The Federal Government on Monday gave conditions that ECOWAS countries have to meet for Nigeria to reopen its borders.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, gave the conditions related to the movement of goods and persons during the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Temporary Partial Closure of Land Borders in Abuja on Monday.
The conditions include respect for the rules of origins with regard to the movement of goods and shutting down warehouses along the border.
“We absolutely insist on the dismantling of all the warehouses along our common borders,” Onyeama told journalists in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
“No longer will we accept anybody coming into the country through land borders with anything other than recognised”.
The conditions which come months after Nigeria shut its borders with Benin and Niger, citing massive smuggling activities, especially of rice, taking place on that corridor, will be presented to the countries in two weeks, according to the Minister.
Apart from demanding the dismantling of warehouses, the Federal Government is also going tough on the repackaging of imported goods to pass them as local ones (from ECOWAS countries).
Onyeama said, “On the transportation of goods within ECOWAS and across borders, we will now insist on proper recognised packaging of those goods.
“No longer will we have goods, you know, of all shapes and sizes just going through the borders. We are going to have accepted conditions for the packaging of goods that will be transported by road across our borders.”
The accepted conditions include respecting the rules of origin. This, according to the Minister, will help prevent dumping of goods in Nigeria.
“(For) Goods predominantly produced in ECOWAS member states, the rules of origin must be satisfied. So, we have to avoid any possibility of dumping,” he said.
“If goods are produced in ECOWAS member states, those goods must be majorly produced in those states. If they are coming from outside ECOWAS, the value addition made by an ECOWAS country must be over 50 percent.”
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says it has arrested a female suspected internet fraudster who is on the FBI wanted list.
Briefing journalists in Benin City, the Edo State capital, the head of the commission in the state, Mr Muhtar Bello, who represented the Acting EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, stated that the identity of the lady is being withheld for now because investigations are still ongoing.
He explained that the suspect steals people’s identities and forwards them to her her foreign collaborators.
According to him, “her collaborator uses it to file for fraudulent tax return with the Internal Revenue Service. She received as her cut, 185 Bitcoin which by current market value is N656,371,490”.
Bello also revealed that the Commission between January and August 2019 has arrested 113 internet fraudsters in Edo, Delta and Ondo states, and secured the conviction of 53 in court.
“Over 30 exotic cars were confiscated from the suspects. Other items recovered from them are lap tops computers, mobile phones flash, drive, internet modem and charms”, he said.
He further stated that the Commission independently arrested a cyber criminal and two siblings who are involved in Business Email Compromise, BEC.
“Their modus operandi was searching for victims email addresses especially Official Business Email addresses, create a phishing link and compromising the process in order to defraud unsuspecting victims.”
Using graphic illustrations, Bello educated journalists on how funds move from “hackers, farmers, and the pickers”.
He explained that the education became necessary because the Commission will soon begin to clampdown on those who appear to have legitimate businesses such as hotels, real estate, casino, oil and gas but were international fraudsters.
The arrest comes just days after another suspected fraudster, Joseph Oyediran, was arrested by the commission in Kwara State.
Bello, therefore, warned individuals and business owners to be cautious in carrying out their business transactions online, saying that most fraudsters have devised smarter means to defraud their victims.
The sound of drum beats, hand claps and women singing fills the air at a shrine in Cotonou in the West African nation of Benin, the homeland of voodoo.
But these days the ceremonies are a little bit different, as people pray for the country’s football team to make further historic progress at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Benin shocked Morocco on penalties in the round of 16 to record its first ever victory in the competition and progress to a quarter-final showdown with Senegal on Wednesday.
And for believers in the country where voodoo is widely practised alongside Christianity and Islam, help from the spirit world has spurred on the players.
On Sunday, Dah Gbediga, president of the indigenous religions of Benin, was joined by several other vodunsi practitioners for a “special ceremony to support the Squirrels”, as the national squad are nicknamed.
After sacrificing a goat and three sheep behind closed doors he emerged with his chest bared accompanied by a toothless priestess in her sixties who led the prayers in front of around a hundred followers.
“This is something new for our players in this competition, people think we will make a poor showing, but they are wrong, we are committed to doing our best,” intoned the priestess, Tangninnon, gripping a gourd of water and her walking stick.
Dah Gbediga said he has been praying for the team since well before the tournament began.
“There is a march towards progress in football with the support of the ancestors and nothing else should stop us,” he told AFP, wearing a beaded skullcap and necklace.
“We achieved what we had never done before this year, we have impressed the whole world and we ask the ancestors to make it last for as long as possible.”
‘Pushed us this far’
It is not just at this shrine that prayers are being offered for the team.
Victor Adoko, a fan of the Squirrels and priest of the thunder deity Hevioso, believes that they can go all the way to the final.
As the players notched up three draws to squeak through the group stages he turned to his fetishes.
“It is to increase the chances of the team,” he explained.
Voodoo, a religion more often called “vodun” in West Africa, has a hierarchy of deities and tribal nature spirits, embracing magical practices and healing remedies considered divine.
The use of fetishes and rituals has often been poorly served by Hollywood, which tends to turn a world where revered ancestors exist alongside the living into a source of black magic.
Football fans — like others in the country — are split between believers and non-believers.
Supporter Adeline Tonouewa, a follower of divinity Thron, says she has offered up cola nuts and libations to the spirit’s fetish in the hope of victory.
“It has played its role,” she said.
Paulin Kintonou, an actor and voodoo believer, agreed that spiritual forces have made the difference.
“I have the firm conviction that it is these prayers that have pushed us this far,” he said.
“Our religious elders are on our side.”
But telecoms worker Enock Agasounon was not so convinced and insisted most of the credit had to go to the players.
“Nothing comes for free, even if you ask for it in your prayers in church and end up getting it,” he said.
“The Squirrels have the talent and have performed well. Above all it is down to their efforts — the prayers come second.”
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and his Beninois counterpart, Patrice Talon, have signed a landmark African trade pact at the African Union (AU) Summit, in Niger on Sunday.
Both Presidents signed the agreement to applause at the summit in Niamey, the Nigerien capital, where the zone will officially be launched.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is expected to be officially launched later Sunday in what AU commission chairman Moussa Faki said would be a “historic” moment.
Fifty-four of the 55 African Union member countries signed onto the deal, with Eritrea the only holdout.
AU leaders hope the agreement, which comes after 17 years of tough negotiations, will create the world’s largest free trade area, estimating a 60-percent boost in trade between the continent’s 1.2 billion people by 2022.
The deal was given a boost when Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and largest economy, announced this week it would join the pact in Niamey, after having unexpectedly pulled back from the agreement last year.
The pact was further buoyed as Benin’s agreement meant Eritrea was the sole African country not to sign on.
State trade ministers have agreed the zone should be operational from July 2020, AU Trade and Industry Commissioner Albert Muchanga told AFP, with countries needing time to adapt to the agreed changes.
An official start date was expected to be agreed by heads of state on Sunday.
With the launch of the AfCFTA, Africa was “removing the fragmentation of Africa” Muchanga said.
However there are still key issues that need to be ironed out, such as setting common criteria to determine rules of origin for traded products.
Amaka Anku, Africa analyst at Eurasia group, described the deal as a positive step but said the AfCFTA was still “a long way from taking off”.
African countries currently trade only about 16 percent of their goods and services among one another, compared to 65 percent with European countries.
Below are photos from the ceremony where the trade deal was signed.
Pres. @MBuhari signs, on behalf of Nigeria, the Agreement Establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (#AfCFTA), at the opening of the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of African Union Heads of State and Govt, in Niamey, Niger Republic, July 7, 2019 #AUSummitpic.twitter.com/Y9miko2GBP
Moise Adilehou put Benin ahead early in the second half before Youssef En-Nesyri equalised, but Hakim Ziyech blew the chance to seal the victory for Morocco by striking the post with a 96th-minute penalty.
Sofiane Boufal and En-Nesyri both missed in the shootout as Benin, who reached the last 16 on the back of three draws, triumphed 4-1 on spot-kicks.
The police also seized vehicles, cash, mobile phones and computers in the course of the operation.
The minors were aged between 11 and 16, with the youngest rescued at the land border between Nigeria and Benin Republic.
In his reaction, INTERPOL Secretary General, Jürgen Stock, described human trafficking as a transnational crime from which the vulnerable, especially children, simply cannot walk away.
“This operation underlines the need for cross-border collaboration between law enforcement and all stakeholders to ensure that together we can enhance our prevention, protection and prosecution efforts,” the INTERPOL chief stated.
During the operation, the police found a boy who had been forced to carry clandestinely between the two countries heavy goods, including bags of rice weighing up to 40 kg.
According to INTERPOL, all the victims originated from Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Togo.
It explained that the victims were recruited and trafficked by means of deception and coercion, after which they were held in bondage in various labour intensive activities.
The organisation added that before regaining freedom, many of the minors were moved around as ‘merchandise’ themselves, across the border.
The victims were also forced to work in markets all day, peddling goods, fetching water, cooking, and carrying heavy loads.
In other cases, some were made to work as housemaids and others were victims of sexual exploitation.
INTERPOL said most of the minors endured beatings and psychological abuse, as well as death threats and warnings that they would never see their parents again.
It, however, highlighted some of the steps taken to ensure the rescued victims receive the necessary care following their rescue.
These include social services while some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) undertook post-operation interviews and provided support services to the victims.
In Nigeria, the organisation revealed that the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) took charge of the minors.
The Comptroller of the Nigeria Immigration Service at Seme border region, Do Asogwa, called for a collective effort to tackle the menace of trafficking.
He said, “We have to cooperate with one another to combat the crime networks behind the trafficking and smuggling of human beings.
“These crimes can only be tackled collectively and through interagency cooperation.”
In Benin Republic, some of the minors were transferred to shelters, returned to their parents, while others were taken into care by national social affairs authorities and NGOs.
The Police Divisional Commissioner of the country’s Central Bureau for the Protection of Minors and Families and the Prevention of Human Trafficking (OCPM), Hounde Seidou, said: “Nobody belongs in the markets or on the streets as slave labourers.
He added, “As law enforcement officers, it is our duty to combat human trafficking, especially when children are involved.”
INTERPOL said building a sustainable law enforcement capacity to investigate and handle cases of human trafficking and migrant smuggling dominated its strategy on vulnerable communities.
To this end, it explained that ‘Operation Epervier II’ was preceded in Benin Republic and Nigeria by specialised training exercises to help officers enhance their investigative techniques along with victim and offender interview skills.
The organisation said its secure communications system I-24/7 was also deployed to operational hotspots, providing police with real-time access to criminal global databases containing millions of records, including on stolen and lost travel documents and biometrics.
It noted that the G7 Interior Ministers had met in Paris, France earlier in April and called for increased cooperation with INTERPOL against crimes such as human trafficking.
It added that the operation, funded by the INTERPOL Foundation for a Safer World, was undertaken under the framework of the INTERPOL Global Task Force on Human Trafficking.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron agreed Friday to return 26 artworks to Benin “without delay,” his office said.
The decision came as Macron received the findings of a study he had commissioned on returning African treasures held by French museums, a radical policy shift that could put pressure on other former colonial powers.
He proposed gathering African and European partners in Paris next year to define a framework for an “exchange policy” for African artworks.
Macron agreed to return 26 royal statues from the Palaces of Abomey — formerly the capital of the kingdom of Dahomey — that were taken by the French army in 1892 and are now housed at Paris’ Quai Branly museum.
Benin had requested their restitution, and earlier this week welcomed that France had followed the process through to the end.
But Macron’s office said this should not be an isolated or symbolic case.
The president “hopes that all possible circulation of these works are considered: returns but also exhibitions, loans, further cooperation”, the Elysee palace said.
The report he received on Friday proposed legislation be developed to return thousands of African artworks taken during the country’s colonial period, now in French museums, to nations that request them.
There are conditions, however, including a request from the relevant country, precise information about the works’ origins, and the existence of proper facilities such as museums to house the works back in their home country.
Macron also wants “museums to play an essential role in this process”, his office said.
They will be invited to “identify African partners and organise possible returns”.
Museums should quickly establish “an online inventory of their African collections” to allow for searching an item’s provenance, the statement said.
Macron also called for “in-depth work with other European states that retain collections of the same nature acquired in comparable circumstances”.
Calls have been growing in Africa for restitution of artworks, but French law strictly forbids the government from ceding state property, even in well-documented cases of pillaging.
Macron raised hopes in a speech last year in Burkina Faso, saying “Africa’s heritage cannot just be in European private collections and museums.”
He later asked French art historian Benedicte Savoy and Senegalese writer Felwine Sarr to study the matter.
Their report has been welcomed by advocates of the restitution of works which were bought, bartered, or in some cases simply stolen.
The Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, has ordered a thorough investigation into an alleged theft at the Benin airport.
It was reported that some equipment meant for the instrument landing system was stolen a few days after installation.
Obaseki gave the instruction after a meeting with officials of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, (NAMA), the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and the airport authorities after an assessment tour of the facility.
He said that the unfortunate incident will not deter plans to upgrade services at the airport.
The state governor is making out plans to ensure that the airport operates 24-hours before the harmattan season begins.
A court in Benin on Tuesday sentenced an opposition MP to more than six years behind bars and fined him 4.5 million euros ($5.1 million) in connection with a scandal involving fake drugs.
The sentence came as Benin cracks down on the trafficking of expired and counterfeit drugs in West Africa — a business that has deeply alarmed health watchdogs.
At a hearing in the country’s commercial capital Cotonou, the court handed Atao Hinnouho a prison term of 76 months for trying to prevent a search of his home and for customs fraud linked to the import of banned merchandise.
He was also ordered to pay 3.0 billion CFA francs in fines, damages, and interest payments.
But he was acquitted of another charge of attacking an officer in uniform.
After arriving at the court in a wheelchair, Hinnouho — whose parliamentary immunity was lifted in July — listened to the verdict in silence, his head bowed. Friends, supporters and family members quickly left after the verdict was read out.
Aboubakar Baparape, one of his lawyers, denounced it as “a political trial” and vowed to appeal.
Hinnouho, who has been in jail since May, was one of the key players working with New Cesamax, a laboratory based in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Following a raid on his home in December 2017, police seized several hundred boxes of medicines after which Hinnouho went on the run only to be caught several months later.
Two of his aides were arrested and sentenced in March to between six months and four years in prison over the sale of false and illegal drugs.
100,000 deaths per year
Last year, Benin launched a crackdown on expired and counterfeit drugs after growing alarm over the scale of such trafficking in West Africa.
Fake medicines are drugs that are bogus or below regulatory standards but often are outwardly indistinguishable from the genuine product.
Taking them may do nothing to tackle an illness or — in the case of antibiotics — worsen the problem of microbial resistance.
According to the World Health Organization, fake medicines are responsible for more than 100,000 deaths per year in sub-Saharan Africa.
The UN health body estimates that one out of 10 medicines in the world is fake, but the figure can be as high as seven out of 10 in certain countries, especially in Africa.
In August 2017, Interpol said it seized 420 tonnes of counterfeit medicine in a massive operation involving 1,000 police, customs and health officials in seven countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo.
President Muhammadu Buhari has said that the Seme-Krake joint border will increase cooperation between Nigeria and Benin Republic.
The President stated this on Tuesday when he inaugurated the joint border post between both countries.
“The joint border will enhance trade facilitation by combining border clearance activities in a single location, increase cooperation and coordination of controls”.
President Buhari described the project as a way of enhancing the free movement of people and goods in the region.
”Indeed, the Seme-Krake joint border is one of the busiest boundary lines not only in West Africa but the whole continent, daily recording the huge movement of persons, goods and services.
”Permit me therefore to congratulate my brother, President Patrice Talon of the Republic of Benin on the successful completion of this magnificent project.
”As we all know, Nigeria and Benin share many things in common. Hence, the establishment of the Joint Border Post will certainly promote our brotherliness and emphasize our common interest, ” he said.
On the benefits of the joint border post, which sits on 17 hectares of land is that it will foster data and intelligence sharing between Nigeria and Benin Republic.
”The Border Post is strategically important and lies on the Lagos-Cotonou-Lome-Accra-Abidjan corridor, which accounts for about 70% of the entire transit traffic in the sub-region.
”The corridor is also part of the Trans-African Highway network. This Joint Border Post with modern enabling facilities is a flagship project in ECOWAS and a good example of regional public assets with a spill-over range of benefits,’’ he said.
President Buhari also expressed optimism that the facilities at the border post will improve the working conditions of border officials and make them more efficient and effective in carrying out their duties.
He, therefore, urged border officials of both countries to ensure that their operations are carried out within the guiding principles of ECOWAS.
”I am aware that a Joint Committee with membership from Nigeria and Benin has been established for the coordination and management of this facility. I would like to call on the members of the committee to note the complex task ahead of them.
”The committee must ensure that border officials are sensitised on the mode of operation of the Joint Border Post concept which is a big departure from the traditional mode of operation. I call on the ECOWAS Commission to continue to provide the needed support to this Committee, ”he said.
Appreciating the financial commitment of the European Union Commission to the project and the contributions of the ECOWAS Commission towards its successful completion, President Buhari noted that inadequate transport infrastructure and inefficient services were some of the major bottlenecks to the attainment of socio-economic development and integration in the region.
”ECOWAS is a region where ports, roads, railways and airports still remain a constraint despite significant recent progress made.
”Nigeria has embarked on major investment programmes covering these sectors to improve the competitiveness of our economies and accelerate growth. We are therefore delighted to welcome such initiatives aimed at boosting the economic integration of our member States in West Africa,’’ he said.
In his capacity as the Chairperson of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, President Buhari also thanked the EU for supporting two other joint borders at Malanville (between Benin/Niger) and Noepe-Akanu (between Ghana/Togo).