Showing posts with label government. Show all posts
Showing posts with label government. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Nigerian Army reopens Banex Plaza in Abuja

The Nigerian Army has announced the reopening of the popular Banex Plaza in Abuja after about one week it was shut down.


Army spokesperson, Onyema Nwachukwu, a major general, said this in a statement on Monday.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the army shut down Banex following a mob attack on its personnel on Saturday 18 May.

Mr Nwachukwu said the reopening of the plaza followed a high-level meeting held in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and attended by the FCT Commissioner of Police, FCT Director of the State Security Services, the Leadership and Management of Banex Plaza, a representative from the Directorate of Abuja Environmental Protection Board, and the National Chairman of the Mobile Phone Traders Association.

He said the meeting was convened “to identify and apprehend the perpetrators and ensure the continued security of the FCT.”

He said some resolutions were reached at the meeting among which was the immediate reopening of Banex Plaza to the public.

Mr Nwachukwu said it was also resolved that Shop C93 be locked up with immediate effect while the perpetrators of the mob attack on soldiers be arrested.


He also said the army “will thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the presence of its personnel at the plaza and the subsequent attack.”

Read the full statement by the Nigerian Army

UPDATE ON THE CLOSURE OF BANEX PLAZA, ABUJA

The Nigerian Army wishes to provide latest update on the recent unfortunate event involving an unprovoked attack by unidentified hoodlums on Nigerian Army personnel at Banex Plaza, Wuse, Abuja, which occurred on Saturday 18 May 2024, leading to the closure of the Plaza on Sunday 19 May 2024.

In response to this incident, a high-level meeting was convened in the Office of the National Security Adviser including the Principal General Staff Officer to the NSA, Commissioner of Police FCT, the FCT Director of the Department of State Services, the Leadership and Management of Banex Plaza, a Representative from the Directorate of Abuja Environmental Protection Board, and the National Chairman of the Mobile Phone Traders Association. The primary objective of this meeting was to identify and apprehend the perpetrators and ensure the continued security of the Federal Capital Territory.

The following resolutions were agreed upon:

a. Immediate reopening of Banex Plaza: Banex Plaza will be reopened immediately to the public.

b. Closure of Shop C93: The leadership of Banex Plaza is instructed to lock up Shop C93 with immediate effect.

c. Arrest of Perpetrators: The owners of the shop who orchestrated the mob attack on the soldiers are to be arrested and handed over to the Nigerian Police.

d. Vigilance by Market Leaders: Market leaders are to remain vigilant and report any remaining perpetrators to the authorities.

Furthermore, the two individuals already arrested have been handed over to the headquarters of the Nigerian Army Corps of Military Police for further action.

The Nigerian Army will also thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the presence of its personnel at the plaza and the subsequent attack.

It must be reiterated that acts of violence against military personnel are not only condemnable but also pose a significant threat to national security and public order. We therefore urge members of the public to exercise caution and restraint when interacting with military personnel and other security operatives, especially when they are in uniform. There are established channels for reporting grievances or misconduct by personnel to the appropriate authorities. It is imperative that these channels are utilized to maintain order and respect for those who serve and protect our nation.

The Nigerian Army remains committed to ensuring the safety and security of all citizens and will continue to work diligently to prevent such incidents in the future.

ONYEMA NWACHUKWU

Major General

Director Army Public Relations

27 May 2024.

By Popoola Ademola, Premium Times

Nigeria government cracks down on illegal Lithium mining operations

Nigeria’s government is cracking down on illegal mining, making dozens of arrests of unlicensed miners since April for allegedly stealing the country’s lithium, a critical mineral used in batteries for electric vehicles, smartphones and power systems.


The recent arrests come as Nigeria seeks to regulate its mining operations of critical minerals, curb illegal activity and better benefit from its mineral resources. The clean energy transition, a shift away from coal, oil and gas and toward renewable energy and batteries has spiked global demand for lithium, tin and other minerals. Illegal mines are rife in the country’s fledging industry as corruption among regulatory officials is common and the mineral deposits are located in remote areas with minimal government presence. Officials say profits from illicit mining practices has helped arm militia groups in the north of the county.

In the most recent arrests in mid-May, a joint team of soldiers and police conducted a raid on a remote market in Kishi, in the country’s southwestern Oyo State. Locals said the market, once known for selling farm produce, has become a center for illicit trade in lithium mined in hard-to-reach areas. The three-day operation resulted in the arrest of 32 individuals, including two Chinese nationals, local workers and mineral traders, according to the state government and locals. Loads of lithium were also seized.

Jimoh Bioku, a Kishi community leader, said there had been “clandestine searches” for the mineral at remote sites tucked away in the bush in the past years by Chinese nationals before “they engaged people to dig for them and turned the market into a transit point.” The community was “particularly worried about the insecurity that usually follows illegal mining and that was why we reported to the state government,” he said.

China is the dominant player in the global EV supply chain, including in Nigeria where China-owned companies employ mostly vulnerable people leaving Nigeria’s far north — ravaged by conflicts and rapid desertification — to work in mining operations throughout the country. China’s nationals and companies are frequently in the spotlight for environmentally damaging practices, exploitative labor and illicit mining. There have been at least three cases of illegal mining arrests involving Chinese nationals in two months.

President Bola Tinubu has repeatedly blamed illegal mining for the worsening conflicts in the country’s north and asked the international community for help to stop the problem, which provides armed groups with the proceeds needed to sustain and arm themselves.

The Chinese embassy in Abuja did not respond to an Associated Press request for comment on the arrests and claims of illegal operations. But in a statement last year following a report by The Times of London alleging Chinese miners were bribing militants for access, the embassy said it “always encouraged and urged the Chinese companies and nationals in Nigeria to abide by the laws and regulations of Nigeria.”

Nigeria is emerging as a new source of lithium in Africa as the world’s largest producers, like Australia and Chile, are unable to fulfill the growing demand worldwide. But illegal activities thrive in Nigeria’s extractive sector, denying the government due revenues, said Emeka Okoro, whose Lagos-based SBM Intelligence firm has researched illicit mining and terrorism financing in northern Nigeria.

And the combination of conflict and climate change effects, such as once fertile land rapidly turning into useless arid sand in northern Nigeria, has produced a cheap workforce for mining sites.

The arrests of “both Chinese nationals and young Hausa boys from conflict-affected regions underscore a troubling pattern,” Okoro told the AP. “The socioeconomic strain stemming from conflict and the repercussions of climate change has given rise to a vulnerable demographic desperate for survival.”

To fight resource theft that causes losses of $9 billion to the government annually, according to the country’s extractive industry transparency watchdog, the West African nation has set up a 2,200-strong “corps of mining marshals” earlier in the year.

While existing law enforcement agencies are still combating the problem, the new corps is geared at curbing “the nefarious activities of illegal miners,” said Segun Tomori, spokesperson for the solid minerals ministry.

Before the Kishi raid, the mining corps arrested two trucks laden with lithium on the outskirts of the capital Abuja in April. Later that month, the corps raided a location in Karu, Nasarawa State, near Abuja, leading to the arrest of four Chinese nationals and the seizure of tons of lithium. Tomori said the cases are now in court.

On April 22, a federal court in Ilorin, in the north-central region, convicted two Chinese nationals for illegal mining and sentenced them to a one-year jail term, although with an option of a fine.

Nigeria has long neglected the solid minerals sector, which allows some communities like the northern-central town of Jos — which is tin-abundant — to depend on subsistence mining for their livelihood.

For those communities where livelihood is tied to mining, Tomori said the government is encouraging artisanal miners there to form cooperatives and operate legally.

By Taiwo Adebayo, AP

Related story: Nigerian Billionaire Plans to Dig Platinum Mine in Zimbabwe

 

Friday, May 24, 2024

Binance executive collapeses in court in Nigeria - Trial pushed to June

A Nigerian court on Thursday adjourned a money laundry trial against cryptocurrency exchange Binance and two of its executives to June 20 because one of the defendants was not well enough to stand trial.

Binance and executives Tigran Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen and head of financial crimes compliance, and British-Kenyan national Nadeem Anjarwalla, a regional manager for Africa, have been charged with laundering more than $35 million and engaging in specialised financial activities without a licence.

They have all pleaded not guilty to the money laundering charges.

Gambaryan, who has been in detention since February, is "very ill and requires comprehensive medical attention," his lawyer said in a letter to trial judge Emeka Nwite.

"The applicant broke down yesterday and the medical facility gave him intravenous treatment for malaria," the letter said.

Gambaryan, who also faces four counts of tax evasion alongside Binance and his colleague Anjarwalla, did not appear in court on Wednesday for that trial.

Judge Nwite ruled that Gambaryan should be treated at the hospital requested by his lawyer or any other recommended by prison authorities. He adjourned for the trial to continue on June 20 and 21.

Nigeria blamed Binance for its currency woes after cryptocurrency websites became the platforms of choice for trading the Nigerian naira as the country grappled with chronic dollar shortages and the currency fell to a record low. 

By Camillus Eboh, Reuters 

Related story: Nigeria rejects Binance CEO's bribery claim

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Nigeria bans smoking, ritual killings in movies, music videos, skits

The National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) Tuesday announced that it would henceforth restrict the depiction of smoking, ritual killings and money rituals in movies, music videos and skits.

NFVCB’s Executive Director, Shaibu Husseini, disclosed this in Enugu at a National Stakeholder Engagement on the “#Smoke-Free Nollywood” campaign, which was organised in collaboration with Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA).

Mr Husseini said the federal government would prohibit the depiction and glamorisation of smoking, violence, criminal acts, immoral acts, ritual killings and money rituals in Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry.

He said the country faced a film “industry emergency requiring bold and ambitious actions” from parents, guardians, and stakeholders.

“Therefore, after a series of engagements, the NFVCB, in collaboration with CAPPA, decided to make Subsidiary Regulations to address smoking in movies since this aspect was not expressly spelt out in the extant Law.

“Today (Tuesday), I am delighted to announce to you that the Honourable Minister of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, Hannatu Musa Musawa, under Section 65 of the NFVCB Act 2004, has approved the “Prohibition of Money Ritual, Ritual Killing, Tobacco, Tobacco Product, Nicotine Product Promotion, Glamorization, Display in Movies, Musical Videos and Skits” Regulations 2024. We have forwarded the approved copy to the Federal Ministry of Justice for Gazette,” the official said.

Mr Husseini explained that the goal was eradicating smoking in movies and skits.

He added, “We will work with the industry to see how we achieve zero, completely smoke-free Nollywood.”

He identified the tobacco industry’s tricks to promote smoking but expressed confidence that the government was prepared to counter them.

Mr Hussein said: “Of recent, we realised that tobacco industries hide under the banner of entertainment to flaunt smoking. The NFVCB is well prepared to take leadership in this regard and has planned and begun implementing innovative ways to achieve its mandate, especially at this crucial time when the National Assembly is insisting that there is “Need to Curb the Rising Spate of Cultism, Trafficking, Consumption of Illicit Drugs and other Substances among Youths in Nigeria”.

“The Board had been urged to undertake detailed enlightenment programs in secondary schools, tertiary institutions, local communities, faith groups and other institutions, as well as impose restrictions on home movies promoting social vices.”

Participants at the event included veteran and top filmmakers, producers, scriptwriters, marketers, and distributors from across the country, such as Zeb Ejiro, Fred Amata, Segun Arinze, Bolaji Amusan, and The Aneke Twins, as well as leaders of various guilds and associations in the Nigerian film industry.
Smoke-free Nollywood

The participants affirmed their commitment to a pro-health Nollywood by signing a pledge to ensure a smoke-free Nollywood.

CAPPA’s Executive Director, Akinbode Oluwafemi, stressed the need for stakeholders to work towards a Smoke-Free Nollywood in the interest of a healthy future for Nigerian children.

Mr Oluwafemi said, “Shockingly, studies have shown that smoking remains prevalent in Nigerian movies in contravention of the NTC Act and the Tobacco Control Regulations 2019, which explicitly prohibits tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorships in movies and entertainment. There is also a clear provision for warnings that should accompany any tobacco depiction necessary for “Historical Accuracy and Artistic Expression.”

“With the power to tell the Nigerian story, shape our future, and build a genuinely productive society, Nollywood ensures that the growing concerns of non-communicable diseases in Nigeria are addressed. Movies and music videos must reverse the role they play in painting smoking and tobacco use as an excellent way of life.

“With more than five million young Nigerians aged 15 years addicted to smoking cigarettes, our job, not just as movie practitioners and industry experts but also as parents, is to rise to the occasion and act right to protect our children and prepare for a smoke-free future. We are at a point where we must stop the glamorisation of smoking and, instead, promote healthy lifestyles.”

In-Country Coordinator of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), Michael Olaniyan, who delivered a presentation titled “A Code of Practice for Smoking in the Entertainment and Plenary for Next Steps”, urged stakeholders to be careful not to breach the NTC Act while shooting movies.

He added that the Act demands the prohibition of avoidable/unnecessary smoking scenes, avoidable/unnecessary tobacco use of any kind, glamorisation of tobacco use, tobacco brand marking, tobacco product placements and sponsorship by tobacco companies, among others.

Consensus

The Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC)’s Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Ali Nuhu, backed the move to rescue “vibrant and energetic youths from the claws of smoking-related and early health challenges.”

Mr Nuhu, who was represented by the NFC’s Director, Public Affairs, Brian Etuk, lamented that most Nigerian youths have become victims of circumstances having taken to smoking habits, with consequential health challenges and damage to body organs.

“We must, therefore, use the power of film/movie to help address the gradual but avoidable drifts that are ultimately life-threatening.”

Concurring, Enugu State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Ugochi Madueke, noted the “incredible influence” Nollywood holds over public perceptions and behaviours and urged film industry professionals to promote public health by making movies smoke-free.

The Alliance Coordinator for the Nigeria Tobacco Control Alliance, Olawale Makanjuola, congratulated the NFVCB, adding, “We all know the role film, and most importantly, Nollywood, plays in our culture. For us, there is no better partner than the NFVCB and the creative industry in ensuring our screens remain smoke-free, thereby strengthening our public health infrastructures.”

By Jayne Augoye, Premium Times

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Court in Nigeria adjourns Binance, executives' tax evasion trial to June 14

A Nigerian court has adjourned a tax evasion case against Binance to next month for possible arraignment of the cryptocurrency exchange and two of its executives after a trial stalled on Wednesday, the judge said.

The matter stalled because authorities failed to bring Tigran Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen and Binance head of financial crime compliance, to court. No reason was given for Gambaryan's absence in court.

On Friday, an Abuja court ruled that Gambaryan could stand trial in the tax evasion case on behalf of Binance.

The CEO of Binance Richard Teng in May accused Nigeria of setting a dangerous precedent after its executives were invited to the country and then detained as part of a crackdown on crypto. The company is challenging the trials on charges of tax evasion and money laundering.

Binance and its executives Gambaryan and Nadeem Anjarwalla, a British-Kenyan who is Binance's regional manager for Africa, face four counts of tax evasion, including failure to register with Nigeria's Federal Inland Revenue Service for tax purposes.

Anjarwalla escaped custody in March but is still listed on the case, without indicating he was 'at large' - a factor that could stall trial given that Nigerian law requires that parties must be served before the case can proceed, Gambaryan's lawyer Chukwuka Ikwuazom said.

The revenue service lawyer Moses Ideho said Gambaryan was supposed to have been produced in court by Nigeria's prison service and that he did not know why he was not in court.

Judge Emeka Nwite adjourned the possible arraignment of Binance and Gambaryan to June 14.

In addition to the tax evasion trial, Binance and the executives have also been charged with laundering more than $35 million by Nigeria's anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). A money laundering trial will be heard on Thursday.

Binance has said it is working closely with Nigerian authorities following the detention of Gambaryan. 

By Camillus Eboh, Reuters 

Related stories: Nigeria rejects Binance CEO's bribery claim

Nigeria Taps Tinubu’s Ally to Build a $13 Billion Highway

Nigeria’s federal cabinet last week approved construction work on the second section of a $13 billion highway awarded to an ally of President Bola Tinubu, a project that’s ignited a political firestorm in Africa’s most populous country.

The 700-kilometer (434 miles) Atlantic coastal road linking the commercial hub of Lagos to Calabar in the oil-rich Niger Delta has been mired in controversy since being awarded in September to Hitech Construction Company Ltd., a business owned by tycoon Gilbert Chagoury, who was listed by the government as Tinubu’s “confidante” when part of Nigeria’s delegation at last year’s COP28 climate conference in Dubai. The government has been forced to hold a series of public meetings, press conferences and speeches to defend the project, while surrogates have been sent to explain its position on television.

Authorities have demolished dozens of houses and buildings, including sections of the popular Landmark beach complex in the Lagos district of Victoria Island. That’s led to protests from businesses and residents in the area, home to many of Nigeria’s richest people and local headquarters of TotalEnergies SE and Standard Chartered Plc. Nigeria is littered with ambitious projects that are abandoned after huge amounts of money have been spent, and those that are completed often experience lengthy delays.

Chagoury, 78, has been a fixture of Nigerian politics and business for decades. In 2000, he was convicted in Switzerland of laundering money for Sani Abacha, the notoriously corrupt Nigerian dictator, and has admitted to making illegal campaign contributions in the US. The Chagoury Group didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Hitech has built a number of major infrastructure projects, including the privately developed Banana Island luxury housing estate and the 10-square-mile Eko Atlantic development — both on land reclaimed from the sea. The firm has constructed two highways in Lagos that are 16 miles and 31 miles long, but critics question its capability for large-scale projects.

“We don’t feel like we caught the best deal,” Lagos opposition politician Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour said by phone. “Because this whole project did not go through the Senate, did not go through the regular due process and we’re just being stuck with the bill that seems extremely overbloated.”

The bidding process for the contract wasn’t conducted publicly, which has also drawn criticism from civil society groups and opposition politicians.

Works minister Dave Umahi told journalists that the government approved a “restrictive bidding” round for the project, without elaborating on what other companies were involved or why it wasn’t made public.

“People say it was not listed in the 2024 budget,” he said during a May 14 speech at the presidential villa in Abuja, the seventh time he has addressed the controversy around the highway since April. “Yesterday, I quoted the budget number and so everything about coastal road followed due process.”

This year’s budget contains two line items for the project totaling 1 billion naira, a fraction of the 2.6 trillion naira ($1.8 billion) approved so far, according to the version posted on the website of the budget office in January.

“It is curious that the terms of such an audacious project continue to be shrouded in secrecy,” opposition leader Atiku Abubakar, who lost to Tinubu in last year’s presidential election, said in a statement. “It is no secret that both Tinubu and Chagoury are business partners.”

The president’s office didn’t respond to a detailed list of questions, instead referring to an April 8 statement that called the highway an “economic gamechanger.”

Tinubu, who was governor of Lagos from 1999-2007, has long been dogged by allegations of corruption, which he denies. He was being investigated by Nigeria’s anti-graft authorities as recently as June 2021, two years before he was elected president. In 1993, he forfeited $460,000 to resolve a lawsuit in Chicago after US federal authorities said bank accounts in his name held the proceeds of heroin trafficking. Tinubu’s lawyers have said he was never charged over the matter.

Nigeria ranks among the world’s most graft-ridden countries, according to a Corruption Perceptions Index published by advocacy group Transparency International, a key reason why the economy is mired in crisis. Since coming into office, Tinubu has talked about enhancing transparency in government and vowed to fight corruption. In April, he described corruption, self-interest and fraud as “an enemy” of the country.

The task of completing the coastal road project will extend beyond Tinubu’s first term, and cost more than Nigeria’s 9-trillion naira budget deficit for this year. Civil society groups and opposition leaders have questioned the rationale behind spending so much on a highway while ordinary Nigerians battle a cost-of-living crisis and citizens have died in stampedes to get food.

“With the cost involved, you can see that it’s an inflated contract that has been given simply because some people believe that they will make money out of it,” said Auwal Rafsanjani, Nigerian head of Transparency International. Lack of transparency around Nigerian projects like this is “the reason why we are not making any progress in terms of improving transparency and accountability in public sector.”

23-Year Plan

Estimated at 15 trillion naira, the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway is part of Nigeria’s 23-year plan to improve the nation’s infrastructure. The project was first designed as a railway under President Goodluck Jonathan and awarded to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corp. for $12 billion, but fell apart when he left office in 2015.

The following year, the plan was revived by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for $11 billion and given a timeline of three years, which expired without significant progress.

Minister Umahi then announced the project had been resurrected once again, but as a coastal highway alongside some rail, and this time awarded to Chagoury’s Hitech.

As much as 30% of the funding for the highway is expected to come from the government, with Hitech sourcing the rest, according to Umahi. The road will also be tolled, costing as much as 3,000 naira to use for a one-way trip — the equivalent of two day’s salary at the current national minimum wage.

By Nduka Orjinmo, Bloomberg

Related story: Rail projects in Nigeria drive home China's belt and road commitment to African infrastructure development


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Video - Over 350 abductees rescued in Nigeria’s Borno state



Some of those rescued were kidnapped 10 years ago. Most of the victims were women and children.

CGTN

Related story: 386 civilians rescued from Sambisa forest in Nigeria 10 years after abduction

 

Nigeria central bank delivers third big interest rate hike of the year

Nigeria's central bank delivered another big interest rate hike on Tuesday, responding to a continued rise in inflation which hit a 28-year high in April.

Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Olayemi Cardoso said the bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) was faced with a decision to either raise or hold rates while it observed the impact of previous hikes, but opted for an increase in the interests of price stability.

The Monetary Policy Rate was increased by 150 basis points (bps) to 26.25% (NGCBIR=ECI), the third rate increase this year after hikes of 200 bps in March and 400 bps in February.

"The balance of risks suggests further tightening of policy to build on the benefits from previous hikes," Cardoso told a news conference.

Economists had widely predicted another hike given soaring inflation and the highly volatile naira currency.

"A bold policy move was required to bring Nigeria's real rates closer to positive territory and halt the naira's decline," said Danny Greeff, an analyst at ETM Analytics.

Inflation reached 33.69% year-on-year in April (NGCPIY=ECI) - a level not seen since mid-1996 - spurred by the government slashing petrol and electricity subsidies and twice devaluing the naira since President Bola Tinubu took over last year.

The central bank has more work to do to rein in price pressures and there could be more rate hikes to come, analysts said.

The International Monetary Fund has welcomed the central bank's previous hikes and called for decisions to be data-driven.

Cardoso has pledged to curb inflation, support the naira and depart from the unorthodox policies of his predecessor who blurred the lines between monetary and fiscal policy with direct interventions to try to lift economic growth.

The government is also struggling to lift output from its crucial oil sector and keep a lid on rampant insecurity that has left swathes of the country outside its control.

The central bank's next rate-setting meeting is scheduled for July. 

By Chijioke Ohuocha, Elisha Bala-Gbogbo and Macdonald Dzirutwe, Reuters

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Nigeria warns international schools against dollar fees

The government of Nigeria is threatening dire consequences for any international school registered in the country found charging fees in dollars or any other foreign currency.

The move aims to protect the local unit, the naira, from further erosion – a difficult few years with currency fluctuation that has affected the entire country.

The country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission says it is monitoring the more than 70 international schools across Nigeria, already accusing some of them of levying tuition fees in dollars.

Over the last few months the American International of Abuja has been embroiled in a row in which a former state governor in 2021 allegedly paid $845,000 to the school in tuition fees.

The allegations compelled the EFCC to intervene, asking the school to refund the money paid by former Kogi state governor Yahaya Bello – ten years’ school fees for his children to study at the institution.

Charging of fees in dollars and other international currencies by the international schools amounted to a criminal offence, warned the EFCC, and the ban was meant to stop the ‘dollarisation’ of the Nigerian economy.

“Everyone knows that it is illegal to charge in other denominations apart from the naira. Whether in Chinese or American currency, any transaction that is not denominated in naira in Nigeria, the EFCC is against it,” Ola Olukoyede, EFCC’s Chairman, said – adding that all financial transactions in the country must be made using the local unit.

The agency he revealed would clamp down on schools – and anyone else – charging foreign currencies, including hotels, some of the other institutions guilty of attempted ‘dollarisation’ of the economy. The move was meant to ensure that the naira remained Nigeria’s legal tender, he added.

Likening charging of fees in dollars to racketeering, he disclosed that as part of efforts to address the problem and stabilise the naira, which has constantly lost value since late 2022, a task force has been set up to crack down on the issue.

“The EFCC is working to ensure that those breaking the rules find their way back to the right path, so that the wrath of the law will not be on them,” the Chairman added.

The ban is extended to private universities, and the National Universities Commission (NUC) has reiterated that no tertiary institution was allowed to charge tuition fees in dollars – save for when institutions are dealing with international students, according to Executive Secretary Chris Maiyaki, citing the issue earlier in the year.

He cautioned that no law in the country allowed payment of tuition in foreign denominations, adding that alleged cases of dollarisation of tuition fees were under investigation.

In February, the EFCC summoned the proprietors of private universities and schools alleged to have been charging tuition in dollars as part of the agency’s efforts to address “forex racketeering”.

Charging in excess of $10,000 in tuition fees, international schools are popular among the Nigerian elite, due to the belief that the education curriculum they offer – such as the British system – boosts chances for studying in universities abroad.

Sustained devaluation of the naira has also left Nigerian students abroad struggling to pay their tuition fees on time, besides generally affecting the economy back home, compelling some foreign businesses to price their services in foreign currencies.

At least 41 of the 70 international schools in Nigeria are situated in the commercial capital Lagos.

By Maina Waruru, The Pie News

Friday, May 10, 2024

Senate in Nigeria proposes death penalty for drug trafficking

Nigeria's Senate on Thursday proposed significantly toughening penalties for drug trafficking, making the death penalty the new maximum sentence through a law amendment.

The amendment, which is not yet law, replaces life imprisonment, which was previously the harshest punishment.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country of more than 200 million people, has in recent years gone from being a transit point for illegal drugs to a full-blown producer, consumer and distributor.

Opioid abuse, especially tramadol and cough syrups containing codeine, has been widespread throughout Nigeria, according to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, which banned production and import of codeine cough syrup in 2018.

While cannabis is cultivated locally, cocaine, methamphetamine and other narcotics are trafficked through the country alongside opioids to feed a growing addiction problem.

The legislation stemmed from a report by the Senate committees on judiciary, human rights and legal matters, and drugs and narcotics, which Senator Mohammed Monguno presented during Thursday's plenary session.

Supporters argued the threat of execution would serve as a stronger deterrent to drug traffickers than life imprisonment.

Lawmakers who opposed the measure expressed concerns about the irreversible nature of the death penalty and the possibility of wrongful convictions.

The House of Representatives earlier passed the bill but without a death penalty provision. Five select members of the Senate and House will need to harmonize the two versions before it goes to the president.

By Camillus Eboh, Reuters 

Related story: Video - Opioid crisis in Nigeria

 

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Video - Central bank concerned of increased cash hoarding in Nigeria



New data by the apex bank shows that over 90 percent of currency in circulation is held outside the banking system. The pattern reflects a growing lack of confidence in the banking system and also seriously limits access to liquid cash. The cash hoarding could threaten Nigeria's financial stability and economic growth.

CGTN

Related story: Video - Stock Exchange of Nigeria acquires stake in Ethiopia Securities Exchange

 

Nigeria rejects Binance CEO's bribery claim

Nigerian authorities on Wednesday denied allegations from Binance's CEO of soliciting bribes, saying the claim was a "diversionary tactic" and an "act of blackmail" aimed at undermining ongoing criminal charges against the company.

Binance, the world's largest crypto exchange, and two of its executives face separate trials on charges of tax evasion and laundering more than $35 million, which the company is challenging.

Tigran Gambaryan, a U.S. citizen and Binance's head of financial crime compliance, remains in custody while British-Kenyan Nadeem Anjarwalla has fled the country.

CEO Richard Teng in a blog post accused unidentified Nigerian officials of demanding a $150 million cryptocurrency bribe to halt the investigations.


In a statement on Wednesday, Nigeria's Information Ministry spokesperson Rabiu Ibrahim said the claims "lack any iota of substance". He accused Binance of attempting to undermine the country's legal proceedings.

"It is nothing but a diversionary tactic and an attempted act of blackmail by a company desperate to obfuscate the grievous criminal charges it is facing in Nigeria," Ibrahim said.

"The facts of this matter remain that Binance is being investigated in Nigeria for allowing its platform to be used for money laundering, terrorism financing, and foreign exchange manipulation through illegal trading," he said.

Nigerian authorities claim the bribery allegations are part of a wider campaign by Binance to discredit investigations against the company, citing similar legal troubles in the United States.

Binance did not immediately comment, but in a statement on Tuesday accused Nigeria of setting a dangerous precedent after its executives were invited for talks and then detained as part of a crackdown on the crypto industry.

Teng's blog is the latest in a dispute that has already seen Binance close in Nigeria.


Nigeria blamed Binance for its currency problems after cryptocurrency websites emerged as platforms of choice for trading the Nigerian naira as the country grappled with chronic dollar shortages.

Binance said in early March it was stopping all transactions and trading in naira.

By Camillus Eboh, Reuters

Related story: Bail Hearing in Nigeria for Jailed Binance Exec Postponed Until May 17

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Arrest of journalist in Nigeria triggers criticism of worsening press freedoms

A Nigerian journalist's arrest last week has triggered criticism of worsening press freedoms in the West African country.

Daniel Ojukwu with the Foundation for Investigative Journalism went missing last Wednesday in the economic hub of Lagos. His family and employer found out on Friday that he was detained and held in a police station for allegedly violating the country's Cybercrime Act, often criticized as a tool for censorship.

The arrest of Ojukwu, who was later transferred to the Nigerian capital of Abuja, follows his report about alleged financial mismanagement of over 147 million naira ($104,600) involving a senior government official, according to his employer, the foundation.

Nigeria is ranked 112th out of 180 countries in the latest World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. It is known for the country's tough environment for journalists who face frequent abductions, arrests and prosecution, usually after reporting on chronic corruption and bad governance plaguing the oil-rich country.

At least 25 journalists have been prosecuted under the country's Cybercrime Act since it was introduced in 2015, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. They include eight detained under President Bola Tinubu whose government, in power since May last year, touts itself as one encouraging press freedoms — a claim it repeated last week during World Press Freedom Day events.

The Cybercrime Act was amended this year to remove some harsh provisions but the police still use it to "silence journalists and critics," Amnesty International's Nigeria office said.

Nigeria's law requires a suspect to be charged or released within 48 hours following arrest. Ojukwu, however, was not allowed any means of communication or access to a lawyer until his third day in custody, said Oke Ridwan, a human rights lawyer who met with the journalist at the police station where he was held.

Nigeria's Minister of Information Mohammed Idris Malagi told The Associated Press that he is making efforts to resolve the case and is "on top of the issue." Local and international civil society groups have condemned the detention.

It is a "symptom of a larger problem within Nigeria's law enforcement agencies, and their relationship with politically exposed persons undermining democratic principles," a coalition of at least 30 civil society groups known as the Action Group on Protection of Civic Actors said in a statement on Monday.

"The Nigerian Police Force has veered off course from its duty to uphold law and order to become an oppressive tool in stifling dissent and independent journalism," it added.

AP

Nigeria to Ban Person-to-Person Crypto Trade in Battered Naira

Nigeria vowed to ban person-to-person cryptocurrency trading in the naira, taking its latest step to corral an industry which the West African nation blames for harming the battered local currency.


Securities and Exchange Commission Director General Emomotimi Agama also told a meeting with fintech professionals on Monday that new rules would be rolled out “in the coming days” covering crypto exchanges, digital asset custodians and other corners of the sector.

“The thing that needs to be done is delisting the naira from the P2P space in order to avoid the level of manipulation that is currently happening,” Agama said. “Recent concerns regarding crypto P2P traders and their perceived impact on the exchange rate of the naira has underscored the need for collective action,” he said in a statement released by the Abuja-based SEC on Monday evening.

Peer-to-peer platforms allow crypto investors to trade directly with one another, rather than via a central intermediary. In such transactions, the traders themselves negotiate the price.

The warning follows Nigeria’s ban on Binance Holdings Ltd., the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, and the arrest of two of its executives when they visited the country in February.

One of them fled but the other, Tigran Gambaryan, has been jailed at the Kuje correctional center in Abuja and will go on trial this month where he faces charges of tax evasion, currency speculation and money laundering.

“Manipulations and all forms of activities that undermine our national interest would not be acceptable,” Agama said.

Africa’s most populous nation has seen residents flock into crypto assets as a hedge for weakness in the naira, which has lost 65% of its value against the dollar since the government eased currency rules in June to make the unit more attractive to foreign investors.

Central bank Governor Olayemi Cardoso in February accused Binance of allowing illicit transactions in the naira on its platform, which the authorities subsequently blocked.

“SEC will not hesitate to utilize all the powers within its mandate to handle issues that are negative and pose a threat to national interest,” Agama said. “We ask that those involved in sharp practices that undermine national interest should cease and desist.”

By Emele Onu, Bloomberg 

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

Friday, May 3, 2024

Army in Nigeria tries two of its personnel over deadly drone strike accident

Five months after admitting to killing 85 civilians in an airstrike, the Nigerian army has brought those it holds accountable to book.

The Director of Defence Media Operations announced on Thursday (May 2nd) that two military personnel were facing a court martial.

An army drone strike accidentally hit Tudun Biri village, in northwestern Nigeria on December 3rd, last year.

Civilians celebrated a Muslim festival at the time.

Major General Edward Buba told reporters in Abuja that the victims had been mistaken for terrorists.

He added the army initiated disciplinary action against those culpable following what he called a painstaking investigation.

The accused are to face a court martial for acts of ommission or commission.

Major General Buba did not provide further information.

Nigeria's armed forces often rely on air strikes in their battle against so-called bandit militias in the northwest and northeast of the country where jihadists have been waging a 14-year conflict.

Africa News 

Related news: Accidental Military drone strikes kill dozens in Nigeria

 

 

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Civil servants in Nigeria get pay rises up to 35% due to inflation

Nigeria has raised salaries for civil servants by between 25% and 35% amid to help them cope with the rising cost of living.

The lowest-paid government employee will now earn $324 (£258) a year, Reuters news agency reports.

Police and military officers are among state workers who are set to benefit from the pay rises, which will be backdated to January.

The announcement came on the eve of Wednesday's Workers' Day holiday.

However, the rate of inflation is currently more than 30% - the highest figure in nearly three decades.

The cost of food has risen even more - by 35%, according to the latest data from the National Bureau of Statistics, so the pay rises mean that salaries for civil servants stay roughly the same in real terms - what it can buy in the shops and markets.

Pensions for those workers who benefit were also increased by between 20% and 28%, the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) said.

The hikes come after the government recently raised the salaries of academic staff members and healthcare workers.

However, the monthly minimum wage, set by the government and which all employers are supposed to observe, has not changed since 2019, when it was put at 30,000 naira - this is now worth just $19 (£15) after a sharp fall in the value of the naira over recent months.

The government also recently increased electricity tariffs for consumers who use the most power as it seeks to wean the economy off subsidies that have weighed heavily on public finances.

The trade union umbrella group, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), welcomed the latest pay increase but urged the government to ensure that it was reflective of the harsh economic situation in the country.

"These categories of workers are already in the privileged sector but we expect it to be extended also to other categories of civil servants who are in lower cadre and are vulnerable," NLC spokesman Comrade Benson Upah told local media.

Negotiations are ongoing between the government and the main labour unions about an increase in the minimum wage.

Food prices as well as the prices of goods and services have doubled in many parts of the country since the removal of a fuel subsidy last year.

Petrol shortages have worsened in Nigeria's major cities, with long queues observed since last week, as Africa's biggest oil producer struggled with a fuel scarcity.

Authorities blamed the shortage on supply disruptions due to logistical challenges.

Most of Nigeria's oil is exported, while the fuel which is used locally is mostly imported due to a lack of refining capacity.

By Wycliffe Muia, BBC

Related stories: Video - Tade unions in Nigeria want 500 U.S. dollar-per-month minimum wage for workers

Video - Soaring food prices in Nigeria strain family budgets on staples

Former Kwara finance commissioner arrested for N1.22 billion fraud

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has arraigned a former Commissioner for Finance in Kwara State, Ademola Banu, at the Federal High Court in Ilorin over alleged money laundering and misappropriation of state funds to the tune of N1.22 billion.

Mr Banu was arraigned before the judge, Evelyn Anyadike, on Monday, a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES by EFCC’s spokesperson, Dele Oyewale, on Tuesday said.

The defendant was alleged to have, among other sundry offences, conspired to divert the said sum during the administration of then-Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed between May 2011 and May 2019 when he served as the Commissioner for Finance.

Mr Banu was to be arraigned alongside his principal, former Governor Abdulfatah, on 23 February 2024, but the scheduled hearing was stalled because he was not in court, prompting the judge to issue a warrant of arrest against Mr Banu.

The court, on the said date, took the plea of Mr Abdulfatah on the 12-count charge preferred against him and Mr Banu.

At the resumed hearing on Monday, the two defendants – Messrs Abdulfatah and Banu – listed as the first and second defendants in the charge, were present in court.

When the case was called, A. A. Ajibade, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), announced the appearance for Mr Abdulfatah, while Gboyega Oyewole, a SAN, for Mr Banu, and the prosecution team was led by Rotimi Jacobs, also a SAN.

Mr Jacobs informed the court that the second defendant, who was unavailable at the last sitting when his co-defendant, Mr Abdulfatah, was arraigned, was finally in court to take his plea.

In response, Mr Banu’s lawyer, Mr Oyewole, prayed the court to discharge the bench warrant earlier issued against his client, which Mr Jacobs did not oppose.

In a bench ruling, the judge vacated the bench warrant on the second defendant, setting the stage for his arraignment.

Thereafter, Mr Banu pleaded not guilty to the charge when it was read to him.

Following his plea, Mr Oyewole applied for his client’s bail. He prayed the court to grant the application on liberal terms, citing Mr Banu’s medical conditions.

But, the prosecution lawyer did not oppose the bail request given the earlier ruling.
 

Bail conditions

The judge granted the second defendant bail of N20 million with two sureties in like sum.

Ms Anyadike said the sureties must have landed property within the court’s jurisdiction.

She added that the sureties must deposit three passport photographs with the court’s registrar.

The sureties must also produce evidence of payment of electricity bills for the last three months.

Furthermore, the judge ordered that the sum of N5 million must be paid as a bond into the litigation account of the Federal High Court by the defendant, which will be returned to him after the final determination of the case but forfeited to the federal government in the event the defendant jumps bail.

The judge also ordered the defendant to deposit his passport with the court.

She said Mr Banu must not travel without the court’s permission but may apply for it on medical grounds.

Thereafter, the judge ordered the defendant to be remanded in the custody of the EFCC, pending the perfection of his bail conditions.

The case has been adjourned to 25 and 26 June for trial.

Premium Times

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Nigeria recovers $24m in poverty minister Betta Edu investigation

Friday, April 26, 2024

Nigeria launches first multilingual LLM trained in local languages

The Nigerian government has launched the country’s first multilingual large language model (LLM) that will reflect its diversity and play a major role in its national artificial intelligence (AI) strategy.

Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy Minister Bosun Tijani announced the new LLM at the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy Workshop.

The new LLM will be trained in five “low-resource local languages and accented English to ensure stronger language representation in existing datasets for the development of artificial intelligence solutions.”

The language model is the product of a partnership between the government and the private sector. Awarritech, a local AI firm, and Data.org, a global data democratization initiative by Mastercard (NASDAQ: MA) and the Rockefeller Foundation, represent the private sector. The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and National Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (NCAIR) represented Nigeria’s government in the development of LLM.

Additionally, the government relied on over 7,000 fellows from its 3MTT Nigeria program, which targets 3 million graduates who are fully proficient in technical courses, from AI and cybersecurity to cloud computing and machine learning.

One of the greatest challenges facing AI is bias. While policies can help reshape AI to be more inclusive, diversity in AI input will have a greater impact. One key solution is to develop localized LLMs that incorporate language and cultural nuances, resulting in AI that promotes connections globally.

In addition to the new LLM, Tijani announced the launch of the Nigeria AI Collective, a community of industry players pushing for AI development.

“We are inviting AI researchers, practitioners, academia, government, civil society organisations, startups, entrepreneurs, students and AI enthusiasts in general to join the collective to harness the power of artificial intelligence,” the minister said.

Tijani further relaunched the NCAIR, a subsidiary of NITDA focused on developing the two sectors.

By Steve Kaaru, CoinGeek

Former aviation minister of Nigeria arrested for money laundering

Nigeria's former aviation minister, Hadi Sirika, is expected to be arraigned in an Abuja court next week after being arrested earlier this week by the country's corruption watchdog in connection with fraud and money laundering allegations involving NGN8 billion naira (USD6.4 million). He was reportedly also questioned about the controversial Nigeria Air (NWB, Lagos) project.


According to local news reports, Sirika was detained on April 23 and remained in custody while being questioned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja, which was preparing charges against him.

As first reported by the newspaper The Punch, the investigation focuses on contracts Sirika allegedly approved during his tenure as aviation minister for Engirios Nigeria Limited, owned by his brother Abubakar Sirika, also a deputy director at the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.

The contracts included the construction of a terminal building at Katsina Airport in August 2022 for NGN1.35 billion (USD1.1 million); a fire-truck maintenance centre at the same airport in November 2022 for NGN3.8 billion (USD3.1 million); the procurement of lifts and other equipment for the Abuja office of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in February 2023 for NGN615 million (USD498,000); and procurement of Magnus Aircraft for pilot training and a simulator for the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology in the city of Zaria in May 2023 for NGN2.2 billion (USD1.8 million).

It is alleged that at least NGN3.2 billion (USD2.6 million) was paid to Engirios Nigeria Limited, which then transferred the funds to various entities.

The EFCC started investigating Sirika in February 2024 concerning allegations of conspiracy, abuse of office, diversion of public funds, and contract inflation during his time in office between August 22, 2019 and May 29, 2023. The Punch revealed that Abubakar Sirika was arrested on February 4 and has been assisting the commission in its probe.

An unnamed source close to the investigation told the newspaper that Hadi Sirika was also being questioned about the controversial Nigeria Air project but gave no further insight. The EFCC is probing the proposed joint venture between a consortium led by Ethiopian Airlines and the previous government of Muhammadu Buhari. The consortium won a tender process run by the state-owned Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC). However, Nigeria Air's certification process was suspended in November 2022 after private airlines under the mantle of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) lobby group won an interim court interdict against its further establishment, followed by legal to-and-fros about the jurisdiction of the case.

Sirika in particular came under public fire after he approved a publicity charter flight operated by Ethiopian Airlines bearing Nigeria Air branding shortly before the government left office. After taking office in August 2023, new Aviation and Aerospace Development Minister Festus Keyamo suspended the Nigeria Air venture pending the outcome of the EFCC investigation.

By Hilka Birns, chi-aviation 

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Video - Nigeria government directs crude oil be sold to domestic refineries first



Nigerian authorities introduced new regulations to enable domestic refineries to pay for crude supply from oil producers in the country in the local currency. The government also introduced a new directive requiring producers to first sell crude oil to local refineries. The actions will hopefully reduce Nigeria's dependence on imported petrol products.

CGTN

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Dangote refinery supplies petroleum products to local market in Nigeria