Monday, May 31, 2021

Dozens kidnapped from Islamic school in northern Nigeria

An armed gang abducted dozens of students from an Islamic school in the northcentral Nigerian state of Niger on Sunday, police and state government officials said.

Some 200 children were at the school at the time of Sunday’s attack, the Niger state government said on Twitter, adding that “an unconfirmed number” had been taken.

The abduction came a day after 14 students from a university in northwestern Nigeria were freed, having spent 40 days in captivity.

A spokesman for Niger state’s police said in a statement that gunmen on motorcycles attacked the town of Tegina, in the Rafi local government area of the state, at approximately 3pm (14:00 GMT) on Sunday.

He said the attackers were “shooting indiscriminately and abducted a yet to be ascertained number of children at Salihu Tanko Islamic school”. One person was shot dead during the attack and a second person was seriously injured, the state governor’s spokeswoman said.

Armed groups carrying out kidnapping for ransom have been blamed for a series of raids on schools and universities in northern Nigeria in recent months, abducting more than 700 students for ransom since December.

The school’s owner, Abubakar Tegina, told the Reuters news agency in a phone interview that he witnessed the attack.

“I personally saw between 20 and 25 motorcycles with heavily armed people. They entered the school and went away with about 150 or more of the students,” said Tegina, who lives approximately 150 metres (about 500 feet) from the school.

“We can’t be exact because most of them have not reported to the school as at that time,” he said, when asked for further details of the number taken.

Tegina said there are approximately 300 pupils aged between seven and 15. He said pupils live at home and only attend classes at the site.

One of the school’s officials, who asked not to be named, told the AFP news agency that the attackers initially took more than 100 children “but later sent back those they considered too small for them, those between four and 12 years old”.

The state government, in a series of tweets, said the attackers had released 11 of the pupils who were “too small and couldn’t walk” very far.

Most students kidnapped in recent months have been taken from boarding schools.

Armed gangs have been terrorising people in northwest and central Nigeria by looting villages, stealing cattle, and kidnapping people for ransom.

On April 20, gunmen known locally as “bandits” stormed Greenfield University in northwestern Nigeria and kidnapped about 20 students, killing a member of staff in the process.

Five students were executed a few days later to force families and the government to pay a ransom, and some 14 students were released on Saturday.

Local press said that the families had paid a ransom totalling 180 million naira ($440,000) for their release.

The criminal gangs maintain camps in the Rugu forest which straddles Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states.

Al Jazeera

Related stories:1,603 killed, 1,774 abducted in violent attacks across Nigeria in three months

Search Underway for Kidnapped Students from Nigeria’s Kaduna State  

Friday, May 28, 2021

Crypto will ‘come to life’ in Nigeria, central bank governor says

Emefiele said the Nigerian government will do its best to prevent crypto from being used to finance illicit activities.

At a 279th meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee in Abuja, Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Godwin Emefiele expressed confidence that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) will be legal in the country, Business Insider reports Wednesday.

Emefiele did not directly mention a decision to reverse the CBN’s February ban of institutions from buying and selling crypto, but noted that the bank has been investigating the industry:

“We are committed in the CBN, and I can assure everybody that digital currency will come to life even in Nigeria [...] Under cryptocurrency and Bitcoin, Nigeria comes 2nd, while on the global side of the economy, Nigeria comes 27th. We are still conducting our investigation, and we will make our data available.”

Emefiele also said the Nigerian government will do its best to prevent crypto from being used to finance illicit activities. “We found out that a substantial percentage of our people are getting involved in cryptocurrency, which is not the best. Don’t get me wrong, some may be legitimate, but most are illegitimate,” he said.

The banker also expressed concerns over the crypto market crash in mid-May, which has been largely attributed to Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s decision to suspend Bitcoin payments for cars and his further BTC criticism:

“We saw the market collapse. Initially, when Elon Musk tweeted around the time when we said our banking and payment facilities are no longer available for cryptocurrency transactions, and he tweeted that he will invest $1.5 billion, and the price went up. He now tweeted and raised a few concerns, and the thing plunged.”

The CBN did not immediately respond to Cointelegraph’s request for comment.

As previously reported, Nigeria has emerged as the biggest source of Bitcoin trading volume in Africa as of August 2020, also becoming one of the fastest-growing crypto markets in the world. According to data from Bitcoin P2P marketplace Paxful, Nigeria ranked second only to the United States in trading volume as of December 2020.

Amid the growing adoption of Bitcoin, Nigeria’s national currency, the naira, has been falling. “Bitcoin has made our currency almost useless or valueless,” Senator Sani Musa of the Niger East Senatorial District said in February. Following Emefiele’s latest remarks, the naira dropped 1.2% to near a three-and-half year low on the black market on Thursday.

By Helen Partz

Coin Telegraph

Nigeria's president appoints new army chief after predecessor's death -statement

Nigeria's president has appointed a new army chief, the ministry of defence said in a statement on Thursday, following the death of the military head's predecessor in a plane crash last week.

President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Major General Farouk Yahaya who previously commanded troops operating in the northeast where security forces are fighting an Islamist insurgency, the statement said.

Nigeria's army faces several challenges including the insurgency waged by Boko Haram and its offshoot, Islamic State West Africa Province, that has displaced about 2 million people and killed more than 30,000 since 2009. Troops are also fighting armed gangs in the northwest who kidnap for ransom.

"Prior to his appointment Major General Yahaya was the general officer commanding 1 Division of the Nigerian Army and the incumbent theatre commander of the Counter terrorism Counter insurgency military outfit in the northeast," the statement said.

Yahaya's predecessor, Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru, died in a plane crash on Friday on an official visit to the northern state of Kaduna. read more

Attahiru was appointed in January, alongside other military chiefs, after years of mounting criticism over spreading violence by Islamist insurgents and armed gangs.


Nigeria needs to fix the issues in its dairy value chain

Nigeria spends $2.5bn importing dairy milk annually, to cover for the nearly 60% shortfall in primary production.

While the issues derive their root from a historically outdated model for the breeding and raising of cattle, they are also a result of willful ignorance and lack of technical knowledge on the value chain for this sector, which has a ripple effect across the board.

Milk is the third most consumed food item in Nigeria, however, in 2020 alone, the country imported $534m worth of refined sugar from Spain, Brazil, France and India, and $2.5bn worth of dairy milk from the Netherlands, UK, US, Australia, and others, to power its value chain for everything from evaporated milk, pasteurised milk, to yoghurt, cheese, chocolate, and more.
What is the problem with the dairy sector in Nigeria?

Why are we unable to solve the problem of milk and all its attendant derivatives, which to a large extent contributed to the $10bn the Netherlands earned exporting milk around the world in 2020?

Nigeria has 13 major breeds of cattle, and of them, the White Fulani breed has the most dairy of them all. What has happened is a situation where, because of the outdated mode of handling these cows, there has been no effort to adopt modern global best practices for cross-breeding and calving of these cows through artificial insemination (a process where semen is used from a cattle with a higher production output to fertilise the eggs of a lower producing cow, for the purpose of producing a new line that’s disease resistant, adjusted to the weather, and feeds available in that region of rearing).

What does the country need?

Nigeria requires a comprehensive ranching development plan that focuses the task of primary production on two levers:

Cooperatives who are properly trained in improved methods and global best practices;

Commercial companies that are able to invest in the kind of capital required for building a ranch that addresses all the issues in the supply value chain.

There is also a need for quality veterinary care from professional doctors familiar with cattle specifically, a properly designed irrigation model built into the metal fabrication compartments of the ranch pen, a weaning hose used for automatic extraction of milk from the udder of the dairy cattle, a storage tank that can store the milk at a particular temperature that prevents fermentation and building of bacteria in the liquid before it’s taken by reefer vans to the milk collection centres, and radio frequency identification (RfID) tags built into the monitor braces to track everything from distance covered to amount of feed consumed.
Most importantly, there is a need for a vertically integrated model for developing a feed lot for maize, which remains the best and most nutritious source of feed for cattle globally.

Why are we not addressing these issues?

Until 2018, government policy did now allow for backward integration through import substitution. In doing so, it would have made the subsidies the EU pays to its farmers, and the tariff it pays to Nigeria under the WTO tariff rules for importing dairy milk, unsustainable compared to developing this full vertical in Nigeria. What we have had has always been the lazy man’s approach of importing primary products for processing to meeting the food demands of Nigeria.
Bottom line

I see a stream of opportunities for African entrepreneurs who are bold enough to invest between $500,000 and $1m in the development of key areas of the value chain, and this is because dairy milk can be processed into a variety of things.

One of the curses that have collapsed our food security in Africa is the fallacy that you have to be involved only in primary production for you to take advantage of the supply chain.

And even at this level that holds only 25% of the whole value, we have failed to do the needful. The introduction of tractors, boom sprayers, harvesters and the like will improve turnaround time and enable to better practise precision agriculture.

I’m hoping we pay attention in Africa and I’m hoping we understand that development is not being able to afford imports. It’s more about the ability to substitute local demand and price exports for more value than the imports.

By Kelvin Ayebaefie Emmanuel 

The Africa Report

What Abubakar Shekau’s reported death means for Nigeria security

On May 19, Abubakar Shekau, longtime leader of Nigeria’s Boko Haram armed group, was reported dead – again.

While details remain murky, local media reports citing intelligence sources claimed Shekau detonated his suicide vest when rival fighters of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) tried to capture him in his hideout in Sambisa forest in northeastern Nigeria.

Shekau has been reported killed or seriously wounded several times in recent years, including in official statements released by Nigeria’s military – only to resurface in online videos weeks later to ridicule such declarations. This time, the Nigerian army has said it is investigating the reports and has yet to issue a definitive statement.

Still, the reports have been met with mixed reactions and raised questions about the security implications in the country.

“What a Shekau death means is the Islamic State [ISWAP] is set to come out as the dominant player in the other side of the conflict, which of course means more problems for the Nigerian military,” Confidence MacHarry, geopolitical security analyst at Lagos-based SMB Intelligence, told Aljazeera.

For more than a decade, the Nigerian army has struggled to contain Boko Haram’s violent attacks in northeastern Nigeria, in a worsening conflict that has also spilled over into neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. More than 30,000 people are estimated to have been killed and some 3 million forced from their homes.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was first elected in 2015 on the back of a promise to tackle insecurity in the northeastern region within two years. In his first year in office, the military, with assistance from regional troops, pushed the fighters back and retook key towns, and Buhari famously declared that Boko Haram has been “technically” defeated.

However, the armed group and its offshoots continued staging attacks, while the military’s campaigns were undermined by a number of factors, including corruption and inadequate equipment as well as funding and workforce shortages.

More recently, the army has lost a string of towns in the northeast and Lake Chad region and drawn sharp criticism over its failure to crush the fighters.

If Shekau has indeed been killed and ISWAP fighters are responsible, some analysts say it will further reduce Nigerians’ confidence in the country’s military to rout the fighters and end the conflict.

“The first implication [of Shekau’s killing at the hands of ISWAP] for national security is a larger interpretation about the capacity of the Nigerian state,” Freedom Onuoha, a counterterrorism expert and senior lecturer at the University of Nigeria, told Al Jazeera.

“It also shows that the people’s lack of confidence in the capacity of the national security forces to rein in criminal actors would decline further,” he said.

“That’s a major loss from a national security point of view.”

Who is Abubakar Shekau?

In the 2000s, Shekau was the deputy of Muhammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram. In fiery speeches, Yusuf criticised government corruption and what he believed was the incomplete implementation of Islamic law in northeast Nigeria – Boko Haram translates to “Western education is forbidden”.

During clashes in 2009 between the followers of the religious group and security forces, Yusuf was arrested and shot in police custody. Shekau then took the reins of the ragtag prayer group and led his followers to launch attacks across the northeast region.

From the start, Shekau gained notoriety for his brutality.

He sent children and women on suicide missions, often targeting crowded markets and mosques. His fighters looted, kidnapped and killed civilians without mercy. In 2014, Boko Haram’s abduction of 276 schoolgirls in the northeastern town of Chibok shocked the world and drew widespread condemnation. More than 100 of the schoolgirls are still missing.

In 2015, Shekau – albeit reluctantly – pledged allegiance to ISIL (ISIS) and the group took up the name of ISWAP. But the following year, some of his followers, uncomfortable with his leadership style, splintered from Shekau’s forces.

Led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, a son of the Boko Haram founder Yusuf, they gained ISIL’s recognition and retained the ISWAP name, while Shekau remained in charge of a faction that reassumed the armed group’s original name, Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, or JAS.

ISWAP, whose main target is the Nigerian military, has grown in influence and power in recent years, with an estimated 3,500-5,000 fighters overshadowing the 1,500-2,000 in the Shekau-led faction, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).

The two groups have been embroiled in a protracted feud over a number of ideological differences, with hundreds of their members reported dead in previous rounds of fighting.

“It [ISWAP] has notched military successes and made inroads among Muslim civilians by treating them better than its parent organisation and by filling gaps in governance and service delivery,” ICG said in a 2019 report.

“By filling gaps in governance and service delivery, it has cultivated a level of support among local civilians that Boko Haram never enjoyed and has turned neglected communities in the area and islands in Lake Chad into a source of economic support,” it added, noting that the group digs wells, polices cattle rustling and provides a modicum of healthcare in the communities it controls, where “its taxation is generally accepted by civilians”.

If Shekau has been killed this time, some experts said they expect some of his fighters to join forces with ISWAP to form a formidable force against the Nigerian military.

“What we’re going to see is the reabsorption of some of Shekau’s terror network in the northeast inherited by the new ISWAP leadership,” Confidence said. “ISWAP will to some extent inherit Shekau’s fighters because many of them are dependent on financial assistance and a central leadership to survive,” he added.

However, Dickson Osajie, an international security expert, disagreed.

“It won’t be 100 percent defection,” Osajie said. “The fighters who have pledged allegiance to Shekau would want to regroup and take revenge for Shekau’s death, causing more crisis.”

With the fight against armed groups far from over, regardless of whether Shekau is still alive, Onuoha said it is time for the army to change its strategy.

“The military needs to reconfigure as a matter of urgency the overall intelligence gathering-sharing architecture,” he said. “They need to look at strategic communication, working with other agencies to deal with issues like the financing systems of terror groups like ISWAP.”

In the past, security analysts monitoring the insecurity in the northeast have often criticised the military’s defensive approach. And for Osajie, an ex-military, the army must act swiftly to take advantage of the situation surrounding Shekau’s fate.

“In security management, you don’t give the enemy opportunity to plan,” he said. “Sadly, one issue with Nigeria is they are giving the enemy time to plan. Instead, the military should carry out an offensive attack against the remnants of Boko Haram in Sambisa forest because their morale is currently down,” he told Al Jazeera. 

By Festus Iyorah 

Al Jazeera

Related story: Nigeria's military investigates reports of Boko Haram leader's death

Nigerian rescuers find dozens of bodies after boat tragedy

Nigerian rescue workers pulled more than three dozen bodies from the water on Thursday after an overcrowded riverboat sank leaving more than 150 people missing and feared drowned.

Survivors and officials said only 20 people were rescued on Wednesday when the wooden boat ferrying passengers to a market broke apart and sank as it travelled between central Niger state and Wara in northwest Kebbi state.

“Nine more bodies have been recovered. So far 45 bodies have been found. The search continues for more bodies,” Abubakar Shehu, a local official supervising the rescue operation, told AFP news agency.

Riverboat tragedies are common on Nigerian waterways mostly due to overcrowding, weather and lack of maintenance, but Wednesday’s toll would be one of the deadliest in recent years.

President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday called the mishap “devastating” after the country’s inland waterways authority said only 20 people had been rescued and another 156 were still missing.

Ali Ibrahim Garba, wearing an orange life jacket standing near wooden boats on the river bank, said rescuers were still searching for missing people after saving as many as they could.

“Right now we are in search of three people, one male and two females,” he told AFP.

NIWA agency local manager Yusuf Birma told reporters on Wednesday the boat was overcrowded with about 180 people and went down an hour into its journey.

Local district administrator Abdullahi Buhari Wara said the boat was also loaded with bags of sand from a gold mine.

NIWA has banned nighttime sailing on the rivers to stop accidents and says overloading ships is a criminal offence, but skippers and crews often ignore the regulations.

Early in May, 30 people drowned when an overloaded boat capsized in Niger state.

The boat carrying 100 local traders also split into two during a storm as they were returning from a local market.

The Niger, West Africa’s main river travelling through Guinea to Nigeria’s Niger Delta, is a key local trade route for some of the countries. 

Al Jazeera

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Startup teaches young Nigerians to code on smartphones

Samuel Anyaele regularly tells his students that everything they need to write a software code can be found on their mobile phones.

He writes HTML codes on his phone, which are displayed on a monitor in a tiny classroom in Lagos, Nigeria’s megacity. His students look up at the big screen and down at the smaller one in their hands.

“We are effectively giving them a tool to work whether they have a PC (personal computer) or not,” said Anyaele, who runs three-month courses.

Coding skills are seen by many young Nigerians as a way to earn money from clients based anywhere in the world. Job opportunities are scarce in Nigeria, a country of 200 million inhabitants where two-thirds of people aged 15 to 34 are either unemployed or under-employed.

Anyaele, who runs free classes for beginners and charges $210 for courses aimed at professionals, works for one of many Lagos companies offering to teach aspiring software developers. The most widely known is Andela, a software training company, that has received funding from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation.

“If you don’t find jobs locally, there are international jobs,” said Joseph Agunbiade, founder of Univelcity, which also provides training.

Last year’s $200 million acquisition of Nigerian fintech firm Paystack by Silicon Valley giant Stripe, and the $1 billion valuation of local payments company Flutterwave, have shown what is possible.

Chinonso Okafor, 20, one of Anyaele’s students who is now building websites for clients, said using his phone means he can continue working after his laptop runs down when the electricity cuts out.

But some people struggle to see phones as anything more than an entertainment device, said Anyaele, who identified that perception as a mental block that many fail to overcome.

“They’re assuming it’s something childish, or something that isn’t professional,” he said.

By Angela Ukomadu


Related story: Meet Hugo Obi: Nigerian Entrepreneur Changing The Video Gaming Landscape In Africa

Friday, May 21, 2021

HBO explores Nigerian human rights in “The Legend of the Underground”

HBO is set to debut The Legend of the Underground, a 90-minute feature doc that examines systemic discrimination in Nigeria.

In 2013, Nigeria enacted the anti-LGBTQ law, the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill (SSMPA), and in the years since, it has been used to harass, imprison, extort and commit violence against anyone seen as not conforming to Nigerian societal and cultural norms.

In August of 2018, 57 men who attended a party in Lagos, Nigeria were rounded up by police, arrested and forced in front of news cameras. One of the men, James, defiantly spoke out against the government while still in handcuffs.

Meanwhile in New York, Micheal Ighodaro is part of the Nigerian diaspora and an LGBTQ rights and HIV prevention advocate. As he works in advocacy for the people and communities he left behind, James and his circle of friends struggle with the option to seek security abroad, or to stay and fight a discriminatory system.

The Legend of the Underground is directed by Nneka Onuorah and Giselle Bailey, and executive produced by Mike Jackson, John Legend, Ty Stiklorius and Austyn Biggers of Get Lifted Film Co. For HBO the senior producer is Sara Rodriguez; with executive producers Nancy Abraham, Lisa Heller.

By Kim Izzo


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Nigeria's military investigates reports of Boko Haram leader's death

Nigeria's military is investigating reports that the leader of militant Islamist group Boko Haram may have been killed or seriously injured following clashes with rival jihadists, an army spokesman said on Friday.

Abubakar Shekau has been the figurehead of an Islamist insurgency that has since 2009 killed more than 30,000 people, forced around 2 million people to flee their homes and spawned one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

A number of reports published on Thursday in Nigeria media, citing intelligence sources, said Shekau was seriously hurt or killed after his insurgents clashed with members of Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), which broke away from his group in 2016.

Reuters has been unable to independently verify the claims.

A Nigerian Army spokesman, Mohammed Yerima, said the military were investigating.

"It's a rumour. We are investigating it. We can only say something if we confirm it," said the spokesman.

Shekau was said to have been killed on several occasions over the last 12 years, including in announcements by the military, only to later appear in a video post.

ISWAP was previously part of Shekau's militant Islamist group before its split five years ago, pledging allegiance to Islamic State. The schism was due to religious ideological disagreements over the killing of civilians by Boko Haram, to which ISWAP objected.

Shekau's death, if confirmed, could potentially end of fighting between the two groups, enabling either to absorb the others' fighters and consolidate its hold on northeast Nigerian territory.


Related stories: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau possibly dead

Leader of Boko Haram Abubakar Shekau mocks Nigeria army

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau apparently alive - releases new video


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Nigerian Passport Nigeria Immigration suspends accepting new applications for passports

Nigeria will not accept new applications for international passports until old applications are attended to, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has said.

While addressing journalists in Abuja on Tuesday, the comptroller of NIS, Mohammad Babandede, said the agency would commence the accepting new applications from June 1.

Mr Babandede said the directive was given by the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola.

“The process of receiving and processing all fresh passport applications nationwide is suspended till 1st June 2021, when the new passport regime would have taken effect,” he said.

“The suspension of receiving and processing of fresh passport applications is to allow for clearance of every passport application that was received before 17th of May 2021.”

He said all payment portals have been closed till June 1 and a task force will be sent to passport offices to clear the backlog.

Mr Babandede said deputy comptrollers have been deployed to all passport centres to monitor the process and ensure the directive is followed.

New applications will be granted in six weeks from the time of application, he said.

Mr Babandede decorated senior officers of the NIS who were recently promoted.

By Oge Udegbunam 

Premium Times

Nigeria is quietly rewriting fintech’s rulebook

It all started with a tweet on New Year’s Day, 2016. Joshua Chibueze, a computer scientist and entrepreneur based in Lagos, Nigeria, floated the idea of digitising the kolo, a wooden box similar to a piggy bank, used in many Nigerian homes to save money.

Chibueze had heard that, with enough persistence, people could set aside significant sums, but when he started using a kolo himself he realised how easy it was for upwardly mobile young Nigerians like him to forget – or simply lack the discipline – to save every single day. Worse: as Nigeria’s economy was getting increasingly cashless, an old box did not sound like an effective saving device – and was a security liability.

Hence the idea of a digital kolo. Odunayo Eweniyi, a fellow entrepreneur (and Twitter friend of Chibueze’s), was the first to reply to his tweet on the subject. “The conversation progressed from digitising to automating the kolo,” Eweniyi recalls. The pair teamed up and – alongside a third co-founder, Somto Ifezue – built an online savings platform to help medium-to-low-earning Nigerians save small amounts daily, weekly, monthly, or annually. Launched as in February 2016, today it is known as PiggyVest.

Marketing solely on social media for the first couple of years, PiggyVest was able to help Nigerians sign up easily using their smartphones, automate savings and earn interest, with rates between six and ten per cent. By the end of 2018, PiggyVest had helped over 53,000 users save close to a billion Nigerian naira (£2,000,000).

In 2015, two per cent of Nigerians controlled 90 per cent of banks’ total deposits, according to the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, a government-backed financial agency. One year later, Nigerian financial inclusion advocacy group EFInA found that only 36.9 million adult Nigerians – out of a population of over 195 million – had access to a bank account. Nigeria was grappling with a huge unbanked population and PiggyVest set to cater to this demographic blending technology and traditional saving methods.

“The thing about the unbanked is that they’re actually banked, they’re just not formally banked,” says Eweniyi. “Banking is necessary to them but the banks themselves haven’t proven to be.” She believes that Nigeria’s financial exclusion problem will be solved by working with people rather than offering top-down solutions.

That is why Piggy`vest has decided to borrow well-tested models from Africa’s financial history: after its debut as a digital kolo, in May 2018 the company launched a new feature – called Smart Target – modelled af

ter the traditional saving practice of ajo. First recorded in the 19th century, but rumoured to have been around for longer among the Yoruba ethnic group, an ajo consists of a group of colleagues, friends, or religious peers, each contributing the same amount of money at an agreed frequency to hit a financial target. At the end of each savings cycle – typically, a month – one member of the group receives the entire saving pot; the ajo goes on until everyone has received their payout.

“My mum belonged to at least four ajo groups, one of which was at the university where she was a lecturer,” says Eweniyi, whose parents were both academics. “My parents relied on ajo to pay their way through our education and this is how most middle-class families I know survived.”

PiggyVest’s take on ajo, however, tweaks the tradition to fit the times: Smart Target lets people save towards a common goal together as an online community, but unlike ajo, users are in control of how much they contribute and where the payout goes.

PiggyVest is just one of a new breed of Nigerian fintech companies. “Companies like PiggyVest have moved to push savings and budgeting consciousness, by gamifying the process and including a reward system for users who follow through,” says Modupe Odele, a lawyer and startup consultant based in Washington, DC. She predicts that in the near future, Nigeria’s fintech industry will start broadening its scope.

“We have payments, we have savings and these are great, but there's still a lot of financial technology that is ripe for exploration,” Odele says. 

By Kiki Mordi


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Monday, May 17, 2021

1,603 killed, 1,774 abducted in violent attacks across Nigeria in three months

At least 1,603 people were killed in violent attacks across Nigeria between January and March 2021, a report by a non-governmental organisation, Nigeria Mourns, has shown.

The report titled “Violent Incidents Report: January – March 2021″ was published on Sunday.

The group said it gathered its figures through the use of newspaper reports and family sources to track violent killings.

The report also showed that 1,774 people were abducted within the three months under review.

“In the Q1 of 2021, Nigeria continued to experience inordinately high incidents of armed violence with very high body counts. Our tracking shows that at least 1603 persons lost their lives in the country from January – March 2021,” the group said on Twitter.

On the aspect of the perpetrators of the violence, the report revealed that 921 people were killed by suspected bandits, 207 people killed by persons suspected to be members of Boko Haram or its breakaway faction, ISWAP, 205 killed in isolated attacks and 106 lives were claimed by cult clashes.

Also, 79 people died through extra-judicial killings, communal crises led to the death of 53 people and 32 people killed by herdsmen.

A member of the Nigeria Mourns Coalition, Ier Jonathan, said the figures are worrying “but not meant to criticise the government.”

Rising insecurity

Nigeria has been battling with various forms of insecurity for years. This led to agitation by many citizens for state police.

As part of efforts to curb the challenges, South-west governors last year created a regional paramilitary outfit, Amotekun.

Also, the governors of the South-east states resolved to maintain a joint security outfit to be called Ebube Agu in April.

Aside from ordinary citizens, different state governors – Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Babagana Zulum of Borno, and Hope Uzodinma of Imo, among others, have been victims of violence as they or their properties were attacked.

Mr Ortom recently knocked the federal government for being complacent in the face of insecurity.

Governor Abubakar Bello of Niger State in early May told journalists that Boko Haram terrorists have been occupying some communities in the state.

He claimed the terrorists have displaced over 3,000 residents of the affected communities.

Governors want Buhari to address nation

The 17 governors in southern states of Nigeria, on Tuesday, asked the federal government to “convoke a national dialogue as a matter of urgency.”

They called on President Muhammadu Buhari to “address Nigerians on the challenges of insecurity.”

The National Assembly had also called for a national security summit with the House of Representatives already announcing modalities for one of such.

President Muhammadu Buhari has never shown support for such calls. He also did not endorse the establishment of state police.

Buhari’s aide blames ‘evil forces’

Amidst the security challenges, President Buhari’s media aide, Femi Adesina, blamed ‘evil forces’ popularly referred to as ‘Aiye’ in Yoruba as the reason for insecurity in Nigeria.

“…Just as some forces knew the record that was to be achieved by Muhammadu Buhari as Nigerian President, and which he had begun to show since 2015 when he got into office, they positioned themselves against the government

“The lesson? When you are high-flying, the centrifugal forces will come against you, and it would only take the grace of God for you to attain.

“Yoruba people call those forces Aiye. When Aiye is on your case, as it was against Man City, and it is against the Buhari government, you need God, and God alone. Aiye (meaning ‘the world,’ if freely translated) is the negative part of mankind. The pernicious, baleful, sly and scheming part of humanity. If Aiye gets on your matter, you need God and God alone,” his article published on Thursday partly read.

He, however, expressed optimism that Mr Buhari will conquer.

“Who says Nigeria will not rise from its current travails? Who says Aiye will always win? Not where God is involved. And God is involved with Nigeria, our own dear na Under President Buhari, peace and security would be restored. The economy would rebound. Life would be abundant for the people, and Aiye would be left standing small, holding the rump of the flag of a country it thought had gone into oblivion,” he wrote.

By Adejumo Kabir

Premium Times 

Related stories: Nigerian lawmakers demand action on security crisis

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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Video - Nigeria's booming investment in cryptocurrency continues despite ban


Global cryptocurrency trading platform Paxful recently announced that Nigeria had become the biggest market for bitcoin and cryptocurrency on its exchange despite the imposition of restrictions on trading in cryptocurrencies by the Central Bank of Nigeria. Kunle Lawal says he has made a fortune from the trade encouraging him to educate and train people in his community about how to go about it. He, however, cautions people to make informed decisions before getting involved in the trade, in addition to not committing all their money into one pot.

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Starlink in advanced talks for Nigerian operating licence

Elon Musk’s satellite broadband constellation Starlink is currently in advanced talks with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in order to attain the licences needed to offer internet services

In the past few months, Elon Musk’s Space X has reportedly been in discussions with the NCC in order to obtain operating licences for its low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation Starlink.
Discussions appear to have progressed significantly, with SpaceX’s Starlink Market Access Director for Africa, Ryan Goodnight, meeting NCC representatives in person on Friday to discuss the matter further.

“As the regulator of a highly dynamic sector in Nigeria, the commission is conscious of the need to ensure that our regulatory actions are anchored on national interest,” said Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, NCC, Ubale Maska. “We have listened to your presentation and we will review it vis-à-vis our regulatory direction of ensuring effective and a sustainable telecoms ecosystem where a licensee’s operational model does not dampen healthy competition among other licensees.”

SpaceX has been launching LEO Starlink satellites at an impressive pace in recent months, with over 1,400 currently in orbit. However, this is just a fraction of the company’s ultimate goal, with Musk targetting around 30,000 satellites to make coverage available worldwide.

For Starlink, Nigeria has been cited as a key emerging market. Back in March, Starlink was reported as aiming to launch services in Nigeria in late 2021, expanding the service across the rest of Africa in 2022.

Currently, Nigeria’s internet penetration is around 50%, but the government has stated that it wants to increase this figure to 90% of the country online by 2025. Starlink could potentially play a key role in meeting this goal, with Starlink’s broadband service theoretically available to anyone simply by setting up a small amount of related hardware: a small satellite dish, a router, power supply, and mounting tripod.

This ease of access could make Starlink popular in Nigeria, particularly for rural communities with limited access to connectivity. In the past, Musk has said that Starlink poses no threat to traditional operators, instead only seeking to offer services to areas where deploying conventional connectivity is too expensive.

However, despite its broad accessibility, the cost of Starlink broadband will be prohibitive – at least for now.

Currently, the Starlink’s beta service costs $99 a month, with a one off payment of $499 for the requisite hardware. Such a high price tag could see many Nigerians, and indeed most Africans, excluded from accessing the service.

Nonetheless, we should remember that this is still very early days for Starlink, and regional price plans may be announced at a later date.

In the meantime, the additional satellites being launched are seeing Starlink’s coverage and quality of service improve, with Musk himself noting that available speeds will double to around 300mbps and latency will fall to around 20ms later this year.

By Harry Baldock

Total Telecom

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Meet Hugo Obi: Nigerian Entrepreneur Changing The Video Gaming Landscape In Africa

Monday, May 10, 2021

At least 28 dead following boat mishap in north-central Nigeria

At least 28 people were confirmed dead while seven others were declared missing following a boat mishap in Nigeria's central-north state of Niger, said local authorities on Sunday.

Ahmed Inga, the director-general of the State Emergency Management Agency(SEMA) in Niger, said the accident happened at about 6 p.m. local time on Saturday when a wooden boat carrying 100 people hit a stump of a tree and broke in a river in Shiroro local government area of the state.

Inga said the boat sink about 50 metres to its destination.

He said so far 65 people have been rescued and 28 corpses recovered by local divers, while seven people are still missing.

A rescue operation was still ongoing to recover the missing persons, Inga said. 


Germany has agreed to return Nigeria’s looted treasure. Will other countries follow?

The bronze plaques from his birthplace looked strange at the British Museum.

Enotie Ogbebor, a visiting artist, knew they were cultural treasures. West African sculptors had crafted them over six centuries to tell the history of Benin, a kingdom that stood in what is now southern Nigeria until British troops invaded in 1897.

But on display in London, he recalled, they carried the aura of war trophies.

Colonial soldiers had plundered his ancestors’ land, seizing what became collectively known as the Benin bronzes. Thousands of plaques, masks and figures wrought from largely metal, ivory and wood landed in museums across Europe and the United States.

“They look so out of place, out of context,” said Ogbebor, 52. “To see them in isolation, far away from home, kept for onlookers to gawk at without any real understanding of what happened — it’s like being a witness to your family story told wrongly.”

Some of the bronzes are now set to come home: Last week, Germany became the first country to announce plans to send hundreds of pieces back to Nigeria, starting next year.

The German restitution pledge, the largest thus far, has injected momentum into the push for other governments to do the same as nations worldwide grapple with histories of racial injustice. Protest movements have placed a fresh spotlight on old atrocities, toppled statues and called for the recovery of items stolen — often violently — during colonial rule.

“To hold onto the works is to add salt to an open wound,” said Ogbebor, a member of the Legacy Restoration Trust, which represents Nigeria’s government and regional leaders.

Germany’s culture minister said the shift stemmed from “moral responsibility,” and a handful of museums elsewhere have launched their own efforts as curators reexamine the bloody origins of prized artifacts.

Benin bronzes can be found at 161 museums around the world, according to research by Dan Hicks, a curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford and the author of “The Brutish Museums.” Thirty-eight are in the United States. Only nine of the institutions are in Nigeria.

Many institutions remain hesitant to relinquish the work.

The British Museum — owner of the world’s biggest collection, at roughly 900 pieces — is legally prohibited from releasing the Benin bronzes because Parliament regulates its inventory.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which has said it acquired Benin works from donors, has revealed no plans to return them. (The Met did not respond to requests for comment.)

Pressure has swelled over the last year, however, as protesters flooded cities, reinvigorating dialogue around painful memories. Atop the African Union’s agenda this year: fighting the coronavirus — and recovering stolen heritage.

“In the present moment, we are seeing a reckoning with institutional racism, which starts with the observation that institutional racism has a history,” said Hicks, the Oxford curator.

The Horniman Museum in London, a registered charity that holds 15 of the bronzes, announced in March that it would explore “the possible return” of anything plundered. Days later, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland said it would send back the bust of a Benin ruler. And last month, the National Museum of Ireland pledged to release 21 works to Nigeria.

Returned art will be installed at the forthcoming Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, which Ghanaian British architect David Adjaye has signed on to design. (Though the doors aren’t slated to open until 2025, organizers say secure storage is likely to be ready by the end of next year.)

Little remained after Benin fell.

The kingdom, which dated back to the 11th century, had been one of West Africa’s great powers. Historians say its earthen walls rivaled the Great Wall of China.

Then came the British, who by the mid-1800s were exerting control over the surrounding areas. Benin enjoyed trade influence that irked colonial leaders, researchers say. The breaking point came when West African forces ambushed a British expedition that had not received permission to enter the kingdom, killing dozens.

Britain responded with 1,200 troops, warships and 3 million bullets, according to Hicks’s research. Benin burned to the ground. Official documents offer no casualty number, but researchers estimate widespread death.

The British military called the destruction “punitive.”

Soldiers went on to loot the kingdom’s riches, telling British authorities that the ivory alone would cover the cost of the mission. Some kept the bronzes for themselves, making them family heirlooms. European art scholars lavished praise on the works, and they were quickly auctioned off.

The spoils of Benin sat on display in England just six months later.

Nigeria has been calling for their return since it gained independence in 1960. The theft stripped away centuries of knowledge, said Victor Ehikhamenor, an artist from Benin City. Generations lost the opportunity to build on the work of their forebears.

“I grew up with the leftovers,” he said.

And the narrative of white dominance lives on in revered places. Schoolchildren see the “punitive” language next to popular exhibits. Google “Benin bronzes,” and the search engine delivers a harmful euphemism: “Discovered by: British forces.”

“These works were not legally acquired,” said Ehikhamenor, a member of Nigeria’s restoration effort. “Museums are oversaturated with colonial conquests.”

Today, he said, the people and institutions that benefited from Benin’s collapse have a chance to make amends.

Museums can put the Benin bronzes in the mail or transfer ownership to Nigeria. Leaders in Benin City have embraced the idea of loaning them out to museums across the globe, just as Spain might let France borrow a Picasso painting — on fair terms, as equals.

By Danielle Paquette

The Washington Post 

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Friday, May 7, 2021

Meet Hugo Obi: Nigerian Entrepreneur Changing The Video Gaming Landscape In Africa

Over the last decade, we have seen significant growth in the entertainment and media industry across Africa with both Afrobeats and Nollywood growing not just on the continent but internationally. An industry that has been slowly growing in the background as mobile technology is adopted on the continent is gaming. One entrepreneur who has been building a gaming company for almost a decade is Hugo Obi, founder of Maliyo Games.

Early Beginnings

Hugo was born in the U.K. but grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, and stayed there until his early 20s when he came back to the U.K. for university. He long had an interest in technology and in particular the business side of the industry. In light of this, he opted to study International Business, Economics & Finance at Manchester University. Upon completion of his studies like many of his peers in the late 00’s he decided to get a job in finance working for GE Capital. He quickly realized however that the corporate life wasn’t for him and decided to set up his own company helping large organizations find diverse talent for graduate recruiting. Some of the companies they worked with included Google when they first moved to the U.K. as well as many leading investment banks, law, and accounting firms.

Maintaining an interest in Nigeria and being entrepreneurial by nature Hugo took note of a shift in the narrative around Africa being a “rising star” in the early 2010s. Many people he knew from the diaspora had started moving back and during a conversation with a friend discussing the rise of the music and film industry, they realized how big the gaming industry could be. Many tech companies, particularly in the e-commerce space were expanding to Africa so he had confidence that building something would be feasible. This was the birth of Maliyo Games, a company that would explore creating games for African consumers that would increase diversity in gaming the same way Afrobeats has for music and Nollywood for film.

Maliyo Games

When Hugo announced Maliyo Games there was a significant amount of interest given the mood towards tech on the continent at the time. However, setting things up proved to be difficult as whilst Nigeria had an abundance of creative talent able to do things such as 2-D animation, write stories and create graphics there was a dearth of technical talent. In the end, they decided to outsource the technical side of building games internationally whilst doing the graphics and design in-house. They launched their first few games which were desktop at the time and received a great reception. The games proved to be the backbone and validation for the mobile games they would later launch on Android as the platform grew across Africa.

The inspiration for the first games on mobile such as Mosquito Smasher, a game where the user has to squash mosquitoes, a very common nuisance in Africa went on to become a success. Applying a level of cultural relevance to good game ideals and practices continued to work for other games however, Hugo realized that to scale they needed to ensure that there was enough local talent in the ecosystem. To his fortune, this was also the time YouTube was becoming more widely used on the continent and its vast educational back catalog on how to program was valuable as many people who were not encouraged to pursue things like computer programming in school started learning in their spare time. Maliyo Games noticed this and started to work in the ecosystem setting up competitions as well as training boot camps for up-and-coming talent. This allowed them to help grow the ecosystem and secure a pipeline of talent for their own company. Today the entire Maliyo Games team is based in Nigeria, something which did not seem so possible at the start of the journey.

Having established itself as one of the leaders in the mobile gaming industry in Africa and going into its second leg of growth Hugo says the company's focus is “not just on launching games that will be a hit but that will evolve and increase the standard in the industry”. Rather than quickly increasing their portfolio of 40 games they will focus on building and improving high-quality games. One of the games launching under this new ethos is called Danfo Racer, a racing game based around a “Danfo” which is a bus and popular form of transport. The game takes you around various parts of Africa racing which not only provides entertainment but allows the players to learn about different African country’s cultures.

A big part of Hugo’s mission when starting Maliyo Games was to help another industry, like music and entertainment, gain prominence in Africa developing products people could be proud of. This has evolved into not only wanting his company to succeed in doing this but building an ecosystem where he hopes many other gamers and gaming companies will realize the vast potential on the continent.

By Tommy Williams


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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Video - Strawberry farming in Nigeria

Strawberry farming in Nigeria is currently an untapped goldmine. Thwe fruits cultivation is mostly done in the North Central state of Plateau due to the cold climate there.And now young Nigerians are turning to strawberry farming as a viable source of income.

Nigeria army dismisses suggestions of takeover from Buhari

Nigeria's armed forces have dismissed suggestions that they should take over from President Muhammadu Buhari, who is facing mounting pressure over the country's worsening insecurity.

It was not the first time Nigeria's armed forces have issued a statement backing Buhari, but the latest has come after weeks of criticism of the 78-year-old former general's failures to stem the protracted security crisis.

From a jihadist insurgency in the northeast to herder-farmer clashes in the centre, banditry in the northwest and separatist tensions in the southeast, Buhari's armed forces appear to be struggling to curb insecurity.

In a statement late Monday, the armed forces said they would continue to "fully" support the government, remain politically neutral and protect Nigeria's democracy.

"Let it be stated categorically that the Armed Forces of Nigeria remain fully committed to the present administration and all associated democratic institutions," army spokesman Onyema Nwachukwu said in the statement.

"We shall continue to remain apolitical, subordinate to the civil authority, firmly loyal to the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari and the 1999 Constitution as amended," it said.

Last week, lawmakers had urged Buhari to declare a nationwide state of emergency after a month of almost daily attacks, kidnappings and killings across Africa's most populous country.

The mililtary statement referred specifically to comments made by Robert Clarke, a prominent lawyer and social commentator.

He had said the country was on the brink of collapse and suggested the political leadership hand power to the military so that the security forces could be restructured.

Opposition figures like Bukola Saraki and Nobel winner and playwright Wole Soyinka have also urged Buhari to seek external help or resign.

In a statement Tuesday, Buhari's office said "some disgruntled religious and past political leaders" were planning to "eventually throw the country into a tailspin, which would compel a forceful and undemocratic change of leadership."

Describing such attempt as "patently illegal, and even treasonable," the presidency warned that such behaviour "would attract the necessary consequences."

- Security meeting -

Buhari met with his top security chiefs last week and again on Tuesday to discuss the country's violence.

"We shall continue to discharge our constitutional responsibilities professionally, especially in protecting the country’s democracy, defence of the territorial integrity of the country as well as protection of lives and properties of citizens," the military statement said.

The army expressed the hope that the nation's "current security challenges are not insurmountable."

Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999 after almost 16 years of military rule.

Buhari, a former army commander and military ruler in the 1980s, was first elected in 2015 and re-elected four years later on a pledge to end the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast.

Rather than abate, the Islamist rebellion has stubbornly persisted with a Boko Haram splinter faction, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), becoming the dominant jihadist force.

Since 2009 when it began, the jihadist uprising has killed 36,000 people and forced over two million others to flee their homes in Nigeria's northeast alone.

The violence has also spread to neighbouring Chad, Niger and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition to fight the insurgents.

By Joel Olatunde


‘Nobody is safe’: Nigeria reels from nationwide wave of deadly violence

Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari has come under mounting pressure from critics and allies alike as the country reels from multiple security crises that have claimed hundreds of lives in recent weeks.

An alarming wave of violence has left millions in Africa’s most populous country in uproar at the collapse in security. Attacks by jihadist groups in the north-east have been compounded by a sharp rise in abductions targeting civilians in schools and at interstate links across Nigeria. Mass killings by bandit groups in rural towns, a reported rise in armed robberies in urban areas and increasingly daring attacks on security forces by pro-Biafran militants in the south-east have also all risen.

In April alone, almost 600 civilians were killed across the country and at least 406 abducted by armed groups, according to analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations. The violence has left much of the country on edge and Buhari facing the fiercest criticism since he took office.

Governors, politicians – including those in the president’s own All Progressives Congress (APC) party – Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka and civil society groups have all called for urgent measures, and criticised the 78-year-old president.

Among the most scathing criticisms in recent weeks have come from allies. “This is the worst instability we are facing. Our security system has collapsed, it has failed,” APC senator Smart Adeyemi said on the senate floor last week. “The security infrastructure that we have today cannot cope with what we are facing. From the north to the south nobody is safe, nobody can travel 50km in our nation,” he added before breaking down in tears.

Soyinka, who in recent years has been an ardent critic of Buhari’s government, has bemoaned a lack of leadership. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a government. It was quite apparent, even before the end of Buhari’s first term that he is not capable of the task of being president,” he told the Guardian in a recent interview. “Human lives have become expendable and the president has shown he is not able to protect.”

The former military general returned to power in 2015, promising to tackle Boko Haram and corruption. Yet some of the gains made in fighting the jihadist group have come undone, with multiple groups now active. Elsewhere in the country, insecurity has soared as the president has cut a muted and remote figure.

Life for millions in Africa’s largest economy has become increasingly hard, with Nigeria suffering two recessions in the last five years. The number of unemployed people has more than doubled since 2015 to 23 million.

As the economy has suffered, crime and insecurity has grown and the failings of Nigeria’s underfunded and under-equipped security forces have grown more glaring.

On Tuesday, distraught parents of 17 university students, among 22 people kidnapped from Greenfield University in Kaduna in the north-west last month, protested in the streets of the capital, Abuja, accusing the government of abandoning them and pleading with authorities to secure their children’s release.

Serial kidnappings this year by armed groups targeting students in the north have sparked outrage and despair.

The Greenfield University kidnappers have killed five of the students after parents were only able to raise half of the $263,000 ransom demanded. On Monday, an assailant who claimed to have carried out the abduction told Voice of America radio that the 17 remaining students would be killed if the rest of the ransom was not paid on Tuesday.

The policy of the Kaduna government is not to pay ransoms, which it says fuel a kidnap “industry”. But families have been left bereft, with many critical that the policy has not been supported by an increase in local security measures.

Shehu Sani, a senator for the opposition People’s Democratic party in Kaduna, said on Tuesday: “We must not wait for bandits to throw the corpses of our 17 children on our doorsteps … If the government has a better solution to freeing the kidnapped students other than the one embarked upon by the parents of the students, let it be put to work immediately.”

Reforms to restructure and better fund the police were urgently needed, Sani said. “The government has just failed to live up to its responsibilities and expectations. Corrupt security officers feeding on the defence budget must be dealt with and the welfare of troops must be upgraded. The military and the police must be better armed to match the bandits and terrorists.”

The Guardian

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Nigeria's Buhari condemns killing of 'tens' of villagers

Search Underway for Kidnapped Students from Nigeria’s Kaduna State

Monday, May 3, 2021

Nigeria bans travellers from India, Brazil, Turkey over COVID-19 fears

Nigeria will ban travellers coming from India, Brazil and Turkey because of concerns about the rampant spread of coronavirus in those countries, a presidential committee said on Sunday.

"Non-Nigerian passport holders and non-residents who visited Brazil, India or Turkey within Fourteen (14) days preceding travel to Nigeria, shall be denied entry into Nigeria," Boss Mustapha, chairman of the presidential steering committee on COVID-19, said in a statement.

The ban will take effect from May 4, the statement said.

Nigeria announced 43 confirmed new coronavirus cases on Saturday, bringing its total to 165,153, with 2,063 deaths.

Indian hospitals, morgues and crematoriums have been overwhelmed as the country has reported more than 300,000 daily cases for more than 10 days straight. Many families have been left on their own to find medicines and oxygen.

In Brazil, new coronavirus cases have fallen off a late-March peak, but remain high by historical standards. Total deaths in the country are second only to the United States.

Turkey imposed a nationwide "full lockdown" on Thursday, lasting until May 17, to curb a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths, with the world's fourth highest number of cases and the worst on a per-capita basis among major nations.