Nigeria’s president may finally do what he should have done all along: bring back the girls

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

One big long failure. (Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)

Perhaps it was too good to be true. And indeed many thought, prayed, and hoped it wouldn’t be.
When the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan announced last week that the government had reached an agreement with the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, to free the 219 kidnapped schoolgirls, their parents rejoiced.
“We were jubilating. We had every reason to be happy,” Lawan Abana, a parent of the one of the missing girls, told Reuters. This “agreement” even called for a ceasefire. What a feather this would have been in Goodluck’s cap. Right on on the heels of his country beating back the Ebola outbreak.
But in Nigeria, past is always prologue. Jonathan’s government has said in the past that it killed Abubakar Shekau, the group’s leader, only for him to pop up in new videos, taunting the government. So when more gruesome attacks on five towns took place one day later, it just seemed like the government was toying with the parents and the world, who have waited for six months for tangible results of a release.
Jonathan, it seems, cannot tame Boko Haram. The Islamist separatist terror group has wreaked havoc on the Nigerian government with its bombing and kidnapping campaigns. It is probably now the biggest threat to Africa’s largest economy.
Boko Haram has killed thousands in its attempt to create an Islamic state in a country with millions of Christians and others who practice African traditional religions. The militant group is so well armed that Nigerian soldiers have been accused of refusing to fight them, with a large group being charged with mutiny just before the “ceasefire agreement.”
Yet Jonathan never projects a sense of urgency where these girls are concerned, rarely acknowledging the worldwide #bringbackourgirls campaign. After all, it took him three months and the urging of activist Malala Yousafzai to even meet with the parents. Would this have been his response if those children were of his ilk? Children of his friends? Or his coterie of ministers?
Since Jonathan never made it to Chibok, where the abduction happened, it’s not hard to surmise he’s ceded the territory to Boko Haram. A release now would have been perfect, making him a winner, projecting the strength and resolve he can’t seem to muster—particularly after six months in captivity, and just before he’s expected to formally announce he’ll seek another term at Aso Rock, the Nigerian seat of government in February 2015 when the elections are scheduled. It would be his moment to shine bright in the eyes of the world.
Others who seek the presidency can lay the failures of resolving the Boko Haram crisis firm at his feet. He has, after all, failed to protect the citizenry in northeast Nigeria and the girls remain captive. But right after Saturday’s attacks, doubt began to set in. The alleged negotiator for Boko Haram was dubbed an imposter. And by the one person who could know.
Ahmed Salkida, a journalist who once shared a cell with Boko Haram’s founder Mohammed Yusuf and has been close to the group, set the Twitter world afire when he pooh-poohed the agreement in a series of tweets over the weekend.
Salkida now lives in Dubai, but he’s rarely been discredited on Boko Haram information.
Jonathan can still pull off an October surprise though. Without fanfare or announcements, he can and should do whatever it takes to recover those abducted—then return the boys and the girls to their families—and then blow his own trumpet.

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Nigerian assembly bans same sex marriage, imposes long jail sentences

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN,
Amsterdam News West Africa Bureau | Posted: Friday, May 31, 2013 10:10 am

The Nigerian House of Assembly voted Thursday to ban same sex marriage and impose jail terms of 10 -14 years for those convicted.

The measure passed unanimously and with no debate or discussion, merely a voice vote.

The vote occurred the same day that a cache of weapons that allegedly belonged to Hezbollah and was stored in preparation for attacks on Western targets – was discovered by the Nigerian army.

Representatives of Nigeria’s 160 million residents also voted to ban organizations that support its gay and lesbian citizens and criminalized public displays of affection by same gender couples.

The Associated Press reported that a copy of the house bill had no changes made to it from the November 2011 bill the Nigerian senate passed that imposed 14-year sentences for gay couples who tie the knot or anyone who witnesses such nuptials.

The bill now awaits the signature of President Goodluck Jonathan to become law or his veto to scuttle it.

His spokesman were mum on the issue, as were most Western embassy spokespeople in the aftermath of the surprise vote.

Human rights activists in Nigerian only learned of the vote hours after it happened with one telling the A.P. that a court challenge is likely if it get’s the president’s signature.

“If that’s the scope, there will be serious issues,” Chidi Odinkalu, the chairman of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission said.

Western human rights groups abroad were quick to cry foul. This bill makes discrimination against LGBTI people the law of the land,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. “We call on President Jonathon to respect international human rights by refusing to sign this bill into law.”

“Nigeria’s elected officials are obliged, and have in fact sworn, to protect the basic rights of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation,” added Santiago Canton, director of RFK Partners for Human Rights at the RFK Center.

“This bill represents a breach of Nigeria’s domestic and international legal obligations.”

The bill if signed into law could also affect funding for groups that combat the huge HIV/AIDS problem in Nigeria. The U.S. government funds a number of treatment programs there.

Back in 2011 President Barack Obama, directed that the support from the United States Agency for International Development U.S.A.I.D., did not support governments that discriminate against its sexual minorities and Nigeria has one of the world’s largest populations of people living with HIV.

The president’s directive asked officials to “ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of gays, lesbians and the transgendered. That included having diplomats “combat the criminalization” of being gay.

Nigeria’s substantial oil revenues make its lawmakers immune to threats of getting aid cut off from Western nations and the issue is likely to follow President Obama on his Africa trip at the end of June.

Two of the countries Obama will visit – Senegal and Tanzania have laws on the books that criminalize homosexuality but the third, South Africa is the one country on the African that has full marriage equality

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Nollywood: Censored at Home, Available on the Internet

April 22, 2013, 3:24 pm

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

oilprotest

Nigeria’s movie industry — often dubbed Nollywood — has been a source of pride and escape for years for many of Nigeria’s 160 million residents.
But the recent banning of a Nigerian documentary on corruption and the country’s oil wealth, “Fuelling Poverty,” has left many crying foul.

“Fuelling Poverty,” a 30-minute film depicting the massive street protests in 2012 over the removal of billions of dollars in oil subsidies had been online for months before the director, Ishaya Bako, was told he could not screen it at home.

The film, which features Nobel Prize laureate Wole Soyinka and civil rights activists, explores the siphoning of billions of dollars from government coffers to private companies.

It can be seen in its entirety here but is “prohibited from exhibition in Nigeria” according to officials from the National Film and Video Censors Board.

The film has been viewed more than 50,000 times on YouTube as of Tuesday.

The director told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that the board’s decision means no Nigerian cinemas or television stations can show the film. “I am so disappointed because all the information in the film is actually available on the Internet.”

CPJ officials urged a reversal. “Instead of banning the documentary “Fuelling Poverty,” authorities should look into the important questions it raises about corruption and impunity in the country’s oil sector and at the highest levels of government,” said Mohamed Keita of CPJ in a statement. “We urge Nigeria’s National Film and Video Censors Board to overturn this censorship order.”

Instead the board warned Mr. Bako that national security agents were on alert and a government spokesman told the Associated Press that this was done for “security reasons.”

“What is national security for Nigeria is different from that of the U.S.A.,” Tanko Abdullahi said. “We made that determination because of the content of the film. That’s why you have regulators.”

“Fuelling Poverty” was screened at the 20th New York African Film Festival this month and won the Best Documentary at the 2013 African Movie Academy Awards on April 20.

All the censor board’s members are appointed by the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan. Mr. Jonathan has grown increasingly unpopular with many who voted for him believing he’d usher in an era of change.

“We don’t have government. It’s a whole big banana republic,” Emmanuel Tom Ekin, a barber, says in the film. “They’ve been coming telling us story all the time, deceiving us. And right now, in our faces, they are still deceiving us.”

Last week many Nigerians who normally might be appalled shrugged off the comparison of Goodluck Jonathan’s name to a children’s book character on the American TV show, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

All this comes on the heels of journalists critical of the government being jailed on forgery charges. The Associated Press also points out that reporters who wrote about abuses by the military have been harassed by security agencies.

In spite of this, Nigeria’s film industry could get a boost next month if the film “Half of A Yellow Sun” is screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

The $8-million production featuring Hollywood stars Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor marks the first true collaboration between Hollywood and Nigeria.

You can see a first look here.

The film, and book, examine a time in Nigeria’s history where more than 1 million people died during the Biafran war.

The conflict and the blockade of aid led to the formation of Médecins sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders.  To see more or leave a comment click here

Nigeria Abuzz Over Who Paid for Beyoncé Concert

 

Feb. 24 2013

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

Did the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, divert $1 million from an anti-poverty program to finance a trip to Lagos by American pop stars Beyoncé Knowles and her husband Jay-Z?

A document recently released by SaharaReporters, a group of well-regarded and some famous Nigerian journalists, some of them dissidents forced to flee the country, seems to indicate that he did.

And the report has sparked an angry debate among Nigerians.

The charge is that in 2006 as governor of the oil-producing Bayelsa state, Mr. Jonathan robbed the very poor in his state to help pay the very rich Americans, to burnish Nigeria’s image abroad.

There is no indication that Beyoncé and Jay Z, who thrilled crowds in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, knew that their visit could have been paid for, in part, by funds designated to ending abject poverty.

But when she performed this rendition of Nigeria’s national anthem, photos of Bayelsa state appeared on the screens behind her. You can see her thrill the audience above and here, singing live as it were.

This charge comes on the heels of reality star Kim Kardashian flying into Lagos for a Valentine’s Day event she “co-hosted” for a reported $500,000.

Her entire contribution was a brief appearance and a two-word greeting to the well-heeled crowd: “Hey Naija,” slang for “Hey, Nigeria. She took off immediately after. Folks are wondering where the money to fund her appearance came from.

While many Nigerians are outraged, Mr. Jonathan’s administration has remained mum on the issue. But Nigerian press accounts revealed this month that in recent years, the administration paid up to $60,000 to contract a American public relations and lobbying powerhouse.

As president, Mr. Jonathan has worked hard to try to burnish Nigeria’s image abroad, even as millions of Nigerians remain mired in poverty in his home state and the country at large.

Sahara Reporters points out that “according to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, 47 percent of Bayelsans live in poverty. The World Bank says that per capita gross domestic product in the Niger Delta is significantly below the country’s average. According to the state’s own 2005 development strategy, 80 percent of rural communities have no access to safe drinking water.”

Mr. Jonathan’s efforts — even his successful ones — are not always impressive. The January interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour from Davos, below and here, was not widely seen as one of his finer moments.

The Beyoncé concert was organized by Ndukka Obaigbena, a publisher whose efforts to wrangle money from government entities for his jamborees, as well as his high-profile media portrayals abroad have been called into question.

More importantly, the image of Nigeria as a haven for poverty and corruption on the continent — and terrorists — doesn’t appear to be on the verge of changing soon, as Britain sends bombers to Nigeria and the Obama administration sends drones next door.

But maybe through film, and soft power Nigeria can be rebranded. On Friday, on the eve of the Academy Awards, for the first time a Nigerian film from the country’s Nollywood industry was released in U.S. movie theaters.   To see more and comment click here.

African Style Goes Global, Despite Little Tangible Support From African Leaders

IHT Rendezvous - Join the Conversation

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

ACCRA, Ghana — Every day on the downtown streets of Accra, debonair men and fashionable women can be seen proudly attired in Western-style skirts, shirts and slacks, all made from African prints by local tailors.

In recent years, local designers created ready-to-wear outfits with these prints. But today the quintessential British fashion emporium, Burberry, has taken similar patterns and built a collection in stores that takes “Accra style” global.

The prints and fabrics ubiquitous in sub-Saharan Africa have long inspired European and American high fashion, but Burberry’s Prorsum collection is the most prominent.

Ironically, this African design moment comes at a time when Ghana has gone from having 44 textile manufacturers to just four, employing a scant 2,500 people down from about 30,000.

In an interview with Italian Vogue, Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills, said, “I really believe in the textile industry and I’m firmly convinced it can revitalize the country. Ghana is totally open to fashion, which is part of our history, and I think there’s a lot of untapped talent in this country. We need to return to the golden years.”

The golden years have been eroded by prints now made in China with Ghanaian patterns.

“We have very strict laws that impede the Chinese from bringing cotton fabrics into our country with Ghanaian patterns printed in China. If we find them, they are burned at the border,” Mr. Mills said before having his photo taken for Vogue.

The current May-June edition of L’Uomo Vogue is entirely dedicated to African fashion and also includes an interview and photo spread with Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

Mr. Jonathan understands the power of images and was happy to tout his efforts at re-branding Nigeria to the magazine: “You know our designers. They’re talented and very creative.”

Indeed, Nigeria’s commercial hub, Lagos, hosts an exciting fashion week, even though it lacks substantial government support and is bedeviled by power failures and other infrastructure challenges.

Last March, Lagos Fashion Week provided an international platform for local talent and lured the Ghanaian designer Ozwald Boateng to Africa from his Saville Row outpost in London.

As the IHT’s Suzy Menkes noted recently, designers around the continent are leaping into fashion’s mainstream with quality and creativity. If harnessed properly, they have the potential to spark huge economic growth in these countries.

For continental designers to go global, they have to toot their own horns loudly and hope someone hears. This is exactly what has been going on for the past three days in Soweto, South Africa’s famous township outside Johannesburg.

The organizer of Soweto Fashion Week, Stephen Manzini, 23, raised about $7,500 for a bare-bones operation showcasing 16 designers, some inspired by Nelson Mandela’s pre-inaugaration wardrobe.

“We refused to be stopped because we don’t have funding,” Mr. Manzini told The Associated Press.

It was local fashion showcases like these that caught the eye of Theo Omambala, a former model whose Ubuntu International project showcased smaller Ugandan, South African and Nigerian designers during the 2011 and 2012 London Fashion Weeks.

Organizers say a new initiative, dubbed Theo’s Vision: La Haute Culture (TVLHC), aims to repeat that, but this time in New York, expanded to designers from various countries.

Last year larger designers and jewelers from Nigeria got exposure to buyers and retailers worldwide when they were spotlighted at the Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week in a “Made in Africa” segment sponsored by Arise magazine.

Yet, despite appearances by West African leaders in Vogue, and the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, appealing for support of African designers, there seems little chance of an effort from Ghana and Nigeria to push local talent onto the world stage — or even to commit to creating an international shopping hub in Abuja, Lagos or Accra.

Something akin to Los Angeles’s Rodeo Drive, or Paris’s Avenue Montaigne. A destination where boutiques can feature high-end local and foreign designers, the ones fashionable wealthy Nigerians wear.

Neither West African president made any tangible promises to Africa’s designers before smiling for the cameras. To see more and leave a comment click here.

“The man who shamed Nigeria” Nigerians struggle to understand why a privileged son tried to become a bomber.

GLOBALPOST

By FRANKIE EDOZIEN

ABUJA, Nigeria — Nigerians are still struggling to come to terms with the news that Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old son of one of this country’s most prominent and wealthiest bankers, allegedly tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight as it landed in Detroit on Dec. 25.

“The man who shamed Nigeria,” is what the local newspaper, “The Guardian,” dubbed Abdulmutallab.

In a country where the majority of people live on just $2 a day, people are asking how someone who’s been born and reared with a golden spoon in his mouth could throw it all away?

And if the privileged young man could be drawn by Islamic extremism into a suicide bombing plot, what does this say of about Nigeria’s efforts to encourage its Muslim and Christian populations to live together peacefully? Muslims make up about 50 percent of Nigeria’s 149 million people, while Christians comprise 40 percent, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up a passenger-filled airliner has left Nigerians angry and puzzled. And it comes at a time when officials here are trying to improve Nigeria’s image.

“This singular act has done unquantifiable damage to the nascent re-branding project,” said Steven Douglas, an executive with the Nigerian National Petroleum Company. “He was simply unenlightened and stupid to allow himself to be used.”

Abdulmutallab’s father Umaru Abdulmutallab, 71, is at the top of the heap of the Nigerian elite, and has been for years. His 16 children and two wives share massive homes around the world. His home on Asa Street in the tony Maitama district of Abuja is palatial, as is his country home in the sleepy Funtua in the nearby Katsina state.

He just retired as chairman on First Bank, one of the nation’s largest, after serving on its board for 13 years. And before that he ran the large United Bank for Africa (UBA). For decades Abdulmutallab, has worked the corridors of power here, serving as a federal minister, as far back as 1975 and currently heading up the current president’s Business Support Group. He has racked up national honors over the years.

In a country where some 90 percent of the people struggle economically, Abdulmutallab’s wealth allowed him to give his son, Farouk, an international education that most Nigerians can only dream of.

Abdulmutallab sent his son to a posh boarding school, the British International School in Lome, Togo and then to the University College, London, where his son lived in swanky apartment. The younger Abdulmutallab seemed destined for success.

After graduating in the U.K., the quiet young man, who was dubbed “alpha” and “the pope” because of his saintly ways, went off to Dubai for post-graduate studies.
He never completed them and reportedly left due to nonpayment of fees. The younger Abdulmutallab instead went to Yemen to study Arabic. By August he was severing ties with his family and his worried father was calling the U.S. embassy to warn of his son, who he was worried was now under the sway of extremists.

The son re-entered Nigeria on Dec. 24 in order to board the KLM flight to Amsterdam that same night. He used an e-ticket that had been purchased from Accra, Ghana. And he boarded the international flight with just one piece of hand luggage and no checked in luggage, which is most unusual in Nigeria, where traveling light means two checked bags.

“The man in question has been living outside the country for awhile. He sneaked into Nigeria on Dec. 24 and left the same day,” said Dora Akunyili, Nigeria’s information minister.

From the bustling seaside metropolis of Lagos with its searing skyscrapers, to the red soil dirt roads of Asaba, on the banks of the River Niger, Nigerians can’t understand what has transpired. And it’s the talk of many towns.

“It is a reflection of poor family values but more importantly it is a clear evidence of the disadvantage of allowing very young children to live a life away from family from a very young age,” said Ifeanyi Ukoha, 39, a banker in Lagos. “The young man’s values would have been so mixed up thus opening him up to extremism.”

Ukoha added: “Nigerians in the diaspora will suffer in terms of a renewed perception as terrorists. Already Nigerians are grappling with issues relating to immigration abuse and advanced fee fraud.”

Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan said Abdulmutallab’s actions may lead to a clampdown on all Nigerians.

“A Nigerian has created an additional problem for us by wanting to blow up an aircraft,” he said after a church service here. “That means that those Nigerians who travel out of this country will be subjected to unnecessary harassments and searches.”

Timothy Obiorah, 43, an oil and gas industry manager concurred: “Everyone will be a suspect now. This was the bleakest Christmas in this country.”

One Detroit-based businessman who landed in Abuja right after Christmas said that when he withdrew thousands of dollars from an American bank for his trip, he did not want to tell the teller that he was traveling to Nigeria, because of the hysteria about Abdulmutallab.

“I said I was heading to Kampala [Uganda],” said the traveler. “With all this stuff, she might have thought to herself, out of an abundance of caution, to call the FBI and say ‘this black guy just withdrawn all this money and is heading to Nigeria.’ I just don’t want the hassle.”

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How Bad Is Security at the Lagos Airport?

Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009

International travelers flying out of Nigeria’s Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos during the Christmas season are used to being hassled by security. Usually, it’s a demand for tips and gifts. At every point of contact with officials, from check-in to final boarding, the requests are constant.

As a result, many passengers familiar with the Lagos airport aren’t surprised that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the young man accused of trying to blow up Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit, could have boarded his flight with liquid explosives. “They tell you, Take your shoes off, take your boots off, take your belt off, but the woman who is looking at the X-ray machine is looking at you to give her a tip,” says Victor Chidi Asaba-One, 41, a businessman who shuttles between Detroit and Lagos about 20 times a year, often on the same KLM and Northwest flights that Abdulmutallab used.

The 23-year-old son of one of Nigeria’s wealthiest men and most prominent bankers has lived outside Nigeria for years and had severed ties with his family. On Dec. 24 he re-entered Nigeria and boarded a KLM flight to Amsterdam that same night. He used an e-ticket that had been purchased in Accra, Ghana.

Shortly after the thwarted bombing attempt, Nigerian authorities stressed that its airports had recently passed the International Civil Aviation audit and just last month passed a Transportation Security Administration audit as well. “However, in light of our new developments, we have reinforced our security systems in all our airports,” said Information Minister Dora Akunyili.

Nevertheless, Ifeanyi Ukoha, 39, a banker in Lagos who flies from the Lagos airport regularly, insists the security at Murtala Muhammed International Airport is comparatively lax. “Unauthorized persons are allowed beyond the stipulated point mostly because they are in uniform,” he says. “And security personnel will keep soliciting gratification, especially during festive seasons.”

Other passengers say screening processes, particularly at Lagos, are geared toward looking for drugs. In fact, there is an additional checkpoint for local drug enforcement once passengers have passed customs and immigration.

At the airport in Lagos, as well as the one in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, passengers are now subjected to extra screening, with officials there saying everyone will now be subjected to body-screening. “It’s a joke, man,” Asaba-One says. “They may have functioning X-ray machines, even though they are older, but I’m not sure the person looking at the screen even knows what to look for. If, for example, I had a liquid explosive that is going through it, will they be able to tell the difference between a liquid bottle of Coke versus a liquid bottle of PETN? I don’t think they can tell. I know they can’t tell.”

Some passengers also know that liquid gels in plastic containers less than 100 ml don’t set off magnetometers. They say they simply put them in their pockets and let their shirts hang over them as they walk through airport checkpoints in Nigeria — and head for Europe and the U.S.

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