Death, Diarrhea and Late Night Sackings: The Inside Story of an Unfolding Staff Nightmare at UBA and Dangote

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Last November, thousands of Lagosians including hundreds of UBA Bank employees attended what was billed as the ‘party of the year’ at the Lekki Special Events Centre on Admiralty Way.

The UBA RedTV Rave had everyone from Wizkid to Olamide to Jidenna to Burna Boy thrilling the festive crowd as UBA chairman Tony Elumelu and CEO Kennedy Uzoka mingled with the artists and guests.

On the surface, this was the best of times, as a bank that was clearly in rude health celebrated a successful year with thousands of employees, friends and family. The bank had also recently concluded a recruitment exercise that would add nearly 4,000 new employees to its staff strength, so the year ahead looked to be a promising one for most employees present. 

Unknown to them, while senior executives danced with Wizkid in the VIP area, one of the most brutal staff layoffs in Nigerian banking history was just around the corner. They partied well into the night and then showed up for work the following week as usual. A week went by. Two weeks. Four weeks. Then right at the start of the new year – a shocker.

Closed at 5.30PM, Terminated at 10.30PM

Ifunanya (name has been changed) was asked to wait behind at work on Friday January 3. As a 12-year UBA veteran including a long stint in her role as a Branch Operations Manager at a branch in Ojodu, Lagos, this was not an unusual request to receive. She was even used to working weekends so that the ATMs could remain functional and she could troubleshoot other onsite customer-facing issues. This time however, was different. 

Along with other staff members at the branch, she was asked to wait for a board meeting. By 10.30PM, the assembled staff were informed that their services were no longer required. They were then told verbally to write out their resignation letters on the spot and leave voluntarily or be forced out. At this point, her security pass was taken, and along with the other affected staff, her profile was unceremoniously deactivated from the bank’s internal system. She was reminded to drop her work ID on the way out, and thus ended a 12-year association with the bank.

When a relative of hers reached out to tell the story, he was keen to make the point that she was not an agency employee, but a full UBA employee on a monthly salary of N153,000. He could not understand why the bank would treat her that way. I heard similar stories from two other sources who insisted that they were coerced into resigning after being told that their services were no longer required right at the start of the new year.

Shocking and callous as these stories may have sounded, one of the first things you are taught in any professional journalism program is to always balance the story. So I sought an alternate account of what transpired, with the goal of putting the picture together to tell a complete story. There were conflicting accounts of the events of January 3 flying around, with some accounts describing a recruitment and promotion exercise without mentioning any firings, while others reported a purported “restructuring” at UBA, which is a well-known euphemism for “mass sack.”

I managed to establish contact with a current senior employee at UBA who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorised to speak about such matters. This was his account of what happened at UBA bank at the start of this year:

“Usually when anyone joins UBA with a Bachelor’s degree, they are put on a GT1 level (N80,000). After one year, they are promoted to GT2 (N100,000), then after another year ET1 (N140,000) which is where a lot of people get stuck on. If you are lucky, you get to ET2 (N165,000). So what UBA did was to meld those 4 levels into one (ET) so any one who was on GT1 and GT2 gets automatically promoted to ET2. Those that were on ET1 and ET2 got promoted to SET (Senior Executive Trainee). 

So it was a promotion of sorts, but honestly it was long overdue because compared to other banks, N80,000 for entry level staff is quite low. About the layoffs: I only know 4 people personally who got affected. The people affected were on manager grades and worked at the head office, they all reportedly got 6 months arrears.”

According to this source, he was not personally aware of the fate of any branch staff or what he termed ‘OND staff.’ He did however say that in his opinion, the bank handled the situation poorly and that Nigeria does need stronger labour laws to protect young graduates fresh out of school from exploitation for cheap labor at the hands of corporates like UBA. He also mentioned that he knows current UBA staff have not had a salary increase in ten years – a remarkable situation for workers in a country whose currency has declined 195 percent over the same period.

As it later emerged, more than 2,000 staff were affected by the shocking late-night cull at UBA. It also became increasingly clear that the firings had nothing to do with a harsh operating environment or decreased profitability. The bank which had brought together Nigeria’s most expensive music stars to perform at its end of year shindig was anything but struggling – it actually hired more people than if fired. What the sackings did though, was clear out a number of people in roles that the bank considered obsolete, particularly within branch operations.

It can definitely be argued that such restructuring is inevitable in the face of rapidly changing technology, which is hardly a terrible thing. What is also true however, is that the bank that paid huge sums of money to bring Burna Boy and Jidenna to an annual vanity event that adds nothing to its bottom line could also afford to retrain its redundant staff to fit into new roles –  instead of just sacking them and instantly bringing in thousands of readymade replacements.

Yet again, the actions of a Nigerian corporate made the point that Nigerian labour law, in addition to be being poorly enforced is also woefully inadequate and unfit for purpose. If after 12 years of useful service to a bank, Ifunanya could be dumped out onto the street without even a few hours of notice – and no regulatory action was forthcoming – then clearly, Nigerian employees working for Nigerian companies have a problem on their hands.

As much as the UBA situation made that point, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to unearth about another Nigerian corporate behemoth.

Diarrhea in India, Death in Ibeju-Lekki: The Unbelievable Story of Dangote Refinery

While senior executives at UBA House were going over the finer points of their plan to log 2,000 employees out of their work systems and force them to resign on the spot, a different level of labour exploitation was entering its fourth year about 73KM east of the Marina. There, at the site of the Dangote Refinery at the Free Trade Zone in Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos, the refinery was taking delivery of the world’s largest crude oil refining tower.

While this was predictably being celebrated across local and foreign media as the start of a glorious new chapter in Nigeria’s industrial history, I was speaking to a whistleblower with close and detailed knowledge of the project. What he had to say about the refinery project, the Indian project managers, the company’s internal culture and its much-publicised trainee program left me absolutely floored. Naturally I reached out to Dangote Group for a comment, but at press time I have received no response or acknowledgment.

My source, whom I shall call “Mukhtar” worked in and around the refinery project between 2016 and 2018, and what I found most distressing amidst everything he said was the revelation that deaths due to onsite accidents are not just known to happen at the refinery site, but are effectively covered up by Dangote. This he said, is because the people who die are mostly site labourers who are hired through staffing agencies instead of directly. When they die, it becomes the staffing company’s problem and the Dangote brand distances itself from it – even though the site owner is legally responsible for all safety-related incidents onsite.

Something else that struck me was that he implied that – contrary to all its public posturing – the company actually has no intention of using Nigerian engineers to run the refinery anytime soon. The trainee program that sent dozens of Engineering graduates for a one-year training program in India? “Strictly PR,” he said.

Accidents
The first batch of Dangote Refinery trainees head off to India in March 2016

For full effect, I have decided to reproduce the full and unredacted transcript of our conversation instead of using quotes and reported speech. Here is the conversation below:

ME: When we started this conversation, you mentioned that Dangote Refinery is exempt from Nigerian labour laws. What were you referencing?

Mukhtar: Because the refinery is in the FTZ, it is not subject to certain laws like local content laws. As such, even mundane jobs are given to non-Nigerian companies. Even the refinery’s fence wall was handled by a Chinese company. This didn’t stop long stretches of the fence from collapsing sometime in 2017. The FTZ affects Labour laws too. The company is not really under any obligation to employ Nigerians. They do so mostly for PR. All key decision makers are Indians (say 98%).

ME: There have been several horror stories about Indian-run businesses in Nigeria. Was this one of them?

Mukhtar: Yes, the Indians are quite racist. Some even demand to be referred to as “master”. To be fair, when this is reported, the HR unit makes a show of cautioning them. But I dont think anyone has ever been dismissed for it or seriously punished. Most of workers who meet their death on site are labourers. So their names might be known to many staff. I’ll see what I can get. It happens. It’s kept under wraps but it happens.

ME: Now you mentioned onsite deaths earlier. I want to know all about this. Why haven’t we heard anything about this?

Mukhtar: The refinery site is not really the best place to work. Mortality rate on site is quite high. People falling from heights or getting crushed by heavy vehicles/machines is quite common. These numbers are not reported because most staff are contract staff (or outsourced) so the company gets to wash its hands off such cases. But safety on site is the ultimate responsibility of the owner of the project. The construction site has a board that is supposed to display the safety statistics but it is never displays the truth. According to that board, there has never been a fatality on site. But in reality, I think 2018 had about 5 fatalities between January and March. If I were to guess, I’d say there have been over 25 fatalities since construction started in 2016/17.

ME: Now you said earlier that the trainee program was a washout and a disappointment. Fill me in on that.

Mukhtar: I was one of the first batch of engineers sent to India for training in 2016. In my opinion, the whole scheme was either poorly thought out or the company was somehow compelled to do it, and did so for PR. Our salaries were being paid into our accounts in Nigeria, so we were using our debit cards to access our Nigerian accounts for expenses over there) Around July 2016 when the naira went from around 160 per dollar to nearly double that number, our spending power was effectively halved.

ME: I also remember that there was a forex shortage crisis in 2016 and Nigerian bank cards stopped working outside the country.

Mukhtar: So when the banks eventually stopped all cards from functioning abroad, we were stranded. The company resorted to selling us dollars or rupees at the black market rate.They deducted the money from our salaries. We had accommodation (two adults per room) and feeding (Indian food which many of us did not like). Some of had to buy intercontinental dishes regularly, because Indian food is really not nice if you’re not into many smelly spices. It was crazy. Meanwhile we were told categorically that we would have Nigerian food and Nigerian cooks. It was a blatant lie by the Indian HR director.

Also, no arrangement was made for our medical care. Those who fell ill had to treat themselves from their pockets. During the currency crisis, those who fell ill had to rely on the rest of us to put together our spare change to pay for their treatment. The company promised to refund medical expenses, but this shouldn’t have been the situation in the first place.

ME: Tell me about the training program. What was the course content and the experience like? Was it what you were expecting?

Mukhtar: The training itself was a mess too. We were supposed to be trained to operate the refinery (at the time, it was said that it will be completed by mid 2017), but we were sent to a design company. These (designing a refinery and operating it) are two very, very different things. The trainers did not want us there in the first place. It was not a part of their initial contract with Dangote. Plus, they didn’t know what to teach us because designers are not operators. They were confused, several times, they asked us what we wanted to learn. But we could not know what we wanted to learn cos we knew nothing about the entire business. In the end, they reluctantly settled for teaching us design (skills we were/are unlikely to use cos the refinery was already 90% designed). 

ME: If you say that the refinery was “already 90% designed,” and you were learning design in India, that sounds like your presence was superfluous. Was the company really serious about sending you to learn skills to run a refinery?

Mukhtar: Indians will run the refinery. It will take many many many years before that refinery will be populated by just Nigerians. It was strictly PR. Anyways, the training with that design company was suddenly terminated on December 31st. Apparently, Dangote had not paid them a dime for all the months were were being taught design. They didn’t want to send us back to Nigeria so they moved us to the Dangote office in India. The office housed the Indian engineers (around 150 – 200 in number) who were supervising the design work being done by the design company. Now, it is interesting that these guys were working and earning as expatriates within their own country.

But realising that the “training” was a blunder, the company sent back some engineers to train in an actual refinery. So what was supposed to be a 1 year training became 2 years.

ME: Since returning to Nigeria, is there anything else you have noticed about the project that worries or disturbs you?

Mukhtar: Yes. So we have only the refinery at the FTZ, but the company gets to import things meant for other branches of the company duty-free. As a matter of fact, with the Dangote jetty in place and a customs office right there, the company no longer needs to clear stuff at Apapa. Dangote empire effectively has its own customs and port, because we cannot assume that the custom officers stationed at Dangote’s jetty/FTZ are extremely meticulous in checking what comes in and goes out. Personally, I find this disturbing. No non-military entity should be able to import stuff that easily into any country. This is bigger than just skipping custom duty payment.

–Ends–

Between bank staff being fired at 10.30PM and refinery site labourers being killed by workplace accidents without accountability, the sheer grimness of the picture facing Nigerian workers comes into stark relief. It is afterall, an employer’s market, with several thousand qualified people jostling for every job opening, which creates the possibility and incentive to treat staff like battery animals.

Whether the Labour Ministry is willing or able to do anything about such blatant labour exploitation is anybody’s guess. Nigeria’s government is increasingly weak and unable to impose its will on the country even territorially. In the event that the government did take interest, there is a valid fear that it would go to the other extreme and adopt a lazy anti-business Hugo Chavez approach, as it so often does. The real solution if there is to be one, must come from Nigerian labour having a stronger bargaining position through an improved economy. Anything else as it stands, is little more than a sticking plaster.

As Mukhtar mentioned, even inside the ridiculous situation of being financially stranded in a foreign country at the behest of an irresponsible and insincere Nigerian corporate, the vast majority of the group chose to suffer in silence. They did so because spending a year abroad learning useless information, suffering deprivation and experiencing diarrhea after being forced to eat unfamiliar food was still preferable to whatever alternative was at home.

Ultimately, that is the biggest problem facing Nigerian labour. 

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Will there be a draft? Young people worry after military strike | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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For decades, American men over the age of 18 have gone through the ritual of registering with the government in case of a military draft. In recent years, this action has felt more like going through the motions, simply checking a box.

But today, after a U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, prompting concerns about the possibility of a new war in the Middle East, that oft-forgotten paperwork became a reason for spiking anxiety among many Americans.

“World War III” started trending on social media. Young men suddenly recalled registering after their 18th birthdays, many having done so while applying for college financial aid. One Twitter user posted that he had blocked the account of the U.S. Army, with the (faulty) reasoning that: “They can’t draft you if they can’t see you.”

Interest was so high that it apparently crashed the website for the Selective Service System, the independent government agency that maintains a database of Americans eligible for a potential draft. “Due to the spread of misinformation, our website is experiencing high traffic volumes at this time,” the agency said on Twitter, adding, “We appreciate your patience.”

Here is an explanation of the current military system and what it would take to enact a draft in modern times.

Is there going to be a military draft?

The United States first conscripted soldiers during the Civil War and continued to use the draft in some form on and off through the Vietnam War, said Jennifer Mittelstadt, a professor of history at Rutgers University who has studied the military.

But there has been no conscription since 1973, when the draft was abolished after opposition to fighting in Vietnam. “There was huge support for ending the draft across the political spectrum,” Mittelstadt said.

The modern-day military is now an all-volunteer force, with about 1.2 million active-duty troops.

To change that, Congress would have to pass a law reinstating the draft, and the president would have to sign it, actions that would likely require broad political support.

What is the draft age?

All men from 18 to 25 years old are required to register with the Selective Service System. Many young men check a box to register when getting a driver’s license. Others sign up when applying for federal student aid to attend college.

But just because you have registered does not mean you will be drafted. “Right now, registering for selective service really means nothing about the likelihood of you serving in the current military,” Mittelstadt said.

Joe Heck, chairman of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service, a committee created by Congress to evaluate the Selective Service System, put it this way: “Registration is ongoing. A draft would require an act of Congress.”

What are the consequences if you don’t register?

If you do not register for Selective Service as a young man, you can be subject to lifetime penalties. For example, men who did not register cannot receive federal financial aid, and they cannot work for the federal government, Heck said.

To check if you have registered, visit the Selective Service System’s website (once it is up and running again).

Can women be drafted?

No.

Historically, only men have been eligible for the draft. But the question of whether to register women has gained traction in recent years, as women have taken on broader roles within the military.

In 2015, the Pentagon opened up all combat jobs to women. Last year, a federal judge in Houston ruled that excluding women from the draft was unconstitutional.

As part of its work, the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service is considering whether to expand the registration requirement to include women. The group’s final report, on that and other issues, is expected to be released in March.

Are there arguments for reinstating the draft?

In the 1860s, mobs of mostly foreign-born white workers took to the streets in New York City to protest conscription during the Civil War, burning down buildings and inciting violent attacks against black residents.

A century later, burning draft cards became a symbol of protest against the war in Vietnam.

“I think it’s fair to say that the draft has never been wildly popular,” Mittelstadt said.

But she said there were arguments in favor of a modern-day draft, including the potential to make the military more representative of society. The current all-volunteer force is more likely to recruit people from the working class, she said, with higher percentages of nonwhite Americans serving in uniform.

“I don’t know what it means in a democracy that you let some people fight your wars and everybody is not responsible,” she said. “American citizens are not implicated in the consequences — bodily human life, economically — of war, and they should be.”

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Meet the Nigerian developer that runs free online digital skills training on Facebook and Slack

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Martha (not real name) had no choice but to stay with her sick mum in hospital, but this didn’t mean much until it was clear her stay would run into a year. For Martha, it meant placing her life on hold as she wouldn’t have time to do anything else.

However, this changed when she came across Tech Skills Hack (TSH), an open Facebook group where people get free training on diverse digital skills ranging from graphic design to data analysis to content creation.

Martha joined the group, attended training religiously, and soon discovered she could become a certified digital skills expert running her personal creative agency.

Iniobong Udoh, the brain behind TSH, would be overwhelmed by a sense of fulfillment hearing this testimonial because it is clearly fulfilling the startup’s mission.

“Tech Skills Hack is a platform dedicated to equipping Nigerians with the in-demand and futuristic digital skills to curb unemployment and help businesses scale free of charge,” she says.

Demystifying digital literacy

There is a belief that people in the tech space are a bunch of code-writing geeks. However, Udoh thinks it’s only a myth.

“The tech ecosystem is a large community that includes all digital skills, ranging from graphic design, data analysis, content creation, that has nothing to do with writing code.”

Her mission was clear; to bridge the gap that exists between employers of labour and applicants without basic skills. And she does this by compiling curated digital skills resources and sharing on the various training platforms used.

To her, “Digital skills literacy means possessing skills you need to live, learn, and work in a society where communication and access to information is [sic] increasing through digital technologies like the online platforms, social media, and mobile devices.”

If anything, Udoh’s experience as a Google Certified Android developer and a certified UX expert came in handy as she brought the startup to life in February 2019 — a year after she got the idea but was held back by funds to either rent a hub or acquire equipment for physical training.

“I had to use the available platform and it was Facebook for me. Aside from programming, we train undergraduates on basic or foundational skills like Excel, PowerPoint, Canva, Google Sheets, and social media usage.”

TSH’s offering is twofold: solving the challenge of affordable training and acquiring the basic equipment to practise – a laptop. The aim is to assist young people to acquire relevant digital skill sets via their smartphones at no fee at all. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an encouraging first outing for her.

“I felt bad when we sent out the ad inviting people to learn and the response wasn’t impressive as thought [sic], but 50 people responding to our ad was fair.”

To build trust, Udoh made the platform open for interested individuals to join instead of adding people randomly. With time, the platform would have a good number of open-minded, willing, consistent, and determined members.

Apart from Udoh who is the founder, TSH’s team includes Nzaki Ekere who doubles as the CTO and in-house developer who takes web development classes and Anthony Eyo as the digital marketer. Extra help for on-site training also comes from volunteers, some of who have gone through training on the platform.

A social enterprise

“Tech Skills Hack is a non-profit venture. We’ve been running this for 9 months and it’s been self-funded. It is not too capital intensive because I use a free platform (Facebook) and get free volunteers. I get to search top-notch courses from organisations like Google, Udemy, and Coursera for free, so we don’t pay for these courses, except with our time, because I need to go through every course before sharing them on our platform,” Udoh explains.

With no change of business model in view, Udoh affirms that TSH will retain its non-profit social enterprise status for the next two years, but it will need as much help as it can get.

“Our aim is to equip every Nigerian with a digital skill at no cost or low cost, and we would appreciate support from people to achieve that.”

In over 9 months of operation, the startup boasts of more than 1000 users on both Facebook and Slack. It has also assisted 30 budding Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs) to design logos and business cards for free. Lately, it conducted two free offline trainings in two Nigeria cities, Lagos and Uyo, in partnership with a Ghanaian tech hub, iSpace; and Directorate of Microfinance and Enterprise Development, Akwa Ibom State, respectively.

At a point when incorporating offline training is needed because online classes do not fully capture the startup addressable market, the founder admits that TSH is greatly in need of funds.

“We would appreciate financial and hub support. We need founders to allow us to use their hubs and gadgets for our trainings. We’ll also love free publicity so that more people can hear about what we are doing and get to join.”

Undeterred by challenges

Apart from funding, Udoh names trust issues as another challenge some people have because the belief is that with free trainings, the quality of content is usually bad.

She said they may not be able to change this perception, but the reviews, testimonials, and feedback received from students, who have gone ahead to get their certifications and even begin their own creative agencies, are enough motivation for the TSH team.

“I’ve lost count of the reviews and tags we get once a student learns a skill. Not only the testimonials but students using the skills they’ve learnt to better their lives and also pass down this knowledge to others is also what we use to measure our success and this we’ve been able to achieve in a short span of our existence.”

With another physical training program in the offing, the team is presently working on integrating an eLearning site with better and friendly learning features to further expand coverage.

Want more stories like this? Subscribe to the Techpoint Africa Newsletter.

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Collapsed Synagogue Church building is inconsistent with structural failure – expert

The mode of collapse of the Synagogue Church guest house was inconsistent with the mode of any building with structural failure anywhere in the world.

This was expressed by an international expert and professor of building and structural engineering, Mr Patrick Okonkwo, as he continued his evidence at a Lagos High Court, Igbosere, presided over by Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo. Led in evidence by the defence counsel, Mr. Olalekan Ojo SAN, Nwankwo said: “For a building with structural failure, the mode of collapse should be gradual, it cannot be catastrophic or simultaneous because of the processes of hinges formation and the occupants will sufficiently notice cracks and deflections to enable them move out before it collapses. It is not possible for it to collapse like a park of cards as seen in the case of Synagogue.”

Read Also: ‘Synagogue Church fending for victims’ dependants’

He further said that “the synagogue guest house with rigid frame structures, which had been completed over a year, the whole twelve frames could not have collapsed in the mode in which it happened. It would have been partial and never catastrophic as it happened.”

Nwankwo, who is the eighth defence witness in the ongoing trials of the contractors and supervisors of the collapsed building which claimed over a hundred lives on September 12, 2014, said he carried out an independent and thorough investigation on the collapsed guest house of the church in order to get to the root of the cause. Giving evidence further, Nwankwo said he carried out structural analysis using Orion Design Software modelling on the beams, columns, foundation, anchorage, expansion joints, rigid zones and mechanism vis-a-vis the internationally accepted codes of practice for engineering,  which is British Standard, BS,

His words: “Before mechanism occurs, there should be elasticity, yielding and plasticity of the elements and this was never the case in the collapsed Synagogue guest house. Therefore investigations clearly showed that the collapsed building was never structurally deficient in any way.

Justice Lawal-Akapo adjourned further hearing to December 13, 19 and 20.

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See is a funny TV show, but not on purpose – The Verge

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There’s a scene in See I would bet everything in my wallet (seven dollars, three old MetroCards, and five half-used coffee rewards cards) that it’ll go viral. It’s the one where Jason Momoa’s character picks up a book for the first time. Since the show is set centuries after a virus deprived humanity of sight, he has no idea what’s in his hands. He complains it smells like “dead bark” and holds it the way a toddler might hold a vegetable when they were in fact expecting a cookie. Then Alfre Woodard’s character demands he hand over what he’s found, and speaks its long-forgotten name: book.

It’s extremely funny in context, and probably debilitating out of it. It also makes See, Apple’s post-apocalyptic drama, one of my favorite kinds of shows: you could just plainly state something that happens in an episode, and everyone would swear you’re making it up. That doesn’t mean you should watch it.

Set in the ruins of our world, the people of See have adjusted to a sightless life after centuries of practice. Makeshift curtains of beads make for boundaries both audible and physical, fights involve a lot of probing contact and grappling (as does sex), and there’s a lot of finger snapping. See is extremely invested in showing you how all this stuff works, so much so that it barely delves into its characters.

Baba Voss (Jason Momoa) is a man who must take his family on the run after his adopted twins, Kofune and Haniwa, are born with sight. The trouble is, the very idea of sight is heretical — much like witchcraft in colonial America, troublesome people are accused of having the ability to see as justification for burning them alive. And there’s also an evil queen who learns of the twins, and as a religious zealot who worships the “darkness” (by, and I will testify to this in court if I have to, masturbating as she prays) she wants them brought to her for evil queen reasons.

A generous and forgiving read of See could interpret it as an attempted meditation on knowledge, ignorance, and responsibility, but See actively resists attempts to latch on to anything of substance it might have to offer. In the first three episodes made available in advance to critics, See is more interested in the logistics of its world than it is in implications.

Sometimes that leads to fun television. The third episode, the best of that initial bunch, is largely unconcerned with the season’s main arc, instead telling a story where Kofune is kidnapped by slavers and must be rescued. It’s visually striking, introducing a tribe of people that, unbeknownst to them, are living in the ruins of an amusement park. It’s got a killer fight scene, with unique choreography that clearly conveys the limitations and skills of everyone involved and depicts brutal violence with grace and skill. And it’s got personal stakes, which I won’t spoil here because it’s one of the only bits of character backstory you get in the first couple of episodes.

None of these things make See a more interesting show beyond the hour you spend watching them. It’s cotton candy, a fun confection for one moment, and just plain sugar the next.

See is clearly interested in drawing people into its elaborate and well-crafted post-apocalypse, but it’s telling that the only questions I have after watching are purely pedantic ones. Like how did a blind society make such perfect and deadly weapons, or build homes that never leak, or clothes and makeup that look so nice?

These are questions asked by jerks and spoilsports, and I wish I had better ones to ask of See. The show is strange, but fails to justify that strangeness with a compelling story, characters, or literally anything other than the list of ideas you and your stoned cousin would come up with if you wondered what it would be like if we all woke up one day totally blind, man. Maybe you’ll come up with something fun enough for posting on Twitter, but it’s not going to cut it for eight hours of television.

All Apple TV Plus shows are available to . The service costs $4.99 a month.

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Naira Marley seeks Buhari, Tinubu’s contact number on Twitter, Nigerians react

Popular musician, Azeez Fashola, aka Naira Marley, on Tuesday, begged Nigerians on Twitter to provide him with contacts of President Muhammadu Buhari and national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu.

“Who’s got Tinubu or Buhari’s contact number pls?” Fashola posted on the microblogging website at about 3:29 pm.

Who’s got tinubu or buhari’s contact number pls?

The tweet has generated more than 900 retweets, 5,400 likes and more than 1,640 comments as of the time of filing this report.

+44 94 04 buh Iwo mafo!

— AKWAIBOM CORPER (@bjay_official) October 22, 2019

Baba sebi wonti settle é

— engr itunu (@walex_blaze) October 22, 2019

Reason @olamide_YBNL for Tinubu Number..

He get direct line 💯

Naira Kfb. Let’s talk. Let me introduce you to both of them😉

— Dr. Dípò Awójídé (@OgbeniDipo) October 22, 2019

Naira na deal . As no manner concine do 5K to this Account now now .3011686640 Polaris bank . We continue there 🙏

— funnydoktor (@funnydoktor1) October 22, 2019

No mannaz
I get one guy way fit give you sharp sharp

— ✟LOCAL MAN ✞⚬ (@_local_man_) October 22, 2019

— ☆Kvng Freezy☆ (@kiingfreezy) October 22, 2019

Na tinubu whatsapp number I get but e no too dy use am.

This may not be unconnected with his trial before a Federal High Court in Lagos which resumed earlier in the day.

Tribune Online reports that when Naira Marley’s trial resumed on Tuesday, October 22, the suit could not proceed, following an application by defence counsel (Ojo).

ALSO READ: No case of sodomy, torture in our rehabilitation centre ― Tahir

The defence had urged Justice Oweibo to halt proceedings until a motion he filed this morning was determined.

In the motion, the defendant prayed the court to compel the EFCC to furnish him with the prosecution’s witnesses’ statements.

He prayed the court to hear his motion before the prosecution called its first witness.

But, EFCC counsel (Oyedepo) opposed the application for adjournment.

According to him, the prosecution is not in possession of the required document, adding that the defence is not entitled to the statements as of right.

In a bench ruling, however, Justice Oweibo granted the request by the defence.

Ojo moved the motion and again, Oyedepo opposed him.

After hearing the motion, the court ordered the EFCC to provide the defence with its investigators’ statements, if any.

He adjourned the trial until October 23.

Tribune Online recalls that Fashola was arraigned on May 20, 2019, by the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on an 11-count charge of conspiracy, possession of counterfeit cards and fraud.

After he pleaded not guilty to the charges, he was granted N2 million bail with two sureties in the like sum.

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Pendulum : Social Media And President Buhari’s Imaginary Wedding Of The Century By Dele Momodu

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Fellow Nigerians, these are very interesting and humorous times indeed! Barely one week after the Big Brother Naija show was concluded, ending our light relief, some restless Nigerians have started their own nebulous reality show in earnest. To say Nigerians are well endowed with fecund imaginations and fantastic creativity would be an understatement. This is why rumourmongering is big business in this climate.

Let me reassure you that it didn’t just start today. Many are blaming the proliferation of social media and the affordability of internet data for this unusual surge in the wild speculations and stories flying everywhere today, but I wish to disagree with this theory. This is a major aspect of my research work at The African Studies Centre, University of Oxford.

Society Journalism is not new to Nigeria or Africa. This genre thrives on wild rumours and fertile imaginations. It was once described as junk journalism. And society loves junk generally because it is like fast food. People love to read and hear and discuss society people. Society people or newsmakers themselves love to gobble up junk stories, no matter how ridiculous they may be or sound. More often than not, the stories are untrue, but society still feeds on them.

Let me take you down memory lane. In May 1989, a wild rumour surfaced that nearly sent the government of President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida packing. The content of the rumour was so bizarre, but even intelligent people still believed the story. It was what led to what was tagged THE SAP RIOTS. SAP was the acronym for Structural Adjustment Program which President Babangida had introduced at the time. Then came the news, which was made believable by the participation of the famous social critic, Dr Tai Solarin, who swore by Jove that the story was impeccably true. What was it all about? It turned out that this tale was what he had learnt from a brief but hasty trip to a public toilet where he had overheard a conversation in which the lurid allegations were made.

It was reported that while Nigerians were being asked to tighten their belts and lives, Babangida’s family allegedly owned some of the most exclusive and expensive boutiques in Europe. Since there was no social media to help project, propel and distribute the gossip, the promoters had to improvise by typing the tales by moonlight on stencils and printing them as leaflets.

Unlike today, that was a time when we had no social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, it therefore remains a mystery how they were able to make those leaflets go so viral in 1989. From Lagos to Edo State and around the South West axis, the stories developed wings and began to spread across Nigeria like wildfire in harmattan. The more people tried to douse the fire, the higher the fire took a major leap of its life. And sadly, people believed the campaign of calumny against the government of the day which led to the youths taking to the roads and streets screaming “Babangida must go…” Anyone who said anything contrary was instantly considered an enemy of the people and friends of the looters. The situation was not so much different as it is today, but social media has since made such stories readily available to a willing, gullible and sometimes ignorant market.

I was away from our office at the Weekend Concord newspaper when the news broke on a horrible Wednesday. I returned on Friday afternoon by which time the first edition of the tabloid had gone to bed and already printed. The screaming headline was BLACK WEDNESDAY IN LAGOS. I immediately disagreed with my boss, Mr Mike Awoyinfa, that the headline was rather weak for a Saturday paper. He then challenged me to come up with a better headline and I picked up the challenge and came up with my own: RUMOURS THAT FUELLED THE RIOTS! My Editor was over the moon with his Deputy Editor, Mr Dimgba Igwe (now of blessed memory).

The next problem was how to write a good story to justify my new headline without getting into trouble with the military government of the day. Trust me, I offered to be the lamb of God who would carry the sins of the world. Interestingly, this was 30 years ago, in 1989. I ordered a bottle of beer and raised one of my legs on the table while I pumped the alcohol into my brains to emit some powerful words for one of the biggest stories of my journalism career. That was when the famous columnist, May Ellen Ezekiel, who had just lost her job at Quality magazine and was now working on her own publication, Classique magazine, but kept a column in Weekend Concord, which I edited, sauntered in and saw me drinking while writing. First it was strange, and almost sacrilegious, to find anyone drinking in the main offices of Concord newspapers, except at the popular Bush Canteen, earmarked for such purpose, and then to be writing a satanic story at that. May Ellen approached me and said “shuo, what’s going on here?” I explained the delicate story I was working on and she was excited too. That was the day her respect for me quadrupled and she started making moves to headhunt and poach me to her magazine, to which I fell yakata about a year later.

Fortunately, that evening, our Chairman, Chief Moshood Abiola, returned from a trip to Europe and brought us copies of the Ebony magazines which was allegedly supposed to have carried the stories of the Babangida’s outlandish ownerships of expensive shops and choice properties abroad while Nigerians languished in excruciating pains. Nothing of the sort was ever published by Ebony. That was not the type of gossipy stuff Ebony would normally disseminate. So, I first regurgitated all the fictional anecdotes before revealing that we had laid our hands on recent editions of Ebony and nothing of the sort was contained therein. And we published a bromide of the Ebony on the cover to prove the authenticity of our claims. I believe our second edition on Saturday morning reportedly sold over 80,000 copies in Lagos and its environ alone. And I earned a double promotion that May 1989, when I moved straight from Staff Writer to Literary editor. Six months later, I was promoted News Editor, and it was such a meteoric rise for me. Our Managing Director, Dr Doyinsola Hamdat Abiola, who had handpicked me for the job at weekend Concord as a pioneer staff, from my former post at the African Concord magazine, was very proud of her decision.

Thus, you can imagine how I feel today, 30 years after, with another round of incredible fictionalisation, this time, about a former military ruler, now a civilian President, Muhammadu Buhari. The difference this time, I must reiterate is that the youths of today are much more audaciously creative, and largely emboldened by their smartphones from where they can operate even more clandestinely and incognito.

No one knows how the rumours of President Buhari’s supposed whirlwind romance with one of his new Ministers surfaced and blew out of proportion such that everyone is talking about it authoritatively. Different versions of invitation cards have been designed and printed online. Some people claimed the wedding was definitely taking place and procured their own “aso ebi”, a special uniform dress for special guests, friends and relatives. By Thursday night, I had reached out to several impeccable sources within and outside the Presidential villa and was told categorically that no such event would take place on Friday, October 11, 2019. I also confirmed that the supposed bride was not even anywhere near Nigeria. She was away overseas on national assignments.

But some new videos, purportedly showing the supposed arrival of the reportedly estranged First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari, who has made England her new home and base these past months, were going viral. One of them was a loud voice lamenting how some parts of the villa had been locked up and the woman in the video was practically stridently lamenting and soliloquising about how she was being treated shabbily. “Enough is enough” was her bitter assertion in that particular video. There were other videos of the new bride dancing and being sprayed with crispy notes in what looked like a traditional wedding party. All the videos of the alleged returnee wife and the supposed incoming bride turned out to be old footage obtained from God knows where and how.

My investigations further revealed that the First Lady was also out of the country. I therefore, tweeted that there was no way such a wedding would take place in secret, but many still disagreed with me. President Buhari is a man well known for his strong convictions and would not hide behind one finger, if and when he decides to take another wife. It is not an offence against his culture and religion to marry more than more wife, so there is nothing that can stop or discourage him, if he really wants another wife. What I find odd and strange is that his handlers allowed the silly rumours to fester beyond redemption. A simple statement would have killed the unbridled rumour in its infancy.

By yesterday afternoon, the rumour came up with renewed vigour as the day of reckoning loomed with some people running commentaries like football commentators from the “wedding venue”. I have never felt so entertained and titillated in my life. My name even came into one of these spoofs. These guys are downright hilarious!

Someone created the account, Uncle Demola @OmoGbajabiamila, and ran this commentary:

“Burna Boy is giving us ‘when the gbedu de enter body’ “…

“Oshiomhole don off shirt.”

“LMFAOOOooo… Chris Ngige is doing breakdance to Burna Boy’s song. Anambra people can disappoint sha!”

“Adebayo Shittu is finally here.”

“When Baba see strippers, E just de shout ‘Astagafurillahi, Astagafurillahi, Astagafurillahi!’ “

“I’m hearing noise outside. Let me go and check what’s happening.”

“There is a serious problem outside between Rochas and DSS.”

“Apparently, Rochas Okorocha came with a giant statue of Buhari and he wants to bring it inside but the DSS guys won’t allow it. Where’s Abba Kyari FFS???

Rochas just came in and he’s complaining bitterly about the DSS guys not allowing him bring the statue in.”

“Wait! Dino Melaye has been allowed to enter as Naira Marley’s backup singer. Smart man!” #BUSA19

“Naira Marley has not even started singing, Lauretta Onochie is already twerking… DSS, heissss DSS. Do your job naaau!”

“Shehu Sani is on low cut. Baba wan disguise enter. ABBA Kyari catch am. DSS is taking him away already!”

“Apparently, someone told Dele Momodu that the party had been called off. So, he didn’t bother to come. Baba dey Twitter now de lament as e see say groove don begin.”

“LMFAOOOOooo… ABBA Kyari don bounce Dino Melaye.”

“Elrufai don show!!!”

“Goodluck Jonathan came with his own Sapele water. Ijaw man himself. Hennessy na like Sprite for am.”

“Garba Shehu de in charge of Barbecue.”

“Be like Femi Adeshina de suspension.”

“…Dem don wake Ganduje, make E come go sleep upstairs. Be like Baba don de snore.”

“Amaechi and Wike are also here but the two of them are on handcuffs so that there won’t be any fighting between them.”

“Akeredolu with this his baggy trousers sha. Who is his tailor nitori Olorun?”

“Buhari has collected the mic from Naira Marley. Looks like he doesn’t like the Soapy song. Not sure Abike Dabiri will like this!”

“Rauf Aregbesola is drinking Malt.”

“Fashola is calling NEPA boys to bring light. Be like fuel don low for gen and Mele Kyari nor remember to buy fuel.”

“Femi Gbajabiamila is here on a Gucci up and down. Iyalaya anybody!”

“Femi Otedola and Dangote are forming big boys. Nonsense!”

“I think I have been reported. The DSS guys are looking at me wan kain…” That’s the narrator, Uncle Demola himself.

For me, that was the height of comic relief that attended this silliness and maybe it came at the right time of acute stress everywhere. It certainly alleviated my feeling of gloom and doom. The solution is certainly not to ban or criminalise fake news. That was not done in 1989 by the more authoritarian, dictatorial military regime of Ibrahim Babangida. It should not be done now, when we are in a constitutional civilian democracy! For me, as a journalist, the freedom of speech guaranteed by the constitution is sacrosanct and, in any event, there are extant laws available to deal with any abuse or infraction. Any new law will only be used by those keen to muzzle critics and presumed opponents of government like the so-called “wailing wailers”!

My conclusion is that nothing can ever shock Nigerians again so that even if this story had been true, we would have taken it in our stride. Our proclivity for absorbing shocks is infinitesimal. The world is waiting and watching how alleged family feuds, rebellion and relationships involving the leadership, domestic and other staff would end eventually.

Will this national drama ever lead to a denouement? Time will tell.

The post Pendulum : Social Media And President Buhari’s Imaginary Wedding Of The Century By Dele Momodu appeared first on TheNigerialawyer.

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Not to be underestimated: Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card review


If you qualify for Bank of America Preferred Rewards, the Bank of America®️ Premium Rewards®️ Visa®️ credit card has the potential to be quite a lucrative card to use on everyday spending. For those who prefer other banks, there are better earning travel cards available. Card Rating*: ⭐⭐⭐½

*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.

I’ll be honest. I haven’t always been a fan of Bank of America credit cards. Though affordable with low or nonexistent annual fees, most lacked the perks that I’ve always associated with my favorite cards. However, the more familiar I get with the Preferred Banking Rewards program (and the more useful fixed-value points currencies become), the more I see the benefits of having a Bank of America card.

This card isn’t like other products that have $450 annual fees and a ton of perks; this card has a modest $95 annual fee and a more modest selection of benefits. Still, it offers great flexibility in redeeming points and yields extraordinary earn rates if you can maximize BofA’s Preferred Banking Rewards program.

In This Post

Who is this card for?

The Premium Rewards credit card has wide appeal to both points fans and credit card novices. It might not have the most lucrative points or numerous transfer partners, but what it does offer is flexibility.

I think of it as a stress-free travel card, since points are worth 1 cent apiece no matter what you redeem them for — you don’t have to worry about getting the maximum value out of every point, which can sometimes be time-consuming and frustrating.

If you like the idea of redeeming your points as a statement credit against big purchases that aren’t covered by points — such as new luggage or a TV — then this would be the card to get. You can redeem points for any purchase, whether it’s a flight, a new car or an over-the-top dinner. The points function essentially like cash.

The Premium Rewards card is also a strong option for those who tend to spend in broad bonus categories like travel and dining (2x and up with this card), but who also want solid rewards (1.5x and up) for non-category bonus spend.

The earning rate is even better if you’re already a Bank of America customer and can maximize the Preferred Rewards Program (more on that later).

It’s also a great choice for semi-frequent travelers since it comes with valuable perks like an up to $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit, an up to $100 airline credit, trip delay/cancellation insurance, baggage loss/delay insurance and no foreign transaction fees, so you won’t be hit with any surprise charges when using your card abroad.

Further reading: Is the Bank of America Premium Rewards card worth the $95 annual fee? 

Modest but valuable welcome bonus

With the Premium Rewards card, you’ll receive 50,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. These points have a fixed value of 1 cent each, meaning that 50,000 points are worth $500. This far from the most lucrative bonus out there, but $500 can go a long way towards airfare, hotel costs or anything in between.

When you consider that BofA is essentially paying you $5 every year (after you redeem the up to $100 airline credit) to have this card, you’re basically getting $500 for free just for signing up and meeting the minimum spend. Use the sign-up bonus to treat yourself to something extravagant, like a helicopter or private jet ride on Blade.

The sign-up bonus alone is worth enough to get me 2.5 trips on Blade Bounce in NYC. (Photo by Blade)

While Bank of America doesn’t have any published restrictions that apply specifically to earning welcome bonuses, remember that it does have a 2/3/4 rule when it comes to card applications. You can only get approved for two Bank of America cards in a two-month period, three cards in a 12-month period and four cards in a 24-month period.

There have also been recent reports of a threshold similar to Chase’s 5/24 rule that limits how many cards across issuers you can get within a year in order to be approved for a new BoA card, though the exact threshold is uncertain and Bank of America has not confirmed the existence of a set policy.

Perks and benefits

While the Premium Rewards card doesn’t hold a candle to top-tier cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express, it does come with a nice set of perks for the low annual fee — a lot more than basically any other mid-tier card out there. Here are my favorite perks and their value:

$100 airline incidental credit. This credit works like the Amex airline fee credit in that you can only use it for purchases such as seat upgrades, baggage fees, in-flight services and lounge fees (though not airfare). You receive the credit every year and if you’re able to use the full amount, you’re essentially getting paid $5 a year to be a cardholder. Unfortunately, it’s not as flexible as the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s travel credit or the Citi Prestige’s air travel credit, but it’s still a great benefit for someone who travels a few times a year. It only works on certain domestic airlines but it’s processed automatically, so you don’t have to call in and apply it to a certain purchase.

Global Entry. I love having Global Entry — it’s saved me from standing in countless hours of security and customs lines. Premium Rewards cardmembers get an up to $100 credit (every four years) that can be applied toward purchasing Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. It’s surprising that this card offers a Global Entry credit, as that’s usually only offered by top-tier rewards cards with higher annual fees (although the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is another mid-tier card that offers this benefit). And if you’re already part of the program, you can still use the credit for a friend or family member’s application.

Trip insurance. It’s always important to have trip insurance since you never know when your travel plans will go awry. This card provides reimbursement of up to $5,000 per person, per trip, for any unused, prepaid, non-refundable travel expenses including passenger fares, tours and hotels if you have to cancel due to a covered reason. And if your flight is delayed for more than 12 hours, you’re eligible for reimbursement of $500 in expenses per ticket. With many issuers ditching trip insurance, this benefit continues to be a compelling reason to use this card to book travel.

Baggage delay/loss insurance: Similar to trip insurance, you’ll be eligible for protection if your baggage is lost, stolen or damaged. This provides up to $100 per day (up to five days) when your bag is delayed for more than six hours. If your luggage is stolen or lost by a travel provider, you’ll be eligible for reimbursement for the contents of the bag.

IMG-Away-Luggage
If your bag is lost, stolen or damaged, the card’s protection plan will help pay to replace all of your items. (Photo courtesy of Away)

Purchase protection. I’ve used purchased protection many times and it’s saved me thousands of dollars over the last year — Amex paid me $1,400 for a broken watch and my Sapphire Reserve reimbursed me $2,600 for a painting that was damaged in transit. You’ll get similar protection with the Premium Rewards card, which will repair, replace or reimburse you up to $10,000 for lost or damaged items purchased on the card. If you want to return an item within 90 days of purchase but the retailer won’t accept the return, you can submit your receipt and be reimbursed up to $250 (up to $1,000 annually).

Rental car insurance. Last, this card will give you secondary coverage when renting a car — meaning it will kick in only after you’ve filed a claim with your personal insurance. While not as good as many of Chase’s cards that offer primary coverage, it’s pretty good for a no-annual fee card (after maximizing the airline credit).

Further reading: Reasons to get the Bank of America Premium Rewards card

Earn points

With this card, you’re earning 2x points on travel and dining and 1.5x point on everything else. Travel and dining are defined broadly, meaning there are a lot of expenses that can qualify for double points. The real value for me personally is the 1.5x on everyday spending. As a member of the Preferred Rewards program, you can earn up an impressive 2.625x on non-bonus spending. That’s higher than any flat-rate card out there.

The Premium Rewards card doesn’t earn traditional points or miles that can be transferred and redeemed with travel partners but rather acts more like a cash-back card with huge earning potential. I honestly never thought I’d be thinking about cash back, but as airlines have devalued frequent flyer programs, the idea seems more appealing.

Although we value most airline miles at more than 1 cent each, that’s mainly based on being able to find premium cabin saver seats. With it becoming harder and harder to get good value out of points and miles, that’s where this card can come in handy.

As I mentioned earlier, points are flexible with the Premium Rewards card; you can use them on anything — airlines, the gym, etc. — essentially anywhere that accepts Visa. Your points can go toward paying for those purchases (as a statement credit) and the credit posts automatically.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
With the Premium Rewards card, you can earn up to 3.5x on hotel stays — including getaways to the W Aspen Hotel pictured here. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Further reading: How I earned and redeemed with BoA Premium Rewards 

Redeem points

Another thing I like about this card is that it’s zero stress and consumes very little time. You don’t need to jump through hoops to find award availability and you don’t have to go to a specific portal if you want to use your points to pay for your gym. Since points are worth the same no matter what you redeem for, you’re not penalized for redeeming for cash back. You just redeem for whatever you want.

There a few ways to redeem points:

  • Cash back — You can receive cash back as a statement credit or deposit it into an eligible BofA checking or savings, Merrill or 529 college savings account
  • Travel purchases — You can book flights directly through the BofA travel portal. This is a good way to redeem points because you’ll still be eligible to earn award miles and elite credits by flying on a paid ticket (although personally I’d recommend buying directly from the carrier because sometimes when buying through a travel portal you’ll get a lower fare class).
  • Gift cards — A final option allows for converting points into gift cards at popular merchants such as Amazon, Whole Foods and Starbucks. I wouldn’t plan on going this route since it’d be smarter to just purchase the items and redeem your points as a statement credit in case you have to return the item.

I especially love that you can convert points directly into cash that can go straight into a 529 college savings account. Last year, I converted the points from my sign-up bonus and deposited them directly into 529 accounts for my nieces and nephews. From there, I used my points as statement credits against BLADE trips to my office, which saved me hours of time.

And if you’re solely focused on travel rewards, this card can cover travel expenses that you can’t redeem miles for, like offsetting surcharges on an award ticket or amazing experiences on the ground.

Jack Skellington from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” hosts the new “Disney’s Not So Spooky Spectacular” fireworks show at Magic Kingdom Park. This spellbinding display of state-of-the-art projection effects, lasers, lighting and dazzling fireworks will delight guests during Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, a separately ticketed event held on select nights Aug. 16-Nov. 1, 2019, at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (David Roark, photographer)
Because points are always worth one cent each, you can use points to pay for travel experiences like your tickets to Disney World for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. (Photo by David Roark)

Originally when I heard that points were worth only 1 cent each, I was a bit disappointed. But it’s honestly nice that I don’t have to jump through hoops to find award availability and I don’t have to feel bad about redeeming these points for maximum value. I can use them whenever and for whatever I want.

Further reading: How to redeem points using the BoA Premium Rewards card 

Using the Preferred Rewards program to your advantage

To get the best value out of your Bank of America cards, you need to understand Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program. Those who hold considerable assets in eligible BofA or Merrill accounts — including retirement or investment accounts — are eligible for increased rewards when spending on the Premium Rewards card. To enroll in BofA Preferred Rewards you’ll need:

An eligible Bank of America personal checking account and a 3-month average combined balance of $20,000 or more in a Bank of America account and/or Merrill investment accounts.

There are three tiers in Preferred Rewards, and your tier is based on how much money you have in your accounts. This will determine your earning with the Premium Rewards card.

Spend Categories Regular Cardholder Tier 1 – Gold ($20,000 – $50,000) Tier 2 – Platinum ($50,000 – $100,000) Tier 3 – Platinum Honors ($100,000+)
Travel/Dining Earnings 2x points 2.5x points 3x points 3.5x points
Other Earnings 1.5x points 1.875x points 2.25x points  2.625x points

At the base level of 2x points on travel and dining and 1.5x points on everything else, the card is pretty standard. It’s good, but the Citi® Double Cash Card and Fidelity Rewards Visa Signature Card are cash-back cards with higher earning rates on everyday spend and no annual fees (though those cards don’t come with any perks).

But the numbers get pretty spectacular when you’re able to get 2.625x points on everyday spend and 3.5x points if you meet the highest banking threshold. That said, I’ll still probably put most of my travel and dining spend on my Sapphire Reserve because I value Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents each — meaning I get 6x points (toward travel per dollar spent). But 3.5x points back on travel and dining and 2.625x points on everything else for those who don’t value travel as much as I do — and want flexibility when redeeming points — is quite strong.

airline

The way I see it is that if you can maximize Preferred Rewards, you’re essentially getting a no-annual-fee card (after using the airline credit) that gives you 3.5x on travel and dining and 2.625x on everything else. If you’re looking for a straight cash-back card, no other card comes close to that.

The moment I heard of this card, I immediately moved $100,000 into a Merrill investment account so I could start qualifying for Platinum Honors. BofA also allows the option to roll over an existing 401(k) account into a Merrill retirement account, so that this could be an easy way to qualify for Preferred Rewards.

Further reading: Stop ignoring the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program 

Bottom line

In general, this card is about diversifying your stock of points and using them for the purchases that normal airline miles or credit card points can’t cover. It’s great if you want to use your points to splurge on a crazy watch or piece of jewelry. Or you can be generous and use the points to better your family.

It’s also an interesting option for small business owners — I know a lot of doctors and executives, and at a certain point there is mileage overload where they have too many Amex points and physically can’t redeem all of them for travel (because that is the best way to redeem MR points). So if you own your own business, this card can offer 2.625x points on all of your spend and 3.5x points on all travel and dining, which you can easily redeem for cold hard cash.

For those who have been eyeing a straight-up cash-back card, this could be your best option. Simply put, it’ll be improving your bottom line — either for you personally or for your business. You don’t have to waste time figuring out how to get the most value out of your points, as the stress-free redemptions make this an easy card to manage.

BofA is obviously telling customers that they will be rewarded with its Preferred Rewards program if they move their assets to BofA. On top of the earning and redeeming possibilities, it comes with a solid sign-up bonus and some pretty nice perks, which are worth far more than the card’s annual fee. For these reasons, I continue to be excited to have status with Preferred Rewards banking and the Bank of America®️ Premium Rewards®️ Visa®️ credit card in my wallet.

Official Application Link: Apply for the Bank of America Premium Rewards Visa Credit Card 

Additional reporting by Madison Blancaflor.

Featured photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy.

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How my son went from gamer to compulsive gambler

The NHS has opened its first clinic for young people addicted to gaming and gambling, a year after a Gambling Commission report found that 55,000 11-to-16-year-olds in the UK were problem gamblers. For some the path to gambling begins with playing online games, as the BBC’s Becky Milligan heard from the father of one young man now getting help for his addiction.

“Not in a million years, not in a million years did I think that gaming could lead to compulsive gambling.”

Steve is sitting on a bench in a churchyard. He’s agreed to talk to me about his son’s gambling addiction. He’s nervous, he hasn’t done an interview before and I can feel his anxiety.

His son, now in his early 20s, is in recovery and doing well, “but we take one day at a time” he says.

“We’ve had a terrible three years. We wouldn’t want anyone to go through what we have gone through. When we first discovered our son had the compulsive gambling disorder we didn’t know what to do.”

I tell Steve that I’ve spoken to other parents whose children have developed gambling disorders, and they also paid off the debts at first, not realising the extent of their children’s addiction.

“We thought this was just a little glitch, this is what kids do,” one father told me. And that’s what Steve thought at first.

He and his wife had known for some time that their son enjoyed having the odd bet. But lots of their friends enjoyed a flutter and it didn’t seem to be out of the ordinary.

A year later, though, Steve was shocked to find out his son was gambling with other people’s money and losing large amounts.

“It was online roulette. That was his downfall,” he tells me.

Now Steve realised it was a very serious problem. He and his wife didn’t know what to do. They began to isolate themselves, avoid going out or seeing friends. They were worried what people would say.

“We were pretty helpless. We didn’t know which way to turn. We spent months finding the answers and doing our own research,” Steve says.

Last year, he and his wife went to a GamAnon meeting for families. Earlier this year his son also began to get help.

Steve has had a few months to do a great deal of research and he now believes his son’s addiction was sparked when he was 12 or 13 and was obsessed with playing online games, particularly football games.

He would play for hours and hours in his bedroom, Steve tells me, and all his mates were into to it as well. Steve didn’t really understand what the games were about, let alone the new technology the games used. And anyway, at least his son was occupied, he says.

“We all want an easy life, a quiet life. Parents can be lazy. If he was playing upstairs I would think, ‘It’s not doing any harm is it?'”

Steve now thinks that the football games promoted habits, including spending hours online, that “developed into gambling”.

Crucially, Steve’s son was encouraged to pay for extra products, such as “ultimate team packs”.

The identities of the players in these packs would only be revealed once he had paid, which Steve says introduced his son to the “thrill of gambling”, the game of chance and risk – including the chance of acquiring a star player who would make him unbeatable.

Steve thinks the difference between online gaming and gambling is very subtle, and that those children who excessively game online, like his son, are at risk of becoming compulsive gamblers later in life. It doesn’t matter, he says, whether the game involves winning or losing real money.

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a psychiatrist at the new NHS treatment centre, says no link between gaming-related activities “that may be toxic for young people” and gambling has yet been established. It’s currently a “big controversial conversation”, she says.

“I believe so little is known in this country about both these behavioural addictions in children, that we need to hear it on the ground, we need to understand what these people are doing then work with policy makers, politicians and public health professionals to change the environment they live in,” she told the BBC.


It has been a very hard few years for Steve and his family. He recently decided to leave his teaching job and set up a charity, GamFam, to help other parents who might be in a similar position.

However complicated it is, Steve says that parents need to know what their children are doing online, they need to become the experts in order to protect them.

“Do research, put the barriers in place, take control of the device, set up family time. Screen [the child’s activity] so that you are in control of what’s going on. And most importantly do not have any of your credit cards, debit cards linked to the account,” he says.

“There are horror stories where children are spending excessive amounts of money on in-game purchases. Many of these games promote themselves as free games but the loot boxes in the games [are not].”

Like the “ultimate team packs” that Steve’s son used to buy, loot boxes may contain virtual items such as weapons or shields that help a player win the game – and gamers don’t know what’s in them until they have bought them.

MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee recently recommended that the sale of loot boxes should be regulated as gambling, and that selling them to children should be banned entirely.

In a statement to the BBC, the association for UK interactive entertainment, Ukie, echoed Steve’s call for parents to monitor their children’s behaviour online.

“Alongside robust age-ratings for games, all major consoles and mobile devices offer smart and simple parental controls. Above all, we recommend that parents and carers engage directly with players, talk to them about the games they are playing and even join in,” the statement said.

Wes Himes, chief executive of the Remote Gambling Association, said it was very difficult for children to get through the verification process to gamble online. He added that the industry was not allowed to advertise near schools, or to target under-25s with its advertising.

Steve Ginnis of Ipsos Mori, however, told the BBC that focus groups conducted by his company showed that children and young people found aspects of existing gambling advertisements appealing – “in terms of promotional offers and use of celebrities and presenting it as fun or skilful”.


‘Part of the game’

Stewart Kenny, the Paddy Power founder who resigned in 2016 over what he saw as the failure to tackle problem gambling, says advertising is “normalising” gambling for children, and that it has become “nearly part of the game” when watching football.

“That is dangerous, because it is promoted by well-known people, it’s a constant barrage of advertising they see it before, during and after the match… It’s become normal for children to think gambling and soccer are the same thing.”


Steve says his family is now doing better. His son’s last bet was in February. They are not ashamed any more about what happened, but in order to protect his son, Steve doesn’t want to give his full name.

He hopes his new charity will be able to visit schools and talk to parents.

Steve says the problem of children’s gambling addiction has to be addressed. If nothing is done, he believes we will have an “epidemic on our hands of catastrophic proportions”.

At present, he says, the only help these youngsters have got is their parents.

“For me, if I don’t do this now, then I will never do it, I feel it is a calling, I need to do, I need to be putting the message out there and support the parents. I wouldn’t wish what we have been through on my worst enemy.”

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