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Rights Group Asks Nigeria To Unblock #EndSARS Protesters Bank Accounts

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The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Nigerian government to unblock the bank accounts of individuals and firms which spearheaded the recent protests against a rogue police unit in the West African nation.

The CBN had obtained an order to freeze dozens of the #EndSARS protesters bank accounts after allegedly telling the court the accounts were linked to terrorism.

The rights watchdog also wants all fines to individuals and organisations related to the anti-police brutality protests dismissed or refunded if already paid.

The HRW said the actions were a threat to human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“Any attempts to suppress legitimate protests and genuine calls for accountability by arbitrarily blocking funds would be a gross abuse of power,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at HRW.

The rights watchdog also condemned the fining of media organisations for coverage of the protests.

“The authorities should immediately remove all punitive financial measures that appear to have been placed on individuals or organisations simply for providing information or supporting people exercising their fundamental rights,” read a statement by HRW.

There had been threats of fresh protests against the blocking of the accounts of key protesters.

See HRW Statement Below:

Nigerian authorities appear to have used coercive financial measures to suppress protests against police brutality and independent media reporting, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should urgently lift arbitrary restrictions, including unblocking bank accounts of protest supporters, dismissing or reimbursing arbitrary fines, and investigating and appropriately disciplining officials responsible for any abuse of authority.

Days after nationwide protests over an abusive police unit began on October 8, 2020, people interviewed told Human Rights Watch, the Central Bank of Nigeria instructed private banks to freeze several organizations’ and individuals’ accounts to stop the flow of funds supporting the protests. The National Broadcasting Commission, the state-run television and radio regulator, has fined three independent television stations that reported on the violent security force response to protests, using footage posted on social media that the commission claims were unverified and contributed to the violence.

“Any attempts to suppress legitimate protests and genuine calls for accountability by arbitrarily blocking funds would be a gross abuse of power,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Such action would indicate a wider problem of malfeasance and impunity that threaten democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms.”

Security forces have responded with excessive force to the protests calling on the authorities to abolish an abusive police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and end police brutality, tagged EndSARS. Security forces fired teargas, water cannons, and live ammunition at protesters. On October 20, viral social media footage showed men dressed in military fatigues shooting at protesters in Lagos, sparking international outrage and condemnation. There have been credible reports of several deaths as a result of the shootings, which Human Rights Watch is investigating.

Human Rights Watch interviewed seven people on telephone and secure messaging apps between October 23 and 27, including representatives of three organizations and two individuals whose accounts were frozen after receiving or disbursing funds related to the protests. Human Rights Watch also interviewed one protest organizer in Lagos who said he and other organizers had received reports from over 10 vendors and donors whose bank accounts were blocked after receiving or donating money to support the protests.

Those affected said their bank accounts were frozen without any prior notice or legal proceedings, and in all cases bank staff had said that the restrictions were based on Central Bank directives. Bank staff told at least four people that the directive was related to transaction records that included references to EndSARS.

At the onset of the protests on October 8, a civil society group known as the Feminist Coalition began receiving donations to support protests through a fund set up by a Nigerian online payment processing company, Flutterwave. During the first several days, the fund had raised about 25 million Naira (about US$55,000). The payment link for the fund became inoperative on October 13, and media reports said it was to block funding channels for the protests.

Media also reported that the payment platform had been temporarily suspended to prevent the illicit flow of funds. This led to an outcry on Twitter with the hashtag #IstandwithFlutterwave. The company claimed, however, that their services were fully operational and the payment link was inoperative due to maintenance, raising questions about the timing of the maintenance operation.

The link remained inactive until October 22, when the Feminist Coalition announced that it would no longer accept funds. Media reported that the Naira bank account used by the Coalition to receive donations was also blocked on October 13. The Coalition had stated in a tweet that was later deleted that it was under attack, with its bank account blocked, Flutterwave link deactivated, and coalition members threatened.

Adewunmi Emoruwa of Gatefield, a Nigerian public strategy and communications firm, told Human Rights Watch that when the protests began, Gatefield said it would provide financial support for independent journalists and citizens to document the protests, through an existing initiative called Gatefield Impact. The initiative is aimed at supporting independent journalism in Nigeria, and receives funds to support the effort from others, including the Feminist Coalition.

As of October 15, Gatefield had disbursed funds to 23 journalists and sent airtime for phone internet access to about 100 people documenting the protests out of a total of about 30 journalists and 260 other people it planned to support. On the same day, the staff handling the payments realized that they could no longer carry out transactions from the Gatefield Impact bank account, which had been operational for seven years.

When they contacted the bank to ask why the transactions – which all referenced EndSARS in the payment records – were not being processed, bank officers told them they were carrying out a random internal compliance review and asked the organization to submit a number of documents to update their records. The account remained blocked even after the documents were provided the following day.

Gatefield tried to use other bank accounts, but by October 16, Gatefield’s three accounts had all been blocked. Bank officials said the action was based on Central Bank instructions. After Gatefield’s lawyer threatened to sue the bank in an October 23 letter, the bank unblocked all except the Gatefield Impact account. It sent a letter, on file with Human Rights Watch, to Gatefield’s lawyer, stating that the account was restricted at the request and directive of the Central Bank in exercise of its regulatory powers. The account remains restricted.

Nigeria’s Banks and Other Financial Institutions Law appears to require the Central Bank governor to obtain a court order stating that the account’s transactions may involve the commission of a criminal offense to freeze any account.

The Central Bank, in what appears to be an attempt to belatedly justify its actions, obtained a court order on November 5 directing five banks to freeze twenty bank accounts, including that of Gatefield and other people Human Rights Watch interviewed whose accounts were frozen, for a period of three months. The application for the court order, on file with Human Rights Watch, was filed on October 20, several days after the accounts were frozen, on the vague basis that the bank accounts are “under investigation,” without providing details on any specific alleged offenses. Other documents supporting the Central Bank’s application state that the account holders are suspected to be involved in “terrorism financing via their bank accounts.”

On October 26, the broadcast regulator announced it had fined three independent television stations for allegedly sharing “footages obtained from unverifiable and unauthenticated social media sources,” which it claimed “stimulated anger and heightened violence.” The fines ranged between 2 million (about $5,200) and 3 million naira (about $7,800) for each station. The regulator said the stations violated provisions in the broadcasting code that make broadcasters responsible for verifying materials, including from social media, before airing them.

Two representatives from one of the television stations told Human Rights Watch that the regulator did not give the station prior notice or any opportunity to provide information on their fact checking process before announcing the fine. “The statement issued by the NBC is the very first we heard of it, and we don’t know how they arrived at this conclusion that we should be fined,” said one staff member.

The NBC had warned on October 20 that broadcasters must “perform the role of a peace agent” in reporting on the protests and must “use materials carefully in order not to embarrass individuals, organizations, government … or incite violence.”

When the regulating agency is investigating a complaint against a broadcaster, the Nigeria Broadcasting Code requires it to inform the broadcaster and request a response in writing, among other measures. In a statement on October 27, the Broadcasting Organization of Nigeria, a coalition of public and private broadcasters, rejected the fines against the television stations and said that the agency should follow due process by first issuing a formal query to each of the stations involved and giving them an opportunity to defend themselves.

On November 9, Human Rights Watch shared the findings of its research with the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigerian Broadcast Commission, requesting a response, but at time of writing has not received a response.

“Any restrictions on bank accounts and media outlets for their activities related to recent protests appear to be not only arbitrary and illegal but would also run afoul of the government’s stated commitment to reform and accountability,” Ewang said. “The authorities should immediately remove all punitive financial measures that appear to have been placed on individuals or organizations simply for providing information or supporting people exercising their fundamental rights.”

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Interesting Facts & Figures As Ghana Holds Presidential Election

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On Monday, 7th of December, West Africa’s second-biggest economy, Ghana will elect its President.

The election, the 8th consecutive one since 1992, has 12 candidates contesting but has been limited to a 2-horse race between former President, John Dramani Mahama and incumbent, Nana Akufo-Addo.

Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) was the President of Ghana between 2012 and 2016, before losing to current President, Akufo-Addo. Akufo-Addo is running under the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP).

Seventeen million (17m) voters have registered for the election, up by 2million in 2016. There are now 33,000 polling stations across the country, up from 28,000 in the last election.

Ghana’s previous seven elections have produced five Presidents.

History of Leadership

Ghana has a rich political history, from its independence in 1957. After going through years of military dictatorship, following the coup that ejected Kwame Nkrumah in 1966, the country returned back to democracy in 1969.

Between 1969 and 1972, there were three Presidents including Edward Akufo-Addo, Nana Akufo-Addo’s father who was deposed in 1972 by the military.

Jerry John Rawlings took control of the government in 1979, after a coup that deposed Lt.Gen Fred Akuffo. He handed power to Hilla Limann in the same year before deposing him in 1981. Rawlings led the country between 1981 and 1992 as a military ruler before conducting an election that saw to his emergence as a democratic President in the same year.

He ruled Ghana for 8 years as a democratic President before being replaced by John Kuffour in the year 2000.

Kuffour ruled Ghana for eight years between 2000 and 2008. He was replaced by John Atta-Mills.

Between Akufo-Addo and Mahama

Akufo-Addo, 76, Christian, a lawyer and economist contested three times before becoming President. In 2008, when he vied against late former President, Atta-Mills, he won 49.1% of the votes, but it wasn’t enough to see him through. Atta-Mills won the run-off and became President before his demise in 2012. He was replaced by then Vice President, Mahama, 62, and a Communications strategist.

Akufo-Addo, in his second attempt at Presidency in 2012 faced Mahama and lost narrowly. He secured 47.7% of total votes while Mahama garnered 50.7% of the votes to become President.

Mahama embarked on a well-acknowledged infrastructural development but was hard done by flailing prices in the commodity market where Ghana has a large base, due to its huge gold and cocoa productions.

Akufo-Addo, son of a former President and a one-time critic of late former President, Rawlings, accused Mahama’s government of being corrupt and wasteful. In 2016, he contested against Mahama again and was third-time lucky in his Presidential bid. He won 53.8% of the votes against Mahama’s 44.4%.

Campaigns of Endless Promise

In 2016, Akufo-Addo ran with the campaign promise of abolishing fees in high schools; ensuring each district has a hospital; ensuring each district has a factory; cutting corporate taxes; establishing a special prosecutor against corruption and election for local government representatives.

Of all these promises made by Akufo-Addo, he’s been successful with the abolishment of fees in Ghanaian high schools. The number of students staying in the classroom after the 9th grade has increased. This has further heaped pressure on the system, with a double-track system now in place, meaning, students are in groups and go to classes in intervals of two months.

Read: Mahama, Akuffo-Ado Go Toe-to-Toe As Ghana’s Election Draws Nearer

He has built 28 new factories, revived 48 and at least 94 are said to be under construction. Ghanaians feel he hasn’t done much in that regard.

In the health sector, 88 of Ghana’s 216 districts have no hospital and he has been blamed for not keeping up to that promise too.

Akufo-Addo’s strong stance against corruption during his campaign in 2016 has been under the radar. He appointed a Prosecutor in 2018, two years after he won the election, but the prosecutor resigned in November 2020, citing political interference. He also described the President as the “Mother Serpent of Corruption”.

Akufo-Addo’s corruption rating has not been helped by their new point in the Corruption Index by Transparency International.

While he has reduced taxes on small and micro enterprises, there are many diplomatic problems with foreign business owners, with well documented issues with Nigerian business owners especially.

Akufo-Addo promised to give $1m every year to Ghana’s 275 constituencies but did not achieve the target.

Mahama, known as a lover of infrastructure, generally tagged second to Kwame Nkrumah in that aspect, has also made a host of campaign promises.

In the health sector, he has promised free primary health care, preventive care and health promotion and wellness. He has also promised to help reduce the maternal mortality rate in the country by 50%.

The former President says he will build new hospitals and universities, in addition to 20,000 low-income houses in an infrastructure drive. He also says he will abolish the Double-Track Educational system of Akufo-Addo’s government.

In a campaign tagged the ‘Big Push’, Mahama says he has a $10bn infrastructure plan to reposition Ghana’s economy.

Akufo-Addo, on his part, said he plans a $17bn post-pandemic recovery plan for Ghana’s economy.

The incumbent, still battling to convince Ghanaians that he’s the man of the people, after largely failing to keep up with campaign promises, has strong opposition in Mahama.

The former President, known as Mr. Dumsor (on & off) for the electricity shortage faced by Ghanaians when he was in power, hopes to latch on to his political popularity and the incumbent President’s failings.

His party, the NDC has produced 3 of Ghana’s last 5 Presidents.

Ghanaians will also elect the 275 members of Parliament in Monday’s election.

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Africa’s Independence Incomplete Without Total Control of Natural Resources – Zimbabwean President

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The President of Zimbabwe, Mr. Emmerson Mnangagwa believes Africa’s freedom and political independence remain incomplete, until the continent has total control of its rich natural resources.

Mr. Mnangagwa bared his mind on Thursday at the ground-breaking for the construction of the Museum of African Liberation in the capital Harare, a project that seeks to document and preserve Africa’s liberation war history.

“The epoch we are now at as Africa is the story of full ownership and utilisation of our endowments to modernise, industrialise, and ultimately improve the lives of our people,” he said.

“Through this continental project, let us put to rest the one-sided euro-centric narratives which have been perpetuated in the public space for too long.

“We are marching together bonded by the ideals of Pan-Africanism, Ubuntu, and African renaissance, through the documentation, protection, preservation, and promotion of our rich liberation history,” Mnangagwa said.

The project is being spearheaded by the Institute of African Knowledge, a Pan-African Research organisation, in conjunction with the Zimbabwean government.

The Museum has since received a major boost after China, Russia, and UNESCO pledged their support for the historic project.

China pledged seed money towards the project and has since invited Zimbabwe to visit China to get Chinese experience on how projects of such magnitude are done.

Several African countries have declared their support for the liberation museum project.

“The construction of this Museum is not to trap us in our past, but meant to ensure that we use our history to learn from the past and chart a better future for the next generations,” Mnangagwa said.

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Money Laundering: Niger Republic Extradites Fleeing Ex-Pension Boss, Maina, to Nigeria

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The Nigerian government has secured the extradition of a former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Mr Abdulrasheed Maina, who jumped bail and fled to neighbouring Niger Republic.

Maina, a former director in the ministry of interior, is being prosecuted on 12 counts of money laundering to the tune of N2bn by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

He was temporarily freed on bail after perfecting a bail condition, with Senator Ali Ndume standing as his surety.

After he jumped bail, Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja issued an arrest warrant against him and also ordered the arrest of his surety.

According to local reports, Maina was arrested in Niamey, the Nigerien capital, on Monday by security agents from the Nigerian Police, the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) National Central Bureau, Abuja, and Niger.

Maina has been brought to Abuja, the Nigerian capital, and is currently been held in a police facility.

He will be interrogated before being handing over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) for remand in Kuje Custodial facility.

The Commissioner of Police, Interpol NCB, Garba Umar, reportedly confirmed Maina’s extradition.

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