The increase in activities and threats by terrorist groups in the Sahel region can be largely curbed by stepping up relations between Nigeria and the United States of America, according to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN.
Prof. Osinbajo stated this in Abuja on Thursday when he received the new US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mrs Mary Beth Leonard, on a courtesy visit at the Presidential Villa.
Noting the good relationship between Nigeria and the US, the Vice President called for an even more robust cooperation.
He observed that apart from poverty, terrorism is a major issue affecting the Sahel region and this is the best chance of making progress on those issues.
“Stepping up cooperation with the US in the area of counter-terrorism is something that should be pursued vigorously given the threats of terrorism in the Sahel,” according to the Vice President.
Responding to the proposition by Mrs Leonard for improved ties between Nigeria and the US including through the restoration of the Bi-National Commission, Prof. Osinbajo said there are indeed huge opportunities for improved cooperation between both countries.
“The challenges facing us as a country are many but they present opportunities for doing innovative and great things. This is our best chance to making serious progress.
“I am certainly looking forward to the Bi-National Commission and hope that important issues concerning our trade relations will be addressed because we have barely scratched the surface,” the Vice President said.
Earlier in her remarks, the US Ambassador, Mrs Mary Beth Leonard said it was an honour to serve in Nigeria and expressed hope that her tenure as Ambassador to Nigeria would be fruitful.
The Ambassador said improving trade and investment and resuscitating the US-Nigeria Bi-National Commission will top her agenda in the coming years.
It’s 50 years since the Nigerian civil war ended but the scars have endured. Here is a timeline of how the war started and major events since the shots were called off at Dodan Barracks.
January 15, 1966: A group of army majors, led by Kaduna Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna, execute Nigeria’s first military coup which ended the First Republic.
Most of the coup plotters were Igbo and a number of those killed – including Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa – were northerners.
The coup plotters attacked three cities – Lagos, Kaduna, and Ibadan – and said their stated objective was to cleanse the country of corruption.
January 16, 1966: Head of the Nigerian Army, Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, is declared Head of State. Although Aguiyi-Ironsi had aided in coup suppression efforts, that he was Igbo stoked northern sentiments that the coup was intended to wipe out the North’s political powers.
January 17, 1966: Aguiyi-Ironsi appoints Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu as Military Governor of the Eastern Region.
July 29, 1966: A few months after the first coup, northern soldiers stage a counter-coup, killing Aguiyi-Ironsi and many other high-ranking Eastern officers. Aguiyi-Ironsi’s death led to the emergence of Yakubu Gowon as Head of State.
September 29, 1966: The northern coup further inflamed anti-Igbo sentiments in the North. From May to September 1966, observers estimated that between 3,000 and 30,000 Igbos were slaughtered and another 150,000 – 300,000 fled to southern and eastern regions.
January 1967: Nigerian military leaders famously meet in Aburi, Ghana, to resolve the complications and disaffections created by the two coups.
May 27, 1967: Gowon declares the division of Nigeria in 12 states, which includes splitting the Eastern Region into three parts.
May 30, 1967: Ojukwu declared the independence of the Republic of Biafra, after an official vote of secession had taken place in the eastern region.
June 1967: After Ojukwu’s declaration, Nigeria’s military government places an embargo on the shipping of goods to and from Biafra, excluding oil tankers.
July 6, 1967: Five weeks after Ojukwu declared the Republic of Biafra as an independent state, the Nigerian-Biafra war begins.
The initial attack by the Nigerians included two advancing columns, one of which captured the Biafran town of Nsukka on July 14 and the other which took the Biafran town of Garkem on July 12. However, the Biafran retaliation was strong and moved rapidly across the Niger River, through Benin City, and to the town of Ore, 130 miles east of the Nigerian capital of Lagos. where they were eventually stopped on August 21.
January 1968: After nearly six months of war, the Nigerian military had surrounded Biafra and cut off the majority of their supply lines, but the Biafrans continued to resist surrender and kept on fighting.
January 29, 1968: Biafra introduces its first Biafran currency.
March 27, 1968: First airlift into the city of Port Harcourt, organised by Father Anthony Byrne, who also managed the Catholic relief operations in Biafra.
June 26, 1968: The government of the Republic of Biafra releases a “Charge to Humanity” statement outlining the deteriorating situation in Biafra and calling for foreign support.
July 12, 1968: Biafran children appear on the cover of Life Magazine with headline “Starving Children of Biafra War”
May 1969: Biafrans commence land offensive reinforced by foreign mercenary pilots, attacking military airfields in Enugu, Port Harcourt, Ughelli, and Benin City.
June 5, 1969: A Red Cross plane is downed while delivering relief supplies to Biafra. As a result, the Red Cross ceases air deliveries of aid.
June 30, 1969: Nigeria bans International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) aid to Biafra; the American Jewish Emergency Effort for Biafran Relief has raised a total of $185,000.
January 7, 1970: Nigerian forces launch its offensive “Operation Tail-Wind,” which successfully conquers Owerri and Uli within 5 days.
January 15, 1970: Official surrender papers signed by Biafran General Philip Effiong, deputy to Ojukwu who had fled to the Ivory Coast a few days earlier.
July 1985: National War Museum is established in Umuahia, Nigeria.
1999: Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is founded by Indian-trained lawyer, Ralph Uwazuruike.
September 2006: Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is published.
November 26, 2011: Ojukwu dies in the United Kingdom after a brief illness, aged 78.
2012: The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is founded by Nnamdi Kanu. The group’s stated aim is to restore an independent state of Biafra through a referendum.
September 2017: A federal court in Abuja declares IPOB activities as ‘Acts of Terrorism’ just a week after the federal government declared the group as a militant terrorist organisation.
An elder statesman, Professor Banji Akintoye says Nigeria is in a crisis situation, hence calling on the citizens to find a rational solution.
Akintoye stated this on Monday during a gathering of eminent Nigerians including Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka and Professor Pat Utomi at the Muson Centre in Lagos.
“We are already in a crisis. If in our sober difference to reality find that we can no longer hold together as one family, then let us together peacefully find a rational solution and let us never again plunge into any kind of war,” he stated.
The elder statesman noted that peace was a panacea for development in the nearest future.
A Professor of Political Economy, Pat Utomi, says the Nigerian civil war that claimed about two million lives were completely unnecessary.
Speaking during an interview on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics, Utomi noted that honest conversation would have avoided the tragic incident.
“In my view, the Nigerian civil war was completely unnecessary. It was something that honest conversation would have taken care of.
“The path of progress that the country was travelling could have continued. Many of the decisions we have taken as a country since then to prevent what went wrong have actually taken us back as a people,” he stated.
Speaking further, Utomi decried the presidential system of government the country currently operates on a four-year single term basis.
He explained that the system modelled after the United States does not work to promote the good initially meant due to its expensive nature.
“We have chosen a presidential system as a way of preventing this fracture allegiance. The idea of a presidential system is to select one person who is literally owned by all because he has gone round the whole country canvassing the votes of people.
“What has happened unfortunately is that we have created a bloated expensive political process that really does not work to advance the good that we want.
“The principle of subsidiarity of authority being devolved to levels closer to the people has been lost in this presidential system,” he stated.
His remarks come after former Military President of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida (retired) lamented that all the efforts made to reconcile Nigerians in the aftermath of the civil war have had limited impact because they were not consistently pushed by the authorities.
The former Head of State called on the Federal Government to ensure that the objectives for establishing institutions like the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and the unity schools were met.
Nigerian musician, Eedris Abdulkareem, says he feels vindicated 18 years after he released his hit song, ‘Nigeria Jaga Jaga’.
The singer who made an appearance on Channels TV’s Rubbing Minds on Sunday, explained that while he had been openly criticised by some at the time he released the song, including the then-president of the country, now he feels vindicated because the country has remained the same.
“In 2002 I dropped Nigeria Jaga Jaga, and the ex-president came on the National TV and said that boy wey sing that song, na him papa and him family jaga jaga.
“I was very happy that my message got to the president. I was very happy that the president talked back at me because that means they were listening and today I’ve been vindicated again because Nigeria is still jaga jaga”.
‘Jaga Jaga’ is a term which has been used to describe something in a state of chaos or disarray.
Nigeria will be making another attempt at qualifying for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games as the West African nation battles 33 others in the men and 29 teams in the women at the 2020 World Team Olympic Qualifying tournament holding in Gondomar, Portugal on January 22 to 26.
From the men and women events, 18 teams made up of nine men and nine women teams are expected to pick their slots to compete in the Olympics table tennis event from the tournament.
According to the playing format, the matches will be in knockouts stages with the first stage made up of a knockout of 64. The eight teams, which make it to the quarterfinals will qualify to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. while the quarterfinals, semifinals and final matches will not be played.
The 9th and final qualification place for both Men’s & Women’s Teams will be determined via a 2nd knockout stage between teams losing in the round of 16 of the first stage. The matches are best of five individual matches consisting of a doubles and four singles.
Nigeria is Africa’s only representative at the qualifying event and the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has confirmed the men’s team made up of Aruna Quadri, Olajide Omotayo, Segun Toriola, Bode Abiodun and junior sensation, Taiwo Mati.
The women will be represented by Edem Offiong, Olufunke Oshonaike, Fatimo Bello, Ajoke Ojomu and Cecilia Akpan.
The tournament would give Nigeria another chance to qualify for Tokyo 2020 after missing the continental only slot to Egypt at the 2019 African Games in Morocco.
The Multiusos de Gondomar, in Portugal will host the tournament with 9 teams (men and women) qualifying to Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and subsequently be entitled to confirm two athletes to take part in the singles events.
It was to try to break this cycle of ignorance that the Oyeyinka wrote the novel Stillborn – a historic epic about Nigeria from the days of British colonial rule from 1950 to 2010.
In it, the civil war is the pivotal event.
‘Our History, Our Conflict’
Unlike other famed Nigerian writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, with her novel Half Of A Yellow Sun, or Chinua Achebe’s memoir There Was A Country, Oyeyinka is one of the few non-Igbo writers to have dwelt on the conflict.
“An Igbo friend got angry at me and said ‘You can’t write about us, it’s our conflict’,” he recounted.
But Oyeyinka insists that all Nigerians need to be made aware of what happened.
“We need to address these traumas ourselves, as a country, otherwise we are a tinder box ready to explode.”
While in the rest of Africa’s most populous nation many know little about the history of Biafra, in the former capital of the self-proclaimed state at Enugu the memory of those years lives on.
Biafran flags — an iconic red, black and green with a rising golden sun — make appearances on the front of buildings and hardline separatists still demand independence.
The security forces — deployed heavily in the region — are quick to stamp out any clamour for a new Biafra.
At the end of the war in 1970, Nigeria’s war leader Yukubu Gowon famously declared there would be “no victor, no vanquished” as he sought to reunite his shattered country.
The leader of the breakaway Republic of Biafra, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, went into exile for 13 years before being pardoned. He returned to Nigerian politics but was detained for 10 months in prison.
Leading Nigerian intellectual Pat Utomi says that many Igbos — the country’s third-biggest ethnic group after the Hausa and the Yoruba — still feel marginalised.
One key event was when current President Muhammadu Buhari — then a military chief — seized power in 1983, and stopped the only Igbo aspirant to get close to leading Nigeria since the war from becoming head of state.
“In the early 1980s, people had forgotten about the war, but this succession of poor leadership brought bitterness among the new generations,” Utomi said.
Nowadays any incident — from the closure of the only airport in the southeast last year to the sacking of Igbo shops by customs officials in economic hub Lagos — can cause grievances to flare.
“It’s important to deal with history, to write it down. In Nigeria, we try to cover it up,” Utomi said.
“We are more divided today than we’ve ever been before the civil war. We learnt nothing from it.”
In order to try to heal the rifts, Utomi helped organise a “Never Again” conference aiming to bring together key cultural and political figures to discuss the lessons of the Biafra war half a century after it ended.
He is also a patron of the “Centre for Memories” in Enugu, a combination of a museum and library where visitors can come and “dig into history”.
‘History Is Essential’
History itself has been absent from Nigerian schools.
The current government reintroduced it only from the last term as an obligatory subject for pupils aged 10 to 13, after more than a decade off the curriculum.
“Teaching history is essential to build our identity as a country, and defend our patriotic values,” said Sonny Echono, permanent secretary at the education ministry.
But schools still remain woefully short of qualified history teachers and there is no unified narrative about the civil war which does not figure in the lessons.
“We need to teach the war in our schools,” said Egodi Uchendu, a history professor at the University of Nsukka, in the former Biafra territory.
“Eastern Nigeria is completely different from how it was experienced in other parts of the country. We need to bring in the different angles to it.”
Chika Oduah, a Nigerian-American journalist, has crossed the country to collect hundreds of testimonies of the victims and combatants of the Biafra conflict which she publishes on her website Biafran War Memories.
She says that for many of those she interviewed it was the first time they had retold the horrors of the period.
“A 70-something former soldier… broke down crying, when he told me how he lost his brother during the war,” she said.
She herself only learnt at the age of 17 that her mother as a child spent two years in a camp for displaced people.
“Our parents wanted to move on, not look at the past,” Oduah insisted.
“But we need to talk about it, otherwise we won’t heal”.
The latest report regarding the world’s most powerful International Passport places the Nigerian passport at 95.
According to the list put together by Henley Passport Index which occasionally curates a list of the world’s most travel-friendly passports, Nigeria is just above countries like Djibouti, South Sudan, and other war-torn countries in the middle-east.
In the recently published report, the Japanese passport is the most powerful in the world, as it avails those who possess it visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to about 191 destinations around the world.
The list also shows another Asian country – Singapore sitting in second place, with other European countries trailing right behind.
Travel Dilemma for Nigerians
Though the largest nation in Africa and often called the giant of the continent, Nigerians still do not have it easy while travelling internationally.
Those who possess a Nigerian passport often experience difficulties going through a plethora of checks, many have often described as dehumanizing the way they were treated at the airports of other nations.
Every year millions of Nigerians leave the country’s shores some for pleasure visits, others for medical tourism and a lot more in search of greener pastures.
However, these trips are not all palatable as the Nigerian passport only avails visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to only 41 countries, with many having to struggle and pay through their noses to visit the highly developed nation.
Terrorism and fraud culture
The weakness of the Nigerian passport and the way Nigerians are treated when they travel is not unconnected with the nation’s battle with terrorism, fraud and other crimes.
In December 2019, Nigeria was added to a United States ‘special watch list’ of countries that had engaged in or tolerated the severe violation of religious freedom.
This in no way puts the nation and those who bear its passport in a good light, hence, one can tell where the unpalatable treatment meted out to Nigerians when they travel, stems from.
In recent times, the name ‘Nigeria’ had become very synonymous with fraud.
US authorities in August 2019, announced charges against 80 people, most of them Nigerians, in a wide-ranging fraud and money laundering operation that netted millions of dollars from victims of internet con jobs.
Federal prosecutors unsealed the dozens of indictments after 17 people were arrested and taken into custody in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the United States.
Most of the remainder of those indicted were believed to be in Nigeria.
With such a reputation, one cannot expect that many nations will be more skeptical about their interactions with Nigerians and those with Nigerian passports.
The Government’s reaction
In an interview granted to the New Telegraph, President Buhari warned his fellow citizens to stop trying to make asylum claims in Britain, saying that their reputation for criminality has made it hard for them to be “accepted” abroad.
President Buhari said the number of Nigerians imprisoned for law-breaking in Britain and elsewhere, is the reason many are unlikely to get much sympathy.
Similarly, while addressing Nigerians in the Diaspora in Yokohama, Japan, Buhari said their actions should not reflect on the majority of Nigerians who are law-abiding.
He said there are few Nigerians in the Diaspora that are giving the country a bad name by engaging in criminal activities.
According to him, those Nigerians are a minority and do not represent the values of the country.
The President pleaded for those tarnishing the country’s name to change their ways, adding that his government will not condone any crime whether at home or abroad, and we will also not allow fraudulent Nigerians to define the nation as a people with reputation for criminality.
It is hoped that the fight against crime which is about the most important focus of the Buhari-led administration, will yield results which would see a turn in the value of the nation’s passport as well as a change in the way the world sees Nigerians.
The Federal Government has asked Nigerians to continually remain united in their opposition to Boko Haram and the hatred for decency that the infamous group stands for.
The Presidency in a statement by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, however, assured that the security forces will continually work to ensure that those taken hostage by the insurgents will be returned safely to their families.
He added that the government has condemned some recent acts of terror, stressing that the motives by the insurgents to portray a message of religion only hinges on the fact that they want Nigerians to see their beliefs as a reason to turn against one another.
“The security forces of Nigeria are working continuously to return those taken hostage by Boko Haram to their families, friends and communities. In doing this, the government has full confidence in their ability to accomplish the task.
“On its own part, the government has condemned some of the appalling acts of terror, especially following the festive period. Yet, to continue to see these happenings solely in religious terms – removed from social, economic and environmental factors – simplifies complexities that must be heeded. Not seeing them as they should be is exactly what the terrorists and groups wish: they want Nigerians to see their beliefs as a reason to turn against one another.
“On the contrary, Christians and Muslims alike are united in their opposition to Boko Haram and the hatred for decency that the infamous group stands for,” he added.
Mr Shehu restated that the Federal Government will never tolerate religious intolerance, and will continually show support for the freedom to practice whichever belief they wish.
He added that “Nigerians must continue to be united in ensuring that they do not subscribe to the terrorists’ message of division.
“Unfortunately, some leaders and politicians seek to make political capital from our religious differences. As we fight Boko Haram on the ground, so too must we tackle their beliefs: stability and unity in face of their hatred is itself a rejection of their worldview.”
American rapper, Belcalis Marlenis popularly known as Cardi B, has asked Nigerians to pick a Nigerian name for her, following her recent announcement that she would file for a Nigerian citizenship.
She had made the announcement in reaction to the killing of a top Iranian General, Qasem Soleimani, by the United States government in an air attack in Baghdad.
“Specially being from New York. It’s sad this man (Trump) is putting Americans’ lives in danger. Dumbest move Trump did till date (sic) … I’m filing for my Nigerian citizenship,” the 27-year old rapper said.
She has, however, now gone a step further by asking Nigerians to help her decide on a name.
Let’s settle this ones and for all CHIOMA B Or Cadijat
Beyond speaking about obtaining a Nigerian citizenship, the singer had previously tweeted photos of herself, her husband, offset and her daughter, all dressed in Nigerian native attires – in what appeared to be an endorsement of the Nigerian culture.
She had also previously retweeted that she was picking her tribe and asked her fans to convince her husband to move with her.
•— Davido showered you champagne/Hennessy worth millions – He’s a Yoruba made, Cardijat. •— You stayed in Lagos through your stay – it’s a Yoruba land, Cardijat. •— You met with them Zlatan, Burna Boy and co, They are Yoruba.
“With the performance of the girls at the Zone 3 qualifiers and emerging first, the signs are there that we will make it to Tokyo 2020 Olympics, we are just one step away from Japan.
“I commend the women’s beach volleyball team for their resilience and determination. They played well and did the country proud in Ghana,” he said.
He further said, “The girls used tactical discipline to subdue Benin Republic and Ghana in their respective matches. The Ghanaian team was powering at the beginning of the matches but we had a game plan which was perfectly executed”.
The President of Nigeria Volleyball Federation, Engineer Musa Nimrod is pleased the team made it to the next round of the Olympic qualifiers and believes the players can upset their opponents in the final round yet to be decided by the African Volleyball Confederation.