In the depth of the financial and economic crisis that was causing misery across much of southern Europe, particularly in 2011, I set off on a reporting trip that contained the germ of what, nearly a decade later, would find expression in This is Europe.
A significant new commitment to deepen the Guardian’s coverage of Europe, This is Europe is a new editorial strand aiming to explore the challenges confronting the continent, that respect no national borders, and how countries are responding to them.
Europe on the Breadline, a four-country road trip in search of some of the human stories behind the impersonal data of the eurozone crisis, took me from food banks and protest marches in Lisbon to the birth of a national citizens’ movement in Málaga.
In Naples I met a youth worker whose projects with children in difficulty had been hammered by austerity; in Thessaloniki, a professor whose research budget had been slashed by 60% – and a young start-upper determined to succeed regardless.
That series, which led to a second one, this time confined to Greece, talking to those Greeks who were organising to help themselves, was an early attempt at the kind of transnational reporting implied in my current job title – and which This is Europe now aims to take a good deal further.
The whole idea of transnational reporting (journalisme sans frontières, anyone?) recognises that media organisations tend to report the EU from the institutions in Brussels, and from member states in isolation.
Only occasionally have we tried to make sense of issues across Europe – from the climate crisis to data security, migration to the rise of the far right, the working poor to caring for an ageing population, tax avoidance to the urban/rural divide.
It is an issue I have always been aware of, and tried to address before the paper created the role of roving Europe correspondent in 2016.
In 2013, I went back to Thessaloniki and Málaga – with a stop-off in Bologna – to talk to members of southern Europe’s “lost generation”: the 59%, 56% and 40% of under-25s who were then out of work in, respectively, Greece, Spain and in Italy.
In 2014 I made a tour of the populist, Eurosceptic and mainly far-right parties in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland that were looking to make major gains in the run-up to the European parliamentary elections of that year.
In 2015, we tried a different approach: for an article published on international labour day, 1 May, about workers taking over their factories, I reported from southern France and Greece, and Guardian colleagues contributed pieces from Spain and Turkey.
In similar efforts, for packages in 2018 and this year on the far-reaching impact of the rise of short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb, and overtourism in general, on Europe’s most historic cities, I wrote about Amsterdam and colleagues covered Berlin, Barcelona, Florence and Prague.
But all of this has really only been a taster of what we could accomplish, and, over the past three years, my time – and that of many of our correspondents – has been massively taken up by Brexit, leaving precious little bandwidth to think of much else. This is Europe aims to rectify that.
Why is it transnational reporting important? Because it is only when you start comparing and contrasting how different countries are experiencing the same challenges, and how they are addressing them, that you start to see who is doing well, who has developed best practice.
It allows you, for example, to discover that perhaps surprisingly, Finland leads the way in tackling both fake news and homelessness. That France has a hugely successful consumers’ cooperative that is beginning to ensure farmers get paid a fair price for the food they produce.
And that while it may represent a potentially existential challenge to winemakers in Bordeaux, global heating represents a startling opportunity for their colleagues – and, in the not too distant future, rivals – in Scandinavia.
This is Europe: a new Guardian series
This is Europe is a new stream of Guardian journalism that investigates the big challenges that transcend national boundaries, and seeks out the solutions that could benefit us all. These are testing times, and crises are not limited by national borders. But then neither are we.
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Migration, climate, populism and contagious diseases are continent-wide problems. When we report on them through a pan-European lens, we not only understand the challenges better but can tease out solutions wherever they crop up: health in Denmark, for example, or teenage wellbeing in the Netherlands.
We’ve been talking about something similar to This is Europe for years at the Guardian, and now we’re doing it.
It’s a shame Brexit had to happen first, of course. But if we can now report Europe as Europe – as a continent rising (we hope) individually and collectively to the cross-border challenges it faces – more concretely and more informatively, that will be a small consolation.
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The General Election result meant a lot of things but it also ensured the continuation of Universal Credit.
Campaigners had been hoping for an end to the controversial scheme, with Labour promising to scrap Universal Credit altogether.
However, there will still be a number of changes to the benefits system this year – some of which will be good news for claimants, reports BirminghamLive .
Here’s the timetable of what will be happening – see how it will affect you.
1. April 2020 – End of benefit freeze
The end to the benefit freeze would mean Universal Credit and other working age benefits rising by 1.7 per cent from April 2020.
The freeze was brought in by the Tories and came into effect from April 2016. It has meant that most benefits and tax credits have not gone up in line with inflation for four years.
Other benefits that have been frozen but are now set to rise are Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), income support, housing benefit, child tax credits, working tax credits and child benefit.
The increase means someone on £1,000 a month in benefits will get an extra £17, equivalent to £204 over a year. Those receiving £500 a month get an extra £8.50.
But according to think-tank the Resolution Foundation, families will still be hundreds of pounds a year worse off due to the past five years of bills rising while benefits have remained at the same level.
The Resolution Foundation’s Adam Corlett said: “While the benefit freeze is over, its impact is here to stay with a lower income couple with kids £580 a year worse off as a result.”
2. April 2020 – Pension changes
The Government also said the state pension – which has not been frozen – will increase by 3.9 per cent.
This is expected to be announced in the Budget.
It means retired Brits are in line for £5.05 a week extra on the ‘old’ basic state pension and £6.60 a week on the ‘new’ state pension.
The bad news is that the adult dependency payment is being stopped in April, which could mean thousands of pensions cut by £70 a week.
In addition, the qualifying age for men and women will rise to 66 in October 2020.
It means anyone born after October 5, 1954, will have a state pension age of at least 66.
And there will be further rises too. The Conservatives have set out plans to increase the state pension age to 67 by 2028 and 68 by 2039.
3. April 2020 – Disability benefit changes
The Scottish Government is taking on responsibility for disability benefits from April 1 and will implement changes after that.
In summer 2020, Social Security Scotland will open to claims for the brand new Disability Assistance for Children and Young People, which is Scotland’s replacement for Child Disability Living Allowance.
By the end of 2020, Social Security Scotland will also open to claims for the new Disability Assistance for Older People. This is the Scottish replacement for Attendance Allowance and is for people over the state pension age who need someone to help look after them because of a disability or long-term illness.
Also by the end of 2020, children who receive the highest care component of Disability Assistance will be entitled to Winter Heating Assistance.
Further changes will come in 2021, including PIP being replaced by Disability Assistance for Working Age People and Carer’s Allowance being replaced by Carer’s Assistance.
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville says the system will have a redesigned application process and significantly fewer face to face assessments.
There will be rolling awards with no set end points and those with fluctuating health conditions will not face additional reviews due to changes in their needs.
She said: ““Since the Social Security Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament in June , progress has been swift.
““Our next priority is delivering payments for disabled people, as this is where we can make the most meaningful difference for the largest number of people.
“We have a duty to quickly reform the parts of the current system which cause stress, anxiety and pain. And I have been moved by the personal stories I have heard, many of which criticise the penalising assessment process.”
Around half a million cases – the equivalent of around 10 per cent of people in Scotland – will transfer from DWP to Social Security Scotland in 2020.
Ms Somerville added: “This is not simply a case of turning off one switch and turning on another. For the first time in its history, our agency will be making regular payments, direct to people’s bank accounts and our systems need to work seamlessly with those of the DWP.
“It is therefore essential we have a system that is fully operational for those making new claims and ensure we protect everyone and their payments as their cases are transferred – that is what those who rely on social security support have told us they want. We must work to a timetable that reflects the importance of moving quickly but not putting people’s payments at risk.”
During the transfer no-one will have to reapply for benefits, no claims will be reassessed and payments will be protected.
She added: “The timetable I have set out is ambitious but realistic and at all points protects people and their payments. I have seen the mess the DWP has made when transferring people to PIP and introducing Universal Credit, and we will not make the same mistakes.
“There is much hard work to be done but the prize is great – a social security system with dignity, fairness and respect at its heart and which works for the people of Scotland.”
4. June 2020 – TV licence changes
Free TV Licences, funded by the Government, for all those aged 75 and over will come to an end in June. So you can get a free licence up to May 31, 2020.
From June 1, a new scheme means you can only carry on getting a free licence if you – or your partner – are receiving Pension Credit.
If not, you’ll have to fork out the cost of a TV licence – which is £154.50 per year for a colour TV, and £52 for black and white. You can choose to pay monthly (£12.87 a month), quarterly (£39.87 every three months) or yearly.
So it’s worth checking if you can get Pension Credit to avoid the licence fee.
Pension Credit is a top-up benefit payment available if you or your partner have reached state pension age, or if one of you is getting housing benefit for people over pension age. You get more if you’re responsible for a child or young person who lives with you and is under the age of 20.
There are two elements to Pension Credit. Guarantee Credit tops up your weekly income if it’s below £167.25 (for single people) or £255.25 (for couples), while Savings Credit is an extra payment for people who saved some money towards their retirement and is up to £13.73 for single people and up to £15.35 for couples.
The Pension Service helpline is available on 0800 731 0469. Call Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm. Calls to 0800 numbers are free.
5. July 2020 – Universal Credit transition protection extended
From July 22, claimants are to get an additional two weeks of income-related Jobseekers Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, or Income Support if they receive one of these benefits when moving across to Universal Credit.
Universal Credit is intended to replace six existing benefits in total.
People are transferred on to UC if their circumstances change – such as moving home or having a child. This is called natural migration.
Everyone else on the six old benefits will have to move across in a managed migration scheme by the DWP that is set to be completed by December 2023 and is currently being tried out in Harrogate from July 2019 to July 2020.
Normally, existing benefits are terminated when a Universal Credit claim begins but the Government has amended the rules to allows a “two-week run-on” of the three benefits named above.
6. September 2020 – Universal Credit change for self employed
The DWP works out Universal Credit for self-employed people using what’s called a Minimum Income Floor (MIF).
This is roughly equivalent to the national minimum wage for each hour the claimant is expected to work.
It can mean Universal Credit is calculated on a higher level of earnings than you were actually paid.
However, this Minimum Income Floor is not applied to those who started a business within the past 12 months .
And from September 2020, this 12-month exclusion period will also not apply to “those who are naturally migrated in self-employment and all those existing UC claimants who become new gainfully self-employed.”
‘Naturally migrated’ means switched across to Universal Credit because of a change in circumstances.
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The sudden death of a ‘wonderful’ councillor has shocked officers and local politicians in Sandwell.
Cllr Bob Lloyd’s passing on Saturday has been described as ‘tragic’ by council leader Yvonne Davies who said he was a wonderful man who had worked tirelessly for his Wednesbury ward.
Saying the news was a bolt of the blue, she added: “I think everybody, including myself is still in shock and it is very difficult to come to terms with.
“He was universally loved. Everyone who met him says what a gentleman he was and he was a peace keeper. He always tried to keep everyone working together positively. He was a joy to work with.
“He was always positive, he was always able to find the humour in things and was always reaching out to help others.
“He really was a wonderful, wonderful man and I can’t begin to think how his family must be utterly devastated.”
Cllr Lloyd was first elected to the council in 2014 and as the cabinet member for inclusive economic growth had responsibility for job creation.
He was a driving force behind proposals to revitalise town centres in Sandwell and was set to announce development plans for West Bromwich town centre at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting.
His passing was marked on social media by friends, colleagues and political rivals.
Cllr Richard Jones, posted on twitter: “I am devastated that my friend Bob Lloyd suddenly passed away this weekend. He was one of the best ones and will be sadly missed but rest assured not forgotten.”
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The Sandwell Conservative Federation adding their condolences to his family, posted: “We are shocked and saddened to hear about the passing of Cllr Bob Lloyd. Bob was a community champion and a decent man and his passing will be a huge loss to the Labour movement in Sandwell.”
A spokesperson for Sandwell council said Cllr Lloyd is survived by two children and a grandchild.
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Two North East hospitals have been voted among the best places in England to give birth as the region once again outperformed the rest of the country in a survey of new mothers.
The annual maternity services poll – which asked 17,151 women about their experiences of pregnancy and birth – found an improvement in the standard of care offered to new mothers on NHS wards nationally.
The poll, from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), showed many women saying positive things about their care during pregnancy and birth, but a poorer experience of care postnatally.
Results published on Tuesday, January 28, showed that a fifth of new mothers were not told how to access help if their mental health were to decline after giving birth and more than one in 10 (12%) were not warned about any changes they might experience to their mental health after having their baby.
Sunderland Royal Hospital was the best performing nationally with the most positive responses to the survey (88%) when compared to all other trusts and a national average of 78%.
And the Newcastle upon Tyne upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Royal Victoria Infirmary, was the only trust to be rated ‘better than expected’ in all three main categories – labour and birth, staff during labour and birth, and care in hospital after the birth.
Gateshead, Northumbria Healthcare (which covers Northumberland and North Tyneside) and County Durham and Darlington trusts scored ‘about the same’ as other trusts overall.
There was no data available for South Tyneside due to the size of the maternity unit.
The poll was among women who gave birth in February 2019.
High-scoring categories for City Hospitals Sunderland included 9.8/10 of women saying they were treated with respect and dignity during labour and birth and 9.8/10 who said they were spoken to during labour in a way they could understand.
Newcastle’s highest scoring categories for the Royal Victoria Infirmary were also ‘respect and dignity’ (9.8/10) and partners being involved as much as they wanted (9.8/10).
The Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington, scored 9.7/10 for partners being as involved as they wanted and for clear communication.
QE Gateshead scored 9.9/10 for partner involvement and 9.3/10 for both skin to skin contact after birth, and the cleanliness of the ward.
County Durham and Darlington were rated ‘better’ than other trusts in the country for confidence and trust in staff (9.5/10) and receiving the information and explanations they needed after the birth (8.6/10).
Stella Wilson, directorate manager for women’s services, at Newcastle Hospitals, said: “We’re delighted to see such wonderful feedback from the National Maternity Survey.
“Patient feedback is one of the best ways for us to measure the quality of our maternity services and in addition to these fantastic results and through our Maternity Voices Partnership, we actively seek the views of all women across Newcastle who have been in our care.”
Sheila Ford, head of midwifery at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, said: “To be rated nationally as the best performing Trust in the whole country is absolutely fantastic news for the team and shows that local mams are receiving the very best maternity care right here in Sunderland.
“This is testament to the hard work of our maternity team and shows the level of care, dedication and compassion that our staff show to all of the families who choose to deliver with us and I am extremely proud to be part of such a wonderful team.
“There are, of course, areas where we must improve further and we will be looking at the results in detail, alongside other sources of feedback to the Trust, to make sure we continue to listen, learn and continue to develop the very best maternity services for local women in our area.”
Lesley Heelbeck head of midwifery at Gateshead Health said: “In Gateshead we have a really enthusiastic and committed team so it’s good to see such positive ratings from the CQC. Mothers and families are central to developing the services here at Gateshead so we’re always looking at ways we can improve.
“We’ve developed our maternity voices partnerships so that we can talk to local people and listen to their views more closely. Because we’re a smaller unit we aim to provide much more personal and individual care to everyone who comes here to give birth.
“We want as many local people as possible to come here and start their family with us and we aim to improve even further in the future.”
A spokesperson for County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Pregnancy, labour and childbirth are one of the most important experiences women have and we’re delighted to have received this excellent feedback from women in the care of our maternity services.
“In particular, we’re proud that in six categories our score was higher than for most trusts across the country.
“These include the number of women who said they had confidence and trust in those caring for them during labour and birth and the number of women who said their decisions about how they wanted to feed their baby were respected.
“We’re also delighted that we scored above the national average for the number of women reporting that a midwife or health visitor asked them about their mental health.”
Jenna Wall, head of midwifery at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Providing our families with the best possible experience while having a baby with us is one of our top priorities and we welcome the feedback from the national maternity survey.
“We are pleased that during labour and birth women felt they were communicated with in a way they could understand, they were treated with respect and dignity and they had confidence and trust in the staff caring for them.
“It is also great that we have scored highly on facilitating skin to skin contact with the baby shortly after birth, involving partners and enabling them to stay as long as they want at our Northumbria hospital.
“These results are testament to our hard-working teams and I’d like to thank them for the dedication and compassion they show to women and their partners at this special time.
“We will, however, continually strive to do even better for our families and further improve the care during and after the birth of a baby.”
See how your trust scored here and how it compared nationally to other trusts:
City Hospitals Sunderland (South Tyneside & Sunderland)
Labour and birth – 9.2/10 – About the same
Staff – 9.3/10 – Better
Care in hospital after the birth – 9.0/10 – Better
County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust
Labour and birth – 8.9/10 – About the same
Staff – 8.8/10 – About the same
Care in hospital after the birth – 7.6/10 – About the same
Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust
Labour and birth – 8.8/10 – About the same
Staff – 8.6/10 – About the same
Care in hospital after the birth – 7.8/10 – About the same
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
Labour and birth – 8.9/10 – About the same
Staff – 8.8/10 – About the same
Care in hospital after the birth – 7.8/10 – About the same
The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Labour and birth – 9.4/10 – Better
Staff – 9.3/10 – Better
Care in hospital after the birth – 8.5/10 – Better
Cameroonian children who fled the fighting in their country’s English-speaking regions are taking refuge in Adagom community in south-central Nigeria, where some have been exploited by people looking to take advantage of their vulnerability. [Photograph: Philip Obaji Jr.]
By Philip Obaji Jr.
The Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, United Kingdom, and Centre for Children’s Health, Education, Orientation and Protection, Nigeria, have criticised Facebook following revelations that children, especially girls, were being trafficked from a refugee camp in Ogoja, Cross Rivers State, after being advertised for labour exploitation on the popular social networking platform.
The groups slammed Facebook for permitting child trafficking to take place on its service and also being slack to take action when such incidents happen.
In a joint statement, the non-profit organisations expressed dismay that it took Facebook 29 hours to suspend the account of the suspect, after investigative journalist, Philip Obaji Jr, had reported the account in contravention of the company’s policies of responding to enquiries within 24 hours.
The report revealed details of a named person, who had used his Facebook page to advertise photos of Cameroonian girls fleeing the ongoing conflict in Southern Cameroon’s Anglophone region.
This conflict has so far displaced millions of people with several thousand staying in refugee camps across Southern Nigeria.
The NGOs were exceptionally concerned that despite this case being reported to Facebook, it took the online platform hours to take action, thereby putting the victims at further risk of harm.
In one of the Facebook posts cited, the person had uploaded an image of a girl he claimed was “intelligent, hardworking and about 17,” and asked persons “interested in hiring her as a maid to inbox me.”
The organisations recalled that this would not be the first time Facebook would be accused of enabling child trafficking on its platforms.
“In 2018, Facebook was severely criticised by NGOs in South Sudan and across the world that its site had been used for the auctioning of a child bride in the country.
“Human trafficking is a growing global problem with over 40 million people at risk, according to the International Labour Organisation.
“Nigeria is known as a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking victims with over one million trafficked each year, according to the Global Slavery Index.
“Human trafficking and slavery is illegal in most countries around the world, including Nigeria,” the NGOs said.
Debbie Ariyo, Chief Executive Officer of UK-based AFRUCA, an anti-child trafficking organisation, said, “It is concerning that social media platforms are increasingly being used by human traffickers to facilitate the sale of human beings, with little being done to address this. Social media platforms have become the 21st century slave markets. This has to stop.”
Betty Abah, Executive Director of CEE-HOPE Nigeria, stated that it appears Facebook has a discriminatory approach to addressing crimes against vulnerable children in Africa than other more advanced parts of the world.
“I do not believe Facebook would have failed to act if this was happening in a European country,” she added.
Both organisations urged the relevant government agencies in Nigeria to act to secure the well-being of refugee children in the country, and investigate the child trafficking allegations to ensure all perpetrators are brought to book.
They also called on Facebook to investigate the case as well as tighten its safeguard mechanisms to ensure that crimes such as human trafficking are completely eradicated on its platforms.
India, China and Myanmar are three Asian countries currently engrossed in carrying out physical and cultural genocides on their Muslim populations. While the plight of Rohingya Muslims and Uighur Muslims is well known, the recent introduction of a new law expressly aimed at dispossessing Muslims of Indian citizenship has alerted many to the reality that India’s ruling BJP government sees itself as Hindu first and foremost.
Questions such as “Why aren’t the rich Arab countries saying anything?” have come up, with the implicit inference that Muslim-dominated countries are supposed to stick up for Muslims everywhere in the world. Others have pointed out that despite suffering oppression in some parts of the world, Muslims are also responsible for brutal acts of oppression against other minority groups elsewhere, which allegedly negates the sufferings of the prior group.
In this article, I will pick through these questions and viewpoints with a goal of isolating some useful truths about how religion, geopolitics and human nature constantly interplay and produce much of the world around us.
Oppression is a Matter of Perspective
Which religion is the most oppressed? I like to troll my Christian friends with the image below whenever the topic comes up about some religion or the other allegedly imposing its will at their expense.
The truth is however, that this image could apply to just about every religion on earth. As a general rule of thumb, the only limiting factor on whether or not a religion functions as an oppressive tyranny in a particular jurisdiction is the proportion of the population that practises it there. Similarly, the only thing stopping any religion from being an oppressed and downtrodden identity is whether it is a small enough minority for that to be possible.
While Muslims in India, Myanmar and China are going through untold degrees of horror because of their religious identities, Muslims in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Northern Nigeria are simultaneously visiting very similar horrors on Bah’ai, Shia Muslims, Christians, Budhists and other minorities in those areas. It turns out that the mere fact of belonging to a religious identity does not in fact, confer unrestricted global victimhood.
This point is important because it disproves the notion held by every major religion that its adherents follow a single set of standards and do things in the manner of a global “brotherhood.” In reality, Islam according to a Rohingya Muslim hiding from the Burmese military, and the same religion according to an itinerant herder in Kogi State bear almost no similarity to each other save for the most basic tenets. Environmental factors in fact have a bigger influence on how religions are practised than their own holy books.
The current antics of India’s ruling BJP and its Hindu fundamentalist support base provide an important case in point as to how this works. Looking at the evolution of Hinduism from a passive philosophy into an openly militant ideology gives an important insight into how religion is in fact, a thoroughly contrived and amorphous set of ideas that can be changed, adjusted, aligned and revised at a moment’s notice in justification of anything at all.
Hinduism traditionally sees itself as a religion of thoughtful, considered spirituality as against the angry dogmas of its Abrahamic neighbours, but something interesting is happening. Some argue that it started in the days of Gandhi, and some ascribe it to current Prime Minister Nanendra Modi, but whoever started it is a side note. The key point to note is that based on political factors, i.e anticolonial senitment against the British and anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by India’s national rivalry with Pakistan, Hinduism has somehow been coopted into the narrative of a jingoistic, monotheistic, mono-ethnic state which is historical nonsense.
India has always been a pointedly pluralistic society, and in fact the geographical area now known as “India” does not even cover the geographical area of the India of antiquity. That India was a place of Hindus, Budhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians and everything in between. Hinduism never saw a problem with pluralism because Hinduism itself is a very plural religion – it has at least 13 major deities. The conversion of the Hindu identity into a political identity movement is a recent and contrived phenomenon first exploited by Gandhi as a means of opposing British colonialism, and now by Modi to oppose the Pakistanis/Muslims – it is a historical falsity.
The creation of Hindu fundamentalist movements like the RSS (which PM Modi belongs to) is something done in response to environmental factors. Spectacles like the RSS march below are evidence of yet another religion undergoing constant and ongoing evolution into whatever suits its purposes.
Something similar happened when medieval Europe turned into colonial Europe and European Christianity transitioned into a peaceful and pacifist ideology after centuries of being a bloodthirsty doctrine. The environmental factors that created the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, book burnings and witch hunts went away with the introduction of an industrial society, and thus the religion too transitioned.
In plain English, what all this means is that nobody actually practises a religion in the pure sense they imagine they do. Everyone who subscribes to a religion merely practises a version of it that is subject to the culture and circumstances of their environment and era. This is directly connected to the next major insight raised by these events.
Geopolitics is all About Self-Interest…Everyone Gets it Except Africa
While anti-Muslim violence has continued apace for years in China, Mynammar and India, the question has often been asked: “Why are the wealthy Arab nations not saying anything?” There is a perception that since the Arabian peninsula is the birthplace of Islam and Arabs – particularly Saudis – are viewed as the global gatekeepers of the faith, they must be at the forefront of promoting the interests of Muslims worldwide.
To many, the fabulous wealth and international influence that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE enjoy, in addition to the presence of two of Islam’s holiest cities – Mecca and Meddinah – in Saudi Arabia, means that they have a responsibility to speak for the global Muslim Ummah and stand up for them when they are unfairly targeted and mistreated. Unfortunately for such people, the wealthy nations of the Arab Gulf region tend to respond to such questions with little more than an irritated silence – and with good reason.
To begin with, these countries are not democracies led by the wishes of their almost uniformly Muslim populations. They are autocracies led by royal families who came to power in the colonially-influenced 20th century scramble for power and influence. Saudi Arabia, which houses Islam’s holiest sites, is named after the House of Saud, its royal family which came into power in its current form at the turn of the 19th century. The priority of the regimes in these countries first and foremost is self-preservation.
Self-preservation means that before throwing their significant diplomatic and economic weight behind any attempt to help out fellow Muslims, the first consideration is how doing so will benefit them. India for example, is a country that has close diplomatic ties with the UAE, and supplies most of their cheap labour for construction and low-skilled functions. India has even coordinated with UAE special forces to repatriate the dissident Princess Latika when she made an audacious escape attempt in 2018.
What does the UAE stand to gain if it napalms its diplomatic relationship with India by criticising Modi’s blatantly anti-Muslim policy direction? It might win a few brownie points with Islamic hardliners and possibly buy some goodwill among poor Muslims in South Asia, but how much is that worth? The regime and nation’s self-interest is best served by looking the other way, so that is exactly what they will do.
The Saudis make a similar calculation. At a time when they are investing heavily in military hardware to keep up with their eternal rivals Turkey and Iran, and simultaneously preparing for the end of oil by liberalising their society and economy, does it pay them to jump into an issue in India that does not particularly affect them? As the status of their diplomatic relationship with the U.S. remains unclear following the Jamal Khasshoggi incident, are they going to risk pissing off the Chinese because of Uighur Muslims?
In fact self-interest like that mentioned here is the basis of the considerations that underpin all international relations. Well I say “all,” but what I really meant to say was “all except African countries.” It is only African countries that take diplomatic decisions based on little more than flimsy emotions and feelings of religious affinity. Gambia for example, has dragged Myanmar before the UN and filed a genocide case against it on behalf of the Rohingya Muslims.
This would be commendable and great were it not that Gambia itself is hardly a human rights luminary, and generally has little business fighting an Asian battle when its own worse African battles lie unfought. The only thing Gambia stands to gain from fighting a diplomatic war that the rest of the world seems unwilling to touch is the temporary goodwill of a few Muslims in Asia and around the world – goodwill that cannot translate into something tangible for it.
To coin an aphorism from social media lingo, you could call it ”diplomatic clout chasing.’
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday, I saw Nigerian Shiites demonstrating against the United States and President Donald Trump, and I groaned in my spirit. When will Africans become themselves and stop being remote controlled by foreign interests?
Most Africans think they chose their religions. Not true. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of Africans had their religions handed down to them by Europeans or Arabs. How do I mean?
Let us take Nigeria as a case study. Most Nigerians are either Christian, Muslims, or Catholics. Many of them will even die to defend their faiths. But how did they get these faiths?
Most Muslims in Northern Nigerian were born into Islam. Most Nigerian Muslims did not make a conscious decision to become Muslims. They just found themselves as Muslims and accepted it. But the historical fact is that most of their ancestors were CONQUERED into Islam, either by the Usman Dan Fodio jihad of 1804, or by the Kanem Bornu empire (one of the oldest empires on Earth), or by Arabs during the the Tran Saharan Slave Trade. This is a historical fact and I do not mean to upset my beloved Muslim followers.
At first they resisted. Then they were conquered. They were FORCED to accept Islam. Those who refused were killed, and the survivors, fearing a similar fate, accepted the new religion. Then they had children who knew nothing but Islam, and the rest is history.
Nigeria was colonised by Britain. Britain is OFFICIALLY a very staunch Protestant nation, with the Church of England (Anglican Church) as the OFFICIAL state church. Have Nigerians ever wondered why the British allowed Catholicism to flourish in Nigeria even when it was suppressed in Britain for centuries? Or why they did not allow Christian Missionaries into the North?
Other than the Binis and Itsekiri, who voluntarily accepted Catholicism in the 15th Century due to their trade with the Portuguese, Catholicism only gained ground in Nigeria, and especially amongst the Igbos of the East of Nigeria, in the 19th Century.
The British had a colonial policy of Divide and Rule. They did not allow Christian missionaries into Nigeria for love of Christianity or God, or Africans. It was a deliberate colonial policy to sow discord and division in Nigeria and their other colonial territories all over the world, and to keep nations, like Nigeria, ever subservient to Europe as a supplier of raw materials and human labour in times of war (Nigerians in their thousands fought for the British in both World Wars and were often used almost as cannon fodder) and in times of peace (Nigerians are a backbone of the health sector in both the UK and US. 77% of all Black doctors in America are Nigerian).
The British decided that Anglicanism snd other forms of Protestantism should thrive amongst the Yoruba and that Catholicism should thrive amongst the Igbo, and they refused to let Christian missionaries proselytise in the North to keep it Muslim, so that both the South and the North would be perpetually divided and check each other, and will never be able to unite against the colonialists.
Every missionary that came to Nigeria was licensed by the British. The Catholicism you see in Igboland today is the fruit of four Catholic missionaries who arrived Onitsha in 1885, as part of the Holy Ghost Fathers, led by a certain Reverend Father Lutz. In fact, the house where they first stayed was owned by the Royal Niger Company (which influenced the formation of the colonial Nigerian government, and even provided personnel for them. Lord Lugard was a staff of the Royal Niger Company).
Meanwhile, as they were promoting Catholicism in Eastern Nigeria, the British were promoting Protestantism in Western Nigeria, where Henry Townsend planted the first church in Badagry, in 1842. When the British rescued Samuel Ajayi Crowther from Fulani and Portuguese slavers, he was handed over to the Church Missionary Society (the proselytising mission of the Anglican Church), who educated him, and used him to extend Anglicanism amongst the Edekiri people. Ajayi Crowther eventually changed their name to Yoruba (a bastardisation of the Fulani word Yaribansa), because the British wanted a common identity for all Edekiri people.
That is how we come to have a Nigeria dominated by Muslims in the North, Anglicans and other Protestants in the West, and Catholicism in the East. It was not by chance. It was not by the choice of Nigerians. To the largest extent, with only very few exception, it is by design of external powers.
I urge Africans to think about their religions. Do not just accept your religion because of the accident of your birth. Your eternal soul is too valuable to be left to chance.
I use myself as an example. I was born to a Catholic mother and an Anglican father. While my mother schooled in Europe, I was anglicised by the rest of the family who were Anglican.
I remained an Anglican until I went to university. Free at last from my parents, I at first became a campus evangelist at the University of Benin in 1990 at the age of 16, until I left for another university and became an atheist at age 18, and began reading The Bible, and the Quran in other to know the true God.
May God bless my parents, they did not interfere. They did not force me to go to church. They left me to choose.
For one whole year, I did not believe in God, until after reading Scripture, the Quran and Dr. Yongi Cho’s (now David Yongi Cho) book, the Fourth Dimension, I found God by myself. Alone. Without the help of Arabs, or Europeans, or my parents. That is why today, NOTHING can shake my faith. I was not born as a Christ follower. I was CONVINCED into following Christ by Scripture and a personal experience with God and I was ordained as a pastor on January 15, 2012.
If all Africans can free their minds and choose their religion by themselves, Africans will stop being divided and fighting each other on the basis of religion and region, and we will no longer by the patsies of European and Arab nations, and Africa will be truly free to become the greatest continent on Planet Earth.
Gospeller. Deep Thinker. #1 Bestselling author of Facts Versus Fiction: The True Story of the Jonathan Years. Avid traveller. Hollywood Magazine Film Festival Humanitarian of the Year, 2019.
The post How religion divides and under-develops Africa by Reno appeared first on Vanguard News.
It’s been such a busy week with so many stories. It’s possible that you may have missed some of our most interesting stories from this week.
The 2020 Budget, Trump’s impeachment, Orji Kalu’s dilemma, Uwajumogu’s death, Adoke’s arrest and others topped this week news trend.
To make sure you’re up-to-date, The Nation brings you a brief round-up of the major stories this week in case you missed the mark. ALAO ABIODUN reports.
Here is a roundup of the major political news stories this week below –
Donald Trump impeached by U.S House of Reps
The U.S. President, Donald Trump, has been impeached by the country’s House of Representatives.
The house voted late Wednesday to impeach the president on his 1,062nd day in office for alleged obstruction of Congress and abuse of power related to his dealings with Ukraine.
A trial will now be set up in the Senate to decide whether he remains in office.
Mr Trump is only the third U.S. President to face such trial and if the odds go against him, he will become the first to be removed from office via the impeachment process.
After several hours of heated dispute on the House floor between two leading parties in the U.S – Democrats and Republicans – the lawmakers voted largely along party lines.
The proceedings on Wednesday began with members of Mr Trump’s Republican Party calling for votes on procedural issues in an effort to frustrate the process.
Democrats control the House 233 to 197 seats over Republicans, with one independent and four vacancies.
According to the Washington post, the Democratic-controlled House passed two articles of impeachment against Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — related to the president’s attempts to withhold military aid to Ukraine and pressure its government to investigate former vice president Joe Biden.
Mr Biden is a potential presidential candidate of the Democratic Party and could be Mr Trump’s major challenger in the upcoming 2020 U.S general elections.
The House voted 230 to 197 to approve the article accusing the president of abuse of power. On the obstruction of Congress vote, which followed soon after, the tally was 229 to 198.
Trump’s Republican Party members in the house all voted against both articles, but it was not enough to stop the process.
The Senate trial on whether to remove the president is expected to begin in early January.
Should Trump eventually be removed, Vice President Mike Spence will step in.
Senate confirms new chairpersons for FIRS, AMCON
The Senate has confirmed the appointment of Muhammad Nami as the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service.
Also confirmed are members and representatives of geopolitical zones for FIRS.
Those confirmed are James Yakwen Ayuba – Member (North Central); Ado Danjuma – Member (North West) and Adam Baba Mohammad – Member (North East)
Others are A. Ikeme Osakwe – Member (South East); Adewale Ogunyomade – Member (South West) and Ehile Adetola Aigbangbee – Member (South South).
Representatives of MDAs confirmed are Ladidi Mohammad – Member Attorney-General of the Federation; Godwin Emefiele – Member Central Bank of Nigeria; Fatima Hayatu Member – Ministry of Finance and Maagbe Adaa – Member Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission
Others are Umar Ajiya – Member Nigerian National Petroleum Commission; T. M. lsah – Member Nigerian Customs Service and Registrar General – Member Corporate Affairs Commission.
The confirmation comes about a week after President Muhammadu Buhari wrote to the Senate seeking their confirmation.
It was sequel to a presentation of the report of the Senate committee on finance.
The chairman of the committee, Solomon Olamilekan, who made the presentation, recommended that the Senate confirm the appointment of the nominees.
The Senate also confirmed the appointment of Edward Adamu as the chairman of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) – following the presentation of the Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions.
Alleged Fraud: Maina to remain in jail till 2020
The former chairman, Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, who is facing trial for alleged money laundering will remain in the Correctional Centre in Kuje, till January 2020.
Mr Maina’s son, Faisal, is also being prosecuted for money laundering by the anti-graft agency, EFCC.
At the last adjourned date, the court had granted Faisal’s plea to be transferred to Kuje Correctional Centre from Police Tactical Squad, Asokoro.
Mr Maina is being prosecuted by the EFCC on a 12-count charge bordering on money laundering, operating fictitious accounts and other fraudulent activities.
The former PRTT chairman, who was in hiding for almost two years, was arrested by the State Security Service (SSS).
The SSS then handed over Mr Maina to the EFCC, which had declared him wanted for over a year.
Mr Faisal was arrested alongside his father in September. The father is accused of diverting N100 billion of pension funds.
His son is accused of operating an account he used to divert various sums of money, including N58 million.
The two men were arraigned by the EFCC on October 25 on separate charges. They pleaded not guilty.
At the resumed hearing of the matter on Wednesday, the presiding judge, Okon Abang, adjourned Mr Maina’s trial to January 13 to hear his application for bail variation and that of Faisal to January 20, for the continuation of his trial.
Meanwhile, Justice Abang had said that though it would not be convenient for the court to take trial, but the arguments for Mr Maian’s application for bail variation would be taken.
However, the EFCC’s lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar, said he was ready for the continuation of the trial and that the prosecution’s next witness was in court.
Buhari signs 2020 budget
President Muhammadu Buhari has signed the 2020 appropriation bill into law.
He signed the bill at about 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
The National Assembly had on December 5, 2019, passed the budget estimates presented by Mr Buhari on October 8, 2019.
The National Assembly increased the budget estimates from N10.33 trillion to N10.50 trillion.
The passage was a sequel to the presentation of a report by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Barau Jibrin.
The signing was witnessed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.
Others are the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Boss Mustapha, Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, Minister in charge of Budget and Planning, Clement Agba and the Director-General of the Budget Office, Ben Akabueze.
A breakdown of the budget showed that N560,470,827,235 was budgeted for Statutory transfer; N2,725,498,930,000 for debt servicing; N4,842,974,600,640 for recurrent expenditure; N2,465,418,006,955 for capital expenditure; and N2.28 trillion for fiscal deficit.
When the National Assembly passed the bill last Thursday, new projects inserted into the budget moved it up to ₦10.594 trillion.
A breakdown of the inserted projects obtained by PREMIUM TIMES showed that the country may end up spending more on what anti-corruption agents and activists have identified as “vague, frivolous, self-enrichment projects smuggled into the budget by federal lawmakers.”
The new projects are expected to cost Nigeria about ₦264 billion.
Mr Buhari signed the budget document into law on the occasion of his 77th birthday on Tuesday, and commended the National Assembly for speedy passage of the bill.
“It is my pleasant duty, today, on my 77th birthday, to sign the 2020 Appropriation Bill into law,” a message posted on Mr Buhari’s twitter page said.
“I’m pleased that the National Assembly has expeditiously passed this Bill. Our Federal Budget is now restored to a January-December implementation cycle.”
FG declares Dec. 25, 26, Jan.1, 2020 public holidays
The Federal Government has declared Dec. 25 and Dec. 26 as well as Jan. 1, 2020 as public holidays for Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year celebrations.
The Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, announced this on Thursday in Abuja through a statement issued by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Interior, Mrs Georgina Ehuriah.
Aregbesola felicitated with Christians and all Nigerians both at home and abroad on the 2019 Christmas and New Year celebrations.
He enjoined all Christians to live by the virtues and teachings of Jesus Christ.
According to him, those virtues hinge on compassion, patience, peace, humility, righteousness and love for one another.
The minister said that living by them would guarantee an atmosphere of peace and security in the country.
Aregbesola said that the determination of government toward peace and security would engender inflow of foreign direct investment, thereby revitalising the nation’s economy.
He said it would also improve employment opportunities for the teeming youths in the country.
The minister expressed confidence that 2020 would be a breakthrough year for all Nigerians.
Lawan, APC, senators, others mourn as Imo Senator Uwajumogu dies
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Labour and Employment Senator Benjamin Uwajumogu has died.
Uwajumogu (Imo North) attended plenary on Tuesday. Less than 24 hours after, he was gone.
The cause and circumstances of the death of the 51-year-old could not be confirmed last night but sources said he slumped suddenly yesterday morning in his house while having his bath. He was confirmed dead at an Apo hospital.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan expressed shock, especially when Uwajumogu “was full of life” at the chamber on Tuesday.”
Lawan, in a statement by his Media Adviser, Ola Awoniyi, commiserated with the deceased’s family, Imo State and friends over the loss.
He added: “But God gives and takes in line with his supreme sovereignty, so we cannot question His will.
“Senator Uwajumogu’s sudden death is shocking and a painful loss to the ninth National Assembly where he always made robust contributions to debates and other activities of the upper legislative chamber.
“He will be greatly missed by all of us and staff of the Senate.”
The Senate President prayed that God will comfort his loved ones and grant them the fortitude to bear the loss.
Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, described Uwajumogu’s death as a huge loss to Nigeria, his constituents and Imo State.
Supreme Court affirms elections of eight governors
There was jubilation on Wednesday as the Supreme Court affirmed the election victories of governors in eight states.
They are: Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Abdullahi Sule (Nasarawa), Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna), Aminu Masari (Katsina) Dave Umahi (Ebonyi) and Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom).
The Supreme Court held that the appellants against the eight governors failed to prove their cases and dismissed their appeals.
Spac Nation church, a church headed by a Nigerian in the UK is reportedly under investigation over its alleged methods of raising funds.
The church which is headed by Tobi Adegboyega who came to Britain in 2005, has been accused of pushing its young members into selling their blood and also taking bank loans which they allegedly donate to the church to fund the lavish lifestyle of its pastors.
The church which was praised by politicians in the past for rehabilitating youths linked to gang violence, came under scrutiny following a number of exposés which alleged that it was pressuring young members to beg, borrow and steal money for the church.
UK’s Charity Commission who confirmed the probe, said it was looking into the governance, management, policies and practices of Spac Nation church, a registered charity set up to spread Christianity, particularly in relation to the safeguarding of its beneficiaries and its financial arrangements.
Earlier this week, HuffPost UK reported that some Spac nation members allegedly took teenagers to donate blood for medical trials, in a practice known as “bleeding for seed”. The church has however denied the claim.
Labour MP Steve Reed, the Shadow Children’s Minister, previously told The Mail on Sunday:
‘The allegations I have received about Spac Nation from vulnerable young people are truly disturbing.
‘Victims are saying it is run like a cult. I want there to be a full investigation.’
The Charity Commission also revealed that Spac Nation had been subject to a regulatory compliance case since April 2018 after it received reports about safeguarding and financial concerns.
The commission said in a statement;
“Of immediate concern to the commission is that substantial amounts of charity money are held in cash. As a protective measure, the commission has issued an order under section 84 of the Charities Act, requiring the charity to bank its money.
“The commission is also concerned about the apparent lack of clarity between the personal, business and charity roles of leaders within the charity.
“Charities exist to improve lives and strengthen society; the issues that have been raised related to Spac Nation in recent weeks are highly concerning, even more so as the allegations are entirely at odds with the expectations about the way that charities will operate.
“The opening of this inquiry is an important step that will allow us to examine these concerns further and establish the facts. We will seek to provide assurance to the public and the community that these matters will be considered fully and, where necessary, resolved.”
However reacting to the inquiry, Spac Nation’s Board of Trustees said it was needful to lay to rest some unverified allegations.
Its statement partly reads;
“Inquiry is what we have always asked for. If anything is found wrong we will adjust it, and if not we will keep going strong. “If any pastor or leader is caught pressuring people to donate, such leader will be expelled without delay, not to talk of pressuring to donate blood for money. We encourage people to donate blood and all they can for the community but we also say not for money ever, that just won’t happen here.”