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Roof collapses as massive fire rages at Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral

Notre-Dame cathedral, the iconic symbol of the beauty and history of Paris, was scarred by an extensive fire on Monday evening that collapsed part of its delicate spire, bruised the Parisian skies with smoke and further disheartened a city already back on its heels after weeks of violent protests.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known, André Finot, a spokesman for the cathedral, said in a telephone interview, and there was no immediate indication that anyone had been hurt.

But the spectacle of flames leaping from the cathedral’s wooden roof — its spire glowing red then turning into a virtual cinder — stunned thousands of onlookers who gathered along the banks of the Seine and packed into the plaza of the nearby Hotel de Ville, gasping and covering their mouths in horror and wiping away tears.

The fire broke out about 6:30 p.m., upending President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to deliver an important policy speech about trying to heal the country from months of “Yellow Vest” demonstrations that had already defaced major landmarks in the capital and disfigured some of its richest streets.

The tragedy seemed to underscore the challenges heaped before his administration that has struggled to reconcile the weight of France’s ideals and history with the necessity for change to meet the demands of the 21st century.

“It is like losing a member of one’s own family,” said Pierre Guillaume Bonnet, a 45-year-old marketing director. “For me there are so many memories tied up in it,” he said of the

France’s Interior Ministry said that 400 firefighters were battling the blaze.

A jewel of medieval Gothic architecture built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre-Dame, others noted, was a landmark not only for Paris, where it squats firmly yet gracefully at its very center, but for all the world. The cathedral is visited by about 30,000 people a day and around 13 million people a year.

“This is just horrible,” said Mohamed Megdoul, 33, a film producer. “A thousand years of history which is being wiped away,” he said brushing away tears.

“This belonged to the whole world, and now it is disappearing,” he said.

As the last rush of tourists were trying to get in for the day, the doors of Notre-Dame were abruptly shut without explanation, witnesses said. Within moments, tiny bits of white smoke started rising from the spire — which, at 295 feet, was the highest part of the cathedral.

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The fire alarm first went off around 6:30 p.m.CreditThibault Camus/Associated Press

Billowing out, the smoke started turning gray, then black, making it clear that a fire was growing inside the cathedral, which is currently covered in scaffolding. Soon, orange flames began punching out of the spire, quickly increasing in intensity.

The French police rushed in and started blowing whistles, telling everyone to move back, witnesses said. By then, the flames were towering, spilling out of multiple parts of the cathedral. Tourists and residents alike came to a standstill, pulling out their phones to call their loved ones. Older Parisians began to cry, lamenting how their national treasure was quickly being lost.

Thousands stood on the banks of the Seine river and watched in shock as the fire tore through the cathedral’s wooden roof and brought down part of the spire. Video filmed by onlookers and shared on social media showed smoke and flames billowing from the top of the cathedral.

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Built in the 12th and 13th centuries, the cathedral is currently undergoing extensive renovation work.CreditPhilippe Lopez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Vincent Dunn, a fire consultant and former New York City fire chief, said that fire hose streams could not reach the top of such a cathedral, and that reaching the top on foot was often an arduous climb over winding steps.

“These cathedrals and houses of worship are built to burn,” he said. “If they weren’t houses of worship, they’d be condemned.”

Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris said on Twitter that “a terrible fire” had struck at the cathedral.

“The Paris firefighters are currently trying to stop the flames,” Ms. Hidalgo said. “I ask everyone to respect the security boundaries.

The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had opened an investigation.

The Paris police warned people to stay away from the area around the cathedral. City Hall announced around 8:30 p.m. that all roads on Île de la Cité, the island in the heart of the city where Notre Dame is, were closed.

The cathedral is currently undergoing extensive renovation work. Last week, 16 copper statues representing the Twelve Apostles and four evangelists were lifted with a crane so that the spire could be renovated.

The cathedral had been in dire need of a thorough and expensive restoration, Mr. Finot, the cathedral spokesman, told The New York

Broken gargoyles and fallen balustrades had been replaced by plastic pipes and wooden planks. Flying buttresses had been darkened by pollution and eroded by rainwater. Pinnacles had been propped up by beams and held together with straps. In some places, limestone crumbled at a finger’s touch.

Glenn Corbett, an associate professor of fire science at John Jay College in New York, said that construction work and renovations had long been a dangerous combination.

“There’s a history of churches and synagogues and other houses of worship falling victim to construction fires,” he said.

$85,000 bet on Tiger Woods nets $1.19m payoff

 A gambler who risked US$85,000 on Tiger Woods winning the Masters is now more than a million dollars richer.

The person who placed the bet at a Las Vegas sportsbook will got a check for US$1.19 million on Monday.

Sportsbook operator William Hill US says the bettor’s win is the largest golf payout in the company’s history.

William Hill US director of trading Nick Bogdanovich says Sunday was a great day for golf but a “painful” one for the sportsbook operator.

Woods rallied to win the Masters for the fifth time before a delirious audience at Augusta National. It had been 14 years since he last won the Masters and 11 years since his last major victory.

The bettor placed the wager Tuesday at 14-1 odds.

Aviation unions suspend picketing of Caverton Helicopters

The unions in the aviation sector on Monday suspended their plan to picket Caverton Helicopters Limited, following successful deliberations with the airline’s management.

The unions, however, picketed the offices of in-flight service providers, Newrest Aviation Services Limited and Serv Air, at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, for alleged anti-labour practices.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the unions are: The National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSSAN).

Others are the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) and the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP).

Mr Aba Ocheme, General Secretary, NUATE, told NAN that the picketing of Caverton Helicopters was suspended following the agreement by the management to pay all the sacked workers their entitlements.

“This morning, we held a meeting with the management of Caverton and they have agreed to pay the severance benefits of all the sacked workers within five weeks.

“They have also agreed to look into other pending issues concerning staff welfare, and have promised to give us feedback soon,” Ocheme said.

On the picketing of the in-flight service providers, he said both organisations had prevented their members from joining unions in the aviation industry.

“We have a court case with Newrest ASL at the National Industrial Court, Lagos, over this issue, but there is no court order that we cannot picket the company.

“We have some persons who have indicated interest to join us and are even paying check up dues, but the management is preventing them from doing so.

“They have even gone further to make the job difficult for these persons by victimising them,” the general secretary said.

He disclosed that the picketing of both companies would continue on Tuesday, as other affiliate trade unions from outside the aviation sector had indicated interest to join the protest.

PenCom bars PFAs from investing in bonds issued by nine states

The National Pension Commission has barred pension fund administrators from investing in the bonds of nine states that have yet to amend their state pension laws and join the Contributory Pension Scheme.

Findings also revealed that this restriction might be extended to 15 other states that had joined the CPS, but were not showing full commitment to funding the Retirement Savings Accounts of their workers.

Latest figures from the commission showed that as of March 2019, the number of states that had enacted laws on the CPS stood at 27.

Yobe State is still operating the old Defined Benefits Scheme and has taken no action towards adopting the CPS.

Six states, Katsina, Bauchi, Borno, Benue, Kwara and Pateau have drafted bills, while in Akwa Ibom and Cross River, the bills are still in the houses of assembly.

The commission stated that the states that had commenced remittance of pensions to workers’ Retirement Savings Accounts and were funding their accrued rights were Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, Niger, Delta, Osun and Rivers.

The CPS was established under the Pension Reform Act to replace the DBS.

This was because the DBS had huge liabilities, which were not being funded, leading to situations where retirees endured long waits to get their entitlements, while many of them died without being paid.

Unfortunately, the same scenario, which was prevalent in states operating the DBS, is now happening in the states operating the CPS due to poor funding of the scheme.

The Head, Corporate Communications, PenCom, Peter Aghahowa, said the commission could not impose the CPS on the states, but could only use moral suasion.

He said, “The states have to enact the laws to do the CPS because they are going to operate based on the provisions of the laws. We can only encourage them because of the benefits in the scheme.”

According to him, if any state plans to raise funds through pension bonds, it must have met the CPS criteria before it could have access to such.

For now, he said, those that had not enacted the laws were being encouraged to do so. “We don’t invest in bonds of states that have not enacted their laws. We have some that are not complying properly, some are complying partially. I believe we will review some of those things again. But for now, if you have not even enacted any law, don’t think we will start investing in your bonds.”

Nine top FIRS officials in EFCC custody over alleged multi-billion naira fraud

Nine senior officials of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) are currently in detention over alleged multi-billion naira fraud according to a report by Premium Times .

The officials, who are being detained by the anti-graft agency (EFCC) in Abuja, include the Director of Finance and Accounts (DFA) of the FIRS, Mohammed Auta.

Apart from Mr Auta, another director of the agency, Peter Hena, is also alleged to be involved in the scandal.

Mr Hena, the Coordinating Director, Support Services Group of the FIRS, is currently out of Nigeria and will be arrested as soon as he returns to the country, EFCC sources told this newspaper.

A top official of the FIRS, however, said Mr Hena is on official medical leave outside the country and did not flee.

Mr Hena is believed to be one of the closest officials to the FIRS chairman, Babatunde Fowler.

It is still unclear to EFCC officials, whether or not Mr Fowler is involved in the scandal.

Details of the scandal are still sketchy as at the time of this report. However, Messrs Auta and Hena are being investigated for allegedly diverting about N6 billion tax funds that should have gone to the Nigerian government, anti-corruption officials said.

It was learnt that most of the other affected officials are from the finance and account department of the FIRS.

All the officials have been in the EFCC detention since April 1.

The newspaper said the EFCC is closing in on several other senior officials of the revenue collection service in a widening investigation to uncover other fraudulent activities involving several billions of government tax revenues.

When contacted on the detention, the EFCC spokesperson, Orilade Tony, said he had not been briefed on the matter. He said any such detention would be at the EFCC office in Wuse 2, Abuja. He asked to be given more time to get more details on the detention.

The FIRS is saddled with collecting taxes and revenues of the federal government.

The agency under Mr Fowler has seen its revenue generation improve, setting new records. The agency said it collected about N5.32 trillion as revenue in 2018, the highest in Nigeria’s history.

FRSC: Driving against traffic on Lagos-Ibadan highway to attract psychiatric test

The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) said any motorist caught creating additional lanes and or driving against traffic on the Lagos-lbadan Expressway will be booked for a psychiatric check.

FRSC Lagos State Sector Commander Mr. Hyginus Omeje, who stated this at the weekend in Lagos, said erring motorists would also have their vehicles impounded.

According to Omeje, one of the causes of the constant gridlock on the road is impatience and lane abuse by most road users.

He said: “A good assessment of the road, which I have done severally, revealed that there is nothing wrong with the road. But everything is wrong with the users, who constitute a law unto themselves and willfully break all known laws of transportation.

“Although, the road is undergoing rehabilitation and expansion, which has gotten to Magboro by MFM Church and at that point, lbadan bound traffic was diverted to share the lane with inward Lagos traffic.

“The narrowing of the carriageway at the diversion point caused serious gridlock last week.

“The problem is always compounded anytime motorists create additional lanes or drive against traffic, leading to crashes.

“We are not interested in arrest, but to get the road free of gridlock. However, many motorists are creating a problem for us by creating additional lanes or driving against traffic, especially anytime there’s a breakdown.

“We will soon start to book erring road users, who are compounding problems on that corridor,” Omeje said.

The FRSC chief noted that impatience had caused so much chaos and harrowing experience for motorists on the corridor.

He urged motorists to always maintain their lanes, saying that lane discipline and obedience to traffic law is required by all road users to ensure a free flow of traffic.

Omeje said the construction companies from OPIC had put signage from 50 kilometres, 80 kilometres, and 100 kilometres per hour speed limit.

“No spirit, no demon is causing anything on that road, but the attitude of the road users, which is underscored by impatience and lawlessness.

“Our men are ready to enforce the law and to curb the excesses of people creating additional lanes and driving against traffic.”

The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is 127.6-kilometre long (79.3 miles) connecting lbadan to Lagos and also a major route to the Eastern, Northern and Southern parts of Nigeria.

The expressway is the oldest in Nigeria and was commissioned in August 1978.

It is also the busiest interstate route in Nigeria and handles more than 250,000 vehicles daily and constitutes one of the largest road networks in Africa.

No plan to remove fuel subsidy now, FG insists

Nigeria’s Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed has reiterated government’s resolve not to remove fuel subsidy. She made the emphasis against the backdrop of long queues emerging at some filling stations amid the fear that a removal was imminent.

Mrs. Ahmed spoke during a joint briefing with Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Godwin Emefiele and Minister of Budget and National Planning Udoma Udo Udoma on the sidelines of the 2019 IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington DC.

“There is no plan to remove subsidy now because we have not yet found an alternative package to subsidy. We will not remove subsidy without another social safety net package,” the minister said.

She noted: “One of the issues that always comes up in the report, especially by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a corporate body, is how we handle fuel subsidy. In principle, the IMF is saying fuel subsidies are better removed, so that you can use the resources for other important sectors. In principle, that is a fact. But in Nigeria, we don’t have plans to remove fuel subsidy at this time because we have not yet designed buffers that can enable us to remove fuel subsidy and provide cushions for our people.

“So, there is no plan to remove subsidy. We will be discussing with various groups. If we have to, what are the alternatives? We have not yet found viable alternatives. So, we are not yet at the point of removing fuel subsidy. Therefore, every rumour on plans to remove subsidy should be discarded.”

The minister revealed that part of the takeaways from the Spring Meetings was the discussion of additional financing assistance on climate change and power.

In his remarks, Emefiele expressed hope that Nigeria’s economy would lead growth in the African sub-region from the current 1.8 per cent to three per cent, and attain the CBN’s single digit inflation target of between six and nine per cent.

According to him, significant gains have been recorded in terms of financial inclusion, which today is around 64 per cent, close to the 80 per cent target by 2020.

He further allayed the fear of adverse consequences on Nigeria’s economy arising from Brexit discussions. Britain’s trade relationship with Nigeria was not as high as that of China and the United States, he explained.

Udoma said that during talks with officials of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), he asked support for Nigeria’s efforts at leveraging private sector capital to fund critical infrastructure.

“At the State of the African Region, discussions centered on the role of regional cooperation in tackling fragility in Africa. A major takeaway was the need to pay attention to women empowerment and education of the girl child, as these have positive implications in dealing with fragility and reducing conflicts. As you know, investing in our people and the issue of girl-child education are some of the objectives of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan,” said Udoma.

Ahmed’s reassurances came as the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) warned that the advice by the IMF to remove subsidy would destabilise the nation.

The oil workers described a statement on boosting Nigeria’s economy credited to IMF’s media chief for Africa as injurious to the citizenry. It created panic buying, hoarding of petroleum products, and pushed up the prices of goods and services, they said.

The general secretaries of NUPENG Olawale Afolabi and PENGASSAN Okugbawa Lumumba said Sunday that the statement was poisonous and wondered why IMF was still advising the government to inflict more hardship on the people.

“We empathise with them (Nigerian workers) and will not turn blind eyes to any further attempt to increase their pains and impoverish them further. It is quite bewildering and baffling that IMF is not considering the pains and agonies Nigerians went through, even to achieve the acknowledged gains of 2018, with almost two-thirds of the world’s hungriest people among Nigerians,” the secretaries said in a statement.

The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPRA) meanwhile has allayed the fear of Nigerians of any scarcity of fuel.

In a statement by PPRA Executive Secretary Abdulkadir Saidu, the agency insisted the country has sufficient deposit of petrol to meet demands.

“The agency wishes to assure Nigerians to disregard panic buying as there is adequate product supply in the system to meet the demands of consumers,” it said.

It added: “PPPRA, in line with its mandate to regulate petroleum products supply and distribution as well as establish an industry data bank, has continued to monitor products supply in the sector in line with best practices.

“Thus, PMS average daily supply for the year 2017, 2018 and 2019 are about 46 million, 54 million and 56 million litres respectively. These indicate an improved level of supply in 2019.

“Based on the available data, there is adequate supply of PMS with over 21 days sufficiency. PPPRA therefore urges fuel consumers across the country to desist from panic buying as the agency would continue to monitor the supply situation and take every step required to ensure that there is no disruption in the supply chain.”

CCT to deliver judgment in Onnoghen’s trial Thursday

The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) has scheduled judgment for Thursday (April 18) in the trial of the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen on a six-count charge of non-declaration of assets.

Tribunal Chairman, Danladi Umar announced the date on Monday after listening to lawyers to the prosecution and defence adopted their final written addresses.

Umar said the court will also, on Thursday, deliver two rulings earlier reserved on two applications by the defendants, first challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction and the other asking the tribunal Chairman to recuse himself from the case.

NOVA Merchant Bank receives Investment Grade Rating from Agusto, Global Credit

In furtherance of its plans to scale its operation this year, NOVA Merchant Bank Limited, in yet another milestone, has received an investment grade rating from both Agusto & Co (Bbb) and Global Credit Ratings (BBB-).

The reasons given for the Bank’s rating include the strength of the Board and management team, robust capitalisation, prudent risk profile, good asset quality and strong liquidity.

This achievement follows the recent publication of the Bank’s financial results where it declared a profit after tax of N1.15bn for the year ended 31st of December 2018, an increase from N510.6m in 2017.

Anya Duroha, the Managing Director/CEO, commented: “The award of investment grade ratings by two leading rating agencies is another significant milestone in the history of the Bank. It further assists us in our plans to scale up our operations this year and deliver value to our customers and all other stakeholders”.

Mr. Phillips Oduoza, the Chairman of NOVA Merchant Bank, further noted “These ratings are further validation of the strength of the foundation which has been laid for the continued future success of the Bank. On behalf of the Board, I will like to commend the management team for all their effort in achieving this milestone debut rating record.”

NOVA Merchant Bank will continue to focus on delivering on its overarching philosophy of “New Thinking, New Opportunities” to sustainably grow its business as it seeks to assist its clients achieve their strategic objectives and re-establish merchant banking as a key economic driver in the country.

NNPC has sufficient fuel, Kachikwu assures Nigerians

The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, on Sunday assured Nigerians that there is sufficient petrol in the country.

Mr Kachikwu in an Interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos, said that the country had gone past the era of fuel scarcity and urged motorists to desist from panic buying.

“I can say that there shouldn’t be any reason for fuel scarcity, we have gone past the era of fuel scarcity.

“NNPC informed me when I made inquiries that they imported enough.

“Yesterday, I saw a few pockets of scarcity in Abuja, but I was told that it was Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF) related distribution issues, and it will be sorted out as soon as possible.

“So, it is not an issue of lack of sufficiency, I am told they have about 28 day’s sufficiency, two weeks ago, they presently have between 14 and 15 days product sufficiency,’’ he said.

The minister noted that the 28 days sufficiency was okay based on 50 million litres daily utilisation in the country.

“ I don’t expect to see a scarcity, I just expect them to work hard over the next few days to deal with whatever logistic issue they have. I will be working with NNPC on that,’’ he added

On queues building up in some filling stations in Lagos and Abuja, he maintained that the country was wet enough to serve the needs of motorists.

“ I haven’t visited Lagos cities, but the information I have is that there is enough product on ground and we should be able to deal with whatever it is.

“The problem with fuel scarcity is that if you allow it to last for three days, then it builds up a life of its own.

“That is what I have enforced NNPC to do to make sure that it is resolved,’’ he said.

Mr Kachikwu noted that it would have been a major issue for the country if there was an insufficient product on the ground but assured that NNPC would be able to resolve whatever the situation was in a few days.

A check by NAN on Sunday in Abuja revealed that there were no queues in most filling stations along Airport road and Kubwa expressway.

NAN reports that at NNPC outlet, Conoil and NIPPCO filling stations along the airport road, motorists were buying fuel with ease, except at the NNPC mega station at the Central business district, which a short queue.

A taxi driver, Johnson Adio, said “this is not a serious queue, I spent just 20 minutes before buying, it is normal with this station because a lot of people like buying from them.

“It was on Friday that we had a little problem, but it is okay now,” he said.

Also, along the Kubwa Expressway, there was no queue at AA Rano filling station, Shema, Mobil and NNPC stations.

NAN also reports that only a few filling stations like DAN oil along the airport and the Kubwa expressway were closed. (NAN)

Falana writes Kachikwu, demands explanation for ‘$60bn oil revenue loss’

Femi Falana, human rights lawyer, has written a letter to Ibe Kachikwu, minister of state for petroleum resources, demanding information on the “loss of $60 billion oil revenue under the freedom of information (FOI) act.”

In the letter dated April 10, the human rights lawyer requested Kachikwu to provide details on how Nigeria lost $60 billion oil revenue from non-implementation of production sharing contract (PSC) terms between the federal government and international oil companies (IOCs).

Falana also disclosed that he had previously alerted the minister, who was then the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), of the non-implementation of the PSC terms.

The PSC terms between government and IOCs clearly spell out the amount of money that the country receives in signature bonuses, taxes and royalties and how much oil or gas the companies must share with the government during production and contributes largely to government revenue.

Giving more reasons for his request, Falana said even Kachikwu himself had confirmed the huge oil revenue loss, blaming it on “public officials,” with a more recent confirmation made by the acting chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission.

The human rights lawyer gave the minister a seven-day ultimatum to provide the requested information, saying that he will be forced to seek a court order if Kachikwu fails to do so.

The letter sent to TheCable Petrobarometer on Sunday, read in part: “In my letter addressed to you in your capacity as the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), I called your attention to the refusal of the regulatory agencies in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to enforce the Production Sharing Contracts signed with the International Oil Companies by the Federal government.

“In a public statement credited to you sometime in August 2017, you did disclose to the media that Nigeria had lost not less than $60 Billion due to the refusal of some public officials to implement the terms of the Production Sharing Contracts between the Federal Government and the International Oil Companies.

“In another public statement made on January 19, 2019 by the Acting Chairman of the Revenue, Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Mr. Shetima Bana confirmed the loss of oil revenue of $60 billion arising from the non-implementation of the said production sharing contracts.

“In view of the foregoing, I am compelled to request you to furnish me with information on the revenue of $60 billion which the Federal government has refused to collect from the International Oil Companies as at August 2017. As this request is made pursuant to section the provision of the Freedom of Information Act you are required to supply the requested information not later than 7 days from the date of the receipt of this letter.

TAKE NOTICE that if you fail or refuse to accede to my request, I shall be compelled to apply to the Federal High Court to direct you to avail me with the information on the loss of the oil revenue of $60 billion.”

KACHIKWU RESPONDS

Responding to Falana, a letter signed by Oge Modie, chief of staff of the petroleum ministry, acknowledged receipt of the FOI request on April 11.

“On behalf of the Honourable Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, this is to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 10th April, 2019 and received 11th April, 2019 on the above subject matter,” the letter read.

“Please accept the assurances of the Honourable Minister’s best regards.”

Chibok girls abandoned, says #BBOG

Members of the #BringBackOurGirls advocacy group have accused the Federal Government of abandoning the remaining 112 Chibok schoolgirls to their fate.

They said five years after the abduction of the schoolgirls, their parents were grieving without a glint of hope for the release of their daughters.

The activists noted that similar neglect had befallen the parents of Leah Sharibu, an abducted victim of insurgents.

#BBOG said Federal Government’s failure on the Chibok schoolgirls had become a sore point in the nation’s history.

A representative of the group, Nifemi Onifade, stated this in a speech co-signed by fellow members of the group, Florence Ozor and Gapani Yanga.

Onifade spoke at the fifth year anniversary of the Chibok schoolgirls’ abduction.

He said: “They can see that the parents of our remaining schoolgirls have been wickedly forgotten and abandoned to their fate and left to grieve the loss of their children without any form of closure by the Federal Government. No serious government handles a matter like the still missing 112 schoolgirls of Chibok and Dapchi with the levity of an unending saga. The same manner of gross neglect and abandonment has also been extended to the parents of #LeahSharibu. We question the government’s silence on #LeahSharibu. We question government’s silence on the state of Alice Nggadah of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“Our movement has already done everything within the power of a citizens’ group to keep the government alert to its primary responsibility of securing the lives of the Nigerian people since 2014. Our persistent advocacy was to forewarn government of the consequences of sending the wrong signals on the value Nigeria places on the lives of our citizens.

“Today, abductions and kidnapping are rife, gruesome killings take place on repeat basis across the country and internally displaced persons (IDPs) are unable to rebuild their lives. That Nigeria has, since it failed our #Chibokgirls in 2014, degenerated to become a poster country for terrorist mayhem is the grandest shame of a nation.

“Today, our core demand remains the same, relevant today as it has been on each of the 1811 days that we have daily turned up at the Unity Fountain pressuring two consecutive Presidents of Nigeria to rescue the remaining 112 #ChibokGirls, Leah Sharibu, Alice and others. For as long as they remain in captivity, we of the #BBOG shall continue to carry them in our hearts and make our voices resound and re-echo our cries of five years.

“Mr President #BringBackOurGirls now and alive.”

A former Minister of Education and leader of the group, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, announced that she stepped down from the group when she went into politics to avoid conflict of interest.

The former minister urged the government to tell Nigerians if the case of the Chibok girls had been closed, based on what she called the evidence gathered.

She said: “Some people look at us and ask: have you resumed? I look at them like they don’t even get it. A person like me decided that demanding for good governance from a government that has no care to offer good governance has become a blunt instrument. So, I decided to go into politics. But consistent with the values of this organisation, as soon as I decided to go into politics, I stepped down because conflict of interest is a complete lack of integrity. Others can do it, but we cannot do it in the #BBOG.

“The sad thing is that the failure of successive governments to treat the Chibok matter with the effectiveness required laid the foundation for the emboldening of those who have continued to terroriee our country.

“So, whether it is what you find in Zamfara, Yobe, Borno, Plataea, among others, the terrorists became emboldened because our government failed to show that sense of the dignity of the Nigerian life.”

Atiku scammed, no poll result on server, says INEC

The Independent National Electoral Commission said it never transmitted the 2019 presidential election result on a server as claimed by the Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.

The rebuttal was stated in INEC’s reply to the petition filed by Atiku and PDP challenging the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari, as declared by INEC on 27 February.

The commission, which is being represented by Yunus Usman (SAN), as lead counsel, said the results of the poll were never transmitted or collated electronically.

The vehement dismissal of Atiku and PDP’s claim meant that the petitioners must have been scammed to believe that the results were stored electronically.

To be sure, INEC added in its response, that it kept no such server where such electronically transmitted results could have been obtained.

INEC on February 27, 2019, four days after the poll on 23 Februaray, declared that the All Progressives Congress candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, won with 15,191,847 votes to defeat his closest rival, Atiku, who polled 11,262,978 votes.

But the petitioners stated that “from the data in the 1st respondent’s (INEC’s) server…the true, actual and correct results” from the “state to state computation” showed that Atiku polled a total of 18,356,732 votes to defeat Buhari who they said scored 16,741,430 votes.

They said the results were the total votes scored by the candidates in 35 states and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, as there was “no report on sever” about the results from Rivers State as of February 25, 2019.

By calculation, Atiku and the PDP claimed to have defeated Buhari by 1,615,302 votes. But the commission, urging the tribunal to dismiss the petition, said in its reply filed on April 10, that the petitioners’ claims were false.

The INEC’s Director, Information and Communications Technology, Mr Chidi Nwafor, in his witness statement on oath attached to the reply, specifically denied the “server results” which the petitioners were laying claim to.

He said all the results were collated manually and were never transmitted electronically.

9th Assembly: APC clears Lawan, others to consult PDP colleagues

All Progressives Congress (APC) National Assembly members on Sunday got the nod to negotiate with the opposition in their bid for principal positions in the Ninth Assembly.

It is democratic to do so, the party said in a statement signed by National Publicity Secretary Lanre Issa-Onilu, who stressed that the party has nothing against its members seeking cooperation with other legislators as it is confident that they will not betray the party.

There has been reports of Senate Leader Ahmad Lawan, who has been adopted for Senate President, holding meetings with members of the opposition, but Issa-Onilu said that Lawan was adopted by the party for the position in the first place because of his ability to carry everyone along, which is needed for such a position.

He also said that the party will announce its zoning arrangement for the National Assembly leadership in the coming days.

The statement reads: “We are inundated with reports of our members in the National Assembly holding consultations with members of the opposition over the election of leaders into the Ninth National Assembly. Let me state that our party has no objection to such consultations.

“It is a normal democratic practice world over to stretch hands across the divides.  And contrary to some media reports, the actions of our members do not contradict the party’s position. APC has a comfortable majority in both chambers. Therefore; we have the number to produce the leadership.

“But democracy recognises the importance of the opposition, especially when you do not have two-third, which would be required at some very critical situations. For us as a ruling party, we understand that a stable and peaceful National Assembly would enhance our capacity to deliver more for the people of Nigeria.

“So, the party is not averse to negotiation by Senator Ahmed Lawan and our other senators-elect working to fulfil the position taken by our party.

“It is important to note that one of the key considerations for adopting him as the party’s candidate for the Senate presidency is his ability to carry everyone along. On top of that, the party has confidence in him not to compromise the progressive ideology of APC. So, clearly, Senator Ahmed Lawan is capable of conducting his negotiations within the prism of APC’s objectives.”

On zoning and the leadership of the House of Representatives, Issa-Onilu  assured Nigerians that the party will put to rest ongoing agitations and “will soon release the zoning arrangements for the principal positions of the incoming Ninth National Assembly.

“The party will also make its position clear in the coming days on the principal positions in the House of Representatives,” the party’s spokesman said.

He said that the nationwide consultations being championed by the Senate Leader and Leader of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila, who is seeking to become the Speaker of the Green Chamber, were in line with the party’s policy of inclusiveness.

According to him, national interest is guiding the ongoing rapprochement between APC’s candidates and members-elect from the opposition.

Issa-Onilu said: “It is just part of politics and in a democracy, consensus is a key element. To have a smooth sail in the National Assembly, you don’t go to the floor pretending that the opposition parties do not exist.

“Even if the opposition parties cannot defeat you, in the spirit of national interest, you must work with them. We want to run a government of inclusiveness, we need every party.

“We will support every effort by our candidates for principal offices in the Senate and the House of Representatives to carry elected members from the opposition along.

“As long as we can, we will keep our members-elect united to present common candidates to lead the National Assembly. The fact that we are saying that we can go it alone is not the same thing as saying that the opposition does not matter.

“We have the numbers to achieve our aim but we have to ensure comfort for the opposition too. Unlike in the past, what we are pushing before the 9th National Assembly is a national interest agenda.

“We want them to see our candidates within the prism of the national agenda we are pursuing.”

The Senate Leader at the weekend had audience with more senators-elect from PDP.

He was busy selling his vision of a united Ninth National Assembly.

A PDP senator-elect said: “Actually, Lawan met with us to seek our support. He tried to make a few clarifications which boosted our confidence in him.

“It is not a party affair at all. It is left to individual senator to decide who to vote for.”

Breaking: Again, court orders Jay Jay Okocha’s arrest for tax evasion

A Lagos High Court in Igbosere has renewed a bench warrant for the arrest of former Super Eagles captain, Augustine Jay-Jay Okocha for alleged tax evasion.

Justice Adedayo Akintoye made the order following Okocha’s alleged failure to settle a 2017 income tax evasion case brought against him by the Lagos State Government.

The judge first made the order on January 29, following an application by the Lagos State Ministry of Justice.

The ministry told the court that Okocha had also failed to appear in court since 2017 when the case was filed against him.

Details shortly…

Sex on false promise of marriage is rape: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court in India has ruked that the fact that the victim and her rapist have married other people and gone their separate ways will not erase the crime. The rapist would still have to answer for his crime, a Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and M.R. Shah concluded in their recent judgment.

The case concerns the rape of a woman by a government doctor in Chhattisgarh in 2013. The man had engaged in a physical relationship with her at his home on the promise of marrying her. At the time of the crime, he was already engaged to marry another woman. He later broke his promise to the victim.

On the basis of an FIR filed, the man was convicted of rape. The conviction was confirmed by the High Court. He was sentenced to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. The apex court was appealed to.

In his judgment for the Bench, Justice Shah observed that it was clear from the evidence that the man’s intention was to cheat the victim. She would not have consented to the sexual act had he not promised her marriage. “It was a clear case of cheating and deception,” the Supreme Court held.

The court said such incidents were on the rise in modern society.

“Rape is the most morally and physically reprehensible crime in a society, an assault on the body, mind and privacy of the victim. While a murderer destroys the physical frame of the victim, a rapist degrades and defiles the soul of a helpless female. Rape reduces a woman to an animal, as it shakes the very core of her life,” Justice Shah wrote in the judgment.

The court said rape is the “most hated crime”. “It tantamounts to a serious blow to the supreme honour of a woman, and offends both her esteem and dignity,” the judgment said.

The mere fact that both the victim and her attacker have married separately moved on does not erase the horror of what was committed on her. The rapist must face the consequences of the crime.

The court however reduced his sentence to seven years’ imprisonment.

Air force loses airman in parachuting accident

The Nigerian air force (NAF) says it has lost an airman in a parachuting accident in Kaduna state.

Ibikunle Daramola, the NAF director of public relations and information, confirmed the incident in a statement issued to the NAN in Abuja on Sunday, April 14, 2019.

“NAF is sad to announce the passing of one of its airmen, Corporal Meshach Iliya Komo, who died in Kaduna today, April 14 2019, in a parachuting accident during recurrency training, the statement read.

“On behalf of officers, airmen and airwomen of the NAF, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, commiserates with the family of the late airman over this irreparable loss.

”We pray that the Almighty God grants his soul eternal rest.”

Tiger Woods wins first major title in 11 years

Tiger Woods has won the 83rd edition of The Masters Open at Augusta, scooping his first major title in eleven years.

The American golfer sealed his first Major title since his 2008 US Open triumph, finishing on 13-under-par, one shot ahead of his compatriots, Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka.

Tied on second with Tony Finau going into the third and final round which started earlier than scheduled on Sunday morning due to an incoming storm, Woods, who has fought off persistent back problems and had been written off in the lead-up to Augusta, carded a final day two-under-par 70 to come from behind and claim the much-coveted green jacket.

Wearing his trademark red shirt he reserves for the final day of events, and with the crowd cheering him all day, Woods, despite needing two attempts, putted the 18th hole to claim a hard-fought victory in which he took the outright lead only three holes to the end of the championship.

Playing in his 22nd Masters on the golf course where he started his professional career in 1995, 48-year-old Woods needed all his years of experience to putt for par on the ninth hole where overnight leader Molinari, and fellow Challenger, Finau, both bogeyed to hand Woods the advantage from which he never looked back.

The win is Tiger Woods’ fifth title at Augusta and remains second behind legendary Jack Nicklaus who won six titles at Augusta, while on 15 Majors, Woods also requires three titles to equal Nicklaus’ 18 career Major titles.

Zamfara police boss says no room for negotiation with bandits,

Zamfara State Police Commissioner, Mr Celestine Okoye, has said that security agents will not negotiate with bandits terrorising  the people of the state.

Okoye made this position known on Sunday in Talata-Mafara while addressing newsmen shortly after a state Security Council meeting.

“When you talk of negotiations, it means the issue has not gone far. We have shut down all avenues of negotiation.

“The bandits should know that we are now going to come in full force and there will be no escape for them.

“Very soon, armed banditry activities will be over in Zamfara, but we will not disclose details of the measures to be used,” he said.
Meanwhile, Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State has ordered security chiefs in the stare to head field operations in the fight against bandits.

Yari made this known on Monday while addressing newsmen at the end of the state Security Council meeting which held at his private residence in Talata-Mafara.

The meeting, which started at the Government House, Gusau on Saturday, was concluded on Sunday in Talata-Mafara.

“We want to intensify the operations and we concluded that the security will now be closer to their men on the field.

“There will certainly be no room for the bandits. I want to assure Nigerians and the rest of the world that armed banditry and other criminal activities will soon come to an end in Zamfara.

“We will set up camps in all the affected areas so that coordination of the operation can be easier and on target.

“We are going to send the same message to all the other affected states of Kebbi, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto and Niger, so that we jointly operate on the same frequency in dealing with the criminals,” he said.

The governor, who commended the recent ban on mining activities in the state by the Federal Government noted that the ban had further frustrated the bandits and their hiding places.

“We have realised  that there is a partnership between the criminals and the miners, because some of the kidnap victims reported that they were kept near mining sites.

“The State Government has never benefitted from any royalties or tax from these miners, so they have not contributed anything towards the development of the state,” Yari maintained.

Anger as Ogun Govt demolishes Regal Estate

Some Ogun State residents numbering close to 50, on Friday, protested the recent demolition of their buildings inside Regal Estate at Magboro by the Ogun State Government.

Bearing different placards with measages such as “FG, please come to our aid,” “Amosun, leave us alone and go in peace,” “All we want is justice” and so on, the protesters urged the Federal Government and well-meaning Nigerians to look into what they term illegal demolition of buildings including churches and shops.

Speaking to journalists at the site in Magboro just off the Lagos Ibadan Expressway, one of the protesters described it as naked display of executive recklessness.

“It is a shame that a governor could just wake up one day and with less than two months left in office, descend so heavily on people whose only crime could be said to stem from buying plots of land in Ogun State and getting all necessary documents from the government of the same state,” the man simply identified as Ayeni, lamented.

With the debris of the demolished buildings littering the site, Chief Nureni Farounbi, head of the family which owns the land, said the state government’s action is not only prejudicial but smacks of contempt of court.

“It is shocking because this is not an area where we have the issue of acquired land because there has been no time the topic of paying compensation to our land has come up. As you can see, there is nothing the state government has done to us, no school, no hospital, no water or electricity or even road. The electricity you see here now was as a result of money the family contributed.

“And all the people we sold land to here went to Ogun State to go and do ratification and they were given the necesary particulars to the land including C Of O. Only for me to get a call last month that government officials are here demolishing buildings.”

Speaking further, he said: “We are already in court because the only clue we can talk about has to do with the fact that governnent to erect a signpost along the road long ago and we took them to court. Maybe that is why they came to demolish these buildings.”

Asked what their demands are as things stand, Farounbi added: “We rushed back to court and we have a hearing fixed for April 18. They started demolishing on Friday, March 22 and about 15 houses including a church and shops have been brought down because the place was sold to people who developed it into an estate.”

Biyi Aiyeola, an undergraduate who said his father’s house was demolished without as much as adequate notice, referred to the action as “unbridled use of force demonstrating nothing but bitter politics”.

Ayodele Agbeleshe, one of the surveyors of the land, said there was no basis for demolishing any building in the area, labelling the exercise as unjustifiable.

The only house and church left behind by Pastor Shitu Mudashiru for his widow, Mrs. Bukola Shitu, was also demolished in the exercise.

According to the distraught widow, they had been living in the community for over ten years without anybody harassing them until March 22 when it all began barely a month after her husband died.

She they were holding a service in the church when officials of the Ogun State Government from Mitros came and said we were on an illegal land.

“When the officials of the state government came, it was during service, the leader of the team threatened to demolish the building on us if we didn’t come out on time. We hurriedly rounded off the prayer session.

Anger as Ogun Govt demolishes Regal Estate, residents accuse Amosun of 'playing bitter politics'
Demolition in Ogun Estate

“Initially, before the demolishing was carried out, some officials of the Urban and Regional Planning from Warewa Area had come to serve us notice of demolition. We were not afraid because we had all necessary documents concerning the land.

“Before the demolition exercise commenced, I approached one of the Mitros officials to know why they wanted to destroy our church and house and he said our building and church are on government-acquired land.

“I told the government officials that we had all necessary documents for the property we bought and also charted the land before we paid. It was after we had charted it from the Ministry of Lands and we are satisfied that we paid the person we bought it from.

“ As a widow, my children and I slept inside the cold for a week before we could get money to rent a single room apartment where are sleeping now. I don’t know where to start from; we are being chased out unjustly.”

Alhaji Shakiru Adeleye, whose house was also affected, said the demolition exercise was carried out in bad faith. Adeleye said they had been living in the community even before the present government assumed office without any problem whatsoever.

He said: “When I saw them demolishing the houses, I asked them why they had to destroy our house, the only answer they could give us was that we built our houses on illegal land.

“Unfortunately, one pastor Moses Ogunbode who was in his church, His Word Apostolic Ministry, was attacked when they were about to demolish the church forcefully, we are under siege of soldiers and police in the community, all we want is transparency and justice because we acquired the land legally.”

The government officials also demolished a building owned by Mr. Ahmed Muhili, who said he was using it as a factory and just invested huge money into the factory just months ago after buying the factory from a foreigner last year.
“When I wanted to buy it, I went to the Ministry of Lands to also chart it and it was there I discovered it was okay and I paid the owner.

“I was surprised when I received a call that some government officials from Mitros were demolishing house here. Before I could get here, they had brought my entire factory to the ground.

“We want peace, we had acquired our land before the present government assumed office, also paid all necessary money required by the state government”.