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Africa: What Obama Still Owes Africa (a Visit to Nigeria for One Thing)
January 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

Photo: AllAfrica Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson

Photo: AllAfrica
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson

Washington, DC —After seven years in office, President Barack Obama has already engaged more broadly on Africa than any previous American president, but with one year remaining in the White House, there are still a few things he should do before he leaves, writes Johnnie Carson, the United States’ top policy-maker on Africa in the first Obama administration.

President Obama has significantly elevated and transformed America’s engagement with Africa, traveling widely across the continent, championing the renewal of several old programs and launching a series of highly focused new initiatives that could help speed-up Africa’s economic development.

He has been particularly active in promoting economic and development issues.

He fought successfully for the renewal and extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), America’s most important trade legislation with Africa; he hosted the first U.S.-Africa Leadership Summit, attended by 37 heads of state; and he has established several important new economic programs, including “Power Africa” – to expand significantly electrical access across the continent; “Feed the Future” – to increase household food production and to generate a green revolution throughout Africa, and “Trade Africa” – to expand substantially trade between Africa and the United States.

Recognizing the growing role of the continent’s next generation of young leaders, President Obama established YALI – the Young African Leaders Initiative, a program that will bring 500 young African entrepreneurs, professionals and community organizers to the U.S. each year for the next several years for five weeks of leadership, organization and management training.

But what next?

Despite his rather impressive list of accomplishments, here are ten things the president should do before he leaves office in January 2017:

Visit Nigeria: President Obama has traveled to Africa five times during his presidency – but he has not visited Nigeria, the continent’s economic, political, communications and petroleum giant, and its most important state. It is the continent’s largest economy – almost twice the size of South Africa’s and a third larger than that of Egypt.

It is also the continent’s most populous state, with 180 million people, its largest Muslim country, and its largest democracy.

The president has visited every major country on the continent except Nigeria, and it would be a mistake for him to leave the White House without a stop in Lagos or Abuja.

Some have suggested that security may be a concern because of Boko Haram, but if the president can travel safely to Nairobi, where al Shabaab has carried out high profile attacks in the center of the city, he should be able to travel safely to Abuja or Lagos. He is bound to make one more trip to Europe, and a stop in Nigeria – similar to his 2009 visit to Ghana – would not be a major diversion.

Co-host a regional summit on democracy in west Africa:Strengthening democracy institutions, promoting good governance and supporting free and fair elections has been a major priority for the Obama administration in Africa.

imagesDuring his first official visit to the continent as president in July 2009, President Obama spoke eloquently before the Ghanaian Parliament about the importance of democracy and good governance and the need to create “more strong institutions, not more strong men.” With a growing number of African leaders attempting to extend their terms of office, democracy remains fragile across the continent. The president could give democracy in Africa a boost and reaffirm America’s strong commitment to Africa’s political progress by hosting a conference in West Africa with the democratically-elected leaders of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Support Nigeria’s permanent membership in the G20: President Obama has said that he wants to ensure that Africa has a place at the table to participate in the deliberations concerning major global political and economic issues. One way to accomplish that is to expand or reorganize the G20 group of nations to include Nigeria as a permanent member of this important global organization.

Nigeria is already more important than several of the current G20 members, notably Argentina and South Africa, and over the next two decades it will become one of the world’s mega states, eclipsing several other G20 members in the size of its economy, population and regional influence. It would also be one of the G20’s largest democracies. The administration should make the inclusion of Nigeria a priority over the next 12 months.

Press for the passage of the Electrify Africa legislation: Power Africa is one of President Obama’s most important signature initiatives. In the world’s most energy deficient and starved continent, it is intended to increase Africa’s power output by 30,000 megawatts over the next decade or two.

But like a number of recent White House initiatives, Power Africa is not backed by any legislative mandate and could be easily brushed aside after the Obama administration leaves office. The program enjoys bi-partisan support in the Congress and the administration needs to work with congressional leaders to prioritize the passage of the Electrify Africa legislation. At the same time, the administration needs to create a senior level “Power Africa czar” to manage the program and consider moving interagency responsibility for oversight from USAID to a cabinet level department.

Instruct USAID to establish a permanent democracy fund: If democracy promotion is an important priority, it should be funded adequately and on a long-term basis. Today that is not the case. Funding for democracy has declined sharply during Obama’s second term despite the president’s recent speeches in Nairobi and Addis Ababa, and at the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Dedicated and hard-to-reprogram funds should be allocated to strengthen African judiciaries and legislatures, to promote civil society groups and the media, to assist women’s organizations and youth groups and to support domestic and international election monitoring. Funds should also be made available to assist local organizations to undertake parallel vote counts, to aid local election commissions and to prevent pre- and post-election violence.

Invite Tanzania’s newly elected President John Magufuli to the White House: Tanzania is the most populous state and the largest democracy in East Africa. It is also one of the largest recipients of U.S. development assistance and a participant in all of Washington’s major economic initiatives.

obama1In late October, Tanzania held presidential and parliamentary elections.The elections on the mainland went well, but those on the island of Zanzibar were disputed. President John Pombe Magufuli, a reform-minded academic-turned-politician, was elected without dispute, making him Tanzania’s fifth democratically-elected president in a row. Although the Zanzibar election remains unresolved, it is important to reach out to Tanzania’s new president early in his tenure to continue to foster the strong relationship between Dar es Salaam and Washington.

This is particularly important since President Magufuli does not have any major ties with the United States.Tanzania also has a critical role to play in East African peace-building issues, particularly in Burundi and the eastern Congo. Early political consultations with President Magufuli and his new foreign minister, Dr. Augustine Mahiga, could prove valuable in promoting stability in the Great Lakes region.

Send Secretary of State John Kerry to Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and the Republic of the Congo: The Great Lakes Region of Central Africa is one of the most volatile and unstable regions in Africa, with daily political and ethnic violence in Burundi, and with the leaders of Rwanda, the DRC and the Congo threatening to extend themselves in office in violation of their constitutions.

Although time is running out, there is still an opportunity to prevent further democratic backsliding and the serious instability and violence that will almost certainly be unleashed – as we are already seeing in Burundi. High level engagement with the leaders in the region is required.

An extended visit by Secretary Kerry to the DRC, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi would be a strong signal of Washington’s deep concern and interest in the region’s negative political and security trajectory. Without serious engagement with the leaders on the ground, there will be no meaningful progress.

Open a U.S. consulate in northern Nigeria and a full embassy in Mogadishu: The establishment of a consulate in northern Nigeria is long overdue. More than half of Nigeria’s 180 million people live in the northern part of the country, an area of serious political and security concern. It is also the largest Muslim region in Africa and the largest Muslim region in the world where there is no full-time U.S. diplomatic presence.

A U.S. diplomatic mission would advance long-term political, economic and security interests in the region and help Nigeria to deal with the economic, social and security challenges it faces there. A consulate in Kaduna, which once had one, or Kano would convey a strong signal to the Muslim community that Washington genuinely cares about the people in the region.

Once the global poster child of a failed state, Somalia has made significant progress over the past seven years. In recognition of the progress, the U.S. re-established formal diplomatic relations with the Somali government in Mogadishu in January 2013.

Before he leaves office, President Obama should take one more step. He should reaffirm Washington’s commitment to Somalia and recognize the country’s continuing progress by appointing a Senate-approved ambassador and opening a small, secure diplomatic embassy compound in downtown Mogadishu.

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IMF Managing Director to Visit Nigeria and Cameroon
January 4, 2016 | 0 Comments

461681231Ms. Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), will visit Nigeria and Cameroon during January 4–9, 2016, to engage with policy makers and other stakeholders in both countries and from the region and to underline the IMF’s strong relationship with its African member countries.

The visit to Nigeria will provide an opportunity to strengthen the Fund’s partnership with the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa. In Abuja, Ms. Lagarde will meet with President Muhammadu Buhari and other senior leaders, along with business leaders, prominent women, and representatives of civil society. She will also meet with legislators.

“I look forward to productive meetings with President Buhari and his colleagues as they address important economic challenges, most importantly the impact of low oil prices,”

Ms. Lagarde said ahead of her trip. “Nigeria is working hard to improve its business environment, promote opportunities for growth in the private sector, and strengthen social cohesion, all areas where the government has an important role to play.”

In Cameroon, Ms. Lagarde will meet President Paul Biya and his economic team, as well as private sector executives, women leaders, and other members of Cameroonian society. She will also meet with Finance Ministers from the six member countries of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), delivering a speech to the group on January 8.

“As the largest and most diversified economy in CEMAC, Cameroon is well placed to sustain, and reinforce, the momentum of integration,” Ms. Lagarde said. “The country and the entire CEMAC region are confronted with the twin shocks of the oil-price slump and a surge in disruptions related to security. Reinforcing regional integration and implementing ambitious reform agendas in CEMAC countries will be key to secure macroeconomic stability and restore strong and inclusive growth in the region.”

*APO

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The military, ‘Zaria massacre’ and a defective federation
January 4, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Chido Onumah*

Muhammadu-BuhariThe recent violent confrontation between soldiers and members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) should not come as a surprise to anyone who understands the Nigerian state. It was bound to happen.

In a country where truth is a scarce commodity and where impunity (whether by state or non-state actors) is the norm, it will be difficult to know exactly what happened in Zaria on December 12, 2015. Since nobody takes responsibility for anything in Nigeria, that egregious crime – committed by both parties – will go unpunished. Of course, there will be an enquiry, perhaps a white paper, and that will be the end of the story; well, until the next crisis.

It is not for nothing that events like the “Zaria Massacre” have become a dominant feature of our socio-political life. To understand that event, we must understand the psychology of the Nigerian military which explains its actions since 1999 – whether in Odi, Zaki Biam, Gbaramatu or other internal theatres of war it has been pre-occupied with in the last 16 years.

So, how did we get here? The Nigerian state has been essentially a military state since 1966. Nothing has changed; never mind the fact that the country returned to civilian rule in 1999. The 1999 constitution that passes for the supreme law of the federal republic – just like that of 1989 and 1979 before it – is a military decree writ large! The inheritors of the military-induced transition of 1999 didn’t see – neither were they interested in seeing – the constitution they were inheriting. They were too eager to move the country forward, to borrow their clichéd expression, to see that the road to their inheritance was laden with booby-traps. Even when it was clear, the desire not to be left out of the gravy train of national despoliation was too much of a temptation to resist.

Even though the president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the federal republic, there is no effective civilian control over the military enshrined in the constitution or any other law of the country. For almost five decades since it first emerged on the national scene, the military with the support of its civilian collaborators has managed to contrive a nation in its own image and it doesn’t want to let go. One glaring example of this is the continuous ugly spectacle of military officers still featuring as ADCs, standing like zombies behind our elected presidents at every public function. This can only happen in the kind sham democracy that Nigeria and some other African countries practice.

Unfortunately, ours is not a political but a deeply politicized military, often reserving loyalty not to the Nigerian state but to the ruling party. It was the late military leader of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, who once remarked that, “A soldier without any political or ideological training is a potential criminal.” If Nigeria had a political or ideological military, the country would not be in the sorry state it is today. With all due respect to our gallant men and women of the armed forces, the Nigerian military, as an institution, has done more than any other group to destroy the social fabric of this country. Whether we are talking about the desecration of our democracy, undermining the rule of law, making corruption the national ethos or creating structures that weaken the principle of federalism on which this country was founded, our military is complicit in what Nigeria, a country full of potential, has become.

Yet, it is ironic that the military has put itself in a position that it has become the bastion of our unity, the perfector of our national dreams and aspirations.  We may not like it, but that is the reality. Clearly, that is why the military gets away with murder every time it assaults our national psyche by its overbearing presence. Evidently, the only way the military can sustain the defective structural template it has created which is set to consume all of us is through force.

The action of the IMN and the attendant “massacre” is, therefore, understandable if not excusable. The IMN has been described as an “armed” group that sees itself as being above the laws of the land; the military says the attack on the group was carried out according to “rules of engagement” (rules of engagement in a war or civil disturbance?) and the president described the tragedy as a “military affair”. He is right. It is in the character of the Nigerian state, a state that has lost the capacity to self-correct.

But it didn’t start today. This phenomenon is rooted in corruption which has weakened the social fabric of the country; but more important, it is the fallout of the structural dysfunction engineered and sustained by the military. For Nigeria, the chickens have come home to roost. After five decades of military-inspired malfeasance, including the orchestrated destruction of the principles of federalism, it is clear that we need to go back to the drawing board.

The impunity that is on display in Nigeria today, whether by the IMN and similar organisations or the military, can’t simply be wished away. The Nigerian state has long abdicated its responsibilities to citizens. Of course, with that abdication comes utter contempt for everything the state stands for. Quality public education, health, basic infrastructure and security of life have all disappeared. It is only natural, therefore, that Nigerians have shifted their allegiance from the state to religious groups and all manner of contrivances that have provided them succor.

The Nigerian state has all but collapsed, often inducing violent self-help and pockets of states within the state. Much of this is attributable to corruption, the erosion of the productive relationship between the central government and the federating units in a federation and of course the unholy alliance between the state and religion manifested, for example, in the state’s support for pilgrims, building of religious institutions, patronizing so-called imams and pastors for special  prayers  and affiliation to religious groupings, undermining the secularity of the Nigerian state.

Expectedly, this alliance finds expression in politics since whoever controls power, particularly at the centre, also controls how the asymmetric relationship between various religious groups in the country is defined. Prayers have become central to state functions in Nigeria. Public offices have become extensions of worship centres. If the president/governor is a Muslim, the vice president/deputy governor necessarily has to be a Christian and vice versa.

In May 2013, Premium Times reported that Niger State “subsidized” pilgrims to Mecca and Jerusalem in six years to the tune of N5.1 billion. Add another billion to cover the fraud that will trail the process, that would amount to an average of N1 billion a year. In defence of that mindless waste of public fund, the then governor, the chief servant, Babangida Aliyu, noted that, “it was the only benefit residents were getting from government.” According to figures by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the internally generated revenue (IGR) for Niger State in 2014 was N5.7 billion. Imagine that Niger State has to depend on its IGR to sustain the state, chances are that it wouldn’t spend N1 billion a year to “subsidize” pilgrims. It would be interesting to know how much the state spends a year on primary education and primary healthcare.

Today, religious institutions and groups of every hue hold us hostage and there is no recourse. I agree with the notion that violent religious extremism of any kind is the greatest existential threat not just to Nigeria but to the rest of the world. While it is true, in some cases, that the internal schism within religious groups can lead to violence that threatens us all, the lethal cocktail of state and religion in Nigeria has ensured that this schism plays out in the political arena.

For me, the carnage notwithstanding, the most troubling aspect of the “Zaria Massacre” was listening to our military high command pontificate about its commitment to keep Nigeria united; “one Nigeria; one destiny,” as they described it. By its admission, the military is saying Nigeria is a country at war with itself if every civil disturbance must warrant military intervention. But let us not forget for once that the military brought us to this sad end.

So, how do we build a nation not held together by military force? Nigeria is sleepwalking to disaster. Now is the time to reclaim the country and the starting point would be to put in place a people’s constitution that not only serves the interest of the mass of our people but advances the principles of federalism.

That is the only way to save Nigeria and put an end to the messiah complex of the Nigerian military.

conumah@hotmail.com; Follow me on Twitter @conumah

This piece is excerpted from a forthcoming book: We are all Biafrans: A participant-observers interventions in a country sleep-walking to disaster.

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JUMIA NIGERIA ANNOUNCES JULIET ANAMMAH AS NEW CEO
January 4, 2016 | 0 Comments

The e-commerce leader in Africa formalizes the appointment of Mrs Juliet Anammah at the head of Jumia Nigeria, Africa Internet Group’s (AIG)

fit (1)The e-commerce leader in Africa formalizes the appointment of Mrs Juliet Anammah at the head of Jumia Nigeria, Africa Internet Group’s (AIG)  biggest company on the continent. Juliet is taking over from former Co-CEOs Jeremy Doutte and Nicolas Martin, who are taking the reins of Jumia Global across the 11 African countries in which the group operates.

“Juliet brings strong leadership capacity and a consumer driven mindset honed from her experience in consumer goods and services” said Jeremy Hodara, Co-CEO Africa Internet Group.” As Jumia moves into a new phase of growth, consolidating on the gains so far, while driving for more relevance to our customers, Juliet’s ability to focus sharply on the strategic levers of success is invaluable”,

Prior to joining Jumia, Juliet Anammah was a Partner in Accenture and the Managing Director of the firm’s Consumer Goods Practice in Nigeria. She focused during her later years in Accenture on the digital consumer and route to market for consumer goods companies. She brings to Jumia over 24 years of professional experience with six years at senior executive level. Passionate about “Africa rising” and women advancement, Juliet serves on the board of many non-profit organizations involved in women development and trade expansion.

This appointment marks a new phase of growth for Jumia Nigeria, emphasized by two key themes: the focus on the customer and the partnership of Jumia with its brands and its vendors, which will be the battlefield of the newly appointed CEO.

“My objective is to relentlessly focus on building the Jumia brand, making it the one-stop shopping destination in Nigeria by offering convenience and the widest assortment of quality products at affordable prices” said Juliet Anammah. “We are building a platform for local and global brands to enter the market at the speed of light by going directly from the factory to the consumers. This is a game changer for Nigeria and a major shift in the way companies look at their market entry strategy”.

Jumia  is Africa’s leading online shopping destination. Customers across the continent can shop amongst the widest assortment of high quality products at affordable prices – offering everything from fashion, consumer electronics, home appliances to beauty products. Jumia was the first African company to win an award at the World Retail Awards in 2013 in Paris as the “Best New Retail Launch” of the year.

*APO

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‘The Looting Machine’ explains why Africa isn’t rising
January 4, 2016 | 0 Comments

By JAMES GIBNEY*

dt.common.streams.StreamServerIn one of Africa’s most celebrated surprises of 2015, Nigerian voters unseated President Goodluck Jonathan. The election of Muhammadu Buhari defied expectations of electoral fraud and violence, and his anticorruption platform sparked hopes for reform and economic growth.

Yet progress on both fronts has been slow and uneven. To understand why, pick up Tom Burgis’s The Looting Machine, a bracing look at why a continent blessed with one-third of the world’s hydrocarbon and mineral wealth remains mired in poverty and dysfunction.

A former Africa correspondent for the Financial Times, Burgis goes beyond the tales of spectacular venality among Africa’s “Big Men” – the world’s four longest-serving rulers are in African countries bursting with oil or minerals – to explain how the continent’s “resource curse” is sapping its development.

Nigeria is a case in point. Africa’s biggest oil producer gets more than 90 percent of its foreign earnings and two-thirds of its tax revenue from oil exports. Yet there are many reasons why that hydrocarbon bounty is a mixed blessing.

For starters, it can drive up the value of a nation’s currency, making other exports less competitive and imports more attractive. As Burgis points out, textiles used to be Nigeria’s most important manufacturing industry. But cheaper Chinese imports smuggled in by Nigerian gangs (an illicit trade worth more than $2 billion a year) have devastated the industry – one example of why Africa produces just 1.5 percent of global manufacturing output, despite its abundance of cheap labor.

Billions of dollars in oil revenues are also a tempting pot of money for bent politicians. One 2012 report said corruption had swallowed up $37 billion worth of Nigeria’s oil money over the last decade. That surpasses the annual economic output of more than half of the nations in Africa as well as Nigeria’s annual federal budget.

Such corruption has other toxic effects. Dirty money from bribes and kickbacks has to be laundered, and because those doing the cleaning don’t care so much about profit or productive investment, their infusions of cash distort the value of assets.

Nigeria’s reliance on oil for tax revenues also creates a perverse political dynamic: As Burgis puts it, “the ability of rulers of Africa’s resource state to govern without recourse to popular consent.” Instead of having to do right by taxpayers to win their votes, politicians focus on controlling and dispensing mineral wealth to bolster their patronage networks.

“Politics becomes a game of mobilizing one’s ethnic brethren,” Burgis notes – a contest with dangerous destabilizing effects in Nigeria’s fractious polity. In fact, as one Nigerian governor explains, if he failed to share the wealth, ill-gotten or otherwise, “I’ve got a big political enemy.”

Nigeria is far from the exception. At least 20 African countries are what the International Monetary Fund calls “resource-rich”: that is, their natural resources account for more than one-quarter of exports. Risking limb if not life, Burgis gamely takes readers around some of them, from the coltan mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guinea’s rich bauxite and iron ore deposits to the diamond fields of Zimbabwe.

Even as the names and histories of the different predatory leaders blur, one thing is clear: Their looting depends on an all-too-willing cast of outside partners, whether Western mining and oil companies that plunked down bribes and abetted massacres, shady Israeli middlemen or shell companies in the British Virgin Islands.

Particularly disquieting is Burgis’s description of the unsavory role played by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, which backed visibly corrupt, environmentally destructive, or just plain inequitable oil and mining ventures in Chad, Guinea and Ghana – all countries it was supposed to be helping.

If Burgis’s book were to be made into a movie, though, the star villain would have to be Samuel Pa, the bespectacled, bearded Zelig behind some of the continent’s most dubious recent resource deals. Over the course of several decades, Pa parlayed the connections he made as a Chinese intelligence operative and arms merchant into a sprawling, secretive consortium based in Hong Kong known as the 88 Queensway Group, not to mention a spot on the U.S. Treasury’s sanctions list.

Western criticism of China’s growing presence in Africa, Burgis writes, nonetheless carries a “distinct whiff of hypocrisy” that might make even King Leopold blush. Moreover, ordinary Africans stand to gain much from the $1 trillion or so that Chinese entities will reportedly plow into their continent by 2025.

That said, the tale of Pa and Queensway, which has its tentacles wrapped around oil holdings in Angola and Nigeria, diamond mines in Zimbabwe, and agriculture in Mozambique (to name just a few of its ventures), reeks of sulfur and brimstone. As several seasoned African mining executives told Burgis, the Queensway Group reminded them of Cecil John Rhodes, the forerunner of those who “use the conquest of natural resources to advance political power and vice versa.”

One of the best hopes for curbing this rapacity and corruption may be to impose greater transparency on Africa’s outside business partners. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, for instance, recently proposed a rule requiring U.S.-listed oil, gas and mining companies to publish details of their payments to governments.

Even China may see the writing on the wall. A few months after Burgis’s book came out this year, he reported that Pa had been detained in one of China’s deepening anti-corruption probes. Guess that scotches the prospect of any Pa Scholarships in the future.

*Source Bloomberg/Concord Monitor

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‘Africa’s biggest Jesus statue’ unveiled in Nigeria
January 3, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Aderogba Obisesan*

Abajah (Nigeria) (AFP) – Nigeria on Friday unveiled a nine-metre tall statue of Jesus Christ carved from white marble, thought to be the biggest of its kind in Africa.

Standing barefoot with arms outstretched, the “Jesus de Greatest” statue weighs in at 40 tonnes.

The nine-metre tall statue of Jesus Christ carved from white marble, thought to be the biggest of its kind in Africa, is unveiled in Abajah, southeastern Nigeria on January 1, 2016 (AFP Photo/Pius Utomi Ekpei)

The nine-metre tall statue of Jesus Christ carved from white marble, thought to be the biggest of its kind in Africa, is unveiled in Abajah, southeastern Nigeria on January 1, 2016 (AFP Photo/Pius Utomi Ekpei)

More than 100 priests and hundreds of Catholic worshippers attended the nine-metre (30-foot) statue’s official unveiling in the village of Abajah in southeastern Nigeria.

It was commissioned by Obinna Onuoha, a local businessman who hired a Chinese company to carve it and placed it in the grounds of a 2000-capacity church that he built in 2012.

In his homily at a Mass before unveiling the statue, presiding bishop Augustine Tochukwu Okwuoma said it would be a “very great symbol of faith” for Catholic worshippers and passers-by alike.

“It will remind them of the importance of Jesus Christ,” said Okwuoma.

The cost of the statue has not been revealed.

Earlier in the week, Onuoha told AFP it would be “the biggest statue of Jesus on the continent.”

The 43-year-old boss of an oil and gas distribution company timed the statue’s unveiling to coincide with his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with 170 million people, is split between a more prosperous Christian south and a poor Muslim north — an occasional source of tension.

More than 17,000 people have been killed in Islamist group Boko Haram’s six-year quest to create an independent state but the violence has been mainly confined to Nigeria’s Muslim-majority north.

And even as Nigeria rings in 2016, the ever-present threat of violence by Boko Haram hangs heavy over the country, despite official claims that the battle against the Islamist group has been “technically” won.

“We think religions can exist side by side,” Onuoha said. “We hope that people can live in harmony.”

He said the idea of building a giant statue of Jesus came to him in a dream nearly 20 years ago.

And when his 68-year-old mother fell seriously ill a few years ago, she made him promise that he would build a church if she survived.

*Source AFP/Yahoo

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Oxford statue row stirs ghosts of British colonialism
January 3, 2016 | 0 Comments

By Dario Thuburn*

A popular movement at the University of South Africa forced the removal of a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes (AFP Photo/Rodger Bosch)

A popular movement at the University of South Africa forced the removal of a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes (AFP Photo/Rodger Bosch)

London (AFP) – The toxic legacy of colonialism in Africa has stirred up a heated debate in Britain involving a prestigious Oxford University college, some high-powered alumni and a student campaign boosted by social media.

The focus of the debate is an unremarkable limestone statue looking down on Oxford’s High Street of Cecil Rhodes, the Victorian-era tycoon who founded the De Beers diamond company and what is now Zimbabwe.

“To put someone so literally on a pedestal is to tacitly condone their legacy,” said Daisy Chandley, a student and organising member of the Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford campaign.

Smudged by passing traffic on a busy thoroughfare and soiled by pigeons, the Rhodes statue is still in a stunning location surrounded by Oxford’s dreaming spires in the heart of the university’s college community.

An inscription underneath pays homage to Rhodes — a white supremacist like many builders of the British empire — for his donation to Oriel College.

Inspired by the popular movement that forced the removal of a statue of the famous colonialist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, campaigners have been asking the British college to do the same.

– ‘Wider racism’ –

The campaigns are distinct but supporters in Oxford use the same hashtag #RhodesMustFall as the Cape Town campaign and their actions have fuelled a political debate in South Africa as well as soul-searching in Britain ranging well beyond the statue itself.

“There have always been those who have questioned the statue as well as the wider racism within the university but the movement in South Africa brought debate over similar problems in Oxford to the forefront and triggered collective action,” Chandley told AFP.

The university rejects accusations of racism but Oriel College promised to be “more diverse and inclusive of people from all backgrounds” in a response to the campaign earlier this month.

It said it would take down a Rhodes plaque on the wall of another college building and agreed to a six-month “listening exercise” on whether to remove the statue.

The college said Rhodes’s values “stand in absolute contrast to the ethos of the scholarship programme today and to the values of a modern University”.

It said it would put up a sign in an antique window below the statue saying that “the College does not in any way condone or glorify his views or actions”.

But it also talked up the positive contribution of the Rhodes Scholarships, which have allowed 8,000 students from around the world to study at Oxford, including former US president Bill Clinton and former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott.

One of the organisers of the campaign, South African Ntokozo Qwabe, was himself named a Rhodes Scholar last year and has defended himself against charges of hypocrisy by saying that he is taking back some of the money that Rhodes took from Africa.

“I’m no beneficiary of Rhodes. I’m a beneficiary of the resources and labour of my people which Rhodes pillaged and slaved,” he wrote on Facebook.

– ‘A man of his times’ –

Academics, politicians and famous Oxford alumni have waded into the row, heatedly debating the rights and wrongs of honouring a man who was a major driver of British territorial expansion in southern Africa and a key player in the Boer Wars that left thousands dead.

One opponent of the campaign even compared it to the monument-destroying Islamic State group.

In a letter to The Times newspaper, South Africa’s last white president F. W. de Klerk, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, dismissed the campaign as “folly”.

“If the political correctness of today were applied consistently, very few of Oxford’s great figures would pass scrutiny,” wrote de Klerk, who was key in ending racial segregation in South Africa.

The Economic Freedom Fighters, a radical left-wing party in South Africa, expressed “disgust” at de Klerk’s comments and called for his Nobel to be revoked.

“All apartheid and colonial statues and symbols must fall, not just here in South Africa, but the world over,” it said in a statement.

But in an open letter to Britain’s Independent daily, Abbott said Rhodes was “a man of his times”.

“The university should remember that its mission is not to reflect fashion but to seek truth and that means striving to understand before rushing to judge.”

*Source AFP/Yahoo

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The Year Decisive Blows Did Not Cage Boko Haram
January 1, 2016 | 0 Comments
Olonisakin

Olonisakin

AS it was expected, the six-year-old Boko Haram insurgence was a big campaign issue for politicians in the year’s general elections. The general election was postponed to enable to military to wage a decisive battle against the insurgents with the new ammunition the former President Goodluck Jonathan acquired. The terrorists were effectively pushed back for elections to hold in the North East.

Following his election and inauguration on May 29, President Muhammadu Buhari has put the matter on the front burner of his government. In the first few days, the president rallied for the support of neighbouring countries such as Niger, Chad, Cameroun and Republic of Benin as well as those of regional powers in the sub-regions for support against the fundamentalists.

Buhari used his travels to get the support of the United States and European powers to contribute in terms of funds and equipment towards fighting the menace.

To prosecute his war against Boko Haram insurgence, President Buhari on Monday, July 13, fired the military chiefs his government inherited from the past administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan and appointed a new set of officers.

The new service chiefs were decorated with their new ranks on August 13, following their confirmation by the Senate on August 4. The service chiefs are General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin, chief of Defence Staff; Lieutenant-General Tukur Y. Buratai, chief of Army Staff; Vice-Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas, chief of Naval Staff and Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, chief of Air Staff.

In his speech to the new military chiefs, Buhari asked them to wipe out the Boko Haram insurgency in three months and also charged them to ensure that armed banditry, kidnapping, and other forms of criminality were phased out within the same period.

The president asked the service chiefs to re-professionalise the military and ensure troops were well trained and equipped before going to battle. “You should also ensure that they abide with the newly enforced rules and relations of international standards while carrying out their assigned tasks,” he said. “In particular you must protect innocent civilians and respect the rights of combatant. This no doubt will earn the support of local communities and the respect of our allies and support of international community,” Buhari told the new service chiefs.

Since the military’s renewed vigour against the insurgence, no fewer than 500 former members of the Boko Haram sect have surrendered. The military have also rescued thousands of innocent Nigerians from the captivity of the sect.

That notwithstanding, the level of criminality did not appear to abate. In fact, while the war against the Boko Haram appeared to be succeeding with recapture of several villages under Boko Haram insurgents, suicide bombings were on the increase. It was estimated that more than 500 lives were terminated through suicide bombings across North-Eastern part of the country.

Buratai

Buratai

Despite the situation, the military brass have consistently assured the nation that the already decimated Boko Haram insurgents would be eliminated from the country by the end of December 2015 as directed by President Buhari. But this may be a tall order with December fast speeding to an end.

Another worrisome development was the increase in the spate of kidnapping across the country. Between July and September, the situation got to new level with kidnapping of some prominent personalities who were made to pay ransom before gaining their freedom.

Prominent among those who went through the ordeal are Toyin Nwosu, wife of Steve Nwosu, deputy managing director of Sun Newspaper; Donu Kogbara, a columnist on Vanguard newspaper; Martha Binabo, wife of Nestor Binabo, a former acting governor of the state, and Kehinde Baruwa, Afikpo zonal manager of Nigerian Breweries Limited, among others.

It was, however, the adoption of Olu Falae, former secretary to the federal government and a former presidential, from his farm on Monday, September 21, the day he turned 77, by the Fulani herdsmen that caused political tension and anxiety across the country. Eventually, Falae regained his freedom on Thursday, September 24, following the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari who gave Solomon Arase, inspector-general of Police and leaders other security agencies as marching order to ensure safe and speedy rescue of the former minister of Finance. Arase said no ransom was paid to the kidnappers but it later came to light that the family paid as much as N5 million to secure his release. Five suspects have been charged to court on the matter.

*Real Magazine

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Nigeria Rattled By Dasukigate
December 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

Dasuki Dasuki[/caption] THE main scandal of the year 2015 broke from an unusual place – the office of the national security adviser, ONSA. An interim report of a committee set up by Babagana Monguno, a retired major general and current national security adviser, alleged that Sambo Dasuki, a retired colonel and former NSA in the immediate past administration, misappropriated about $2.1 billion meant for the procurement of weapons to deal with terrorists’ insurgency in the country. It actually has turned out that the money was used for alleged political purposes while the military was left prostrate as it could not get arms to prosecute the Boko Haram insurgency leading to loss of thousands of lives and the sacking of many places in the North-East of Nigeria. Consequent upon the discovery, Dasuki was arrested on December 1, by the operatives of the Department of the Security Services, DSS, and handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which has been investigating the case. In the course of its investigation, a number of prominent politicians as well as media moguls named were also invited by the anti-graft commission to state their cases on how they became beneficiaries of funds meant for arms and ammunition for military use. Many of them have stated their cases. Raymond Dokpesi, chairman emeritus of the Daar Communications, owners of Raypower radio and African Independent Television, AIT, was said to have received N2.1 billion from the slush fund. Dokpesi was arrested on December 1, and taken to court on December 9, on allegations of fraud and money laundering. His application for bail was deferred to December 14. The media mogul said he was not guilty of the alleged offences. He claimed to have received the money for advertisement placements for the general elections of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Another media mogul allegedly involved in the scandal is Nduka Obaigbena, publisher of ThisDay Newspapers. In response to a letter of invitation from the EFCC, asking him to account for N670m traced to him, Obaigbena claimed that the amount he received from the Dasuki was duly approved for him by former President Goodluck Jonathan to compensate him for the dastardly bombing of his offices in Abuja, and Kaduna by Boko Haram insurgents. The publisher said the approval by Jonathan for the payment of the sum of N550 million to him was in response to the letters of appeal he personally wrote to him pleading for assistance following the destruction of his buildings and printing facilities by Boko Haram insurgents.   Obaigbena said the balance of N120 million, which he got in March 2015, was on behalf of the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN, and it was meant to compensate 12 national newspapers. As president of the NPAN, Obaigbena claimed that he had pursued the newspapers’ demand for compensation for the “unlawful seizure and stoppage of circulation of their newspapers by armed soldiers in Abuja, and several cities” during the Goodluck Jonathan administration. But on Friday, December 11, managements of four newspapers dissociated themselves from the 12 media houses said to have collected N10 million each from the ONSA in March 2015. The four newspapers are African Newspapers of Nigeria, ANN, Plc, publishers of the Tribune titles; Peoples Media Limited, publishers of Peoples Daily; Daily Telegraph Publishing Company Limited, publishers of New Telegraph, Saturday Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, and Independent Newspapers Limited, publishers of Daily Independent newspapers. [caption id="attachment_23315" align="alignright" width="592"]Dokpesi Dokpesi[/caption] In a statement on Friday, the management of Tribune said at no time was any money received by the company from Obaigbena as compensation for attacks on its operations and personnel by soldiers in June 2014. Edward Dickson, managing director/editor-in-chief of the media organisation, said that although it had filed claims like all other newspapers as requested by the NPAN, no payment was received, contrary to claims by Obaigbena. In a similar version, the management of New Telegraph newspapers also denied receiving any money from ThisDay publisher, although the newspaper made repeated demands for same from the NPAN for compensation. “It is on record that following the decision of the NPAN to seek compensation from the Federal Government in the aftermath of the seizure of editions of newspapers by the military, New Telegraph computed its losses, which were passed to the association. However, since then, the company has heard nothing from the association on the matter,” Funke Egbemode, managing director/editor-in-chief of the newspaper, said in a statement. She described as “nothing, but sheer falsehood” claims by Obaigbena that he received N120 million from the former NSA on behalf of the NPAN on behalf of 12 newspapers, including New Telegraph newspapers. Ali Ali, chief operating officer of the Peoples Daily newspaper, said the newspaper never received any such money under whatever guise. “This is news to us. At no time was such money made available to us in whatever guise. We wish to state clearly that it is false and therefore, wish to completely distance this medium from this revelation. “We don’t know of others, therefore, we can’t speak for them,” Ali said in a statement. Ted Iwere, chief executive officer, Independent Newspapers Limited, publishers of Daily Independent newspapers, Ted Iwere, also denied receiving payment. But in its reaction, the NPAN in a statement issued on Saturday, December 12, explained why some newspapers had not received their compensation. First, it said that at the executive meeting of the NPAN held on March 17, 2015, held at the offices of Daily Trust, Abuja, it was resolved to accept the N120million compensation. Out of N10 million to be paid to each newspaper organisation, it was agreed that each member would donate N1million from the compensation to the association for the up-keep of the secretariat. The association said that the cheques for the Nigerian Tribune and Peoples’ Daily remained in the secretariat awaiting collection. “In the case of New Telegraph, the secretariat was confronted with a situation where 13 newspapers made claims while compensation for 12 newspapers was made. Blueprint Newspapers which was inadvertently omitted from the list has since been paid. “When New Telegraph now demanded payment that had been collected by Blueprint Newspapers, the secretariat then brought the matter to the attention of the of the president, Nduka Obaigbena, who then called Governor Orji Kalu, the publisher of both The Sun Newspapers (who had been paid) and The New Telegraph (which has not been paid), to urge him to be patient for the matter to be tabled at the next executive council meeting, where he would seek the approval of the EXCO to take the funds earmarked for the secretariat to pay them,” the statement said. Be that as it may, the EFCC had on Monday, November 30, arrested Bashir Yuguda, former minister of state for Finance, for allegedly receiving N1.5billion from the ONSA for undisclosed reasons. Also arrested on Monday, November 30, were Shaibu Salisu, a former director of finance and administration at the ONSA during the tenure of Dasuki; Sagir Bafarawa, Abbah Mohammed and Haliru Mohammed who are both the sons of former Governor Attahiru Bafarawa of Sokoto State and Mohammed Bello Haliru, former national chairman of the PDP. Sagir Bafarawa was alleged to have acted as front for his father through which he allegedly received $4.6billion from the NSA’s office.  Abbah Mohammed reportedly got N600m in the name of Bam Properties. [caption id="attachment_23316" align="alignleft" width="474"]Obaigbena Obaigbena[/caption] Among those fingered to have collected money directly or indirectly from the ONSA are Bode George, former national vice-chairman of the PDP; Yerima Abdullahi, an ambassador; Peter Odili, former governor of Rivers State; Jim Nwobodo, former governor of old Anambra State and Ahmadu Ali, former national chairman of the PDP.

  • On March 13, 2015, more than 15 individuals who went to write the Nigerian Immigration Service entrance examinations lost their lives, till date, no one has been held accountable.
Thousands of applicants who took part in the text were made to pay N1000 to purchase application forms. David Paradang, comptroller general of the NIS, made statement to the EFCC on the matter in September, while Both Abba Moro, former interior minister, was the guest of the anti-graft agency in October. A private company, Drexel Nigeria Limited was also implicated as being a part of the monetary process.
  • In March 2015, there was a scandal over a leaked tape on the involvement of certain in the gubernatorial election on June 21, 2014, in Ekiti State. The Ekiti leaked tape caused a major uproar across the country when four lawmakers the voices of  Musiliu Obanikoro, former minister of state for Defence; Jelili Adesiyan, former minister of Police Affairs,  Iyiola Omisore, former PDP governorship aspirant and Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State were heard allegedly discussing on how to rig the elections.
No action was visibly taken on the matter throughout the year.
  • Adamu Adamu, minister of Education, on December 10, in Abuja, inaugurated committees to investigate the managements of 10 universities and polytechnics over allegations of abuse of due process, financial mismanagement and sexual harassment of students. The minister said government had received numerous complaints against the governing councils and management of some institutions and resolved to set fact-finding committees to determine the veracity of the claims and give appropriate recommendations.
The institutions include the Federal University Dutsin-Ma, Katsina State, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State, University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, Federal University Kashere, Gombe State, University of Abuja, FCT and University of Nsukka, Enugu state. Others are Federal Polytechnic, Auchi, Edo State, Federal Polytechnic Oko, Anambra State, Yaba College of Technology, Lagos State and University of Calabar, Cross River State.
  • Joseph Blatter, outgoing FIFA president and Michel Platini, UEFA president were provisionally suspended by the FIFA on October 7, for 90 days from all activities of the federation. The suspension was in connection with a Swiss criminal investigation against Blatter over a “disloyal payment” of 2 million Swiss francs (dollars) to Platini in 2011, for work done between 1998 and 2002.
  • The French Football Federation, FFF, on Thursday, December 10, indefinitely suspended Karim Benzema, star striker, because of criminal charges of involvement in a sex-tape blackmail attempt against Mathieu Valbuena, his teammate in the national team.
  • *Source Real Magazine
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Stella Damasus partners lover to launch ‘Mon Afrik TV’
December 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

Stella Damasus Stella Damasus[/caption] According to Stella, Mon Afrik TV is a blend of BET, MTV, E-ONLINE, NBC and CW Network all rolled into one but with 100% per cent African content. She said, “that is what we have created and we want Africans all over the world to see this as their own medium of expression, not just another TV station,’’ she said. On his part, Ademinokan said Mon Afrik TV will fill a big vacuum, and also serve as respite for less content providers who can’t afford the fee of other television stations. “We see no reason why a struggling producer who could barely afford to raise the capital to make his or her TV show should also look for money to pay the TV stations for airtime. “After that, they have to convince brands to place adverts on the show before they can start making any money. That is extremely discouraging for independent producers. “ Mon Afrik TV is creating a platform where producers can showcase their works to the world and make good money for themselves without having to deal with the run-around from TV stations. “This is not a Video-on-Demand platform for movies and is not trying to pry into an already saturated market’’, Ademinokan said. The filmmaker stressed that “Mon Afrik TV is here to deliver world-class, premium entertainment content from and about Africa to the world. “Africa has often been represented as a dark, isolated continent. “Yes, Africa has issues, just like every other continent but there is more to us than starving children, gun wielding terrorists, arid lands and dilapidated buildings in remote villages. “We have beautiful cultures, a vibrant entertainment industry and entertainers who have conquered the world on many levels and we want to showcase that to the world. “The station is set for official launch in Jan. 2016’’, he said. (NAN) *Source Nigerian Times]]>

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Nigeria's Buhari hails "technical" victory over Boko Haram
December 25, 2015 | 0 Comments

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari was elected after he vowed to stamp out the Boko Haram insurgency by the end of December 2015 (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan) Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was elected after he vowed to stamp out the Boko Haram insurgency by the end of December 2015 (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)[/caption] Lagos (AFP) – President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigeria has “technically” won the war against Boko Haram though suicide bombers remain a threat, in remarks issued days before his self-imposed deadline to defeat the jihadist group expires.

In the remarks, the leader of Africa’s most populous country worked to reassure Nigerians that the jihadists now were unable to mount effective “conventional attacks” in the country’s volatile north.

“Boko Haram has reverted to using improvised explosive devices (IEDs),” he said in an interview posted by the BBC on Thursday.

“But articulated conventional attacks on centres of communication and populations… they are no longer capable of doing that effectively,” said Buhari.

“So I think technically we have won the war because people are going back into their neighbourhoods.”

Buhari was voted into power earlier this year on a platform that included a promise to stamp out the Boko Haram insurgency.

The former military ruler set a self-imposed deadline of the end of December to defeat the militants, vowing to invest in education to deter dissatisfied youth from becoming radical.

In contrast with his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari has been able to win back territory from Boko Haram and the country has seen a decrease in the number of deadly raids that decimated towns and villages.

But the jihadists in response have increasingly resorted to suicide bombers — many of them young children — to wage war for an independent Islamic state in the country.

Boko Haram recently has staged suicide bombings in neighbouring countries Cameroon, Chad and Niger, prompting fears that the radical group is gaining traction outside Nigeria.

Since taking up arms against the Nigerian government in 2009, the insurgents have razed towns and killed over 17,000 people.

According to the Global Terrorism Index, a report released by the New York-based Institute for Economics and Peace, it “has become the most deadly terrorist group in the world”.

Boko Haram has destroyed swathes of what little infrastructure existed in the country’s impoverished north at a time when Nigeria’s coffers are empty as a result of the plunging price in oil.

The UN children’s agency said this week that over one million Nigerian schoolchildren have been kept out of school because of the conflict, warning that the lack of education will fuel radicalisation in and around Nigeria.

*AFP/Yahoo]]>

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African migrants hit it big in Spain Christmas lottery
December 25, 2015 | 0 Comments

By ALAN CLENDENNING* [caption id="attachment_23272" align="alignleft" width="300"]In this Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015 picture, a Senegalese man named Ngame, who told reporters that he was rescued by Spain’s coast guard traveling from Africa’s western coast toward Spain’s Canary Islands, speaks after discovering he won euro400,000 ($438,000) in Roquetas de Mar, in Almeria province, Spain. About 35 African migrants, including at least one rescued at sea from an overcrowded wooden boat, are among the top prize winners of Spain’s Christmas lottery, according to the owner of the lottery agency that sold more than 1,000 tickets worth 400,000 euros ($438,000) each. (AP Photo/Javier Alonso) In this Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015 picture, a Senegalese man named Ngame, who told reporters that he was rescued by Spain’s coast guard traveling from Africa’s western coast toward Spain’s Canary Islands, speaks after discovering he won euro400,000 ($438,000) in Roquetas de Mar, in Almeria province, Spain. About 35 African migrants, including at least one rescued at sea from an overcrowded wooden boat, are among the top prize winners of Spain’s Christmas lottery, according to the owner of the lottery agency that sold more than 1,000 tickets worth 400,000 euros ($438,000) each. (AP Photo/Javier Alonso)[/caption] MADRID (AP) — About 35 African migrants, including at least one rescued at sea from an overcrowded wooden boat, are among the top prize winners of Spain’s Christmas lottery, according to the owner of the lottery agency that sold more than 1,000 tickets that shelled out 400,000 euros ($438,000) each.

The winners who bought the tickets in the southern coastal city of Roquetas de Mar included migrants from Senegal, Mali and Morocco, agency owner Jose Martin told La Voz de Almeria newspaper in a story published Thursday.

Among them was a Senegalese man named Ngame who told Spanish media that he and his wife were rescued by Spain’s coast guard in 2007 when their boat with 65 people was traveling from Africa’s western coast toward Spain’s Canary Islands.

Outside the lottery agency, Ngame was in tears as he clutched a photocopy of his winning ticket with the number 79,140. He thanked Spain for saving his life and giving him the chance to play the country’s world famous lottery.

“Today I thank the Spanish government, the Spaniards too,” Ngame told Ondacero radio. “They saved us when we were in the middle of the sea.”

Roquetas de Mar is in Almeria province, where many migrants toil in greenhouses as vegetable and fruit laborers. The area also relies heavily on tourism, but unemployment is 31 percent — much higher than the already sky-high national rate of 21 percent.

Ngame did not give his last name to reporters but said life has been difficult for him and his wife since they arrived in Almeria. They had not decided how they would use the jackpot.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “It’s too soon to decide. We have to talk and see.”

Agency owner Martin said some of the migrants weren’t sure how they could collect their winnings, so he accompanied them to their banks to explain what to do.

Although other lotteries offer larger top prizes, Spain’s El Gordo (The Fat One) is the world’s richest, and unites the country because almost everyone takes part.

There are 24 million prizes in all for a country with a population of 47 million — and players in droves form pools with friends, family and colleagues to buy the 20-euro ($22) tickets.

Across Spain, people stay glued to the television on Dec. 22 as lower-level winning numbers are announced until the El Gordo number is drawn. Then people who purchased winning tickets show up outside the lottery agency that sold them and uncork bottles of sparkling wine in gleeful street fiestas.

The lottery has always been immensely popular but has taken on special importance in recent years as Spain struggled through the bursting of a real estate bubble and the European debt crisis. While lottery winners used to buy apartments or new cars during Spain’s boom years, many winners now pay off debts.

Students also featured heavily this year — nearly half the winning tickets were bought at the Roquetas de Mar lottery agency by a high school in the nearby town of Laujar de Andarax, population of 1,600. Students then resold the tickets to raise money for a school trip, meaning the town was flush with winners.

*AP/Yahoo]]>

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