Japanese Nazi-inspired care home killer sentenced to death for murdering 19 disabled people | The Independent

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A man has been sentenced to death in Japan for killing 19 disabled people and injuring dozens of others during a knife-wielding rampage at a care home.

During his trial, Satoshi Uematsu repeatedly said he had not regrets for carrying out the deadliest mass attack in the country’s post-war history, and that he targeted the care home’s residents because their mental illnesses made it harder for them to defend themselves.

The 30-year-old was himself a former care worker at the Tsukui Yamayuri-en care home in Sagamihara, near Tokyo, where he launched the attack lasting several hours in July 2016.

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As well as the 19 residents killed, Uematsu injured 24 others and two care workers. Most of the victims were stabbed while they slept.

The trial focused on Uematsu’s mental state at the time of the attack, with defence lawyers arguing that he could not be held criminally responsible because he had been mentally incompetent by long-term cannabis use. 

But prosecutors said the attacker was motivated by his experiences working at the home and his extremist views, influenced by his interest in Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, that the disabled were  a burden on society.

Uematsu had detailed a plot to kill disabled people in a message he tried to hand to a parliamentary leader months before the massacre. He quit his job at the Yamayuri-en care home when confronted with the contents of the letter and was committed to psychiatric treatment, but officials said he was released within two weeks.

Citing the “extreme maliciousness” of the attack, presiding judge Kiyoshi Aonuma dismissed the defence’s claim of diminished responsibility, saying: “This crime was pre-meditated and there was strong evidence of the desire to kill.”

Dressed in a black suit with his long hair tied back in a ponytail, Uematsu, looked calmly at the judge during the sentencing session in a courtroom filled with family members of the victims. Convicted of homicide among other charges, he was sentenced to death by hanging.

Uematsu had said during his trial that he would not appeal the court’s decision, whatever the verdict, in a case that has drawn focus on the stigma faced by disabled people in Japan today.

Advocacy groups have said that while Uematsu claimed inspiration from the Nazis, his views reflected a persistent prejudice among the mainstream public against people with disabilities.

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Mike Shildt Cardinals plan for coronavirus | St. Louis Cardinals

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JUPITER, Fla. — As every club adjusts its schedule and figures out the next steps after Major League Baseball decided to cancel Spring Training games and delay the start of the 2020 regular season, the Cardinals’ message on Friday was to remain flexible.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” manager Mike Shildt said. “We know the season is going to be, at a minimum of, [a] two-week delay. And we’re just trying to get a handle on what that looks like as far as just what’s next.”

The team held a meeting Friday morning with staff and players to discuss what comes next, even as plans change “hour by hour,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. The Cardinals opened their training room and weight room to players who wanted to use either, but cancelled all baseball activities as they awaited instruction from Major League Baseball.

During a Friday conference call with media, Mozeliak said he requested that players remain close to Jupiter until clubs get clear guidance on the next steps.

“The most fair answer, the most current answer, is we just don’t know,” Mozeliak said about what those next steps are. “This is a very fluid situation. What we know now versus what we knew 24 hours ago has changed quite a bit. What we’re going to know later today or tonight or tomorrow is going to be different than what I know now.

“And so, the best response is that we have to remain nimble, flexible and then make sure that the health of our players, their families and our staff is on the foremost of what we’re thinking about.”

The Cardinals’ complex will remain open to players this weekend should they want to work out independently or if they need to receive treatment, and Shildt said that will remain the case until instructed by the Commissioner’s Office.

Shildt is meeting with his staff to lay out a plan for the multiple scenarios that could happen with the delayed season to make sure they will be ready for anything. While pitchers’ throwing schedules are unknown right now, Shildt said he’s encouraging pitchers to continue to play catch and stay in shape until they get more clarity on timeframes.

The biggest challenge in creating those plans is the unknown, with no sense yet of when Opening Day will be.

“It’s hard to plan with the unknown, but at least create a structure that we can work off of and then narrow the structures down as things start to become more clear as we go,” Shildt said. “One of the things we discussed is making sure we’re doing this together and we’re communicating. And we’re going to be — we have to be — fluid. That’s going to be crucial.”

Here are some other things that were discussed Friday morning:

• Shildt said the tone of the clubhouse meeting Friday was “professional,” as players process what the Opening Day delay means. Many questions were asked, even if the team didn’t have all the answers at this point.

• Minor League players, who just reported to camp this week, were told to remain at the hotel and await instruction Friday.

“Had we brought everybody in today, for example, we would have been over 300 people in this building,” Mozeliak said. “And we thought it was in the best interest of everybody just to keep all the Minor League players and staff back at the hotel, and then we’ll reassess today, tomorrow, day by day, hour by hour.”

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.

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Church and State in Montenegro: between National(istic) and Imperial Policies | Political Theology Network

A crisis is brewing in the tiny ex-Yugoslav country of Montenegro. There are massive street protests, attacks on priests, and fights in the Parliament. Various domestic, regional, and international actors, interests and policies are at stake here, giving us the opportunity to learn important lessons about national (and nationalistic) ideological projects, and the role of religion and international (also imperial) aspirations in their creation. And yet, mainstream Western media has shown little interest in the matter. One can speculate why.

The Government of Montenegro proposed new legislation on religious organizations called “The Law on the Freedom of Religion,” which was approved by the Parliament on December 27, 2019.  A draft version of the document is available from the website of the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights, both in the local language and in English. The legislation generated significant controversy due to its treatment of religious organizations, their internal procedures, as well as their property.

Article 4 specifies that:

“Prior to the appointment, i.e. announcement of the appointment if the highest religious leaders, a religious community shall confidentially notify the Government of Montenegro (hereinafter: the Government) about that.”

Article 16, § 1 requires that the application for registration of a religious community shall contain:

“The name of the religious community, which must be different from names of other religious communities and must not contain the official name of other state and its features”

For many, the most problematic article is 52, found under the
section “Transitional and Final Provisions”:

“Religious facilities and land used by the religious communities in the territory of Montenegro and for which is found to have been built or obtained from public resources of the state or have been in state ownership until 1 December 1918, as the cultural heritage of Montenegro, shall be the property of the state. Religious facilities for which if found to have been built on the territory of Montenegro from joint investments of the citizens until 1 December 1918, shall be the property of the state.”

The law caused an outrage among the members of the Orthodox Church
in Montenegro. Let me sketch some of the background which will, hopefully,
render the current crisis more intelligible.

There are four Orthodox dioceses (belonging to the Serbian
Orthodox Church, i.e. Patriarchate of Peć) whose territory is fully or in part
located on the territory of Montenegro. The Orthodox Church (i.e. these four dioceses)
is, by far, the largest religious organization in the country.

The majority of both the clergy and laity view the new legislation as a purposeful targeting of the Church by the Government. They interpret Article 16, § 1 as specifically crafted against the Orthodox Church, as the above-mentioned dioceses in Montenegro belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church. However, the Article 52 appears to be a much more serious threat. Many these churches and monasteries are centuries old, predating even the formation of the modern state of Montenegro. If enacted, Article 52 could lead to the confiscation of Church property and its sacral objects.

Why would the government do this? Why would it go against the Church,
in a country where a significant majority of the population considers itself
Orthodox? This is where things get complicated.

Arguably the chief political authority in Montenegro, over the
past three decades, has been Milo Đukanović. He assumed the office of prime
minister in 1991, and has been in power ever since, performing the roles of
prime minister and president interchangeably (with a couple of years of break,
2006-2008, and 2010-2012). This style of rule brings to mind rulers in other
parts of Europe who have de facto been chief figures in the political
life of their countries for long periods of time, regardless of the name of the
office they would hold in a given moment. Not all long-lasting autocrats are
the same though: There are those who “we” (in the West) do not like very much,
since they refuse to obey us (branded as “evil autocrats”), and there are “our
kind of guys,” who are submissive enough to the Western political and economic
centers (branded as “democratic rulers”). Milo Đukanović, of course, belongs to
the latter group. During his pontificate the country joined the NATO alliance (in
2017), and he has successfully resisted a stronger Russian influence in the
country.

Đukanović, once upon a time, was loyal to Serbian president
Slobodan Milošević, and his allies in Montenegro. However, he switched sides just
in time, and his chief project became an independent Montenegro (proclaimed in
2006) and close cooperation with Western governments, military, and
multinational corporations. This where problems with the Serbian Orthodox
Church in Montenegro begin, in particular with the most prominent figure of
Montenegrin religious life—Metropolitan Amfilohije (Radović). At times partners,
at other times in conflict, this turbulent relationship between the politician
and the metropolitan has ended up, as of now, in an open battle.

Đukanović’s vision of independent Montenegro and the new
Montenegrin identity also includes the vision of an autocephalous (“self-governed”)
“Montenegrin church” which would be loyal (some would suggest obedient as a much better word choice) to the State (i.e., his regime). Amfilohije and
other bishops do not seem to share the same vision. For them, there is no conflict
between an “authentic” Montenegrin identity and Serbian identity, and therefore
no problem with the Orthodox Church in Montenegro being part of the Serbian
Orthodox Church. (Nota bene, many figures and structures within the Serbian
Orthodox Church are by no means innocent in the political games that have been
played in the region, particularly when it comes to Serbian nationalism and the
policies of various autocrats from Belgrade, but that is a topic for another analysis.)

To foster a new Montenegrin identity, Đukanović’s regime started
to promote “Montenegrin Orthodox Church” as an “autocephalous” organization,
headed by the colorful figure of Miraš Dedejić. According to some sources, Dedejić
used to be an admirer of Slobodan Milošević and his policies. He had also been a
priest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate until he was excommunicated by Patriarch
Bartholomew. This organization is not recognized by any of the canonical
Orthodox Churches. Even Đukanović’s support has not been full or unconditional.
One is tempted to say that its purpose has primarily been to put pressure on Amfilohije
to follow the “right path.”  

This is how one can understand the recent actions, at least in one
of their complex and intertwined dimensions: Just as the Ukrainian political
leadership was advancing the (formerly) uncanonical church structures and their
autocephaly in the hope that it would strengthen Ukrainian national identity, as
well as the political elite who championed the project, Montenegrin leadership
might hope that promoting one group, which would be loyal to one political
project and obedient to the political authorities (Amfilohije has not proven
himself in that role), would lead to the recognition of autocephaly of that
group, with same or similar political results. Probably working out of these
hopes, the regime has, then, threatened the confiscation of Church property of
the “disloyal” Church, which is quietly accepted (if not blessed) by the
Western political centers. The trade seems straight-forward, based on a
widely-practiced strategy: “We” (political/economic centers in the West) will
turn a blind eye to violence, undemocratic policies, the autocratic style of
rule, breach of various rights, and so forth, and “you” (local political
elites) will ensure that the (military, economic, political) interests of those
centers are protected and advanced locally.

An obstacle in the case of Montenegro (unlike in the case of
Ukraine) is the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not seem willing to intervene
to support the formation of a new autocephalous Church, which would advance the
local national identity, being closely connected to the State. Not yet at least,
and not with Miraš’s team as a new autocephalous
church. It seems that there is awareness that right now there are no credible
candidates in Montenegro who would be willing to lead a potential autocephalous
church, neither there is popular support for such project.

For those less familiar with Orthodox ecclesiology, it is worth noting that in Orthodoxy there is no equivalent role to the one of the Roman pontiff. Orthodox ecclesiology has advanced the principle of conciliarity instead of the (universal) primacy of power of one ecclesiastical/imperial center. This does not mean, of course, that there have been no attempts of ecclesiastical seats to assume such power. Indeed, just as the seat of Rome infused the universalist aspirations to power into the emptied shell of the Western (Roman) Empire, so the bishops of “New Rome” (Constantinople) have occasionally aspired to assume both universal ecclesial, and even political authority (at times when the Empire was weakened). This universalism is reflected also in the title of the bishop/patriarch of Constantinople – “Ecumenical” – as the authority of this episcopal seat, as well as the authority of the (Roman) emperor, should ideally stretch over the entire oikoumene (inhabited world). What one can see, based on the recent actions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, is the (renewed) aspiration to usurp a position within the Orthodox world which would be, in some aspects at least, comparable to the position which the Roman pontiff gradually acquired in the West. This, predictably, provokes a lot of criticism.

The entire episode can thus be understood as yet another example of how the whole concept of autocephaly, the way it is generally understood and practiced in “Orthodox countries” nowadays, is highly problematic. If autocephaly is understood as something “naturally” linked to national/ethnic identities (and/or nation states), it is both theologically unacceptable and very harmful to the body of the Church in long term. Serious Orthodox ecclesiology does not operate with the concept of “national Churches,” although it has been widely (and mistakenly) used both in the public discourse and, sometimes, in academia. Local Churches (i.e. dioceses) are organized as administrative regional ecclesiastical unites, that gather the faithful of a certain territory (for the sake of serving the Liturgy) regardless of their ethnicity, nationality, gender, class, race, etc. The predominant culture or customs have always been embraced in the Orthodox tradition, leaving a trace on how the service is conducted, which language is spoken, etc. However, the identity of the Church is not derived from the ethnic, national or other identities of the majority population of a certain territory, but from the Eucharist as the icon of the Kingdom of God. This is why an autocephalous Church makes sense as a self-governing administrative organization of dioceses of a certain region, having one of the local bishops as their own “head” (having the title of metropolitan, archbishop, pope or patriarch), but not as a “national” institution, or a Church of certain ethnic group (which, following Orthodox ecclesiology, amounts to nothing less than a heresy).

In practice, however, just as local ecclesiastical and political
elites are eager to exploit the (seriously flawed) understanding of autocephaly
as “national institutions,” for the sake of their own power struggles, so is
the Ecumenical Patriarchate. (Neo)imperial policies of ecclesiastical centers
(in this case of Phanar) can thus be very similar to the (neo)imperial policies
of States; both try to manipulate local nationalisms to their own advantage.
Therefore, if they serve the (neo)imperial agendas of “New Rome,” local
nationalisms and local “national” churches will be blessed. If they don’t,
local nationalisms and their cravings for autocephaly will be condemned in the
name of (neo)imperial “universalisms.”

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From Near Death Experience To Top Of Her Class

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The induction of Shrdha Mala as the new head girl of Rakiraki Public Secondary School has got people talking.

Shrdha, 18, who has had a history of heart problems, is not only a student body leader but is also a top academic student, as well.

In 2014 she survived a near-death experience.

She suffered severe chest pain and acute breathing difficulties. Shrdha thought she was going to die.

She was flown to New Zealand and successfully underwent an emergency laser treatment.

Kalidass Mani, a farmworker, said Shrdha “is an inspiration to everyone and a very strong girl.”

Mr Mani said he knew her family and how they struggled after she was diagnosed with a heart defect in 2008. Shrdha was in year two then.

“She is a fighter. Others may have given up after what she went through. But not Shrdha,” he said.

Her mathematics teacher, Ashneel Raju, said Shrdha kept up her maths study despite her condition.

Ravi Chand, her school principal, said Shrdha was among the students who never gave up.

“She has inspired the students and the teachers with her excellent performance and is tackling her challenges very well,” he said.

He said Shrdha was an example to many students who did not do well in their studies as she was good in managing her time with school work and with leadership.

She has made the school and her parents proud by excelling in her education despite her challenges.

Shrdha said her battle was not over yet, but she was not allowing it to slow her down.

She has some breathing issues and she still fights to tackle the challenge and to become an inspiration to others.

Shrdha’s experience has motivated her to become a cardiologist to treat people like her and to show them that nothing is impossible.

She said if anyone had health or medical problems, they could still fight their battles and chase their dreams.

Shrdha topped the Fiji Year 12 Certificate Examination last year and she is looking forward to top this year and become the dux at her school.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

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‘Desexed’ dog gives birth to eight puppies | Stuff.co.nz

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This article was first published by RNZ.co.nz and is republished with permission. 

An Auckland couple who picked up a supposedly desexed dog from a Hawke’s Bay pound before Christmas are now caring for eight puppies. 

Sarah Bryant and Hera Nathan are now trying to get answers – and money – from the Hastings District Council, who she claims have offered to put the young pups down. 

Bryant told First Up‘s Lydia Batham that the advertisement on their website stated it would cost $250 for Bella to be desexed, vaccinated, wormed, and get flea treatment.

Bella was picked up the weekend before Christmas last year by Nathan’s sister, who handed over the sum upon arrival but was told Bella was not vaccinated, Bryant said.

“[She] just assumed that was part of the agreement and didn’t ask any questions. She was told she had to sign an adoption form on our behalf, so she did that, and on the form there’s a few boxes and it says vaccinated, wormed, desexed, etc, and there was a cross in the vaccination box, but that was the only one that had any marking in it.”

Bryant said they were confused when they were told by the sister that Bella was not vaccinated, but took her to the vet to get it done.

That was when they decided to ask to check on the other items on the list, including desexing.

“[The vet] looked at [Bella] and said she doesn’t have a scar or anything, it doesn’t appear like she is [desexed], it actually appears like she is on heat. 

“He said he wouldn’t desex her while she is on heat, apparently there’s a potential for that to cause a whole lot of bleeding and issues, so he said to bring her back in March to have her desexed or she could potentially be pregnant, and I’m not going to know for a couple of weeks, so bring her back.”

SUPPLIED/SARAH BRYANT
Bella was adopted the weekend before Christmas by Auckland couple Sarah Bryant and Hera Nathan.

In the meantime, Bryant said they had been trying to contact the pound but got no response. 

When Bella was taken again to be checked, the vet said it could be potentially be a false pregnancy but couldn’t be sure, Bryant said.

“He said the only way you’re going to know, so we can figure out if you can do desexing or not, is to take her in for an ultrasound.”

But while they waited for the day of the booked ultrasound appointment to arrive, Bella delivered eight puppies.

“It was definitely a surprise, and at the time we were just like ‘well it’s happening now’, and just sat with her and waited for all the puppies to come out … and made sure they were healthy.”

Bryant said it was “not what we signed up for”, and had been in touch with the council to possibly ask for money back or pay for Bella’s treatment and something to contribute towards the puppies.

“[The person contacted at the council] said that that wasn’t part of their policy and that their policy would be that we could surrender them and they could put them down, and so I said that’s not an option for us.”

After another chat, the council offered a refund of up to $250 for the desexing, vaccination, worming, flea treatment or again to surrender Bella with the puppies, Bryant said.

She said she was angry about being told they would be put down.

“I tried calling back to say that’s not an acceptable resolution and we need to work this through, and that was on Tuesday and I left a message, and I haven’t heard back again from them.”

SUPPLIED/SARAH BRYANT
Bella and her pups.

In a statement, Hastings District Council said dogs that were adopted were treated for fleas, wormed, vaccinated, microchipped, registered and desexed prior to release at a cost of $250.

However, the council claims that because the owners wanted the dog immediately, it was agreed for them to pay $250 up front but they would have to make their own arrangements for treatment and desexing.

It said the dog was registered and microchipped prior to release, and that the person who picked Bella up was aware none of the treatments, including desexing, were done.

The council said it offered to pay for the treatments up to a cost of $250, but 36 days later, Bella had puppies. 

Since Bella was at such an early stage of gestation when taken, the council said it could not have known she was pregnant.

“We have had discussions with the owner since the birth of the pups – they are wanting us to pay to look after the pups for three months, but this is not council’s responsibility.

“When you adopt a dog, or get a dog from anywhere, you run the risk that it may have health or behavioural issues or, as in this case, be pregnant.”

The council reiterated its offer for the owners to surrender Bella and the puppies, but said they could either foster them until they could be rehomed, or get SPCA’s help with this.

“Unfortunately, in some circumstances euthanasia is the best option.”

Bryant said she was in the process of filling out a Disputes Tribunal form, and would like to see the council apologise.

“I would really like them to change their policy and do what it says on their website they would do.”

Meanwhile, she said the puppies were  the “cutest little things”, and they were getting support from the community.

This article was first published by RNZ.co.nz and is republished with permission. 

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Birth Tourism: Pregnant Nigerian Women To Be Denied United States Visa Under New Policy – Motherhood In-Style Magazine

The United States Government on Thursday gave visa officers more power to block pregnant women abroad including those from Nigeria from visiting America. Under a new rule, the US Department of State directed visa officers to stop “birth tourism” — trips designed to obtain citizenship for children of pregnant women to the country.

The President Donald Trump’s administration is using the new rule, which takes effect on Friday, to push consular officers abroad to reject women they believe are entering the United States specifically to gain citizenship for their child by giving birth.

The visas covered by the new rule are issued to those seeking to visit for pleasure, medical treatment or to see friends and family, a report by The New York Times, said.

Conservatives have long railed against what they call “anchor babies,” born on American soil and used by their parents to bring in other family members.

President Trump has also criticised the constitutional provision that grants citizenship to most babies born on American soil.

It is not clear whether such “birth tourism” is a significant phenomenon or that “anchor babies” do lead to substantial immigration, but many conservatives believe both issues are real and serious.

“Birth tourism poses risks to national security,”

Carl C. Risch, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs at the State Department, wrote in the final rule.

“The birth tourism industry is also rife with criminal activity, including international criminal schemes.”

Consular officers were already unlikely to grant visa to women, who they believe were travelling to the United States solely to give birth. But with the new rule, the White House seems to be signalling to officers abroad that those close to delivering a child would be added to a growing list of immigrants unwelcome in the United States.

Nigeria is number three on birth tourism list in the United States after Russia and China. On Tuesday the US announced plans to impose fresh visa restrictions on countries including Nigeria.

Trump’s administration said the move was necessary to prevent potential acts of terrorism, as countries on the list don’t adequately vet their travelers to America.

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Police debunk media report on death of 30, abduction of 100 in Kaduna – Daily Nigerian

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The Kaduna State Police Command has debunked online media reports on the purported abduction of 100 and killing of 30 people during an attack by bandits along Kaduna-Zaria highway on January 14.

News Agency of Nigeria reports that the Emir of Potiskum was caught up in the attack but managed to escape into the bush.

The command spokesman, DSP Yakubu Sabo, in a statement on Sunday in Kaduna, dismissed the report as false and a misrepresentation of facts.

“The Command wishes to categorically state that it has high respect for the sanctity of human life and cannot underestimate such value.

“It therefore strongly debunks the story as false and a misrepresentation of facts aimed at causing more fear in the minds of the Public and enjoins the Public to jettison the report as misleading.”

According to him, six people died in the attack while five others who sustained varying degree of injuries were taken to hospital for treatment.

He added that one of the five injured persons receiving treatment later died in the hospital.

“Out of the number of the deceased victims, the following have been identified as; Shehu Wakama, 62, Sulaiman Ba’amalum, 60, Maina Kaina, 60, Adamu Lawal, 32, Danjuma Adamu, 35, Adamu Musa and one other whose name and address is not yet identified.

“While the injured persons in the incident are; Sgt Mohammed Tanko, Philiha David, Ismail Yau and Umar Maiwada.”

Mr Sabo said investigation was on to determine the number of persons abducted.

“However, only six families have so far contacted the command to report the involvement of their relations.”

Mr Sabo said while regretting the incident, the command still maintains this casualty figure as accurate until more facts prove otherwise.

The spokesperson warned that the command would not hesitate to deal decisively with any person or group who engage in such malicious publication or circulating it.

He urged the media to continue to uphold high ethical standard and verify all accounts of crimes before publication.

Mr Sabo said this was necessary to avoid sharing mischievous information.

“Internet subscribers should also be cautious in sharing stories of questionable sources especially via the social media,” he added.

Mr Sabo said the command reaffirmed its unrelenting commitment towards fighting crime and criminality to the barest minimum and called for the cooperation of  the general public.

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Kaduna: Police debunks media report on death of 30, abduction of 100

Ondo Police, Checkpoint killing
The Kaduna State Police Command has debunked online media reports on the purported abduction of 100 and killing of 30 people during an attack by bandits along Kaduna-Zaria highway on Jan. 14.
Recall that the Emir of Potiskum was caught up in the attack but managed to escape into the bush.
The Command Public Relations Officer, DSP Yakubu Sabo, in a statement on Sunday in Kaduna, dismissed the report as false and a misrepresentation of facts

READ ALSO:Police in Imo warn against hijacking of PDP protest on Sunday

“The Command wishes to categorically state that it has high respect for the sanctity of human life and cannot under estimate such value.
“It therefore strongly debunks the story as false and a misrepresentation of facts aimed at causing more fear in the minds of the Public and enjoins the Public to jettison the report as misleading.”
According  to him, six people died in the attack while five others who sustained varying degree of injuries were taken to hospital for treatment.
He added that one of the five injured persons receiving treatment later died in the hospital.
“Out of the number of the deceased victims, the following have been identified as; Shehu Wakama, 62, Sulaiman Ba’amalum, 60, Maina Kaina, 60, Adamu Lawal, 32, Danjuma Adamu, 35, Adamu Musa and one other whose name and address is not yet identified.
“While the injured persons in the incident are; Sgt Mohammed Tanko, Philiha David, Ismail Yau and Umar Maiwada.”
Sabo said investigation was on to determine the number of persons abducted.
“However, only six families have so far contacted the Command to report the involvement of their relations.”
Sabo said while regretting the unfortunate incident, the Command still maintains this casualty figure as accurate until more facts prove otherwise.
The spokesperson warned that the Command would not hesitate to deal decisively with any person or group who engage in such malicious publication or circulating it.
He urged the media to continue to uphold high ethical standard and verify all accounts of crimes before publication.
Sabo said this was necessary to avoid sharing mischievous information.
“Internet subscribers should also be cautious in sharing stories of questionable sources especially via the social media,” he added.
Sabo said  the command reaffirmed its unrelenting commitment towards fighting crime and criminality to the barest minimum and called for the cooperation of  the general public.

The post Kaduna: Police debunks media report on death of 30, abduction of 100 appeared first on Vanguard News.

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Our close shave with death

James Azania, Lokoja

Uneasy calm has taken over the atmosphere in and around Tawari, a community in Kogi Local Government Area of Kogi State, one week after a deadly attack by unidentified gunmen.

While those who survived the penultimate Friday morning attack continued to bemoan the gruesome killings of families by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen, the unspoken thought that appeared to be playing out in the minds of the people remains, how safe are we?

About 20 persons reportedly died in the hands of the gunmen that descended on Tawari community that early morning. They were believed to be herdsmen.

Buildings, including the palace of the local chief, were razed.

But, despite the confidence-building visits by the governor and his deputy to the affected areas and other near places, some of those who survived remained shaken by the bloody attack.

Governor Yahaya Bello during a visit to the Ohimege-Igu of Koto-Karfe, Alhaji Abdulrazaq Isah Koto, at his palace last Sunday, said that his administration will do everything to stand by and ensure immediate assistance to the victims of the attack at Tawari.

Bello’s visit came a day after his deputy, Edward Onoja, was at the community for an on-the-spot assessment. The governor pledged his administration’s commitment to ensuring that the attackers are fished out and made to face justice.

He enjoined all to remain calm, assuring that his government will not relent in its efforts to protect the lives and property of the people of the state.

He described the attack as barbaric, inhuman, dastardly and unwanted. He also assured that his administration will do everything to stand by them, noting that both the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), will provide them with timely supports.

A week after, some of those who spoke with The Nation on their experiences, aside seeking the unmasking of the perpetrators or those behind it appeared uneasy about security.Abuja

Mallam Orege(not real name)said he lost two brothers and three other family members in the attack.He was, however, indifferent to all official talks, saying that if he had his way, those who carried out the attack will be made to face justice.

“My position is that those who carried out this action should be apprehended, and it should be immediately. People cannot just come and attack others, killing and burning their houses and then just disappear like that. It will be great injustice if the security people don’t arrest them and charge them accordingly.

“I lost five of my family members; they were killed; my direct brothers. Three others of my larger family were similarly killed”.

Others who spoke to our correspondent included Attoh Ifeji(not real name),  a local hunter, who identified  security as their major worries and what he described as “the distant presence of government to us”.

According to him, police presence in Tawani could have waded off the night of horror.

“Those gunmen came in unannounced and  there was no security to challenge them. They killed our people and committed other atrocities. What do you say if you don’t have security to defend you? We don’t have a defence at all.

“There should be more police and government’s presence here in Tawari so that this type of thing won’t happen again.”

A recent killing of four suspected kidnappers, alleged to be herdsmen, along the Lokoja-Abuja highway by security agencies, following a tip off by vigilantes from Tawari community, was said to have angered the militia, who in turn attacked the community.

Another account said that sometime last year, a herdsman was allegedly killed and his body mutilated by suspected ritualists.  His fellow herdsmen were believed to have pointed accusing fingers at the Tawari community.All

But, following persistent persuasion by the community head, Alhaji Yahaya Tawari, against a reprisal, the herdsmen appeared to have forgotten about the whole thing. So the people thought until a few days later  when they started moving out of the community enmasse. This action was a presage to trouble.

Efforts were, therefore, said to have been made to pacify them, but  the herdsmen reportedly assured that their movement was a way of life, assuring that it bore no ulterior motives, only for gunmen to swoop on the community.

The Kogi State Deputy Governor, Chief Edward Onoja, during the visit, assured that no stone would be left unturned in unravelling the penetrators.

He described the attack as very unusual and a call for concern, saying that the seriousness which Governor Bello attaches to unravelling the penetrators as well as the need to bring succour and support to the affected areas underscored his visit to the community.

He assured that the state government will begin a rehabilitation and reconstruction process of the area.

He urged the residents not to leave their homes but  remain resolute.

The council administrator, Muhammed Tanko, said that the situation had been brought under normalcy.

He noted that the presence of security agencies brought hope to the people of the community as those who ran away during the attack have started returning home.

He commended Governor Bello for his quick response during the attack, adding that those who sustained injuries were responding to treatment at the Federal Medical Center and the Specialist Hospital Lokoja.

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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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