Friday, April 12, 2024

Video - Eid celebrations in Nigeria: Centuries-old traditions mark festivities

Eid festivities have reached a climax in Nigeria with colourful events. Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris reports from northern Kano state.

Al Jazeera

Nigerian doctor punished by UK court for having sex with patient

A Nigerian doctor in the UK, Ewere Onyekpe, accused of having sex with a patient in a hospital’s toilet cubicle, has been suspended for an additional six months.

Mr Onyekpe is said to have begun a sexual relationship with the woman while employed as a locum registrar at the Whittington Hospital, London.

PREMIUM TIMES earlier reported in 2023 how the Medical Practitioners Tribunal of the General Medical Council (MPT of the GMC) – a medical regulatory body in the UK, imposed a sanction of a six-month suspension on Mr Onyekpe’s practising licence after he was found guilty by an investigative tribunal.

Having completed the six-month suspension, the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA) appealed against the MPT’s decision before a UK court on the ground that it failed to take into account the vulnerability of the patient within the allegation.

However, a tribunal hearing in February reconsidered the case. It determined that Mr Onyekpe’s registration should be suspended for 12 months having been found guilty of misconduct which was later reduced to six months to reflect the suspension already served.

The details of the case and decisions of the tribunal chaired by Tanveer Rakhim are highlighted in a 61-page document exclusively obtained by PREMIUM TIMES after the hearing held from 12 February to 29 February.

How it happened

The tribunal heard that Mr Onyekpe, a Nigerian-born medical doctor, examined the patient after she was brought to the Whittington Hospital’s Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department by ambulance on 5 June 2020.

He made a diagnosis of sciatica and prescribed pain-killing medication for her and had an “intimate examination” which was considered to be appropriate.

It was Mr Onyekpe’s “unchallenged evidence” that before the patient left the hospital, she gave him her telephone number on a piece of paper saying ‘in case you want to be friends or anything’.

Mr Onyekpe sent the patient a WhatsApp message an hour after she was discharged from A&E and the pair exchanged messages over the coming days.

On 10 June, she was brought back to Whittington’s emergency department where she exchanged messages with the doctor for three-and-a-half hours which became “personal and highly sexualised.”

The pair had consensual sexual intercourse in the hospital’s toilet cubicle that same day, the tribunal heard. The next day, Mr Onyekpe went to the patient’s home and again had consensual sex with her.

The tribunal further heard that the pair continued to exchange sexual messages, interspersed with medical advice from Mr Onyekpe, until 24 July 2020.

On 3 August 2020, Mr Onyekpe was arrested on suspicion of raping the patient but the police released him without charge, after which GMC found out about the facts of his arrest.

Demands for erasure from medical records

The representative of the medical regulatory body, Rosalind Emsley-Smith, submitted at the tribunal that the appropriate and proportionate sanction in this case was one of erasure.

Ms Emsley-Smith stated that Mr Onyekpe had admitted the majority of the allegations he faced before the tribunal and the totality of the allegations he had faced before a previous tribunal.

About the aggravating factors of the case, Ms Emsley-Smith submitted that Mr Onyekpe used his position as a doctor to pursue a sexual and improper emotional relationship with the “vulnerable” patient.

Ms Emsley-Smith submitted that the only way to remedy the damage to the reputation of the profession, which she said had occurred as a consequence of Mr Onyekpe’s decisions and conduct, would be to erase his name from the medical register.

However, in his defence, the doctor’s representative, James Counsell, submitted that Mr Onyekpe accepts responsibility for his misconduct, reminding the tribunal that it occurred nearly four years ago.

Mr Counsell submitted that Mr Onyekpe has always acknowledged that “his behaviour transgressed professional boundaries and that he had let everybody down, including himself, his family and his colleagues.”

He stated that Mr Onyekpe was a family man with a supportive wife and referred to the various testimonials that spoke of him as a man with integrity.

Mr Counsell stated that the GMC accepted that the relationship was entirely consensual. He referred to the rape allegation and Mr Onyekpe’s arrest in the presence of his wife, as well as the investigation by the GMC and the Trust, and how he cooperated with the entire process.

After the submissions, the tribunal concluded that Mr Onyekpe’s conduct, spanning seven weeks, demonstrated a failure to prioritise the care of the patient, “who was vulnerable at all material times.”

Tribunal’s decision, conclusion

The tribunal concluded that the misconduct was adequately addressed with the substantive suspension, adding that it is not necessary to impose an immediate order of suspension on Mr Onyekpe’s registration.

“This means that Mr Onyekpe’s registration will be suspended from the medical register 28 days from the date on which written notification of this decision is deemed to have been served unless he lodges an appeal,” the tribunal noted

“If Mr Onyekpe does lodge an appeal he will remain free to practice unrestricted until the outcome of any appeal is known.

“For the same reasons, the tribunal also determined to revoke the interim order of conditions with immediate effect.”

About Onyekpe

Mr Onyekpe, born in Nigeria, received his medical qualification in 2003 from Kharkiv State Medical University in Ukraine. He began his medical practice in Nigeria, with the Nigerian Army, before moving to the UK in 2008.

According to the document, he pursued a Master’s in Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and passed the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board test (PLAB) in 2010 and he began full-time medical practice in the UK the same year.

Mr Onyekpe initially worked at the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital before working at the North Middlesex Hospital as an SHO and then as a Trust Registrar for six years, before briefly working in Basildon as a speciality doctor.

In 2016, he entered a formal training programme and began work as an ST1 in Emergency Medicine and completed ST3 training in 2019.

Mr Onyekpe was employed as a locum registrar at the Whittington Hospital, where the index events took place, from August 2019 until November 2019, and then March 2020 to the end of June 2020. He was working a 60-hour week, five days per week, working exclusively on nights.

By Mariam Ileyemi, Premium Times

Libya overtakes Nigeria as Africa's largest oil producer

Libya overtook Nigeria as the top African crude oil producer for March, data from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has shown. According to the April 2024 Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR), Libya recorded 1.236 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude production in March, up from 1.173 million bpd in February.

Meanwhile, Nigeria recorded an output of 1.23 million barrels per day in March 2024, compared to 1.32 bpd in February 2024. Despite the drop in output by 6.8 per cent, Nigeria retained its leadership position on the continent, producing 1.398 million bpd, while Libya produced 1.161 million bpd during the period.

“According to secondary sources, total OPEC-12 crude oil production averaged 26.60 mb/d in March 2024, 3 tb/d higher, m-o-m. Crude oil output increased mainly in IR Iran, Saudi Arabia, Gabon, and Kuwait, while production in Nigeria, Iraq, and Venezuela decreased.”

According to direct communications from OPEC, the recent drop in the country’s crude production can be attributed to a surge in pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft incidents in its oil-producing region.

Experts weighed in, saying that this has led to a decline in business activity and subdued consumer spending, high input-cost inflation, and lower employment levels compared with the previous year.

In other news, the Dangote oil refinery in Nigeria has started supplying petroleum products to the local market, a major step in the country's journey towards energy self-sufficiency. Devakumar Edwin, an executive at Dangote Group, confirmed the arrival of diesel and jet fuel shipments in the local market.

Abubakar Maigandi, head of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, also said that local oil marketers reached an agreement on the price of diesel at 1,225 naira ($0.96) per litre following a bulk purchase deal. Maigandi noted that the association's members oversee about 150,000 retail stations throughout Nigeria. 

By Victor Oluwole, Business Insider Africa

Related story: NNPC faces $3 billion backlog on petrol payments

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Video - Nigeria spends millions on motorcycle imports

Nigeria's government spent 145 million U.S. dollars on motorcycle imports in the second half of 2023, a 159 percent increase from 2023.


Related stories: The eco-entrepreneur sparking the electric vehicle revolution in Nigeria

Video - Transport sector declines by more than 50 percent in Nigeria




Video - Mass abductions impact education in Nigeria

Teachers and others employed in the education sector want Nigeria's government to do something to reduce kidnapping incidents at the country's schools. They say the abductions are violations of a child's right to an education.


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Nigeria is struggling to contain rising cases of kidnappings for ransom. Security experts say criminal elements are taking advantage of vacuums created in ungoverned spaces to profit from the kidnappings.


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Video - Woman drives from London to Nigeria in under 3 months

A woman who travelled solo from London to Lagos by road in under three months has been given a hero's welcome in the Nigerian state. The Lagos born, London raised travel influencer - Pelumi Nubi, 29 - began the adventure on January 24 with nothing but her trusted purple Peugeot 107, which she fondly named Lumi. Taking to her Instagram page, she documented the journey which took her across 17 countries including France, Spain, Morocco and Ghana.

Pelumi said she attempted the record-making journey in order to inspire 'solo black female travellers' and show them 'adventures like this are possible'.

Yesterday she arrived in Lagos to a grand homecoming lead by governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who awarded her a brand new house and car on behalf of the state.

In a video posted to her page, the content creator was close to tears as the governor presented her with a brand new ride.

In the same post, she informed fans that her efforts had been crowned with a tourism ambassador role, while the state has also offered to reimburse her travel costs.

She wrote: 'This is getting too much! Lagos my city. Lord how did we get here? Thank You Jesus. Meet the newest brand ambassador of tourism in Lagos state.

'Grateful to His Excellency, the Governor of Lagos State Jide Sanwoolu, for the warm reception, generous gift of all expenses on my London to Lagos trip paid for, new car with my customised plate number, a beautiful home in Lagos!

'Truly, God’s blessings overflow! Congratulations to us guys!!!! Lumi now has a sister'.

Before embarking on the months-long journey to Nigeria's largest city Pelumi revealed that she had dyslexia, and that she was determined to see the trip through without having to rely on anyone.

Calling it a 'crazy idea', she shared her excitement at attempting the feat and hoped to show others that 'impossible is just a word'.

She wrote: 'For months, I’ve been chatting with folks who’ve tackled similar adventures. As far as I know, no black woman has made this journey before. But hey, this isn’t about breaking records.

'It’s about showing the world that “impossible” is just a word, especially when you’ve got enough grit and determination. I can’t fully describe my emotions right now but I am just so excited to finally put it out there - no matter the outcome!

Pelumi - who kitted her tiny Peugeot with a sleeping and kitchen space for the trip - has been brimming with emotion since beginning the voyage.

Speaking to CNN Travel shortly afterwards, she said: 'When I crossed into Morocco, I literally broke down crying. And it wasn’t sadness.

'It was just this overwhelming feeling of [realizing] wow, I overcomplicated this process in my head. I really thought it would be more difficult than it was. And it made me wonder what else in my life I was overthinking'.

Pelumi's trip was also spiked with adversity, including multiple breakdowns and a frightening car crash.

On March 26, the travel blogger took to her page to share the aftermath of what appeared to be a front-on collision.

Her beloved Lumi received massive damage to its front side while Pelumi filmed herself laying inside an ambulance and in a hospital bed receiving treatment.

She later explained that the crash occurred in Ivory Coast after a driver allegedly parked his truck in the middle of a highway.

Speaking on the crash she said: 'I am deeply thankful to be alive! This kind [of] incident comes with a deeper appreciation life.

'It also brought me a lot of joy that Lumi is getting fix[ed]. Thank you all once again for your kind wishes'.

Fans learned that she was forced to take time out to 'mend' before resuming the trip, inevitably delaying its completion date.

On another occasion and enroute to her second to last country, Pelumi's car broke down.

In the video, the purple car can be seen still in the middle of a busy major road before a few locals step in to help the influencer move the car.

'This is mad she just stopped working' she said. 'I'm not going to lie this is really stressful'.

She accompanied the post with an uplifting message to herself: 'One minute I am 30 mins away from crossing the borders into my second to final country, and the next, it feels like it might never happen.

'But as usual, giving up is never an option. We must keep pushing through for when we get knocked down 7 times, we rise the 8th'.

Also at the finish line were her parents, who she said were at first were reluctant to let their daughter explore the globe by road.

However she thanked them for their unwavering support. She gushed: 'Daddy! Mummy! I did it!!!! I solo drove from London to Lagos.

'I’ll never forget the look on mummy’s face when I first shared my crazy idea with her a year ago. Oh, the typical African mother reaction!

'Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with the most supportive parents and family. Your approval and encouragement meant everything to me, and I’m forever grateful.

'I’m proud to be your daughter, and I promise to keep making you proud. I love you both so much'.

Upon completing her journey across the continents, she wrote: 'It’s a wrap, everyone! We made it! London to Lagos is officially completed. I had a fantastic night’s sleep, no exaggeration.

'Huge thanks to everyone who came out yesterday. I genuinely appreciate your support and don’t take any of it for granted. Thank you, Lagos. Thank you, Nigeria!'

By Maria Okanrende, Daily Mail

Nigeria recalls J&J children's cough syrup over toxic substance

Nigeria's health regulator is recalling a batch of Johnson & Johnson children's cough syrup after finding an unacceptably high level of a potentially fatal toxic substance, it said on Wednesday.

Laboratory tests on Benylin Paediatric showed a high level of diethylene glycol, which has been linked to the deaths of dozens of children in Gambia, Uzbekistan and Cameroon since 2022 in one of the world's worst waves of poisoning from oral medication.

The syrup is used to treat cough and congestion-related symptoms, hay fever and other allergic reactions in children aged two to 12, Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control said in a notice on its website.

"Laboratory analysis conducted on the product showed that it contains an unacceptable high level of Diethylene glycol and was found to cause acute oral toxicity in laboratory animals," NAFDAC said.

Human consumption of the substance could cause symptoms like abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches and acute kidney injury that may result in death, the regulator added.

J&J referred a request for comment to Kenvue, which now owns the Benylin brand after a spin-off last year. Kenvue did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The batch being recalled was made in South Africa in May 2021 with an expiration date of April 2024. The regulator urged those with bottles from the batch to discontinue use or sale and submit them to its nearest office. 

By Bhargav Acharya, Reuters 

Consumers in Nigeria upset at electricity rate hike

A sudden hike in electricity rates in Africa's most populous country, Nigeria, has sparked a backlash.

Until now, Jude Okafor has spent an average $25 on electricity to run a frozen fish and meat business that he started in 2021. But since last week, when the government announced a rate hike of nearly 300 percent for electricity, Okafor says running his business has been tough.

"There is no escape. Light has gone high, fuel has gone high. And for a businessman, there's no way we can cope with that,” Okafor said. “If there's no light or fuel to ice our fish, what are we going to do? Our business is running down. This is [a] first-class act of wickedness."

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) announced the price change last Wednesday and said only its bigger power consumers, about 15 percent overall, would be affected by the subsidy cut.

Authorities said consumers in that category enjoy up to 20 hours of electricity a day and that the rate hike was only fair to customers who receive fewer hours of light.

The decision to remove electricity subsidies is part of President Bola Tinubu's reform drives to ease pressure on the economy.

Authorities argue that state-controlled electricity rates are too low to attract new investors or allow distribution firms to recover their costs, leaving the sector with huge debts.

Economic analyst Ogho Okiti says the government’s move is a good one.

"The government is not able to pay those subsidies on time, and because they're not able to [pay] them on time, gas companies are withdrawing their gas supplies,” Okiti said. “The timing is right. I think the government had waited till April to do this because they expect power supply to improve from now because of [the] rainy season."

But the decision is being criticized by many, including businesses, manufacturers and workers' unions.

This week, the Abuja chapter of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture, or NACCIMA, said the decision would threaten the survival of many thousands of businesses already struggling to cope with soaring inflation.

"First of all, the timing is wrong,” said Dele Oye, national president of the NACCIMA. “We all know that electricity is underpriced, but to some extent, there must be some level of subsidy. There's nowhere in the world where there's no subsidy. We cannot compete if we have to pay everything at market value when we don’t see market value service from the government. We do our roads. We do our security as investors."

Nigeria last revised electricity rates four years ago. Authorities say the country could save up to $2.6 billion from the subsidy removal.

But a similar reform applied on petrol last year worsened a cost-of-living crisis for many Nigerians after the annual rate of inflation rose to more than 30 percent — its highest level in three decades.

Critics will be watching to see how this newest subsidy removal unfolds.

By Timothy Obiezu, VOA

Related stories: Nigeria to cut electricity subsidy to ease pressure on public finances

Nigeria thrown into darkness as power grid collapses

Video - Nigeria suffers from most power cuts in the world

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Video - Nigeria advocates for increased patronage of locally manufactured goods

In a bid to alleviate the country's over-dependence on imports, which has contributed to the devaluation of the Naira against the U.S. dollar, the Nigerian government is championing the consumption of domestically produced goods. However, this initiative faces challenges, with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria citing the closure of over 700 companies and distress among 300 others due to various hurdles. 


Related story: Video - Nigeria manufacturing sector braces for higher production cost


Nigeria recovers $24m in poverty minister Betta Edu investigation

Nigeria has recovered 30bn naira ($24m; £19m) as part of an ongoing corruption probe into a suspended minister, the financial watchdog says.

The funds were traced to more than 50 bank accounts, it said.

Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation Minister Betta Edu was initially suspended in January over the alleged diversion of $640,000 of public money into a personal bank account.

President Bola Tinubu then ordered an investigation into her ministry.

At the time Dr Edu, 37, denied any wrongdoing. Her office said she had approved the transfer into a personal account, which was not in her name, but said it was for the "implementation of grants to vulnerable groups".

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said during its nearly six weeks of investigating so far, it had found "many angles" to examine.

"As it is now, we are investigating over 50 bank accounts that we have traced money into. That is no child's play. That's a big deal," its chairman Ola Olukoyede said in the latest edition of the agency's monthly e-magazine, EFCC Alert.

He urged Nigerians seeking redress to give the agency time to finish its probe thoroughly.

"We are exploring so many discoveries that we have stumbled upon in our investigation. If it is about seeing people in jail, well let them wait, everything has a process to follow," he said.

The EFCC chairman gave an assurance that the recovered funds were "already in the coffers of the federal government".

The suspension of a minister is a rare occurrence in Nigeria.

By Gloria Aradi, BBC

Related story: President Tinubu suspends humanitarian minister in corruption scandal

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Video - Stock Exchange of Nigeria acquires stake in Ethiopia Securities Exchange

NGX, based in Lagos, and other institutional investors poured large sums of cash into the Ethiopian exchange during its recent capital-raising endeavor. This strategic move aligns with NGX's objectives to expand capital market activities in East Africa and foster cross-border investment flows across the continent.


Video - Growing calls for Nigeria government to enforce capital punishment on kidnappers

First Lady Senator Oluremi Tinubu is one of the voices demanding the government aggressively address kidnappings in Nigeria. The country has been plagued by a surge in kidnappings, leaving communities in fear and authorities struggling to contain the crisis.


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Nigerian Troops Rescue 16 Abductees in Kaduna

Video - Families and victims in Nigeria reeling from impact of kidnappings

Video - Kaduna state abductions raise Nigeria's insecurity crisis

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Nigerian govt unveils mobile app to track MDAs’ performance

The Federal Government of Nigeria has launched a mobile application that allows citizens to track the activities and performance of ministries and government agencies using their deliverables and key performance indicators.

The mobile application, which is tagged: “Citizens’ Delivery Tracker,” was unveiled by the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Policy and Coordination and Head of the Central Coordination Delivery Unit (CDCU), Hadiza Usman, at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, on Monday, 8 April.

Ms Usman said the new application is an upgraded version of the previous Delivery Tracker, which would provide a strong feedback loop between the government and the people.

Ms Usman speaks

According to her, the CDCU aims to build public trust in the government and promote transparency and accountability at all levels with the delivery tracker.

“In arriving at the deliverables and key performance indicators, the CDCU, supported by development partners and consultants, held numerous bilateral meetings with all the Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, and their respective technical teams over six weeks.

“The bilateral sessions looked at the mandate of the respective ministries in line with the Presidential Priority Areas and arrived at the final deliverable and KPIs,” she said.

Ms Usman listed some of the areas of priority including reforming the economy to deliver sustained inclusive growth; strengthening national security for peace and prosperity; boosting agriculture to achieve food security, and unlocking energy and natural resources for sustainable development.

Others are to enhance infrastructure and transportation as growth enablers; focus on education, health, and social investment as essential pillars of development; accelerate diversification through industrialisation, digitisation, creative arts, manufacturing, and innovation, and improve governance for effective service delivery.

The presidential aide also noted that the CDCU would ensure that data and information released on the app to the public are accurate and credible.

She added: “We are working to ensure that people cannot decline, dodge, or dispute our data. So, we are looking to have data from the NBS and work in collaboration with MDAs to ensure accuracy.

“Part of citizen engagement is for citizens to point out our errors, allowing us to query our own data whether credible or not.

“We are trying to strengthen the NBS’ capacity to ensure credibility. So, that means anything outside of the approved government data will not be recognised. The government needs to invest in data, recognise the need for data integrity, and hold on to that”.

She said the platform is currently available as a web link on the CDCU website and will soon be available as an app for download.

By Beloved John, Premium Times

Related story: Video - AI-powered phone helps Nigerians with visual impairment access information

NNPC faces $3 billion backlog on petrol payments

Nigeria's state-oil company NNPC owes around $3 billion to fuel traders for imported petrol, three sources told Reuters, as the tumbling naira currency and rising global fuel prices have increased the effective subsidy it is paying.

The payment backlog is a blow to the government's efforts in Africa's largest economy to shore up its strained finances by curbing costly energy subsidies.

"They are paying, but it's slow," one of the sources with knowledge of the matter said. Five sources said that NNPC - the country's main importer of petrol - was taking more than 130 days to make the payments instead of within 90 days.

An NNPC spokesperson said the company was "not aware of any such debt nor any financial issues of such magnitude".

"Our focus remains on sustaining sufficiency in the supply of petroleum products in Nigeria," the spokesperson said.

NNPC's suppliers, including international traders like Vitol, Mercuria and Gunvor as well as Nigeria-based trading houses, are still supplying fuel, the sources said. They declined to be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media. The trading firms declined to comment.

But the payment delays underscore the creeping return of fuel subsidies - scrapped in May 2023 - that sap NNPC's cash for imports and what it can send to President Bola Tinubu's government.

Nigeria had subsidised fuel for years to keep pump prices affordable, but Tinubu removed them as part of wider reforms, allowing prices to triple. Petrol consumption fell by around 30% as higher prices curbed smuggling to neighbouring countries.

In June, the government capped pump prices at a nationwide average of 617 naira per litre as Nigerians grappled with punishing inflation.

"It's hard to overstate the significance of fuel subsidies for the administration," said Clementine Wallop, director for sub-Saharan Africa at political risk consultancy Horizon Engage.

"It was subsidy removal and exchange rate reform that had investors and lenders initially positive about his administration, and it was their removal Tinubu hoped would give his team the ability to spend in the many other areas that need funding."

Nigeria is almost wholly reliant on fuel imports due to years of mismanagement and under-investment at state-owned oil refineries.


Last week, motorists queued for petrol across Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, due to a shortage of fuel from depots. Clement Isong, head of the Major Oil Marketers Association (MOMAN), said logistical issues over Easter caused the constraints, which would soon abate.

Oil industry sources said rising global gasoline prices and a weaker naira had also impacted NNPC's ability to import.

At their peak in February, market prices for petrol in West Africa were 1,229 naira per litre, 150% above the level the government capped prices in June, according to pricing data from Argus Media converted with tracking site Aboxifx naira rates. They have since fallen to around 912 naira per litre, still 295 naira above the capped price.

That left NNPC as the sole importer of the roughly 40 million litres per day the country consumes, as private importers cannot recoup their costs.

Since the naira has slid against the dollar and oil prices have risen, NNPC is losing money on every litre sold, traders said.

The International Monetary Fund recently warned that capping pump prices and electricity tariffs below cost recovery could shave up to 3% off GDP in 2024.

"The government still needs to begin formulating a plan to remove the fuel subsidy when conditions allow," Tellimer's Patrick Curran said in a note. 

By Libby George and Julia Payne, Reuters

Kidnappings in Nigeria rise 10 years after Chibok girls abducted

BWARI, Nigeria — "They pointed their guns through the window of the children's room while they were sleeping," says the 49-year-old father of four sons, describing the beginning of a three-month ordeal that has overwhelmed his family. "Then they told them to open the door or they will shoot them."

In early January, around midnight, 20 men armed with AK-47s and machetes attacked his home in Bwari, a small town surrounded by outcrops of towering granite rocks and forest, on the hilly outskirts of Nigeria's capital Abuja.

The attackers dragged him and his four sons, ranging in age from 12 to 24 years old, outside. The armed men beat them with the back of their guns and the flat edge of their blades. They tied their wrists with rope and marched them barefoot into the surrounding forest, along with 17 other abducted victims. They walked for almost 10 hours, their feet bloodied by the time they reached a hideout in northwest Nigeria.

They were held within an expanse of forests that stretches over the border into Niger, an expanse that has become a haven for hundreds of heavily armed groups. Most of the groups, referred to locally as bandits, are behind an epidemic of mass kidnap-for-ransom attacks that have proliferated across Africa's most populous country, rising during one of the toughest economic periods in decades.

This is the tale of one family that has been left deeply traumatized by the kidnapping epidemic in Nigeria. NPR has followed their story for months, but is not using the family's names because they continue to live under the constant threat of the kidnappers, whose presence haunts their lives.

Kidnapping epidemic

Close to 1,000 people have been kidnapped in Nigeria in the first three months of 2024 alone, amid an epidemic of attacks that has become the country's most potent security threat.

Many of the kidnaps have been committed by groups called "bandits," of which 3,000 to 5,000 are believed to be active, operating from forests in north and central Nigeria, according to security analysts.

Many of the groups are made up of ethnic Fulani young men and boys, who've become heavily armed in the wake of a historic conflict over land between Fulani nomadic pastoralists and farmers.

The groups have exploited several systemic security failings in Nigeria, including the scarcity of rural police and alleged corruption preventing security forces from being adequately armed. In recent years, armed groups have operated closer and closer to Abuja. Bwari, a satellite town 37 miles from the capital, has been overwhelmed by kidnap attacks for the last year, a sign of the growing nature of the problem.

The rise in Nigeria of mass abductions of dozens to hundreds of people, especially children, is often traced to the kidnapping by Islamist militants Boko Haram of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok town in April 2014. Boko Haram began as a religious movement but quickly developed into a brutal jihadist organization. Loosely translated from the local language Hausa, Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden."

The attack sparked a global campaign for their release. Many of the girls were freed in exchange for the release of Boko Haram suspects from prison. According to some reports, ransoms were also paid by the government but officials have strongly denied this. Ninety-six of the girls are still missing, presumed still captive.

The international attention the Boko Haram kidnapping attracted led prominent U.S. figures like Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, then the secretary of state, to call for their release. It put pressure on the Nigerian government to secure their freedom. But it also inspired several other mass abductions across northern Nigeria since then to the present day.

A life in exchange for bags of rice and beans

After the family in Bwari was kidnapped in January, the father was released in a matter of days. He was released on condition that he would raise the ransom of 5.3 million naira ($3,500), three times what the family earns in a year.

"They would beat the children and put them on the phone to talk to me and the children would be crying and begging me to bring the money quickly, that they're suffering," the father recalls.

He borrowed money and sold almost all of his possessions, his farm in Bwari, his tractor, and the bags of ginger root he'd harvested. Within a month, he'd raised the ransom for his four boys.

He delivered it in cash, stored in a hard plastic zipper bag. He handed the ransom over to armed men at a drop-off point just off an expressway in the northwestern state of Kaduna. They assured him that his boys would soon be sent back to him.

But the next day, only two of his sons were freed, leaving the eldest and youngest in captivity.

Then the kidnappers made new demands: two motorbikes, five walkie-talkies, bags of rice and beans, top-up cards for mobile data and airtime, and industrial glues, often inhaled and used as intoxicants. The items would cost a further $2,000.

"I said, how do you expect me to find the money when I've already sold everything?" the father recalls. "They said if I don't bring those items soon, they will kill the boys."

A town living under constant threat

Much of Bwari town is on edge. In the day, business continues as normal, but after sunset, the streets swiftly empty. A military tank is stationed near the main market, and police patrols wade through the town's streets.

"If you ask 10 people if they've been affected, maybe five will say yes," says 38-year-old Sanusi Musa, a truck driver in Bwari. His relatives were kidnapped late last year, then released a few months afterward when a ransom was paid by the father.

Many, like Musa, are fed up with the attacks and lament that insecurity is directly driven by a lack of development in poor, rural parts of the country. Musa's family was abducted alongside other victims from Kau, one of several villages within Bwari. A battered mud road runs six miles through remote countryside and forest, connecting the village to the nearest police and military post in the center of town. By car, the journey is a crawl that can take more than an hour, leaving the villages along it exposed.

"When the kidnappers came, we called the army," says Alhaji Yusuf, a community leader in Kau whose relatives were also abducted in December. "But they said it would take them too long to arrive because the road is bad. We're also begging the government to establish a police station in the village. We will even provide the land."

"Teach them a lesson"

A month after the father from Bwari received the kidnappers' new demands, the family managed to raise most of the additional $2,000 they needed. They pleaded with the kidnappers to accept what they'd managed to put together, including the two motorbikes and some of the food items, and the kidnappers agreed.

But they only released the eldest son. Then they made fresh demands, for $500 in cash and other items.

Weeks after the eldest son was freed and forced to leave his youngest brother behind, he sits at home wearing a beige caftan. Before he was released, he says, the kidnappers wanted to send his family a message.

He recalls the moment during his ordeal when he, his youngest brother and three other boys abducted alongside them were taken to a nearby river in the forest.

But when they arrived, they were lined up along the riverbank. One of the boys was pulled to the side.

"The leader said the boy's parents weren't taking them seriously," the eldest son recalls, "so he would teach them a lesson."

Then one of the kidnappers shot the boy.

The boy pleaded for his life. "The boy was telling him 'sorry, sorry, they will bring your money, they will bring your motorcycle and phones.'"

But they shot him again.

The kidnappers ordered the other boys to dig a grave in the sandy soil by the riverbank. The victim, drenched in blood, was still alive, barely moving.

They laid him in the shallow grave and covered him with sand. Then one of the kidnappers stood over him and delivered the final, fatal shot.

"They told me to tell my parents that if they didn't bring the items they told them, they would kill my brother too," the eldest son says.

Released but not free

In mid-March, 2 1/2 months after the family's abduction, the 12-year-old, the youngest son, finally came home. He and other hostages escaped after a Nigerian military patrol arrived near the kidnappers' hideout, sending the militants fleeing. During the confusion, the hostages made their escape.

They trekked for days until they reached a village.

"The people saw how he looked and took pity on him. They fed him, bathed him and paid for the transport that brought him back to us," the father says, describing the conflicting moments of joy and anguish when the last of his children returned.

The 12-year-old came home bruised across his body and far thinner than in January. Now he barely speaks or looks at anyone in the eye.

Freedom has come at immense cost for the entire family.

"I've sold everything I have," the father says. "I don't have any work, I can't pay my children's school fees. All I can do is pray and rely on Allah."

The attack has also made them retreat from their community in Bwari, unsure of whom to trust. During the abduction, one of the armed men covered his face, leading the family to believe he was someone they knew, as the kidnappers knew intimate details about their lives.

"It has reached a stage where you don't even know who to trust anymore, because you don't know who is your enemy and who is not," the father says.

And despite their freedom from captivity, the torment goes on. The youngest son's escape made the kidnappers angry, his eldest brother says. The kidnappers still call the family and demand the ransom they were denied, or else they will strike again.

"So I have been released," says the eldest son, "but I'm not really free."

By Emmanuel Akinwotu, npr

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Ex-Central Bank Governor of Nigeria Godwin Emefiele pleads not guilty to fresh charges

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission accused Emefiele of arbitrarily allocating foreign exchange of about $2 billion without bids and due process, it said in a fresh charge sheet with 26 allegations.

The move escalates the legal battle between the anti-graft agency and the former bank governor who’s also facing charges of fraud, corruption and criminal conspiracy.

Emefiele, who appeared before Lagos High Court Judge Rahman Oshodi, pleaded not guilty to all of the accusations, Bloomberg reported.

Following his inauguration in May, Nigerian President Bola Tinubu suspended the former central bank governor, whose policies on naira redesign and foreign exchange controls had drawn criticism.

Tinubu later ordered an investigation of the central bank’s operations and a report in December made more fraud accusations against Emefiele including holding hundreds of unauthorized overseas bank accounts, buying two banks through proxies and obtaining dollars through false claims. The allegations were added to his old charges in January.

However, Emefiele has vehemently denied all accusations levelled against him.

Emefiele's successor, Olayemi Cardoso said in February that about $2.4 billion unmet foreign-currency claims on the central bank were fraudulent and dismissed them because of irregularities.

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Two arrested in Nigeria for sextortion after Australian boy's suicide

Two people have been arrested in Nigeria over an alleged sextortion attempt against an Australian schoolboy who took his own life.

Australian police say the teenage victim had traded explicit images with a person online before they began making threats and demanding money.

After a global investigation, the pair allegedly responsible were tracked down in Nigeria, where they will face court.

Police say sextortion - particularly of young people - is dramatically rising.

Details of the boy's age or where he lived in New South Wales (NSW) have not been released publicly to protect his family's privacy.

New South Wales Police described the alleged extortionists as "young males" and said they had threatened to send photos to the teenager's friends and family if he did not pay them A$500 (£260; $330).

"The messages are horrific. They're aggressive and put a lot of pressure on the boy to pay the money," the police force's cyber-crime commander, Matthew Craft, told the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH).

The boy died by suicide on the same evening, late last year.

Australian detectives worked with their counterparts in South Africa and Nigeria to trace the suspected perpetrators to a slum in Nigeria with a population of over 25 million people.

Evidence that the pair had also tried to extort other people was found on their phones, according to the SMH. They have been charged over the alleged extortion of the Australian boy, but not his death.

There have been several cases in Canada and the US in recent years of teenagers who have killed themselves after being targeted by sextortion plots.

Det Supt Craft said his team had seen a "huge spike" in sextortion cases and has appealed for anyone targeted to contact police.

"[They] are up nearly 400% in the last 18 months," he said in a statement.

"We want young people to continue to report these cases, and to never be embarrassed to talk to police.

"Sextortion is a very real crime... These arrests in Nigeria show just how far police are willing to go to seek justice on behalf of our young community."

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Kannywood filmmakers in Nigeria face jail if they show violence

Filmmakers in northern Nigeria's Kannywood movie industry have been told they risk a jail term if they portray violence in their work or have scenes with cross-dressers in them.

Kano state's censorship unit says it wants to protect society as films play a huge role in shaping behaviour.

The bans resulted from public complaints, it says.

There is rising concern about violent crime. The authorities also say cross-dressing is not part of local culture.

Kano's authorities are under pressure to deal with an increase in robberies committed by gangs.

"Whether we like it or not Kano has a thug problem and films contribute to it by their portrayals and it is where some learn how to go about it," said the censorship unit head, Abba al-Mustapha, in a video shared on social media.

Kano is one of the 12 mostly Muslim states in northern Nigeria which implement Islamic law, or Sharia. alongside secular law.

Mr Mustapha said that cross-dressing, when men wear women's clothes or vice versa, was against local practices.

Such scenes are often included in films to inject an element of comedy.

He said directors who had already finished films that contain banned scenes had one month to make changes.

However, he said that films already in circulation would not have to be withdrawn.

"We can't control what has happened in the past but we can draw a line from now and make things better which we hope to do."

Film director Aminu Mukhtar Umar told the BBC the bans might stifle creativity and freedom of expression which is the backbone of any movie industry.

"The better way to do this would've been to bring in experts on these issues to meet with Kannywood writers so that knowledge would be gained on how to go about it."

Mr Umar had issues with the censorship unit in 2022 for his film Makaranta, which was deemed immoral.

It was a film about sex education and also tackled issues like female genital mutilation.

Kannywood, which really took off in the 1990s, is inspired by India's Bollywood films, which explains the affection for songs and dance in the majority of its films.

It is based in Kano, hence the name. Although not all films are made in the state, it is by far the main market so even those films produced elsewhere would have to comply with Kano state regulations.

Kannywood plays second fiddle to southern Nigeria's more glamorous Nollywood scene, which is better known globally.

However, it still produces hundreds of films each year, which are also popular in countries where there is a Hausa-speaking population such as Ghana, Cameroon and Niger.

In order to comply with Sharia, male and female actors are not allowed to touch each other even if they are portraying a husband and wife.

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Video - Detained Binance executive appears in court in Nigeria for tax, money laundry charges

One of the two executives from Binance, the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange, detained in Nigeria appeared in an Abuja court on Thursday to face tax evasion and money laundering charges.

Binance and two of its executives Tigran Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen and Binance's head of financial crime compliance, and Nadeem Anjarwalla, a British-Kenyan who is a regional manager for Africa, have been charged with four counts of tax evasion and with laundering over $35 million.

Gambaryan and Anjarwalla were detained on Feb. 26 in connection with a criminal investigation into Binance's activities in Nigeria when they arrived in the country. Anjarwalla escaped from custody and fled the country.

Gambaryan was served with the charges for the first time since his detention during his court appearance and did not take a plea. He will be formally arraigned for the money laundering and tax charges on April 8 and 19, respectively, when his plea will be taken.

Binance itself has not been charged by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which has argued Gambaryan could face the charges on the exchange's behalf.

Gambaryan's lawyer Chukwuka Ikuazom objected, saying he was "neither a director, partner nor company secretary" and had no written instructions from Binance to face the charges on its behalf.

Ikuazom also argued that since Binance and Gambaryan were jointly charged, he could not take a plea until the exchange, the first defendant in the case, had been served, according to Nigerian law.

Binance, which was not represented in court and had no immediate comment, said on Wednesday that it respectfully requested that Gambaryan, who had no decision-making power in the company, was not held responsible while discussions are ongoing with the Nigerian government.

Gambaryan has asked a Nigerian court to release him.

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Nigeria movie released to mark 10th anniversary of the kidnapped 276 Chibok girls

Not a day goes by without Lawan Zanna remembering his daughter Aisha in prayers. She was among the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped 10 years ago when Islamic extremists broke into their school in northeastern Nigeria’s Chibok village.

“It makes me so angry to talk about it,” said Zanna, 55, whose daughter is among the nearly 100 girls still missing after the 2014 kidnappings that stunned the world and sparked the global #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign.

The Chibok kidnapping was the first major school abduction in the West African nation. Since then, at least 1,400 students have been kidnapped, especially in the conflict-battered northwest and central regions. Most victims were freed only after ransoms were paid or through government-backed deals, but the suspects rarely get arrested.

This year, to mark the 10th anniversary of a largely forgotten tragedy, members of Borno state’s Chibok community gathered Thursday in Nigeria’s economic hub of Lagos to attend the screening of “Statues Also Breathe,” a collaborative film project produced by French artist Prune Nourry and Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo University.

“This collaboration aims to raise awareness about the plight of the girls who are still missing while highlighting the global struggle for girls’ education,” Nourry said.

The 17-minute film opens with an aerial view of 108 sculptures — the number of girls still missing when the art project began — that try to recreate what the girls look like today using pictures provided by their families, from their facial expressions to hairstyles and visible patterns.

The film captures the artistic process behind the art exhibit, first displayed in November 2022, featuring human head-sized sculptures inspired by ancient Nigerian Ife terracotta heads.

In the film, one of the freed women talks about the horrors she went through while in captivity. “We suffered, we were beaten up. (But) Allah (God) made me stronger,” she said.

It also conveys a flurry of emotions as heartbroken mothers reminisced about life when their daughters were home.

“When it is time for Ramadan (...) Aisha adorns my hair with henna and all sorts of adornments,” one of the women in the film said of her missing child.

But Aisha has not been home in 10 years.

Another scene shows a woman hesitating when asked to go and see her daughter’s face that was sculpted. “If I go and see it, it will bring sad memories,” she said, her weak voice fading away.

Nigerian authorities have not done enough to free the remaining women and those who have regained their freedom have not been properly taken care of, according to Chioma Agwuegbo, an activist who was part of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

“We have normalized the absurd in Nigeria,” Agwuegbo said of the school kidnappings in Nigeria. “10 years on, it is an indictment not just on the government but on our security forces and even on the citizens themselves.”

Analysts worry that the security lapses that resulted in the Chibok kidnapping remain in place in many schools. A recent survey by the United Nations children’s agency’s Nigeria office found that only 43% of minimum safety standards are met in over 6,000 surveyed schools.

According to Nnamdi Obasi, senior adviser for Nigeria at the International Crisis Group, “the basic security and safety arrangements in schools are weak and sometimes non-existent,” adding that military and police personnel are still “very much inadequate and overstretched.”

Authorities rarely provide updates on efforts to free the Chibok women. However, some of the freed women have said in the past that those still missing have been forcefully married to the extremists, as is often the case with female kidnap victims.

About a dozen of the Chibok women managed to escape captivity since early 2022. They all returned with children.

“I think we shouldn’t even think about them anymore,” said one of the Chibok mothers in the film. “I feel like they are already gone.”

By Chinedu Asadu, AP

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