Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ebola Virus In Africa Is A New Strain

Medical personnel at the emergency entrance of a hospital wait to receive suspected Ebola virus patients in Conakry, Guinea. The Ebola virus that has killed scores of people in Guinea in 2014 is a new strain _ evidence that the disease did not spread there from outbreaks in some other African nations, scientists reported Wednesday, April 16, 2014 in the New England Journal of Medicine. "The source of the virus is still not known," but it was not imported from nearby countries, said Dr. Stephan Gunther of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany. (AP)

The Ebola virus that has killed scores of people in Guinea this year is a new strain — evidence that the disease did not spread there from outbreaks in some other African nations, scientists report.

"The source of the virus is still not known," but it was not imported from nearby countries, said Dr. Stephan Gunther of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, Germany. He led an international team of researchers who studied the genetics of the virus and reported results online Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The ongoing outbreak has caused panic and killed more than 120 people in West Africa, mostly in Guinea, according to the World Health Organization. Ebola (ee-BOH'-lah) causes internal bleeding and organ failure and is fatal in 30 percent to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain. It spreads through direct contact with infected people, and some earlier cases have been linked to certain fruit bats that live in West Africa.

There is no cure or vaccine, so containing the outbreak has focused on supportive care for those infected with the virus and isolating them to limit its spread. Earlier, health officials had said the Guinea Ebola was a Zaire strain, different from the kind that has caused cases in other parts of Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo used to be called Zaire.

The new research analyzed blood samples from 20 patients in the current outbreak and found the strain was unique. "It is not coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It has not been imported to Guinea" from that country or from Gabon, where Ebola also has occurred, Gunther said.
Researchers think the Guinea and other strains evolved in parallel from a recent ancestor virus. The Guinea outbreak likely began last December or earlier and might have been smoldering for some time unrecognized. The investigation continues to try to identify "the presumed animal source," they write.

Online:
Journal: http://www.nejm.org

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nigeria Moves To Calm Investors After Attacks...

Officials Move to Bolster Security Around Abuja Just Weeks Before the Capital Hosts World Economic Forum Meeting


Workers cleaned up Tuesday at the site of a bomb blast that killed 75 people, many of them children and commuters, at a bus station in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

ACCRA, GHANA (WALL STREET JOURNAL)—Hit by a wave of insurgent attacks, Nigeria raced Tuesday to secure the country's capital just weeks before it hosts a global showcase intended to trumpet its arrival into the club of big emerging economies.

Nigerian troops erected checkpoints on key roads and officials promised more police on the streets, one day after an explosion at a suburban Abuja bus station killed 75 people. Many of the dead were children and commuters on their way to school and work. 

Hours later, Islamist militants in the northeast drove trucks through the gates of a boarding school where teenage girls had been studying for final exams. Insurgents carried away more than 100 students at gunpoint, according to neighbors and a police official.

Last Thursday and Friday, the insurgency known as Boko Haram was blamed for attacks in northeastern villages that killed 217 people. The sect burned down four villages and shot civilians, according to Sen. Ahmed Zanna, the leading legislator from Borno state, which is the epicenter of Boko Haram's war to impose Quranic law across Africa's biggest economy. 

The display of carnage, which has become tragically commonplace in Nigeria's north, comes at a delicate moment for the government. The country's oil-rich economy just surpassed South Africa as the continent's largest, but the attacks are raising doubts among the very people Nigeria needs to fuel future growth: foreign investors.

Some are now saying they are still weighing participation in the three-day World Economic Forum meeting set to convene in Abuja on May 7.

"It depends on what's going to happen—whether or not it is an isolated event," said Paul Gomes, president of oil and gas advisory firm Constelor Investment Holdings. "I've learned to factor in the risk when it comes to Nigeria." 

On late Monday, the country's finance minister countered those misgivings, saying her government would station 6,000 police and soldiers along the leafy boulevards of Nigeria's capital. It "will be the largest security operation ever mounted in this country for an international summit," according to a statement from Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Spokesmen for the World Economic Forum didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
Yvonne Ike, the chief executive of Renaissance Capital, West Africa, said curiosity among many investors in Nigeria's big fast-growing market will probably outweigh security concerns. Still, businesspeople will closely watch whether the Nigerian government can prevent another massive attack, according to the investment banker.

"If there isn't some sort of upscaling of security…then a lot of questions will come up," Ms. Ike said.
The attacks ahead of the economic forum show the dilemma troubling Nigeria. It is a nation battling insurgents with one hand of the government, and welcoming investors with the other. This month, the country of 174 million people became the largest economy in Africa—24th biggest in the world—capping a decade of growth that averaged 7.9% a year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The forum was supposed to fĂȘte Nigeria's economic success, but it has raised questions about whether the country has the institutional strength to safeguard its capital from a few thousand insurgents.

Nigeria spends a fifth of its massive budget on security, and the government has more personnel under arms than South Africa. Its military hardware includes warships, fighter jets and cargo planes.

And yet a sect that trains in the woods has killed hundreds of people a week, largely in a bid to rid the country of English-language education.

Boko Haram fighters have killed more than 1,500 people so far this year in towns and villages scattered across the predominantly Muslim north, according to Amnesty International. Army leaders say they can't possibly protect so many hundreds of tiny towns from a sect so willing to gun down civilians. 

Monday's attack—a 15-minute drive from Nigeria's presidential palace—has now forced this government to confront the possibility, long feared in the west, that Boko Haram could turn its weaponry onto the foreign visitors eager to play a part in this country's growth.

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department warned its citizens to stay away from Abuja's malls and hotels. The United Kingdom followed suit, asking its citizens to avoid the neighborhood where Monday's attack occurred.

"There is a high threat from terrorism in Nigeria," the U.K. advisory said.

The group has no track record of killing foreigners. But the group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, has goaded Western governments and leaders. 

In YouTube videos, he has laughed about the $7 million bounty for his arrest offered by the U.S. State Department. He has cursed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and even the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In one video, his troops shoot rifles at scraps of paper labeled "Obama" and "Kansas."

Last month he added another target, declaring: " Queen Elizabeth, you are in trouble."

Write to Drew Hinshaw at drew.hinshaw@wsj.com

Iran Cuts Nuke Weapons Ability

European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, from left, arrive to address the media after closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, April 9, 2014.

VIENNA, AUSTRIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — The United Nations will release a report this week certifying that Iran's ability to make a nuclear bomb has been greatly reduced because it has diluted half of its material that can be turned most quickly into weapons-grade uranium, diplomats said Tuesday.

The move is part of Iran's commitments under a deal with six world powers in effect since January that mandates some nuclear concessions on the part of Tehran in exchange for a partial lifting of sanctions crippling its economy.

A key concern for the six was Iran's stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium, which is only a technical step away from the 90-percent grade used to arm nuclear weapons. By late last year, Iran had already amassed almost enough of the 20-percent grade for one nuclear bomb, with further enrichment.

Under the agreement, Iran agreed to halt its 20-percent enrichment program and to turn half of its nearly 200-kilogram (440-pound) stockpile into oxide for reactor fuel. As well, it pledged to dilute the other half into low-enriched uranium.

Making weapons-grade uranium by reconverting from oxide or from the lower level would take much longer than doing so from the 20-percent enriched material, giving more time for the international community to react. Iran says it is not interested in nuclear weapons but is negotiating because it wants an end to all sanctions.

The U.N. nuclear agency is due this week to report on Iran's adherence to the deal and two diplomats told The Associated Press that it would say that Iran has fulfilled its dilution commitment while continuing the process of conversion into oxide.

Iran has until June to fulfill all of its commitments under the deal. But it has to show progress in exchange for sanctions relief, and one of the diplomats said it apparently decided to complete dilution now because it was eager to get its hand on the next tranche of some $4.2 billion of oil revenue funds frozen under international sanctions meant to force it into nuclear compromise.

The two are familiar with Iran's adherence to its commitments. They demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the confidential International Atomic Energy Agency report, due for release Wednesday or Thursday.

The November agreement between Iran and the six — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — is meant to lead into a comprehensive deal placing long-term caps on Iran's enrichment program and other atomic activities in exchange for full sanctions relief. The informal deadline for that pact is July but that can be extended with the agreement of both sides.

For First Time, France Tackles Military Sex Assaults

A French female soldier, center, parades with a group of French and German soldiers during the Bastille Day parade in Paris. France claims great success in "feminizing" its military, with among the world’s highest percentages of women in uniform. What it hasn't done is work to prevent sexual assault once they get there. The defense minister on Tuesday April 15, 2014 announced the first plan to address the problem and inflict harsher punishments on those found guilty.

PARIS, FRANCE (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — France claims great success in increasing the proportion of women in the military. What it hasn't done is work to prevent sexual assault once they get there.

That is about to change. The French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Tuesday announced the country's first plan to address the problem and inflict harsher punishments on those found guilty. It involves reforms as basic as including sexual and moral harassment in the military code, creating a statistical database, and improving the barracks situation. Women make up 15 percent of French uniformed military personnel — about the same as the U.S. and among the highest rates in the world.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also announced that three women would join a nuclear submarine crew by 2017 — another first for France.

India's Top Court Recognizez Third Gender Category

Indian eunuchs dance after Supreme Court’s verdict recognizing third gender category, in Nagpur, India, Tuesday, April 15, 2014. India's top court on Tuesday issued a landmark verdict recognizing transgender rights as human rights, saying people can identify themselves as a third gender on official documents.

NEW DELHI, INDIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — India's top court on Tuesday issued a landmark verdict recognizing transgender rights as human rights, saying people can identify themselves as a third gender on official documents.

The Supreme Court directed the federal and state governments to include transgendered people in all welfare programs for the poor, including education, health care and jobs to help them overcome social and economic challenges. Previously, transgendered Indians could only identify themselves as male or female in all official documents.

The decision was praised as giving relief to the estimated 3 million Indians who are transgender. The court noted that it was the right of every human being to choose their gender while granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.

"All documents will now have a third category marked 'transgender.' This verdict has come as a great relief for all of us. Today I am proud to be an Indian," said Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender activist who, along with a legal agency, had petitioned the court.

The court's decision would apply to individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. "The spirit of the (Indian) Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender," the court said in its order.

The Supreme Court specified its ruling would only apply to transgender people but not to gays, lesbians or bisexuals. India's LGBT communities have been protesting the court's recent decision to reinstate a colonial-era law banning gay sex, which they say will make them vulnerable to police harassment.

The court also ordered the government to put in place public awareness campaigns to lessen the social stigma against transgender people. Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan told the court that the "recognition of transgender (people) as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue."

"Transgenders are citizens of this country and are entitled to education and all other rights," he said. The court ruled that transgender people would have the same right to adopt children as other Indians.
The court said any person who underwent surgery to change his or her sex would be entitled to be legally recognized as belonging to the gender of their choice. The apex court also ordered state governments to construct separate public toilets for transgender people and create health departments to take care of their medical problems.

Recently, India's Election Commission for the first time allowed a third gender choice — "other" — on voter registration forms. The change was made in time for the national elections being held in phases through May 12.

Some 28,000 voters registered themselves in that category. Many transgendered men in India earn a living by singing and dancing at weddings and births, but others must resort to begging or prostitution.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

AP Photographer Captured Humanity Amid Chaos

A photograph of Associated Press photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus is displayed inside Corvey Abbey during her funeral in Hoexter, Germany, Saturday, April 12, 2014. Niedringhaus was killed by an Afghan policeman in an attack on April 4, 2014 in Afghanistan.

HOEXTER, GERMANY (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Hundreds of mourners packed a church in central Germany on Saturday to remember Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, who was killed on assignment in Afghanistan last week after a life spent between the chaos of war and the serenity of her rural birthplace.

Friends, family and colleagues of Niedringhaus packed Corvey Abbey in a medieval monastery in Hoexter. She was remembered for her ability to find humanity amid terrible events. A priest read out a letter from AP special correspondent Kathy Gannon, who was wounded in the April 4 attack that killed Niedringhaus. Gannon, 60, and Niedringhaus, 48, often teamed up on assignments.

Gannon recalled some of Niedringhaus' last words: "I am so happy." "You were so happy," the letter read. "Your heart knew no bounds. You wanted to help everyone." A black casket topped with a row of white flowers was surrounded by wreaths near steps leading up to the altar, where a large photograph of Niedringhaus was placed. Bells pealed before the start of the service, and mourners sang "We Shall Overcome" and heard a rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

After the service, a procession of mourners walked a few kilometers along the Weser River to the local cemetery for her burial on a bright, sunny day. AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said Niedringhaus loved to capture calm when there was chaos all around her.
"And I believe that is why her pictures from terrible places resonated with so many people around the world," Carroll said. "She found their dignity. She found the quiet human moments that connected people in great strife to all the rest of us around the world."

The Rev. Berndt Mueller's sermon highlighted the two worlds between which Niedringhaus moved: major world events from wars to summits and sporting contests, and the tranquil farm life of central Germany.

"Restless Anja, spending her life between extreme poles," Mueller said. That same duality was present during the service, with family and townspeople sitting alongside reporters and photographers who travelled from around the world to remember Niedringhaus from shared assignments.

Niedringhaus started her career as a freelance photographer for a local newspaper in Hoexter at the age of 16. Her coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall led to a staff position with the European Pressphoto Agency in 1990. Based in Frankfurt, Sarajevo and Moscow, she spent much of her time covering the brutal conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

She joined the AP in 2002, and while based in Geneva worked throughout the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan. She was part of the AP team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for coverage of Iraq, among many journalistic awards and honors for her work. In 2006-07, she studied at Harvard University under a Nieman Fellowship.

Niedringhaus was killed when an Afghan police unit commander walked up to the car where she was sitting in the back seat and opened fire after yelling "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great." She and Gannon were traveling in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots in the eastern city of Khost, under the protection of security forces, when the shooting happened.

The unit commander, identified as Naqibullah, surrendered and government authorities are now investigating why he opened fire. AP Director of Photography Santiago Lyon called Niedringhaus "a lighthouse guiding us to safety," and Carroll recalled her ability to show compassion in the face of tragedy and her talent in offering direction to young photographers.

"We are grateful for all that you have given us," she said. "And we will always hear your voice in our ears: 'nein, nein, nein, you can do better. I'm proud of you.' "

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bob Miga, The Vintage Years: A Tribute

BY AMBROSE EHIRIM

Photo Op: The Hykkers. Image Courtesy of Comb & Razor


I had co-emceed the student's day ballroom dance and we had hired disc jockey Alan B. (Onyema O.), who then also announced alongside Teddy Oscar Uju at the Imo Broadcasting Service, the IBS in Owerri. It had been normal harmattan, the dry, dusty windy season when we take the Christmas break and join folks in our enclaves to find out how things could work out as we began to develop and grow, in mannerisms and an in tuned cultural heritage .

It had been a wave of music groups upon music groups and as one is forming, the other is disbanding. They had all emerged after the Nigeria-Biafra War had ended in January 1970; though some of these casts had been around playing gigs before the war broke out.

University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the UNN, is none other than a higher institution modeled after the American tradition, of higher learning, which ultimately would bring about change in every aspect of society. It was on the grounds of this great institution that Bob Miga, born Valentine Soroibe Agim would storm with a cast of his musician-folks, and where other cats of the day performed and, all around the Eastside.

Just like the three major record labels' (Blue Note Records, Impulse and Prestige) experimental years guided and produced casts of phenomenal jazz players -- Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Billy Higgins, Jimmie Smith, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Lee Morgan, John Coltrane, Curtis Fuller, Wayne Shorter, Kenny Clarke, Donald Byrd, Grant Green, Roosevelt "Baby Face" Willette, Bud Powell, Idris Muhammad, Pharoah Sanders, Tal Farlow, Milt Jackson, Art Blakey,  McCoy Tyner, and as the list goes on and on, which I presented on my Facebook page, and eruption of the crossover era when the experiments overwhelmingly seemed to be accomplished, categorizing patterns of instrumental plays (jazz fusion, smooth jazz, new wave music, etc.) -- Nigeria, in the 1960s developed similar desire as was the case with the three major record labels during the 1950s-1960s experiments; experiments its direction was unknown, which would drive a youngish, curious minded elements, determined, bringing in a new kind of music in adaptation to their foreign counterparts.

The experimental years which had appeared while the bebop, ragtime and swings of the 1930s-1940s waned, and in the 1950s when Blue Notes' Alfred Lions had brought in his friend, Francis Wolf, to capture every image of every event, and at all recordings and jam sessions, it wasn't noticed that Lions had visions and was innovative. Today, the ideal behind Blue Note Records and its sister links, still plays and valid.

In Nigeria's 1960s, though there were other musical genres of note and already coined -- juju, highlife, etc. -- popular music as had exploded in Lagos would take the city and nation by storm, and an adopted name about a coastal city, the "New York of Africa," would melt Lagos in its entirety, burning with an emerged, amazing night life that would rock the land.

A new blend of music. Some new cats and stage names. A style and personalized trademark. A quest that would send a powerful message. Lyrics made raw.

It was during this experimental period that names and groups like Teddy Oscar and the Strangers, Pat Finn Okonjo, Jerri Jhetto, Joni Haastrup, Michael "Micro Mike" Akpo, Franco Adams, Lola da Silva, Paul Nwoko, Victor Damole and uncountable others, surfaced. And the Teddy Oscar and the Strangers Band assumed to penetrate the newly arrived pop scene disappeared before anyone could figure out what had gone wrong.

According to Uchenna Ikonne who will be releasing a book on West African vintage music,  the Hykkers appeared on the music scene upon probably the sudden dissolution of the Teddy Oscar-led Strangers, and though at the brief appearances, Miga may have not been given publicity.

Nevertheless, Miga joined the Hykkers, an army engineered band, alongside Jake Solo, Okonjo, Emile Lawson, Felix Umuofia and Jeff Stone Afam. Hykkers would play jam sessions and entertain the army brass until the base camps at Lagos wanted their attention, the need to go back to Lagos and perhaps keep up with the same flow and same band members.

That would not happen. Miga had a plan. Since his mother was staying in Owerri, he figured there was no need to follow the band back to Lagos. So, he alerted the military commands about other band members' desire to move back to Lagos, which wasn't a good idea, as he suggested; and how to keep the band permanently positioned in Owerri could be beneficial to the military commands, considering the fact that the band had gained grounds in the East, and would not make sense to start all over again by moving back to Lagos.

As it had happened, the military commands favored Miga's stories and strategies which should keep the band intact, in the sense that, Wetheral Road, Owerri, and other hangouts in the hood where the band did their rehearsals, had become established and known, by the locals and fans all around the region, the East. Owerri had become blown to a mega city because of Miga and how he brought pop culture home. Owerri Township and its suburbs, overnight, turned out a sensation with the kind of psychedelic funk, blended with some rock, had been introduced into every home; and thanks to Miga's Strangers. Miga had become a demi-god and idolized anywhere he popped up.

While Miga stayed on top in many of what he had initiated, bands erupted like crazy, and Ala-Igbo would be something else by way of pop culture.

The pop culture revolution had just begun.

The Hykkers, as it would turn out when Miga had succeeded in convincing the military commands why Owerri remains a better spot, in which he was allowed to keep all the instruments while the rest of the band members left empty handed back to Lagos for Miga to regroup. Meanwhile, Eddy Duke who had stayed behind on Miga's counsels did not hesitate to join Miga in the new Hykkers band when Jake Solo (Nkem Nwankwo) and Ify Jerry came aboard from Enugu for scheduled Hykkers gigs, jam sessions and studio recordings. A group now in adaptation to the Liverpool foursome, the Beatles, would rock the East in a similar fashion the Beatles did in Europe and the Americas.

The Hykkers, would, however, record some powerful singles -- "God Gave His Only Son," "Stone The Flower," "Deiyo Deiyo," etc. -- before going their separate ways which was typical of music bands and how the business was run.

Enter the new Strangers of Owerri. There is a new band in town with rules of engagement. After parting the Hykkers and Miga stuck with musical instruments, leaving him with one of two choices: To look for session men, shop around for a recording label, form a new band for gigs, outdoor performances and live studio recordings, or leave the entire business alone and move on for something entirely different and, better.

Miga already knew what show business had been all about; so, making up his mind did not take too much probing to find out there was no other place for him than the only thing he had known from growing up.

With all musical instruments in his possession and a band dissolved with no other band-members around to flex with, Miga hopped on the road again to shop around for a group of session men, or folks willing to form a new band with him. It was in this quest, he bumped into guitarist Ani Hoffner (Eugene Umebuani) and Sammy Mathews and, after talks of engagements in recording and performing contracts, Hoffner and Mathews agreed to participate in Miga's new band, The Strangers of Owerri.

There was a Strangers resident in Owerri and Miga and his band mates got every soul popping. Other music bands emerged, too, and the Eastside never would be the same again. In every nook and cranny, there was a gathering, student union ballroom, family parties, series of scholarly fraternities, social clubs, christenings, cultural festivals, traditional initiations on the rites of passage, and things like that, which overwhelmingly overshadowed the Eastern landscapes, as these musicians entertained.

I had blogged on my Facebook page upon Miga's death just previously and accidentally by posting one of his brilliant project, the single, "Survival," and had sought West African vintage music analyst and blogger, Ikonne's opinion about my view of "Survival" I had thought should be on the one in the list. It was that day that Miga died. A couple of days, to express my condolences, I posted along with commentaries a Stranger-Funkees-local fans photo-op after rehearsals taken in early 1971. As it occurred, the expressions of those who knew about the era, was touching. Some of the comments:

"Sad loss Ambrose! Explains why I was in 'Strangers' mood couple of days ago! Used to hang out at their flat on Wetheral Road, Owerri with my pals as truant kids skipping school playing hooky just to watch them rehearse back then! Their 'music and temperament' was a class act, especially after the loss of the Biafra war, and we were finding our ways back into society. Cherished memories and great contribution! Really sad but thnx for sharing!"

------------Charles Asuzu

"Oh wow. Ambrose, this is rather melancholic for me. I enjoyed these golden days of genial musical band exploits but was too young or maybe too naive to even know the names of the groups. Then as I grew up I faced the sad experience of hearing and listening to artists sing about the passing of the individual talents, starting with my earliest recollection, Spud Nathan. Later in my broadcasting days in Nigeria, I was opportune to interview individuals like Harry Mosco Agada, a couple former Ofege, Osibisa and the rest and those encounters were so memorable. Today the list of the departed icons is growing -- Jake Solo, Harry Mosco, Perry Ernest...Could a memorial event ever be put together for them?"

------------Victor Nwora Aghadi

"Bob helped to create the atmosphere that helped the Easterner on the road to recovery after the devastating loss and humiliation by the power that was. People started to forget for a minute the pains and suffering, whenever the music was presented. Music was the pill that healed the people. May his soul rest in perfect Peace. He played his part very well."

----------- Jerri Jhetto

"May his soul rest in peace. He would always be remembered as a cultural revivalist. One of those who helped the Igbo spirit to re-energize. Is it a surprise that just months after the genocidal war, the Igbo began to rule the music world again in Nigeria with different shades of pop and highlife bands?"

------------ George C.E. Enyoazu 

Like most of the commentaries, everybody just wanted to dance and be happy and put behind what had been Yakubu Gowon's-led genocidal campaign against the Igbo nation. A Reconstruction era and a people just risen like a phoenix. And all the musicians, bands and groups delivered wherever they were called upon to perform. Iyke Peters and Marshall Udeonu, the Founders 15. Lawrence Ebenwa, the Doves. My hommie, Jerry Boyfriend. Lasbry Colon, the Semi Colon. Chyke Fusion, the Apostles. Spud Nathan (Jonathan Udensi), the Wings. The trio -- Jake Solo, Harry Mosco and Sunny Akpan -- the Funkees. Several other bands emerged upon breakups and regrouped.

As the Eastside had become the hotbed of a social revolution, more bands popped up and the Strangers, again, would collapse. Though with some singles released, there would be disagreements on leadership and payout contracts in-between Migas handling of the band and Hoffner's faction, issues folks in the music business encounters regularly especially when its leadership begins to crumble. That was the fate of The Strangers of Owerri Miga had asked Hoffner to join. Hoffner left and took away all his boys to start what would be One World.

Miga, again, was left without session men or a band. He had to rethink his strategies after Hoffner and his colleagues' departure. One World, Hoffner's band would relocate to Warri where they'd be the resident band at Lido Nite Club & Restaurant, exchanging dates at the club with the Lemmy Faith-led Aktion 13.

Like the adage,  "Old Soldier No Dey Die," Miga wasn't  finished yet; he was still kicking and never would give up. This time around, he hustled himself onto the streets of Owerri and elsewhere and, talked enough guys into being session men or part of an extended Strangers after the Hoffner team. Miga collected some folks to help him work in the studio for another release. He had engineered the project, but what had happened was he felled off with his new crew who got away with the master-tape, formed a new band and released a single that had been Miga's idea. The group, Black Children released "Satisfaction," and a Miga's touch was felt in the entire song. Black Children ended Miga's music appeal. Miga would relocate to London where he would sit on the chair of the Nigeria High Commission in London until his passing April 2, 2014.

About four years ago, Miga had told me he wanted to come to Los Angeles and be part of the Summer Jams. I told him I couldn't wait to see him. On March 23, 2012, Miga thought about me and assumed I had information on what was being planned about his homecoming gigs and the revival of vintage music. Miga writes;

"Hi Amby,

I wonder if you are in touch with Ibe Ekeanyanwu and Alan B. I suppose they have commenced some plans for my return gig. I will connect you guys if you are not aware of them. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thanks,

Bob Miga."

In my response which was immediately, I wrote;

"Ok, great I heard from you. I have no such information on your return gig. Keep me posted, please. You must have heard by now of Harry Mosco Agada's death."

Bob Miga and I did not share much correspondence henceforth because of our schedules.

Like I Said earlier, I first met Alan B when my village student union hired him to deejay our event and I had co-emceed. We met several other times including his gig at then College of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt, in 1978.

Miga's era, without doubt changed a whole lot, especially, culture. At a particular time, our parents did not want us to be associated with all the hype, the music and ballroom dances of the time, which as then assumed, depicts every bad behavior that attracts the desire to ditch classes. They were wrong. It was part of the pop culture and social order in development and upbringing as time passed by.

Ironically, with all that as we enjoyed the era and the music of Miga's Strangers and, other performing artists, and as we danced all night long behind closed doors, manned by volunteered bouncers, and we had no more leg strength but crawl back home reciting  Strangers "Survival." No, not that we knew the lyrics; we were blabbing as if we got it in order and nobody figured it out, that we youngsters, had no clue.



In this file photo taken early 1971, Owerri, Bob Miga (C) surrounded by members of The Strangers and The Funkees with some of their local fans after rehearsals. Life had begun anew in the East and pubs and related joints would pop-up everywhere and many new bands would be formed. Miga founded Strangers but fell apart with one of his key partners, Ani Hoffner, who would later be bandleader, One World. Miga died April 2, 2014, in London after a brief illness. He was survived by his wife and three children. Image Courtesy of Comb & Razor

I bid you goodbye, my friend!

Uchenna Ikonne contributed to this story.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

2015: Jonathan May Declare In May

...As Shinkafi Preaches For Continuity
 
 
There are strong indications that President Goodluck Jonathan would publicly declare his intentions to run for the second term in May this year.

This revelation is coming even as the former governor of Zamfara State and now Board Chairman of the National Coalition for Jonathan/Sambo Presidency, Alhaji Mahmud Aliyu  Shinkafi, has urged Nigerians to consider the importance of continuity in determining who rules them from 2015 general elections.

A dependable source close to the President revealed to Daily Times Online that preparations are on hand to ensure the success of Jonathan’s declaration.

“The President would declare his intentions in May”, the source that chose to be anonymous stated. President Jonathan had maintained mute over his declaration, even as pressures continue to mount on him to make his ambition for a second term known by different political pressure groups.

However receiving the Niger Delta People’s Democratic (PDP) Youth Movement in his house in Abuja, Shinkafi called on Nigerians to consider the importance of continuity and re-elect Jonathan in the next general elections

“Continuity is important”, he stressed adding that President Jonathan is a peace loving man who means so well for the country.

He described the potentials of Nigeria as too great and immeasurable in both human and material resources and called for concerted effort to assist the current administration to build the nation in line with the expectation of other African countries who look up to Nigeria for exemplary governance.

 “Most countries in Africa say they look up to Nigeria. Nigeria has an edge over these countries. Look at our population, our agricultural potentials, solid minerals and the oil in the Niger Delta. We can have the highest per capita income. So it’s a promising land only if can harness them”, Shinkafi said.

He espoused that Nigeria has moved greatly under President Jonathan citing the recent declaration of the country as the largest economy in Africa. “We now have the highest GDP in Africa”, he declared excitedly.

He pledged the support of the coalition to the Niger Delta Youths led by Mr. Ebi Chimezie, saying that the coalition needs the support of all groups even down to the local government areas.

Spokesperson for the Niger Delta PDP Youth Movement, Barrister Alwell Ezebunwo had in their address pledged the commitment of the movement to the peace and unity of the country. He said that the movement would be at the forefront of campaigning for president jonathan especially in the Niger Delta region.

Reflecting On Progress, Obama Honors Civil Rights

President Lyndon B. Johnson reaches to shake hands with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after presenting the civil rights leader with one of the 72 pens used to sign the Civil Rights Act in Washington. Surrounding the president, from left, are, Rep. Roland Libonati, D-Ill., Rep. Peter Rodino, D-N.J., Rev. King, Emanuel Celler, D-N.Y., and behind Celler is Whitney Young, executive director of the National Urban League. President Barack Obama was 2-years-old when Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Half a century later, the first black president will commemorate what’s been accomplished in his lifetime. He’ll also recommit the nation to fighting deep inequalities that remain.

AUSTIN, TEXAS (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Barack Obama was 2 years old when Lyndon Baines Johnson sat in the East Room of the White House with Martin Luther King Jr. and signed the Civil Rights Act, putting an end to an America where schools, restaurants and water fountains were divided by race. Half a century later, the first black man to become president is commemorating what's been accomplished in his lifetime and recommitting the nation to fighting the deep inequalities that remain.
Obama takes the podium on Thursday afternoon on the third and final day of a 50th anniversary summit that's bringing four living presidents, civil rights leaders and cultural icons to the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. The celebration comes as Johnson's legacy, four decades removed from the end of the Vietnam War, is being revisited, with his prolific domestic achievements serving as a reminder of how little Washington seems to accomplish today.

For Obama, who was criticized by some African-Americans in his first term for doing too little to help minorities, the commemoration dovetails with a focus on inequality and economic opportunity that has become an early hallmark of Obama's second term with modest success. Democrats have seized on the broader theme as their battle cry for the election year.

Lingering injustices in the U.S. notwithstanding, the significance of Obama's participation in Thursday's ceremony isn't lost on Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who withstood violence and arrest during the civil rights marches through Alabama in the mid-1960s.

"If somebody told me back in 1964 that a man of color would be president of the United States, I would have said, 'You're crazy, you're out of your mind, you don't even know what you're talking about,'" Lewis said in an interview. "When people say to me nothing has changed, that feels like, come and walk in my shoes."

The summit kicked off Tuesday with remarks from former President Jimmy Carter, who lamented residual racial inequality and Americans' apathy about the problem. Former President Bill Clinton followed on Wednesday, riffing on immigration and voting rights while warning that a modern-day reluctance to work together threatened to "put us back in the dustbin of old history."
Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrived in Austin Thursday morning. Ahead of the president's remarks, the Obamas toured the LBJ library's "Cornerstones of Civil Rights" exhibit, which includes the Civil Rights Act singed by Johnson, as well as a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln and one of Lincoln's trademark stovepipe hats.

The Obamas also met privately with members of Johnson's family. The celebration of the Civil Rights Act anniversary closes Thursday evening with remarks from former President George W. Bush. "It's probably the most important moment in the history of the library since LBJ died in 1973," Mark Updegrove, the presidential library's director, said of the 50th anniversary.

When Americans look back 200 years from now at the nation's broader trajectory on civil rights, they'll likely single out three major markers along the way, presidential historian and LBJ biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin said: Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Rights Act and Obama's election in 2008.

"The Emancipation Proclamation was a proclamation, but not a fact," Goodwin said. "LBJ brought it closer to being a fact. The election of the first African-American president brings it yet closer." But the vision is not yet fulfilled, civil rights activists insist. They're wary of allowing celebrations of what's been accomplished to become excuses for failing to finish the job.

Johnson seemed to foreshadow those concerns when he warned in 1965, days after Lewis and others were beaten in Selma, Ala., that the battle was far from over. "It's not just Negroes, but really it's all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice," Johnson said, using the vernacular of the time. "And we shall overcome."

As activists and leaders look to the next 50 years, the focus has turned to other areas where they say injustice remains and can be reduced, including equal pay for women, same-sex marriage and poverty — an issue that echoes Johnson's own War on Poverty. So too have voting rights attracted renewed attention in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling gutting much of the Voting Rights Act — another part of LBJ's legacy.

For Johnson's family, the symbolism is also personal. The day that LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act was the day his daughter, Luci Baines Johnson, turned 17. With no time to acquire a Hallmark card, her father gave her a handwritten note that year — the only one she has from her father, she said.
"And yet on my father's 100th birthday as we stood at his gravesite and paid tribute to the man we loved, we couldn't help but think that he was getting the best birthday present any man could ever hope for — but especially Lyndon Johnson — because Barack Obama was being nominated to head his party as its presidential candidate," she said.

The convergence of such historical heavyweights — all the living presidents except George H.W. Bush, who is 89, are attending — underlines a renaissance of sorts for Johnson, whose legacy for decades was stained by the expansion of the Vietnam War under his command. With time has come a renewed look at what he managed to accomplish on the domestic front, a long list of sweeping reforms that includes Medicare, Medicaid, fair housing and immigration legislation.

The aggressive pace of Johnson's legislative victories has offered a contrast to Obama in the years since Republicans seized control of the House two years into Obama's presidency. Republicans accuse Obama of lacking the enthusiasm to engage with Congress that marked Johnson's tenure. White House aides and Democrats point to Obama's ambitious health care law and argue that institutional changes unrelated to Obama have made governing nearly impossible.

Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

$4 Billion: Bogus Tax Refunds A Growing Problem

Attorney General Eric Holder testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. An Internet connection and a stolen identity are all it takes for crooks to collect billions of dollars in stolen federal tax refunds, and the scam is proving too pervasive to stop. A watchdog report in November says the IRS issued $4 billion in fraudulent tax refunds over the previous year to criminals using someone else’s personal information. Holder said this week that the “scale, scope and execution of these fraud schemes” has grown substantially and that the Justice Department in the last year has charged 880 people with such crimes.

WASHINGTON (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — An Internet connection and a bunch of stolen identities are all it takes for crooks to collect billions of dollars in bogus federal tax refunds. And the scam is proving too pervasive to stop.

A government report in November said the IRS issued $4 billion in fraudulent tax refunds over the previous year to criminals who were using other people's personal information. Attorney General Eric Holder said this week that the "scale, scope and execution of these fraud schemes" has grown substantially and the Justice Department in the past year has charged 880 people.

Who's involved? In a video message released ahead of the April 15 tax filing deadline, Holder said the scams "are carried out by a variety of actors, from greedy tax return preparers to identity brokers who profit from the sale of personal information to gangs and drug rings looking for easy access to cash."

Even Holder isn't immune. Two men pleaded guilty in Georgia last year to trying to get a tax refund by using his name, Social Security number and date of birth on tax forms. The IRS says it opened nearly 1,500 criminal investigations related to identity theft in fiscal year 2013, a 66 percent increase over the previous year, and has strengthened filters that help detect where the scams are coming from. It says it stops far more fraudulent refunds than it pays out and is making a dent in the problem.

Still, the schemes have grown more sophisticated, attracting criminals with violent backgrounds who see an easy and safe vehicle for theft, according to law enforcement officials who fear that not enough controls are in place.

"I've been on calls with Alabama, Chicago, some other field divisions, where they're now experiencing people who were from Florida and now moving to other states to conduct this same type of fraud," said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jay Bernardo, who works fraud cases in south Florida.
"Based on the parameters that are in place now," he added, "it's very difficult to stop." What can taxpayers do? The most important step: Protect their Social Security numbers. Thieves steal Social Security numbers in any number of ways, including from publicly available sources or workplaces. Victims include school children, prisoners, Medicaid beneficiaries and the deceased. Criminals use the information to file false returns and then pocket the refund checks, often before the legitimate taxpayers have had a chance to submit their own returns. It's a crime made easier by electronic tax filing, which lets crooks mass-produce fraudulent returns.

"Part of what's happening is people are reverse engineering," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told a House committee this week. "You know, you file a thousand fraudulent returns and then you see which ones go through. ... They can adjust faster than we can adjust."

In the latest sweep in south Florida, a hub for refund fraud, federal prosecutors last week announced charges against 25 people for using thousands of stolen identities to claim $36 million in fraudulent tax refunds. In one case, a middle school food services worker is accused of stealing students' personal information from an electronic database. In another, a jail guard is alleged to have stolen the identities of inmates and used the data to file false refunds. A mail carrier is accused of stealing tax documents out of people's mailboxes.

In Washington, a barber shop owner pleaded guilty last year to running a $20 million fraud scheme that sought tax returns on behalf of nursing home residents, prisoners and the dead. Some people sold their own personal information, while others turned it over after being led to believe they were entitled to "Obama Stimulus Money" or an income tax refund. A Cincinnati woman pleaded guilty in January to submitting false tax returns on behalf of legitimate, unwitting businesses, using her laptop computer in a public library.

A November Treasury Department inspector general report said fraudulent payouts over the previous year also went to addresses in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Ireland. In the U.S., more fraudulent refunds went to Miami than any other city.

Assistant Attorney General Kathyrn Keneally, who heads the Justice Department's Tax Division, said refund fraud remains a serious concern but that authorities are "turning a corner" in their understanding of the crime and their ability to track down and prosecute fraudsters.

"We're getting more and more sophisticated about how to catch it, how to stop it and how to prosecute it as we go on," she said. In Miami, law enforcement officials say they've been encouraging people and companies to better protect their information and have been targeting those who buy and sell personal data before any false return can even be filed.

"That's the only thing we can do on our side, is just tell them be more cautious with your information," said FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Bill Maddalena.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Lawmaker Yee Pleads Not Guilty To Federal Charges

California state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, right, leaves the San Francisco Federal Building in San Francisco. Yee, a California state senator and more than two dozen others have been formally indicted in a sweeping San Francisco political corruption case, officials announced Friday April 4, 2014.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Suspended state Sen. Leland Yee on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to bribery and gun charges two weeks after he was arrested as part of an elaborate FBI sting involving undercover agents investigating political corruption and an alleged organized crime syndicate based in San Francisco's Chinatown.

Yee entered his pleas in federal court to one count of conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and illegally import firearms; one count of conspiring to defraud citizens of honest services; and six counts of engaging in a scheme to defraud citizens of honest services.

The San Francisco Democrat is accused of conspiring to connect an undercover FBI agent with a Philippine arms dealer in exchange for campaign contributions, and of trading political influence for cash.

Yee, who is free on $500,000 bond, has been suspended from the Legislature. Also Tuesday, Yee and his wife, Maxine, signed over their San Francisco home as collateral for the bond. The Yees and their attorney Jim Lassart declined to comment outside court.

His campaign consultant, Keith Jackson, also pleaded not guilty Tuesday to murder-for-hire, corruption, conspiracy and firearms trafficking charges. Jackson is free on $250,000 bond. Yee, Jackson and 18 others were formally indicted last week after their arrests March 26. A total of 29 people have been charged in the organized crime investigation. Several have been arrested outside California and will have to appear in court in San Francisco at some point.\

Yee, Jackson and Chow were ordered back to court Friday for their first appearance before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer, who will preside over the case through trial. Breyer is the brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Jackson is accused of having connections to a Chinatown organization that the FBI says was a front for a notorious crime syndicate. Authorities say Jackson served as a middleman between Yee and the syndicate and helped funnel cash to the politician in exchange for political influence.

At the time Jackson was working for Yee, he also was serving as a consultant to the Chinatown organization Ghee Kung Tong, the FBI claims. The tong held itself out as a civic booster and community helper.

However, the FBI alleges it was a front for the headquarters of a notorious organized crime syndicate led by another defendant indicted, Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, who has long been on the federal law enforcement's radar.

Chow, who remains behind bars, did not enter a plea to charges including money laundering and firearms trafficking during his appearance in federal court Tuesday. Chow's recently hired lawyer, noted San Francisco attorney J. Tony Serra, told the judge he needed time to catch up on the case before his client can enter a plea. Chow is also scheduled back in court Friday.

Several lawyers argued Tuesday that their clients were unfairly lured into an FBI sting and that undercover agents initially proposed much of the alleged wrongdoing. "Law enforcement is supposed to investigate crime and criminal activity. In this case, they created crime and criminal activity," Serra said outside court. "This is political, and (Chow) is truly an innocent person."

Political Messages Penned For Cuba Twitter Program

A book street vendor passes the time on her smart phone as she waits for customers in Havana, Cuba. The administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development on Tuesday begins a series of appearances Tuesday, April 8, 2014, before lawmakers asking questions about his agency’s secret “Cuban Twitter,” a social media network built to stir unrest in the communist island. First up in the questioning of administrator Rajiv Shah is Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who publicly called the social media program “dumb, dumb, dumb.”

WASHINGTON (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Draft messages produced for a Twitter-like social media network that the U.S. government secretly built in Cuba were overtly political and some taunted the Castro family.

The Associated Press obtained the messages in internal documents from the program. The new disclosures came as the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development told Congress on Tuesday that the program was never intended to stir unrest within Cuba's government.

At a hearing, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont told USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah that the social media program was "cockamamie." An AP investigation last week found the program evaded Cuba's Internet restrictions by creating a text-messaging service that could be used to organize political demonstrations. It drew tens of thousands of subscribers who were unaware it was backed by the Obama administration.

Obama Signs Actions Taking Aim At Gender Pay Gap

President Barack Obama gives two thumbs as Women’s rights activist Lilly Ledbetter, left, acknowledges him in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 8, 2014, during an event marking Equal Pay Day, and where the president will announce and sign new executive actions to strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws for women. The president and his Democratic allies in Congress are making a concerted election-year push to draw attention to women's wages, linking Obama executive actions with pending Senate legislation aimed at closing a compensation gender gap that favors men.

WASHINGTON (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — In a concerted election-year push to draw attention to women's wages, President Barack Obama signed directives Tuesday that would make it easier for workers of federal contractors to get information about workplace compensation. He seasoned his move with a sharp rebuke of Republicans whom he accused of "gumming up the works" on workplace fairness.

Obama made a clear partisan appeal to women as he issued an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from retaliating against workers who discuss their pay. He also directed the Labor Department to write rules requiring federal contractors to provide aggregate compensation data by race and gender.

"This is about Republicans seemingly opposing any efforts to even the playing field for working families," Obama said at a White House signing ceremony, surrounded by women advocates and accompanied by Lilly Ledbetter, a woman whose namesake legislation on pay equity was the first bill Obama signed into law in 2009.

Obama's executive order and directive to the Labor Department dovetailed with the start of Senate debate on broader legislation that would make it easier for workers to sue companies for paying women less because of their gender. That legislation is expected to fail, as it has in the past, due to Republican opposition.

White the president's actions affect only federal contractors, those directives can have a wide and direct impact. Federal contracting covers nearly one-quarter of the U.S. workforce and includes companies ranging from Boeing to small parts suppliers and service providers. Such actions also can be largely symbolic, designed to spur action in the broader economy.

The Senate legislation, like Obama's narrower executive order, would forbid companies from punishing workers who share salary information and would allow punitive and compensatory damages in lawsuits. It also would make it harder for companies to prove that disparities in pay are not gender based and would make it easier to file class action lawsuits.

Some Republican women were considering proposing a narrower bill as an alternative. The National Labor Relations Board and some federal courts already have determined that company pay secrecy rules are prohibited under the National Labor Relations Act. But cases against violators can only be brought by the NLRB on the basis of a complaint. The Senate bill would spell out the prohibition and allow private lawsuits, which could be more financially penalizing than NLRB actions.

"Pay secrecy fosters discrimination, and we should not tolerate it, not in federal contracting or anywhere else," Obama said. Obama's executive actions are part of his drive to act on his own when Congress stalls on his policy initiatives. The executive order and the presidential memorandum to the Labor Department are his latest directives on wages, pay disparities and hiring targeting the federal government's vast array of contractors and subcontractors.

That coordinated effort to appeal to women comes amid varying measures of what the wage gap may actually be. Obama cited Census Bureau figures show that the annual earnings of women were 77 percent of what men earned in 2012, a difference that has barely budged over the past decade.

But when measured by hourly earnings, that difference is a narrower 86 percent, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The larger gap is in part because women tend to work fewer hours than men and because the annual figures includes items omitted from the hourly data, including tips and bonuses. An analysis of 2012 data by the Pew Research Center placed the discrepancy at 84 cents for women for every $1 made by men.

Underscoring the politics behind the efforts, Democrats were aggressively soliciting campaign contributions, accusing Republicans of standing in the way of pay equity. Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Chris Coons of Delaware, for instance, sent out emails Tuesday drawing attention to the pay gap and directing supporters to a contribution site that was compiling donations for House and Senate Democrats.

Republicans argued that the Senate legislation would hurt women by restricting job flexibility and merit pay. "The fact is many women seek jobs that provide more flexibility for their families over more money, which is the choice that I made as a young working mom. It is my choice, and I don't understand why Democrats won't respect my choices," Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., said.

At a news conference, five male Democratic senators said the issue of equalizing pay for men and women was more than a women's issue. "Rebuilding the middle class begins with good-paying jobs. And those good-paying jobs won't happen if women are systematically denied fair pay simply based on their gender," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate's No. 3 Democratic leader, said equalizing pay for men and women was a popular issue and warned Republicans opposing the measure, "We're going to come back to this issue several times this year."

Sunday, April 06, 2014

NIGERIA: Economy $150 Billion, Biggest In Africa

Nigerian hip hop artist D'banj performs in Lagos, Nigeria. Nigeria is set to overtake South Africa as the biggest economy in Africa with a long-overdue recount of its GDP that will give it continental bragging rights but do little for its 112 million people scrabbling to survive in desperate poverty. That’s cause for reflection in longtime rival South Africa, the only African member of the G20 on the strength of its position as the continent’s economic powerhouse. Finance Minister Ngozi Ikonjo-Iweala is to announce new GDP figures on Sunday, April. 6, 2014 to include previously uncounted industries like telecommunications and IT, banking and insurance, music and airlines, and the burgeoning online retail outlets and Nollywood films that didn’t exist when the last count was made in 1990. Then, there were 300,000 landlines. Today, Nigeria has 100 million cell phone users.

LAGOS, NIGERIA (ASSOCIATED PRESS) — Nigeria's recalculated economy is worth $510 billion, by far the biggest in Africa, officials announced Sunday using long overdue revised data that gives the West African nation continental bragging rights but does little for the 70 percent of its citizens living in poverty.

The new value of Nigeria's GDP adds previously uncounted industries like telecommunications, information technology, music, airlines, burgeoning online retail outlets and Nollywood film production that didn't exist when the last GDP count was made in 1990. Then, there were 300,000 landlines. Today, Nigeria has 100 million cell phone users.

The new figures also will take account of growth in agriculture and tourism that have flourished since democracy was restored in 1999, ending decades of military dictatorship. With one fell swoop, Nigeria knocked out of the ring South Africa, whose GDP of $353 billion was previously counted the biggest on the continent and which is the only African member of the G20.

"Nigeria's success is a reminder that Africa is moving ahead despite its current challenges," said investment manager Kevin Daly of UK-based Aberdeen Asset Management, which invests in Africa. He pointed out that it is a Nigerian, billionaire Aliko Dangote, who is building Africa's largest privately owned oil refinery.

Investors' attention will be drawn by the fact that while oil remains the biggest source of government revenue, about 80 percent, oil production is declining while Nigeria's agriculture, communications and service sectors are enjoying healthy growth.

Nigeria has been Africa's biggest drawer of direct foreign investment despite myriad woes, from massive corruption and oil thefts costing the country some $20 million a day to an Islamic uprising in the northeast that has killed more than 1,200 people so far this year, to a paralytic electricity supply that keeps businesses dependent on diesel-run generators.

Finance Minister Ngozi Ikonjo-Iweala told a news conference Sunday that the new data makes Nigeria the 26th largest economy in the world and raises its per capita income to $2,688, making it No. 121 in the world, up from No. 135.

That is still feeble compared to South Africa's $7,336 for its population of 48 million. South Africa, bedeviled by mining strikes, violent protests over services and a lackluster performance that has kept annual growth at around 3.5 percent, still has infrastructure unrivaled on the continent, most notably a power sector that generates 10 times more electricity than Nigeria.

Nigeria's revised figures will lower its much-vaunted growth rate of 7 percent but also will decrease an already low debt to GDP ratio of 21 percent, which should lower interest rates should the government want to borrow more, economists said.

Ikonjo-Iweala blamed decades of military rule for the delay in repositioning Nigeria's economy, but the country is not alone. Ghana's economy jumped by 60 percent when it recalculated its goods and services production in 2012, and Kenya and Zambia are considering the same.

Ikonjo-Iweala has said that Nigeria's economy needs to grow at about 10 percent to address massive poverty and youth unemployment. Government statistics say unemployment increased from 12.7 percent in 2007 to 23.9 percent in 2011; the World Bank says unemployment among young Nigerians stands at 38 percent but analysts say it is as high as 80 percent in many parts of the country.

Financial analyst Bismarck Rewane called the revisions "a vanity. The Nigerian population is not better off tomorrow because of that announcement. It doesn't put more money in the bank, more food in their stomach. It changes nothing."

Nigerians took to social networks to share their feelings. "So Nigeria has now supplanted South Africa as Africa's largest economy. But I've not had light (electricity) for seven days, so it means nothing to me," said one tweet.

Another commented: "Nigeria is Africa's biggest economy - on paper. So technically, I'm rich in theory."

Associated Press writer Bashir Adigun contributed to this report from Abuja, Nigeria.