Nigeria Moves Five Places Up In Newly Released FIFA Rankings

Nigeria moved up from 57th to the 52nd position on the latest FIFA rankings released today by world football governing body, FIFA.

Seen as a positive impact on the Super Eagles this time, Nigeria is now rated 10th in Africa as against the old rating of 16th position.

Cote d’Ivoire placed 14th is still the highest ranked African country while Japan placed 22nd, is Asia’s best team. The Ivoirians are also first in Africa while Algeria moved up five places to occupy Africa’s second spot and 19th in the world.

Mali are third on the Africa rankings after the West African nation dropped one place and are now ranked 28th in the world.

The Eagles have experienced a gradual renaissance under Coach Stephen Keshi, who steered the team to January’s Africa Cup of Nations. The Nigerian side defeated Liberia 8-3 aggregate in their final qualification game to book a ticket to South Africa.

World and European champions, Spain, remain top of the rankings despite their 1-1 draw with France while Germany retained second position.

But Argentina leapfrogged Portugal (4) to climb to third in the standings after they recorded victories over Uruguay (who fell out of the top 10) and Chile in the past month to move up one place.

Italy completes the top five, rising with three positions following wins against Armenia and Denmark.

Brazil; hosts of the 2014 World Cup are 18th in the standings.

AYC 2013: Obuh Says Group Stage Not An Issue

Coach John Obuh; the head coach of Nigeria’s African Youth Championship squad for the 2013 edition has opened up concerning how the team will fare saying is confident of qualifying for the World Cup by scaling the group stage of the 2013 African Youth Championship in Algeria which will kick-off holds from March 16-30 in Rabat and Casablanca.

As it stands Nigeria’s Flying Eagles will be facing Mali, Gabon and DR Congo in the tournament and the coach sounded positive that Nigeria will have a wonderful outing due to his side’s quality because of the composition of his team.

“All the teams that will be coming for the tournament are good because all of us have to scale past some countries before reaching this stage.

“Every country has equal opportunity to win the competition but we have a quality team that should be able to hold their own against all other teams.

Some of my players are familiar with the tournament and I know this will give us some edge.

Mali: ECOWAS Speaker Flays Prime Minister’s Forced Resignation

The Speaker of the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Senator Ike Ekweremadu has condemned in strong terms, the forced resignation of the Prime Minister of Mali, Cheik Moddibbo Diara by Mali military.

The Speaker who described the Prime Minister’s resignation as shocking said such effrontery by the military negated the efforts and sacrifices being made by the ECOWAS to restore peace, order and security in the West African country.

“This development is not only a recipe for worsening the travails of democracy and security in Mali, but a stain on the joys of the successes recorded in the Sierra Leone and Ghana general elections”, he said.

Senator Ekweremadu who is also the Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate called on all parties in the Mali impasse, especially the military, to be cautious and restrain from worsening the Mali crisis.

“The political situations in Mali and the terrorist insurgency in the North of the country are already worrisome developments that hold grave implications for the entire sub-region and this latest event makes the deployment of an African-led International Force in Mali very proper and urgent” the Speaker emphasised.

The Speaker was speaking through a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media, Uche Anichukwu.

ECOWAS set-up standby force for Mali’s deployment

The extra-ordinary session of the authority of heads and government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has ended with an agreement to set-up a stand by force that will be in a high state of readiness for imminent deployment to Mali.

The regional body however noted that dialogue remains the preferred option in the resolution of the political crisis in West-African country.

Regarding the security situation in the northern part of the country, the leaders agreed that recourse to force may be indispensable in order to dismantle terrorists and transnational criminal networks that pose a threat to international peace and security.

ECOWAS Chairman and Nigerian President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan had earlier in his address to the summit’s opening session, stated that Nigeria fully supports the recommendations of the Chiefs of Defence Staff for an intervention force to be deployed immediately to Mali to help restore order and stability.

ECOWAS member states were urged to concretise their commitment to provide military and logistical contributions to the ECOWAS military force for the stand by force that will be in a high state of readiness for imminent deployment.

Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traore was also urged not to participate in the forthcoming elections while the nation’s electoral commission was advised to expedite action by unveiling a free, fair and transparent election time table, ahead of the planned transition.

The African Union had in October,  approved a political road map for Mali that foresees elections by April, a move aimed at restoring stability after a coup last March.

On Guinea Bissau, ECOWAS leaders renewed its appeal to member states to extend financial assistance to the government and called on the international community to ease sanctions imposed on the country to alleviate the sufferings of the population.

Europe to send 400 special forces to Mali

Meanwhile European armies are expected to send up to 400 Special Forces troops to Mali to join an African-led mission against Islamists allied to al-Qaeda occupying the country’s north, diplomats said.

The mission, expected to launch early next year, will be made up of as many as 3,300 troops, most of them from Mali but with reinforcements from Niger, Burkina Faso and other African nations.

“We expect that there will be support from the EU in the order of 200 to 400 military support troops to help train the African Union force,” one European diplomat with knowledge of the proceedings said.

The soldiers would mostly be tasked with training local forces and would not take part in fighting, the diplomat added.

Ansar Dine, an Islamist militia with ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, seized territory the size of France in Mali’s north after a military coup in March that ousted the government in the capital, Bamako.

Since then, the group has implemented strict Islamic law and has desecrated ancient sites in Timbuktu, claiming that they were “idolatrous” and against Islam.

International security agencies fear that northern Mali could become a safe haven for foreign fighters allied to al-Qaeda who are seeking territory from which to launch attacks against Western interests.

Military strategists from France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Poland will meet on Thursday to discuss their expected support for the intervention.

Britain has said that “no option is off the table” but has stopped short of committing resources so far.

The blueprint agreed in Abuja will be sent to the United Nations for discussion ahead of a Security Council resolution expected before the end of November.

 

 

Jonathan supports deployment of troops to Mali

President Goodluck Jonathan has called on the summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) holding in Abuja to come up with bold decisions that will help re- enforce peace and security not only in Guinea-Bissau and Mali but the entire West African sub region.

The President who was the first to address the summit’s opening session, stated that Nigeria fully supports the recommendations of the Chiefs of Defence Staff for an intervention force to be deployed immediately to Mali to help restore order and stability.

He said that “the decision is consistent with the United Nations Security Council resolution which supports the use of force to flush out the rebels and anarchist that have turned that country into a lawless zone.”

“This, we (ECOWAS) must do to avert costly consequences not only in Mali but the entire sub region and Africa in general.”

Since January 2012, several insurgent groups have been fighting a campaign against the Malian government for independence or greater autonomy for northern Mali-an area known as Azawad.

The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), an organization fighting to make Azawad an independent homeland for the Tuareg people, had taken control of the region by April and declared independence.

The country has also witnessed a number of Coup d’état and attacks on the Presidential villa in the year.

Turning to Guinea Bissau, President Jonathan said that the situation there requires the injection of funds to stabilise the polity for the total restoration of constitutional order, to ensure that the interim administration in the country is stable.

ECOWAS set to deploy troops to Mali and Guinea Bissau

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says it will meet the 45-day deadline set by the UN Security Council for the final adoption of the modalities on the deployment of troops to Mali in line with resolutions 2056 and 2071 of the Security Council of the United Nations.

This formed the discussion at an extra ordinary meeting of foreign and defence ministers of member countries.

ECOWAS Commission President, Mr. Kadre Desire Ouedraogo said there is need for a twin approach to the Mali crisis, combining dialogue with military pressure to help Mali dismantle terrorist networks and regain her territorial integrity.

The meeting became crucial as the sub-region finalises plan on the adoption of the United Nation Security Council resolution on Mali and Guinea Bissau.

The resolution will allow for international military intervention in Mali following the capture of the northern part of the country by different armed groups.

Ouedrago observed the urgent need to halt the mafia and criminal practices of terrorist groups and the atrocities committed with impunity by the extremists.

The meeting, he says, will address the concepts of operations for clearly defining the stages of the operating procedures and methods for the planned deployment.

Lending her voice to that of the president of the commission, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Missus Salamatu Suleiman explains issues that will be considered at the meeting.

Nigeria’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nurudeen Mohammed warned that tackling the crisis in Mali and other parts of the West African sub-region is no longer an option but a necessity.

The recommendation of the council will be presented to the extraordinary summit of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government on Sunday to give additional guidelines regarding the resolution of the crisis for onward transmission to the African Union which will also transmit to the United Nation.

 

 

Niger Rep. police arrests five Boko Haram suspects

Niger has arrested five people near the Nigerian border suspected of belonging to the militant Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, Niger security officials said on Tuesday.

The group has been blamed for more than 1,000 deaths in Nigeria since 2010. Observers say they suspect it is using Niger as a transit route to link up with other militant groups like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, now controlling northern Mali.

“State Security Police arrested the five suspected Boko Haram members who entered Niger on Sunday through the Zinder region. They have been transferred to Niamey for further questioning,” a security official said, asking not to be named told Reuters.

Another security official said Niger had heightened security along its border with Nigeria as the country intensifies its fight against the militant group, which wants to carve out an Islamic state in northern Nigeria.

Nigeria’s military had announced the death of 35 members of Boko Haram and arrested several during an overnight gun battle in Damaturu, capital of northeastern Yobe state which borders Niger.

Jonathan warns of military intervention in Mali if talks with rebels fail

President Goodluck Jonathan has warned that military intervention in northern Mali will be inevitable if talks with Islamist group controlling the region, fails.

President Jonathan made this known during his visit to Senegal. He however stated that a West African force would only be deployed, with the approval of the United Nations.

ECOWAS would send a force to the area if a peace deal is not reached with the Islamist fighters, stated the president, adding that “diplomacy and negotiation is first.”

“ECOWAS will definitely intervene militarily, but … first and foremost we are negotiating,” he said after talks with Senegalese President Mr Macky Sall.

“We must stabilise the government … I believe through negotiation we will be able to resolve the crisis, we don’t necessarily need military intervention … but if that fails we will have no option.”

“Military intervention is extreme and when negotiations fail, at that time you can talk about military intervention” he said.

Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Djibrille Bas held talks with the militants last month as part of bloc’s diplomatic effort to end the conflict.

ECOWAS, as also asked the UN Security Council to endorse its plan to send 3,000 troops to Mali.

However, it refused, saying it needed more clarity on the West African body’s military objectives and how it intended to achieve them.

Islamist groups and Tuareg rebels took control of large swathes of northern Mali after President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown in a coup in March.

But the rebel alliance has since ruptured, with Islamist fighters chasing Tuareg rebels out of several northern towns and imposing Sharia law.

The Islamists have destroyed ancient shrines in the historical city of Timbuktu, claiming they violated Sharia law and promoted idolatry among Muslims.

The UN warned that the destruction of the shrines could amount to war crimes and the International Criminal Court has launched a preliminary inquiry into alleged atrocities.

The Islamists have also stoned to death an unwed couple and amputated the hand of an alleged thief.

Alleged atrocities committed in the rebel-held north are being investigated by international prosecutors.

A new unity government was formed in Mali’s capital, Bamako, at the weekend, promising to spearhead initiatives to end the instability in the north.

Mali has so far rejected a full-scale foreign intervention but said its army, once re-equipped, would need the support of two or three battalions.

AU urges Ansar Dine rebels to part ways with al-Qaeda

Malian Islamist rebel group  can be part of a negotiated political solution to reunite the divided West African country if it breaks with al Qaeda and its allies, a senior African Union official said on Monday.

African leaders at an AU summit in Addis Ababa are backing negotiations to try to form an inclusive national unity government in Mali, where a March 22 military coup in the southern capital Bamako triggered the seizure of the north of the nation by a mix of Tuareg separatists and Islamist rebels.

Since then, the Islamists, some allied with al Qaeda, have displaced local Tuareg separatists to seize control of most of the largely desert north, including the main towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. They include Ansar Dine, a Malian group led by a prominent Tuareg fighter and political leader, Iyad Ag Ghali.

Parallel to the negotiations, the AU through the West African regional grouping ECOWAS is pursuing a plan to create a military force which, with U.N. backing, would intervene to expel the northern rebels and reunify Mali if the talks failed.

“We have not yet exhausted all the possibilities to reach a peaceful solution to this situation,” AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told reporters at the summit.

While the AU has ruled out negotiations with what it calls “terrorist groups” such as al Qaeda and its allies like Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Shabaab in Somalia, regional mediators were maintaining contacts with the Malian Tuareg-led MNLA movement and Ansar Dine, Lamamra said.

He welcomed the fact that the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), which originally led the successful rebellion in the north, declared on Sunday it had dropped its claims for a separate state after the northern revolt was hijacked by the al Qaeda-linked Islamists.

Lamamra said Ansar Dine could still also join the dialogue to form a national unity government for Mali, which he said should include influential figures from the north.

“We do encourage Ansar Dine to distance itself from al Qaeda and come to the table as a Malian national group,” he added.

Ag Ghali, who has been involved in past rebellions by the fiercely independent Tuaregs in northern Mali, has said his group, whose name Ansar Dine means “Defenders of the Faith”, wants to establish strict sharia, Islamic law, across Mali.

“DIVISION OF LABOUR”

Islamist groups including Ansar Dine have carried out public whippings of alleged adulterers in the north and destroyed UNESCO-listed shrines of local saints in the ancient town of Timbuktu, arguing such worship was un-Islamic.

African leaders are seeking U.N. Security Council support for the possible military intervention in Mali to end the rebellion in the north and reunite the Sahel state.

The Security Council has endorsed the West African efforts to end the unrest in Mali but has stopped short of backing a military operation until African leaders can clearly spell out its objectives and how it would be carried out.

Lamamra said AU and ECOWAS military experts were currently in Bamako drawing up a plan of action with the Malian army. He added the continental body should be able to go back to the Security Council with its detailed operational strategy for the intervention “in a matter of weeks”.

While African troops would make up the intervention force, Lamamra said he expected “a division of labour” for other tasks among the international community once the U.N. Security Council had given the go-ahead for the military operation in Mali.

“A number of countries can contribute intelligence,” he said, without specifying further.

Resolving the messy coup aftermaths in Mali, and also in Guinea-Bissau, where a military putsch in April interrupted a presidential election, are some of the tasks facing new AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa who was elected at the summit on Sunday.

In her first news conference after being elected and without referring specifically to Mali, Dlamini-Zuma, a former foreign minister and ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma, said she would work to solve crises in Africa “as expeditiously as possible”.

She recalled that the AU had created its own Peace and Security Council precisely because, she said, the United Nations had often moved “at an elephant’s pace” to deal with African conflicts.

 

Insecurity in Nigeria dominates Council of State meeting

The insecurity in Nigeria on Thursday was the issue that dominated the National Council of States meeting presided over by President Goodluck Jonathan at the State House in Abuja.

Present at the meeting were past Nigerian leaders including Shehu Shagari, Ernest Shenekan and Abdulsalami Abubakar as well as the governors of the 36 states of the federation or their deputies.

There was no formal briefing after the meeting but sources said that National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki briefed the meeting on security situation in Plateau state and the efforts being put in place so far to nip it in the bud as well as the situation in Mali and its effect on neighbouring countries including Nigeria.

The Belgore Report on constitutional matters and the National Honours list were also discussed during the meeting

The 36 state governors met last night in Abuja to take a common position on the incessant violence in parts of the country ahead of the council meeting.

Officials close to the forum said the governors were discussing the level of insecurity especially in the North, and were considering taking a common position ahead of the Council of State meeting.

The governors’ meeting was summoned in the wake of the latest bloodshed in Plateau State, where dozens of people were in killed in attacks on villages, which also led to the deaths of Senator Gyang Dantong and state legislator Gyang Fulani.

Last night’s meeting was held at the Rivers’ State Governors’ Lodge in Abuja.

The governors’ meeting was attended by governors of Katsina, Kaduna, Borno, Zamfara, Kebbi, Taraba, Jigawa, Kogi, Enugu, Delta, Lagos, Ekiti, Ondo, Ebonyi, Abia, Plateau, Rivers, Bayelsa, Anambra, Gombe and Adamawa states. Deputy governors of Kano, Nasarawa, Niger, Kwara, Ogun and Yobe states were also in attendance.

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ECOWAS has Mali force troop pledge, still lacks backing

West African military chiefs have secured troop commitments from three nations for their planned Mali intervention force, despite the mission still lacking an invitation from authorities in Bamako and backing from the United Nations.

Nigeria, Niger and Senegal will provide the core of a 3,270-strong force whose mission would initially be bolstering Mali’s fragmented army and stabilising political institutions, and then tackling the rebel-held north if talks fail, officials said after military chiefs met in Ivory Coast.

Mali plunged into crisis after a March coup ousted the president. Separatist and Islamist rebels took advantage of the instability to seize the northern two-thirds of the country, creating a void that regional countries say an outside force may have to fill.

African leaders have warned of an “African Afghanistan” due to the presence of al Qaeda cells and foreign fighters but U.N. Security Council diplomats say the council is not yet ready to agree the African Union’s request to back military intervention.

Weeks after West African regional bloc ECOWAS said the standby force was ready, General Soumaila Bakayoko, head of Ivory Coast’s army, said some officers would travel to Mali to work out more detailed planning in the coming days.

“The hope is that we will be welcomed as brothers in arms,” he said late on Saturday, underscoring potential problems with Mali’s military, which wants outside help to fight rebels but has reacted angrily to ECOWAS criticism and sanctions impoased after its power grab.

Diplomats say the U.N.’s reticence to swiftly back the force is due to the lack of a clear plan to tackle the crises in both the capital and the north.

Mali’s interim president has not returned since seeking medical treatment in Paris after he was beaten up by a mob that broke into his office. After security forces failed to precent the attack, some diplomats say President Dioncounda Traore is reluctant to return until a regional force is in place.

REUTERS

Mali Junta accepts interim leader’s extension – Chief Negotiator

The chief negotiator for the West African regional bloc says the junta in Mali has accepted that the current interim president will stay in office until new elections can be held.

A group of middle ranking soldiers toppled Mali’s democratically elected president on March 21. Since then West African leaders have been pressuring the junta to exit the political scene and return to their barracks.

Djibrill Bassole, the foreign minister of Burkina Faso, told reporters late Saturday that the junta and ECOWAS were in full agreement on the matter.

The junta in Mali had been resisting the extended presidency of Dioncounda Traore who took over as interim president on April 12 for an initial period of 40 days.

Bassole did not say how long the transition would last.