Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Video - Boko Haram exploiting social vulnerabilities

For over a decade, Boko Haram has launched attacks in the Sahel region. The group launched its first series of attacks in Nigeria's Borno state. A report by the Tony Blair Institute says Boko Haram established power by exploiting social vulnerabilities. Chief among those is the low-level of education in Nigeria's northeast. UNESCO puts the literacy rate for Borno state at 14 point 5 percent. The report urges authorities to prioritise soft-power policy programmes to combat the threat posed by Boko Haram.

Nigerian Police Ordered to Free 5 Anti-Buhari Activists

 A Nigerian court has ordered the secret police to release five suspects detained for wearing T-shirts criticizing President Muhammadu Buhari, their lawyer said Tuesday.

The men were arrested early this month by the Department of State Service (DSS) during a church service led by a well-known evangelical pastor in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

They had been wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Buhari Must Go!" inside the church when they were arrested and detained.

The church was accused of aiding the arrests, but it denied the allegation.

On Monday, the federal high court Abuja ordered the DSS to release the suspects, lawyer Allen Sowore told AFP.

"The judge ordered their release forthwith without any condition. But we have not got a certified true copy of that order," he said.

He said his clients were yet to be freed.

"Unfortunately, the judge has not signed the order. So, we just came here [to the DSS office] thinking that they will act on the order of the court, but they have not acted."

Buhari, a former army commander, has come under fire after his government recently banned Twitter, a move Western allies and critics warned undermined freedom of expression.

Officials announced the ban after Twitter removed a remark from Buhari's personal account for violating its policies.

The Nigerian leader is also under pressure to tackle the country's insecurity.

The security forces are battling an Islamist insurgency in the northeast, a surge in mass kidnappings by criminal gangs in central and northwestern states, and separatist tension in parts of the south.


Monday, July 26, 2021

Video - Kidnappers in Nigeria release 28 schoolchildren

Emotional scenes in Nigeria’s Kaduna state as 28 schoolchildren were reunited with their parents after being abducted by armed men. Other families were left in tears, with 87 students still missing.

Nigeria school kidnappers abduct man delivering ransom

Kidnappers in Nigeria have seized a man who was sent to deliver a ransom payment to secure the release of dozens of abducted school children.

The elderly man was sent by the children's parents after they managed to raise 30m naira ($73,000; £53,000) by selling land and other possessions.

But they have been left feeling hopeless following his kidnapping.

The north of the country is in the midst of a wave of school abductions carried out by criminals for profit.

Ransoms are frequently paid, but this is a rare case where the person carrying the cash has been taken.

The kidnappers called up the school's headteacher to say that the money delivered was not the agreed sum.

The 136 students were taken from an Islamic school in Tegina, Niger state, in late May.

Gunmen riding on motorcycles stormed the town and opened fire indiscriminately killing one person and injuring another.

As people fled, the attackers went to the school and seized the children.

The parents and school administrators negotiated with the criminals and agreed to pay the ransom. They sold part of the school's land as well as other possessions.

Headteacher Malam Abubakar Alhassan told the BBC that six people were sent with the correct amount to meet the kidnappers near the forest where the children were being held.

When they arrived, the gunmen demanded that one of the group, an elderly man, follow them into the forest so that the cash could be counted.

But they later called to say the money was not sufficient.

"Parents are now resigned to fate. They say they can't raise any more money. They are now relying on God," Mr Alhassan told the BBC.

More than 1,000 students have been abducted from schools across northern Nigeria since December last year.

Hundreds of them are still in captivity, but 28 of the 121 children taken from the Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna state earlier this month were freed on Saturday night.

The authorities are being severely criticised for their failure to tackle the country's widespread insecurity including the deepening kidnapping crisis.

By Ishaq Khalid


Related stories: Nigeria gunmen kidnap 'nurses and infants' from hospital

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Nigerian outrage at brazen bandit attacks

Nigerians refer to them as bandits - a word that does not quite do justice to what are in fact networks of sophisticated criminals who operate across large swathes of northern-western and central Nigeria.

Gangs on motorbikes terrorise the region, stealing animals, kidnapping for ransom, killing anyone who dares confront them and taxing farmers - it's a huge money-making operation.

Over the last four years the security forces have not been able to get a handle on the situation, which millions of Nigerians feel is out of control.

Last week President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the Dutsinma-to-Tsaskiya road in his home state of Katsina but few people dare travel on it after countless attacks.

Most top government officials, including security chiefs, take the train linking the capital, Abuja, to Kaduna because of frequent abductions on the road between the two cities.

A serving army general was recently killed on the main road from Abuja to central Kogi state and his sister, who had been travelling with him, was kidnapped.

This week, 13 military police were killed in an ambush in Zamfara state when at the same time at least 150 villagers were abducted.

At the moment at least 300 students are being held by kidnappers who seized them from their schools in Kaduna, Niger and Kebbi states at different times over the last two months - many taken in broad daylight.

Some are Islamic primary school students as young as five and most of them, if the kidnappers are to be believed, have fallen sick.

In all these cases, the gangs are asking for huge amounts of money to release the children - ransoms the parents cannot afford, while the authorities insist that they will neither pay ransoms nor negotiate with criminals.

The kidnappers, whose hideouts are in vast camps in forests, are brazen.

As they hold out for payment, they hassle parents with demands for bags of rice, beans and cooking oil to feed their captives.

Dozens of schools spread across at least five northern states have been closed by the authorities as they are unable to protect them.


Food prices spiral

This has not stopped the gangs, who have recently turned to targeting more high-profile figures such as a local emir and his family.

Hundreds of villages have been deserted after some of the most brutal and deadly attacks.

In some areas, the gangs dictate what the locals can do and levy taxes.

Such insecurity in one of the country's rich agricultural belts is clear for all to see.

This year has already seen unprecedented rises in the prices of staple foods like maize, rice and beans that are grown there.

Now in the middle of the farming season huge tracts of farmland are inaccessible.


'Sophisticated know-how'

The one clear advantage - air power - that the authorities seemed to have over the criminals is now under threat.

Reports that a military jet had been shot down on Sunday by one of the gangs were at first flatly denied.

But when villagers in the area told reporters they had helped the pilot to escape to safety, the military issued a statement with a more positive spin - commending the "gallant pilot" who had come under "intense enemy fire" after a "successful" mission.

The authorities may have tried to downplay the incident but it shocked security analysts.

"We know the bandits have all those bazookas, rocket launchers… We didn't believe they have the technical know-how and capacity to use them," retired security official Mike Ejiofor told the Vanguard newspaper.

Some of the gang members have been boasting of their alliance with Islamist Boko Haram militants, who have waged a decade-long insurgency in north-eastern Nigeria and some of whom are now linked to the Islamic State group. Such allegations have not been independently verified.

However one bandit leader holding about 90 schoolchildren has told their parents that he will marry off the girls to his fighters and indoctrinate the boys to join his group - tactics used by Boko Haram to expand.

For one columnist, Boko Haram specialist Bulama Bukarti, these outrages take the issue to another level.

"It is time for Buhari to declare these beasts as the terrorists that they are and deploy all available resources to fight them. There can be no ifs, no buts, no equivocation."

Mr Ejiofor echoed this, saying: "The military should go all out for them and carry out sustained bombing of their enclaves."

The communities affected are at their wits' end over the growing boldness of the criminal gangs.

But with more calls for more military intervention, some may be looking nervously at the three states left devastated by Boko Haram - where millions are still living in overcrowded camps far from their old homes and livelihoods.


Related stories: 100 kidnapped villagers freed after 42-day captivity

Video - Nigeria kidnappings: Parents of abducted students of Kaduna plead for help

Friday, July 23, 2021

Video - Cholera outbreak kills 30 in Nigeria's northern state of Jigawa


An outbreak of cholera has killed 30 people in Nigeria's northern state of Jigawa since May, according to an official. More than 2,000 people have been hospitalized in the state in the last two months, said Salisu Mu'azu, an official of the state ministry of health, who confirmed the outbreak to reporters in Dutse, the state capital, Monday.

Video - Industrial Chemist develops pigment to reduce waste in Nigeria

An industrial Chemist has developed pigment to reduce food wastage in the West African nation of Nigeria. CGTN's Tesem Akende with a detailed report.

Eyimofe: Twin Directors’ Stunning Feature Debut Takes Nigerian Cinema To New Heights

Financed entirely in Nigeria and made with a predominantly Nigerian cast and crew, Arie and Chuko Esiri are capturing international attention with their feature in new movie “Eyimofe”.

“Eyimofe” (“This Is My Desire”), the debut feature from co-directors (and twin brothers) Arie and Chuko Esiri, is a heartrending and hopeful portrait of everyday human endurance in Nigeria, West Africa. The film traces the journeys of two distantly connected strangers at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

Shot on richly textured 16mm, the film is a vivid snapshot of life in contemporary, colorful, chaotic Lagos, the largest city in the country, whose social fabric is captured in all its vibrancy and complexity. It’s also a tale that was inspired by the filmmakers’ own journey.

“In a romantic way, we wanted to insert the film in the catalog and annals of the great city films that had been shot on celluloid,” said Chuko in a recent interview with News men. “We’ve seen Rome on film, we’ve seen Paris and London, but everything that we’d seen of Nigeria on film is archival footage, it’s ethnographic footage, it’s documentary. It’s not cinema, and cinema is a completely different beast.”

Documentary filmmakers might beg to differ, but the brothers are steadfast in their thinking. Still, the immortalization of the city on celluloid is a noble feat, especially when shooting in a country without any stable cinema infrastructure, a notoriously unreliable electrical grid and nightmarish traffic.

“Shooting on the streets of Lagos is notoriously difficult, because it’s a dense city and has what are called ‘area boys,’ or street guys,” Chuko said. “The idea of shutting down a street for a film production — I mean, if the president of the country can’t do that when he visits, then we weren’t going to be able to do it for our movie.”

Born 30 minutes apart in Warri, Nigeria, they grew up in Lagos, but at the age of eight, their parents shipped them off to boarding school in England to complete their formal education. At the time, there were no cinemas in Nigeria, so movies weren’t a part of their childhood. “At the time, the country was experiencing successive military regimes, and each regime had bright ideas about what was good for the culture, and these ideas were almost never good,” Chuko said. “So we didn’t grow up going to movies.”

Twenty years later, they both enrolled in film schools: Arie graduated from Columbia University and Chuko from New York University. During their time in New York City, they collaborated on a pair of short films: “Goose,” presented at the LA Film Festival in 2017, and “Besida,” which premiered at the Berlinale in 2018.

They returned to Nigeria as adults and found a Lagos that has somehow felt foreign. “Eyimofe” was born out of that experience — the idea of leaving and returning much later to whatever “home” is.

“It came from my returning to Nigeria for my stint in the National Youth Service,” he said. “From the age of eight to 22, I had only spent time in Nigeria on holiday, so now I was spending substantial time in a place to which I belonged but where I was also something of an alien — until then I hadn’t really faced all that it meant to be in Nigeria. I wanted to return to where it felt more familiar and where I would feel more comfortable in a national film industry. Even though Nigeria has a robust industry, Nollywood is a massive machine but I didn’t want to make the kind of films people make in it.”

While the Esiri brothers spent much of their lives overseas, “Eyimofe” was financed entirely in Nigeria and made with a predominantly Nigerian cast and crew. The film is now drawing a new level of international attention to Nigerian cinema and screening at several festivals, including Berlin and New Directors/New Films. However, as Nigerian movies get more notice outside the country, it’s also raising the issue of exactly what a “Nigerian film” is supposed to be.

Akeju, a US-based director at Aflik TV while making comment on the new movie, added: ” The movie details much of African migrants experiences in the Diaspora. The production is very different and professional. Kudos to the directors and all the team behind it”

The Janus Films will release “Eyimofe” across various theaters on Friday, July 23, 2021 and will be hoping it inspires as much audiences as possible.

The Guardian

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

100 kidnapped villagers freed after 42-day captivity

Police in Nigeria’s northwestern state of Zamfara have said they secured the release of 100 villagers kidnapped in early June following negotiations with their abductors.

Mohammed Shehu, spokesman for Zamfara state police, said in a statement on Tuesday the release was “unconditional” and that it had been secured “without giving any financial or material gain” to the gang.

The released hostages would undergo medical checks before being reunited with their families, Shehu said.

The group, including women and children, had been brought to a forest hideout after gunmen, locally known as bandits, stormed Manawa village on June 8.

A source familiar with the negotiations told the AFP news agency the bandits agreed to release the kidnapped villagers after the police and state authorities “assured them no action would be taken against them for the kidnap”.

Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from the Nigerian capital Abuja, said that 24 other people were still to be evacuated from the forest due to their health condition as many were wounded.

The hostages’ release, without payment, could be explained by the government’s increased military activity in the area over the past few weeks, Idris noted, or the result of amnesty schemes granted to bandits in some states, such as in Katsina and Zamfara.

“But many Nigerians believe that that amnesty has not worked, and it’s not working, because many of them [bandits] that have abandoned arms, have taken them again against the state and continued their kidnapping,” Idris added.

Northwest and central Nigeria have in recent years fallen prey to gangs of cattle thieves and kidnappers who raid villages, killing and kidnapping residents in addition to stealing livestock after looting and burning homes.

The criminals have begun to focus on raiding schools and kidnapping students for ransom. Hostages are usually released after ransom payment, with those whose families fail to pay often being killed by the captors.

These groups operate from camps in the vast Rugu forest, which cuts across Zamfara, Katsina, and Kaduna states in Nigeria, as well as neighbouring Niger.

On Monday, 13 policemen were killed in Zamfara state when they were ambushed by a gang as they deployed to protect a village from imminent attack.

Nigeria’s air force has in the past attacked bandit camps while some northern states have sought to negotiate with the gangs by offering amnesties in return for disarmament. But both military deployment and attempted peace deals have failed to end the violence.

The air force said over the past two weeks, daily and nightly flights over Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina states had “neutralised” hundreds of bandits.

On Sunday, intense gunfire from bandits caused a Nigerian fighter jet to crash in the northwestern state, but the pilot survived by ejecting from the aircraft.

Such gangs are not the only threat to the country’s northern region where armed group Boko Haram and its breakaway faction, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), have also been carrying out attacks for years.

According to the United Nations, the armed groups have forced nearly 2.4 million people in Nigeria and neighbouring countries to flee.

Al Jazeera

Related story: Video - Nigeria kidnappings: Parents of abducted students of Kaduna plead for help 

Monday, July 19, 2021

Video - Nigeria planning to stop losing medics to foreign countries

Nigeria is planning to come up with a strategy to stop losing of its medical practitioners to foreign countries.

Friday, July 16, 2021

A long way from home: The child ‘house helpers’ of Nigeria

Kaduna State, Nigeria – The clouds are receding after a light drizzle on a damp May afternoon in Sabon Tasha, northern Nigeria. The front door to the three-bedroom bungalow is wide open to let in air, as the neighbourhood wades through one of its frequent power outages.

Inside, 12-year-old Aisha* moves around, doing chores and serving guests. She is one of many underage girls working as domestic help – commonly called “house girls” – in cities across Nigeria.

A little light pours into the sitting room through two windows at the back as Aisha’s employer, Safiya (who asked that her full name not be used), sits talking to three visitors from Abuja – her eldest daughter who works as a teacher in the Federal Capital Territory, and two others. Aisha serves them saucers of peanuts and Safiya shouts at her to hurry up and leave whenever she feels the girl is lingering longer than necessary. She reminds her to sweep the kitchen.

Safiya is a widow and a civil servant in a government ministry. The lines around her eyes place her age at over 50, but the way she flits through the conversation, bantering with her guests, makes her seem much younger.

She talks in fluent English but switches to Hausa when addressing Aisha, her tone shifting with the language; sharp and curt for Aisha, but softer, friendlier and punctuated with frequent laughter as she relaxes back into conversation with her guests. On her fingers are a few gold rings and on her wrist two gold bracelets that jingle when she waves her hands as she speaks. Her hair is covered by a scarf but the edges reveal dark cornrows with a sprinkling of grey.

A bright orange hijab conceals much of Aisha’s tiny frame. She barely says a word to Safiya, but nods to acknowledge instructions. When called, she quickly reappears from a door hidden behind a brown curtain.

The village to the city

Aisha was born in Buda, a village in Kano state, some 250km (155 miles) away, that is known for its maize and groundnut crops. Her father works on a farm during the planting and harvesting season. When the farming season is over, he picks up odd jobs wherever he can find them. Her mother is a housewife who also cares for a small farm of their own behind the house – a single building made from mud and straw. Like most rural settlements, there is no electricity or plumbing, and water is sourced from wells within the community.

Aisha moved to Kaduna a few months after she turned 10, with the help of an agent who had promised to find her work as a “house girl” in the city. She was told that if she behaved well, after a while she would be enrolled in school, an opportunity she had never had before. At the instruction of her father, she had packed up her few belongings in a black polythene bag and followed the woman. That was two years ago. She has still never been inside a classroom.

Safiya, who is Aisha’s fourth employer, has two younger children, aged 12 and 14, and an elderly mother everyone fondly calls “Mama”. Aisha was specifically recruited to care for Mama although her responsibilities are not limited to this.

Safiya’s house is one of many middle-class homes in Sabon Tasha. There is electricity but power outages are frequent, and in the evenings the rumbling of generators fills the air. Plumbing runs through the house, but there is no running water and one of Aisha’s duties is to go back and forth to a nearby communal water pump to fill a 150-litre plastic container.

Safiya’s younger children both attend private schools in the city. They do not say much to Aisha, and she approaches them the same way she does their mother – to heed their instructions. Any prolonged interactions are viewed as suspicious by Safiya and may earn Aisha a beating and the children a scolding.

Safiya’s children do not do any chores besides the laundry of their school uniforms and running the occasional errand to a nearby store. Often, when they either cannot find the items in the store, or if it is considered too late for them to be out (after 7pm) they are instructed to give the money to Aisha who must run the errand in their place. Aisha is not allowed to send the children on any errands or request their help.

Safiya’s children have a 9pm bedtime which is enforced with almost religious discipline. Aisha, meanwhile, goes to bed only after Safiya no longer needs her services, often at 10pm or later.

Once the family has gone to bed, in a corner of the parlour, Aisha pulls out a mattress that is tied up and hidden behind a door, and unrolls it into place. That is where she makes her room every night.

“I wake up before Fajr (the Muslim pre-dawn prayer). I clear my things and sweep the sitting room, then boil water for bathing on the firewood. After prayers I clean the compound, rooms, and kitchen, go to market, wash clothes, fetch water, then I stay with Mama,” Aisha explains in Hausa, her eyes focused on the ground. She seems anxious about being spoken to for so long. Her voice is soft and barely audible, and her words trail off as she speaks.

She is given food twice a day from the meals Safiya prepares for the household; in the morning at about 10am after she has finished her routine chores, and at around 4pm after Safiya’s children have returned from school. When she is not doing chores or running errands, Aisha spends most of her time sitting with Mama in the parlour, watching the television which is always tuned to either Zeeworld or Africa Magic. Although she does not understand English, Aisha is fascinated by what she sees on the screen.

Mama often suffers episodes of memory loss, and at times attempts to wander out of the house. Aisha is the one tasked with trying to steer her back to the safety of the couch. Other than running errands and collecting water, this is the only time Aisha is permitted to leave the house – and, even then, she must hurry back. She is not allowed to have any friends as Safiya claims friendships could corrupt her.

In search of a better life

Aisha does not know how much she earns, but 5,000 naira (about $12) is paid monthly to her agent, who takes a percentage before sending what is left to her parents in the village. Aisha has not been back to the village since she left and only gleans information about her family whenever her agent visits the house to check that Safiya is satisfied with Aisha’s services.

Back in Buda, her parents do not know exactly where their daughter is, and rely on the agent for information about her wellbeing. The last time Aisha received news from home, the agent told her that her younger sister Zainab would soon join her in the city once a job had been found for her. Aisha misses her parents and sister but says: “Life is better here … Back home things are not easy.”

Agents are the bridge between clients like Safiya and the families of girls like Aisha. They use a variety of recruiting methods, including visiting villages, relying on word of mouth, and putting printed “Vacancy” posters with their phone numbers up on street walls in low-income neighbourhoods. The most valuable strategy is an informal referral system where satisfied clients recommend the agent to friends and family members who are also looking for domestic help.

Agents often woo the young girls with promises of education and good earnings. When their families sign up, the girls are transported from their villages to economic centres like Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and surrounding cities. Often, these families are in dire financial circumstances and see their children as a vehicle for financial support. Many parents can barely afford daily meals and basic healthcare for their children, which makes the prospect of someone else taking responsibility for the child, while offering a stipend, too tempting to resist.

As an agent gains a reputation in the villages, they no longer need to visit in order to recruit. Through referrals from families with children in their service, the agent finds other interested families willing to send their daughters to work. In some cases, the prospect of work opportunities makes older women sign up as well (however, most potential employers prefer hiring younger girls, counting on their age to keep them compliant).

The girls do not go through background checks and neither do their employers. Most clients insist the girls get tested for communicable infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and tuberculosis. This is often at an added cost to the potential employer, but it is such a popular request that some laboratories even have a “house help screening package” available on request. A positive result for any of the listed diseases renders the girl unfit and a replacement is provided by the agent.

The ‘middle-woman’

Peace* is an agent in Abuja, the country’s capital. The 38-year-old wears a neat knee-length Ankara dress and no jewellery, her hair plaited into simple cornrows, while a wig hangs from a nail on the wall in a corner of her studio apartment.

Peace lives in Mararaba on the outskirts of the city. In her self-contained single room apartment sits a mattress, a few boxes, a box television set, and her shoes lined up in a corner. There are a few stickers from religious crusades on her door and a well-worn Bible on one of the pillows at the head of her bed.

Peace says she started this business because she was tired of working for other people. She currently has six girls recruited and placed in homes around the city, and is expecting a seventh from Nasarawa state whom she is scheduled to drop off at a home before the end of the day. The girls and women in her employ vary in age from 13 to their late 30s. “It depends on what the customer wants,” she explains. “Some customers prefer younger girls; others want matured women.” The girls are from different parts of the country such as Gombe and Taraba in the Northeast, Osun in the Southwest, Benue in the middle belt, and Nasarawa state.

Clients pay Peace a service charge of 10,000 naira ($25) before the girls or women are handed over to them. Afterwards, they pay the monthly salary of 30,000 naira ($37) – the current national minimum wage – directly to Peace. There are no formal contracts between Peace and the girls and women she recruits. They serve wherever they are placed until the clients decide they no longer require their services. In such a case, Peace will try to find new homes to place them in. If one wants to leave, they must contact Peace directly and cannot simply terminate their duties. In such a case, Peace usually reviews their complaints and tries to convince them to stay. When this does not work, they are let go but told they cannot reach out for any future jobs or placements. On rare occasions, domestic helpers have been known to run away from their employers. In such situations, agents are tasked with replacing them, at no cost to the employer.

“Out of the 30,000, I keep 5,000,” Peace explains. This is her cut. “I send what is left to their parents or if they are working for themselves, I give them the balance [25,000 naira (about $60) a month].” Most, like Aisha, never find out how much agents like Peace receive from their employers for the work they do. Peace’s clients are made to sign an indemnity form, ensuring that they will not directly transact with the girls.

“The people don’t have any business with the girls,” Peace says. “I am the one that brought them, so all complaints and matters regarding the girls must be communicated to me.”

‘House help’ to entrepreneur

Peace believes she has an insider advantage as she also started as a “house help”.

In 1996 at the age of 13, she was taken from a quiet village in Ikom in Cross River state, in the southern region of Nigeria, to the lively city of Lagos, a 14-hour drive away.

“One day two women and one of my aunts came to visit my stepmother. They went inside and talked for a while. As they were leaving, I was asked by my stepmother to follow them. That I will be going to work with a woman in Lagos. I was told there was no need to pack anything,” Peace recounts. “One of the women took me to her house and when we got there, she gave me a dress to change in to because the one I was wearing was torn. The next day at five in the morning we went to the motor park and left for Lagos.”

Peace is unemotional as she recalls the experience. When asked how she felt, she pauses briefly before responding that it was God’s will. “If I had remained in the village, I don’t know if I would even be alive today,” she adds.

Unlike Aisha, Peace had the privilege of getting some education. Her employer in Lagos enrolled her in a public school. But seven months later, after leaving the home of the employer, she had to leave school and has not been back since.

After that placement, Peace went from home to home, holding a series of cleaning jobs. In 2020, she decided to start work as an agent. She sees her service as altruistic; a means of “helping the girls”.

“Life here is better for them,” she explains. “The city offers them many opportunities. If they are in the village, it is only suffering and before long, some will get pregnant and that’s the end. Here they can go to school or save something to start a business,” she repeats, convinced.

The story for most girls begins like Aisha’s – with all the possible “advantages” listed by Peace as a motivating factor for the decision: they all move to the cities for a chance to support their families, to save enough to start a business, to attend a school. In the end, a singular theme is palpable: a need to escape crippling poverty.

The exodus to the cities is always a tempting journey towards the possibility of a better future. For a few, this dream comes true. They find homes where they are treated decently or get access to an education. But such cases are few and far between. Stories of the abuse of domestic helpers are so popular that it is even a recurring theme in Nollywood movies.

Physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse are common. In May 2017 a well-known case of abuse was publicised in local daily papers: eight-year-old Miracle Edogwu was allegedly beaten to death by her employer, a businesswoman in Lagos simply referred to as Oby. Many other instances of abuse ranging from scalding by hot water, to near-death beatings, are rife in local news.

Peace admits these risks exist. “Everything is a risk,” she says. “If anything happens, they have my number. They will call me.” However, most of the girls do not own phones, and communication is often only possible through their employers or the random goodwill of others, which makes it harder for them to reach out in desperate situations.

An unregulated system

The ignorance of agents like Peace means they fail to understand the potential consequences of their actions. In 2018, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) reported that there were some 15 million children engaged in domestic child labour in Nigeria.

The NAPTIP Act of 2015 warns that “any person who employs, requires, recruits, transports, harbours, receives or hires out, a child under the age of twelve years as a domestic worker commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment”. This provision highlights 12 years as the age limit.

Mr Isaiah*, who works with NAPTIP and spoke anonymously because of concerns about professional retribution, explains that the government has shelters to cater for children found in such situations. NAPTIP currently operates eight such shelters across the country with a stay time limited to six weeks. It also provides counselling and rehabilitation for rescued children. Victims requiring longer periods of care are transferred to other non-governmental organisations.

When a case of any underaged child employed in domestic labour is reported, it is channelled through units that monitor and investigate it. “But a great hindrance to conviction,” he adds, “is cases of familial relations, where involved individuals refuse to allow judicial action.” Isaiah points to the use of public enlightenment campaigns aimed at re-educating communities about the laws regarding domestic helpers. He believes this will help in preventing these situations.

In 2003, Nigeria adopted the Child Rights Act (CRA), which defines a child as “anyone below the age of eighteen”. The law in summary states “In every action concerning a child, whether undertaken by an individual, public or private body, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.” Section 11 highlights: “A child is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly, no child shall be subjected to physical, mental or emotional injury, abuse, neglect or maltreatment, including sexual abuse; no child shall be held in slavery or servitude, while in the care of a parent, legal guardian or school authority or any other person or authority having the care of the child.”

The CRA has been adopted by most states in Nigeria, including in Kaduna, where Aisha lives, and in Abuja, where Peace operates. But Richard Ali, an Abuja-based lawyer and writer who has had some experience with such cases, explains: “Thinking in terms of laws banning child labour, especially child domestic labour, under the CRA doesn’t address the issue because the real effort needed is sociological. We must induce a cultural recognition of childhood, and provide an alternative to child domestic labour, such as formal or vocational learning. The first has not been done, the latter remains to be seen.”

Lawyer and human rights activist, Ugochukwu Amasike, blames the lack of implementation of such laws on a shortage of trusted systems to protect children. “These policies cannot work without a system that can provide the child’s basic needs. Are there decent public schools providing free education to enrol them in? Can they get decent healthcare? When are the children taken from these homes are they taken back to the same environment that drove them into the industry in the first place?”

Dominic Ega*, a public servant who works closely with the Kaduna state government disagrees, instead blaming socio-cultural norms. “As with every government, we can’t successfully identify these cases if well-meaning people do not report to the state. If we still have many out there, then it is because the families of those children and the community are benefitting or in support of the practice.”

The future

Girls like Aisha who move to the cities are soon disillusioned. The school enrolments rarely come to fruition. They barely earn enough for their families to survive on let alone support them out of deep poverty. They are trapped in a cycle of basic survival. Aisha’s focus now is simply on working well enough to not be sent packing.

“I like working for Safiya,” she explains. “The work is not hard.” She adds that she is thankful that Safiya rarely beats her.

Maryam Aliko, the founder of Mariacutty, a non-profit focused on female empowerment, describes such low expectations as an adaptation mechanism. “The domestic service system being without any professional regulation will always be subject to abuse. When most of these girls are let go, they have nothing to fall back on. When they leave, the girls may find new homes to be placed in, or return to their villages; a place where they no longer fit in. After the city, they are too good for the villages and yet, still not good enough for the city. Soon, they fall prey to other exploitive systems such as prostitution.”

A large population and high rates of poverty, Maryam insists, are two of the major enablers of the system. “There is no registry of domestic workers, no data on the agents. As popular as this service sector is, it is invisible. This has made the system a preying ground for other services such as human trafficking for sexual exploitation and baby factories.”

The rising insecurity and displacement of people by armed groups such as Boko Haram and bandits in the northeastern region has also contributed a huge number of vulnerable girls to the pool. Maryam and a few others have begun to advocate for regulations and policies to be created to check the system. “Policies need to be created for the domestic service industry as a credible part of the labour force. This way we can control the recruitment of underage workers. Those who are fit, can be trained and taught to engage with domestic work as a skill. The domestic help system must be recognised as an enabler for women’s empowerment. It is mostly family women who recruit house helps to manage the home front while they go on to pursue their goals.”

Safiya’s tone betrays a mild irritation as she complains that Aisha is not as efficient as she would like. She says that sometimes Aisha is sluggish in doing her duties, or that she occasionally oversleeps. When questioned about Aisha’s schooling, she seems surprised that this is even a consideration. “That is not what she is here for,” she responds.

Aisha is asked the cliched question most children are faced with: “What would you like to be when you grow up?” She chuckles and replies quietly in Hausa: “Ban sani ba.” (“I don’t know.”)

For girls like Aisha, whose dreams have slowly dissolved into the background of a harsh reality, the most they can think of is getting through the day. There is little hope and little disappointment. And the recognition that although they might get something better, they will most likely get worse.

*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity

By Daisy Odey

Al Jazeera

Nigeria seeks $1 bln for key gas pipeline as it awaits Chinese lending

Nigeria is seeking $1 billion so work can continue on a gas pipeline costing up to $2.8 billion after Chinese lenders which had pledged to offer most of the funds did not disburse cash as quickly as expected, three sources close to the matter said.

It is the latest sign of falling Chinese financial support for infrastructure projects across Africa, after years of major Chinese lending for railway, energy and other projects.

A spokesman for state oil company NNPC, which is building the 614-km (384-mile) Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) pipeline, said it was still negotiating with the Chinese lenders - Bank of China and Sinosure - to cover $1.8 billion of the project cost.

"There's no cause for alarm," the spokesman said, without saying whether NNPC was turning to other lenders.

But the three sources told Reuters the company was now approaching others, including export-import institutions, to continue work on the pipeline that will run through the middle of the West African country to its northern economic hub Kano.

Chinese lenders had originally been lined up to fund the bulk of the estimated $2.5 billion to $2.8 billion cost of the project, which is central to President Muhammadu Buhari's plan to develop gas resources and boost development in northern Nigeria.

NNPC, which was funding 15%, said last year it had used its own funds to start construction. The sources said the Chinese lenders would not agree to disburse the cash NNPC had expected by the end of the summer, prompting it to turn to others.

"They are looking at Nigeria as one loan, and right now, they feel they are too exposed," one source said.

Bank of China said it would not comment on specific deals. Sinosure did not respond to a request for comment.

The Nigerian ministries of transport, finance and petroleum also did not reply to requests for comment.

Chinese bank lending to African infrastructure projects has fallen across the continent, from $11 billion in 2017 to $3.3 billion in 2020, a Baker McKenzie report said in April.

With the continent facing an estimated annual $100 billion infrastructure investment deficit, the loss of Chinese funding leaves a big gap to fill.

Nigeria began building the AKK pipeline in June 2020, saying it would help generate 3.6 gigawatts of power and support gas-based industries along the route. The project was to be funded under a debt-equity financing model, backed by sovereign guarantee and repaid through the pipeline transmission tariff.

NNPC awarded engineering and construction work along three sections of the pipeline to Oando, OilServe, China First Highway Engineering Company, Brentex Petroleum Services and China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau.

Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi said this month Nigeria was negotiating a mix of loans from Chinese and European lenders to fund railway projects, after media reports said it had initially planned to rely primarily on Chinese banks.

By Libby George


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

No-stress scripture: Nigerian Christians relish Pidgin Bible

 At the Heavenly Citizen's Church in Lagos, the pastor and congregation have adopted a new tool to help them understand Christian scripture: the first Bible translated into Nigerian pidgin.

Sometimes called pidgin English, the language is widely used and understood across regions and ethnic groups in the nation of 200 million people, although most books and newspapers on sale in Nigeria are in English.

"Most people here, they are not properly schooled, you know, and so we do more pidgin English here," said pastor Ben Akpevwe, who has been using the Pidgin Bible during services at his church in the down-at-heel Ejigbo neighbourhood in Lagos.

"Each time I am reading it in church they are always very excited because it is like identifying with the language of the people."

The Pidgin Bible is the result of three years of solitary labour by amateur translator Salem Egoh. He wanted to improve the understanding of the Bible in the fervently religious country, where English is the official language, but not the mother tongue for millions of people.

He said the job had required creativity because many words found in English versions of the Bible had no exact equivalent in pidgin.

"For example the word 'chariot' has no word in pidgin, we had to invent a word called 'horse motor' to represent chariot," said Egoh, who included a glossary of 1,000 words at the end of his translation.

So far, the Pidgin Bible consists of the New Testament, the Book of Psalms and the Book of Proverbs. Egoh is working on a translation of the rest of the Old Testament, and hopes to release a complete Bible by the end of the year.

Working his way through a passage from the Book of Chronicles, he typed: "David plus all di pipo of Israel march go Jerusalem (wey be Jebus)." This was translated from: "And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem, that is, Jebus."

In the meantime, at the Heavenly Citizen's Church, worshipper Elizabeth Eromosele is already making good use of the Pidgin Bible, which is on sale across Nigeria and has been adopted by a number of places of worship.

"When it comes to English language you have to really crack your brain," she said.

"But when it comes to Pidgin Bible you will read it as if you are interacting, you are talking freely. You are just reading it with comfort, you are not stressing yourself."

By Angela Ukomadu


Monday, July 12, 2021

Video - Nigeria’s State Oil Firm to Acquire 20 percent Stakes in Dangote Refinery

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation is seeking an equity stake in the 650,000 barrels-per-day facility that Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest person, is building outside Lagos, as well as in five other refineries that are in the development phase, to promote “national energy security,” the company said in a statement Monday. A government policy “stipulates the mandatory participation of the Corporation in any privately-owned refinery that exceeds 50,000 barrels per day capacity,” the NNPC said.

Related story: Dangote Refinery to employ over 250,000 Nigerians


Nigeria's Lagos state faces "potential third wave" of COVID-19

Nigeria's Lagos state faces a "potential third wave" of coronovirus infections, its governor said in a statement.

He warned of fines or even imprisonment for those who break rules to contain the virus and said Lagos state would step up its vaccination campaign, following the detection of the highly infectious Delta variant in an incoming traveller.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, has not been as hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic as other parts of the continent, with just over 168,000 cases and 2,124 deaths confirmed since the outbreak began.

But Nation Centre for Disease Control officials last week confirmed that they had detected the Delta variant, putting officials nationwide on alert. The NCDC did not say when the infected traveller had arrived.

"From the beginning of July, we started to experience a steep increase in the number of daily confirmed cases, with the test positivity rate going from 1.1% at the end of June 2021 to its current rate of 6.6% as at 8th of July 2021," Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said in a statement. "The rapid increase within a week gives great cause for concern."

Lagos state, home to the commercial capital, has been the epicentre of Nigeria's COVID-19 pandemic. It has confirmed 60,366 cases since the outbreak began - nearly 36% of the country's total.

There are self-isolation requirements for all incoming passengers, and arrivals from red-list countries Brazil, India, South Africa, and Turkey, must quarantine in a government facility.

But Sanwo-Olu said that 15% of Lagos state arrivals from red-list nations had absconded, while authorities could not reach 18% of other incoming passengers.
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He warned of sanctions including fines, imprisonment and deportation for rule breakers, and said Lagos state was "exploring all avenues possible" to increase vaccine access.

Just 1% of Lagos state residents have received two doses of vaccines against the novel coronavirus.

By Libby George


Nigeria pulls off stunning pre-Olympic men's basketball victory over U.S.

This is not how USA Basketball expected to open its Olympic summer.

Nigeria probably didn't expect it, either.

If there was any expectation of invincibility for the Americans heading into the Tokyo Olympics, it's already gone after Nigeria beat the U.S. 90-87 on Saturday night, an international shocker pulled off by a roster primarily filled by little-known NBA players that found a way to beat a group of all NBA, all-star and max-contract performers.

"We just wanted to compete," said Nigeria's Gabe Nnamdi, who goes by Gabe Vincent when playing for the Miami Heat. "We know what USA Basketball means around the world and what they've stood for for so long."

The U.S. had lost 11 games before Saturday in major international play --Olympics and World Cups, mostly -- since NBA players began filling the American rosters with the first Dream Team in 1992. None of those losses came against a team from Africa.

"I thought that the Nigerian team played very physically, did a great job in that regard and knocked down a lot of 3s," U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. "Give them credit."

Nnamdi led Nigeria with 21 points. Caleb Agada scored 17 points, Ike Nwamu added 13 and Nigeria outscored the U.S. 60-30 from 3-point range.

Kevin Durant, who had never played in a loss for USA Basketball in 39 senior international games, had 17 points. Jayson Tatum added 15, Damian Lillard had 14 and Bam Adebayo 11.

Lopsided meetings

"Just goes to show that we have to play better," Tatum said.

A lot better.

The Americans had gone 39-0 in their last three Olympic seasons, including pre-Olympic exhibitions, on their way to gold medals and had been 54-2 in major exhibitions since NBA players began playing for USA Basketball in 1992. Plus, they'd beaten Nigeria by a combined 127 points in their last two meetings, one at the 2012 London Games, the other a warmup for the 2016 Rio Games.
Nigeria lost to the U.S. at the 2012 Olympics by 83 points. Lost to the Americans again four years later in an exhibition, that time by 44 points.

Not this time.

"Nigeria's come a long way with their basketball," USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said.

Ike Iroegbu, a former Washington State player who played in the G League, hit a 3-pointer with about 1:15 left to put Nigeria up 88-80. Durant scored the next seven points for the U.S.; a 3-pointer, two free throws following a turnover, then two more from the line with 16.5 seconds remaining.

3-time reigning Olympic champs

Nnamdi made two foul shots with 13.2 seconds left to restore Nigeria's three-point edge. The Americans ran 9.7 seconds off the clock on the ensuing possession without getting a shot off, and Zach LaVine missed a pair of free throws — the second intentionally — with 3.5 seconds left.

Precious Achiuwa got the rebound for Nigeria, and that was it. It's only an exhibition but the upset was still of the massive variety — the 22nd-ranked nation by FIBA beating the No. 1-ranked team and three-time reigning Olympic gold medallists.

Popovich heard the final buzzer and shook hands with Nigeria coach Mike Brown, the Golden State assistant, as the Americans walked off stunned.
"At the end of the day, it doesn't mean much in the standings as far as where we're trying to get to," Brown said. "But it's a good win for us. I don't think any African team has been able to beat USA Basketball in an exhibition game or a real game. … We're trying to get a little bit of momentum for Nigeria and for the continent of Africa."

The U.S. led 43-41 at the half, then pushed the lead out to 52-43 early in the third. But the Nigerians connected on 3s on their next three possessions — Vincent, Achiuwa and Nwamu all connected — and just like that, the game was tied.

Achiuwa took one 3-pointer all season with the Heat. It missed. But he connected in this one, as did Miye Oni -- who made two 3s in the fourth quarter, including the one that put Nigeria up for good with 6:08 left. Oni averaged all of 1.9 points per game this season for Utah and made two enormous shots late Saturday to help seal the U.S. fate.

"We kept the game simple," Nnamdi said, "and came out on top."


Nigeria: Achiuwa had perhaps the night's top defensive play with 1:23 left in the first half, reaching with his left hand to block a Durant dunk attempt. … Nigeria outrebounded the U.S. 46-34.

USA: Darius Garland and Saddiq Bey were Select Team players who got into the game. The Olympic team needed extra players because Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Devin Booker are at the NBA Finals. … The U.S. got 32 free-throw attempts to Nigeria's 10.


Friday, July 9, 2021

Video - Food shortage in Nigeria: Farmers in north face ongoing threat

In Nigeria, armed group violence and kidnappings are affecting the farming sector, on which people hugely rely for their livelihoods. Al Jazeera's Ahmed Idris reports from the northwestern state of Katsina, Nigeria.

TB Joshua: Nigerian televangelist to be buried in Lagos

Popular Nigerian televangelist TB Joshua is being buried in Lagos after a week of funeral rites.

Thousands of mourners are attending the burial service at his Synagogue, Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in the Ikotun area of Lagos.

The 57-year-old died on 5 June after a brief illness, the church said.

Temitope Balogun Joshua was revered by people from around the world and tens of thousands of people attended his weekly services.

The charismatic preacher's rise to prominence in the late 1990s coincided with the explosion of "miracle" programmes performed on Nigerian TV by various pastors.

His ministry professed to heal all manner of illnesses, including HIV/Aids and attracted people from around the world.

Known as the "Prophet" by his followers, he ran the Christian television station Emmanuel TV and often toured Africa, the US, the UK and South America.

Mr Joshua came from a poor background and was brought up by his Muslim uncle following the death of his Christian father.

Other popular Nigerian mega-pastors were missing from the week of memorials, highlighting the frosty relationship he had with them.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (Can) and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) previously described him as an "impostor" who belonged to a group of "occults" that had infiltrated Christianity.

Outside the church, flags of various countries fluttered at half-mast. It is hard to know if the flags represented the countries the prophet visited in his lifetime but the poles stretched for more than a kilometre.

The make-up of the thousands of mourners present also reflected the global appeal of TB Joshua - people came from the Bahamas, Dominican Republic and South Africa, where he was hugely popular.

People of Ikotun-Egbe, the suburb in Lagos where the church is located, came out in large numbers on Thursday to watch his hearse go past and many more lined the streets early on Friday.

Most of them are not members of his church but were affected by his philanthropy. Many more benefited indirectly from the industry created by his always busy church.

The dignitaries attending include Rotimi Akeredolu, the governor of Mr Joshua's home state of Ondo, who read a bible passage.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (Can), which had disputes with TB Joshua in the past over his style, also sent a delegation to Friday's burial, an indication that hostilities are over.

It is one of the things he wanted most while he was alive - to be accepted by Nigeria's larger Christian faith. It is perhaps symbolic that it has come at his death.

His wife, Evelyn Joshua, who has now been appointed the general overseer of the church, said her late husband grew the church from an eight-member assembly to what it is today.

"For gold to become gold it must pass through fire. I just want thank you for being a good father to our children," she said at Tuesday's all-day tributes service.

His children, Sarah Joshua, Promise Joshua and Heart Joshua, described their father as "a man with a formidable dedication".

By Andrew Gift


Related story: Controversial Nigerian pastor TB Joshua dies aged 57

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Video - Nigeria kidnappings: Parents of abducted students of Kaduna plead for help

Families in Nigeria’s Kaduna state are desperately waiting for news of nearly 150 students kidnapped by armed men from a boarding school on Monday, the latest in a series of mass school abductions to hit the country. Humanitarian agencies have warned a rise in school kidnappings in northwestern Nigeria is disrupting the education of thousands of children. About 1,000 students and staff have been abducted since December. Al Jazeera’s Fidelis Mbah reports from Abuja, Nigeria.

Related stories: Nigeria gunmen kidnap 'nurses and infants' from hospital

Kidnapping in Nigeria on the rise

Gunmen kidnap Nigerian Bishop in Owerri

Nigeria pays $11 million as ransom to kidnappers in four years 

Video - Nigerian teenage sensation Tijani aspires to turn professional

Owonikoko boxing club in the outskirts of Lagos is one of many set ups nurturing young and talented boxers. Tijani Abdulazeez, a promising 15-year old fighter is taking the sport by storm in his town, and aspires to box professionally in the future. Here is CGTN's Susan Mwongeli with his story.

Why UAE refuses work permit applications from Nigerians

The on-going rift between the governments of Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken a new dimension as the Arab country has barred Nigerians from applying for work permits and placed visa restrictions on them.

An official at the Ministry of Labour (MOL) in the UAE confirmed that work permits were being regulated in view of precautionary and preventive measures for COVID-19.

The MOL governs all work-related issues and is responsible for issuing work permits (or labour cards) and imposing labour bans “on those who are entitled to one.”

However, the new regulation imposed by the ministry seems to target only Nigerian nationals. Director of the Nigerian in Diaspora Organisation (UAE) Fernando Judel told The ICIR that the restriction was an internal arrangement restricted only to the ministry, and Nigerians seeking to apply for work permit renewals were barred from doing so.

“We have been having that issue for about a week plus now, where some people would apply for this labour or work permit and it would get rejected. This is only for Nigerian nationality, although over the years, we have been having issues like that and the issue always comes when our people indulge in a profile crime.

“If you want to apply, you would see a display in the dialogue box that it is restricted to this nationality being Nigeria. So the person cannot even apply at all, let alone the ministry receiving the application and rejecting it,” Judel told this newspaper.

It was gathered that on June 15, some Nigerian cultists in Sharjah got into a bloody fight that left more than a dozen people dead, according to unofficial sources.

A footage circulated online showed a group of armed with machetes arriving at an apartment complex in Sharjah where they forcefully gained entry into an apartment and attacked its occupants.

Other videos showed the aftermath of the attack: mutilated bodies lying on the floor of a narrow bloodied hallway.

Further investigations revealed that the clash on June 15 coincided with the 58th anniversary of The Supreme Eiye Confraternity (SEC), also known as the National Association of Airlords, which was formed at University of Ibadan in 1963.

However, a member of the confraternity identified as Habakrier NA Airlord insisted that SEC was not a cult but a socio-cultural brotherhood that believed in the communion of minds and the traditional teachings of the ancient African oratorical practices.

“SEC is not a gang and as such does not engage in gang-related activities. We renounce any forms of violence perpetrated by individuals with nefarious intent within and outside the walls of the Nigerian Ivory Towers as proven by our strategic presence in the National Inter-Frat Council (NIFC) and the SEC initiative of ‘Stop the Confra Wars,’” he said.

But many do not believe his position, given the perceived violent nature of the group.

Another video has also emerged online of a medical practitioner clad in a personal protective clothing calling out some girls for allegedly killing a local after the cult clash and lamenting how the bad behavior of a few Nigerians was robbing off on the entire black population in the UAE.

“Once you’re a Nigerian, they will be running from you. Hushpuppi own dey. Woodberry own dey. Some Nigerians dey do cultism for Sharjah, that one still dey there. Now some girl go kill local. Now, whether you are a Nigerian or Cameroonian, they are just arresting everybody,” he said in pidgin, a local brand of English spoken mainly in west and central Africa.

He called on all Nigerians to assist the police in fishing out those engaged in nefarious activities so that the innocent and hardworking majority would not be made to pay for the sins of a few.


Visa restriction on Nigerians by UAE

Recent infamous activities of some Nigerians may not be unconnected to the recent rejection faced by Nigerians trying to renew their work permits in the UAE, even though the country’s labour ministry claims the measure was put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Judel said only a few persons who had applied for work permits were able to get them on concessionary grounds, adding that “another category of people that get visas is free-zone companies.” He explained that employees in free-zone companies were not affected by this regulation because free-zone companies dealt directly with the immigration department who issued them visas.

In addition, he said any Nigerian who had been issued labour or work permit from the ministry of labour by their employer could get their employment visas renewed with ease.


UAE and visa restrictions on Nigerians

However, Judel frowned at the UAE for arbitrarily restricting visas from Nigerians without an official communication.

“Once they indulge in that profile crimes, the UAE would restrict our visa, whether employment or tourist but over the years it has been happening. For the years back, there has been no official statement about our visa restrictions. When they know that they do not have any stand to justify the restriction, they would tag it anything,” he said.

Last July, the UAE imposed a restriction on Nigerian visas after two rival cult groups – The Neo-Black Movement of Africa (also known as BlackAxe) and The Aromate Group (also known as Barggas) -had a clash also in Sharjah, which resulted in casualties, including the number one leader of the Aromate Group.

The UAE at the time denied blacklisting Nigerians from getting visas into the country. The Embassy in Abuja cited precautionary measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus as the reason for the ‘temporary suspension’ of visas.

“At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UAE took a number of precautionary measures to combat the virus’ spread, including the temporary suspension on issuing UAE visas for all nationalities as of March 17, 2020,” the Embassy tweeted.

The restriction was eventually lifted in September after Nigeria agreed to allow the operation of Emirates Airlines in Nigeria, which had been suspended due to the pandemic, as disclosed by the Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika.

“UAE has written to state that they agree to issue visas to Nigerians. Consequently, decision has been reached to allow Emirates to fly into Nigeria. Commencement of the Visa issuance is condition precedent. Please bear with this unusual situation. Many thanks,” he said via Twitter.


Flight, COVID-19 and diplomatic row

Flights between Nigeria and the UAE have been suspended since March 17 of this year over disagreement relating to COVID-19 testing, which Sirika said was specific to Nigeria.

It is not immediately clear whether the restriction of visas for Nigerians is calculated to compel the Nigerian government to reconsider its position and accept the UAE’s COVID-19 protocol, which Sirika has described as discriminatory and not backed by science. This has worsened the diplomatic row between both countries.

Many Nigerians think the row could have been responsible for work permit denials.

A Nigerian resident in the UAE who did not want his name mentioned, said things were no longer the same in recent times as many Nigerians were becoming more frustrated with work permit restrictions and ‘ a fallacious labelling of a large number of Nigerians as criminals.’ He said some criminals from other parts of Africa also committed crimes while pretending to be Nigerians, saying that the authorities in the UAE were aware of that reality.



Thriving Under Pressure: Why Crypto Is Booming in Nigeria Despite the Banking Ban

 Nigeria’s regulators tried to crack down on cryptocurrency. Now, a few months later, it’s clear their efforts haven’t worked. The nation is a prime example of how people will turn to crypto to cope with a struggling economy despite the prohibitive stance of the state.

In February, the Central Bank of Nigeria ordered banks to “identify persons and/or entities” who were conducting transactions in crypto or running crypto exchanges and “ensure that such accounts are closed immediately.” But that ban didn’t stamp out bitcoin in Nigeria. Rather, the crypto community turned to peer-to-peer trades, or sending payments directly to each other.

According to the blockchain research firm Chainalysis, the dollar volume of crypto received by users in Nigeria has been consistently growing in 2020 and 2021, which may be partly related to this year’s bull market. In May, Nigeria received $2.4 billion worth of crypto, compared with $684 million last December, the analytics firm said.

While that kind of geographical data comes with caveats, it’s clear that crypto is alive and well in Nigeria.

Wealth without borders

According to a survey in March by Statista, 32% of respondents in Nigeria use crypto. Nigeria also ranked eighth in Chainalysis’ 2020 report on cryptocurrency adoption around the world.

The interest in crypto surged last fall, when activists with the “EndSARS” movement, protesting against police brutality in Nigeria, used bitcoin to raise funds.

Economic factors also appear to spur adoption.

“Recently, the devaluation of our local currency [encouraged] people [to start] saving in crypto assets like bitcoin and ethereum,” said Udeaja Kingsley, CEO of the BiTA crypto startup, adding that the crypto users are “mostly the youths that believe in it and are trading it via the means of P2P.”

So far in 2021, the Nigerian naira has been losing value with the country’s inflation rate at 18%. While U.S. dollars might be hard to obtain in Nigeria, bitcoin sometimes serves as a proxy for the dollar, allowing people to hedge against naira’s inflation. Because most of the goods Nigerians buy are imported, U.S. dollars are in high demand and there is often not enough of them available on the market.

However, some of Nigeria’s importers already switched to crypto as a payment method, says Keith Mali Chung, president and co-founder of Loopblock Network, an African blockchain firm. “Over 70% of all that is being consumed in Nigeria is imported, and with financial restrictions, bitcoin is gaining all the attention it deserves,” he said.

Chinese merchants selling clothing and electronics in Nigeria are using crypto as a means of exchange, Chung said. The pattern is similar to the one in Eastern Europe, where Chinese merchants might be sending tens of millions of dollars in crypto across the border daily.

It’s hard to estimate how much money is moving from Nigeria to China this way, Chung said, but he has some anecdotal evidence. “I know of individual [merchants] who transact over $2 million to $5 million daily, and they are countless, and the numbers are rapidly increasing,” he said.

According to Chung, some young Nigerians view bitcoin and smaller, newer cryptocurrencies as a way to make some money as the traditional economy lags because of the pandemic.

“A lot of people are taking advantage of the [decentralized finance] industry right now, it’s giving equal financial opportunities for all, irrespective of nationality or whatsoever,” Chung said. “A lot of people are jumping into different yield farming programs, I know quite a number of people who got DeFi loans to run their businesses,” he added.

Ray Youssef, CEO of Paxful, a service that enables users to buy and sell bitcoin in a peer-to-peer fashion, believes the biggest factor of crypto’s popularity in Nigeria has been “the intense drive and business aptitude of the Nigerian youth.”

“Entrepreneurship is baked into their DNA,” Youssef told CoinDesk via a spokesperson.

Frozen accounts

The Nigerian government, and the Central Bank of Nigeria in particular, haven’t been openly hostile to crypto. Commenting on the controversial banking ban during a public event in March, Adamu Lamtek, the central bank’s deputy governor, said the regulator had never banned cryptocurrency activity in Nigeria altogether; rather, it only prohibited banking services for crypto businesses.

For some crypto firms on the ground, however, Nigeria’s reality remains tough.

Luno, the crypto wallet owned by Digital Currency Group (also CoinDesk’s parent company), has had fiat deposits and withdrawal frozen since February, it said in a recent statement by the CEO Marcus Swanepoel.

Although the company managed to get its bank account in Nigeria unfrozen in June, users still can’t move their fiat funds to and from the platform, Swanepoel said, adding that the company “intensified regulatory lobbying” to get the issue sorted out.

“We are negotiating day and night with the relevant stakeholders in Nigeria to get them to collectively work with the government to find a solution that works for everyone,” he added. “This includes the CBN and other crypto platforms, and allowing people to withdraw is the main priority.”

Chike Okonkwo, sales and partnerships lead in Africa for an asset manager Thresh0ld, and also a member of the Stakeholders in Blockchain Technology Association of Nigeria (SiBAN), said the crypto community has been trying to talk with the central bank, but hasn’t heard back so far.

He says SiBAN, along with other two organizations, Blockchain Nigeria User Group and Cryptography Development Initiative of Nigeria, has been working to get on the same page with regulators for a while.

“We have been having meetings with the [Securities and Exchange Commission, the country’s securities regulator] before the CBN ban news but due to the fact that the CBN did what they did, the SEC had to pause their own plans,” Okonkwo said.

Nigeria’s SEC announced in February that it’s putting on hold its own plans to regulate crypto because of the CBN’s ban.

P2P boom

Crypto communities world-wide have found ways around government restrictions, and Nigeria is no exception.

According to Paxful’s Youssef, after the Central Bank of Nigeria banned crypto-related bank transfers in February Nigerians sent even more bank wires purchasing bitcoin than before. Paxful is “on pace” to have 23% more trades funded with bank transfers in Nigeria than last year, and 36% more in terms of volume, Youssef said.

Nigeria is the largest market for the company, with around 1.5 million users and over $1.5 billion trading volume, according to Paxful.

According to UsefulTulips, in the first half of 2021 the volumes of two major P2P platforms in Nigeria, Paxful and LocalBitcoins, were the largest in Africa, totaling over $200 million.

During the first five months of 2021, Nigerians traded 50% more than the same period last year on LocalBitcoins, said Jukka Blomberg, LocalBitcoins’ chief marketing officer, adding that new registrations have also increased this year.

That activity may be at least partly explained by the fact that P2P trades are not easy for government officials to trace. When people send money directly from one personal account to another, without channeling it through a third party, it’s hard to see how exactly individuals are using the money. It could be for bitcoin they purchased from someone, their apartment’s monthly rent or paying back a debt to a friend.

It would thus be difficult, if not impossible, for banks to “ensure that such accounts are closed immediately,” as the Central Bank of Nigeria ordered.

Turning to peer-to-peer transactions might actually make the crypto ecosystem in Nigeria healthier and more resilient, according to Yele Bademosi, CEO of the Africa-focused crypto app Bundle.

“In my opinion, we got too comfortable about the fact that we were relying on centralized rails and channels to on/off ramp crypto,” Bademosi told CoinDesk. “In the ethos of bitcoin, P2P methods are more resilient as they don’t have a central point of failure.”

Nigeria is part of a larger regional trend. Africa has seen a wild 386.93% increase in P2P trade volumes on Binance since January, according to Damilola Odufuwa, Binance’s spokeswoman in Africa. The user count across the continent grew 2,228.21% over those same four months, she added. The company declined to reveal specific data on Nigeria.

By Anna Baydakova


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Nneka, Chiney, Erica Ogwumike, all listed on Nigeria's provisional roster, could play in Olympics together

Sisters Nneka, Chiney and Erica Ogwumike are listed on the provisional roster for Nigeria's women's basketball team, the country's federation announced Tuesday on Twitter. It's possible they all could make the 12-player roster for Nigeria in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, although Nneka and Chiney are still awaiting official FIBA clearance.

"It's something I know my family would be very proud of," Nneka Ogwumike told ESPN Tuesday. "For it to happen would be such a blessing. To be able to do something big for a big part of our heritage would be fantastic. I'm hoping it will contribute to the growth we're experiencing for Africa in basketball."

Nneka, the 2016 WNBA MVP, and Chiney both are Stanford grads who were the WNBA's No. 1 draft picks in 2012 and 2014, respectively, and now play for the Los Angeles Sparks. Erica Ogwumike played as a freshman for Pepperdine and then spent the rest of her college career at Rice. She was drafted into the WNBA in 2020 but did not make a roster.

Eldest sister Nneka, 31, is a longtime member of the U.S. senior national team, winning gold medals with the American squad in 2014 and 2018 at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup. But she was left off the U.S. roster for the Tokyo Games, which was announced June 21, surprising many and causing some controversy. She is the only MVP in WNBA history who has not made an Olympic squad, but that could change with FIBA's approval.

"It was more of a hurt than a shock, because I had experienced it before," Nneka said of also not being named to the U.S. Olympic team in 2012 and 2016. "But there are decisions made in this life that you can't control. I allowed myself to feel the hurt, but moving on, I decided, 'I'm going to try to put matters in my own hands."

Nneka contacted USA Basketball and told them she was interested in pursuing a chance to play with Nigeria. The Ogwumikes' parents, Peter and Ify, were both born in Nigeria and immigrated to the United States, where their daughters were born. The Ogwumike sisters have dual citizenship with the United States and Nigeria.

USA Basketball has released both Nneka and Chiney, which was required since both previously have competed for the United States in FIBA-sanctioned events. Generally, if players have done that after having reached their 17th birthday, they are not allowed to play for another country in a FIBA event. However, according to FIBA's regulations on player eligibility, the organization's secretary general may authorize a player to compete for the national team of his or her country of origin if this is in the interest of the growth of basketball in that country.

One of FIBA's pillars of emphasis currently is the growth of women's basketball worldwide, which could favor the decision for Nneka and Chiney getting to play for Nigeria. Erica Ogwumike committed to the Nigerian team last year; she had not played for Team USA in a FIBA-sanctioned event. Chiney Ogwumike began looking into the possibility of representing Nigeria about two months ago.

"The running joke was who was the family going to root for, because I was planning on playing against Erica," Nneka said of thinking she would be on Team USA. "But, you know, life unfolds in some beautiful ways: To be able to possibly share the highest athletic honor with not only Chiney, but my youngest sister."

Nneka has not been critical of USA Basketball, but said that when she didn't make the U.S. team, she did not want to wait on the possibility of perhaps being called on as an alternate U.S. player if someone was hurt between now and the Tokyo Games. She's been in that position before and said she doesn't see herself as a "second choice."

"I just wanted to bet on myself and also be a part of an organization that prioritizes me," she said of her hopes to play for Team Nigeria now. "My perspective was like, 'If it's not impossible, I'm going to go for it.' Because I believe I have Olympic status and I plan on being an Olympian."

Nneka said she wanted to be fully open with the Nigerian federation and USA Basketball about her hopes.

"I didn't want it to be secretive," she said. "It was something that I wanted to do, and I would hope that they understood. And they did. In these moments, being transparent, I think, is most important."

Along with FIBA clearance -- the Ogwumikes are not sure when a final decision will be made on that -- and being named to the Nigerian team, both Nneka and Chiney also have to be healthy. They have been sidelined with knee injuries; Nneka last played for the Sparks on June 1, and Chiney on May 28. At this point, both anticipate being able to play in Tokyo if they are on the team. Nigeria is scheduled to face the United States in an exhibition on July 18 at Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Not long after, the Nigerian team is expected to be named.

"The way I feel now, I think I would be ready," Nneka said of playing in that exhibition game. "But if I'm not, I'll be ready for Tokyo if I'm able to get through the clearance process. The plan from the beginning (of her injury recovery) was for me to be ready for the Olympics."

Nigeria is in Group B at the Tokyo Games, along with the United States, Japan and France. Another current WNBA player who previously played for USA Basketball, Atlanta's Elizabeth Williams, is on the Nigerian provisional roster, too, and went through a similar process to what Nneka and Chiney are now.

Williams played collegiately for Duke; current Blue Devil senior Elizabeth Balogun, who transferred from Louisville, is also on the roster, as is another former Blue Devil, Oderah Chidom.

In fact, all the players on Nigeria's provisional roster played collegiately in the United States, including Adaora Elonu, who won a national championship with Texas A&M in 2011.

"The last few years, I've had the experience of playing against Team Nigeria and seen the rise of it," Nneka said. "It fills me with a lot of pride. To be able to possibly have the opportunity to contribute, that's what I want to do."


Monday, July 5, 2021

Nigeria gunmen kidnap 'nurses and infants' from hospital

Gunmen in Nigeria have abducted at least eight people from a hospital in the north-west of the country, police say.

The attack took place at the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Centre in Zaria early on Sunday morning.

Reports say the number of people taken by the group is higher and includes nurses and children.

There has been a recent spate of abductions from schools and universities for ransom.

Police said the gunmen, thought to be from criminal groups known locally as "bandits", opened fire on a police station in the city.

While they were engaged in the shootout, another group attacked the hospital.

"The attack on the police station was a distraction whilst another group attacked the dormitories of the health centre workers," a local resident told AFP news agency.

The group escaped with the victims into a nearby forest.

A hospital worker, who asked not to be named, told BBC Hausa that the gunmen had abducted at least 12 people, including three children under the age of three and a teenager.

A local government official said troops were stepping up efforts to find the victims.

Kidnappings are common across the country.

Authorities say recent attacks on schools in the north-west have been carried out by bandits, a loose term for kidnappers, armed robbers, cattle rustlers and other armed militia operating in the region who are largely motivated by money.

Since the well-publicised abduction in 2014 of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok secondary school by Boko Haram Islamist militants in Borno state, more armed groups have resorted to mass abduction of students.

No end in sight to wave of kidnappings

Analysis by Mayeni Jones, BBC News, Lagos

Once again the northern state of Kaduna finds itself in the eye of Nigeria's kidnapping storm.

This latest attack is shocking in that it reportedly involves three infants, but this is not the first time a hospital has been targeted.

In late April, armed gunmen took two female nurses from a hospital in Kajuru area of Kaduna state. Schools and universities in the state have also been repeatedly targeted by kidnappers since March.

The state governor told the BBC that he believes kidnappers have come to Kaduna from other states, because he's been vocal about his decision not to engage with kidnappers in any way.

But now even Governor Nasir El Rufai has succumbed to pressure from the kidnappers - he recently withdrew his son from a local school where he had enrolled him to promote confidence in public schools. He told the BBC that he'd decided to take his son out to protect other pupils. This latest move will embolden his critics who say his tough stance is counter-productive.

But kidnappings continue to take place, both in states where governors engage with kidnappers, and in states where they don't.

With few economic prospects for many young Nigerians, and with security forces struggling to stop the wave of abductions, it's hard to see how this kidnapping crisis will stop.


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Nigerian families struggle to survive as food prices soar

With inflation rising around the world as the global economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, soaring prices are having dramatic consequences in countries like Nigeria.

The number of people living in poverty in Nigeria – Africa’s most populous nation with 210 million inhabitants – was already among the highest in the world.

But as Nigeria has been battered by the double economic effect of low global oil prices and the pandemic, the World Bank estimates the country’s soaring inflation and food prices pushed another seven million people into poverty in 2021.

Food prices have increased more than 22 percent since the start of the coronavirus crisis, according to official statistics.

For many people, feeding their family has become a daily challenge.

“Every day, during consultations, there are five or seven children that suffer from malnutrition,” says Emiolo Ogunsola, head of the nutrition department at Massey Street children’s hospital in a poor district in Lagos Island.

“I bet in a few months or a year, more children will be malnourished.”

Even before the pandemic and the surge in food costs, Nigeria’s nutrition figures were alarming: One in three Nigerian children suffered stunted growth due to a bad diet.

As a result, close to 17 million children in Nigeria are undernourished, giving the country the highest level of malnutrition in Africa and the second-highest in the world.

Al Jazeera

Friday, July 2, 2021

Nigerian Women Lead Reintegration of Ex-Boko Haram Militants

The Nigerian government's efforts to reintegrate former Boko Haram militants has seen hundreds of fighters go through rehabilitation. But it also gets pushback from the conflict's victims, who want the militants to be held accountable. At a conference in the capital, women from the conflict-affected areas are getting support to head up reconciliation between the former terrorists and their communities.

Some 45 women from Nigeria's northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe file in for a two-day conference in Abuja.

They're here to discuss a sensitive subject - the reconciliation and reintegration of ex-Boko Haram fighters into their communities.

The conference is a joint initiative by the non-profit Center for Humanitarian Dialogue in Switzerland, U.N. Women and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It’s designed to promote women-led community peacekeeping in the northeast, said Millicent Lewis-Ojumu, director at Center for Humanitarian Dialogue.

"We know and from experience have seen that when the women are involved in the conversations, peace building, in helping to resolve issues relating to how to reintegrate and rehabilitate former combatants or person's associated with Boko Haram, that they are very effective," said Lewis-Ojumu.

Since launching the safe exit program, “Operation Safe Corridor” for repentant fighters in 2016, authorities say the program has met with resistance from host communities.

The scheme was launched as part of a growing awareness for the use of amnesty to persuade terrorists to lay down their guns. Nearly 1,000 ex-fighters have been rehabilitated under the government's program.

But very few are successfully living in communities. Most of them eventually rejoin Boko Haram due to rejection.

Hamzatu Alamin is one of the participants at the conference. She started talking about reconciliation 10 years ago when her community was hit hard and young men were coerced into joining Boko Haram.

But she said her efforts attracted some unwanted attention.

"You can be arrested by state actors and accused of being an accomplice. And secondly, the boys (Boko Haram), if you make a mistake, you can be their target,” she said.

Women like Alamin here said they hope to improve their community's acceptance of former jihadists after the conference.

But attending the conference along with other women also lifts the burden of being negatively labeled with terrorists.

"I have been communicating with them. I am now able to say it freely because I know that even the government is communicating with them. The government and security forces are using many of the boys I communicate with as outlets to get the people they're rehabilitating,” she said.

Maria Quintero, program manager at IOM Nigeria, said women also need socioeconomic stability if the program is to succeed.

"The Nigerian women are very strong. What we have found as well is that they're very influential in the decision of the males. Women have a role to play especially when it comes to males coming back to the communities,” said Quintero.

More than 35,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the start of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009. Boko Haram, which opposes Western education, has frequently targeted schools.

By Timothy Obiezu 


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