To Loosen Boko Haram’s Grip, Nigerian Voters Look to Tough Ex-Leader

To Loosen Boko Haram’s Grip, Nigerian Voters Look to Tough Ex-Leader

24/Jan/2015  //  245 Viewers

(KADUNA, Nigeria)

Boisterous crowds packed the streets for the retired general, while young men climbed lampposts, walls and billboards to glimpse his gaunt face. Others danced on careening motorcycles, brandishing homemade brooms, symbols of his campaign.

With Nigeria’s presidential election only weeks away, Boko Haram’s unchecked rampaging here in the country’s north is helping to propel the 72-year-old general, Muhammadu Buhari, to the forefront.

After ruling Nigeria with an iron hand 30 years ago as the country’s military leader, Mr. Buhari is now a serious threat at the ballot box, analysts say, in large part because of Boko Haram’s blood-soaked successes.

“The state is collapsing and everybody is frightened,” Jibrin Ibrahim, a political scientist with the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, said of Boko Haram.

“They are able to capture more and more territory, but also increase the level of atrocity,” he added. “A lot of people are frightened that these people can take over the whole country. So a lot of people are saying, ‘Give Buhari a chance.’ ”

A Buhari win would be a rare upset for the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan, in a country where petrodollars have long flowed and the presidency has great latitude to distribute them.

But oil prices have crashed; attacks on schools, markets and entire villages continue unabated; and Nigeria’s army has been thoroughly incapable of stopping Boko Haram, which now controls substantial portions of the northeast and regularly sends the country’s soldiers fleeing.

“We have to solve it; it’s the first problem of the country,” Mr. Buhari said tersely about the battle with Boko Haram during a long day of campaigning this week.

“This should have been an easy one,” added the former general, who is believed to have been a target of bombings in this city over the summer in which dozens were killed. “But it has been allowed to develop over five years.”

There is much at stake in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, even as it falters — the currency has dropped sharply, questions are swirling about the ability to pay civil servants and the country’s oil-money reserves have withered. The campaign has become a vociferous, at times violent, joust between Buhari partisans in the mostly Muslim north and supporters of Mr. Jonathan in the largely Christian south.

Mr. Buhari’s tenure as Nigeria’s military ruler was brief: a 20-month stint in the 1980s, ended by another military coup. Yet it is remembered with trepidation by many Nigerians. His self-proclaimed “war against indiscipline” was carried to “sadistic levels, glorying in the humiliation of a people,” wrote the Nobel laureate and writer Wole Soyinka.

The current president and his party, which has held power since military rule ended more than 15 years ago, have made this past a central part of Mr. Jonathan’s re-election strategy, hoping to fan old fears about the general.

Full-page newspaper ads suggest that Mr. Buhari is eager to introduce Shariah law all over the country, beyond the northern states where it already exists (in the campaign, Mr. Buhari has not said that).

Other ads remind readers of the retired general’s coup-prone past. (Historians say that even before Mr. Buhari came to power in a military coup at the end of 1983, he played an active role in the coups that marked Nigeria’s early years.)

But Mr. Buhari’s supporters are far more interested in the instability shaking the north, urging a total overhaul of the lackluster fight against the Islamists. Many of them turned out in this northern metropolis this week for a glimpse of the general, who has traded his medal-bedecked uniform for traditional robes and thick-framed spectacles.

Hadiza Bala Usman, the main campaigner for the return of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram last spring, was waiting for the general at the airport here. She helped start the group that pressed the government on the fate of the girls, demonstrating for weeks in a public square in Abuja. Nine months after their abduction, the girls remain missing.

“The resources meant for the military don’t go to the military; the bullets and boots don’t go to the soldiers,” Ms. Usman said. “And what is happening to security, you see it in all the sectors.”

“The support we’re giving” to Mr. Buhari “is for ending the insurgency,” she added. “And so no more children are abducted.”

A retired general in the crowd of supporters, Alhassan Usman, who is not related to Ms. Usman, agreed, expressing anger that Boko Haram had gained the upper hand over Nigeria’s soldiers.

“The issue is lack of discipline; the commander has eaten his money,” he said, arguing that officers take money meant for soldiers, who then see little reason to obey orders.

Mr. Buhari stood as ramrod straight as he had in the days when he rose in a coup against Nigeria’s fledgling, but corrupt, democracy. After taking power, he soon instituted what he called his attempt to straighten out a chaotic nation — making tardy civil servants, even older ones, perform frog jumps, for instance, and jailing journalists for critical articles.

That tarnished past has been, if not forgotten, at least pushed aside by many in the tumultuous jumble of Nigerian history. Mr. Buhari is expected to do particularly well in the Muslim north, his home turf, on Election Day, as he did in an unsuccessful run four years ago.

Still, his campaign faces stiff obstacles. Tens of thousands of people in northern Nigeria have been displaced by relentless violence, and many of them will be unable to vote in the Feb. 14 election. Even if they can, Nigerian elections are prone to violence and fraud.

This week, the streets of Kaduna were packed three-deep with people, many waiting since early morning or trekking miles from nearby villages to see him. Partisans yelled as they climbed on the general’s vehicles, frenetically brushing windshields with the symbolic brooms.

Mr. Buhari spoke only briefly to the packed stands in a downtown stadium, vaguely promising greater security, prosperity and better education. But the words appeared not to be the point. It was his presence, and an implicit promise of austerity and military action, that the crowd seemed to want, after years of scandalous stories in the Nigerian news media about missing oil funds and high living by officials in Mr. Jonathan’s administration.

“The enthusiasm for Buhari is almost like a religion,” said Nasir el-Rufai, a former government minister running for governor of Kaduna State.

“Look at all these people,” he said, pointing at the crowds pressing up against his own car before the general arrived. “They are all waiting just to see Buhari.”

As military ruler, Mr. Buhari expelled tens of thousands of immigrants from other West African countries, blaming them for the country’s problems. His government also carried out a bizarre kidnapping plot targeting a former minister who had fled to London. It involved Israeli secret agents, giant packing crates and anesthetic drugs.

In an interview, Mr. Buhari said that the times had changed and that he had changed with them.

“I operated as a military head of state,” he said. “Now I want to operate as a partisan politician in a multiparty setup. It’s a fundamental difference. Whatever law is on the ground, I will make sure it is respected.”

Yet it is Mr. Buhari’s long military career, not the respect for civil liberties he has proclaimed later in life, that will ultimately swing voters wary of his past, analysts say.

“You’ve got the Boko Haram in the northeast, where they bomb churches and marketplaces, and slaughter children,” he said.

But he also noted the security problems in the nation’s south, where militants at oil fields have created havoc for years. “No highway in the country is absolutely safe,” Mr. Buhari said.

Though supporters insist he will knock out the Islamists “in a month,” as Mr. el-Rufai put it, the retired general is far more cautious. He spoke of a methodical approach, declining to say whether he would fire the country’s top military chiefs.

“We have to see the whole picture,” Mr. Buhari said. “We’ll ask them to brief us, one by one. Why haven’t they been performing?”

“Let them justify the use of funds,” he added. “What is the intelligence community doing? Where do they,” Boko Haram, “get weapons?”

He focused on the individual failures in confronting Boko Haram — the misspent money, the lack of weaponry for the soldiers, their lack of motivation for the fight — rather than on an overall condemnation of the army.

His jaw muscles tightening, he said: “This is not the Nigerian Army I knew.”


UN Pledges Support For Nigeria’s Counter-terrorism Efforts

UN Pledges Support For Nigeria’s Counter-terrorism Efforts

24/Jan/2015  //  302 Viewers

Dr Mohammed Chambas, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa, has pledged the organisation’s support for on-going counter-terrorism campaign in Nigeria.

The pledge is contained in a statement issued by Lt.-Cdr. Way Olabisi on behalf of the for Director, Defence Information in Abuja on Friday.

Olabisi said Chambas, who is also the Special Envoy of the UN to Nigeria, made the pledge when he visited the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, in Abuja.

He quoted the envoy as saying that the UN would be ready to give Nigeria all the needed support to counter terrorism.

Chambas also advocated collaboration between Nigeria and its neighbours in the efforts to defeat terrorism.

Badeh thanked the special representative of the UN secretary-general and said that Nigeria would welcome any assistance that could help it in the prosecution of the fight against Boko Haram.

He assured the envoy that the armed forces would continue to adhere strictly to the rules of engagement and observance of human rights in prosecuting the war against terror.

Badeh used the occasion to reassure the UN that the military would work for the peaceful conduct of the forthcoming general elections in the country.

Meanwhile, the Defence Headquarters said its website was hacked into on Friday but added that the hacker could not infiltrate its database.

A statement issued by the defence spokesman, Maj.-Gen. Chris Olukolade, said the site was “defaced at the front end’’.

“Preliminary investigation shows that the attack was from the end of the site’s host.

“One Ima Sadiq who posed as the hacker has been knocked off and normal activities on the channel have resumed.

“Apparently, the blog site was targeted because of its role as a major channel for disseminating information on military and security activities in the nation’s counter-terrorism campaign,’’ Olukolade said. (NAN)


Maharashtra wants to buy Ambedkar’s London home

Maharashtra wants to buy Ambedkar’s London home

24/Jan/2015  //  287 Viewers

The Maharashtra government has written to the Centre expressing its wish to acquire a residential property in London where Dr B R Ambedkar lived while studying at the London School of Economics in 1921-22.

The 2,050 sq ft property on King Henry’s Road, London, is expected to cost an estimated Rs 40 crore. The state government stepped in with its proposal to buy the property after it came to know earlier this month that it has been put up for auction.

State Water Conservation Minister and Dalit leader Nitin Raut told The Indian Express, “The Federation of Ambedkarites and Buddhist Organisation (FABO), UK wrote a letter to the Maharashtra government and the Centre, informing about the auction of the private property for Rs 40 crore. Since I am associated with Ambedkarite associations, they approached me requesting for help to acquire the property through the state’s and Centre’s intervention.”


Women group drums up support for Buhari

Women group drums up support for Buhari

24/Jan/2015  //  231 Viewers

A group, the Women Pro-Climate Federation, has joined those drumming support for the candidacy of General Muhammadu Buhari to emerge as the winner of the upcoming presidential elections.

The group, which is non-governmental organisation, during a press briefing in Lagos, declared that its decision to pitch tent with Buhari and his running mate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, was premised on the ‘track record’ of General Buhari as the only candidate that could deliver the nation from the “shackles of corruption imposed on it by those who had been leading it for the past 16 years.”

President of the organisation, Mrs Enitan Sanusi, urged all Nigerians, particularly the female folk, to exercise their fundamental rights by voting for Buhari.

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Attacks on Jonathan: This nonsense must stop – Presidency warns APC, supporters

Attacks on Jonathan: This nonsense must stop – Presidency warns APC, supporters

24/Jan/2015  //  256 Viewers

The Presidency on Friday warned the All Progressives Congress, APC, over the recent attacks on president Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign train.

The ruling party told the APC to call its supporters to order to stop the ‘nonsense’.

The Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs, Prof. Rufai Ahmed Alkali, gave the warning on Friday in Abuja.

Alkali, in a statement entitled: “This nonsense must stop,” pointed out that the action of the APC’s supporters was a negation of the non-violence peace pact signed recently in Abuja by all the presidential candidates.

The statement reads: “When the peace pact by the major Political Parties participating in the 2015 General Elections was signed, Nigerians heaved a great sigh of relief in the belief that the tensions stocked up in the buildup to the campaigns will subside.

“President Goodluck Jonathan, who is also the leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), blazed the trail in appending his signature to the historic document.

“General Muhammadu Buhari and leaders of other parties also signed, pledging a violence free electioneering process and rejection of uncouth and inciting language.

“Unfortunately, while President Jonathan and the PDP have remained bound by the letters and spirit of the peace pact, supporters of the APC candidate have had a field day, violating all the terms of the pact and engaging in violence even on the person and entourage of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“The successive incidents in Katsina and Bauchi States, where irate youth supporters of the APC unleashed a reign of terror on the convoy of the President, is an ominous wind that blows no one any good.

“A situation where any citizen of Nigeria, least of all the President and Commander In Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will be made unsafe in any part of Nigeria is unacceptable and stands condemned.

“Were it not for the maturity and professionalism of the security personal on the convoy of the President, an ugly scenario provoked by these hooligans would have held sway.

“We commend the security agents for nipping the situation in the bud.

“Once more, we call on leaders of the APC, on whose behalf these dastardly acts where executed, to call their attack dogs to order, in order to avert similar reprisal measures by overzealous supporters of other Parties.

“President Goodluck Jonathan remains firmly committed to the peace pact and has successfully reigned in his supporters to avoid violence or inciting statements.

“For him, His campaign remains a quest for the total transformation of Nigeria and not an egocentric or desperate struggle to assert himself.

“We thank Nigerians for the rousing welcome accorded the President in all locations where the campaign team have visited so far.

“While the APC has continued to whip up sentiments and run a divisive campaign, we are satisfied with the show of love, support and solidarity shown by all Nigerians at our campaign venues.


Colorado woman gets 4 years for wanting to join ISIS

Colorado woman gets 4 years for wanting to join ISIS

24/Jan/2015  //  230 Viewers

A young Colorado woman has been sentenced to four years in jail after she pleaded guilty to trying to help the militant group Islamic State (IS).

Shannon Conley, a 19-year-old Muslim convert, was arrested in April while trying to board a flight to Turkey en route to Syria to marry an IS fighter.

Prosecutors offered a reduced term if she helped share information about other Americans looking to join IS.

Conley, who now calls herself Halima, said she deeply regrets her actions.

One-way ticket

Handing down the verdict at a court in Denver, Judge Raymond Moore said the sentence was meant to deter others who wanted to join Islamic militants.

The judge also expressed doubt about Conley's claim that she had disavowed jihad.

"Defiance has been a part of her fabric for a long time," he said, adding that Conley needed mental help.

Conley appeared in the courtroom wearing a headscarf with her prison uniform. She had earlier pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organisation.

She had faced up to five years in prison.

Conley, who is a nurse's assistant, told her parents she planned to marry Yousr Mouelhi, who she met online and believed to be a Tunisian IS fighter.

The FBI became interested in Conley after she alarmed employees of a church in Denver by taking notes on the layout of the building.

Over the course of eight months, FBI agents repeatedly tried to discourage her from travelling abroad, suggesting she explore humanitarian work instead.

But her father, who had refused to let her marry her Tunisian suitor, discovered a one-way ticket to Turkey with Conley's name on it.

ISIS Denver Girl Sentenced: Shannon Conley Gets four-Year Prison Term For Trying To Join Islamic State

ISIS Denver Girl Sentenced: Shannon Conley Gets four-Year Prison Term For Trying To Join Islamic State

24/Jan/2015  //  302 Viewers

A 19-year-old Colorado lady who attempted to fly to Syria to assist the Islamic State group was sentenced Friday to 4 years in prison, NBC News reported. The sentence was handed down soon after Denver resident Shannon Conley pleaded guilty in September to a terrorism-connected charge.

Conley, who now desires to be referred to as Amatullah, a Muslim name that suggests “servant of Allah,” was drawn to the ISIS result in right after she met a man on-line who stated he was fighting with the militant group, CNN reported. The 19-year-old tried to get on a flight from Denver International Airport to Turkey and at some point Syria but she was arrested by authorities at the airport. A certified nurse’s aide, the teenager wanted to be a nurse at an ISIS camp, according to the network.

While Conley received a four-year sentence, she may perhaps be in prison for as lots of as 5 years, depending on how effectively she cooperates with the government about other Americans she may perhaps know who joined or are planning to join ISIS, according NBC News. The judge who gave the sentence described Conley as an consideration seeker and described her mental state as getting “a bit of a mess,” Denver NBC affiliate KUSA reported.

Conley pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to present material help to a designated terrorist organization, according to Denver ABC affiliate KMGH. She apologized for her actions just before her sentencing, and mentioned she wasn’t organizing on going to Syria to inflict violence.

“Even even though I supported a jihad, it was never to hurt anyone. It was often in the defense of Muslims,” she said. "I do not think I am a threat to society and would appreciate an chance to prove it.”

Conley’s mother, AnaMaria Conley, stated her daughter was misguided.

“She was clueless. She's just a teenager, young, with a huge mouth,” she told CNN in an interview last year. “I believe one more time, a further location, she would just be another kid with a significant mouth.”

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Impeached and facing trial: Final blow to Thailand's ousted premier?

Impeached and facing trial: Final blow to Thailand's ousted premier?

23/Jan/2015  //  265 Viewers

After being removed in a coup last spring, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was impeached Friday by lawmakers handpicked by the same ruling military junta that overthrew her government.  

The impeachment is more than symbolic: By a 190-to-18 vote, lawmakers banned Ms. Yingluck from re-entering the political arena for five years, a move designed to smother the influence of her powerful family, headed by her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who lives in exile in Dubai. 

In a second blow to Yingluck, just hours before the impeachment vote, the Thai attorney general announced she faces indictment on criminal charges for corruption while she was in office; the charges carry a maximum 10-year sentence. Timing on the indictment is not seen as a coincidence but another way to eliminate the youngish leader from politics and government. For months, prosecutors have said they lacked evidence to proceed with a criminal case.

Yingluck yesterday defended herself in the assembly, implying the impeachment charges were bogus and likely unconstitutional. “I am no longer prime minister...thus, there is essentially no position to impeach me from," she said.

“Dictatorships eliminate their enemies,” says Michael Montesano, a Thai analyst at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. “This is a dictatorship eliminating one of its enemies.”

Yingluck today said on her Facebook page that, "Thai democracy has died, along with the rule of law" but said it could be rehabilitated. 

Regime leaders and the government’s anti-corruption agency deny that they are pursuing a political vendetta. They say Yingluck was impeached as punishment for a failed rice-subsidy program that guaranteed above-market prices for farmers and incurred losses of an estimated $15 billion.


Clashes erupt in Indian Kashmir over Charlie Hebdo cartoon

Clashes erupt in Indian Kashmir over Charlie Hebdo cartoon

23/Jan/2015  //  296 Viewers

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Government forces in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir fired warning shots and tear gas Friday to disperse Muslim protesters angry at the publication of a caricature of Prophet Muhammad in the latest issue of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Protests broke out in the main city of Srinagar after Friday prayers, with worshippers carrying placards reading “Down with Charlie” and chanting slogans against Indian rule.

Security forces fired shots and tear gas in at least at three places, while the protesters responded with rocks, police said. There were no reports of injuries.

Police detained a top pro-independence leader, Mohammed Yasin Malik, who had called the protests and a day-long strike over the magazine’s latest issue, which shows a drawing of a tearful Prophet Muhammad holding a sign saying “I am Charlie” in French. It was published following a Jan. 7 attack on the magazine’s Paris office that killed 12 people.

Thousands of people also rallied in cities across Pakistan against the French magazine, although the demonstrations remained peaceful.

In the capital of Islamabad, hundreds of people gathered outside the famed Red Mosque, which has been a center of religious extremism in the country, after Friday prayers. Later, thousands of supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami political party attended a rally in another part of the capital.

Smaller protests were also held in other cities, including Peshawar, Karachi, Multan and Lahore.

“Europe is challenging the faith of Muslims. They are teasing Muslims by the desecration of prophets,” said Siraj ul-Haq, the head of Jamaat-e-Islami, at a rally in Islamabad.

Many Muslims believe their faith forbids depictions of the prophet.

The region has witnessed several protests against the latest cartoon, but Friday’s strike was the first major reaction in Kashmir since the Paris attacks.

“By encouraging and allowing the reproduction of the highly provocative and insulting caricatures of our beloved prophet, the West has contemptuously disregarded sensitivities of the Muslim world,” wrote Hassan Zainagairee, a columnist in Greater Kashmir, the region’s largest English newspaper.

Pakistani officials have condemned the violence against the French magazine, but have also objected to the magazine’s decision to publish another image of the Prophet Muhammad on its first cover after the shooting. Many Muslims view such acts as deliberate attempts to humiliate them and incite violence.


ISIS's deadline passes; fate of Japanese hostages unknown

ISIS's deadline passes; fate of Japanese hostages unknown

23/Jan/2015  //  265 Viewers

 The deadline for Japan to fork over $200 million to ISIS terrorists in exchange for two hostages passed early Friday — and the fate of the captives is unknown.

The Islamic extremists posted a video Tuesday warning Japan it had 72 hours to save the lives of journalist Kenji Goto and his friend Haruna Yukawa.

Earlier Friday, the militants uploaded an online warning that the "countdown has begun": a clock and gruesome images of other hostages who have been beheaded by the Islamic State group.

The clock reached zero, but ISIS did not immediately release word on the hostages’ status.

The national broadcaster NHK reported early Friday that it had received a message from Islamic State "public relations" saying a statement would be released soon.

 The status of Japan’s efforts to free the two men was also unclear. Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, said Japan was analyzing the Tuesday video, but did not outline any plan to save the men. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened his National Security Council to discuss how to handle the crisis.

Lacking clout and diplomatic reach in the Middle East, Japan has scrambled for a way to secure the release of the two men, one a journalist, the other an adventurer fascinated by war. Two Japanese who said they have contacts with a leader in the Islamic State group offered Thursday to try to negotiate, but it was unclear if the Japanese government was receptive to the idea.

Yukawa, 42, vanished in Syria in August. He traveled to the Middle Eastern country after he became obsessed with hypermasculine right-wing Japanese nationalism.

Goto, 47, was captured in October. Before he disappeared, he told one of his guides he was on a mission to find his friend Yukawa.

 Before crossing into Syria, Goto recorded a video message meant for his countrymen.

“Because it very dangerous, whatever happens, I will not blame the people of Syria,” he said in Japanese in the video, according to an NBC News translation.

“I urge the Japanese people not to demand Syrians to take responsibility. But I will definitely come back alive.”

On Friday, Goto’s mother made a final plea for her son’s life.

 "Time is running out. Please, Japanese government, save my son's life," said Junko Ishido. "My son is not an enemy of the Islamic State.”

Ishido said she was astonished and angered to learn from her daughter-in-law that Goto had left less than two weeks after his child was born, in October, to go to Syria in an effort to rescue Yukawa.

"My son felt he had to do everything in his power to try to rescue a friend and acquaintance," she said.

Ishido said she had not had any contact with the government.

 Japanese officials have not directly said whether they are considering paying any ransom, but said their lives were the top priority.

Japan has joined other major industrial nations of the Group of Seven in opposing ransom payments. U.S. and British officials also said they advised against paying.

ISIS has executed scores of Syrians and Iraqis and several high-profile western hostages.

American aid worker Peter Kassig, American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid workers Alan Henning and David Haines were all beheaded on camera. In each of their execution videos, the men wore the same orange jumpsuits Goto and Yukawa were seen wearing in the Tuesday clip.