Tuesday, August 30, 2022

No church in the wild: Armed groups on Nigerian clergy abduction spree

On July 15, Reverend Fathers Donatus Cleophas and Mark Cheitnum were in the empty rectory of Christ the King parish in Yadin Garu, a town in the Southern Kaduna area of northwest Nigeria when five armed men walked in.

Two were wielding an AK-47 rifle, another had a machete and the other two held sticks, Cleophas said.

The gunmen confiscated the phones of both priests, who had stayed to celebrate mass after an ordination service in that diocese, and led them into the muddy grounds of a maize farm near the parish.

There, Cheitnum was shot dead and his body was left in the rain, while his colleague was taken away.

“We did not have any scuffle, nothing,” Cleophas, who has since regained his freedom, told Al Jazeera. “All I can think of is because maybe Father [Mark] was wearing canvas [shoes] and he could not keep up with the pace at which we were moving.”

Their ordeal was one of the most recent in a growing trend of attacks targeted against Christians in Nigeria in recent years, according to data and experts.

According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), violence against Christians targeted on the basis of their religious identity has spiked, just as political violence against civilians has generally been on the rise too.

Its data shows that attacks on Christians in the country increased by 21 percent in 2021 compared with 2020. On average, monthly attacks have also risen by over 25 percent in the last year.

In June, gunmen killed dozens at a Catholic church in Ondo, spotlighting a possibly religious undertone to the country’s insecurity. The state government blamed the ISIL-linked ISWAP (Islamic State in West Africa Province) for the incident, but the group is yet to claim responsibility.

Experts say attacks against the church are also increasingly targeting Christian leaders, as operations of armed groups nationwide assume dangerous dimensions.

A number of clergymen who survived abductions refused to talk to Al Jazeera about their ordeals. One said it would be a direct threat to his life if he spoke about his experience to the media and another declined to speak after initially agreeing to an interview for fear of safety.

‘Endangered species’

This August, a vehicle carrying four nuns from the southeast state of Imo to the neighbouring Rivers state in the Niger Delta, was ambushed. The police claimed to have rescued the nuns within days of their abduction but did not comment on whether ransoms had been paid.

Indeed, between January 2020 and July 2022, there were 99 independent attacks against Nigerian clergy, ranging from abductions to outright murder, according to ACLED’s database which compiled records from local media reports.

“The data is a very vivid reflection of what is going on in our society [with regards to] the economic hardship and the booming kidnapping for ransom industry that we see today,” said Olajumoke Ayandele, a former ACLED researcher and currently a postdoctoral research fellow at New York University’s The Centre for the Study of Africa and the African Diaspora.

A breakdown of the attacks shows that 34 happened in 2020, 36 in 2021 and 29 in the first seven months of 2022, a sharp increase compared with the previous decade when similar incidents were rare.

And experts say these figures may not even represent the full picture.

“I think the numbers are way higher,” Ayandele told Al Jazeera. “A lot of what filters into the media are the high profile cases. We are under-reporting the numbers.”

With Nigeria facing multifaceted security issues, multiple non-state actors including armed groups motivated by religious reasons, bandits and unidentified armed groups have been credited for the rising attacks.

Since 2020, six of the attacks have been credited to groups like Boko Haram and its offshoots ISWAP and Ansaru; 30 others have been carried out by armed bandits and 61 more by unidentified gunmen.

The attacks have also been spread across the country’s six geopolitical zones.

In the North Central region, 32 attacks were recorded, making it the deadliest region for Christian clerics in Nigeria since 2020. The North East and North West recorded 9 and 17 cases respectively.

The South West, often considered Nigeria’s safest region saw 11 attacks while there were 15 apiece in the South East and South South regions.

“It is an unfortunate situation that priests and pastors are becoming endangered species in this country,” Reverend Father Polycarp Lubo, the Plateau state chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria told Al Jazeera. “The priests are not rich themselves, so we don’t know why they have resulted in the killing and abduction of priests and pastors. CAN is not happy about the whole thing and we are condemning it totally.”

‘High-value targets’

Between 2014 and 2020, there was a slew of school abductions in Nigeria, including the high-profile abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls which made global headlines.

Security experts say there has been a change in focus for perpetrators from schoolchildren to professional groups, to gain attention and legitimacy as armed groups.

Schools being closed in parts of states in the northwest for security concerns, as well as in parts of central Nigeria for academic reasons, may have also led to the change in tactics.

“Regarding the priests, the possible explanation is simply that the abductors are after money and the priests represent high value in terms of ransom payments,” Malik Samuel, Abuja-based researcher at the Institute of Security Studies, said. “Nothing stops them from moving on to other people if measures are put in place to protect the priests.”

“When you kidnap or kill a Christian priest, you get local and as well international attention and that brings legitimacy to your ransom demand saying: ‘We are very serious,’” Ayandele said. “And the fact that the government is under pressure and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is under pressure to give in to their ransom… it is very targeted.”

‘My experience…was hell’

The Catholic Church has been the hardest-hit denomination, with data showing that half of all 120 clergy members abducted or killed within this period – including seminarians and nuns – were within its fold.

The church has not officially commented on paying ransoms to free abducted clergy but is believed to be paying nonetheless.

‘’We [speaking for all churches] have been paying ransoms because life is more important than money,” Lubo said. “And they have been having negative serious impacts on Christians, most of all on the families of the priests. The ransoms are very huge on the church and devastating on the families. People have been going beyond their means to save lives.”

The chairman called the attacks “persecution of Christians in Nigeria”, echoing what some Christian leaders have said about the attacks.

But security researchers told Al Jazeera that the abductions are driven by the church’s capacity to make ransom payments, not religious factors, except in the cases credited to Boko Haram and its affiliates.

“When there are unaddressed conflicts, there are other actors who take advantage,” Samuel said. “It tends to breed more insecurity. These abductions we have seen is not entirely a jihadist issue.”

But the situation is “driving towards a confrontation between Muslims and Christians,” he added.

Four days after the abduction, Cleophas escaped. His captors were out receiving a ransom payment of 3.6 million naira ($8,443) for Cheitnum – even though they had killed him – and the member of the group they left on guard duty had nodded off.

It is an experience the priest still remembers vividly.

“My experience in those four days was hell,” he told Al Jazeera. “At a point, I even desired death than even being with them because it was dehumanising and animalistic. They told me they were going to kill me.”

By Ope Adetayo

Al Jazeera 

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Africa’s Biggest Oil Producer Struggles Despite Price Bonanza

Nigeria’s economy expanded faster than expected in the second quarter, but its key oil sector is languishing despite booming prices.

Output from Africa’s largest crude producer fell to 1.43 million barrels a day in the three months through June, the lowest quarterly production since 2016, according to the nation’s statistics agency. The fifth consecutive quarter of declining output comes as rampant theft and vandalism prevent Nigeria from fully benefiting from the oil bonanza that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The situation worsened at the start of the third quarter, with output in July dropping to 1.2 million barrels a day, the lowest in more than three decades. That’s way below the 1.799 million barrels a day that Nigeria was allowed to pump that month under an OPEC+ agreement.

While oil still accounts for more than 80% of Nigeria’s export earnings, it’s contribution to Africa’s biggest economy is declining. With the country hosting among the world’s highest number of people living in extreme poverty, that’s adding pressure for the government to turn around an industry, which has also suffered from policy uncertainty.

By Anthony Osae-Brown


Monday, August 29, 2022

Video - Nigeria bans the use of foreign models for advertisements

The Nigerian government has banned the use of foreign models and voice-over artists for advertisements targeted at the country's market. The head of the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria, Olale-kan Fado-lapo, says the ban is in accordance with the new law governing advertising in the country. The government says it’s working to promote local content and talent, to drive economic growth. CGTN's Deji Bademosi has more on the story.

Nigeria’s Grey raises $2M for cross-border payments play and regional expansion

The provision of virtual foreign bank accounts has become a common strategy for fintechs to enable Nigerians and Africans to facilitate international transfers. In the latest development, Grey, a fintech in this category that provides virtual international bank accounts to African freelancers and remote workers, is announcing that it has raised $2 million in seed funding.

Idorenyin Obong and Femi Aghedo founded Grey in July 2020 as an instant exchange service to help Nigerians exchange foreign currencies in their domiciliary account for local money — the naira. Last year, the startup raised an undisclosed pre-seed investment and got accepted into YC’s winter batch this March.

The YC-backed Nigerian fintech has since expanded into East Africa, starting with Kenya. CEO Obong told TechCrunch that partnerships with two companies in Kenya: payments giant Cellulant and edtech upstart Moringa accompanied the move.

“We went with Cellulant to power our payment infrastructure for Kenyan shillings,” said the chief executive. “Moringa is like an avenue and channel for training new tech talent, so it made sense to have such a partnership as we are trying to build this for freelancers.”

Thus, users in Nigeria and Kenya can receive foreign payments from over 88 countries using USD, GBP, and EUR bank accounts created on the platform, convert them into their local currencies (naira and shilling) and withdraw directly to their mobile money or local bank account. They can also send money to the UK and Europe on the platform. Grey has also upped its functionality to support payouts in another East African currency: Ugandan shillings, bringing the total number of supported currencies to six. Although it is yet to launch in the country, Obong said Uganda is in Grey’s regional purview as well as fellow East African country Tanzania; the fintech will expand into the latter within a month, he added.

Grey claims to have about 100,000 individual users, and since the beginning of the year, its transaction volumes have increased by 200%. COO Aghedo said the company privately launched a business-focused product, Grey Business, to complement this consumer-facing growth and extend its product beyond remittances and person-to-person payments.

The lack of interoperability between African currencies is one reason businesses on the continent use the dollar to pay one another instead of local currencies. Platforms like Verto, a global B2B payments platform that allows African businesses to make international payments via multicurrency wallets, are tackling this problem. With its Grey Business product, the one-year-old fintech intends to tap into the market and provide a cheaper option to send and receive local currencies within the continent, particularly for micro and small businesses.

Grey Business has been in private beta for the last two months and the seed investment will help to launch it publicly across Nigeria and Kenya. Investors in the round include venture firms such as Y Combinator, Soma Capital, Heirloom Fund, and True Culture Fund and angels like Alan Rutledge, Samvit Ramadurgam and Karthik Ramakrishnan. Startups offering similar services include the likes of Techstars-backed PayDay.

“Grey was founded to empower people to live a location-independent lifestyle. “I believe that the least of your worries as a freelancer, remote worker, or digital nomad should be sending or receiving payments, so we’ve made it easy,” said CEO Obong. “We like to say that we’re on a mission to make international payments as easy as sending an email. We want to do impactful work to improve how Africa as a continent interacts with money across its borders.”

By Tage Kene-Okafor

Tech Crunch

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Friday, August 26, 2022

Dangote oil refinery to help solve fuel shortage in Nigeria

An oil refinery being put up by Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote may be the perfect rescue for Africa’s largest petroleum producer that has struggled to provide ready products to motorists.

In spite of having the largest oil reserves in Africa, Nigeria’s inability to refine the products locally has seen the country’s motorists line up of hours at petrol stations jostling for scarce resources.

Now, the Dangote Petroleum Refinery being put up at a cost of $19 billion and expected to be completed later this year, could partially solve the problem by refining the oil locally. The plant was initially meant to cost $9 billion when its construction began in 2015.

Situated in Lekki Free Zone near Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, the refinery is expected to be Africa’s biggest oil and the world’s biggest single-train facility upon completion.

Officials say they had to hire 17,000 more workers to speed up completion this year, raising the workforce to 57,000 labourers.

Its prospectus says the petroleum refinery complex will have a 650,000-barrel capacity and will process a variety of light and medium grades of crude, as well as the Euro-V quality clean fuels, including gasoline and diesel, and jet fuel and polypropylene.

It is projected to produce 50 million litres of petrol daily; and yearly production of 10.4 million tonnes of gasoline, 4.6 million tonnes of diesel, and 4 million tonnes of jet fuel a year.

It will also produce 0.69 million tonnes of polypropylene, 0.24 million tonnes of propane, 32,000 tonnes of Sulphur, and 0.5 million tonnes of carbon black feed.

“It makes me feel terrible to see a country as big and resourceful as Nigeria with a high population, importing all its petroleum products, so, we decided it is time to tackle this challenge,” Mr Dangote, the President of Dangote Group, said at the 2022 Nigerian Content Midstream and Downstream Oil and Gas Summit in Lagos.

“It is not government’s responsibility alone to address the challenge of petroleum products’ importation in Nigeria. No, we have to collaborate with the government to tackle the issue of petroleum importation.”

“We should not as a country be comfortable with generating revenue from crude oil export alone, because tomorrow people may not need crude oil.

“If we do not move from crude oil to something else, we will have issues as a country. This is one of the things that I took upon myself to help address,” he said.

Since April this year, Nigeria has faced a stark shortage of refined fuel. And motorists who patronise black marketers pay at least 150 percent more than the pump price of N165 ($0.35 cent) per litre, yet unsure of the quality of the fuel.

Some motorists have reported their vehicles developing faults after using the adulterated petrol bought from black market operators.

The scarcity of the products has continued even after the new National Nigeria Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) insisted that there is availability of fuel.

Although the retailers have adjusted their pump price from N165 ($0.35) per litre to N175 ($0.39) per litre, the product remains elusive despite Nigeria’s claims of massive importation.

Nigeria, which started exploring and exploiting crude oil in 1956, remains largely an importer of petroleum products even as it exports an average of two million barrels of crude oil daily.

Its four petroleum refineries in Warri, Port Harcourt and Kaduna have been moribund for decades, making the Africa’s most populous country dependent on import which consumes the larger chunk of the foreign exchange earnings from crude export.

Mr Devakumar Edwin, the Group Executive Director of Dangote Industries, confirmed the $19 billion cost of the firm when completed and that the petrochemical project houses the world’s biggest ammonia plant, which had started producing fertiliser.

He said the state-owned Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC), a facilitator of exploration and exploitation of oil and gas, has acquired 20 percent stake in the refinery that is worth $2.7 billion.

The Managing Director of NNPC, Mr Mele Kyari, in July 2022 confirmed that the corporation had paid an initial amount of $1 billion for the ordinary shares it acquired in the refinery

Kyari said the investment in the refinery will guarantee energy security for Nigeria.

With Dangote Refinery in place, coupled with the planned completion of the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna refineries by the end of 2023, Nigeria could become a hub of petroleum products in Africa.

He explained that the rehabilitation of the three state-owned refineries was ongoing, saying: “We have been trying to fix our refineries. We have awarded the contracts.”

“We, as a national oil company, have the responsibility to ensure energy security for this country and the meaning of this is that you must secure the supply sources,” Mr Kyari said.

“That means with the NNPC’s refineries in place and Dangote Refineries operating along with other initiatives that we are making, we are going to have a massive hub of petroleum production in West Africa.

“This will change the flow of product supply in the whole globe and scarcity will be history in Nigeria.”

By Mohammed Momoh

The East African 

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Cameroon, Nigeria Reopening Border Markets and Schools with Boko Haram Threat Diminished

Governors from Cameroon and Nigeria plan to re-open markets and rebuild schools along their shared border after declaring the area free of Boko Haram militants.

Babagana Umara Zulum, governor of Nigeria’s Borno state, said President Muhammadu Buhari instructed governors of border states affected by Boko Haram to work with neighboring countries to improve living conditions.

He said governors from Cameroon and Nigeria will reopen border markets and rebuild schools in towns and villages where Boko Haram has been defeated.

"We are doing everything possible to ensure that the Banki market is reestablished," Babagana said. "The bringing of cattle from the Republic of Chad to Cameroon, to Nigeria had stopped. My humble self and the governor will go and reopen the cattle route from Gamboru-Ngala. It will improve the economy of Nigeria and improve the economy of Cameroon. By September, we shall be going to Chad and Niger to see how we can improve on our bilateral relationships."

Babagana spoke by a messaging app from Maiduguri, capital of Nigeria's Borno state on Thursday after meeting a delegation led by Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of Cameroon's Far North Region.

He said the Gamboru-Ngala cattle market, which is the largest in northeast Nigeria, was shut down in May 2014 after Boko Haram fighters massacred 300 civilians and abducted 200 people. The market is near Nigeria's border with Cameroon.

Bakari, who is also chairman of the Lake Chad Basin Governors Forum, says he was asked by Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, to visit border localities where Boko Haram has been eliminated.

Bakari said President Biya dispatched his minister of public works to make sure that border roads in areas where Boko Haram has been defeated are repaired to boost cross border trade. He said the Banki market is among several dozen near the Cameroon-Nigeria border that want to collectively reopen.

Bakari said the border markets and schools that were destroyed by Boko Haram will be reopened before December.

He said he had fruitful meetings this week in Nigeria with the governor of Yobe and Borno states. Both states say Boko Haram attacks have been greatly reduced and people can resume their activities.

Cameroon says peace has also returned to a majority of its northern border with Nigeria.

In June the Multinational Joint Task Force of the Lake Chad Basin Commission said its troops from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad killed more than 800 jihadis in about two months of fighting on the Cameroon-Nigeria border.
The task force was constituted in 2015 to fight Boko Haram and its rival, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Cameroon and Nigeria say there is an increase in the number of Boko Haram militants surrendering at disarmament centers since May of 2021 when Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Islamist group, was declared killed.

Last week, President Buhari visited Borno state, the former epicenter of Nigeria's Islamist insurgency, and formally opened 500 units of newly built resettlement houses for people internally displaced by the 13-year Boko Haram conflict.
The United Nations says more than 37,000 people have been killed and about 2.8 million people displaced by the Boko Haram uprising that began in 2009.

By Moki Edwin Kindzeka


Germany signs deal to give ownership of Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

Germany signed an agreement on Thursday to transfer ownership to Nigeria of the Benin Bronzes, among Africa's most culturally significant artefacts which were looted in the 19th century.

British soldiers took hundreds of bronzes - intricate sculptures and plaques dating back to the 13th century onwards - when they invaded the Kingdom of Benin, located in what is now southwestern Nigeria, in 1897.

The artefacts ended up in museums around Europe and the United States. African countries have for years fought to recover them.

Germany returned the first of the sculptures to Nigeria in July.

On Thursday, the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage (SPK) and Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) signed a deal transferring their ownership from the Ethnological Museum collection in Berlin to Nigeria.

The agreement, which the SPK described as the most extensive transfer of museum artefacts from a colonial context to date, covers 512 objects which ended up in Berlin in the aftermath of the 1897 looting.

The first objects will be physically returned to Nigeria this year. About a third of the treasures will remain on loan in Berlin for at least 10 years and exhibited at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. The loan might be extended.

"This represents the future concerning the artefacts issue; a future of collaboration among museums, a future of according respect and dignity to the legitimate requests of other nations and traditional institutions," said NCMM's Abba Isa Tijani.

He urged museums outside Germany to emulate the agreement.

French art historians have estimated that some 90% of Africa's cultural heritage is believed to be in Europe. African countries have long sought to get back works pillaged by explorers and colonisers as Western institutions grapple with the cultural legacies of colonialism.

Earlier this month, London's Horniman Museum said it would return 72 artefacts, including 12 brass plaques, to the Nigerian government, following a similar move by a Cambridge University college and a Paris museum last year.

German Culture Commissioner Claudia Roth said it was an example for museums in Germany with colonial-era collections and that further agreements would follow in coming months.

By Madeline Chambers


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Thursday, August 25, 2022

Gratitude, relief as four kidnapped nuns are freed

“We are so grateful to God for the release of our sisters without harm.”

These words convey the relief and happiness of the Congregation of the Sisters of Jesus the Savior, as they reflect on the happenings of the past days, in the wake of the abduction and subsequent release of some of their members.

Sisters Johannes Nwodo, Christabel Echemazu, Liberata Mbamalu and Benita Agu were seized by kidnappers around the Okigwe-Umulolo area in Abia State, Nigeria on Sunday morning, as they were on their way to Mass.

Two days later, a statement signed by the Secretary-General of the Congregation announced the joyful news of the unconditional and safe release of the four nuns.

This latest kidnapping incident brings to the fore once again, the security challenges of Africa’s most populous nation, as the Nigerian government and security agencies battle to ensure the protection of the lives and properties of its citizens.
Kidnapped on their way to Mass

Sr. Ascensio Madukaji, SJS, the Director of Missions for the Congregation in Rome, spoke to Vatican News in an interview, reflecting on the circumstance of the abduction and release of the religious nuns.

“It was a terrible situation,” said the religious sister, recalling the general emotion when they received the news of the kidnap of the four nuns.

She explained that the sisters had been on their way to join another colleague’s Thanksgiving Mass for the profession of her final vows which had taken place the day before. Shortly after they set out, they were accosted and abducted by men she called “Fulani herdsmen.”

“They were taken into the bush,” Sr. Madukaji recounts. “They spent two complete days… without food, without drink, without anything.”
Release of the nuns, prayers

Kidnappings for ransom are not uncommon in Nigeria, as bandits, armed individuals and, more recently, nomadic herdsmen have been linked to the crime of taking persons against their will.

In this case, the sister says that the abductors, with pecuniary motives behind their actions, got in contact with some sisters and family members of the kidnapped sisters in hopes of getting a ransom.

In a bid to discourage the worrying uptick of kidnappings in the country, Nigerian bishops have discouraged the payment of any amount of money in ransom for kidnapped priests and religious, expressing concern that it may encourage criminality.

Sr. Madukaji stressed the important role of prayer in the ordeal of the sisters, noting that the Congregation immediately turned to God in prayer, imploring Our Lord, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the quick and safe return of their sisters.

“We prayed. In fact, we prayed chain Rosaries, 24 hours - night and day. Adoration. Rosary. And then people all over the world were praying for us. We know that,” she said.

Fortunately, two days later, the four sisters were released from the hands of their captors.

In light of the worrying trend of insecurity , Sr. Madukaji called on government and security to agencies to “sit up” in their task of assuring the protection of Nigerians, and urged authorities to continue in their fight against insecurity in the West African Nation.

The religious sister then offered her profound gratitude to all who reached out to the congregation to express their closeness as the news of the sisters’ abduction spread. She also seized the opportunity to acknowledge the founder of the congregation, Very Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Matthew Paul Edeh, C.S. Sp.

“We thank them for being with us all throughout this period, because it was a terrific moment,” she said.

Sr. Madukaji also noted that in the thick of the difficult time, all hands were on deck as the Congregational Superior and even members of other congregations joined them in solidarity and prayers.

In recent times, Nigeria has seen several instances of violent killings and forceful abductions of citizens, some of them targeting priests, religious and leaders of other religious denominations.

In 2022 alone, several priests have been kidnapped and some killed. The horrific attack on worshippers at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, on Pentecost Sunday which left over 40 dead, shocked both religious and civil parties within the country.

In May, the prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria was kidnapped and subsequently freed a day later, after paying a ransom of one hundred million Naira.

On 25 June, Fr. Vitus Borogo of the Kaduna archdiocese was killed by armed individuals at Prison Farm, Kujama, along Kaduna-Kachia road, Chikun Local Government Area.

The following month, on 15 July, Fr. John Mark Cheitnum, a priest of the Kafanchan diocese, was brutally killed by his kidnappers, while another priest who was abducted with him at the same time luckily escaped with his life.

The Nigerian government has repeatedly vowed to put an end to the security problem.

By Benedict Mayaki, SJ 

Vatican News

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Video - Is Nigeria's security crisis out of control?

Nigeria Seeks $10 Billion to Fund its Energy Transition Plans

Nigeria aims to raise an initial $10 billion in funding to implement its energy transition plan ahead of COP27 climate talks later this year, the country’s vice president said.

Africa’s most populous country needs at least an additional $10 billion a year and a total $410 billion to deliver on its net-zero targets by 2060, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said during a virtual launch of the country’s energy transition road map. Nigeria has already secured a $1.5 billion pledge from the World Bank and is in talks with the US Export-Import Bank for an additional $1.5 billion, according to a government statement.

Osinbajo said that every African country has signed the Paris Agreement and some, including Nigeria, have announced net-zero pledges. But a lack of electricity “hurts livelihoods and destroys the dreams of hundreds of millions of young people.”

“For Africa, the problem of energy poverty is as important as our climate ambitions,” Osinbajo said in a video address. “Energy use is crucial for almost every conceivable aspect of development -- wealth, health, nutrition, water, infrastructure, education and life expectancy.”

Nigeria’s energy transition plan is designed to lift 100 million people out of poverty in a decade, drive economic growth, bring modern energy services to the people and manage the expected long-term job losses in the oil sector due to global decarbonization, according to the statement. 

By Anthony Osae-Brown


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

U.S. to return $23 million looted by late dictator Abacha to Nigeria

The United States will turn over to Nigeria $23 million taken by former military ruler Sani Abacha, officials said at an event to sign the agreement on Tuesday.

Nigeria has reached several agreements to return stolen cash in recent years. Abacha ruled Africa's most populous nation and top oil exporter from 1993 until his death in 1998, during which time Transparency International estimated that he took up to $5 billion of public money. He was never charged.

U.S. Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard said the cash was in UK accounts but was identified and frozen by U.S. officials. She added that including the latest deal, the United States had agreed to repatriate more than $334.7 million linked to Abacha.

Attorney General Abubakar Malami said the funds would be used for infrastructure projects, including the Abuja-Kano road, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the second Niger bridge under the supervision of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).

"The president's mandate to my office is to ensure that all international recoveries are transparently invested and monitored by civil society organizations to compete for these three projects within the agreed timeline," Malami.

The U.S. Justice Department has previously said that Nigeria must use money repatriated from funds looted by Abacha on agreed public projects or be forced to "replace" it.


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Tuesday, August 23, 2022

FG taking steps to end Nigeria’s reign as top malaria hob

The Federal Government has said although the decline of malaria prevalence from 42 percent in 2010 to 23 percent in 2020 was commendable, it remains committed to ending Nigeria’s reign at the top of the global prevalence table.

Minister of Environment, Barrister Hasan Abdullahi, on Monday reiterated the determination of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to further reduce the malaria scourge to the barest minimum through deliberate targeted interventions in policy implementation.

He spoke at a briefing as part of activities in commemoration of this year’s edition of the WHO’s World Malaria Day, in Abuja.

Abdullahi said, “According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nigeria has the world’s highest malaria burden with an annual reported cases 51 million and 207, 000 deaths representing nearly 30 percent of the total malaria in Africa.

“It is also estimated that nearly 173 million Nigerians are at risk of being infected.

“This alarming situation brings along with it the economic consequences-absence from work by infected adults, absence from school on the part of infected school children are basic and prominent aspects of concern owing to the high rate of man-hour loss arising from this.

“Similarly, it is estimated that Nigerians lose money running into hundreds of Billion Naira wherein if every infected person treats just a bout of Malaria infection with an average of two thousand Naira twice every year.”

The minister further said, “Several efforts are being made internationally, nationally and locally to combat the Malaria scourge. Only recently, the President and Commander-inChief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the Nigeria End Malaria Council (NEMC) where he mandated it to ensure successful implementation of the Council’s programme that should translate into N2 trillion savings from the estimated economic burden of the disease by 2030.

“The Federal Ministry of Environment is solidly behind the President in achieving the onerous target set for the NEMC which is quite achievable with the right implementation of strategies utilizing collaboration and partnership.”

According to him, case management of Malaria has proven to be less effective in the control of the hyper endemic disease.

He equally noted that although control of the adult mosquito bite through the use of Insecticide-Treated (Mosquito) Nets is posting some gains, attaining the desired impact is not near and is unfortunately not too reliable, a strategy.

Abdullahi further said, “It remains critical that hierarchically, effective Mosquito control takes the form of exclusion — removal of suitable vector habitat through sound hygiene and sanitation which stops breeding by preventing egg laying; life cycle control — larviciding, to reduce/eliminate egg hatching; and oiling & aduiticiding which is used for controlling pupacy and adulthood respectively.”

Also speaking at the event, the National Coordinator, Malaria Elimination Programme, Dr. Perpetual Uhomoibhi, who represented the Minister of Health, explained that the Ministery was working with development partners and other relevant stakeholders on workable strategies towards curbing the menace.
She explained that already, the Ministry through its agencies was providing treatments to children under five in 21 out of the 36 states of the federation.

Uhomoibhi also said Nigeria was in line for the WHO approved Malaria vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

By John Alechenu


Monday, August 22, 2022

Video - Track cycling gains fame in Nigeria after hosting of African Championship

Nigeria finished in fourth place at the 2022 African Track Cycling Championship hosted in July at the velodrome of the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja. The West Africans won a total of 16 medals, which consist of four gold, eight silver and four bronze medals. This result has attracted more interest in the sport, and Nigerians hope even more talent will come through the ranks.

Video - Nigeria athletics calls for more government support to boost women

Nigerian sports fans are beginning to see the potential in their women athletes. Nigerian women were quite successful at the recently concluded 2022 Commonwealth Games. And the government is being urged to pour more financial support into further developing women's athletics.

Video - Nigeria Electric Scooters

A Nigerian based transportation company is leveraging eco-friendly technology to redefine how people move within gated communities. Their eco-friendly, two- wheeled scooters are providing affordable and fun means of transportation for users, while also making the environment free of harmful air pollutants.

Is this Nigerian teen the next women's golf prodigy?

A single moment can change the trajectory of our lives. For Nigerian Iyeneobong "Iyene" Essien, that moment came when she was just five years old. She remembers the day her dad took her to a golf course in Abuja, where she saw a boy teeing off. Intrigued by the sight, she asked her dad if she could pursue the sport.

"(My father) was pretty surprised by my question," she said. "He asked me if I really wanted to play this sport and I said, 'yes,' and he got me a coach and I started playing golf."
The rest was history.
Essien entered her first competition the same year and proved to be a natural, placing first in her age group. "I found that really cool," she said.

By age 11, the golfer was representing Nigeria at international competitions across the US, UK, and Africa including Morocco, Botswana, and South Africa. Now 16, she is the No.1 ranked junior girls' golfer in Nigeria and has won more than a dozen trophies after placing in various competitions.

"I'm really proud of representing my country because I'm making a name for myself and for my country," she said.

In late July, Essien clinched second place in the Under 19 Girls division at the Champion of Champions World Championship in Northern Ireland. "It was a really good experience for me," she said. Finishing five strokes behind first, Essein says she is proud of how she played.

"Everything happens for a reason -- even though you come second or third, it means that you're getting closer and closer to first," she said, noting the experience of playing on a world-renowned course was a win in itself. "The fact that I could play on the same course as Rory Mcllroy played on and be in the same vicinity of all that history was really very important to me."

As she continues to make a name for herself and her country, Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari is taking notice. Following the tournament, the president's adviser released a statement saying Buhari, "joins all Nigerians in celebrating this great teenager who is doing so much for the country."
"It was really unexpected, and I appreciate it," Essien told CNN in response.

Following her dreams

Time and time again, Essien has proven she isn't afraid of a challenge. While she often finds herself competing against older players, she says it actually "gives me even more motivation just to do better."
She says her positivity and drive is inspired by one of her greatest role models, Tiger Woods.
"He has shown a lot of resilience in the game," she said, noting his efforts to push through a series of injuries and career setbacks. "He just keeps playing golf and he really loves the sport, even though he's not winning."

Essien is not the first Nigerian golfer to have to look elsewhere for role models. Georgia Ohoh, the first Nigerian to play in the Ladies European Tour, previously told CNN she had to turn to tennis to find inspirational athletes.

That's in part because golf is far from the most popular sport in Nigeria. According to the Nigerian Golf Federation, there are only 58 courses in the country. In 2012, it was estimated there were only about 200,000 golfers out of a population of than 200 million people (by comparison, more than 25 million Americans played golf that same year).

Essien says the absence of a more established golfing program has been challenging, particularly when it comes to financing.

She says her family has been "instrumental" in funding her career, but it's been a "struggle" and believes, "if I had a huge pot to work with, I would have done more competitions over the years than I did and won more trophies."

Wanting to pursue more opportunities, Essien, who was born in the state of New York but raised in Nigeria, moved back to the US in 2021 to enroll in the Taft School in Watertown, Connecticut.

"The competition is high (in the US)," Essien said. On an average day, the teenager says she typically practices for three hours after class, and it can be difficult to navigate the delicate dance between pursuing a professional career and being an "average" teen.

"Sometimes I actually really want to go hang out my friends and just relax and be a teenager basically. But there are also priorities. I have to remember that if I want to be in a higher place in golf or in school then I have to put in the time in the work," she said.

Inspiring the next generation

In addition to becoming a golf pro, Essien wants to pursue a degree in engineering with a specialization in artificial intelligence.

"I hope to get a golf scholarship to a (top) university... and if it becomes possible, I hope to play in the LPGA," she said.

With a budding career ahead, she also hopes to pave the way for other Nigerians for follow in her footsteps.

"I hope my achievements and where I am right now in golf can actually motivate Nigerians who want to play golf," she said, leaving aspiring golfers with this piece of advice: "work hard and keep a good mentality because everything happens for a reason and in due time, everything will go your way." 

By Jackie Prager 


Nigeria's Buhari worried over large scale crude oil theft

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari expressed concern on Friday over large-scale crude oil theft, saying it was affecting the country's revenues "enormously".

Nigeria lost $1 billion in revenue during the first quarter of this year due to crude theft, the oil regulator has said.

Nigeria is unable to meet some of its financial obligations to its citizens due to the oil theft, Buhari told government workers who are requesting a pay increase to help deal with double-digit inflation.

"On your request for a salary review, I wish to urge you to appreciate the revenue constraints being presently faced by government which is caused mainly by the activities of unscrupulous citizens through the theft of our crude oil, a major contributor to our revenue base," Buhari said.

Crude theft poses an existential threat to Nigeria's oil industry, the local head of Shell (SHEL.L) has said, resulting in the shutdown of two of its major pipelines.

Nigeria is currently battling to stabilise its ailing currency , to curb surging inflation and boost growth after the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Annual inflation (NGCPIY=ECI) in Nigeria hit a 17-year high in July, data showed on Monday. read more

Buhari also blamed the war in Ukraine for the rise in global food prices and high transportation costs for goods and services.

He instructed security agencies to speedily clamp down on those involved in oil theft in the Niger Delta, adding that Nigeria was also strengthening cooperation with its neighbours to stop criminals syphoning away stolen crude by sea.

"We will not allow a few criminals to have unfettered access to the nation's oil supply," Buhari said. 

By Felix Onuah


Related story: Nigeria loses 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day to theft, says FG

Gunmen in Nigeria kidnap four Catholic nuns on highway

Gunmen abducted four Catholic nuns on a highway in Nigeria's oil-producing Imo state in the southeast, a local convent said on Monday, in the latest sign of widespread insecurity making road travel unsafe.

Armed gangs have been kidnapping people, including priests, for ransom from villages and on highways mainly in the northwest and the practice has spread to other parts of the country, increasing insecurity in Africa's most populous nation.

Zita Ihedoro, secretary general of Sisters of Jesus, the Saviour Generalate, said the four were abducted while travelling from Rivers state to Imo for a thanksgiving mass on Sunday.

"We implore for intense prayer for their quick and safe release," Ihedoro said in a statement.

In the northwest, Nigeria's military has started an air offensive to eliminate the armed groups responsible for kidnapping citizens from villages and towns in the region.


Related story: Video - Is Nigeria's security crisis out of control?


The deadly virus Nigerians fear more than COVID-19: Lassa fever

The moment Victory Ovuoreoyen heard he had Lassa virus, he thought it was the end. The tradesman could barely walk and feared for his life when admitted to the Federal Medical Centre in the city of Owo in southwestern Nigeria. He ran a fever, was vomiting and had severe diarrhoea.

But after four days in an isolation ward, the emaciated patient can now sit upright on his hospital cot, one of the few patients in the infirmary strong enough to speak. “Before I fell ill, I could not count my bones like this. I lost so much weight,” he says, pointing at his clavicles clearly showing under his loose mustard-coloured shirt.

Doctors have assured the 48-year-old man that he will recover from the illness, an acute haemorrhagic disease similar to Ebola. He is lucky. Although 80 percent of those infected do not get very ill from the virus and most cases go undiagnosed, the death rate among those who end up in hospital is 15 percent, according to the World Health Organization. With an incubation period of between two and 21 days, severe symptoms can start showing a week into the illness. By then it could be too late.

Lassa fever lowers the platelet count in the blood and its ability to clot, causing internal bleeding. Fatal organ failure can follow within days.

Early symptoms include head and muscle aches, sore throat, nausea and fever. Initially, they are indistinguishable from the symptoms of malaria, a common disease in the region. The laboratory of this hospital in Owo is the only one in the state that performs the Lassa diagnostic blood tests and the results are only available after two days. This combination of factors often leads to Lassa being discovered at a late stage, which makes it harder to treat.

Owo, an agricultural market centre 300 kilometres (186 miles) from the Nigerian capital Abuja, is the epicentre of the Lassa outbreak that began early this year, causing more than 160 deaths. At its height in March, the 38 beds in the isolation ward did not suffice and 10 more cots were added for suspected cases. In this part of Nigeria, people fear the Lassa virus far more than the coronavirus. With good reason: Ondo, the state where Owo is located, has since 2020 recorded 171 deaths caused by Lassa, versus 85 from COVID-19, according to the Infection Control and Research Centre at the hospital.

‘It is so contagious’

Head nurse Josephine Funmilola Alabi checks the intravenous drip that administers Ovuoreoyen’s antiviral medication and treats dehydration, an issue severely ill Lassa fever patients must battle. Alabi is dressed in a white hazmat suit, surgical cap, face mask and face shield. Only dressed like this may she enter the “red zone”, as the isolation ward for highly contagious patients is called. She also wears disinfected rubber boots and two pairs of surgical gloves. Not a millimetre of her skin is left uncovered. “We take this virus very seriously. It is so contagious that we are only allowed to enter the ward with full PPE,” Alabi says, referring to the personal protective equipment that medical personnel caring for patients with highly infectious diseases wear. Four of the Lassa deaths in Nigeria this year were of medical workers.

Despite its widespread presence in West Africa, the disease remains little known in much of the world. The virus was discovered in 1969 in the northern Nigerian town of Lassa, about 1,000km (621 miles) from Owo. Since then, it has become endemic in at least five countries in West Africa. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, registers the highest number of cases, up to 1,000 a year. This year, in January alone, Nigeria recorded 211 confirmed cases, of which 40 patients died.

Lassa fever infects an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 Africans each year, of which thousands die, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Infected people can infect others through bodily fluids. The fever often causes miscarriages and can be passed from mothers to babies. It can remain in breast milk for up to six months. Like other viruses causing haemorrhagic fevers that have no cure and are easy to reproduce, scientists have warned that the Lassa virus could be used as a biological weapon.

‘Diseases don’t have boundaries’

The fever tends to strike in impoverished rural areas and food contaminated with rat droppings or urine is often the source of infection. Roasted game, known locally as bushmeat, can also be tainted if the slaughtered animal has been in contact with the rodents. The rats often enter people’s houses in search of something to eat when the rains stop. That is why Lassa fever typically peaks in Nigeria’s dry season, from November to April, although cases persist all year round.

It is not spreading over the world as rapidly as COVID-19 did, says clinical microbiologist Adebola Olayinka. But she warns that this may change. She is an expert in infectious hazardous diseases and coordinates Lassa fever research for the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. “Look at the story of Ebola,” she says. “This existed in the Democratic Republic of Congo for decades, but in 2014 very quickly reached West Africa and then England and the US.”

No proven drugs or vaccines protect against Lassa fever, Olayinka says. Currently, the only pharmaceutical used against Lassa fever is ribavirin, an antiviral drug commonly used to treat Hepatitis C. But its effectiveness against the Lassa virus has not been thoroughly researched, and pre-clinical studies and expensive clinical trials are needed to prove the efficacy of the drug. She believes the lack of research into Lassa is because the virus rarely appears in the West.

“Look at the speed with which the COVID vaccine has been developed,” she says. “But if an infectious disease doesn’t affect the wealthy, it won’t get the same amount of attention.” A year after the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020 the Access to Medicine Index compiled an inventory of the research and development efforts of the 20 largest pharmaceutical companies. It counted 63 projects concerning coronaviruses, five covering Ebola and zero for haemorrhagic viruses spread by rodents like Lassa, mostly found in Africa and Latin America.

Yet the West is not invulnerable to Lassa. Earlier this year, a couple in England was diagnosed with the disease. The husband contracted it during a visit to Mali and then infected his pregnant wife. Their premature baby died of the virus in a Bedfordshire hospital. “The West needs to realise that a disease anywhere could be a disease everywhere,” warns Olayinka. “Diseases don’t have boundaries.”

‘They caught it on time’

In Owo, head nurse Alabi continues her rounds. On this particular day in April, 20 of the 38 beds are filled. This is the only treatment centre for Lassa fever in Ondo, a state half the size of Belgium with about 3.5 million inhabitants. A month earlier the ward was filled to the brim. And a couple of years ago so many people were infected that tents for patients were put up on the open grounds next to the bungalow where the Lassa ward is located.

Alabi asks patients how they are doing and checks an intravenous (IV) drip here and there. Apart from anti-viral drugs, patients also are treated with vitamins, antibiotics for additional bacteria infections and malaria medications if they also test positive for that disease. The staff is not supposed to stay in the “red” isolation zone for more than an hour at a stretch, to limit the risk of infection. But during an outbreak such as this year’s, doing rounds in an overcrowded ward can take two hours. “It is a risk you take, for the sake of the patients,” she says matter-of-factly.

Hospital beds with chipped enamel bars line the corridors of the “red zone”. IV bags hang next to the cots. Alabi explains that the patients lie in the hallway so that the staff can hear them when they weakly call for help. Disinfecting the medical staff’s protective boots and face shields occurs around the clock. Used gear goes into large vats of chlorinated water and is then put on wooden stands to dry in the tropical sun.

Around the corner, under the marquee covering the path to the clinic’s entrance, Dr Sampson Omagbemi Owhin holds a consultation with a patient, Olaide Akinyola. Seated on plastic chairs in the open air they discuss her recovery.

Akinyola, a 38-year-old primary school teacher, returned to the Lassa ward this morning for a check-up. She ended up in the treatment centre a month and a half ago after feeling ill for a couple of days. She originally thought the bleeding was from a heavy menstrual flow, but when she felt too dizzy to stand upright, she got tested for Lassa. Within hours of receiving a positive result, she was admitted to the clinic.

Akinyola was lucky, says her doctor: “They caught it on time”. She received a blood transfusion and was treated with ribavirin, which in this case appeared to have helped.
Information is a weapon

Being a teacher, Akinyola has easy access to information about the virus, she says. “That’s why I was not too scared when I was admitted here,” she explains. “I knew my chances were good since they caught the virus early.”

Information is an important weapon in the fight against Lassa fever, her doctor affirms. Even after a patient has been discharged from the ward, they can continue to suffer from bleeding for a long time. Haematologist Ohwin explains that, aside from persistent blood disorders, the virus has been found in semen two years later – a reason why recovered male patients are advised to use condoms during sex.

Later that day, 42-year-old Kayode Omolayo shuffles out of the patient exit of the Lassa clinic and heads towards the visitors’ area, a concrete floor covered by an orange aluminium roof shelter. The platform underneath is bisected by a ditch, separating the ill from the healthy. A metal sign in the grass directs visitors to the fenced-off area where, from a safe distance, they can greet the sick who have recovered enough to get out of bed.

After 10 days in the Lassa department, Omolayo is keenly aware of the need for hygiene at home. “The first thing I’ll do is clean everything from top to bottom and check for rat droppings,” she says.

At the Lassa ward, head nurse Alabi steps out of the red zone into the station where protective gear comes off and plastic barrels are placed to disinfect footwear and face shields that will be reused. As she carefully peels off the layers, the 50-year-old shares her concerns about the future.

According to the nurse, NGOs supporting the fight against diseases like Lassa fever are finding it increasingly difficult to raise funds. That means the bottled water for the staff to rehydrate after hours in sweaty moon suits has been cut. The delivery of personal protective equipment is slowing down. Most Nigerians cannot afford the $1,000 fee for treatment, and she fears that the medical centre might run out of money to offer the current free care.

In the meantime, the staff is gearing itself up for another wave. The smile on Alabi’s face disappears as she squints through her rectangular glasses and states solemnly: “The next deadly Lassa outbreak is only a matter of time.”

By Femke van Zeijl

Al Jazeera

Friday, August 19, 2022

Journalist who reported on massacre of Nigerian Christians to stand trial for “cyberstalking”

A journalist who wrote an article accusing the Nigerian government of failing to protect Christians threatened by armed militants was arrested and will be tried on charges of “cyberstalking.”

Luka Binniyat, a Catholic human rights reporter, is facing prison after writing an article in which the Nigerian government was criticized for its inaction in the face of an ongoing threat to Christian communities.

In the article, Binniyat reported on charges that Kaduna State’s Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, had mischaracterized the massacre of unarmed Christians as a “clash” between villagers and herdsmen.

Binniyat is set to stand trial before a Nigerian magistrate on Sept. 6. on charges of cyberstalking, aiding, and abetting the offenses of cybercrime, charges which he denies.

Arrested for reporting on massacre

Binniyat told CNA that his arrest was based on a complaint filed by Aruwan, over an article titled, “In Nigeria, Police Decry Massacres as ‘Wicked’ but Make No Arrest,” that was published Oct. 29, 2021, in the Epoch Times.

In the article, Binniyat reported on the mass killings of Christians in two Southern Kaduna villages. In the community of Madamai, 38 Christians were massacred Sept. 28, 2021, by armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen. A day later, in the Christian village of Jankassa, about three miles south of Madamai, armed herdsmen killed four villagers, according to Binniyat’s report.

The Nigerian official, Aruwan, issued a press statement the following day saying that the violence was the result of “clashes” between local villagers and herdsmen. The statement stirred resentment among Christians both in Southern Kaduna and in other Christian areas in the Middle Belt of Nigeria.

Binniyat quoted a Nigerian senator who disagreed with Aruwan’s assessment that the massacre was a “clash” between villagers and herdsmen.

“The government of Kaduna state is using Samuel Aruwan, a Christian, to cause confusion to cover up the genocide going on in Christian Southern Kaduna by describing the massacre as a ‘clash,’” Senator Danjuma Laah, who represents Southern Kaduna Senatorial Zone in the Nigerian Senate, told Binniyat.

Suppression of the press

The arrest and upcoming trial of Binniyat, are an attempt to silence journalists who speak out about attacks on Christians in Nigeria, says Robert Destro, a law professor at Catholic University and a former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor during the Trump administration.

“No politician likes criticism, but most understand that a reporter’s job is to find the facts and report them honestly,” Destro wrote in an email to Catholic News Agency.

“The stakes go up exponentially when a government is determined to hide the truth about official corruption by crafting an official political narrative or story that refuses even to acknowledge that certain problems exist. Poking holes in such official narratives can get you arrested — or worse,” he said.
Challenging the official “narrative”

Reporters such as Binniyat are challenging the government’s dominant narrative, Destro said.

“In Nigeria, the official ‘narrative’ is that the massacres of Christians in their homes and churches are the result of ‘clashes’ between peaceful cattle-herders who have been displaced from their traditional grazing lands by climate change, and farmers who object to their farms, villages, and towns being overrun by cattle,” Destro said.

“The reality is that Christians and other religious groups are attacked, without provocation or warning, by armed militants who kidnap, rape, plunder and kill. By calling these attacks clashes caused by climate change, the government simultaneously blames the victims, absolves the attackers, and has an internationally recognized excuse for doing nothing,” Destro added.

The Nigerian government, he said, rather than simply not protecting Christians, seems to be aiding and abetting the Muslim militant groups attacking them.

“Even a little digging into the facts on the ground shows that the government doesn’t simply turn a blind eye to the violence, it actively favors the attackers, many of whom are from favored religious (Muslim) and ethnic groups (Fulani),” Destro told CNA.

“When viewed from an ethnic and religious perspective, those murderous rampages through the countryside begin to look a lot like more like an organized land-grab which is designed to push local ethnic and religious groups off their land so that the invaders can control both the land itself and the resources it contains,” Destro added.

“Nigeria’s official narrative – which is parroted by gullible foreign governments like the United States, the UK, and the EU, is that there is nothing to see here but peaceful herders and farmers who are clashing because of climate change,” Destro wrote.

Binniyat and other members of the press need to be able to ask “who is supporting, financing, and protecting these criminals?” he said.

Speaking to the press in August after his trial was stayed until Sept. 6, Binniyat said he feared for his life.

“I am clearly a marked man, by the implication of my trial and I want the Kaduna state government to be held responsible should any harm come to me,” Binniyat said.

Human rights lawyer and Hudson Institute scholar Nina Shea says Binniyat’s arrest reveals the dire state of affairs in Nigeria.

“Kaduna’s Governor [Nasir El Rufai] has abjectly failed in his primary responsibility to protect every citizen in his state, and consequently we are now seeing a complete breakdown in the rule of law there,” Shea told CNA.

“Instead, he presides over a situation where journalists, like Luca, reporting on lethal violence, are themselves threatened and dragged into court under a cyberstalking law wielded as a weapon by a state

official who claims to feel threatened by the news report. Meanwhile, President Buhari stands idly by as large regions of what should be Africa’s most important country are taken over by terrorists, jihadists, and criminals,” she said.

By Douglas Burton


Nigeria Seeks to Boost E-Naira Users 10-Fold as Cryptos Grow

 Nigeria, which has attracted just 840,000 users for its digital currency since October, is seeking to boost adoption of the e-naira almost 10-fold in the next 12 months by luring people without bank accounts.

The Central Bank of Nigeria is targeting 8 million users in the “second phase” of the digital currency’s expansion, central bank Governor Godwin Emefiele said Thursday in Abuja, the capital.

“Just like the naira, the e-naira is expected to be available to all Nigerians and will provide more possibilities to bring the unbanked into the digital economy,” Emefiele said during the finals of a central bank-sponsored hackathon to build products around the e-naira.

The steady depreciation of the naira has seen many residents of Africa’s most populous nation pivot toward cryptocurrencies, even though the central bank ordered commercial lenders to stop transactions or operations in digital tokens. While there are 270,000 active users of e-naira, as many as 33.4 million Nigerians have either owned or traded cryptocurrencies, according to a report by KuCoin, a Seychelles-based crypto exchange.

The adoption of stable coins like USDT is on the rise in the West African nation, according to Paxful, a peer-to-peer exchange. The average monthly trade volumes increased 10-fold to $25 million in June 2022. Trade volumes for the first half of 2022 are nearly $400 million compared to $760m for last year on Paxful alone.

While the e-naira is an exciting project, accelerating inflation and a weakening currency have deterred its adoption, said Keturah Ovio, chief executive officer of book-keeping startup Dukka. “To drive adoption, the central bank has to take initiatives to drive down inflation and improve trust in the local currency.”

Africa’s most-populous nation has shown more interest in cryptocurrencies than any other country since the digital assets began to decline in April, according to a study by price tracker CoinGecko.

Meanwhile, from Monday, people without bank accounts will be able to download and open an active e-naira wallet by using the unstructured supplementary service data, or USSD, and dialing *997 from their mobile phones, said Emefiele.

Only about 45% of adults in the nation with more than 200 million people have bank accounts, according to the World Bank. That compares with an average of 70% in the BRICS economies. The e-naira has attracted slightly over 200,000 transactions valued at 4 billion naira ($9.4 million), just a fraction of the 54 trillion naira through the Nigeria Instant Payment System between January and February 2022.

The expansion of access to the e-naira platform will further deepen its integration with the existing national payment infrastructure, Emefiele said. Both merchants and consumers with bank accounts will now be able to use the nation’s existing payment mechanism to transfer and receive e-naira.

“We don’t have a choice but to live with the fact that we are now in a digital economy,” Emefiele said. “The use of cash will dissipate to zero and the use of digital currency will increase to become part of our lives.”

Anthony Osae-Brown


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

Police in Nigeria find 20 mummified bodies in ‘suspected ritual shrine’

Police in Nigeria have discovered 20 mummified bodies including those of children in a building in Benin City, in a case that has shocked the country.

Three suspects were arrested during the raid in southern Nigeria, Jennifer Iwegbu, a police spokesperson said in a statement late Wednesday. Armed police officers raided the building in Benin City, the capital of Edo state, acting on intelligence that it was a “suspected ritual shrine”, she said.

“Fifteen mummified male corpses, three mummified female corpses and two mummified children corpses were discovered at the scene”, just three miles (5km) from the city centre, said Iwegbu.

Nigeria’s security forces have in the past uncovered such shrines used by ritualists and kidnappers, but the latest discovery is one of the most shocking in recent years considering the number of victims.

Many residents arrived at the building expressing horror over what seemed to have been an operation hidden away from the eyes of even nearby neighbours.

It is not immediately clear how long the bodies had been in the building and the suspects were being interrogated, the police said. All three were young men, and a police medical team was part of the investigations, Iwegbu said.

“An intensive effort is ongoing to arrest the other fleeing suspects,” she added.


Related stories: Nigerian police identify Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna as hotspots for ritual killings

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Nigerian electricity union strike causes nationwide blackout

Striking electricity workers shut down Nigeria's power grid Wednesday, plunging the West African nation's more than 200 million citizens into darkness for several hours, officials said.

The nationwide blackout began in the afternoon moments after the union called a strike to protest non-payment of benefits for former members and other issues related to working conditions, the Transmission Company of Nigeria said.

“Several 330kV transmission lines and 33kV feeder lines across the power system network had been switched off by the union members resulting in ... multiple voltage escalations at critical stations and substations,” company spokeswoman Ndidi Mbah said in a statement,

Mbah said talks with the union had been underway for several days but had not been fruitful.

About 12 hours after the company's statement, power was restored in parts of the country after the electricity workers’ union said it called off the strike.

On social media, many people had voiced their anger and frustration over the strike, which they said worsened the plight of many businesses and homes already running on gasoline-powered generators as a result of inadequate electricity supply.

Such strikes in addition to the poor generation of power and the frequent collapse of the electricity grid have been blamed for the poor electricity supply that has been a decades-long challenge for many Nigerians.

As many as 92 million Nigerians lacked access to electricity in 2020, more than any other country in the world, according to the World Bank-backed Energy Progress Report 2022.

By Chinedu Asadu

ABC News

Emirates to suspend Nigeria flights from September over trapped funds

Dubai's Emirates will suspend flights to Nigeria from next month over an inability to repatriate funds from Africa's most populous nation, the airline said on Thursday.

The decision highlights the difficulties faced by international carriers that fly to Nigeria, which is one of the biggest markets in Africa for several of them.

The country has restricted access to foreign currency for imports and for investors seeking to repatriate their profits due to a shortage of dollars. Nigeria gets about 90% of its foreign exchange from oil, but is struggling to produce due to pipeline theft and years of under-investment.

The International Air Transport Association said in June Nigeria was withholding $450 million in revenue that international carriers operating in the country had earned.

Emirates said it had made no progress in efforts to initiate dialogue with the relevant authorities for their urgent intervention.

"Therefore, Emirates has taken the difficult decision to suspend all flights to and from Nigeria, effective 1 September 2022, to limit further losses and impact on our operational costs that continue to accumulate in the market," it said in a statement.

A Federal Ministry of Aviation spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Emirates had earlier sent a letter to the government saying it could cut flights to Lagos this month because it could not get $85 million stuck in the country as of July, a figure that had been rising by $10 million per month.

Emirates said it would re-evaluate its decision if the situation over the blocked funds changed in the coming days.

Affected customers would be helped to make alternative travel arrangements where possible, it added.

By MacDonald Dzirutwe 


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Nigeria's Inflation Hits 17-Year High as Food Prices Soar

Nigerian authorities say the country's inflation rate jumped to nearly 20% in July, compared to last year, the highest in nearly two decades. Consumers in Africa's biggest economy are struggling to keep up with rising prices for basic foods.

Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said Monday the country’s inflation rate in July was 19.64% - the highest rate since September 2005.

A NBS report found the highest increases were for necessities like food, fuel, transportation and clothing.

Food prices have risen steadily in Nigeria for years, due to the effects of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread insecurity.

But in February, when Russia invaded Ukraine, commodity prices soared, affecting the ability of millions of citizens to meet their basic needs.

Abuja resident James Orshio earns the equivalent of about $50 a month from his sales job but said his salary can no longer cushion economic pressures.

"There's a lot of challenges now due to the increment [increases] of prices; I cannot even talk of going to the market now to buy something to feed myself because the prices are not encouraging at all,” he said. “A loaf of bread that used to be 300 naira is now 1,000 naira. Even some of the bakers in Abuja are not working because of the high price."

In a bid to address inflation, Nigeria's Central Bank (CBN) has been tightening monetary policy by increasing interest rates from 11% in January to 14% in July.

Akintunde Ogunsola, founder of Abuja-based financial consulting firm Karma Professional Service, explained the reason for the CBN’s policy.

"What is happening is that we have too much money in circulation chasing a few goods, and that's what causes inflation,” he said. “There is scarcity in supply and that's why CBN is using the open market operation to reduce the money in circulation by increasing [the] interest rate so that people will be saving money back into the bank, like mopping up money from the economy."

Nigeria's import-dependent economy has been further hit by currency devaluation. The naira has lost more than 30% of its value in seven months.

But Ogunsola said inflation nowadays is a global problem.

"It's not only in Nigeria alone that we're experiencing this,” he said. “The United States’ inflation is also going up. Even our neighbors, Ghana, their inflation rate is already over 30%.”

In March, the World Bank estimated that about 4 out of 10 Nigerians live below the national poverty line.

Experts predict the inflation rate will increase further in coming months and may put many more Nigerians on the brink of poverty.

By Timothy Obiezu


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Video - Nigerian athletes conquer Birmingham despite challenges

The recently concluded Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games has been described as one of Nigeria's best outings at an international multi-sporting event. The West African nation topped the African medal charts at the games with 35 medals, 12 of them gold. CGTN's Kelechi Emekalam filed this report on the athletes' performances amid poor financing and training infrastructure.

Nigerian Authorities Launch App to Monitor Crude Oil Theft

Africa's largest oil producer, Nigeria, says thieves and vandals cost the country up to 200,000 barrels of oil per day - that's billions of dollars in lost revenue. To combat the problem, Nigerian oil authorities have launched a mobile app for reporting the incidents and rewarding those who do.

The launch of the crude oil theft monitoring app took place last Friday in Abuja, during the signing of renewed production contracts between the Nigeria National Petroleum Commission and its oil drilling partners.

Authorities said the mobile platform was created for members of host communities in oil-rich regions to enable early reporting of incidents and spur immediate action from relevant security and government authorities.

Whistleblowers will also be rewarded.

During the launch, the NNPC group head Mele Kyari admitted that pipeline vandalism has become difficult to control.

In July, Nigeria changed its oil firm from a solely state-run entity to a commercial oil company.

Emmanuel Afimia, the founder of Abuja-based energy consulting firm, said addressing oil theft is an important issue the new company must deal with to improve its earnings.

"At this point, NNPC would be able to at least find solutions to the issue of subsidies, to the issue of inefficiencies, to the issue of loss every year,” he said. “Because the effect would actually be felt by them, so I'm not sure they would want to continue with the way they've actually been operating the corporation. So this is definitely the right step in the right direction."

According to the NNPC, with losses at 200,000 barrels of crude oil a day Nigeria loses about $4 billion in revenue every year.

Kyari said so far this year, the country has already lost $1.5 billion due to escalation of pipeline vandalism and oil theft at the Bonny Terminal in Rivers State.

But Toyin Akinosho, publisher of the Africa Oil+Gas Report, said beyond launching an app, political will is needed to address the problem.

"It's very important that the state hydrocarbon company itself is announcing this [but] it's not just a question about tracking, it's actually how you deliver on ensuring that those incidents don't happen again,” he said. “There has to be the will power to deliver. That's what I'm interested in.”

Nigeria has been seeking to cash in on rising energy prices as Europe tries to wean itself off Russia's energy supply following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Authorities have revived decades-old “Trans Saharan” pipeline projects from Nigeria to Algeria and also from Nigeria to Morocco. Both projects are targeting European energy markets.

But Akinosho said the projects may not be completed until a few years from now.

"Whatever it is that we're even building will take a bit of time,” he said. “You can't construct these pipelines that the government is talking about, you can't deliver them in less than three, four years.”

In January of this year authorities in Nigeria's oil rich Rivers State began cracking down on illegal refineries locally known as “Kpo-fire.” Many operators were arrested.

Authorities say the government's oil and gas revenue target this year is now threatened by a production shortfall of 28 million barrels caused by oil theft between January and July.

By Timothy Obiezu


Related story: Nigeria loses 400,000 barrels of crude oil per day to theft, says FG

50 killed and many displaced in northern Nigeria flooding

At least 50 people have died and "many" displaced after recent torrential rains caused flooding in northern Nigeria, Sani Yusuf, executive secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) for Jigawa State said.

"When you go around [Jigawa State], we lost about 50 people to the flood," Yusuf told reporters on camera Sunday from the city of Dutse, which was broadcast by local media

Yusuf said at least 237 homes had been damaged in the area of Balangu alone, forcing people into temporary camps. Eleven temporary camps have been set up for those displaced, he said.
Nigeria's Federal Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Sadiya Farouq also visited Jigawa State recently to distribute relief materials, the federal ministry tweeted.

"This incident is particularly sad because it has become perennial. This is causing serious damage to schools, houses, and the livelihood of the people," Farouq told reporters on camera.

Farouq said Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management to activate National Emergency Management Agency to provide the necessary support to those affected by the floods.

The floods come after days of severe thunderstorms which have prompted flash flooding warnings from the Nigerian Meteorological Agency.

Many parts of Jigawa are vulnerable to flooding after rainstorms. Earlier in August, around seven people died and dozens of buildings were destroyed following flooding from heavy rains in seven districts in the northeastern Nigerian state.

Last year, more than 120 families were displaced in the state's Guri district when their homes were submerged by floods after a heavy downpour.

'No quick solution'

Water resources minister, Suleiman Adamu, who is also from Jigawa told local media two years ago there were no quick solutions to the state's flooding problem, and not even funding could curb it.

"Desilting a river is not a solution to flooding, it's a temporary solution, it takes a lot of money. If all the budgets of the federal government and Jigawa State are combined to desilt River Hadejia, we cannot achieve it," Adamu said, adding that: "There are no short-term measures to stop flooding but we can mitigate and do early warning." 


Friday, August 12, 2022

Nigerian Authorities Say Airstrikes Kill 55 Members of Kidnapping Gangs

Nigeria's air force said airstrikes this week killed 55 members of criminal gangs who were involved in abduction-for-ransom operations. An air force spokesman said after the airstrikes, the militants released people they were holding hostage.

Nigeria's government has come under heavy criticism for failing to stop mass abductions and Islamist militant attacks.

The Nigerian Air Force said airstrikes in north central Kaduna state on Tuesday killed 28 members of a kidnapping-for-ransom gang, including a gang leader. It said many others were injured.

Air Force Public Relations Director Gabriel Gabkwet told reporters that authorities had received intelligence that the bandits were gathering in the area. He said the success of the raid led to the release of captives they held.

Gabkwet said other airstrikes in northwestern Katsina state this week killed 27 bandits.

He did not take calls from VOA for further comment.

The airstrikes come a week after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari presided over a national security meeting and said he had given security forces the full freedom to deal with terrorists.

Darlington Abdullahi, president of the alumni association of Nigeria’s National Defense College, said Buhari's words were a morale booster for troops.

"This kind of thing should not come as a surprise, all you need is political will to guide the action of the forces,” Abdullahi said. “I think they're getting probably that support that is required to deal with the situation from the utterances of Mr. President."

But Gabkwet said the military has also been conducting air operations targeting insurgents in northeastern Borno state. He said that included an August 6 raid in the village of Gazuwa that followed intelligence that terrorists from Boko Haram and splinter group Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) were fighting each other.

Nigeria has been fighting an Islamist insurgency in the northeast for more than 12 years.

Authorities have been heavily criticized for failing to address general insecurity that stems from the insurgency and rampant kidnapping.

Abduallahi said the military must stay on the offensive.

"As long as this continues, I think the military still has the upper hand to take on them before they organize themselves properly,” he said. “I think the security agencies really have to continue with the efforts to deal with the situation decisively."

Earlier this week, police said they had arrested four suspects connected to a church attack in the southwest state of Ondo that killed 40 worshippers.

But security analyst Senator Iroegbu said authorities have shown a lack of political will to address the problem.

"The challenge we're having is that the political will is not there, especially from the presidency,” Iroegbu said. “There's no clear-cut directive on what to do. Any time you hear ... he's sounding frustrated. They keep on pushing the blame to others not taking responsibility."

In July, Islamic State West Africa Province claimed responsibility for a jailbreak in Buja that freed over 400 inmates, including high-profile terrorism detainees. Only a few of the prisoners have since been recaptured.

By Timothy Obiezu


Thursday, August 11, 2022

Seven more Nigeria train attack passengers released on Wednesday

Seven more passengers kidnapped during a March 28 train attack in Kaduna, Nigeria, have been freed after 135 days in captivity, local media outlets report.

The latest release comes a week after five others were freed from custody, and with no communication from, their captors explaining the move.

The newly released people were part of an unknown number of passengers aboard an Abuja-Kaduna train that came under fire on March 28 as it approached the capital of Kaduna State.

With the latest releases over the last week, the number of the original captives freed has now hit 49.

Some two weeks ago, an unverifiable video emerged online reportedly showing bandits beating up some of the passengers to push the Nigerian government to act on their demands.

Passengers often opt to use the Abuja-Kaduna railway line as the highway linking the two states is considered to be one of the deadliest in the West African country.

By Jerry Omondi


Related stories: Gunmen free 11 passengers from Nigerian train attack

Video - Rail staff killed in ‘unprecedented’ attack on train in Nigeria