroad for medical treatment.

But while officials play down the impact of Nigeria’s medical brain drain, advocates are increasingly concerned about the crisis, which they say has both human and economic costs.

Aside from leading to a severe shortage of medical staff in Nigeria and disrupting health care services, a report released in August by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation estimated that African countries have footed a bill of $4.6 billion in training doctors who were then recruited by the U.K., U.S., Canada, and Australia.

Following Adewole’s video, Nigerians took to social media to decry the minister’s claims. They blamed the government for the poor structuring of the medical residency program in Nigeria, which has left many doctors without placements, and for a difficult working environment that has recently seen the health sector plagued by incessant strikes.

It is not known exactly how many doctors have left the country. In 2017, a Nigerian Medical Association official, Olumuyiwa Odusote, told local media that 40,000 Nigerian doctors were practicing outside the country — around half of all doctors Nigeria has trained since the 1960s.

NMA President Dr. Mike Ogirima has put the number much lower, at about 15,000. Neither the NMA nor the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria could provide Devex with an official figure.

However, the Association of Nigerian Physicians in the Americas has more than 4,000 members; data from the U.K. shows that more than 5,000 Nigerian doctors are working there; and the Canadian Medical Association Masterfile has recorded a quadrupling of Nigerian doctors practicing in the country over a decade, from 176 in 2008 to 568 in 2018. Other top destinations include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates.

And there is no end in sight. A 2017 poll showed that 9 out of 10 doctors in Nigeria wanted to leave the country due to poor working conditions and low remuneration. Another survey showed that high numbers have registered to take foreign medical exams allowing them to practice abroad.

Organizing online

In WhatsApp and Telegram groups, Nigerian health care professionals are sharing information on how to migrate to higher income countries. Bimpe Folarin, a 32-year old nurse, moderates one such group. Bimpe works as a wedding makeup artist on the weekends for additional income, and says she has not received any salary from the government for three months. Most of her colleagues have at least one “side hustle” ranging from small-scale trading to photography, she told Devex.

“Those that don’t have a second job either have rich spouses or are cheating the system. It is a depressing mood at work and I just want to leave,” she said.

Bimpe wanted to move to the U.S. but, fearing recent stigma around her Muslim faith, the mother of two is now thinking of Canada. She is saving 40 percent of her monthly salary for the trip, and believes she can reach her target of 2 million Nigerian nairas ($5,500) whenever the government pays her outstanding salary. “I should be in Canada by early 2019,” she said.

In the group she moderates, hopeful emigrants refer to the paucity of job opportunities, low pay, insecurity, a bleak future for their children, and poor social infrastructure as reasons for wanting to leave Nigeria.

Hospitals owned by Nigeria’s central government, which are more competitive for placements, pay young doctors up to 200,000 nairas ($550) monthly. Some state hospitals and private facilities pay just a quarter of that. If they go to the U.S., doctors earn an average of $25,000 monthly.

“My husband used to be a die-hard, never-leave-the-country guy,” another medical doctor, Dr. Damilola Odewole, told Devex. “But we couldn't pay our rent and our daughters need to [go to] school and eat, plus they weren't giving us residency [placements at a hospital],” she said. They even increased the price for the medical exams, she added. The family is now looking to leave Nigeria.

Uneven distribution

In spite of the surge in doctors travelling abroad, the health minister argued the country has a better doctor-patient ratio — 1 to every 4,088 residents — than many countries in the region.

Instead, what Nigeria is struggling with is an uneven distribution of health care professionals, he suggested, explaining that about 50 percent of doctors work in the metropolitan hubs of Lagos and Abuja, while many facilities in the north and in rural areas are left without doctors.

A health ministry official also admitted that better salaries would discourage health workers from travelling abroad, but said the Nigerian government simply cannot match what the U.K., U.S., Canada, and Saudi Arabia are paying.

For doctors who spoke to Devex, however, the decision to leave is about more than just pay, including poor working conditions, delays in salary payments, and lack of employment.

And as hospitals across Nigeria lose their doctors, patient care is limited and health professionals who are left behind are overworked. Health indices show that Nigeria continues to be a major concern for global efforts to control diseases including HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. Only a third of births are handled by skilled health personnel, while the country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.

At Adeoyo Hospital in Ibadan, southwest Nigeria, all surgeries had to be cancelled or rescheduled when the hospital’s only anesthesiologist left in June. That situation is not unique.

“There was a time that all the resident doctors in our O&G [obstetrics and gynecology] unit moved to U.K. and Canada within two months,” said Folarin. “The house officers had to be the ones on call performing cesarean sections until the hospital could employ another resident doctor, who also left after a month because of the workload and a better job offer in London.”