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Lasisi Olagunju: Are terrorists now our government?

Will there be elections next year? Across the 19 northern states, tell me, apart from certain parts of Kwara and Kogi, where else will people queue on Election Day in 2023 without wearing vests of steel? Senator Shehu Sani is one big man from the North who does not know how to keep quiet. On July 21, 2022, he wrote on the social media about the siege of bandits and terrorists: “No one is safe and no one is secure. Terrorists kidnap and kill at the time and place of their choice. They have razed villages and impoverished families through ransom payments. Terrorists have become a shadow government.” I find Sani’s choice of words, particularly terrorists becoming “shadow government” thought-provoking. Call it what Literature says it is: cryptocracy; secret government; hidden government; invisible government. The important thing is that what controls our country today is not what we voted for. A ‘shadow government’ is in charge. It is not the government you see; it is what its name says it is: a shadow. We are under a band in a shadow. Whose shadow? Who (or what) is in charge as we speak? Maybe I should reframe that question and ask in a more dangerous, audacious way: If Nigeria’s ragged bandits or its crude Boko Haram or its wily ISWAP or Ansaru demand that you stay off voting at elections next year, and the government counters the threat with an assurance of safety, between the two powers, who are you likely to believe and obey?
“Terrorism constitutes a real threat to democracy, the rule of law and the enjoyment of human rights,” says the Council of Europe. Do we still have a democracy? No. We have lost its key to violators of innocence. We’ve been told that terrorists who abduct for ransom collect hundreds of millions on their victims. Someone asked how these millions are delivered to the terrorists and what the receivers do with the money. They keep the cash. Where? They spend the money. On what? And how? They take millions and come out poor and haggard looking – like underpaid farm hands of heartless barons. Could they be just foot soldiers of some big men who do evil wearing veils of piety? We read yesterday that those who kidnapped two Nollywood stars in a south-eastern state last week are demanding dollars as ransom. Was that currency swap a prompt response to the free-fall of the naira? And who were the smart ‘economists’ in the forest who decided on the currency of the blood trade?

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Nigeria’s entire size is 923,768 square kilometers. Out of that figure, northern Nigeria accounts for 660,000 square kilometers – more than two-thirds. And more than two-thirds of the North’s vast area is governed by terror and banditry. If you listen carefully to the voice of criminal silence in the North, you will hear orders issuing from the barrels of terrorism. Criminals make laws there and enforce them – and everyone, big and small, fall in line. There are snippets in the media on this to the discomfort of the government and the complicit elite. ‘Ansaru militants have taken over some Kaduna communities, banned political activities’ is the headline of a 27 June, 2022 story in Daily Trust. Ansaru is the de facto branch of Al-Qaeda in Nigeria. The Nigerian Tribune of 14 May, 2022 carried a similar report quoting the chairman of Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressive Union, Ishaq Usman Kasai: “Ansaru members go to mosques in various communities in the area wearing military uniform, preaching and sharing pamphlets containing their ideology to congregations. It is our concern that many villagers are losing hope in government for protection against bandits and are beginning to develop interest in joining Ansaru so that they can live freely and do their businesses without fear in their communities.” So, who are the government in these places?
The Columbia Encyclopedia says government is “a system of social control under which the right to make laws, and the right to enforce them, is vested in a particular group in society.” I beg to apply that definition to what rules northern Nigeria. I also beg to submit that terrorists are the government there. I plead that I be allowed to warn that this may cover the whole nation unless a miracle happens very fast. I say so because we all can see that terror appears to have finished conquering the North; it now sweeps southwards – the Federal Capital Territory is the new theatre of fear. Twice, the homegrown terrorists attacked soldiers around Abuja last week and forced schools to close. They left all of us scampering for safety and wondering who is in charge. Abuja should not be a soft target; it is the physical representation of Nigeria’s awesomeness as a black power. But Abuja was assailed by terrorists and Nigeria’s integrity as a sovereign nation was violated by an enemy in purdah- unknown, unseen. If our federal capital was that vulnerable, you can imagine how puny the entire union is. The terrorists went for our army, playing snooker with its balls. Soldiers kill to live and are very hard targets. Tragically, they are now pop-up targets for some rag-tag felons who kill without borders in Nigeria. Bands and gangs who seek out, take on, and kill soldiers of a nation-state are not ordinary criminals. So, what should we call them and how should the government treat them? Or, rather, what should we call a government that is helpless and effete while terrorists run rings round it; ruin people’s lives, rule people’s homes and reign over people’s farms?
The Nigerian power elite, particularly those from the North, are a debauched, decadent lot. In all these, where are they? They are in Abuja marrying underage girls and dragging their obscenely oversized gowns from one meeting to another. Their villages may burn, what should not burst is the massive pipeline feeding their crude greed. And they are busy working hard on that. They want the world to believe that all is well in their zone of pain so that they can manufacture billions of votes from their factories of terror and stay in power till the end of the world. Today appears lost to the merchants of sorrow and death. Every Nigerian of goodwill, north to south, must separate the future of our lives from the tomorrow being designed by the enemy in power.

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It is what one has that one uses to spoil one’s child. Do we apply this to those pampering terror with kid gloves? The elite and their government would rather hit the critic while carousing the criminal. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) last week released a documentary that went deep into the war in (northern) Nigeria. The BBC spoke with victims of terror and with terrorists who claimed being victims. It showed rare footages of the ravaged remains of northern Nigeria. I watched the documentary and thought it is an excellent window into the causes and effects of the crises and a door that may lead to solutions. It is also a red flag, a warning to the South to dam the trouble. But the government said the BBC did not do well. It said the broadcasting house was wrong to have heard the bandits on why and how they became what they are and the way out of the mire of violence. Our government of cripples said it would punish the BBC for being that daring. We wait to see what it will do.
My people say the truthful always lacks a mat to sit or sleep on (olóòtó kìi l’éní). Every culture on every continent knows the taste of truth. They say it is bitter. Before the government’s anger came, there was an angrier outburst from top-rated journalist, Kadaria Ahmed. Her argument was exactly that of the government and you wonder on whose side the lady from Zamfara is. What was her point? The BBC glorified terror by speaking with terrorists. Was Osama bin Laden not interviewed by the western media? The media exists to squeeze out facts, organize and refine them for public consumption. Mexican drug lord, Joaquin El Chapo Guzman; his Colombian counterpart, Pablo Escobar; Pablo’s widow, Maria, were interviewed by the media of the free world for the benefit of history. There was a scramble from the west for interviews with Hitler whose coconut head exploded the Second World War bombs that killed an estimated forty to fifty million people. Kadaria’s curious intervention provided government the lead for the threat to punish the media for doing their work. Instead of shouting that hoarse over a great effort by the BBC in opening the lid of silence in northern Nigeria, Kadaria should have sweated more on forcing the government to do what it was voted to do. In a February 7, 2021 Daily Trust interview, Kadaria Ahmed said: “In my books, if you abdicate major responsibilities, you have to resign. It is not a job you do halfway. You can’t continue to enjoy the benefits of your office and say you are no longer the chief security officer when security is the biggest issue.” She was speaking then about a Zamfara State governor and government and the daily harvest of deaths there. She said she did a street protest because “at some point, there were more people dying in Zamfara than Borno, yet it was underreported…” She wanted awareness. Now, the BBC has provided the deepest insights into the problem and Kadaria is not happy. The BBC has shown us the ethno-economic complexities of the real issues destroying the North – and Nigeria. So, what is Kadaria’s problem? Except she is satisfied with the life her people now live, I do not see any point in her tirade against the media. I am shocked she is not yet in BBC’s office with a bouquet of gratitude. People around the lady should give her appropriate words to thank the BBC for helping her to explode the capsule of silence in that axis of evil.
We play politics and cower under the thorny thickets of terrorism. Everyone strong enough to do or say something to stop the killings looks away. They are part of this terror. Blood of the innocent may flow daily; presidential politicians keep scheming for advantage. They think that if they condemn those attacking us, their aspirations would lose the favour of those holding the yam and the knife. Therefore, they are quiet, silent and muted. But in vain they scheme. The country they want to rule is already being ruled by terror – and there can’t be two sovereigns on the throne same time; one must prevail, the other must yield its buttocks. Several soldiers were killed by terrorists last week. Did you hear a single word of sorrow, or sympathy or empathy or condemnation or indignation from your favourite politicians who want to be our Commander-in-Chief next year? If you did, I didn’t. They won’t talk because they possibly know what we do not know. They fear (or respect) the terrorists and their enablers who control the votes – and with their silence, they stab the Nigerian people. That is betrayal, cavalier, postdated. But all betrayals attract consequences. On 22 September, 1828, when Zulu king, Emperor Shaka, was dying from a brother’s stab, he told his assailant: “Hey brother! You kill me, thinking you will rule; you won’t; the swallows will do that.”

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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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