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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

Local and federal highways in the North-west have become vulnerable as bandits continue to ambush and abduct travellers.

The gunmen who abducted 29 people returning to Zamfara State from Sokoto State where they had gone to attend the wedding of colleagues have released them after the payment of an unspecified ransom.

The victims, who were mostly dealers of mobile phones and phone accessories at Bebeji Communication Market (Bebeji Plaza) in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State were abducted in Sokoto 13 days ago.

Secretary of the GSM Dealers Association in the state, Ashiru Zurmi, confirmed the release of the victims but didn’t give details.

One of the victims reportedly died in captivity.

Though the amount paid as ransom to secure the release of the hostages has not been revealed, Abdullahi Lawal, whose brother was among those abducted, said their relatives were asked to make donations. He said his family raised N33,000 while the phone sellers’ association “provided the remaining money.”

“Every family was told to gather N400,000 while the members of the plaza and their colleagues in the state provided the remaining money. Some family members were able to raise the money in full, but we couldn’t. I took the money to the plaza and I was told that they were still negotiating with the bandits” he said.

He said he didn’t know how much was given to the bandits “but I’m happy that my brother is okay,” he said.

From N5m to N700,000

A phone accessories seller, Sharhabilu Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that the officials of the phone dealers association negotiated with the bandits to reduce the ransom they originally demanded to release the captives.

“You know that the initial money they said was N5m for each of the captives but our officials kept negotiating with them (bandits) until they reduced the money to N700k,” he said.

When asked about the person who reportedly died in captivity, Mr Muhammed said his identity has not been revealed.

“We don’t know because even the bandits didn’t tell but we’ll surely find out when they (captives) arrive at Gusau tonight,” he added.

The police command spokesman, Mohammed Shehu, didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the development.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the wedding guests were abducted when bandits opened fire on the two buses they were travelling in a few kilometres after Bimasa in the Dogon Awo junction, Sokoto State.

They were returning from Tambuwal town in Sokoto State where they had attended the wedding of a colleague, Jamil Umar.

The captives were travelling on a Toyota Coaster bus belonging to the Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC and another bus owned by Gusau Local Government.

The bandits had demanded a ransom of N145 million to release the 29 hostages.

Bandits have been terrorising North-west states and a part of North-central Nigeria, killing and displacing hundreds of people and rustling domestic animals.

Travelling on federal and local highways is becoming dangerous as bandits block roads, abduct and kill motorists.

Major federal highways including Abuja-Kaduna, Gusau-Sokoto-Birnin Kebbi, and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna have become travellers’ nightmares with attacks and abduction or killing of travellers becoming a daily occurrence.

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Ondo Rep offers N50m scholarship to 1000 students

Ondo Rep offers N50m scholarship to 1000 students

A member of the House of Representatives from Ondo State, Mr Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, has launched a N50 million scholarship scheme for 1000 indigent students, who are indigenes of Akoko area of the state.

The lawmaker, representing Akoko North-East/North-West Federal Constituency, said the scheme was to assist the indigent students who were in tertiary institutions across the country.

In a statement made available to our correspondent on Monday, Tunji-Ojo, who is the Chairman, House Committee on Niger-Delta Affairs, said the gesture was part of his efforts to contribute to the educational development of his constituency and state in general.

According to the statement, the registration for the scholarship scheme, which had commenced on Monday, was for indigent students who were from the Federal Constituency.

The statement read, “This is in fulfillment of my education support drive which has seen me facilitate several blocks of classrooms, computer sets, educational materials, free Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination forms and coaching for 2,000 students and other notable interventions in the education sector.

“The education support drive is to help reduce the burden of education on the parents and also ensure that no child is denied access to quality education.”

“The registration form is totally free and can be obtained from presidents of students’ bodies in each community in the Federal Constituency. This is to ensure that nobody is denied access to the form.”

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US WNBA’s Star Brittney Griner appeals her Russian prison sentence

US WNBA’s Star Brittney Griner appeals her Russian prison sentence

Lawyers for American basketball star Brittney Griner have filed an appeal of her nine-year Russian prison sentence for drug possession, Russian news agencies reported Monday, amid talks between the U.S. and Russia that could lead to a high-profile prisoner swap.

Griner, an eight-time all-star center with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and two-time Olympic gold medalist, was convicted Aug. 4 after police said they found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

Griner admitted that she had the canisters in her luggage, but said she had inadvertently packed them in haste and that she had no criminal intent. Her defense team presented written statements that she had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain.

Her February arrest came at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, just days before Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At the time, Griner, recognized as one of the greatest players in WNBA history, was returning to Russia, where she plays during the U.S. league’s offseason.

Lawyer Maria Blagovolina was quoted by Russian news agencies on Monday as saying the appeal was filed, as was expected, but the grounds for it weren’t immediately clear.

The nine-year sentence was close to the maximum of 10 years, and Blagovolina and co-counsel Alexander Boykov said after the conviction that the punishment was excessive. They said that in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.

Before her conviction, the U.S. State Department declared Griner to be “wrongfully detained” — a charge that Russia has sharply rejected.

Reflecting the growing pressure on the Biden administration to do more to bring Griner home, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took the unusual step of revealing publicly in July that Washington had made a “substantial proposal” to get Griner home, along with Paul Whelan, an American serving a 16-year sentence in Russia for espionage.

Blinken didn’t elaborate, but The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Washington has offered to free Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. and once earned the nickname the “Merchant of Death.”

On Sunday, a senior Russian diplomat said talks about an exchange have been conducted.

“This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and U.S. citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our presidents,” Alexander Darchiev, head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America department, told state news agency Tass. “These individuals are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout. The details should be left to professionals.”

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China announces new drills as US delegation visits Taiwan

China announces new drills as US delegation visits Taiwan

China announced more military drills around Taiwan as the self-governing island’s president met with members of a new U.S. congressional delegation on Monday, threatening to renew tensions between Beijing and Washington after a similar recent visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi angered China.

Pelosi was the highest-level member of the U.S. government to visit Taiwan in 25 years, and her trip prompted nearly two weeks of threatening military exercises by China, which claims the island as its own. In those drills, Beijing fired missiles over the island and into the Taiwan Strait and sent warplanes and navy ships across the waterway’s midline, which has long been a buffer between the sides that split amid civil war in 1949.

The latest trip began Sunday with little notice ahead of time. The delegation was due to leave late Monday.

China accuses the U.S. of encouraging the island’s independence through the sale of weapons and engagement between U.S. politicians and the island’s government. Washington says it does not support independence, has no formal diplomatic ties with the island and maintains that the two sides should settle their dispute peacefully — but it is legally bound to ensure the island can defend itself against any attack.

“China will take resolute and strong measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing Monday, after Beijing announced new drills in the seas and skies surrounding Taiwan. “A handful of U.S. politicians, in collusion with the separatist forces of Taiwan independence, are trying to challenge the one-China principle, which is out of their depth and doomed to failure.”

The new exercises were intended to be “resolute response and solemn deterrent against collusion and provocation between the U.S. and Taiwan,” the Defense Ministry said earlier.

It was not clear if the new drills had already started since the ministry gave no details about where and when they would be conducted, in contrast to previous rounds.

The U.S. lawmakers, led by Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, met with President Tsai Ing-wen, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and legislators, according to the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s de facto embassy on the island.

At their meeting, Tsai said her administration was working with allies to ensure stability in the Taiwan Strait and maintain the status quo — a reference to the island’s self-governance, separate from Beijing.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year has shown the threat that authoritarian nations pose to the global order,” Tsai said.

Markey responded by saying Washington and Taipei had a “moral obligation to do everything we can to prevent an unnecessary conflict and Taiwan has demonstrated incredible restraint and discretion during challenging times.”

The senator also highlighted legislation intended to boost political and economic ties with Taiwan, especially in the critical semiconductor industry. Taiwan is a crucial provider of computer chips for the global economy, including China’s high-tech sectors, and beyond the geopolitical risks of rising tensions in the region, an extended crisis in the Taiwan Strait could have major implications for international supply chains at a time when the world is already facing disruptions and uncertainty.

Markey is one of the few members of Congress still serving who voted for the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that ensured continued relations with the island following the switch of U.S. diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. The other members of the delegation are Republican Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, a delegate from American Samoa, and Democrats John Garamendi and Alan Lowenthal from California and Don Beyer from Virginia.

China says it wants to use peaceful means to bring Taiwan under its control, but its recent saber rattling has emphasized its threat to take the island by military force. The earlier drills appeared to be a rehearsal of a blockade or attack on Taiwan that would force the cancellation of commercial flights and disrupt shipping to Taiwan’s main ports as well as cargo passing through the Taiwan Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

The exercises prompted Taiwan to put its military on alert, but were met largely with defiance or apathy among the public used to living in China’s shadow.

The American “visit at this time is of great significance, because the Chinese military exercise is (intended) to deter U.S. congressmen from visiting Taiwan,” Lo Chih-cheng, the chair of the Taiwan legislature’s Foreign and National Defense Committee, said after meeting with the U.S. lawmakers.

“Their visit this time proves that China cannot stop politicians from any country to visit Taiwan, and it also conveys an important message that the American people stand with the Taiwanese people,” Lo said.

A senior White House official on Asia policy said last week that China had used Pelosi’s visit as a pretext to launch an intensified pressure campaign against Taiwan, jeopardizing peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region.

“China has overreacted, and its actions continue to be provocative, destabilizing, and unprecedented,” Kurt Campbell, a deputy assistant to U.S. President Joe Biden, said on a call with reporters on Friday.

Campbell said the U.S. would send warships and planes through the Taiwan Strait in the next few weeks and is developing a roadmap for trade talks with Taiwan that he said the U.S. intends to announce in the coming days.

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