Two hundred and eighty-eight more Nigerians have returned from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), taking the number of evacuees from the Arab nation to 2,641.
The Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) disclosed this in a tweet via its official handle on Monday.
It explained that the evacuees arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja at 11:00 am onboard an Air Peace flight.
Although the agency said the evacuees had tested negative to COVID-19, they would be undergoing a mandatory 14-day self-isolation, in line with the guidelines issued by the Federal Government.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted regular daily activities in several countries across the world, leaving millions of people stranded in foreign nations.
Against the backdrop of the outbreak, many countries initiated the process of evacuating their citizens back home.
Nigeria is not left out as the Federal Government has facilitated the repatriation of thousands of its citizens stranded abroad.
Among the nations where Nigerians have been brought back home include the United States, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Sudan, France, Ethiopia, and several others.
Monday’s evacuation from the UAE comes two days after 311 Nigerians returned from the country.
On Sunday, NIDCOM said 327 Nigerians returned from the United Kingdom.
As at June 2020, the Federal Government said it had spent N169 million on the evacuation of Nigerians from overseas.
During a briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 on April, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, had directed all Nigerians interested in returning to the country to work with Nigeria’s embassies and high commissions where they are.
“What is important to get out to all Nigerians is that their engagement and communication should be with the embassies, high commissions and not with any other parallel agency, department of government or anything like that.”
Lebanon’s premier Hassan Diab stepped down Monday amid fury within and outside his government over the deadly Beirut port blast he blamed on the incompetence and corruption of a decades-old ruling class.
“Today we are heeding the people and their demands to hold accountable those responsible for a disaster,” he said in a televised address, blaming a “corrupt” political class that has ruled Lebanon for more than 30 years for the August 4 explosion.
“This is why today I announce the resignation of the government.”
Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai was arrested Monday and led in handcuffs through his newspaper office as police raided the building, part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent since China imposed a security law on the city.
Lai, 71, was among nine people detained on charges including colluding with foreign forces — one of the new national security offences — and fraud in an operation targeting his Next Digital publishing group.
It was the latest police operation against dissidents under the sweeping new law introduced at the end of June.
Two of Lai’s sons were among those detained, a police source told Media as well as Wilson Li, a former pro-democracy activist who describes himself as a freelance videographer working for Britain’s ITV News.
The most serious national security crimes carry up to life in jail.
Journalists working at Lai’s Apple Daily broadcasted dramatic footage on Facebook of some 200 police officers conducting the raid, and the newspaper’s chief editor Law Wai-kwong demanding a warrant from officers.
Apple’s staff were ordered to leave their seats and line up so police could check their identities as officers conducted searches across the newsroom.
At one point Lai was present, in handcuffs and surrounded by officers.
Police said the search was conducted with a court warrant which was shown to staff.
‘Assault on free press’ Chris Yeung, president of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, described the police action as “shocking and terrifying”.
“This is unprecedented, and would be unimaginable only one or two months ago,” he said.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong said the raid signalled “a dark new phase” that “upended” previous assurances by China and Hong Kong’s government that the national security law would not end press freedoms.
Chris Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, accused authorities of carrying out “the most outrageous assault yet on what is left of Hong Kong’s free press”.
The security law was introduced in a bid to quell last year’s huge and often violent pro-democracy protests, and authorities have since wielded their new powers to pursue the city’s democracy camp, sparking criticism from Western nations and sanctions from the United States.
Lai’s Apple Daily and Next Magazine are unapologetically pro-democracy and critical of Beijing.
They are enormously popular but funded almost entirely out of Lai’s pocket because few companies dare advertise with them lest they incur Beijing’s wrath.
After Lai’s arrest, Next Digital shares soared more than 250 percent as supporters made online calls for people to buy the stock.
Across the border, few Hong Kongers generate the level of personal vitriol from Beijing that Lai does.
China routinely calls him a “traitor” and a “black hand” behind last year’s protests.
A small group of Beijing supporters celebrated by popping champagne outside Lai’s offices on Monday afternoon.
Lai spoke to Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) in mid-June, two weeks before the new security law was imposed on Hong Kong.
“I’m prepared for prison,” he said.
He described Beijing’s new security law as “a death knell for Hong Kong” and said he feared authorities would come after his journalists.
He also brushed off the collusion allegations, saying Hong Kongers had a right to meet with foreign politicians.
Sweeping new law Beijing’s new law targets secession, subversion, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces.
Both China and Hong Kong have said it will not affect freedoms and only targets a minority.
But its broadly worded provisions criminalised certain political speech overnight, such as advocating sanctions, greater autonomy or independence for Hong Kong.
Critics, including many Western nations, believe the law has ended the key liberties and autonomy that Beijing promised Hong Kong could keep after its 1997 handover by Britain.
Washington last week responded by imposing sanctions on a group of Chinese and Hong Kong officials — including the city’s leader Carrie Lam.
The law’s introduction has coincided with ramped-up police action against democracy supporters.
About two dozen — including Lai — have been charged for defying a police ban to attend a Tiananmen remembrance vigil in early June. Lai and many others are also being prosecuted for taking part in last year’s protests.
Last month a dozen high-profile pro-democracy figures were disqualified from standing in local elections for holding unacceptable political views.
The banned opinions included being critical of the security law and campaigning to win a majority in the city’s partially-elected legislature in order to block government laws.
Shortly after the disqualifications, city leader Lam postponed the elections for a year, citing a surge in coronavirus cases.
A senior member of US President Donald Trump’s administration landed in Taiwan Sunday for Washington’s highest level visit since switching diplomatic recognition to China in 1979, a trip Beijing has condemned.
During the three-day visit Health Secretary Alex Azar will meet President Tsai Ing-wen, who advocates Taiwan being recognised as a sovereign nation and is loathed by China’s leaders.
Tsai’s office said the meeting would take place Monday morning.
Azar is the most senior US cabinet member to visit Taiwan in decades and his visit comes as relations between the world’s two biggest economic powers plunge to historic lows.
In recent days, Trump has ordered sweeping restrictions on popular Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat and the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on Hong Kong’s leader over a tough law that curbs dissent.
Washington has billed the Taiwan trip as an opportunity to learn from the island’s fight against the coronavirus and to celebrate its progressive values.
“This trip is a recognition of Taiwan’s success in combating COVID-19 and a testament to the shared beliefs that open and democratic societies are best equipped to combating disease threats like COVID-19,” a health and human services department official told reporters ahead of the visit.
But Beijing balks at any recognition of self-ruled Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory and vows to one day seize, by force if necessary.
It has described Azar’s visit as a threat to “peace and stability”, while China’s defence minister warned against Washington making any “dangerous moves”.
As well as meeting Tsai, Azar will hold talks with his counterpart Chen Shih-chung and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.
He will also meet coronavirus experts and give a speech to public health students as well as alumni of a training programme with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Taiwan has become a poster child for defeating the coronavirus thanks to a well-honed track and tracing programme as well as firm border controls.
Despite its proximity and economic links to China it has recorded fewer than 500 infections and seven deaths.
In contrast the US has recorded the most deaths in the world with more than 160,000 fatalities.
– A cautious testing of China –
The rapidly deteriorating relationship between Beijing and Washington comes as Trump seeks re-election in November.
He is trailing in the polls to rival Joe Biden and has begun campaigning hard on an increasingly strident anti-Beijing message.
As public disapproval has grown for his handling of the epidemic, Trump has pivoted from his previous focus on striking a trade deal with China to blaming the country for the coronavirus crisis.
The two countries have clashed on a range of issues, from trade to espionage allegations and Beijing’s human rights record such as the mass incarceration of Uighur Muslims and the political crackdown in Hong Kong.
Washington remains the leading arms supplier to Taiwan but has historically been cautious in holding official contacts with it.
Under Trump, relations with Taiwan have warmed dramatically and he has approved a number of major military sales, including F-16 fighter jets.
Douglas Paal, a former head of the American Institute in Taiwan, Washington’s de facto embassy, said the Trump administration was still paying heed to China’s red line — that no US official handling national security visit Taiwan.
Throughout the 1990s the United States sent trade officials to Taiwan with regularity.
The difference this time, he said, is the context, with Azar travelling at a time when relations between Washington and Beijing have hit a new low.
“Sending him to Taiwan shows respect for the old framework while putting a finger in China’s eye at the same time,” Paal said.
“The fact that they didn’t choose to send a national security advisor or someone else suggests they are trying to come as close as possible to China’s red line but don’t want to cross it.”
The last cabinet minister to visit Taiwan was in 2014 when the then head of the Environmental Protection Agency led a delegation.
Taiwan has also built broad, bipartisan support in Washington.
Tsai has been hailed not only for her decisive coronavirus response but also, among US Democrats, for her progressive views including advocacy of gay rights, unusual for an Asian leader.
Governors of conflict-ravaged Northeast Nigeria are advocating the use of heavy artillery for the Nigerian police to bridge the manpower deficit in the Armed Forces.
This is contained in an eleven points communique issued by the Northeast Governors’ Forum at the end of its second meeting held in Maiduguri, Borno State.
The Communique was read by the forum’s newly-elected Chairman, Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State.
Below is the full statement containing the demands of the Northeast Governor’s Forum:
COMMUNIQUE ISSUED AT THE END OF 2ND MEETING OF THE NORTH EAST GOVERNORS’ FORUM HELD IN MAIDUGURI ON SATURDAY, 8TH AUGUST, 2020
The communique was read by the forum’s newly elected chairman, Governor Zulum of Borno
The Executive Governors of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe States under the auspices of North East Governors’ Forum held its 2nd meeting in Maiduguri, Borno State and discussed the challenges facing the sub-region and resolved to issue the following communiqué:
The Forum commends the effort of the Federal Government of Nigeria in fighting the insurgency. However, the Armed Forces should intensify effort to secure hard-to-reach areas in the region and ensure safe access to farm lands.
The Forum called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to ensure the deployment of state of the art military hard ware to the region.
The Forum recommends that the manpower deficit in the Nigerian Armed Forces should be bridged by allowing the Police to carry state of the art weapons where necessary and be provided with strategic equipment like high velocity tear gas, trackers and Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC).
The Forum calls on the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to ensure that attention is given to recharging the Lake Chad from National water bodies and strengthen the river basins in the sub region.
The Forum pledges to work together to foster regional integration, growth and development especially in exploitation of its oil and gas potentials, mineral resources, agriculture and industrialization.
The Forum called on the Federal Government to revoke selected roads contracts awarded by Federal Ministry of Works for years without progress and re-award same to more competent contractors and fund to ensure timely execution.
The Forum urged the Federal Government to ensure local content in the execution of the Mambila Hydro electric power project and other programmes of the North East Development Commission to ensure synergy with state governments.
The Forum supports the management and Board of the North East Development Commission and agreed to work together in producing comprehensive strategic Master Plan for the region that will ensure sustainable development.
The Forum affirmed its commitment to support the Federal Government agenda of transforming the Almajiri system with a view to strengthening both Islamic and western education as well as stopping street begging and prevalence of out of school children in the region as agreed by the Northern Governors.
The Forum also nominated Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, MNSE, mni, Executive Governor of Borno State as Chairman of the Forum for a period of two years and the Headquarters of the Forum will be located in Maiduguri, Borno State.
The next meeting of the Forum comes up on November 7th 2020 in Yola, Adamawa State.
PROFESSOR BABAGANA UMARA ZULUM, MNSE, mni EXECUTIVE GOVERNOR OF BORNO STATE / CHAIRMAN, NORTH EAST GOVERNORS’ FORUM –
There is need for an urgent, honest and frank conversation about judicial reforms especially, the selection and appointment of judges in Nigeria, given the significant roles judges play in the polity, economy, social justice and democracy itself, according to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN.
Prof. Osinbajo stated this on Saturday at the Justice Research Institute (JRI) virtual roundtable themed “Selection and Appointment of Judges: Lessons for Nigeria” under the Law and Policy series of JRI which is an open-access forum that features leading scholars, policymakers amongst other stakeholders.
Others who spoke at the webinar included Dame Anne Rafferty, QC, Chair of the Judicial College, Royal Courts of Justice in England & Wales who gave the keynote; the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad; the Senate President, Sen. Ahmed Lawan; and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.
Contributing to the appointment of Judges in the country, the Vice President said the integrity of the judicial system is crucial to everything in the society hence the need for stakeholders to engage in an honest and frank discussion that examines the challenges and prospects.
According to him, “there are very many aspects of the question that we are faced with today. They are many different contours to this issue. But one thing that stands out and we need to focus our minds on is about the question of the integrity of the judicial system.
“It is central to everything –how our economy works because our judiciary arbitrates all economic issues, commercial disputes, etc; it is central to social justice; to the maintenance of the rights of citizens; central to democracy as we see it today. The court decides who was properly elected and who was not.
“So, the question of those who make those decisions, how they are appointed, who they are, is absolutely important. If people feel that justice is impossible, they will lose hope in the system and may resort to self-help.”
Continuing, the Vice President said “…a frank and honest discussion, at some point, is usually necessary.
“Where it comes to the administration of justice, that frank and honest discussion must come between the legal profession itself, the judiciary, the executive, the legislature, and the very many elite interests in our society.
“We must come to the point that we must ask ourselves the questions. Why must we appoint an honest umpire? Why do we need honest judges? We must all sit together and ask those questions.
“It is a selfless and patriotic duty that we must, as an elite sit down to talk about and to decide. We must agree to an objective process. To rigorously examine, to test, to interview all of those who come forward to become judges. We must agree to an independent process.”
Speaking in the comparison of the Nigerian system to others that may have been adjudged perfect, Prof. Osinbajo said “there is no system that we are looking at where the people are perfect”, again, underscoring the point for the kind of discussion that “takes into account all of the various issues”.
The Vice President however noted that it will be unfair to conclude that the entire problem rests on bad judges, insisting that “you cannot pick out the judiciary alone for censure for some of the failures in our system of administration of justice.”
He explained that the problem can be partly blamed on societal pressure on the Nigerian system of administration of justice.
Making his contribution to the discussion, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad described as apt the topic of the webinar, noting that the National Judicial Council will support suggestions about reforms that ensures the effective dispensation of justice in Nigeria, including the appointment of judges to various courts in the country.
In his remarks, Senate President, Sen. Ahmed Lawan emphasized the need for appointments to higher courts in the country to be based on competence and federal character as entrenched in the constitution.
On his part, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, advocated for the adoption of a hybrid system that takes into account procedures in other countries, in order to ensure that both the integrity and fair representation are considered in judges’ appointment.
Other justices from the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal also spoke at the webinar.
For, Justice Amina Augie, developing and maintaining a database of persons of competence and proven integrity will resolve issues surrounding incompetence and federal character in the appointment of judges.
In the same vein, Justice Joseph Oyewole, who stood in for the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, supported the view that all appointments should be merit-based, aside from other considerations.
Earlier in the keynote speech, Dame Anne Rafferty, Chair of the Judicial College, Royal Courts of Justice, spoke about the United Kingdom’s Judicial Appointing Committee (JAC) and its procedures for the appointment of judges.
She said the process is very competitive, rigorous and reflects the diversity of the country.
According to her, JAC is composed largely by non-legal practitioners and chaired by a surgeon.
Other speakers at the forum include the Chief Justice of Ghana, Hon. Justice Kwasi Anin Yeboah who was represented by Justice Samuel Marful-Sau; international anti-corruption activist, Prof. Patrick Lumumba; and the Managing Partner, Olaniwun Ajayi LP, Prof. Koyinsola Ajayi, SAN.
The webinar was moderated by Mr Osaro Eghobamien, SAN, Managing Partner, Perchstone and Graeys; and Prof. Ayo Atsenuwa, Professor of Law, University of Lagos.
Worship centres in Lagos have re-opened partially across the state today, after being locked down for several months in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
This follows the directive announced by governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on august the 1st with the provision that worship centers can only fill up 50 per cent of their capacity.
The state government last Thursday released several safety protocols and guidelines numbering 46 that must be adhered to during services at places of worship in the first phase.
Worshippers are seen maintaining their social distance as they partake in worship on Sunday. Commissioner for home affairs, Prince Anofiu Elegushi, further revealed that the state is not interested in sanctioning any religious house but will encourage them to comply with guidelines for reopening of worship centers.
In a similar vein, the Federal Ministry of Health has urged places of worship to ensure that their members worship in well-ventilated spaces.
According to a Twitter post by the Health Ministry, all worshipers are enjoined to continue their worship safely by maintaining a distance of 2 metres from others.
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, (SERAP) has sent an open letter to the World Bank President Mr David Malpass, urging him to use his “good offices to encourage the Federal Government and 36 state governments to publicly commit to transparency and accountability in the spending of the $114.28m credit and grant for COVID-19, which the Bank’s Board of Directors recently approved for Nigeria, including by publishing details on a dedicated website.”
SERAP also urged Mr Malpass to “put pressure on authorities and the 36 state governors to accept voluntary scrutiny by Nigerians and civil society regarding the spending of the funds and use of the resources, including on how they will spend the money to buy medical equipment, and improve access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.”
The World Bank Board of Directors last Friday approved a $114.28 financing “to help Nigeria prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by COVID-19 with a specific focus on state level responses.” According to the Bank, the $100 million credit with Project ID number: P173980, is due to be paid back over 30 years, with additional 5 years grace period.
In the letter dated 8 August, 2020 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “The World Bank has a responsibility to ensure that federal authorities and state governments are transparent and accountable to Nigerians in how they spend the approved credit and grant. The Bank should tread carefully in the disbursement of funds or distribution of resources to states if it is to reduce vulnerability to corruption and mismanagement.”
SERAP expressed “serious concerns that the money and resources may be stolen, diverted or mismanaged by state governors without effective transparency and accountability mechanisms, especially given increasing reports of allegations of corruption and mismanagement of COVID-19 funds by agencies of the Federal Government and state governments, and impunity of perpetrators.”
SERAP said: “Insisting on transparency and accountability would ensure repayment of the credit, and protect the project objectives and intended purposes for which the funds and resources are approved, disbursed and distributed.”
According to SERAP, “The Bank’s power to provide credits and grants is coupled with a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that governments spending such funds meet international standards of transparency and accountability, including those entrenched in the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.”
The letter copied to Shubham Chaudhuri, World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, read in part: “Implementing these recommendations would prevent a repeat of alleged diversion and mismanagement of recovered Abacha loot disbursed by the Federal Government to state governments.”
“The World Bank should make clear to all the governors that it will cancel the credit and grant should they renege on their transparency and accountability commitments to spend the money and use the resources exclusively for COVID-19 related projects, and not to steal, divert or mismanage them.”
“As the level of Federal Government monitoring of the spending of the credit and grant and use of the resources by state governors may be based on political considerations, the Bank’s influence might be the only restraining force state governors will take seriously.”
“SERAP encourages you and the World Bank in any future engagements with state governments in Nigeria to insist on accessing the information on how governors are spending security votes, and the amounts of public funds states are allocating to pay former governors life pensions, among others, as well as consider the level of corruption within each state before approving any credits and grants.”
“SERAP also encourages you and the World Bank not to sacrifice international standards of transparency and accountability in the rush to provide COVID-19 credit and grant to the 36 state governments.”
“According to our information, the World Bank Board of Directors on Friday, 7 August, 2020 approved a $114.28 financing “to help Nigeria prevent, detect and respond to the threat posed by COVID-19 with a specific focus on state-level responses.”
“This includes $100 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA) and $14.28 million grant from the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility.”
“SERAP notes that the Government of Nigeria is expected to disburse the money and distribute the resources to the 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as ‘immediate support to break the chain of COVID-19 local transmission and limit the spread of coronavirus through containment and mitigation strategies.’”
“The approved money will also “help to finance federal procurements of medical equipment, laboratory tests, and medicines to be distributed to the states based on their needs, and to provide support to laboratories for early detection and confirmation; equipping and renovating isolation and treatment centers including community support centers; and improving in patient transfer systems through the financing of ambulances and training.”
SERAP, therefore, urged Mr. Malpass and the World Bank to:
Disclose and widely publish the terms and conditions of the credit and grant, and the exact amount repayable by Nigeria in 30 years’ time, including the details of the interest, if any; and the consequences of Nigeria defaulting;
Ask President Muhammadu Buhari to instruct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to jointly track and monitor spending of the credit and grant by state governments;
Ask state governments to allow the media to freely report on their spending of the funds and use of the resources, and not to clamp down on journalists and the media in the exercise of their constitutional responsibilities to expose corruption and hold governments to account;
Ask state governments to explicitly commit to encouraging and protecting whistle-blowers as a way of ensuring that the funds and resources are not stolen, diverted or mismanaged;
Clarify if, to the Bank’s knowledge and information, the credit and grant have been approved by Nigeria’s National Assembly pursuant to its constitutional duties, including its oversight functions under Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended);
Ensure increased transparency of sanctions and terms and conditions of the credit and grant to each state to enable Nigerians to ask questions as to the spending of the money and use of the resources from their state governments.
President Ghani’s statement comes after Afghan grand assembly passed a resolution on Sunday morning.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has agreed to release 400 Taliban prisoners after an Afghan grand assembly, known as the Loya Jirga, passed a resolution to approve the move.
The resolution recommending the release of the prisoners was passed on Sunday at the end of a three-day Loya Jirga, a traditional Afghan meeting of tribal elders and other stakeholders held to decide on momentous issues.
“In order to remove the hurdles for the start of peace talks, stopping bloodshed, and for the good of the public, the jirga approves the release of 400 prisoners as demanded by the Taliban,” Jirga member Atefa Tayeb announced.
Following the announcement, President Ghani said: “Today, I will sign the release order of these 400 prisoners.”
The prisoners’ fate was a crucial hurdle in launching peace talks between the two sides. The Afghan government has released almost all the Taliban prisoners on the list, but authorities have baulked at freeing the final 400.
According to an official list seen by AFP news agency, many of the inmates are accused of serious offences, with more than 150 of them on death row.
The list also includes a group of 44 fighters of particular concern to the United States and other countries for their role in “high-profile” attacks.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday pushed for the release of the detainees while recognising the decision would be “unpopular”.
On Sunday, delegates at the Loya Jirga said they wanted international guarantees that the Taliban would not return to the battlefield.
“The prisoners release was the only hurdle that has now been removed by the Jirga decision. The agreement was that once the 5000 Taliban members are released, the ceasefire will be discussed in the intra-Afghan talks,” Mushtaq Rahim, a founding member of Afghanistan Affairs Unit, an Afghan think tank, told Al Jazeera.
“So for the time being, we are all set for the intra-Afghan talks to discuss future outlook of Afghan political setup, agree on giving up the armed violence and engage in the political progress,” Rahmi further said.
Intra-Afghan peace talks No date has been set, but negotiations between Kabul’s political leadership and the Taliban are expected to begin next week and will most likely be held in Qatar, where the Taliban maintains a political office.
The Afghan negotiations were laid out in a deal signed by the US and the Taliban in February. At the time of its signing, it was touted as Afghanistan’s best chance at ending decades of war.
The deal called for the government to free 5,000 prisoners and for the Taliban to free 1,000 government and military personnel in its custody as a goodwill gesture ahead of the start of negotiations.
Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad spent more than a year and a half negotiating the deal with the Taliban to provide for the withdrawal of American soldiers after nearly 19 years in Afghanistan.
The withdrawal began earlier this year, but roughly 8,600 US soldiers remain in Afghanistan, and their return will depend on the Taliban honouring its commitment to fight against other armed groups and ensure Afghanistan is not again used to attack the US or its allies.
In an interview broadcast on Saturday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US plans to cut its troop levels in Afghanistan to “a number less than 5,000” by the end of November.
The Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo has described late Senator Abiola Ajimobi as a major bridge builder who mediated every situation with impact, humor, and unrivaled intelligence.
Osinbajo made these comments during a condolence visit to the family of the late former governor at his residence in Oluyole Estate, Ibadan.
He noted that Ajimobi was considered as one of those who could mediate practically any dispute in any situation. Adding that his demise was a significant one to the All Progressives Congress and very unfortunate at a time when the party is trying to build the party.
Accompanied by his wife, Dolapo, and the Oyo state Deputy Governor, Rauf Olaniyan, the Vice President added that Ajimobi’s memory and all that he achieved while on earth and the ideas that he proffered, the spirit of brotherhood, and compromise would remain with all who knew him.
The Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi has urged President Muhammadu Buhari not to change the nation’s service chiefs.
The Governor made the appeal on Friday while laying the foundation stone of the Nigerian Army Reference Hospital in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi state capital.
The Senate and main opposition party, the PDP, have called for the sack of the service chiefs.
However, Umahi said instead of changing the top officials, more cooperation and information should be provided to them.
“I want to disagree with the National Assembly,” he said. “One thing I’ve realised in this country is that we like change too much. We want everybody to taste every seat. That is not what we need at this crucial time of our security challenges.
“What we need is cooperation with security agencies.”
He lauded the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu as a “stubborn man” who is committed to upholding the “policies and the laws of the land”.
“The Chief of Army Staff is also a very committed person, very friendly with civil society,” he added.
“So what these people need is cooperation, information. It is difficult for people to do anything without information.
“Even when you change, whoever that is coming is going to learn the ropes. And I believe strongly that the decisions taken by the service chiefs are not taken by them alone but by also the senior officers.”
China on Saturday slammed the United States for imposing “barbarous” sanctions in response to Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong, capping a dramatic week of deteriorating relations between the world’s two biggest economies.
In the toughest US action on Hong Kong since China imposed a sweeping new security law on the territory, Washington on Friday imposed sanctions on a group of Chinese and Hong Kong officials — including the city’s leader Carrie Lam.
The move came after President Donald Trump’s administration forced Chinese internet giants TikTok and WeChat to end all operations in the US, in a twin diplomatic-commercial offensive set to grow ahead of the US presidential election in November.
China on Saturday criticised the sanctions as “barbarous and rude”.
“The ill intentions of US politicians to support people who are anti-China and messing up Hong Kong have been clearly revealed,” Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong said in a statement.
The Treasury Department announced it was freezing the US assets of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and 10 other senior officials, including Luo Huining — the head of the Liaison Office.
It accused the sanctioned individuals of being “directly responsible for implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes”.
The move criminalises any US financial transactions with the sanctioned officials.
In a short statement, Luo said he welcomed the blacklisting.
“I have done what I should do for the country and for Hong Kong,” he said. “I don’t have a dime’s worth in foreign assets.”
The Hong Kong government described the sanctions as “shameless and despicable”.
“We will fully support the Central Government to adopt countermeasures,” it said in a statement.
The city’s commerce secretary Edward Yau warned that the “savage and unreasonable” sanctions could have blowback for American businesses in Hong Kong.
China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the sanctions list “rudely tramples on international law” and “will be nailed to the historic pillar of shame forever.”
Facebook barred Lam and the 10 other sanctioned officials from advertising on the platform, with a spokesperson saying Saturday it had “a legal obligation to take action.”
Tensions spike ahead of the election Beijing’s security law was imposed in late June, following last year’s huge pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, sending a political chill through the semi-autonomous city.
Since then, Hong Kong authorities have postponed elections, citing the coronavirus pandemic, issued arrest warrants for six exiled pro-democracy activists and launched a crackdown on other activists.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the security law violated promises made by China ahead of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover that the city could keep key freedoms and autonomy for 50 years.
“Today’s actions send a clear message that the Hong Kong authorities’ actions are unacceptable,” Pompeo said in a statement.
The US measures come three months ahead of the November election in which Trump, who is behind his rival Joe Biden, is campaigning hard on an increasingly strident anti-Beijing message.
As public disapproval has grown for his handling of the pandemic, Trump has pivoted from his previous focus on striking a trade deal with China to blaming the country for the coronavirus crisis.
Tik Tok, WeChat bans On Thursday, Trump made good on previous threats against WeChat and TikTok — two Chinese-owned apps with major audiences that US officials say pose a national security threat.
In an executive order, Trump gave Americans 45 days to stop doing business with the platforms, effectively setting a deadline for a potential, under-pressure sale of TikTok to Microsoft.
The move also threw into doubt the US operations of WeChat’s parent firm, Tencent, a powerful player in the video game industry and one of the world’s richest companies.
China condemned the move as “arbitrary political manipulation”.
The new restrictions sent Tencent shares tanking as much as 10 percent at one point in Hong Kong trade on Friday, wiping almost $50 billion off its market capitalisation.
Trump’s order claimed TikTok could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage.
TikTok has repeatedly denied sharing data with Beijing.
WeChat is a messaging, social media and electronic payment platform and is reported to have more than a billion users, with many preferring it to email.
The latest US actions follow a protracted battle over Huawei, the Chinese network and smartphone giant accused by the Trump administration of being a tool for espionage.
Huawei said Friday it would end production of its flagship smartphone chips due to US sanctions.
President Muhammadu Buhari has felicitated with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, on the occasion of his 68th birthday.
The President’s congratulatory message was contained in a statement issued on Friday by his media aide, Femi Adesina.
According to the statement, President Buhari wished Ngige sound health of mind, body and soul.
“The President joins the medical community, labour fraternity, the legislature, where the celebrant served as Senator, and people of Anambra State, whom he served as Governor, to salute Dr Ngige for his meritorious stewardship to community, state, country and humanity, wishing him greater health, strength and sound mind,” the statement partly read.
While wishing the minister well in all his endeavours, President Buhari acknowledged Ngige’s role as “conciliator-general between government and organized labour.”
The United States slapped sanctions Friday on Hong Kong’s top leader, a new salvo in a major escalation against Beijing after ordering sweeping restrictions on Chinese-owned social media giants TikTok and WeChat.
In the most significant US action on Hong Kong since Beijing imposed a tough security law, the Treasury Department said it was freezing US assets of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and 10 other senior officials.
The move also criminalizes any US financial transactions with the 11 officials, who include Hong Kong’s police commissioner, its security secretary and China’s top official in the international financial hub.
“Today’s actions send a clear message that the Hong Kong authorities’ actions are unacceptable,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
Pompeo said the law — which bans subversion and other perceived offenses — violated promises made by China before Britain handed back the territory in 1997.
“The United States stands with the Hong Kong people,” Pompeo said.
The Treasury Department said Lam “is directly responsible for implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes.”
The security law imposed in late June has sent a chill through Hong Kong, which saw massive and sometimes destructive pro-democracy protests last year.
Authorities have since delayed elections, citing the coronavirus pandemic and, according to Beijing, issued arrest warrants for six pro-democracy activists living in exile.
Clock ticks for TikTok The tough new measures come three months ahead of US elections, in which President Donald Trump is trailing in the polls.
Critics say that his hardening turn on China is meant to deflect blame from his own handling of COVID-19, from which the United States has suffered the deadliest toll of any country.
Late Thursday, Trump made good on threats against WeChat and TikTok — two apps with major audiences.
In an executive order, Trump gave Americans 45 days to stop doing business with the Chinese platforms, effectively setting a deadline for a potential, under-pressure sale of TikTok to Microsoft.
The president cited national security concerns for the moves, which also threw into doubt the American operations of WeChat’s parent firm, Tencent, a powerful player in the video gaming industry and one of the world’s richest companies.
China voiced outrage at the move, which comes as Trump also steps up pressure on the trade and security fronts.
“At the expense of the rights and interests of US users and companies, the US… is carrying out arbitrary political manipulation and suppression,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
Tencent dives The new restrictions sent Tencent shares into a spin, with the issue tanking as much as 10 percent at one point in Hong Kong trade, wiping almost $50 billion off its market capitalization.
Trump’s order claims TikTok — whose kaleidoscopic feeds of short video clips feature everything from hair-dye tutorials to dance routines and jokes about daily life — could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage.
TikTok, which has repeatedly denied sharing data with Beijing, said it was “shocked” by the order “issued without any due process.”
The app owned by Chinese-based ByteDance vowed to “pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure… our company and our users are treated fairly.”
WeChat is a messaging, social media and electronic payment platform and is reported to have more than a billion users, with many preferring it to email.
Repercussions for US? Daniel Castro of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said the US actions were likely to be counterproductive.
“There is no security justification for banning an app merely because it is owned by a Chinese company,” Castro said.
“Allegations of security risks should be backed by hard evidence, not unsubstantiated innuendo. American tech companies stand to lose significant global market share if other countries follow a similar standard and block US tech companies from their markets because of concerns about US government surveillance.”
Trump has effectively set a deadline of mid-September for TikTok to be acquired by a US firm or be banned in the United States, leading Microsoft to accelerate its talks to buy it.
The TikTok mobile app has been downloaded about 175 million times in the US and more than a billion times around the world.
The latest US actions follow a protracted battle over Huawei, the Chinese network and smartphone giant accused by the Trump administration of being a tool for espionage.
NATO members Turkey and Greece have long been at loggerheads over overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that Turkey has resumed energy exploration work in the eastern Mediterranean, saying Greece had not kept its promises regarding such activities in the region.
NATO members Turkey and Greece have long been at loggerheads over overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources and tensions flared up last month, prompting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to hold talks with the country’s leaders to ease tensions.
“We have started drilling work again,” Erdogan told reporters after participating in Friday prayers at the Hagia Sophia mosque. “We don’t feel obliged to talk with those who do not have rights in maritime jurisdiction zones.”
He said Turkey’s Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, a seismic survey vessel, had been sent to the region to carry out its duties. The ship moved into waters off Cyprus in late July and remains in that region.
Erdogan made the comments when asked about an accord signed by Egypt and Greece on Thursday designating an exclusive economic zone between the two nations in the eastern Mediterranean.
Diplomats in Greece said their agreement nullified an accord reached last year between Turkey and the internationally recognised government of Libya.
Erdogan, however, dismissed the Egypt-Greece deal, saying Turkey would sustain its agreement with Libya “decisively”.
Commenting on the agreement, Turkey’s foreign ministry said the zone included in the Greco-Egyptian deal falls under the area of Turkey’s continental shelf.
Ankara has maintained that sea boundaries for commercial exploitation should be divided between the Greek and Turkish mainlands and not include the Greek islands on an equal basis.
Athens contends that Turkey’s position is a violation of international law.
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) says its Interim Management Committee (IMC) has saved N35 billion from its verified payments to contractors.
NDDC’s acting Executive Director (Projects), Dr Cairo Ojougboh, revealed this on Friday while addressing reporters in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State headquarters.
He made the revelation shortly after the inauguration of the Committee for the completion and commissioning of NDDC’s new permanent headquarters at the Eastern By-Pass in the state.
Ojougboh, who is the Chairman of the committee, disclosed that the commission has also verified the payments for N1.5 trillion for other projects.
He affirmed that work on the office complex was at 98 per cent completion.
“As you can see, the lifts and escalators are working, the lights and the central air conditioners are functioning.
“You have seen the external works, so I want to tell you that what is left is the ancillary building, the windows are already in place. You have also seen the asphalts, so we are good to go,” the NDDC executive director was quoted as telling reporters in a statement by the commission’s spokesman, Charles Odili.
He added, “There were lots of booby-traps which made it impossible for this building to be ready before now, but we thank God for the successes we have recorded.”
No More Distraction According to Ojougboh, change has come to the NDDC and things will no longer remain the way they used to be.
He stated that President Muhammadu Buhari has worked for the change in NDDC, noting that even when the IMC leaves, those coming in would be more careful.
On the corruption allegations in the commission, the NDDC executive director said they have compiled the lists of those who benefitted from the agency’s contracts for another three years.
He said, “As for the list of contractors we published, that was for 2018 alone; by the time we publish that of 2019, a lot of things will come out to the open.
“Some persons claim they did not benefit from NDDC but we have documents linking them to those contracts. The forensic audit is unearthing a lot of things; 2016, 2017 and 2019 lists are ready but we have decided we would not be distracted again.”
Ojougboh alleged that the NDDC budget for 2019 was distorted to the detriment of regional projects, citing the example of regional hospital projects that were starved of funds.
“We made provision for hospitals in all Niger Delta states as our regional projects, but it was removed and replaced with the supply of chairs to schools in the region,” he said.
He, however, said that the NDDC had written letters to the National Assembly to explain why N11.6 billion budgeted for the completion of hospitals was removed and replaced with the supply of chairs and desks.
“Is that what we deserve in Niger Delta?” Ojougboh questioned.