Elections in Equatorial Guinea yesterday were certain to extend the 30-year rule of Teodoro Obiang Nguema, a man accused of draining his nation’s oil wealth to fabulously enrich family and cronies while his people suffer in slums.
Western governments that have promised to fight corruption so far have done little as companies compete for concessions for petroleum and a burgeoning natural gas industry currently dominated by US multinationals.
Obiang, 67, denies all charges and his government said in a statement released by an expensive US lobbying firm that Equatorial Guinea “is committed to holding fair and democratic elections.”
Opposition parties complain campaigners have been attacked and harassed, Obiang gave only six weeks’ notice for the election and coverage in the state-controlled media is skewed.
The National Electoral Commission is also headed by the interior minister and weighted with Obiang supporters, and the government has refused to publish the voters’ roll.
Foreign journalists including those from The Associated Press have not been granted visas and African observers by presidential decree are barred from making “disparaging remarks” and must follow a government program.
Opposition leaders have said that means observers will be kept away from villagers where they charge government-appointed headmen and electoral officials cast votes for all residents.
Some 290,000 voters are registered and Obiang has boasted at rallies that he will win with more than the 97.1 percent garnered in a 2002 poll widely criticized as fraudulent. Then, he ran unchallenged as opposition leaders pulled out citing harassment. Yesterday, four men challenged Obiang, though none doubt who will win.
“People will vote for Obiang so that they can survive, so that they can keep their jobs,” said John E. Bennett, a retired diplomat who was US ambassador there from 1991, left briefly after receiving government-sponsored death threats in 1993 and ended his term in 1994. The government also accused Bennett of dancing on graves in a black magic ritual.
Through government jobs and private companies from hotels to Internet service providers, Obiang and his clique control everything in the small country, Bennett said.
Dr. Wenceslao Mansogo Alo of the main opposition Convergence for Social Democracy said he lost his government hospital job, had all his property expropriated and has been thrown out of a rented home by a frightened landlord since he joined the opposition in 1994.
Bennett said that is why an estimated quarter of the population live in nearby Gabon, Cameroon or Nigeria, or in Spain, the former colonizer. About 600,000 people live in the country.
Bennett said Obiang flies in a $50 million Boeing jet while those needing to get from Malabo, the capital on an island, to Bata, the biggest town on the African mainland, are crammed into a secondhand Russian turboprop that cost $200,000.
“The national airline sells the seats, then they sell floor space, and people have to sprawl on top of piles of baggage,” he said.
Equatorial Guinea has become Africa’s third largest oil producer with income per capita swelling to some $37,000, making the World Bank classify it as a developed nation. But according to UN figures, 60 percent of people try to live on less than $1 a day.
100 In Police Net For Attacking Task Force On Street Trading
No fewer than 100 suspected touts are now cooling off in police net for attacking the coordinator and operatives of the Rivers State Task Force on Street Trading, Illegal Markets and Motor Parks.
The taskforce coordinator, Mr Bright Amaewhule made this known at the weekend, in a chat with newsmen in Port Harcourt.
Amaewhule said that suspected touts, numbering about 200, attacked the task force operatives with weapons while carrying out their duties.
According to him, no fewer that 100 of the suspected touts were apprehended and are currently in the custody of the Rivers State Police Command for interrogation and possible prosecution.
He said, “we were at Oil Mill when we were attacked by some suspected cultists and criminal gang while we proceeded to Rumuokoro. Surprisingly, a set of cult related boys descended on us. We apprehended about a hundred of them and the two gang leaders were also with them. Currently, we have taken them to ‘Operation Safe’ and they are making statements and they will be charged to court on Monday” (today).
Amaewhule assured that he and his team would not let the attacks deter them from sanitising and decongesting the streets and roads of the state.
He said, “I’ve received threats on my life in the last two or three weeks but that will not deter me. We will continue to do our work in as much as we’re not witch-hunting anybody. Either as individuals or group of persons, we will do that work which the government of Rivers State has assigned to me and my team members”.
In a related development, Amaewhule has announced plans by the task force to collaborate with psychiatrists with a view to carrying out test on commercial drivers in the state.
The task force coordinator made this known at a meeting with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), in Port Harcourt.
He observed that many commercial drivers were reckless and hinted that it was the plan of the task force to subject commercial drivers to tests before they are allowed to go on the road.
He also disclosed that there were plans by the state government to build new parks in designated areas to help decongest the state, adding that the task force would no longer allow automobile mechanics and vulcanizers to operate along the roadside except in garages and filling stations.
$9.6bn Judgement: FG Opts To Negotiate With P&ID
The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), yesterday gave an insight into why the Federal Government at a point decided to negotiate with Process and Industrial Developments Limited, despite being aware that the contract for which a United Kingdom court had ordered the firm to seize $9.6bn in Nigerian assets was fraudulent.
Malami who spoke at a press conference in Abuja, said the government took the decision because, at the inception of the present administration, there was already an award and the timeline for government to appeal had elapsed.
He said since the previous government of the Peoples Democratic Party did not appeal, the option left for the administration as of the time was to negotiate, despite its reservations about the contract.
He also said the previous administration and the lawyers it hired should be blamed for the court case instituted on the matter in a Nigerian court, which was struck out due to lack of diligent prosecution.
“Even if, indeed, any case was struck out, it was out at a time when lawyers engaged by the previous administration were in charge,” he said.
On ongoing investigation into the matter, which he described as intensive and extensive, Malami said there was no limitation on who can be invited for questioning by the relevant security agencies.
He said those to be probed include those who were involved in drafting and signing of the agreement, conduct, trial and “other personalities of interest.”
Nigeria, Niger, Chad Move To Rehabilitate Lake Chad Basin
Nigeria, Niger and Chad are working on a joint trans-border agro-ecosystem project aimed at the restoration of livelihoods and rehabilitation of the Lake Chad Basin.
Director-General, National Agency for the Great Green Wall, Dr Bukar Hassan, disclosed this yesterday after an international conference on desertification in New Delhi, India.
The 14th Conference of Parties (CoP 14) to UN Convention to Combat Desertification was held at India Expo Centre.
He said that since environmental issues did not recognise national boundaries, the partnership would help to rehabilitate agricultural system, restore degraded land and livelihoods of people in Lake Chad basin.
According to him, the project includes promotion of agro-forestry and livestock development in the three participating countries bordering the Lake Chad Basin.
The Director General said that Lake Chad, which was located in a very dry area, had lost about 90 per cent of its water over the years, thus making farming unattractive in the basin.
“Today, agriculture is no longer practised in the Nigerian side of the Lake Chad Basin.
“So, our responsibility as an agency of Nigerian government is to make sure that we regain what we lost in terms of water (which has created huge unemployment among the people) and empower the people to be able to get back their land which was lost due to the disappearance of lake.
“We will also make sure that the boundary of the lake is afforested to stabilise the basin.
“The Lake Chad basin was one of the worst degraded areas in the world with the attendant humanitarian crisis.
“That’s why our president is keen on seeing that the basin is rehabilitated because the insurgency affecting the three participating countries is all linked to environmental degradation.
“That’s why we are developing a project that will help in rehabilitating the Chad basin,” Hassan said.
He said that President Muhammadu Buhari had already given his agency marching orders to intensify afforestation specifically in the country’s five northern border states of Sokoto, Jigawa Yobe, Borno and Katsina.
He said that land degradation and desertification resulting in loss of livelihoods had led to forced migration of young people from the northern to the southern parts of the country.
“There was mass movement because the means of livelihoods are no longer there; otherwise people will not just board an articulated vehicle from Jigawa to Lagos in search of a means of livelihood.
So, we’re trying to provide capacity for these people to get them adapted to the arid environments they found themselves and also do some economic activities, so that they can stay put where they were, take care of their families like everyone else,” Hassan said.
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