Friday, August 28, 2020

Nigeria Delays Saturday's Planned Restart of International Flights

Nigeria on Thursday postponed the resumption of international flights for another week. The flights had been set to resume Saturday.

The flights have been suspended for five months as part of anti-coronavirus efforts. The Aviation Ministry posted a tweet Thursday expressing regret for delaying the flight restart, but no explanation was given for the move.

Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika said earlier this week that the resumption of international flights was justified after there were no in-flight infections following the July 8 restoration of domestic flights.

Sirika said the recommencement of flights comes with steps to make sure progress in containing the virus is not comprised at airports.

The country wants passengers to take a coronavirus test on departure and pay for another on entering the country.

The government said it would put travelers managing to skip the tests on a travel watch list.

The federal government also intends to impose a $3,500 fine on airlines allowing coronavirus patients onto planes.

Since its first case, an Italian arriving in February, Nigeria has recorded about 50,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths.


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Unconfiscatable? Using Bitcoin to Resist Police Extortion in Nigeria


Nigerian programmer Adebiyi David Adedoyin hears knocking at his apartment door. He’s just woken up and headed to the bathroom. He decides to take his time. He’ll answer in a minute.

But the knocking grows louder – and more urgent.

Inching open the bathroom door, Adedoyin sees someone clawing open his apartment window.

“Someone’s there,” a voice says.

It’s probably the police trying to break in, he realizes, from all the stories he’s heard.

Adedoyin is sure he hasn’t done anything wrong. But with the Nigerian police, that doesn’t matter. He still might need to brace for trouble.

As he thinks through what to do next, Adedoyin is thankful a chunk of his money is stored in bitcoin. His crypto wallet is in a hiding spot the officers probably won’t think to check. That means they’re less likely to steal it.

Police corruption

While there are many principled police officers in Nigeria who help tackle crimes, police corruption is pervasive. Many Nigerian police are known for extorting and even sometimes torturing citizens rather than helping them solve legal quandaries.

“Right there in the bathroom, where I was in my boxers with just my phone, AirPods and pack of cigarettes, I could hear them shouting for me to come open the door,” Adedoyin told CoinDesk.

This is a well-documented phenomenon in Nigeria. Over the past several years, an online social media movement has emerged against the police. On Twitter, people use the hashtag #EndSARS to publicize the poor treatment they’ve received from police. SARS stands for Special Anti-Robbery Squad, which is a particularly brutal and mistrusted wing of the Nigerian police force.

Human rights research organization Human Rights Watch released a 102-page report outlining the abuses in painful detail in 2010.

“Human Rights Watch’s research revealed that people refusing to pay bribes are routinely subjected to arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention and threats until they or their family members negotiate payment for their release. Extortion-related confrontations between the police and motorists often escalate into more serious abuses. The evidence suggests that police officers have on numerous occasions severely beaten, sexually assaulted, or shot to death ordinary citizens who failed to pay the bribes demanded,” the report reads.

Tricks and strategies

Adedoyin notes that Nigerians have to develop their own tricks to avoid police extortion, especially the younger Nigerians who are the main targets. Some people walk along different routes to avoid walking near the police.

“Now it’s up to each person to prevent oneself from entering such situations,” he said.

The practice is common enough that Adedoyin has been extorted by police officers more than once, and his friends have, too.

Corrupt police officers take their detainee’s phone. They scan through it looking for SMS or email messages signalling how much money the detainee has in the bank.

If the police officer finds the detainee doesn’t have any money, they’re less likely to waste their time.

Locked in the bathroom, Adedoyin rapidly scrolls through his most recent messages, deleting any bank statements or emails showing how much money he has.

The bathroom door lock breaks.

Adedoyin is confronted by four police officers, all carrying guns. One slaps Adedoyin and asks him why he didn’t come open the door. As Adedoyin expected, another officer snatches his phone and scans through for any grain of evidence that Adedoyin has money.

Adedoyin didn’t have time to delete everything. The officer finds some evidence of how much money he makes. They finally let him go once he pays.

Where using bitcoin comes in

It was a bad experience. But Adedoyin is happy that his bitcoin trick worked – most of his money is still safe.

“The money they collected to let me go in that case would have been a lot more if I had more money in my account. But I had most of my money in bitcoin,” Adedoyin said.

Why does using bitcoin help in this situation? Adedoyin’s ploy is to pretend that he doesn’t have much money to extort. His solution is to store his money in a bitcoin wallet instead of in a bricks-and-mortar bank. Since bitcoin’s less common, it’s less likely the police officers find it.

Put another way, he’s not putting his money into bitcoin as a safeguard because of its decentralization properties. Rather, he just thinks police officers are far less likely to look for a crypto balance than a fiat balance to see if he’s ripe for extortion.

“[The officers] don’t think to check [bitcoin] wallet apps, because most of them don’t even know what bitcoin is and even think bitcoin is a scam,” Adedoyin said.

The second reason he has bitcoin is he hopes the price will keep rising. Like many other bitcoiners in the region, he sees it as an investment that might pay off in the future.

But for now, he keeps most of his money in bitcoin as security against the next time the police come banging on his door.

By Alyssa Hertig


Related stories: Nigerians Are Using Bitcoin to Bypass Trade Hurdles With China

Video - Nigerian returns bitcoins worth $80,000

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Outspoken Atheist, Arrested in Nigeria for Blasphemy, Hasn’t Been Seen Since

Amina Ahmed knew her atheist husband was taking enormous risks with some of his Facebook posts criticizing Christianity and Islam in Nigeria, a deeply religious country.

She wanted him to be free to believe whatever he wanted. But she worried that if he kept up his commentary, the staunchly Muslim community he was born into would eventually retaliate.

“You should just calm down,” she remembers telling him. “They don’t care. They can just kill you and nothing happens.”

But her husband, Mubarak Bala, president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was not one to filter his words. On April 25, he logged on to Facebook again and typed a post calling the Prophet Muhammad a terrorist.

Three days later he was arrested by the state police after being accused of violating anti-blasphemy laws, which can carry a death sentence. He has not been seen since.

“We are concerned that he may be prosecuted under anti-blasphemy laws that provide for capital punishment in Nigeria,” wrote a group of United Nations experts who have called for his release.

Mr. Bala, 36, was arrested after lawyers in private practice in his conservative birthplace, the Muslim-majority city of Kano, complained about his Prophet Muhammad post to the police. Other nonbelievers are worried that these same lawyers are drawing up a list of other Nigerian atheists to be prosecuted and that more arrests may be coming.

The Nobel Prize-winning writer Wole Soyinka wrote that Mr. Bala’s arrest was part of a “plague of religious extremism” that has in recent decades encroached on the harmonious Nigeria he grew up in.

While it was Mr. Bala’s post on Facebook that led to his arrest, the social media site was also the platform where he and Ms. Ahmed met. She messaged him there after reading that his deeply religious family had locked him up in a psychiatric hospital when he first came out to them as an atheist. She, too, was from a staunchly Muslim family, and she was curious.

“I didn’t want to judge him,” she said in an interview. “I was just like — I want to hear his own side of the story.”

Growing up in Kano, Nigeria’s second-biggest city and an ancient center of Islamic learning in the country, Mr. Bala was from a highly respected family, descended from generations of Islamic scholars.

But as he got older, Mr. Bala came into contact with people outside Kano, and little by little he lost his faith. And as terror attacks increased in Nigeria, he became more vocal in his criticism.

“What finally made me come out as atheist was a video of a beheading of a female Christian back in 2013 by boys around my age, speaking my language,” he wrote in an article about his personal journey that was published in 2016. “It hit me that the time for silence is over. Either someone speaks out or we all sink.”

But even just speaking out to his close friends and family was dangerous. His father and elder brother thought he was sick, and got a doctor who believed that all atheists were mentally disturbed to admit him to a hospital. He was beaten, sedated and threatened with death if he tried to leave, he said.

Mr. Bala has yet to be officially charged with any crime, according to Leo Igwe, the founder of the Humanist Association of Nigeria. And in violation of a June court ruling, he has not been allowed to see his lawyer. There have been repeated delays in the legal proceedings, partly caused by Covid-19 restrictions. Calls to the police in Kano seeking comment went unanswered.

Mr. Bala is believed to be the first atheist arrested in Nigeria for blasphemy, but Muslims often fall afoul of the blasphemy laws in the Islamic legal system adopted 20 years ago by the country’s northern states.

This month, Yahaya Sharif Aminu, 22, a singer in Kano was found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death for circulating a song he had composed, which critics said elevated a Senegalese imam above the Prophet Muhammad. He was arrested in March after protesters burned down his family home.

There is also a blasphemy law under Nigeria’s nationwide customary legal system, which operates in parallel to Islamic and common law. Blasphemy under Islamic law can be punished by death — though such sentences are rarely carried out — while blasphemy under customary law carries a maximum sentence of two years.

It is still unclear under which of these laws Mr. Bala might be charged. But if charged under either legal system, his could be a watershed case since atheists previously had not been prosecuted on blasphemy charges.

Over a third of the 71 countries that have legislation against blasphemy, in violation of international human rights laws, are in Africa. Nigeria’s own blasphemy laws would seem to clash with its Constitution, which entitles every Nigerian to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and the right to freedom of expression.

Nigeria’s population is roughly split between Muslims and Christians.

Growing internet access and the worlds it can open up to people pose a threat to the power that many imams, clerics and bishops have traditionally enjoyed in Nigeria, according to Mr. Igwe.

“They are feeling jittery because they know they’re going to lose their power base, they’re going to lose their credibility,” Mr. Igwe said. “That’s why they want to do anything they can to silence Mubarak, or to make sure that nobody emulates him.”

Mr. Bala was living and working as an engineer in the city of Kaduna when he was arrested. But the police told Mr. Igwe that he had been taken 150 miles away to Kano.

Some say Mr. Bala’s arrest may have little to do with his atheism per se. Rather, he is being punished in ways a former Muslim from another part of Nigeria would not be because he very publicly turned against his prominent Kano family and his Hausa-Fulani Muslim community, the dominant ethnic groups in northern Nigeria.

“It’s perceived as an assault on Hausa-Fulani Muslim society and virtue, by one of them,” said Olufemi O. Vaughan, a professor focused on African, and particularly Nigerian, politics and society at Amherst College. “It’s not just simply a critique coming from an atheist.”

Professor Vaughan said Mr. Bala’s arrest should be seen in that context, not as an indication that attacks on atheists are about to escalate.

“There’s a personal dimension to this which is so tragic,” Professor Vaughan said. “He’s got a family, a wife and he’s got a baby. Just set him free.”

Ms. Ahmed gave birth to the couple’s first child six weeks before her husband was arrested. She has cried so much since then, she said, that she has strained her left eye. She is worried about her own safety.

Her efforts to find out where her husband was — petitioning Nigeria’s Senate, and traveling to the national Police Headquarters in the capital, Abuja — have yielded no information. Her expectations have shrunk over the past four months.

“I just need proof of life,” she said. “That is all.”

By Ruth Maclean

The New York Times

Related stories: Nigerian singer sentenced to death for blasphemy in Kano state

Wife of detained Nigerian humanist pleads for 'proof of life'

Wole Soyinka protests imprisonment of Nigerian humanist Mubarak Bala

Nigeria's undercover atheists

Nigerian sent to psych ward for being atheist released and now receiving death threats

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Video - Concerns linger over Nigeria's plans to restart football

If everything goes according to plan, the new Nigerian Football League season is scheduled to start between late September and early October after the country's federation suspended and later cancelled the 2019-20 campaign. However, there are still concerns over whether the league will take off. CGTN's Deji Badmus has more.

More than 1,100 villagers killed in Nigeria this year: Amnesty

More than 1,100 people have been killed in rural areas across several states of northern Nigeria amid an alarming escalation in attacks and abductions during the first half of the year, according to Amnesty International.

"The Nigerian authorities have left rural communities at the mercy of rampaging gunmen who have killed at least 1,126 people in the north of the country since January," the London-rights group said in a new report on Monday, giving a figure until the end of June.

The killings, during attacks by "bandits" or armed cattle rustlers, and in clashes between herders and farming communities for access to land, have been recurrent for several years.

Amnesty said it had interviewed civilians in Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara states, who reported living in fear of attacks and kidnappings.

The rights watchdog said villages in the south of Kaduna state were affected the most, with at least 366 people killed in multiple attacks by armed men since January.

"Terrifying attacks on rural communities in the north of Nigeria have been going on for years," said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

"The ongoing failure of security forces to take sufficient steps to protect villagers from these predictable attacks is utterly shameful," he added.

'Gross incompetence'

Amnesty blamed state authorities and the federal government for failing to protect the population.

Armed groups loot and set fire to villages and frequently kidnap people for ransom, apparently with no ideological motive. Many experts have recently warned against associating the attackers with armed groups active in the region.

President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on a campaign promise to eradicate the armed group Boko Haram, which has killed tens of thousands since it launched an armed in northeast Nigeria in 2009.

Amnesty said most villagers complained of receiving little or no help from security officials, despite informing them prior or calling for help during attacks.

"During the attack, our leaders called and informed the soldiers that the attackers are in the village, so the soldiers did not waste time and they came but when they came and saw the type of ammunitions the attackers had they left," a witness to an attack in Unguwan Magaji in southern of Kaduna was quoted as saying by Amnesty.

"The following morning so many soldiers came with their Hilux pick-up trucks to see the dead bodies."

Ojigho decried reported abuse of civilians who asked for more official help and protection.

"In their response to these attacks, the Nigerian authorities have displayed gross incompetence and a total disregard for people's lives," he said. "Arresting people who dare to ask for help is a further blow."

The escalating violence has forced many farmers and their families from their homes while thousands could not cultivate their farms during the 2020 rainy season because of fear of attacks or abduction, according to Amnesty.

It said that in Katsina state, at least 33,130 people were living in displacement camps, while others have headed to urban areas to stay with relatives.

Al Jazeera

Monday, August 24, 2020

Nigeria Economy Falls By the Most in a Decade

Nigeria’s economy contracted the most in at least a decade in the second quarter as the crash in oil prices and the global fallout from Covid-19 hit output.

Gross domestic product shrank 6.1% in the three months through June from a year earlier, compared with growth of 1.87% in the previous quarter, the Abuja-based National Bureau of Statistics said on its website on Monday. The median estimate of six economists in a Bloomberg survey was for a 4.05% drop in output. Quarter on quarter, real GDP decreased by 5.04%.

Oil production fell to 1.81 million barrels a day from 2.07 million barrels in the previous three months. That’s the lowest since the first quarter of 2017, which was the last time Africa’s largest economy contracted.

Crude contributes less than 10% to Nigeria’s GDP, but it accounts for about 90% of foreign-exchange earnings and half of government’s revenue. That means the plunge in oil prices in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which hit as the economy’s recovery from a 2016 slump was still gaining traction, have emptied coffers

Still, the drop in output was wider than just crude. The oil sector contracted by 6.6% from year earlier and the non-oil sector shrank by 6.05%, the first decline in non-oil GDP since the third quarter of 2017.

Nationwide Shutdown

“The decline was largely attributable to significantly lower levels of both domestic and international economic activity during the quarter, which resulted from nationwide shutdown efforts aimed at containing the Covid-19 pandemic,” the statistics office said.

The outlook for the economy remains fragile. The International Monetary Fund sees Nigerian GDP shrinking 5.4% this year, its biggest contraction in nearly 40 years.

“Macro headwinds -- depressed oil prices, a slow pickup in global trade, a strong dollar supported by the Fed -- along with local structural inefficiencies, will continue to batter the Nigerian economy,” Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at Lagos-based SBM Intelligence, said before the release.

What Bloomberg’s Economist Says

“We expect the economy to contract again in 3Q, but at a slower rate than 2Q. The above target oil production in April-June, though, mean steeper production cuts will be required in August and September in order to reach full OPEC compliance. At the same time, a weaker naira and ongoing foreign-exchange restrictions will continue to weigh on growth in the non-oil sector.”


Friday, August 21, 2020

Getting a National ID card takes up to 4 years in Nigeria: going digital will not solve the problem

In Nigeria, attempts at creating a National ID card dates back to 1986. After several decades and millions of dollars, the government is now looking to take the process digital

In Nigeria, getting any accepted means of identification can be difficult. A driver’s licence costs up to ₦10,450 ($27) while a Nigerian passport with 10-year validity is ₦70,000 ($181). While the pricing of these documents means many Nigerians cannot afford them, the process of getting them is still slow.

It is not unusual for public officials to demand bribes before you can get a passport or driver’s licence in good time.

The free alternatives to a national identification card are the voters card and the national identity card.

While the voters card is issued during election season, the national identity card is supposed to be issued all year long.

Yet, in five years, the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has had trouble issuing cards to millions of people who have registered. Innocent Chizaram, a Nigerian writer shared in this opinion piece that although he registered for an ID card in 2016, he is yet to receive it.

This kind of experience is why many Nigerians do not have any form of identification. In June 2020, the Director-General of the NIMC, Aliyu Aziz said only 38% of Nigerians have any form of identification.

According to Aziz: “over 100 million Nigerians have no identity (ID). These include the poorest and the most vulnerable groups, such as the marginalised – women and girls, the less-educated people, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, people with disabilities and people living in rural and remote areas.”

Solving the Identification problem with the NIN

In 2007, the NIMC Act put the NIMC in charge of creating, managing, maintaining and operating a unified National Identity Database for Nigeria. The information the NIMC collects and stores includes biometric information, passport photographs and place of residence.

For each person who registers for the national identity card, a unique National Identity Number (NIN) is issued. This NIN is now tied to the Nigerian passport and there are plans to make it a requirement for students writing UTME examinations.

The NIMC is within its powers to do all of these. According to the NIMC Act, the registration and procurement of a National Identity Card is compulsory for all registrable persons in Nigeria. The registration is also free and has no age restrictions.

On paper, it sounds like the perfect solution to the problem. Yet, since 2007, less than 20% of Nigerians are registered on the National Identity database.

Many of the problems with the process can be traced to politics and a political process that has complicated what should be a non-issue.

A history of political problems surrounding NIMC

In 1998, Chams Limited, a Nigerian company won a $38.4 million contract to produce 52 million cards within four years. The project was off to a flying start, with Chams producing 1 million in 1999 while it waited for the Federal Government to buy some machines for the second stage of the contract.

While it waited, the government had other plans.

The Obasanjo administration handed over the contract to Sagem. In the end, Sagem was not able to produce all the cards required and the contract ended in a bribery scandal.

Chams on its part, went to court and won damages of $410,390. But the politics doesn’t end there: a back and forth between Chams and the NIMC meant that a concession agreement was not signed for years.

Yet, after it was signed, the contract would later be canceled in February 2015. Today, Chams is asking the Federal government to pay ₦44 billion ($113 million) in damages for lost revenue. Chams is also suing Mastercard for a breach of contract.

Nigeria’s national identity efforts have taken many turns and there is no immediate end in sight to the political problems plaguing the NIMC and the federal government. Now the government is hoping that digitising the process will lead to better outcomes.

Nigeria to dump plastic card in efforts to go digital

In August 2020, the government decided to move past the problems with the card process by focusing on digital cards.

According to the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Patami, the priority for the government is now digital cards.

“We are no longer talking about cards, the world has gone digital, so that card is no more. Our priority now is digital ID, it will be attached to your database wherever you are.

“So if you can memorize it by heart, wherever you go that central database domiciled with NIMC will be able to provide the number and every one of your data will be provided. Now, our focus is no longer on producing cards, that card is only for record but what is important is the digital ID, and if you notice we have started using the digital ID on the international passport. Once you have the digital ID but not the card, we are 100 percent done with you.”

Anyone unfamiliar with Nigeria would have been surprised by the announcement. In any other country, the first step would be fixing the persistent institutional and operational issues with the NIMC.

There’s only so much technology can do and like some states in Nigeria have shown, everytime you pitch politics against technology, the winner is always politics. It’s not a bold prediction to say that digitising the process will not solve a systemic problem.

NIMC’s digital process falls flat on its face in opening weekend

On August 15, there were pressers that the NIMC had begun its online process for national identification cards.

“First, you have to download the NIMC Mobile ID app, powered by its mobile services platform (MWS). Android users can visit the google play store to download and install the NIMC Mobile ID app. For iPhone users, they need to visit the app store to get the ios version of the app.”


Despite some initial excitement over the app, the problems began quickly, with a few people pointing out that the app was leaking private information.

Two days after, the app was pulled from the Google and ioS Playstore. The NIMC said the app was a “novel innovation” which was not yet approved for public consumption. It’s a poor excuse by the NIMC and is yet another sign that it has not solved the operational problems it faces.

It is worth asking why an app not approved for public consumption had access to the entire NIMC database housing the data of millions of people. It raises several privacy issues and litigation has now begun.

A Civil Society Organisation (CSO), Law and Rights Awareness Initiative (LRAI), has now dragged the NIMC to court. According to this blogpost:

“NIMC also failed to file a data protection compliance audit report with the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) before uploading the personal data of Nigerians on “their insecure software application.”

“The suit also seeks an order of perpetual injunction against the NIMC to halt them from releasing more digital identity cards of the NIMC or any other platform prior to an external independent review of the safety and security of the NIMC’s app.”

While the court process will be interesting to keep an eye on, a system that cannot manage the process of printing cards will hardly be competent at managing the complexities that come with maintaining millions of digital identities.

By Olumuyiwa Olowogboyega

 Tech Cabal

Nigeria to bar flights from countries that block Nigerians

Nigeria will blocks flights from countries that do not allow Nigerian flights to land due to coronavirus restrictions, Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika said on Thursday.

“The principle of reciprocity will be applied,” Sirika told reporters. “If you ban us from coming to your country, the same will apply the other way.”

A spokesman for the minister said Sirika was referring to landing rights for aircraft, and not the nationals of the countries.

The director general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority said that authorities were still drafting the list, but added that the European Union was among those barring Nigerians.

Nigeria earlier this week announced plans to resume international flights on Aug. 29. All but essential international flights were halted in late March in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

The resumption will begin with four flights daily coming in to both Lagos and Abuja, but Sirika said that initially the number of passengers would be limited to 1,280 a day.

Nigeria has 50,488 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and has recorded 985 deaths.


Nigerian man, 50, extradited from Canada to face U.S. fraud charges for alleged sweepstakes scam

A Nigerian citizen living in Canada was extradited to the United States on Thursday to face federal charges after allegedly taking part in a scheme to defraud thousands of victims of hundreds of millions of dollars.

American investigators allege the 50-year-old man was part of a conspiracy to run a fraudulent "sweepstakes" scheme designed to steal a total of $300 million U.S. The alleged fraudsters were able to defraud their victims of a total of $900,000 U.S.

A federal grand jury indictment, returned in September 2018, charges the man with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Each count upon conviction calls for up to 20 years in federal prison.

According to the indictment, the defendants carried out their sweepstakes scheme from 2012 to 2016.

Elderly victims targeted

The man allegedly purchased lists of elderly potential victims and their addresses from an email service provider. He and other conspirators based in the Toronto area, sent packages containing fraudulent sweepstakes information to conspirators living in the U.S.

The packages contained thousands of mailers, which the U.S.-based conspirators sent to victims notifying them that they had won a sweepstakes contest.

Each mailer included a fraudulent cheque issued in the name of the victim, usually in the amount of $8,000, and a pre-addressed envelope.

Victims were instructed to deposit the cheque into their bank account, immediately withdraw between $5,000 and $7,000 dollars in cash or money orders and send the money to a "sweepstakes representative" to facilitate the victim collecting his or her prize.

By the time the victim was notified by the bank that the deposited cheque was fraudulent, the cash or money order had been sent by the victim and received by alleged conspirators.

The man, who remains in federal custody pending his initial appearance in Austin, Texas Friday afternoon, is one of eight defendants charged in connection with this scheme.

Despite the fact that the man was living in Canada, U.S. special agents were able to track him down — something they attribute to their strong relationships with international law enforcement agencies.


Related stories: Police rescues American lady locked in Lagos hotel after fake marriage, arrests Nigerian

The Hushpuppis And Nigeria’s Image

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Nigeria's wet markets thrive despite coronavirus pandemic

Just a few months after Epe Fish Market was under lockdown to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, vendors at the site in the southern Nigerian state of Lagos are back buying, selling and trading animals.

A vendor descales an endangered pangolin with a machete. Nearby, grasscutter rodents are skinned. Most of the sellers wear masks.

Experts say COVID-19, which has killed around 1,000 people in Nigeria, jumped from animals to humans, possibly at a wet market in China. But few in Epe were worried.

"We are not afraid of it because the coronavirus is not inside the meat," said vendor Kunle Yusaf. "We do eat the meat, even during this coronavirus, and we do not have any disease."

University of Cambridge epidemiologist Dr Olivier Restif called for more education around safe animal trade and hygiene.

"We're very concerned with the risk that it poses," he said of markets where live animals are kept in close quarters. But he warned that simply banning markets could alienate people and drive trade underground.

The WWF International wildlife charity said the pandemic "should be a wake-up call." But the booming trade at Epe illustrated unchanged attitudes despite the nearly 800,000 killed worldwide by the virus.

Nigeria is also a hub for illegal wildlife trade to Asia.

Nigeria's National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) did not respond to requests for comment.

The WWF said the economic strain of the pandemic has sapped conservation budgets in many countries.

Chinedu Mogbo, founder of Green Fingers Wildlife Conservation Initiative, a wildlife sanctuary near Epe, hopes to encourage Nigerians to cut bushmeat consumption and avoid animal-based traditional medicine, which can fuel the unhygienic animal handling that can aid virus transmission.

"I believe they will appreciate them more, coming up close to see them," Mogbo said.

By Angela Ukomadu and Libby George

The Chronicle Herald

Armed fighters take hundreds hostage in Nigeria's Borno state

Armed fighters have taken hundreds of hostages in a northeast Nigerian town where residents had only just returned after fleeing their homes, residents and militia sources said on Wednesday.

The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) group, a splinter group of Boko Haram, overran the town of Kukawa in Borno state late on Tuesday, the sources told the AFP news agency.

They seized residents who had returned to the town in a government operation on August 2, after spending nearly two years in displacement camps, said Babakura Kolo, head of a local militia.

"The terrorists attacked the town in 22 trucks around 4:00 pm (16:00 GMT) yesterday and engaged soldiers guarding the town in a fierce battle," he said.

Kukawa's residents had returned to their homes just 16 days earlier under military escort, on the orders of the Borno state authorities.

They had been living in camps in the regional capital Maiduguri, 180km (120 miles) away, where they fled following a bloody attack in November 2018.

A town chief who accompanied the residents to the town said the people had returned with the hope of cultivating their farmlands "only to end up in the hands of the insurgents".

"We don't know what they would do to them but I hope they don't harm them," said the chief, who asked not to be identified for safety reasons.
Squalid refugee camps

A security source who confirmed the incident to AFP said fighter jets were deployed from Maiduguri on Wednesday to "tackle the situation", but did not give further details.

The decade-long conflict in northeastern Nigeria has forced more than two million people out of their homes, most of them from the northern part of Borno.

Many have moved into squalid displacement camps in Maiduguri, where they rely on handouts from international charities.

In the last two years, local authorities have been encouraging the displaced to return home, despite concern by international charities that this is not safe.

Residents have been returned to five major towns since 2018, where they are confined under military protection, with trenches dug around to try to fend off attacks.

Despite the fortifications, the armed fighters have continued to launch attacks.

Since 2009, Boko Haram has been carrying out attacks in Nigeria and neighbouring countries in the Lake Chad region, with no signs of slowing down despite counterattacks by a joint multinational force across borders.

Boko Haram has been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people and the abduction of thousands of others, including hundreds of schoolgirls from Chibok in 2014.

In 2015, Boko Haram split, giving way to the formation of ISWAP, which has pledged allegiance to the ISIL (ISIS) group.

Since then, ISWAP has also gone on a spree of violence, attacking government forces and carrying out abductions and extortions.

The key strongholds of the armed groups are located in southern and southwestern regions of Lake Chad, the confluence of the borders of four African states - Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Al Jazeera

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Nigeria gets first electric motorcycles, a motorcycle-hailing and delivery service provider, has introduced its MAX Series M1 fleet of electric motorcycles in Nigeria.

The motorcycles were launched in Ogun State to ease transportation and boost economic activities in the state.

Chief Executive Officer,, Adetayo Bamiduro said the introduction of the electric motorcycles was in line with the firm’s commitment to make mobility safe, affordable and sustainable.

He said’s electric motorcycles had been in the works for over two years, culminating in a successful pilot after which improved models of the motorcycles were deployed.

According to him, is in partnership with Rubitec Nigeria Limited, a renewable energy company, to provide charging stations for the motorcycles.

He explained that the electric motorcycles use a battery-swap model that allows riders replace their depleted batteries with fully charged ones with the process taking less than five minutes, thus eliminating the wait-time for fueling traditional combustion engine motorcycles.

He noted that although in partnership with Asian and European partners, including Yamaha and Breakthrough Africa, the MAX M1 is an indigenous electric motorcycle, the first in the country.

Chief Executive Officer, Rubitec Nigeria Limited, Mr. Bolade Soremekun said has consistently shown that it is a company that takes its social responsibility seriously, in line with Rubitec’s desire to improve the standards of living of people in its communities and beyond.

“I am thrilled that this is happening here in Nigeria, especially considering the epileptic nature of power supply. It just shows that with innovation, we can overcome almost any challenge,” Soremekun said.

Baale of Gbamu-Gbamu community, Chief Kehinde Adekunle, expressed appreciation on behalf of the community.

He said Gbamu-Gbamu was a trading community, but the market people had always had issues transporting their goods to major markets due to the high cost of transportation.

He noted that the MAX electric motorcycles would enable the traders to move their goods faster and at a reduced cost which would allow them to make more profit.

Co-founder and Chief Growth Officer,, Mr Chinedu Azodoh said the key advantages of electric motorcycles are beyond cost implications.

“They are more durable and cost-effective when compared to combustion-engine motorcycles and are therefore easier to maintain. Electric motorcycles are also eco-friendly and’s motorcycles have the added prestige of being manufactured in Nigeria for Nigerians,” Azodoh said.

He said is working with different partners to roll out electric vehicles into the Nigerian market and with the successful launch and deployment of the MAX Series M1, the company intends to mass-produce the vehicles with a target of reaching thousands over the next one year period.

The Nation

Nigerians land scholarships abroad. Now they are stranded as their government fails to pay the money

When Nigerian student Mercy Eyo landed a foreign postgraduate scholarship in July 2019, she had just lost her father. A year earlier, her mother had passed away.

She was elated about the prospect of starting a master's degree in global health care management at Coventry University, in the United Kingdom, with a scholarship from a Nigerian government agency.
"I was super excited ... I felt it was a consolation that would change my life forever," Eyo said.

"It was that one little time I had hope in the Nigerian dream," she told CNN, "because I wanted to return home afterward to offer what I had to the society."

Living hand-to-mouth
However, that dream has turned into a nightmare for Eyo who said she is now living a hand-to-mouth existence and awaiting scholarship funds that have failed to arrive 12 months later.

Eyo, from Bonny Island, southeastern Nigeria, is one of more than 200 students who landed a scholarship through Nigeria's Niger Delta Development Commission in 2019.

CNN has seen a scholarship letter dated July 29, email exchanges between her and the awarding body and scanned copies of the letters she sent to the commission in December 2019 requesting funds to process her travel arrangements.

She was told to make her way abroad and the money would later follow, but despite selling her laptops, phones and other valuable properties, Eyo wasn't able to raise her travel funds and visa processing fees and lost her place at the UK's Coventry University.

She remains in Nigeria with no signs of the funds promised to her.
"These are things that make me cry sometimes or feel depressed," Eyo told CNN.

Other scholarship students from Nigeria that CNN spoke to were able to make their way abroad. But they are also still waiting for the promised funds.

They told CNN that their emails and correspondence with the agency have been mostly ignored since September 2019.

The scholars are scattered in various universities across the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada.

Andrew Saba is studying for a master's degree in public health at the University of Aberdeen.
"I don't know the worth of a Nigerian life to the people in power. I feel betrayed by Nigeria ... I can't understand how a country can abandon her brightest of minds in a foreign land. I can't relate to priorities of the country," said Saba.

"I am disappointed. It is supposed to be a joyful thing to get a scholarship from your country. Numerous countries give their citizens scholarship... but ours require extra activism to work. This is not how it should be."

The students said they are going through a lot of hardship due to a lack of funds and are unable to engage in menial jobs to survive because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Each masters' scholar is owed $30,000, while the PhD students are owed $90,000, which runs for the duration of their three-year program.

Others say they live on charity from family at home and friends abroad, while looking for new jobs to start paying their debts and bills.

Some of them have been told by their universities that their graduation isn't possible until their debts are paid.

In May, after growing pressure, the agency paid a "take-off" grant of around $1,290. This was an initial payment that was supposed to help the students with their initial visa processing and traveling costs last year.

Protests in UK 
Students recently held protests at the Nigerian High Commission Office in London. The protesters caught the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari who, on August 4, ordered the NDDC to immediately pay the outstanding sums owed to the students stranded across the globe.

The NDDC promised to pay the fees by the end of that week, adding that the death of the executive director of finance as well as the coronavirus pandemic was responsible for the delay in paying their fees.

"President Buhari ... has ordered that all stops be pulled to pay the students by the end of this week. We expect a new (executive director of finance) to be appointed this week. As soon as that is done, they would all be paid," the statement released on August 4 by Charles Odili, NDDC director of corporate affairs, said.

So far, none of the students CNN spoke to has received their outstanding payment.
CNN has contacted NDDC to find out why the payments to the students has still not been made two weeks after the President's order. The NDDC has not yet responded to the request for comment.

The scholarship program was developed to fund the study of marginalized young people from Nigeria's oil-rich Delta region in studies that could aid its development.

Despite accounting for 70% of Nigeria government revenue, the Niger Delta remains impoverished and faces numerous challenges such as oil spills, gas flares and vandalism.
The NDDC was established to drive the development of the region.

Corruption probe
The NDDC agency is currently embroiled in a multimillion-dollar corruption probe. Nigeria's President Buhari has ordered a forensic audit of the commission's activities from 2001 to 2019 after it was unable to account for around $209 million spent in less than a year.

Kemebradikumo Pondei, the acting managing director of NDDC last month appeared to faint while taking questions from Nigeria's lawmakers on how the agency spent around $100 million in the past few months.

While responding to questions on the students' scholarships and other incidents of unaccounted spending, he slumped, causing chaos in the room and forcing the investigative hearing to be stopped temporarily.

After the hearing the NDDC issued a statement saying that Pondei had been ill and had attended the hearing against his doctor's advice. Critics have suggested the incident was a ploy to thwart the probe.
It has not resumed since, although the agency was ordered to repay funds, according to local media reports.

Impact of pandemic
The events at the hearing have become the subject of memes and jokes among Nigerians.
But life is no joke for some of the students stranded abroad without the money promised for their fees and upkeep.

John Essien was a medical doctor in Nigeria and is now studying a for a master's in health economics and health policy at the University of Birmingham in the UK.

Essien said he sold properties and took loans to fund his overseas travel after delays in securing his scholarship money before he left Nigeria in September 2019.

"I knew previous scholars faced delays in getting paid. But I wasn't expecting it to exceed three months. When it did, I realized I wasn't prepared for what was to come," he told CNN.

Three months of waiting passed and his debts rose, Essien said. He was forced to rely on friends for money to eat and pay his rent.

In December 2019 he got a part-time job as a dishwasher with a company in Birmingham.

At various points, he said he has worked as a receptionist, porter, carpenter, bartender, and crowd control officer at Premier League soccer match venues.

Essien said he has been in contact with the other Nigerian students who received scholarships from the NDDC.

They all have tales of severe hardship. One of the students contracted Covid-19 while working as a carer in a home, another one has also had access to the school's student portals blocked for non-payment of fees.

Essien said this month he narrowly escaped eviction from his apartment after missing his payment deadline by more than 20 days.

The huge economic impact of the pandemic also means that his former means of income have dried up. "With less than one pound in my account, how do I continue begging around? Why should I deal with this kind of mental pressure?" he asked.


Nigerians flock to new Abuja beauty spot

An abandoned quarry in Nigeria has been become a tourist hotspot after images were posted on social media earlier this month.

The rocky cliffs climbing into a blue sky, a moss-lined footpath, small green hills and a lake that shimmers in the sun are quite breath-taking and a set of images shared on Twitter at the beginning of August has been liked more than a thousand times.

In a matter of days of the post, the site, known as Crushed Rock, in Mpape - a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of the capital Abuja - was thronged.

There has been a DJ stand, food vendors, hundreds of sun-bathing selfie-takers - and even a band of classical musicians.

Nigerians are not generally known to be outdoor lovers - the weather is very hot in the north and quite humid in the south.

However, there is a burgeoning community of hikers around Abuja inspired by the many expatriates living in the political capital.

The coronavirus pandemic has also had a part to play in encouraging these young middle-class Nigerians to explore the hills in the country's rocky central region.

The lockdown, which prevented people from travelling elsewhere, has meant that places closer to home are being explored.

The area around Mpape, which means "rock" in the local Gwari language, supplied much of the stone used to transform Abuja from a small village in the 1980s into the country's capital city.

"The quarry has existed for more than 10 years," said Mpape resident Courage Ebenz, who is somewhat bemused by the sudden influx of city-dwellers.

Nigeria has an abundance of sites of natural beauty, but this "man-made" location has its own appeal - with three main tiers that each give a stunning view of the water below.

Sightseers can choose a small winding footpath to the top terrace, where the grass is an ideal picnic location.

The more adventurous can continue down the path that circles and snakes down to the water's edge.

But a warning for the brave who might want to plunge into the water - the locals say it is full of abandoned machinery.

According to Abraham Adepelumi, a geo-physicist at Obafemi Awolowo university, the lake was formed as a result of the fracturing of an aquifer.

"Once the rock got fractured, the water within the rock was under pressure," he told the BBC.

"It is a natural phenomenon, Mpape is a fracture-prone area of Abuja and has experienced tremors as recent as 2018."

The local emergency agency has warned amateurs against hiking at Mpape Crushed Rock, but fun-seekers seem not to be deterred.

"I didn't know we had such a place in Nigeria and I wanted to see if it is real," Elizabeth Okute, who came with her friends after seeing pictures on Facebook, told the BBC.

"I am surprised such a place exists in Abuja and I love what I am seeing," said Ann Chukwuka.

Emeka Uko, who kept straying to the edge much to the chagrin of his friends, added: "I hope we put measures in place to preserve it."

This is exactly what some volunteers decided to do last Saturday, clearing up a trail of plastic waste around the quarry that has built up over the last few weeks.

They split into two groups to compete to see who could collect the most rubbish - updating social media as they went.

"A lot of people felt it was their responsibility to clean up the place," Brandon Akume, whose group came second in the clean-up dash, told the BBC.

This was an alien concept to most Nigerians, he added.

He moved from one group of picnickers to the other, handing out rubbish bags, instructing people to dispose of their litter.

"They want to poison this place, it seems I have my work cut out for me," he said.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

71 Nigerian girls crying for help in viral video in Lebanon arrive Abuja

Seventy-one young Nigerian girls trafficked to Lebanon and seen in a video that had gone viral where they were crying for help had been rescued and arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, early Monday.

Mr Bitrus Samuel, the Head of NEMA Abuja Operation Office, disclosed this to Newsmen. He said that the girls were the second batch of the more than 150 Nigerian girls who were trafficked to Lebanon in search of greener pastures.

Early in the month, 94 victims that constituted the first batch were received at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. Samuel said that the latest victims would be going from the airport to the hotel where the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) would profile their records. The agency would quarantine the girls as a precaution against coronavirus pandemic.

Also, the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Ferdinand Nwonye, said that the rescue came after video footage of the stranded Nigerians appealing to the Federal Government and well-meaning Nigerians to come to their aid went viral on the Internet. The spokesman said the ministry had several discussions with Mr Houssam Diab, the Ambassador of Lebanon to Nigeria before the Lebanese Government agreed to release the girls to the Federal Government.

He said that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, was very sad when he saw the video footage. He had to summon the Lebanese Ambassador, and both leaders had a series of engagements that led to the release of the girls.

Nwonye said that following the discussions between the two leaders, the Lebanese community in Nigeria through the facilitation of the Nigerian mission in Beirut chartered a flight, paid the flight tickets for these girls to return to Nigeria. NAN reports that various government officials from NAPTIP, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Nigeria in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) respectively were on ground at the airport to receive them. Also, Mr Akinloye Akinsola, the representative of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), said that some Nigerians employed as domestic workers in Lebanon had complained of maltreatment from their Lebanese employers.

He said that sequel to the complaints; the Lebanese Ambassador to Nigeria had suspended the issuance of working visas to Nigerians seeking to do domestic work in Lebanon. He said the suspension had become imperative so as to stem the tide of the maltreatment. Akinsola said that the commission had started the procedure for proper harmonisation in line with best practices relating to orderly migration. He said that the discussion was with the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the House of Representatives’ Chairman on the Diaspora, Mrs Tolulope Akande-Shodipe.


Related stories: Canada and Nigeria working to combat migrant smuggling, human trafficking and irregular migration

Canada and Nigeria working to combat migrant smuggling, human trafficking and irregular migration

Nigeria airports to reopen for international flights on August 29

Nigeria's aviation minister has said the country will reopen its airports for international flights from August 29, introducing protocols to minimise the risk of coronavirus infection.

Home to some 200 million people, Africa's most populous country has registered 49,068 confirmed coronavirus cases and 975 related deaths. Some 36,500 people have recovered so far.

Nigeria's airports have been shut down since March 23 to all but essential international flights as part of the country's efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika said on Monday the resumption of international flights would begin with the megacity of Lagos and the capital, Abuja.

"Protocols and procedures will be announced in due course," he wrote earlier on Twitter.

At a briefing in Abuja, he said four flights would begin landing daily in Lagos and four in Abuja.

Nigeria resumed domestic flights on July 8, and Sirika said there had been no confirmed coronavirus transmissions on flights.

Earlier in the day, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said the country had recorded 298 new confirmed coronavirus cases and one related death on Sunday.

With more than 16,500 infections, Lagos remains Nigeria's hardest-hit area. It is followed by the Federal Capital Territory - which includes Abuja - with more than 4,700 cases and the southwestern Oyo state with almost 3,000 infections.

Al Jazeera

Monday, August 17, 2020

Video - Nigerian Paralympian speaks on Doping

Still on doping, the International Paralympics Committee banned Nigeria's former Paralympic and Commonwealth Games champion, Esther Onyema, for four years in May. The 38-year-old Para power lifter is highly regarded in Nigeria after winning gold and silver medals at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. CGTN's Deji Badmus interviews Onyema on her ban.

Nigeria receives largest container vessel in history

The reforms in the nation’s port system is yielding results as the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) successfully berth the biggest container vessel to ever call at any Nigerian port.

The Maerskline Stardelhorn vessel with length overall of 300 metres, width of 48 metres was received at the Federal Ocean Terminal (FOT), Onne in Rivers State at 1620 hours on Saturday, August 15, 2020.

General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications, NPA, Jatto Adams, said the vessel, which has a capacity of 9,971(TEUs) is a flagship from Singapore.

The vessel, which was brought in from Fairway Bouy Bonny with the aid of three tugboats operated by three of NPA pilots was received by the Ports Manager of Onne Ports, Alhasssan Abubakar.

Adams said NPA is delighted to state that the landmark arrival of the biggest gearless Maerskline vessel at the Onne Ports is a result of management’s determination to improve the patronage of the Eastern Ports.

“It is an indication of the fact that the Eastern Ports are equipped to receive all manner of vessels and an expansion of the options of consignees in the Eastern and northern parts of the country,” he said.

Adams said the management of NPA congratulates its team at the Onne Ports and appreciates all stakeholders at the port for their cooperation towards seeing that the vessel berthed safely without any challenge.

He however assured of the authority’s commitment to ensuring that all ports locations in Nigeria work at their optimal capacity and the repositioning of Nigerian ports as the hub in the sub-region.

By Sulaimon Salau

The Guardian

Friday, August 14, 2020

Nigeria says reversing U.S. visa ban will take 'enormous resources'

Overturning a U.S. ban on Nigerians seeking immigrant visas will take “enormous resources”, but the nation is making progress, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Thursday.

Nigeria was among six countries in an expanded version of U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban, announced in January, which blocked their citizens from obtaining U.S. visas that can lead to permanent residency.

U.S. officials cited issues such as sub-par passport technology and failure to sufficiently exchange information on terrorism suspects and criminals.

Nigerian Interior Minister Ogbeni Aregbesola asked the U.S. ambassador in Abuja to drop the ban, but also chaired a committee to address U.S. concerns.

In a statement on Thursday, Buhari said that after suggestions from a report by the committee, they had “fully resolved” two out of six U.S. concerns, “substantially satisfied” two others and had made “some progress” on the last two.

But he said they were still drafting a “workable plan” for the report’s full suggestions, which require “enormous resources.”

“I am delighted that this progress, especially the uploading of Lost and Stolen Passport and Travel Documents, has been acknowledged by the United States Government,” Buhari said.

A U.S. embassy spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Buhari said Nigeria would harmonize citizen identification data held by different parts of government, create a national criminal management system modelled on INTERPOL and start a national criminal DNA laboratory.

His statement did not specify what Nigeria had done already. A spokesman for Buhari directed questions to Aregbesola, who could not be immediately reached.

Nigerians can still obtain visas for study, work and travel in the United States, but, in the 2018 fiscal year, just 8,000 Nigerians obtained immigrant visas.


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Nigerian Foreign Affairs minister Geoffrey Onyeama recovers from COVID-19

The Nigerian Minister for Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama recovered from the coronavirus after three weeks of isolation, the ministry said on Wednesday.

Onyeama had announced on July 19 that he had contracted the virus thereby becoming the first member of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet to test positive for COVID-19.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted a video showing Onyeama being welcomed back by staff to his office as he resumed his duties.

“The Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Geoffrey Onyeama resumes duty after testing negative for COVID-19. Welcome back Your Excellency!”

Onyeama took to social media to thank all those who wished him well during his recovery period.

“By the very special grace of God my latest COVID-19 test result came back NEGATIVE after three weeks isolation. I am eternally grateful to my family, the C-in-C and VP, the medical team, relations, friends, colleagues, religious leaders and numerous well-wishers, who through their care, prayers, fasting, messages of support and encouragement never let me walk alone,” Onyeama tweeted.

The news of Onyeama’s recovery will be welcomed as he has been instrumental in overseeing the evacuation of Nigerians abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic and working tirelessly to address Nigeria’s diplomatic matters.


Nigerians Are Using Bitcoin to Bypass Trade Hurdles With China

Chukwuemeka Ezike sends thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin a month in order to trade with Chinese exporting companies.

In return, he receives spare auto parts, construction equipment, and juices for a family business his father started more than 30 years ago. Ezike works full-time at Singapore-based crypto exchange Huobi as its community manager but helps with his family’s business on the side.

He says bitcoin is faster than exchanging currencies the old-fashioned way. And he can use it to leapfrog bank limits of $10,000 a day, which he often needs to do.

Ezike doesn’t pay the manufacturer directly. Over WeChat, he works with a middleman named “Allen” who exchanges Ezike’s bitcoin for renminbi, China’s national currency, and then passes it on to the manufacturer. Ezike couldn’t divulge which companies he deals with, saying, “The Chinese are sensitive with the data that’s shared.”

He’s one of several Nigerians using bitcoin for this purpose. Ezike even helps other Nigerian companies make similar cross-border transactions with bitcoin.

Using bitcoin for global trade

In several ways, bitcoin makes sense for global trade. The currency jumps borders with ease, where other currencies encounter friction. If the counterparty is willing to receive bitcoin on the other end, it’s often faster and cheaper than legacy payments. But this can be a big “if,” since bitcoin is a newer way of transferring money and people aren’t exactly used to it quite yet.

While bitcoin has these nimble properties, it hasn’t disrupted international trade and value transfer just yet, especially given the currency’s current limitations. If more people use bitcoin at once, the network becomes congested and payments slow down.

Behind the scenes, developers around the world are working on the Lightning Network to fix these problems, so that more people, maybe one day even millions, can all use bitcoin regularly without seeing a spike in fees and sluggish transactions.

All that said, some Nigerians are becoming reliant on using bitcoin as a way to trade internationally, and are finding bitcoin has significant benefits over legacy financial systems.

Foreign exchange woes

Nigerian bitcoin entrepreneur Chimezie Chuta has another theory for why some are using bitcoin for trade with China and beyond.

Like most other countries in an increasingly globalized world, Nigeria imports a significant percentage of the goods that it uses. As Chimezie Chuta put it: “Nigeria is a very import-heavy country. Food industry, drugs, you name it, construction equipment, cars.” Much of these goods are bought from Chinese manufacturers. “Nigeria’s economy is heavily import dependent and China is a major import partner to Nigeria,” Chuta adds.

Nigerians have to struggle with this process, though. “Access to [foreign exchange (FX)] for importation by Nigerian business owners is highly limited because the [Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)] has limited liquidity to cater for everyone,” Chuta told CoinDesk.

If Nigerians want to reap the benefits of trade, they need to hunt down a way to exchange their naira (Nigeria’s national currency) for other currencies. In Nigeria, finding U.S. dollars or Chinese remnibi is not an easy task. “Importers typically rely on the black market for the additional FX needed and that comes at a very high price,” Chuta said. This phenomenon has been covered in Bloomberg, for instance.

This is one of the other reasons Ezike has turned to bitcoin as an alternative. “The hustle for [the] dollar and all that is quite a thing I love to avoid,” Ezike told CoinDesk.

With bitcoin, he can “take out all international banking routing processes,” he said.

Others are reaching the same conclusion.

“Chinese exporters have expressed willingness to accept bitcoin payments for their goods; hence, many business people in Nigeria find it more convenient to make such payments with bitcoin for obvious reasons,” Chuta said, adding that bitcoin is speedier, open and trustless.

More naira problems

Entrepreneur Monyei Chinazaekpele was able to buy clothes, COVID-19 masks and tests from House of Trippyin China, to resell to customers in Nigeria.

He decided to use bitcoin after experiencing mounting frustration with current banking limitations, especially their impact on global trade. “I was enlightened about the monetary policies on the ground. I was shocked to my nerve,” he told CoinDesk.

Chinazaekpele reiterated Chuta and Ezike’s point that foreign exchange is tough in Nigeria. “You can’t easily switch to other currencies,” he said, adding that he’s hopeful it’s just “a matter of time” before this situation improves.

“Basically, bitcoin is stress free to use and honestly, the naira is not a good store of value,” Chinazaekpele said, pointing to the naira’s 12% inflation rate, which means the value of the currency depreciates by that much value every year.

Bitcoin’s price fluctuates, and sometimes the price goes down. But Chinazaekpele argues that bitcoin generally doesn’t have this inflation problem, since over the long term the price has been going up.

Chinazaekpele’s also looking to buy a cashew processor with bitcoin, but he’s still working out the details with the factory, which is also located in China.

Keeping it on the down-low

All this trade with bitcoin is happening behind the scenes. Businessmen and women on the ground aren’t exactly eager to publicize that they’re using bitcoin for international trade. For one, the legality of cryptocurrency is fuzzy in the region.

The CBN has issued several warnings to banks. The latest in 2018 advised banks “not to use, hold or transact in any way with the technology.”

“In the bitcoin space we don’t know what reaction to expect, so we try to be a little bit discrete,” Ezike told CoinDesk. That’s why he doesn’t want to reveal the name of his father’s importing business. By only revealing his individual name, he’s less fearful that the Nigerian government will “attack” the business.

“We have had accounts frozen at some point due to bitcoin transactions,” Ezike said. “We had to appeal to re-open them.”

He added that it’s the same situation in China, which is why the people he transacts with there “ensure they [keep] a low profile.”

As for the relationship between the government in Nigeria and crypto, Ezike said that “they are really confused about what to do with it. But hopefully they will embrace it.”

By Alyssa Hertig


Related stories: Nigeria Among Countries With Highest Crypto Usage Increase

Video - Nigerian returns bitcoins worth $80,000

Nigeria court fines pirates for seizing ship in Gulf of Guinea


A court in Nigeria has fined three men $52,000 (£40,000) each for hijacking a ship in March and securing a ransom of $200,000 for the release of its crew.

These are the first convictions in the West African state since a new anti-piracy law came into force last year.

Nigeria has been under pressure from the shipping industry to curb piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

It accounts for more than 80% of maritime kidnappings globally, the International Maritime Bureau says.

The three, who are believed to include two Nigerians and a foreign national, pleaded guilty to two counts of piracy during their trial in the High Court in the oil hub of Port Harcourt.

The director-general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Bashir Jamoh, welcomed the verdict.

"This will serve as a deterrent to other criminal elements who are still engaged in the nefarious activities on our waterways," he said.

Asked whether financial penalties alone were enough of a deterrent, he told the BBC:

"Absolutely - now we have a legal instrument to prosecute effectively and put the pirates out of business legally speaking."

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) also welcomed the men's conviction.

"It is the deterrent which was lacking," IMB spokesman Cyrus Moody told the BBC.

Another six men pleaded not guilty and their trial continues.

They are accused of being part of a gang that seized a vessel off Equatorial Guinea's coast in March.

They are alleged to have demanded a $2m ransom for the crew's release, but were paid $200,000.

The Nigerian navy arrested the men.

Almost 50 crew were kidnapped in the Gulf of Guinea in the first half of this year, compared with 27 last year, according to the IMB.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Nigeria Among Countries With Highest Crypto Usage Increase revealed last week the most trending countries based on its web wallet creation. Currently, the total number of unique Blockchain wallets created is more than 52 million.

“In July we saw a number of countries increase their fraction of total Blockchain wallet transactions, most notably Peru, India, and Indonesia,” the company described. Other countries that made the top 10 list of increased transactions are Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Japan, the Philippines, Venezuela, Bangladesh, and Bulgaria.

“Japan is once again in the top 10, while Hong Kong and Morocco haven’t been as active in the past two months,” the firm continued. The top countries with a decrease in Blockchain wallet creation are South Korea, Denmark, Morocco, Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, Kenya, Moldova, Brazil, Vietnam, and the United Arab Emirates.

The firm’s data science team highlighted Nigeria as the most trending country since April, coinciding with Google search data which pointed to Nigeria as the country with the most relative interest in bitcoin. provides a Bitcoin block explorer service, a cryptocurrency wallet, and an exchange supporting bitcoin, bitcoin cash, and ethereum. The team revealed:

"Nigeria has been the most trending country in recent months. It has increased by 60% its usage of web wallet since April 2020."

Last month, Nigerian media reported that the Ministry of Justice had tabled before the National Assembly the bills that will provide the legal framework for bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, citing the country’s Attorney General, Abubakar Malami. “The expected bills will prepare Nigeria for emerging realities relating to digital cash, bitcoin and e-currency,” Malami was quoted as saying. recently reported that Nigeria led sub-Saharan Africa in peer-to-peer (P2P) bitcoin trading but the country is still laden with crypto scams.

Meanwhile, India ranked second on Blockchain’s list of increased wallet creation but the country still does not have crypto regulation and there are reports of the government considering a ban on cryptocurrencies.

Local lawyer Mohammed Danish explained that the “Supreme court judgmenthas helped big time in increasing the curiosity around crypto.” He added: “Even in legal fraternity I see lot of people taking huge interest. But this curiosity is of course limited to a certain age group.” Policy 4.0 CEO Tanvi Ratna commented on Blockchain’s data:

"Despite the uncertain regulatory climate, India ranks second in a global survey of rise in crypto usage for July vs June."

By Kevin Helms

Related stories: Nigeria becomes eight African nation to welcome bitcoin ATMs

Video - Nigerian returns bitcoins worth $80,000

Nigeria issues fresh alert on heavy flooding in commercial hub

Nigeria’s commercial hub Lagos is at risk of heavy flooding this year and at least 8 million people might be affected by the disaster, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said on Tuesday.

“There have been predictions of flooding in certain areas of Lagos State,” said Ibrahim Farinloye, coordinator of NEMA’s Lagos territorial office, adding that millions of people are currently being instructed on how to manage the disaster and mitigate its effects.

Four local government areas have been identified as highly flood-prone areas, and about 13 are said to be probable, the official said about the prediction earlier made by the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency.

According to NEMA’s coordinator, the state is one of the high-risk areas of flood, which has become a perennial occurrence in many states across Nigeria. He further added that six of the probable areas have already experienced devastating flooding this year.

By Dinah Matengo


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Nigerian singer sentenced to death for blasphemy in Kano state

A musician in Nigeria's northern state of Kano has been sentenced to death by hanging for blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad.

An upper Sharia court in the Hausawa Filin Hockey area of the state said Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, 22, was guilty of committing blasphemy for a song he circulated via WhatsApp in March.

Mr Sharif-Aminu did not deny the charges.

Judge Khadi Aliyu Muhammad Kani said he could appeal against the verdict.

States across Muslim-majority northern Nigeria use both secular law and Sharia law, which does not apply to non-Muslims.

Only one of the death sentences passed by Nigeria's Sharia courts has been carried out since they were reintroduced in 1999.

The singer who is currently in detention, had gone into hiding after he composed the song.

Protesters had burnt down his family home and gathered outside the headquarters of the Islamic police, known as the Hisbah, demanding action against him.

Critics said the song was blasphemous as it praised an imam from the Tijaniya Muslim brotherhood to the extent it elevated him above the Prophet Muhammad.

'Judgement will serve as deterrent to others'

The leader of the protesters that called for the musician's arrest in March, Idris Ibrahim, told the BBC that the judgement will serve as a warning to others "contemplating toeing Yahaya's path"."When I heard about the judgment I was so happy because it showed our protest wasn't in vain.

"This [judgement] will serve as a deterrent to others who feel they could insult our religion or prophet and go scot-free," he said.

Who is Yahaya Sharif-Aminu?

Few people had heard of him before his arrest in March.

An Islamic gospel musician, he is not well-known in northern Nigeria and his songs were not popular outside his Tjjaniya sect, who have many such musicians within their ranks.

How common are death sentences in Sharia courts?

Several sentences have been passed, including for women convicted of having extramarital sex - cases which have caused widespread condemnation.

But only one has been carried out - a man convicted of killing a woman and her two children who was hanged in 2002.

The last time a Nigerian Sharia court passed a death sentence was in 2016 when Abdulazeez Inyass, was sentenced to death for blaspheming against Islam during after a secret trial in Kano.

He was alleged to have said that Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, the Senegalese founder of the Tijaniya sect, which has a large following across West Africa, "was bigger than Prophet Muhammad".

The sentence has not been carried out as a death penalty in Nigeria requires the sign-off of the state governor.

Mr Inyass is still in detention.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Life after coronavirus lockdown in Nigeria’s Chinatown

Nigerian and Chinese flags flutter in the morning breeze atop of the rampart of Chinatown in the city of Lagos. It’s a tall wall, modelled after the medieval Great Wall of China, painted red and fortified by bricks.

Its gate is half open, with three security officers with handheld thermometers checking temperatures of traders and customers coming in. Beside the gate, a water bucket, a bottle of hand sanitiser and liquid soap serve for routine handwashing while a few Chinese mingle in a terrace near the car park.

Inside the courtyard, only a few of the more than 200 shops selling trousers, shirts, perfume, laptops, ceramic coffee cups, shoes and travel bags are open. A handful of traders bargain with customers while others sleep or watch movies on their mobile phones. A few months ago, the scene would have been different: lively, noisy and crowded, traders say.

But things began to take a new shape when local authorities in Nigeria rolled out measures to curtail the spread of coronavirus, including restricting entry into the country for travellers from China and other nations around March. Traders say the restrictions, as well as a curfew and bans on interstate travel, nearly brought commercial activities to a halt in Chinatown.

The number of confirmed new coronavirus cases in Africa has topped the 1 million mark, with the death tally at more than 22,000, according to the World Health Organisation. Around 46,140 cases have been recorded in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, as well as more than 940 deaths.

Lagos, the largest city in Africa with over 20 million people, is the epicentre of the outbreak in Nigeria with early 20 per cent of the country’s Covid-19 cases.

For more than 15 years, Chinatown has become a hub for thousands of Chinese visiting the country. Its warehouses, restaurants and shops serve local traders as well, including Mike Echelom, who has been trading there for more than a decade.

Echelom, who sells clothes, says business has been a struggle for most. “The total lockdown was worse but partial easing of the lockdown has seen slow recovery. Customers are bargaining for less than cost price,” he said. “And traders, for lack of money, are forced to sell for survival and not for profit.”

But the “biggest impact”, says Julius Solomon, the director of external relations at Nigeria’s Overseas Chinese Service Centre has been the delayed return of thousands of Chinese traders and investors since Lunar New Year in February. The period of their travel coincided with Nigeria’s lockdown.

“Many of the traders and investors who travelled are still stuck back home in China. These are people who drive trading activities here. But none of them have returned to Nigeria and that partly accounts for reduced activities here,” says Solomon.

Between 40,000-50,000 Chinese live in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, according to Zhou Pingjian, China’s ambassador. Some 160 Chinese companies employ more than 200,000 Nigerians, according to Ye Shuijin, the president of the China Chambers of Commerce in Nigeria.

In recent weeks however Nigeria’s authorities have started gradually easing restrictions to help boost the economy. Some markets in Lagos, including Chinatown, operate only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

But recovery could take some time. The past few months has seen growing tensions between the local Nigerian and Chinese communities. A widely shared video on social media showed some angry Nigerian youths burning Chinese-owned shops and factories in neighbouring Ogun state after reports of racist attacks on Africans in China earlier this year. After that, Chinese reduced their presence in Chinatown and elsewhere to avoid potential trouble, locals say.

No such attacks, backlash or protests of the like were witnessed in Lagos Chinatown. Still, some Chinese were advised to stay away from public places and keep a low profile, according to Solomon. In part, that accounts for the reduced presence of Chinese at the reopened markets.

Rumours and fake news have also fuelled a false belief that Chinese were the main carriers of the coronavirus.

“Initially, so many of our buyers were really scared of coming here because of Chinese presence,” says Echelon. Even this morning, I still had to convince one of my customers that it is not unsafe to come around. Some buyers have completely avoided both this market and the Chinese people as well because of fear”.

There has been little evidence to suggest Chinatown was any less safe than elsewhere in Lagos. The atmosphere seems friendly, although it’s quiet. Here, there is a strict compliance to local health advisories, including the wearing of face masks.

Still, the pandemic is another blow for Chinatown, which has faced trouble since it opened in 2004. It was branded a hub for smuggled, fake and cheap Chinese products after authorities regularly raided it in its first decade.

That period saw the arrest of many traders. Shops were shut and those who had enough went back to China. The government said it wanted to limit smuggling and piracy – and protect the local textile industry from cheap Chinese goods. What followed was a ban on the import of Chinese clothes, and a massive exodus of traders from Chinatown to less targeted markets across Lagos and neighbouring Ogun state.

Since the vibrancy Chinatown was punctured, crackdowns rarely happen any more. But the losses are not easily reversible. Many businesses selling everything from ceramic coffee cups, mobile phones, laptop accessories, CDs and DVDs and stationary were either shut or forced to relocate.

Yet, one thing remained: that hurtful stigma, stacked against the great hope that marked the creation of the centre more than 15 years ago. It was to serve as one of the biggest symbols of China’s influence in Africa’s largest economy as well as a focal point for interaction between growing numbers of Chinese investors and Nigerians.

“We are really concerned with the fake products as that was the major reason why businesses in Chinatown had declined in recent times,” Liu Chang’an, the general manager of Chinatown told The Daily Sun, one of Nigeria’s top daily newspapers. “We are repositioning Chinatown to ensure that only genuine products are supplied and sold … and [it becomes] a hub for trade, investment, recreation, culture activities and food.”

South China Morning Post