Friday, February 28, 2020

Italian man confirmed as Nigeria’s first case of COVID-19: health minister

An Italian man who arrived in Nigeria three days ago has become the African country’s first case of the new novel coronavirus, the health minister said on Friday, as infections spread rapidly worldwide.

The Health Ministry said on Twitter that the case was in the state of Lagos, home to the southwestern commercial capital of the same name. Lagos is the biggest city in Africa’s most populous country, with a population of about 20 million.

“The case … is the first case to be reported in Nigeria since the beginning of the outbreak in China in January,” the health ministry said in its post, adding that the infection was confirmed on Thursday.

The health minister Osagie Ehanire said in a statement that the case was an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos Feb. 25.

His infection was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

“The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms,” said the minister, adding that he was being treated at a hospital in the Lagos district of Yaba.

“We have already started working to identify all the contacts of the patient, since he entered Nigeria,” said Ehanire.

The minister said authorities have been strengthening measures to ensure an outbreak in Nigeria is controlled and contained quickly.

There is no cure for the coronavirus, which can lead to pneumonia, and a vaccine may take up to 18 months to develop.

Radical quarantining measures have helped slow the rate of transmission in China of the virus, which can cause pneumonia, but it is picking up pace outside China.

Ehanire said the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has activated its national Emergency Operations Centre and will work closely with Lagos State Health authorities to respond to this case and implement firm control measures.

Hopes that the virus would be contained to China vanished on Friday as infections spread, with countries beginning to stockpile medical equipment and investors taking flight in expectation of a global recession.

The virus has so far caused nearly 80,000 infections and almost 2,800 deaths, according official Chinese figures. It has spread to another 46 countries, where about 3,700 cases and 57 deaths have been reported, according to the WHO.

Global News

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Netflix Orders First Nigerian Original From ‘Vaya’ Director Akin Omotoso

Netflix has unveiled its first Nigerian original – a drama from Vayadirector Akin Omotoso.

The streamer has ordered an as-yet-untitled six-part series that will be directed by Akin, Daniel Oriahi and CJ Obasi.

Starring Kate Henshaw and Ade Laoye, the series is set in contemporary Nigeria and shot in Lagos. It tells the story of Kemi, a goddess reincarnated as a human to avenge her sister’s death. But first, she must learn how to use and harness her superpowers to defeat her enemies and save her family from destruction.

It is produced by Rififi Pictures, producers of Tell Me Sweet Something and Material.

Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said, “Movies like King of Boys, Merry Men and The Bling Lagosian have shown how much our members love Nigerian movies. So, we’re incredibly excited to be investing in Made in Nigeria stories – bringing them to audiences all around the world.”

Dorothy Ghettuba, manager of international originals, who oversees its African original push, added, “Our continent has a wealth of diversity, multiplicity, and beauty in stories that have yet to be told and we want to be top of mind for creators in Nigeria, especially when it comes to stories they haven’t had a chance to tell yet.”

By Peter White


Mexico has returned an ancient bronze sculpture to Nigeria after thwarting an attempt to smuggle it into the country, officials say.

The artefact is from Nigeria's south-western Ife city, famous for works depicting royalty and deities of the once-powerful Yoruba kingdom.

The sculpture is of a man sitting cross-legged, wearing a head dress and holding an object.

Customs officers seized it at the main airport in Mexico City.

"A beautiful bronze piece, and being of Nigerian heritage, it should return to its home," said Diego Prietoa, the head of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History.

The institute verified that the sculpture was of Yoruba origin, and it has been handed to Nigeria's ambassador to Mexico, Aminu Iyaw.

Mexico's foreign ministry said the artefact had been illegally exported.

"We oppose the illegal commercialisation of archaeological pieces, an important cause of the impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the nations of origin, since it undermines the integrity of cultures and, therefore, of humanity," said Julián Ventura Valero, the deputy secretary of foreign affairs.

Officials did not give details about who was behind the attempt to smuggle the sculpture into Mexico, or its exact origins.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Video - Young Nigerians shy away from marriage citing economic woes

An increasing number of Nigerians are marrying later in life. A recent publication by a US-based journal suggests that many young adults aspire to be married but are afraid of marriage. Nigerian adults credit this fear to unfavourable economic conditions. CGTN's Kelechi Emekalam has the story.
Most evenings, Abigail Hounkpe can be found paddling her wooden canoe on the murky waters in Makoko, a waterfront community on the Lagos lagoon in Nigeria's southwest. She stops in front of a church perched precariously on top of stilts.

Holding the wooden paddle in one hand, she stretches the other to take a photo of the church. She then enters the coordinates into her phone.

"I have lived here for all of my life and I still find places I have never seen," Hounkpe said.
Her trips around the floating community dubbed the 'Venice of Africa' are part of a project that seeks to put the renowned slum on the digital map.

A settlement for diaspora

Makoko has a diverse and colorful history and was established when fishermen from nearby Togo and the Republic of Benin settled there about a century ago.

Like much of Lagos, it is highly multicultural; conversations on the floating slum are usually in a language which is a peculiar medley of Yoruba, French, and Egun, a local dialect.

The slum which was initially just a place to fish has grown to be the home for generations of fishermen from neighboring countries.

It is hard to tell how many people reside in Makoko as there has never been an official census carried out there, however, locals estimate more than one million.

But the Lagos government would prefer that Makoko does not exist.

In 2012, the Lagos state government announced plans to demolish the slum and gave a 72-hour eviction notice to the residents.

The stilt structures in the fishing community posed a security risk and undermined the megacity status of the city, Lagos state authorities said in a letter served to the community, local chief Victor Panke told CNN.

The government came with the police and soldiers to evacuate the community and destroy their homes, according to Panke.

A community leader, Timothy Hunpoyanwha, was shot dead by police which led the authorities to pause on the eviction process, Panke said.

Since then, he says Makoko has received subtle threats of eviction and they are watching keenly as other waterside communities are demolished.

"We are still living in the fear of losing our homes and land," he added.
Lagos Commissioner for Physical Planning & Urban Development Idris Salako told CNN that authorities in the state was not behind the eviction of residents in waterfront communities but gave no further details or comment in his response to the allegations.

Fear of looming eviction

The digital mapping project is going some way to allay the fears of Makoko locals who are worried their land is at risk.

Launched in September 2019 by Code for Africa in partnership with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap is working to put Makoko on digital maps in a bid to drive social and financial inclusion.

"We want the community, like other communities in the world, to be available and navigable on maps. From there, new development plans might come" Jacopo Ottaviani, Chief Data Officer Code For Africa told CNN.

To take up this project, young residents of Makoko were taught to pilot drones and populate the map with images from the community. Hounkpe is one of the residents on the project that is also teaching residents how to fly drones.

"For years, Makoko has been ignored by governments of the state. This project is the first part of a conversation around inclusion. We are helping map out Makoko so that governments and other organizations can provide interventions and access to social services like electricity, healthcare, and education." Ottaviani told CNN.

Mass demolitions

In recent years, authorities in Nigeria have embarked on mass demolitions of prime waterfront slums citing safety and security concerns.

Rights activists, who fiercely oppose the decision, say the evictions are carried out often to appease property developers and to create luxury urban dwellings.

More than 30,000 families in Otodo Gbame were left with nowhere to live after they were forcibly evicted, a decision that was ruled unconstitutional by a Lagos High Court in 2017, although many of those who lost their homes are still awaiting justice.

According to Megan Chapman of Justice and Empower Initiative (JEI) the government does not have the right to evict residents from their communities without due process.

"A part of due process in an eviction process is making plans from compensation and resettlement. These communities are evicted without alternatives and the residents are expected to disappear, like they never existed," Chapman said.

Benjamin Aide is the administrator of a primary school - Makoko Dreams, which provides free education to over 200 children in the community.

Aide has also joined the local mapping team to put other landmarks in the community on the map. "I like the maps. It will show the world that we are here and make the government look at how they can help us develop this place." Aide says. But there are fears that the mapping project, while desirable, could attract unwanted attention and leave Makoko vulnerable to new eviction attempts.

Rather, they hope it will spur the authorities into action to assist them in development plans for Makoko.

"We hope this thing will help the government see that we are here and we are a lot of people that have been fending for ourselves for generations," Panke tells CNN.

Informal slums

Despite its status as the fifth largest economy in Africa, the wealth in Lagos remains stubbornly concentrated in the hands of a very few.

It's hard to know exactly how many people live in Lagos. According to the United Nations it is around 14 million people, while the Lagos State government says it's more than 20 million.

More than half of Nigeria's residents live in slum settlements, according to the 2015/2016 Slum Almanac. Nigeria's population, according to the US Census Bureau is growing at a rate of 3.2% a year and is estimated will be at more than 400 million people in 2050.

According to the UN-Habitat report from the United Nations Millennium Development Goals database, the population of Nigerians living in informal slums in urban areas has dropped to 50.2 percent from 77.3 percent in 1990.

Makoko is one of many settlements provides cheap housing alternatives for urban dwellers.
"We have asked that the government come help us out by providing healthcare, electricity, and schools, but we have not heard back from them on anything," Panke says.

An untapped community

The mapping project presents a lifeline for the people of Makoko.

Ottaviani, who is leading the project hopes the maps will help the government understand the social-economic need of residents in the community.

"Makoko has been untapped by the government and this means there is a lot of potential in trade, taxes, and development for the community and for the government."

For Hounkpe, the project has been an opportunity to learn about maps, drones, and her community, but it is a lot more.

"With this mapping project, I know I am fighting for my life and the lives of other people like me in Makoko.


Set them free! The judge who liberates Nigerians forgotten in jail

In a crowded prison courtyard in Suleja, Nigeria, a judge flipped through a battered folder detailing the case against a young woman who stood quietly before him in a faded pink dress.

She was charged with “issuing a dud cheque”, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. But she’d already spent three years in prison awaiting the outcome of her trial.

The judge, Justice Ishaq Usman Bello, sat at a long table surrounded by fellow judges and prison officials. From an awning hung a framed poster of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and a broken clock. Inmates crowded in the cellblocks either side of the courtyard to watch the proceedings, their arms hanging through the bars.

After several minutes of hushed discussion at the high table, Justice Bello leaned toward the microphone and spoke. “In light of the duration of detention exceeding the maximum penalty for the alleged crime, I hereby discharge you from this prison. You are free to go.”

The woman, who’d been stoical before the pronouncement, collapsed to the ground and began to sob. She thanked God and the judge in equal measure, and the inmates watching from their cells erupted into cheers.

By the end of the day, 13 other inmates had been released. Four had been in prison on remand longer than the maximum sentence for their alleged crime. The others had been imprisoned for failing to pay tiny fines for minor offences.

They were just the latest beneficiaries of a mission to deal with Kafkaesque failures in Nigeria’s justice system. In 2016, Justice Bello began visiting prisons in his own jurisdiction, and the following year a presidential committee on prison reform and decongestion was established, which is led by Justice Bello and funded by the federal attorney general. The judge has visited 36 prisons and ordered the release of 3,822 inmates – about 5% of the Nigerian prison population.

“It is part of my statutory responsibilities as chief judge to visit the prisons and address some challenges,” Justice Bello said. “One of them is congestion, others are when [defendants] stay in prison without going to court. There are many lapses that need to be addressed, so it has been my tradition as head of court to do that.”

Spending longer awaiting trial than the maximum sentence for the crime violates the most basic legal protections guaranteed to Nigerian citizens, not to mention one of the few principles of international law that can be considered truly universal – habeas corpus.

Chukwudi, whose second name is being withheld because his trial is ongoing, spent nearly five years incarcerated before being released on bail in 2016.

In 2012, Chukwudi was driving from the capital city, Abuja, to visit his family in south-eastern Nigeria when he was pulled over by officers from the Special Armed Robbery Squad (Sars). He was arrested and accused, though not formally charged, with purchasing a stolen vehicle. He denies the allegation.

Chukwudi was taken to Sars headquarters in Abuja. It was almost a year before he was brought before a court to be formally charged. The first time he appears on official records is 5 March 2014, when he was sent to a medium security prison near the capital to wait for his trial. “I was happy when I was brought to court because the pain of Sars is too much”, he told me. “In Sars, you are relieved only by the mercies of God. I saw people die. It was survival of the fittest.” Neither Chukwudi nor his family could recall the precise date he was arrested. Sars did not respond to requests for comment.

Chukwudi hoped that once he was finally brought to court, his ordeal would soon be over. “But it happens not to be like that,” he told me. “You discover that a whole lot of systems are involved.”

Like tens of thousands of Nigerians, Chukwudi was denied bail because he was unable to provide a guarantor.

Despite Nigerians’ constitutional right to bail, many judges fear defendants may disappear if released, and believe that “remanding” defendants in prison serves the greater cause of justice.

Countless visits to court resulted in Chukwudi’s case being adjourned, sometimes before it had even begun, forcing him back to prison while he waited for a new date.

“Most times you feel like crying,” he told the Guardian. “You know you are returning to where you are coming from. Every time you go to court you must have prayed a lot, and every prayer is backed up with hope. You will tell your people: ‘Today I am leaving.’ Only for you to go to court to find the judge didn’t sit. Only for you to go to court and they brought you too late, the court has finished sitting. Only for you to go to court and find that your prosecution council is not there. So the aim of going to court is wasted, and they have their cases adjourned for another day.”

By the time he was finally granted bail in November 2016, Chukwudi’s father was dead, his job and home lost, and friends and family distanced from him. “Normally if you come out of prison it should feel good. One experiences another freedom. But in Nigeria that is where another problem starts for you,” Chukwudi said. “Anybody who comes to know that you have been in prison doesn’t want to relate with you. Even your own family members. The way they are seeing it, the name of the family has been put to shame because you went to prison. When I came out, I learned that nobody wanted to see me.”

These days he is the pastor of a church known as the Transformation Ministry that supports former inmates returning to civilian life. Eight ex-prisoners are currently benefiting from free basic accommodation. “I just fixed two with laundry jobs, and am working on computer training for the others,” he said. “It’s my way of giving back.”

Remand inmates make up about 69% of Nigeria’s prison population. While this is not high compared to many western countries, the length of time they spend awaiting trial is. In prisons where this data is available, most defendants have been on remand for between one and four years, some for more than a decade.

“In Rivers State, 14 people were awaiting trial for 15 years. Not one day were they taken to court,” Justice Bello told the Guardian, shaking his head. “We had to release them.”

Because there is no systematic way to monitor cases, defendants may simply be forgotten in prison. Data collected by the legal aid organisation, Network of University Legal Aid Institutions, shows that there are more than 160 cases where defendants have not been assigned a date for their next trial. “Some of them last attended court in 2017,” the network’s Charissa Kabir told me.

Another factor that exacerbates crowding is the practice of imprisoning convicts unable to pay small fines for minor offences. Research by Prawa, a Nigerian security, justice and development NGO, found that up to 80% of inmates were living on less than $130 per month prior to arrest.

Income lost during remand combined with legal expenses often leave convicts deep in debt and unable to pay, meaning many serve between six and 12 months in prison instead. Up to 90% of inmates the presidential committee has released fall into this category. “Fines are paid by the government, and sometimes Nigerian NGOs”, said the committee secretary, Leticia Ayoola-Daniels.

Numerous cases reflect extreme poverty. “We found a scenario where a pregnant woman was said to have stolen cassava, and she was there awaiting trial for almost four years,” said Justice Bello. “It’s lamentable.” Shortly after arriving in prison, the woman miscarried.

He worries about the damage prisons inflicted on defendants behind bars. “To be in prison is a very dangerous thing. Some of them have attained some level of mental deterioration because of the horrendous nature of the environment they live in,” he said.

The judge seems to be trying to activate the justice system by shaking its conscience rather than by devising a new judgment – the usual tactic for activist judges. He invites officials who have unresolved cases to prison to face defendants, and account for what went wrong. By admonishing lax lawyers and judges he turns turns lapses which previously went unnoticed into a source of personal and professional shame.

“The visits do try to restore fairness, in the sense that they acknowledge that lapses in the administration of justice have resulted in the loss of freedom,” said Melissa Omene, a lawyer who has worked across government and civil society justice reform efforts.

“Addressing a practitioner’s failure to carry out his duty requires more than simply calling on him to do so. Did he fail to act due to a lack of interest or resources? Did he fail to act for political reasons, or fear? Each of these will require a different reform strategy.”

Justice officials need to be able to see into their own systems in order to detect and manage problems. To do that, they need better data. A quieter but potentially transformative piece of the committee’s work is the rollout of a federal prison (now corrections) information management system (Cims) as part of its wider efforts to establish a national criminal justice database.

Cims has been partially implementing in 16 states, but only one prison is making full use of the platform. It features an early warning system that alerts the attorney general if an inmate stays on remand beyond 90 days, and allows officials to identify and hold to account officials and departments that cause unreasonable delays.

If well managed, Cims could regulate some of the chaos that currently governs the lives of inmates. At the very least, digital records will make it harder for them to officially disappear. But it’s is only part of the solution. If not backed by political clout and people able to use the data, Cims risks remaining a technical solution to a political problem.

Nigeria’s justice system has been the subject of numerous reform efforts over the past two decades. Committees have been formed, new laws passed, presidents come and go, and people like Chukwudi continue to lose years of their lives to a system that cannot or fails to detect those who fall through its cracks.

Despite Chukwudi’s ordeal and everything he’s lost, when he compares himself with other former inmates, he still considers himself one of the lucky ones. Every Sunday morning his congregation files into the little church he has coaxed to life. The room fills with people, music and choruses of prayer, and it makes him feel a part of something holy.

The Guardian

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Bollywood and Nollywood collide in a tale of a big fat Indian-Nigerian wedding

Two of the world's biggest movie industries, Bollywood and Nollywood have joined forces to produce a new movie about an inter-cultural love story.

Titled 'Namaste Wahala' it is directed by businesswoman-turned-filmmaker, Hamisha Daryani Ahuja, who weaves a tale across two diverse and rich cultures -- India and Nigeria.

'Namaste Wahala' loosely translates to 'Hello trouble' and it is filmed mostly in English with a mix of Hindi and Nigeria's pidgin language.

Ahuja has lived in Nigeria since she was a child and says her experience living in Africa's most populous country inspired her to make her debut film.

"I am Indian but I have lived in Nigeria my whole life. Everyone loves Bollywood and Nollywood, so I thought 'how is it that no one has done a love story between the two?'" she told CNN.
Now in her 30s, Ahuja says she decided to fuse her experiences from both cultures to create a love story that people can relate to.

The movie will be released in April and features top movie stars from both countries including veteran Nollywood actress Joke Silva, Richard Mofe Damijo and Segal Sujata, Ini-Dima Okojieand Ruslaan Mumtaz.

Colorful celebrations

Nigerian and Indian weddings are colorful and lavish affairs -- and they are also big business.
A Nigerian wedding can cost up to $13,515, while India's wedding industry is reported to be worth $50 billion, according to Vogue Business.
Through Namaste Wahala, both wedding industries fuse, showcasing a celebration between both cultures.

"The story has been in my head for a long time but I wanted it to be completely accurate. I wanted both cultures to be portrayed the same, that no culture was above the other," Ahuja said.
Filmed entirely in Lagos, Nigeria's commercial nerve center, Ahuja says it features classic Bollywood dancing and singing scenes to keep it as authentic as possible.
"It is a fun comedy, a lot of laughs with a few tears," she said.

Nollywood to the world
Nigerians have taken to social media to express their excitement about the upcoming movie release.
"The name alone wants me to watch it. Namaste [means] peace. Wahala [means] trouble/problem. Gotta watch it with some Chicken Biryani and Jollof Rice for the culture(s)," wrote Twitter user Jerome Antwin- Lewis.

This is not the first international collaboration with Nollywood. Over the past years, Nigeria's movie industry has partnered with China, France, and the US to produce and distribute wide-ranging movies.

In 2019, for example, China and Nigeria partnered to create their first major movie collaboration, and in the same year French Media giant, Canal+ acquired Nigeria's ROK studios as part of its expansion plans into Africa.

Ahuja says these partnerships are important because they help showcase Nollywood's talents beyond the walls of Africa.

"We have so much talent in Nollywood. What I think with these international collaborations is that we will be able to showcase all these amazing work internationally."

By Aisha Salaudeen


Video of manatee dragged along road sparks outrage

Nigeria's environment ministry has launched an investigation after a video emerged of an endangered manatee, also known as a sea cow, being dragged along a dusty road by a group of young men.

It is not clear when the footage was filmed.

The animal has been tied in ropes and can be seen trying to get away.

Deputy environment minister Sharon Ikeazor branded the video "very distressing", and said officials were trying to rescue the creature.

Ms Ikeazor said the incident took place in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, and called for an awareness campaign "to educate our people to protect the manatee".

Manatees are large marine mammals which are mostly herbivorous.

It is illegal to hunt them in Nigeria, but they are still killed for their meat, oil, and organs which are used in traditional medicine, AFP news agency reports.

Many people in the Niger Delta are poor, despite the region's oil wealth.

Pressure group the Blue Planet Society, which campaigns to preserve ocean life, said it was shocking that a "supposedly protected West African manatee can be abused in such a public way".

There are about 10,000 manatees along the coast of West Africa, AFP reports, but their numbers are in steep decline.


Monday, February 24, 2020

Video - Nigeria's 8 year-old Sekinat Quadri shaking up boxing

In Nigeria, an eight year-old girl is punching her way to the top of Nigerian boxing scene. And with just three year's experience, the future star is hoping to someday conquer the continent and the world. CGTN's Deji Badmus brings us her motivational story.

Video - Nigeria scales up health checks and surveillance

In Nigeria, the government says it has scaled up health checks and surveillance at various ports of entry across the country. It's part of preparations for emergency response to the COVID-19 epidermic. A government task force made up of key ministers has been set up to ensure necessary measures are put in place.
Nigeria mourned on Sunday the 'untimely death' of footballer Kazeem Tiyamiyu locally known as Kaka after he was knocked down and killed by a car in an apparent hit-and-run.

The 21-year-old, who played in defence for second tier side Remo Stars, was being detained by police in a vehicle before his death on Saturday in Sagamu, Ogun State, south-west Nigeria, according to his club.

The state police spokesperson, Abimbola Oyeyemi, confirmed in a statement that there is an order for the 'immediate arrest' of the officer for his "unprofessional act of leaving an arrested person alone in the vehicle".

"A full scale investigation into the case by the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department has commenced," he added.

However, Remo Stars accused the police of heavy-handedness, alleging that the footballer was 'pushed out of the car, before he was hit by the unknown car'.

Top officials said the club and late footballer's immediate family are inconsolable at what has happened and have called for a full scale investigation.

"We urge the police to conduct a proper investigation into this heartbreaking death of our player," club general secretary Michael Onikute told BBC Sport.

The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) said in a statement it was saddened and in shock by the circumstances that led to Tiamiyu's death.

The statement said: "We are particularly sad about the reported circumstances of the player's death, as attested to by a team mate who was with him at the time, to the effect that he was arrested by officers of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) on the claim of wearing military apparel, and was pushed down from a moving vehicle before being crushed by another vehicle.

"The loss of a promising talent who could have developed to a national and international star giving his humility, hard work, discipline and professionalism as attested to by his team mates."

The latest incident comes four years after another footballer, Izu Joseph, was hit by a stray bullet when gunmen attacked a market in his hometown of Okaki in Rivers State.

Nigeria international John Ogu indicated that he wants an end to the tragedies by tweeting: "This has to stop. That was how a player was killed some years back playing in our local league."

Police in Nigeria have always come under the spotlight and the authority was forced into an immediate re-organisation of the anti-robbery unit in December 2017, after a social media outcry over alleged police brutality.


Friday, February 21, 2020

U.S. Opposes Nigeria Plan to Hand Looted Funds to Governor

The U.S. is opposing plans by Nigeria’s government to hand about $100 million the American authorities say was stolen by deceased former dictator Sani Abacha to a top ruling party official.

The disagreement may hamper future cooperation between the two nations to recover state money moved offshore by Abacha, who Transparency International estimates may have looted as much as $5 billion during his 1993-98 rule. A commitment by Nigeria to transfer the funds to Kebbi state Governor Abubakar Bagudu appears to undermine Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge to quell rampant graft in Africa’s top oil producer.

The U.S. Department of Justice says Bagudu was involved in corruption with Abacha. The DoJ also contends that the Nigerian government is hindering U.S. efforts to recover allegedly laundered money it says it’s traced to Bagudu. Buhari’s administration says a 17-year-old agreement entitles Bagudu to the funds and prevents Nigeria from assisting the U.S., according to recent filings from the District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington.

“This case illustrates how complex and contentious repatriating stolen assets to Nigeria can be,” said Matthew Page, an associate fellow at London-based Chatham House and former Nigeria expert for U.S. intelligence agencies. “Instead of welcoming U.S. efforts, Nigeria’s lawyers appear to be supporting the interests of one of the country’s most powerful families.”

Neither Bagudu nor a spokesman for Attorney General Abubakar Malami responded to requests for comment. A spokesman for Buhari said the settlement and the litigation were matters for Malami. A spokesman for the DoJ declined to comment.

Successive Nigerian governments have sought to recoup the money looted by Abacha, who died in office, and have so far repatriated more than $2 billion with the cooperation of other countries, according to U.S. court filings.

In the case involving Bagudu, the U.S. in 2013 initiated a forfeiture action against a host of assets, including four investment portfolios held in London in trust for him and his family, according to the district court filings.

Laundered Money

The DoJ said in a Feb. 3 statement that Bagudu, 58, was part of a network controlled by Abacha that “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria.” Bagudu is the chairman of an influential body of governors representing the ruling All Progressives Congress.

Despite the forfeiture action being initiated following a Nigerian state request in 2012, Buhari’s government now says it can’t assist the U.S. because it’s bound by a settlement Bagudu reached with the administration of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, according to the court filings.

Under the terms of that accord, which was approved by a U.K. court, Bagudu returned $163 million of allegedly laundered money to the Nigerian authorities, which in exchange dropped all outstanding civil and criminal claims against him “stemming from his involvement in government corruption,” according to a Dec. 23 memorandum opinion by District Judge John D. Bates in Washington D.C.

That meant “Nigeria renounced any interest whatsoever” in Bagudu’s trust assets, including those the U.S. is attempting to recover for the West African nation, the opinion stated.

Bagudu was able to return to Nigeria after concluding the settlement and was elected as a senator in 2009. Six years later, he was voted in as Kebbi’s governor in elections that brought Buhari and his party to power.

Investment Portfolios

After Bagudu successfully sued Nigeria for violating the 2003 settlement, Buhari’s administration reached a new agreement with him in October 2018, according to the court filings. That would result in the transfer of ownership of the investment portfolios, worth 141 million euros ($155 million) to the Nigerian state, which would then pay 98.5 million euros to Bagudu and his affiliates, according to Bates’ Dec. 23 opinion. The funds are currently restrained by the U.K. at the request of the U.S.

Nigeria’s government claims the updated 2018 agreement with the Kebbi governor, which requires court approval in the U.K., will “curtail and mitigate its looming exposure” from the judgment in Bagudu’s favor.

The full texts of neither settlement was published in the court filings.

Buhari’s administration submitted the 2018 deal to the U.K. court in September to support its application to unfreeze the assets so they can be sent to Nigeria, according to the opinion. The court has yet to make a decision.

By William Clowes


Thursday, February 20, 2020

How internet access is improving in Nigeria

While access to the internet is still patchy across the African continent, the last decade has seen great strides in improving telecommunications in the region.

Nigeria in particular is one of Africa's largest telecom markets, benefiting from being the second largest economy on the continent.

Today, over 100 million Nigerians are now connected to the internet, with 250,000 new subscribers logging on in the last quarter of 2019, according to data from the Nigerian Communications Commission.

One player in the telecommunications market is electrical engineer Funke Opeke, who founded West Africa's leading communications services and network solutions provider MainOne in 2008.

Ms Opeke went to the US to study and obtained a Master's degree in Electrical Engineering from Columbia University in the early 2000s. When she returned to Nigeria, she was disturbed to see just how wide the digital divide continued to be, compared to in developed nations.

"I knew that it was viable to build the infrastructure and deploy services and that there was a market for it," she tells the BBC.

"I also had a young son who questioned, 'why can't I get access to my online games' and just basic access like that, and I knew I had the know-how to do something about it."

Being the first

Within two years of the company being founded, MainOne had managed to build all 7,000km of West Africa's first privately owned, undersea high capacity submarine cable and put it into service.

Ms Opeke had thought that this would be the hard part about being a broadband internet provider, but she soon realised that there still many more challenges ahead.

"It was wishful thinking. Getting the capacity we brought in, which landed on the coasts of Nigeria, Lagos and Accra, and then into the hinterlands, getting it close to the people, has proven even more challenging and slower than building the cable itself," she says.

"For most of the services we are having to provide, they are being done on the continent for the first time."

Access to the internet is fast becoming democratised thanks to the explosion of smartphones in Africa, with more than 95% of internet users going online using mobile broadband, according to Coleago Consulting, a telecoms consultancy firm working in the African region.

Mobile networks are springing up across the continent, but it is hard to provide internet access without the help of under-sea cables operated by fixed line broadband providers like MainOne.

"There is a shortage of transmission and fibre links in Africa and this is certainly a very big growth area," Coleago Consulting's chief executive Stefan Zehle told the BBC.

"Mobile infrastructure requires a lot of fixed connectivity. The base stations and networks...need to be connected to data centres and globally to the internet.

"They need submarine cables, and historically this has been a big bottleneck in Africa."

Problems with governance

One of the major problems MainOne encountered was governance and how economic growth in various African nations impacted the speed at which infrastructure could be built, despite the fact that overseas investment was pouring into the continent at the time.

"The GDP per capita in most advanced markets is at least 10 times what we have in Nigeria, and you're looking to deliver on the same technology infrastructures," explains Ms Opeke.

MainOne now has a presence in 10 countries in West Africa and the region's largest data centre, and it is rolling out fibre optic networks across urban areas, but internet coverage has a way to go before it can become consistent across the continent.

"We need to deploy the infrastructure. The private sector and government need to get really creative in trying to focus on reaching the population and coming up with solutions that do just that.

But no matter how hard the journey has been, Ms Opeke feels it has been worth it: "We have start-ups coming out of Nigeria starting to address local challenges, accessing international capital and build successful businesses and create jobs here, and that part is particularly rewarding."

By Mary-Ann Russon


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Video - Nigeria's Aisha Suleman breaking barriers for women in Polo

Polo was introduced to Nigeria in 1904 - long before football - and it has remained a largely elitist and male-dominated sport since, in the nine cities it is played in. However, trailblazing Aisha Suleman is breaking down barriers for women in the conservative Northern Kaduna State. CGTN's Kelechi Emekalam brings us the inspiring story of the 18 year-old.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Video - Lagos artist transforms used tires into amazing artwork

In Nigeria, a sculptor has found a meeting point between art and waste management. Earnest Nkwocha is transforming discarded used tires, which litter streets in Lagos, into amazing work of art.

Video- Lagos officials roll out measures to protect city

As China battles to contain the Coronavirus, Africa's most populous city and Nigeria's commercial capital, Lagos says it is putting measures in place to check any outbreak of the virus there. CGTN's Deji Badmus spoke with the city's Commissioner of Health about the measures being put in place, as well as his assessment of China's efforts to contain the virus.

Video - Nigeria secures $1mln U.S. grant for gas power plant

Nigeria has received more than $ 1 Million from the United States Trade and Development Agency to set up a gas power plant in Abuja. Africa's largest crude oil producer is looking to stop decades of gas flaring and to make far better use of its huge gas reserves to close its enormous electricity deficit.

Armed Herdsmen Kill 30 in Northern Nigeria’s Kastina State

At least 30 people were killed and several others injured on Friday in attacks by herdsmen in Nigeria’s northwestern Kastina state, the police said. In Tsauwa village, about 21 people were burned to death and some houses razed, while nine were shot in Dankar, the state’s Commissioner of Police Sanusi Buba said by phone Sunday. A suspect was arrested on Saturday and an investigation is under way, he said.

The villagers had an earlier disagreement with herdsmen, who made a reprisal attack, according to the commissioner.

“No one in the country has a right to take laws into his hands by the way of self-help or revenge,” President Muhammadu Buhari said in an emailed statement. “There is no place for violence in a decent society.” Attacks in northern states of Nigeria have led to a spate of kidnappings and raids, forcing people from their homes. The region has also been the epicenter for Islamist militants attacks, which pose a major security challenge for the West African nation’s government.

By Tope Alake


Thursday, February 13, 2020

Former Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo appointed as assistant coach

Nigeria have appointed former captain Joseph Yobo as assistant coach of the senior national team.

The 39-year-old will work with manager Gernot Rohr and replaces Imama Amapakabo in the technical crew, according to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).

His country's second most capped player, Yobo won the first of his 100 caps for Nigeria against Zambia in Chingola in 2001.

Yobo, who represented his country at the 1999 Under-20 World Cup, skippered the Super Eagles to Africa Cup of Nations success in South Africa in 2013.

The former Everton, Fenerbahce and Norwich City defender played in six Africa Cup of Nations tournaments between 2002 and 2013 in a 14-year career.

He featured in three World Cup tournaments in 2002, 2010 and 2014, playing ten matches at the World Cup finals in total - the most appearances for the West African nation on the biggest stage.

Yobo became the first African to captain Everton in October 2007 and made more than 250 appearances for the Toffees, helping them qualify for the Champions League in 2005 and playing in the side that lost the 2009 FA Cup final to Chelsea.

By Oluwashina Okeleji


Death toll from Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria jumps to 70

The death toll in Nigeria from an outbreak of Lassa fever has risen to 70 as confirmed cases shot up, according to authorities.

The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Nigerian agency responsible for the management of disease outbreaks, said in its week six update on Thursday that eight new deaths from Lassa fever were reported in three states.

"Four new healthcare workers were affected in Ondo, Delta and Kaduna states," the NCDC said in the update.

It said the number of suspected cases has "increased significantly" compared with the situation in mid-January, from more than 700 to 1,708.

Confirmed cases have also shot up to 472, it said.

Lassa fever is a disease spread to humans through food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or faeces.

In 80 percent of cases, the fever is asymptomatic, but for some, the symptoms include high fever, headache, mouth ulcers, muscle aches, haemorrhaging under the skin and heart and kidney failure.

It has an incubation period of between six and 21 days and can be transmitted through contact with an infected person via bodily fluids and excretion.

Effective treatment

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the antiviral drug ribavirin appears to be an effective treatment for Lassa fever "if given early on in the course of the clinical illness".

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with about 200 million people, has five laboratories with the capability to diagnose the disease.

Lassa fever belongs to the same family as the Ebola and Marburg viruses but is much less deadly.

The disease is endemic to the West African country and its name comes from the town of Lassa in northern Nigeria where it was first identified in 1969.

It infects between 100,000 and 300,000 people in the region every year with about 5,000 deaths, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Previously, cases of the disease have been reported in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo and Benin.

The number of cases usually climbs in January due to weather conditions during the dry season.

Al Jazeera

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Video - Mysterious disease in Nigeria kills 15

We're staying in Nigeria, where an unknown disease has killed 15 people in the northern part of the country. Medical experts say the disease does not appear to be Ebola, Lassa fever or corona-virus. With more details here's Ifiok Ettang reporting from Jos.

Video - Canoe-making enterprise continues to thrive in Nigeria

Canoes are among the oldest means of transportation in Nigeria, particularly in riverine areas of the country. Today, the use of ferries and ships are a common feature on Nigerian waterways, but the Canoe continues to hold its own. At the very heart of Lagos, the nation's commercial capital, there is a canoe-making enterprise which has been in business for over three decades. And, it's still thriving. CGTN's Deji Badmus has that report.

Video - Small scale rice farmers struggle to cope with market demands in Nigeria

The Nigerian government has put drastic measures in place to spur rice production, closing the country's land borders since August. That was to curb smuggling and give a boost to local farmers. But many of them say they are struggling to meet increasing demand, and that the price of rice has increased. Ifiok Ettang reports from Jos, North Central Nigeria.

Nigeria militants burn to death motorists as they sleep in their cars

Suspected militant Islamists have killed at least 30 people and abducted women and children in a raid in north-eastern Nigeria, officials say.

Most of the victims were travellers who were burnt to death while sleeping in their vehicles during an overnight stop, officials added

The attack took place in Auno town on a major highway in Borno State.

Militant Islamist group Boko Haram and its offshoots have waged a brutal insurgency in Nigeria since 2009.

About 35,000 people have been killed, more than two million have been left homeless and hundreds have been abducted in the conflict.

Nigeria's government has repeatedly said that the militants have been defeated, but attacks continue.

Borno State governor Babagana Zulum looked visibly shaken when he saw the charred bodies during a visit to Auno following Sunday night's attack, Nigeria's privately owned This Day news site reports.

The militants came in trucks mounted with heavy weapons, before killing, burning, and looting, state government spokesman Ahmad Abdurrahman Bundi was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

The assailants "killed not less than 30 people who are mostly motorists and destroyed 18 vehicles," the governor's office said in a statement.

It also confirmed the abduction of women and children, but did not give a number.

Residents said most of the victims were travelling to the state capital, Maiduguri, but were forced to sleep in Auno, about 25km (16 miles) away, because the military had shut the road leading into the city.

The military has not yet commented.

Maiduguri was once the headquarters of Boko Haram, but government forces eventually drove the group out of the city.

It is unclear whether the assault was carried out by Boko Haram or a breakaway faction linked to the Islamic State (IS) group.

Calls for military shake-up

By Ishaq Khalid, BBC News, Abuja

The attack in Auno is a reminder of the threat posed by militants, and the vulnerability of communities.

When President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015, he pledged to defeat the insurgents.

Although his troops have made significant progress in weakening the militants, the recent spate of attacks on both military and civilian targets threatens the initial gains.

Many Nigerians have therefore been calling for an overhaul of the security forces and the replacement of military chiefs.

They hope that new generals at the helm of the security forces will reinvigorate the fight against the militants and make sure that the decade-long insurgency does not get any worse.


Monday, February 10, 2020

Video - Ighalo shock Manchester United signing excites Nigeria

The biggest football news in Nigeria this past week is the signing of former Super Eagles international striker, Odion Ighalo by Manchester United. It came as a big shock to many in the country especially in Ajegunle, a poor community in Lagos, where Ighalo grew up and started playing football. CGTN's Deji Badmus brings us the story.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Trump is turning Canada into a haven for Nigerians

Nigerians have become central figures in the most heavily reported Canadian migration story in recent years, as the largest cohort streaming through Canada’s most controversial entry-point: the ditch at Roxham Road, in small-town Quebec, that became a magnet for asylum seekers.

More quietly, though, Nigerians are playing a significant role in this country’s overall immigration story: the numbers of people arriving through conventional channels—mainly as skilled workers—have spiked, nearly tripling since 2016. Canada now brings in more permanent residents from the west African country than it does from major traditional sources like Pakistan and the United States; in 2019, the flight of upper-middle class professionals like doctors and tech workers, along with their families, helped put Nigeria behind only India, China and the Philippines and as source countries for Canadian immigration, federal data show.

Now, this trend seems sure to accelerate thanks to that key disrupter of global migration patterns and norms, Donald Trump.

Last week, the Trump administration expanded the U.S. travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries to block or restrict immigration visas from four African states—Nigeria, Eritrea, Tanzania and Sudan—as well as Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar. As usual, the Department of Homeland Security dresses these bans up in bureaucratic language about vetting and national security. But it’s not lost on anybody that, amid his many hostile public rants about foreigners, the president has grumbled to aides that tens of thousands Nigerian visitors would never “go back to their huts” in Africa.

These new restrictions will still allow Nigerians and others to come to United States on tourism or student visas—unlike the full clampdown on people from Iran, Syria and other countries Trump targeted in 2017—but prohibit the foreign nationals from obtaining permanent U.S. status through green cards. It’s most serious ripple effect is occurring in Nigeria, heavily populated yet oil-rich, with a burgeoning professional class. “New U.S. travel ban shuts door on African’s biggest economy,” a New York Times headline notes.

Johnson Babalola, the Nigerian-born managing partner of a Toronto immigration law firm, says he’s received a sharp uptick in inquiries from Nigerians this week. But they’re not all from Africa. A number are coming from Nigerians who live south of the border, including students and even professionals who already have U.S. green cards.

Why are Nigerians who’ve already securely immigrated to the U.S. suddenly wary? Because this new ban shuts the door to family reunification. “If I’m a green card holder and I can’t even bring in my spouse or my children or other relatives, then that’s tough,” says Babalola. “So you ask yourself is there somewhere I can go to that’s more open?

“Canada, quite frankly, is the obvious choice.”

Canada’s Express Entry program for skilled workers, which the Harper government launched in 2015, has a clear and predictable points system that already helped make it easier for well-educated and experienced newcomers to immigrate here. The number of Nigerians who immigrated to Canada rose from about 4,000 in 2014 to 12,000 last year, numbers from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show. Meanwhile, the number granted permanent residency in the United States during Trump’s tenure has been declining even before the current ban takes effect, according to data compiled by Robert Falconer, an immigration policy researcher at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy. During the last two years, Canada accepted more Nigerian immigrants than the U.S. did.

Falconer has also tracked newcomers to Canada from countries covered by Trump’s initial travel ban: Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. In most cases, Canada’s intake of permanent residents from those countries rose, suggesting that this country will again pick up newcomers when its neighbour slams other doors.

Though reports suggest the Nigerian government is striving to maintain good relations with the United States, and to remedy the issues the administration claims are forcing it to put the ban in place, skilled workers may still prefer Canada, Falconer predicts. “If I’m a Nigerian professional considering a move to North America, I’d value certainty in the process over the whims of some mercurial presidency,” he says. Chad, which is Nigeria’s central African neighbour, was on Trump’s initial travel ban but came off a year later. Canada saw a spike in immigration from Chad during the ban and a decline afterwards, Falconer notes (though intake from Chad remained higher than pre-ban levels). The duration of Nigeria’s ban will determine whether Canada gets a smaller or larger bump, he adds.

Professionals from the rest of the developing world may also steer clear of U.S., lest their applications be suddenly ripped up because of a new Trump policy. Just as frustratingly, they could get into the country only to abruptly lose the chance to bring in children and spouses. “Other people from other nations will now be asking themselves: will we be next?” Babalola says.

A rise in conventional immigration, though, will not be the only effect of the new ban. To some, it appears tailor-made to induce Nigerians who land in the U.S. to enter Canada using the Roxham Road method—walking in and seeking asylum. They won’t be able to immigrate to Trump’s country, but they can get tourist visas to fly to New York and head straight to the Quebec-New York border, as thousands of Nigerians already have. The new policy will foreclose their option of seeking asylum in the United States.

But asylum claims by Nigerians dipped last year after efforts by Canadian and American officials to curb the pattern, and many of those who still choose the route are bound for disappointment. Only one-third of Nigerian refugee claims are being accepted by Canadian adjudicators, far lower than the typical success rate for asylum seekers, according to the most recent Immigration and Refugee Board data analysed by York University law professor Sean Rehaag. More than 10,000 more claimants from Nigeria await their hearings in a badly backlogged system.

Qualified professionals would have far more certainty coming in through the Express Entry, Babalola says. They and their relatives outnumber the number of Nigerians trying to move here as refugees. And thanks to the latest bit of migration upheaval the U.S. president has wrought, we can expect more of Africa’s best and brightest to boost the Canadian economy and plug our skills shortages.

By Jason Markusoff


Nigerians in limbo after Trump adds Nigeria to US travel ban list

Ikenna is in a bind. On the one hand, the US green card holder has been advised not to travel outside the United States for a year to avoid the risk of failing to meet the eligibility criteria for citizenship. On the other hand, his newly wedded wife in Nigeria cannot visit him. She had applied for a tourist visa days before the US suspended a "drop box" procedure in May 2019 that allowed frequent visitors to reapply without being subjected to the interview process - but her application was denied.

The healthcare professional said his wife was told that since she was married to a permanent resident, he should file an immigrant visa application on her behalf instead. As such, Ikenna quit his job in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, and relocated to the US in late July to begin the process. In the meantime, his spouse applied for a business visa in October to no avail.

And now things have become even more complicated.

Last week, the White House said immigrants from Nigeria and five other countries will no longer be eligible for visas allowing them to live in the US permanently, expanding its controversial travel ban policy. A presidential proclamation on January 31 cited Nigeria's failure to comply with security and information sharing requirements, and its high "terror" risk to the US as reasons for imposing the restriction.

"I filed for her (immigrant visa application) in November and now the ban has been announced," says a frustrated Ikenna. "I've been a beneficiary of the long, tedious, nebulous process to obtain my legal permanent residence, and now I'm experiencing the same process to get the visa for my wife."

He remains unconvinced about the ban, arguing non-immigrant visa applicants were less scrutinised and therefore more of a threat to US security than those applying for immigrant visas.

"The [US government] is not just punishing Nigerians," he said about the travel restrictions, scheduled to come into effect on February 21. "They're punishing American citizens," he added, referring to the thousands of other Nigerians processing immigrant visas for their immediate family members in Nigeria.

That sentiment also rings true for Chienye, a product marketing manager who is currently petitioning for an immigrant visa for his mother in Nigeria. He feels the ban is unfair and infringes on his rights as a US citizen.

"Melania Trump herself used the same immigration method to bring her parents to the United States," he said of the wide of US President Donald Trump. "That's one of the luxuries of being a citizen. You can extend that and bring close family members to come be with you here."

A citizen since 2018, 37-year-old Chienye says he was excited about bringing his mother over as she has never visited in the 15 years he has lived in the US, first in Minnesota and then Washington states. It was something he had hoped to change now that he was financially solvent to pay for her trip.

"My mum is getting old and I want to bring her here to relax and enjoy herself even if it's for a few months."

While non-immigrant visa applicants remain unaffected, Nigerian student Onyinye is worried about the ban's knock-on effect. The mother of two is completing her nursing prerequisites in Maryland.

"I don't want a situation where I have to renew my papers and can't because of the ban," she said, speculating on the possibility the US government might unofficially limit the numbers of student visa issued to Nigerians. "I just don't want to be undocumented here."

In 2018, Nigerians were issued a total of 7,922 immigrant visas, the second highest among African nations. Over half of that number went to immediate relatives of US citizens. Incidentally, following visa fee hikes and suspension of the interview waiver Drop Box application last year, applications for non-immigrant visas dropped by 21 percent.

Approximately 30,000 Nigerians overstayed their non-immigrant visa in 2018, making them the third-largest defaulters behind Venezuelans and Brazilians, according to data from the US Department of Homeland Security. Some insist this may have informed the recent restrictions. Others maintain the ban is a ploy to further curtail the number Nigerians coming to the US.

"I think the Trump administration is trying to limit immigration from black and brown countries," argued Chienye, adding most Nigerians in the US are educated and dismissing the security reasons cited for the move.

"The only reason Trump is banning Nigerians is that he doesn't want black immigrants in the United States, and Nigerians make up a huge portion," he said.

For Onyinye, the right to live and work legally in the US supersedes the possibility of acquiring citizenship in the long run. And though she counts herself fortunate that her husband and children live with her, she wishes she could bring her mother over.

"If that's not possible, I'll have to work more so I can visit Nigeria to see her more often," she said before acknowledging the ban might prevent her from re-entering the US. "Until that's cleared up, I guess no trips for me."

According to immigration lawyer Leila Mansouri, who has handled cases for Iranians and Iranian Americans affected by the 2017 Muslim ban that restricted travellers from Iran and several other Muslim-majority countries, the text of the recent travel ban is not clear on whether Nigerians with non-immigrant visas are barred from applying for permanent residency.

"Based on how the [US government] handled it for Iranians, I think that [Nigerians] already in the US will be able to naturalise or get married and adjust their status," she said, adding that those who leave the US might find it difficult to re-enter.

Last week, the Nigerian government announced it had established a committee to address the updated requirements. On Tuesday, Nigeria's Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama appeared in a joint news conference in Washington with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, stating Nigeria had been "blindsided with the announcement of the visa restrictions." He maintained, however, the country was in the process of fulfilling the demands and had already "ticked most of the boxes".

"Essentially, there were security measures that were taken with regards to electronic [and] lost and stolen passports," noted Onyeama, adding Nigeria was working to make data for the aforementioned and information on suspected terrorists available to the US and member countries of Interpol "very soon".

Like many in Nigeria and the US, Onyinye is hopeful both countries will reach a resolution.

"I reckon the ban will only be for a short time," she said.

By Shayera Dark

Al Jazeera

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Video - Some Nigerian businesses affected by coronavirus outbreak

With China being one of Nigeria's biggest trading partners, there are concerns that the Nigerian economy could take a big hit as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak. Some businesses are already being affected, as CGTN's Deji Badmus reports.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Living with dementia in Nigeria

Before she started to forget things, Elizabeth Mustafa was relearning how to walk. Her diabetic foot ulcer had gotten out of control and her right leg had been amputated.

Leaning on her four-wheeled walker, she would try to manoeuvre herself around the house as someone, usually her daughter-in-law Victoria, accompanied her, watching, guiding, removing objects from her path.

Three years before she lost her leg, in 2010, Elizabeth fled religious rioting in northwestern Nigeria after receiving threats that her house and grocery store would be burned down. Seeking safety, she moved to Ibadan to live with one of her six sons and his family.

She loved telling her four grandsons stories about life in Ghana, where she was born and lived with her parents until 1969 when Ghana's then-prime minister, Kofi Busia, passed the Aliens Compliance Order, forcing African migrants - many of them Nigerian, like Elizabeth's parents - to leave.

Now 66, Elizabeth still enjoys telling stories about her life back in Ghana. The boys sit around her in their living room in Alarere, Ibadan, listening attentively and chipping in with anecdotes of their own as she remembers the school she attended, the friends she had.

"They [Ghanaians] are nice people. They show love," she says in Ashante Twi, before translating it to English.

A smile spreads across Elizabeth's face as she eases herself onto the brown sofa, holding a small radio to her belly.

"She remembers things from long ago. All others are pockets of memory," Victoria Mustafa explains gently.

'Where am I?'

The Mustafas live on a neat, quiet compound. The white-walled living room is punctuated by cream curtains that drape the windows and the entrance to the passageway leading to the bedrooms.

Victoria says this was where they were sitting a few years ago, shortly after the amputation, when Elizabeth suddenly asked: "Where am I? What am I doing here? What's the name of this town?"

Some mornings, Elizabeth would hold a tube of toothpaste for minutes, staring at it, before finally asking what it was used for. There were times when she could not remember the names of her relatives.

"We were thinking, 'What's this? What's going on?' We didn't understand what was happening," says 42-year-old Victoria, who is wearing a purple shirt - the official colour of the Alzheimer's awareness movement.

Victoria, who is from Kaduna, first met her future mother-in-law in 2004, two years before she married her son and moved to Ibadan.

"She was active and loved to tell stories," she recalls.

The change seemed sudden. Initially, the family assumed she was seeking ways to cope with the loss of her leg. Then they grew irritated with her.

"We thought she was just being difficult," Victoria says.

It was when she started to wake in the middle of the night, struggling to reach her walker, demanding that the door be unlocked so that she could go and open her grocery store, that they realised something was wrong.

'A pathology of the brain'

Victoria and her husband took Elizabeth to the University College Hospital, Ibadan (UCH), where they were referred to a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist treated her for depression. But, says Victoria, "after a long time, she was still not well".

They took her to the hospital again in 2016 and, three years after she first started showing signs of confusion, Elizabeth was diagnosed with dementia.

"I had never heard of dementia," Victoria says.

Dr Temitope Farombi, a consultant geriatric neurologist at the Chief Tony Anenih Geriatric Centre at UCH, explains that relatives often assume that the early signs of dementia - confusion, irritability, difficulty performing familiar tasks and memory loss - are just normal signs of ageing.

But, Farombi says, "ageing is a physiological process, while dementia is a pathology of the brain. It presents in the form of memory loss and behavioural abnormalities".

The doctor sits at her desk in her office, explaining that issues affecting older people are rarely reported.

"Early diagnosis helps stall other associated risk factors that could accelerate the progression of dementia," Farombi explains, adding that "meditation can help improve cognition".

Farombi started working with dementia patients in 2015. She says she looks for signs, like an inability to remember the name of an object (asking for a thing that is used for eating, for example, but not recalling the word 'spoon'), going to the mall with a shopping list and coming back with nothing, or driving to an event but returning in a taxi.

Other symptoms include difficulty processing instructions, confusion about time or place, being suspicious of people around them, and depression, she explains. People in the later stages of dementia can experience bowel and bladder incontinence and an inability to communicate. "And at the end, you see them bedbound, severely dependent on people," Farombi says.

A healthy lifestyle and diet can help to reduce susceptibility to dementia, the doctor explains, but "no drug can reverse it".

The challenge of geriatric care

Love and support from family and early medical intervention can help improve the living standards of people with dementia, says Olayinka Ajomale, a consultant geriatric social worker and the executive director of the Centre on Ageing, Development and the Rights of Older Persons in Ibadan. But, says Ajomale, geriatric care is at an early stage in Nigeria.

UCH is the only hospital in Nigeria with a full-fledged geriatric care centre.

Every year, experts in different aspects of gerontology are invited to conduct training sessions for doctors from across the country at the UCH's geriatric care centre. "All tertiary institutions should have centres like this, not just units," says Ajomale.

In September last year, the federal government announced a plan to establish six regional geriatric centres in tertiary hospitals.

Globally, the number of people living with dementia is currently estimated at 50 million. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that by 2050, 80 percent of those aged 60 and over will be residing in low-and-middle-income countries where there is limited access to geriatric care and support such as adequate facilities and trained personnel.

There is a shortage of data on dementia in Nigeria but the data that exists suggests the number of cases has grown dramatically.

"It's [dementia] increasing but there is no increasing expertise," Farombi reflects.

The caregivers

It is not just those suffering from dementia who carry the burden of the disease. The stress it puts on caregivers is also a concern.

"It can be frustrating, repeating the same thing over and over again and the person does not remember," says Victoria. "It takes a toll."

As Elizabeth's primary caregiver, Victoria is responsible for her welfare, including checking her blood sugar at least twice a week, ensuring that the doors in the house are open for ease of movement and that there are no objects around with which she could harm herself.

Every morning, after the family say their prayers in the living room, Elizabeth goes to the bathroom. There is a slab on which she sits and then gently manoeuvres into the bath. Victoria tells Elizabeth to raise her arms and wash them, and she does. She tells her to wash her legs, and she does. She helps pour water over her body. Sometimes they sing, sometimes they laugh about an old memory. When she is finished, Elizabeth is helped out of the bathtub, her walker is passed to her and she slowly makes her way into the bedroom to get dressed.

"It limits the kind of work I can do," Victoria says. "I can't leave her on her own. I have to be back home to ensure she takes lunch."

For flexibility, Victoria works selling bedsheets from her car boot, often delivering them to her customers in their homes or offices.

She is also a member of the Dementia Caregivers Association in Ibadan. There are about 30 members, although only 15 usually attend their monthly meetings. The vast majority are women. The group share their challenges and offer advice on how to best care for their loved ones.

Sometimes, Victoria says, a new person comes and talks about how they started praying and fasting when their relative started to show signs of dementia, believing that there was a spiritual cause for the change. When they discover that there are others going through the same thing, they shed tears of relief, Victoria explains. "There is a sense of belonging," she adds, solemnly.

"We just don't treat the patients, we also treat the caregivers," explains Farombi, who usually attends the gatherings. "The meetings make their burden lighter. It also gives them a sense of responsibility. They go out and talk to people about dementia."

'Until the battery runs out'

Before the dementia, Elizabeth enjoyed attending social events, spending time with her sons in different parts of the country and playing a leading role in her church. But the disease has changed all that.

The radio has now become one of her regular companions and her window into the world. "Sometimes she listens until the battery runs out," Victoria explains.

Elizabeth picks up the radio that has been sitting in her lap. "Why is it not on?" she asks, fumbling with the buttons.

"It's dead, Mama," answers Victoria. "There's no light to charge it now."

The youngest of Elizabeth's grandsons - a four-year-old with a near-permanent smile - goes to his grandmother's side and begins to tickle her.

Then he begins singing the times table, and she joins in. When the boy's knowledge has been exhausted, Elizabeth continues.

"That's what they do," Victoria laughs. "The children talk to her, play with her."

The oldest, who is 12, admits that it can be frustrating when Grandma wakes up in the middle of the night and starts banging on her bed frame.

At this admission, they all break out in laughter, including Elizabeth.

Elder abuse

Caring for elders involves more than healthcare, and elder abuse is a very real spectre that hangs over patients and those who care for them.

Ajomale speaks passionately about the issue, which is "not just beating, but pushing, shoving, pulling them forcefully," he says, his eyes widening as he recalls cases he has encountered over 20 years of social work.

"Some caregivers, children, and grandchildren do this … there's usually an element of trust between the abuser and the older person."

The abuse can be verbal, psychological, physical and sexual, he explains, although he says the most common form is physical.

"Most of them (elders with dementia) do repeat stories and people tend to shut them up. That's emotional abuse," he says.

There have even been instances of people with HIV raping elderly women, believing that this would cleanse their blood, he says.

Taking elderly individuals away from an environment they are used to and where they have friends, in order to live with relatives elsewhere, can also be harmful. Often, they will be left alone for long stretches of time, with only the television for company, he says. "That is psychological abuse. How do you want them to cope? At the end of the day, they fall into depression."

Ajomale is also concerned about abuse in hospitals and says that some health practitioners believe it is a waste to spend their limited resources on caring for those who will soon die anyway.

Nigeria has no functional national policy governing age discrimination or elderly welfare. A policy was proposed in March 2003, but it has remained in draft form ever since.

"What made it fail is that it placed too much emphasis on health," Ajomale explains. "Meanwhile there are other challenges faced by older persons. A policy should be encompassing."

There was another effort in 2007 that also failed. Ajomale was one of those who drafted the bill.

"But there's another one in the pipeline," he says, adding that several ministeries were involved in drafting it. "It has passed the second reading. We have been told to fine-tune it so it's implementable in all regions of the country."

Shame, love and medication

A culture of shame remains around dementia in Nigeria. One of the many misconceptions is that people living with dementia are witches.

"We have seen cases where old women were openly beaten or stoned," says Farombi, "they are pressured to say they are witches."

Deeply concerned by this, she started the Dementia not Witchcraft Campaign, a series of lectures targeted at different groups in Ibadan.

For a year after Elizabeth's diagnosis, she visited the hospital every two weeks for monitoring. There has been an improvement since she was first diagnosed and now she is only required to go every few months.

She can remember what toothpaste is used for now and no longer wakes up in the night to go to the grocery store she used to run decades ago. She can also communicate her feelings.

"If she's hungry, she will say it," says Victoria, adding: "The drugs have really helped."

Elizabeth's favourite food is amala. "Amala and fish," adds one of the boys. "Amala pokipoki," Elizabeth says, and everyone laughs.

"[Our] communication changed, the aggression was removed, we showed her more love," says Victoria. "It's still tasking, but the emotional pressure is no longer the way it used to be."

Elizabeth looks at the radio on her lap for a moment. She then takes it to her ear. "Why is it not working?"

"Because it's dead," Victoria reminds her. "No light to charge it now."

"I'm hungry," Elizabeth announces. Within minutes, Victoria places a plate of amala and ewedu before her. "The most important things," Victoria concludes "are medication and love."

By Kemi Falodun

Al Jazeera

Nigeria working to have U.S. travel ban lifted

Nigeria has begun working on the security and information sharing requirements for the lifting of a U.S. travel ban on prospective immigrants from the African nation, Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a joint news conference in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Onyeama said Nigeria was ‘blindsided’ by the U.S. decision on Friday to add it and five other nations to an expanded version of the U.S. visa ban.

U.S. President Donald Trump issued an expanded version of his travel ban on Friday as part of a presidential proclamation which said Washington would suspend the issuance of visas that can lead to permanent residency for nationals of Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and Nigeria.

Temporary visas for tourists, business people, students and workers from those nations will not be affected, it said.

U.S. officials said the countries failed to meet U.S. security and information-sharing standards, which necessitated the new restrictions.

“We’ve identified all those requirements and we had actually started working on all them,” Onyeama said. “It was very gratifying to come here, speaking to U.S. officials and to understand more clearly the reasoning behind this.”

Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, is the biggest country on the list whose citizens will be suspended from U.S. visas that can lead to permanent residency.

Pompeo also said Nigeria could do more in sharing important national security information, adding that he was ‘optimistic’ that Abuja would move in that direction.

He said some of the areas were security measures taken with regards to passports and information about criminal histories and suspected terrorist information being made available.

“With regards to lost and stolen passports, we’re putting in place the architecture that will now make that – the information and the data on that - immediately available to the U.S. and all the member states, member countries of Interpol,” Onyeama said.

He added that once all the criteria was met, Nigeria was looking forward to being taken off this visa restriction list. He did not predict a time frame.

The original travel ban, issued in 2017, barred nearly all immigrants and travelers from seven countries with majority Muslim populations. The policy was revised amid court challenges, but the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld it in 2018.

Trump has made tougher immigration enforcement a central focus of his 2020 re-election campaign. His travel ban policy is popular with Republican supporters.

The new travel ban will take effect on Feb. 21, according to the proclamation.


Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Video - 38% of Nigerian children miss out on primary schooling

Nigeria has one the highest rates of out-of-school children globally. UNICEF says that about 4 out of 10 primary age children are not accessing basic education. CGTN's Deji Badmus reports on the situation at one school, on the outskirts of the capital Abuja.

Nigeria to receive $308m from Sani Abacha loot

Nigeria is set to receive around $308 million seized from former military dictator Sani Abacha under a deal backed by the United States and the island of Jersey, US prosecutors said Monday.

The sum is the latest to be recovered from the accounts of Abacha, an army officer who ruled Nigeria from 1993 until his death in 1998 aged 54, which sparked an ongoing search for hundreds of millions of dollars he stole and hid abroad.

The repatriation of the money from Jersey, in the English Channel off the coast of northern France, follows a 2014 US court ruling authorizing the seizure of $500 million of cash laundered by Abacha in accounts worldwide, the US Department of Justice said in a statement.

The $308 million recovered represents "corrupt monies laundered during and after the military regime of General Abacha" together with his son and a number of associates via US financial institutions and the purchase of bonds, the Justice Department said.

After several court challenges to the 2014 ruling, the government of Jersey seized the $308 million located on the island.

"General Abacha and his cronies robbed Nigerians of vast public resources and abused the US and international financial systems to launder their criminal proceeds," Brian Benczkowski, an assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice's criminal division, said in a statement.

"Today's landmark agreement returns to the people of Nigeria hundreds of millions of the embezzled monies through a lawful process that ensures transparency and accountability."

The agreement includes provisions to ensure "transparency and accountability," the Justice Department said, and after the US and Jersey transfer the money to Nigeria it is set to be spent on three major road projects across the country which has long struggled with waste and fraud in infrastructure projects.

In April 2018, Nigeria announced that it had received more than $300 million from Switzerland as part of money seized from the family of Abacha.

Those funds went to pay part of the bill of a government welfare scheme targeted at the country's poor.

The Justice Department is also seeking to recover other sums linked to Abacha, including $30 million in Britain, $144 million in France and $177 million located in trusts that name Abacha's associates and relatives as beneficiaries, according to the statement.


Monday, February 3, 2020

Video - Nigeria is the most affected country of fake football scouts

Nigeria is dealing with the growing problem of fake football scouts taking advantage of the country's up-and-coming footballers. Many of the young victims have lost possessions and more in pursuit for a career abroad. Experts are now calling on the government to protect young and vulnerable football stars from becoming victims. CGTN's Phil Ihaza has more.