The FBI and Nigeria’s anti-graft agency said Tuesday they have intensified a joint investigation into cyber criminal networks, weeks after the US government released a wanted list of 77 Nigerian cyber fraud suspects. A “sweep” operation from May through to September, with Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), “focused on dismantling the most significant cyber criminal enterprises,” FBI legal attache, Ahamdi Uche told a joint press conference in Lagos. The EFCC said a “sizeable number” of the 77 Nigerian suspects had been arrested, while a further 167 Nigerians had been detained since August for alleged computer-related fraud, under ‘Operation Rewired’, coordinated with the US law enforcement agency. EFCC’s director of information, Mohammed Abba said, referring to fraud attempts via Yahoo mail accounts. Africa’s most populous country is saddled with an infamous reputation for online fraud committed by so called “yahoo yahoo” boys. Numerous figures associated with the criminal activity are often lauded in popular culture and enjoy close ties with politicians. In May, a popular Nigerian musician, dubbed Naira Marley, controversial in Nigeria for praising internet fraudsters in his songs, was arrested by the EFCC. 77 of the 80 suspects were of Nigerian decent, and swiftly condemned by Nigeria’s government. The FBI begin working closely with Nigeria’s anti-graft agency in May 2019, as well as with several other countries, to tackle fraud networks active in the US.
— Boason Omofaye (@BBoason) September 20, 2019
I wouldn’t have chosen to come out that way. Did your friends who also identify as LGBT in Nigeria have the same experience as you? Yes. I grew up with a lot of friends at school who had similar experiences. I had a few friends who also dropped out of school because their parents found out they are gay or lesbian so we became close friends. That was how I started doing LGBT activism. I was one of the eldest in my group, some were 14 or 15-years-old. But we stood with each other. We would sleep under a bridge or on the buses or at a friends’ houses. It was important to be there for each other.
They stay in and grow up and get married and have a family and they hide who they are.
Did any LGBT people you grew up with have parents who accepted them when they came out? No. Most people don’t come out at all. They stay in and grow up and get married and have a family and they hide who they are. When did you realise that being gay was something that you had to hide? The first time I heard about homosexuality was in the second or third grade at school. We were preparing for our graduation ceremony before high school and I told my teacher that I wanted to be with the girls during the performance. And he said ‘yes Michael you do that a lot lately, you have that homosexual tendency.’ I didn’t know what that, so I asked my mum.
I said ‘my teacher thinks I’m homosexual’. She got really angry but it was what she was already thinking. She didn’t let me go to my graduation. That made me realise that what I was saying wasn’t OK. So I tried for a while to change. I even tried to have girlfriends but that didn’t work, so I got back to my usual self. You moved to New York because you were the victim of a homophobic attack. Two years after I left home I thought maybe I shouldn’t have left and I should have stayed and at least finished high school. A lot of my friends also left home and their parents stopped paying for their school fees. So we got in touch with an organisation called Alliance Right in Abuja that helps people get high school qualifications.
The day after, an article came out in Nigeria about the conference.
I went to them for paid education and to learn about HIV. It was completely new information to me. Growing up, I never learned about HIV and how you could get infected. I got engaged with this and became a staff member with Global Advocate for HIV Prevention (AVAC). During the AIDS conference in 2012 in Washington, DC, I spoke about working with HIV in Nigeria. I came across a Washington Post journalist at the conference. We talked and took photos at a gay bar. The day after, an article came out in Nigeria about the conference. I thought it would be OK and would only be seen in the US and that no one would see it in Nigeria. How stupid I was. It was all over the Nigerian newspapers, saying that I was celebrating being gay in the US.
When I returned my boss who has been attacked several times and asked me to move to a hotel.
It said nothing about my work but just focused on me as a individual and going to a gay bar and taking pictures. I was advised against going back to Nigeria. But I love my work and I love my country so I went back home. When I returned my boss who has been attacked several times and asked me to move to a hotel. I had to change my phone number. But I couldn’t stay in a hotel forever. I went to my friend’s apartment, and I was waiting for my taxi on the street. Someone called my name and I turned around and that was the last thing I remember. I was hit on my head and beaten.
My taxi driver found me.
I was called a homosexual. My house and my property were burned. My hand and ribs were broken. My taxi driver found me. But I couldn’t go to the hospital to get treatment or the police to report what had happened because I didn’t feel comfortable telling them I was beaten because I’m gay. So I had to visit the nurse in my office. I had to move back to New York. It was a very difficult time for me. How did you get asylum to the US? Five days after my attack I moved to the US, and was helping by an organisation called Housing Works. I had to go to get out of Nigeria for my own safety.
— god of Nigeria (@Nigerian_god) September 20, 2019
I had nothing but a single bag – and a broken hand. After a few months I applied for asylum. Sometimes it can take a year for the process to go through, but mine took four months. Were you scared at all when Donald Trump was elected because of his associations with US politicians who don’t support gay rights? When I moved to the US I never stopped caring about Nigeria. I’m still very much a part of organising for LGBT rights in Africa and questioning governments. Coming to the US gave me the opportunity to advocate in a safe environment.
My skin colour never occurred to me.
But in Nigeria I was attacked because I’m gay, here I’m scared because I’m black. I never thought I was black until I moved to the US. My skin colour never occurred to me. It was a cultural shock that being gay wasn’t the issue anymore. I’ve never cared about elections before. In Nigeria I never voted because it doesn’t matter if you vote or don’t vote. Whoever will win will win. Here, I campaigned and fundraised because I knew the election was about more than people in the US. It meant a lot for people around the world. The result was heartbreaking for me.
I’m still trying to recover from the shock. I feel like I personally lost something. What issues are facing LGBT people in Nigeria and the US at the moment? Being punished with 14 years in prison is a big issue but also the continuous attack on LGBT people. About the 50 gay men were arrested at a birthday party recently but those things happen often in Nigeria. It’s not just about changing a law but about changing mind sets. We need to show that LGBT people are just like every other human in the street. The second issue is the poverty of LGBT people that we don’t talk about so much. A lot of us are made to leave school and can’t get jobs.
People are living in very hostile environments that aren’t fit for humans. We talk about HIV and laws, which is great, but these issues are killing gay people more than the law. They can’t even afford to eat and that is a real issue. In the US, there is a real issue with race among the LGBT community that we need to address. The mainstream LGBT community in the US is so white, but there are gay and trans people of colour who are also part of this movement that we need to bring to the frontline. We need to sort out issues affecting gay black men. They have double stigma for being black and gay. The Independent’s Millennial Love group is the best place to discuss to the highs and lows of modern dating and relationships. Join the conversation here.
Regional forces recaptured Damasak, a trading town, earlier in March.
Nigeria’s government has denied that militant Islamist group Boko Haram abducted 500 children from the north-eastern town of Damasak. A former resident said on Tuesday that the militants had taken away about 500 boys when they fled the town earlier this month. Government spokesman Mike Omeri said the number was lower, but he could not say exactly how many had been seized. Regional forces recaptured Damasak, a trading town, earlier in March. Mr Omeri said that the militants released some women and children when they fled the town, but not those “they had married in the period of occupation”. The militants were using them as “protection” and the government had ordered “full military intervention” to secure their release, he said.
BBC Nigeria correspondent Will Ross says the conflict has torn many families apart.
Damasak is in Borno state near Niger’s border and is about 200km (120 miles) from the state’s main city of Maiduguri. Following the recapture of the town, those boys, numbering about 500, had not been accounted for, he said, while Reuters news agency quoted residents as saying more than 400 women and children had been abducted. BBC Nigeria correspondent Will Ross says the conflict has torn many families apart. As towns have changed hands it has been impossible to work out how many people have been killed and how many are missing, he adds. Is the tide turning against Boko Haram?
Is Islamic State shaping Boko Haram media? Who are Boko Haram? Last week, the decomposing bodies of more than 70 people were discovered under a bridge near Damasak. Nigeria’s military has still failed to free more than 200 girls abducted more than a year ago from Chibok, also in Borno state. The abductions caused international outrage, and foreign governments promised to help Nigeria ‘s military find the girls. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has said the girls have been married off. The group has waged a six-year insurgency in Nigeria to create an Islamic state, killing thousands of people and capturing many towns and villages. Regional forces launched an offensive about six weeks ago to regain territory ahead of delayed presidential and parliamentary elections, now due on Saturday.
But Yamaabana says the project is plagued by corruption.
Enugu — The Niger Delta is where Africa’s largest oil producer pumps out its most lucrative natural resource. But while companies like Shell and ExxonMobile operate there and extract billions of dollars worth of crude oil, most of the people in the region are extremely poor. Their traditional livelihoods as farmers and fishermen have been badly affected by more than 6,000 oil spills that have damaged the environment over the past 50 years. But Yamaabana says the project is plagued by corruption. Our people still drink from polluted sources of water. As I speak with you, our people still swim and bathe in that same water,” Yamaabana said.
When will President Buhari give ultimatum to Minister of Power to issue electricity consumption meters to helpless Nigerians? Why are Nigerians being exploited this way? Why would Nigerians pay for non-consumed power? When will this stop?
— Udeaba Gerald (@Udeaba) September 20, 2019
The Osun Osogbo festival, a traditional celebration that is thought to be 600 years old, is under way in Nigeria’s south-western Osun state. The two-week festival is considered to be the biggest annual traditional religious event of the Yoruba people. It attracts thousands of worshippers and spectators not just from Nigeria but from all over the world. Traditional beliefs involving animist spirits are still widely held in Nigeria. Devotees at the Osun-Osogbo festival believe that the sacred grove forest, situated on the outskirts of the city of Osogbo, is one of the last remaining places that the spirits, or “Orishas” reveal themselves to bless them. The festival is marked with daily performances of people dancing, singing, playing the drums and showing off elaborate costumes to appease Osun, the goddess of fertility. The famous Eyo masquerade performers from Lagos state have taken part in this year’s festival.
The main attraction of the festival is the Arugba, a virgin maiden who is supposed to help the people communicate with the deity, who leads a procession of devotees to offer sacrifices to the river. The Arugba, also known as the ‘calabash carrier’, has a large calabash on her head underneath a colourful veil. It contains the sacrifices of the entire community and those offered by the people in attendance. Every Arugba has to remain a virgin during her time in the role. Before the procession to the river, worshippers offer prayers at the priestess’ shrine. Experts on traditional religion in Nigeria say the festival was started by the founders of the town of Osogbo around 600 years ago.
They had planned to build their houses by the river bank, but as they began felling trees, it is said the spirit of the river-god Osun called out to them, ordering them away. The grove has been a sacred area of worship for the spirit’s devotees ever since. In 2003, the last remaining 67 acres of virgin forest in the area, was recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site. The chief host of the festival Oba Jimoh Olanipekun, whose title is Ataoja of Osogbo, also plays a major role in the event. Here he is honoured by visiting monarchs from neighbouring towns.
Christian missionaries had tried to stamp out animist beliefs while Nigeria was under British rule.
The festival also attracts foreigners, some of them are tourists, others are drawn by what they see as a religious and cultural connection. Slovenia told the BBC. Traders take advantage of the thousands of visitors to the town to sell beads and religious ornaments. Christian missionaries had tried to stamp out animist beliefs while Nigeria was under British rule. Rituals involved with Orisha worship at that time included human sacrifice, which was stopped by the authorities. But since the 1980s, the festival’s popularity has been growing in part because of the activism of Austrian-born artist Susanne Wenger, who rebuilt the shrines and worked to get the grove protected. Ms Wenger arrived in Nigeria in 1950s, she later divorced her husband and resolved to stay in Osogbo for the rest of her life. She was also known as Adunni Olorisha.