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There Is No Hiding Place for Crooked Officials in this Digital Age



By Joel Popoola

Uganda’s Zoom scandal has proved that there is no hiding place for crooked and corrupt officials in this digital age.

As a digital democracy campaigner I believe African governments must use digital technology to be more open about their activities. Transparency through technology is the most effective way of tackling corruption and building public confidence in our political institutions.
But having government officials film themselves plotting to pocket coronavirus relief funds and then putting the recordings on the internet is taking things too far, even for me.

But that’s what Ugandan government officials appear to have done this week.
Uganda this week recalled its ambassador to Denmark after she and her deputy appeared to be filmed plotting to carve up government cash meant to help with the COVID-19 crisis.

Catching crooks with secret cameras is nothing new – but these recordings were made by the alleged conspirators themselves, who due to COVID-19 social distancing and travel restrictions had to meet using Zoom video conferencing.
Ambassador Nimisha Madhvani and her staff are allegedly heard plotting to share out money meant to help Ugandan citizens stranded overseas, including bribing any auditors uncovering “jumbled funds” at the mission.

“Give yourselves $4000” (1.5m Naira) one official seems to instruct staff.
Clips from the meeting are now being shared widely on social media. The head of Uganda’s foreign ministry has pledged a full investigation and stated “the ministry wishes to express grave concern about the allegations … and takes this matter seriously”.

There is an important lesson for governments here. There is no hiding place for crooked officials in the digital age – so embrace the benefits of being transparent.

Stories like this will be familiar to many Nigerians. Just this week more than one newspaper reported that the case files of 15 high profile individuals facing graft and other criminal charges have “disappeared”. In the same vein, a former petroleum minister is under investigation of corruption offences in the UK. Though over the years, much of her trial has been media based.

In fact, Nigeria, has remained a beehive of recurrent issues of corruption and corrupt practices, and involving high profile officers. While most people were celebrating the clampdown of most supposedly corrupt officers such as former Abia state governor, Orji Uzo Kalu, who was however, released from jail after seven months, on technical grounds, the hunter suddenly became the hunted. In a twist of fate, the boss of the anti-graft outfit, Ibrahim Magu, was cut in his own web. Massive allegations bordering on fraud, theft and money laundering were leveled against. His position was instantly taken away, and he is still a presidential panel of enquiry.

In like manner, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Obong Victor Akpabio, and his co-travellers in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), have remained in the eye of the storm over stealing of the commission’s funds running into billions of naira. That he is still in government says a lot the fight against corruption mantra.

I often think back to a report from the Global Integrity Index which reported that when it comes to aid, many African governments are “adept at engineering laws and institutions to meet foreign donor requirements despite their failure to deliver for ordinary citizens”.

This is what the international community thinks of us. But our own communities have even worse opinions of our democratic institutions. One study reported 72% of Nigerians believe the statement “most politicians are corrupt” describes our country well – and six-in-ten said it described Nigeria “very well.”
Another survey reported that almost half of Nigerians believe corruption cannot be defeated.

This needs to change. Which is why the digital democracy campaign I lead are creating technology to increase political transparency and accountability and making it freely available to all Nigerians.
Our free Rate Your Leader app lets confirmed voters ask direct questions to their local elected leaders and allows them to rate the answers they receive for their neighbours to see.

The app also helps politicians engage directly with the people who elected them building relationships of trust with the electorate.

But it should not be left to enlightened politicians and organisations such as Rate Your Leader to take such actions. We need a co-ordinated national response

People often talk of not wanting to air their dirty laundry in public, but my solution to that is not to dirty your laundry in the first place!

If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear – and everything to gain. And even if governments make mistakes – and everyone makes mistakes! – not only is sunlight is always the best disinfectant, voters respect leader who take responsibility when things do not go to plan.

The good news is Nigeria – whilst still estimated to have lost $400 billion to corruption since independence – has been at the forefront of digitalizing its coronavirus relief payments. Not only do digital payments get the money to the people who need it faster, the payments also leave a secure electronic paper trail proving that the money ended up in the right hands.

There has also been increasing publication of government borrowing, spending and procurement decisions on the Treasury website.

It is important that Nigeria continues with this direction of travel.

This week President Buhari listed building “a system to fight corruption (and) improve governance” as one of his administration’s priorities for the next three years.

The digital publication of government records, made easily accessible and comprehensible to all Nigerians using smartphones, will be key to delivering on that priority.

Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur and digital democracy campaigner and is creator of the Rate Your Leader app. You can reach Joel on Twitter @JOPopoola

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Family Petitions IG over Rape, Killing of Daughter by FCT SARS Officials



The family of a 28-year-old graduate of the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, Ifeoma Abugu, has been thrown into mourning after she was allegedly sexually assaulted and killed by the personnel of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Federal Capital Territory Command, Abuja.

It was gathered that three policemen on September 10, 2020, around 5pm, stormed the residence of Ifeoma’s fiancé, Afam Ugwunwa, at Wumba village in the Lokogoma area of Abuja to arrest him.

PUNCH Metro learnt that in absence of Ugwunwa, the policemen arrested Ifeoma and took her away.

Our correspondent learnt that all efforts to know the police station she was being taken to proved abortive as she was not found until Ugwunwa got a call the next day that Ifeoma had died and her corpse had been deposited in the morgue.

Ifeoma’s brother, Alex, who spoke to our correspondent on the telephone, said she had just concluded her National Youth Service Corps and was arrested and killed four days after she had her introduction with Ugwunwa in Enugu State.

He said, “I was in Lagos when one of my junior brothers called me that he learnt that SARS arrested our sister and she died in detention. I just came to Abuja today (Sunday) and I have asked some of my uncles, who have been to the police station, and they said that the policemen alleged that they met my sister unconscious on the bed and they carried her to hospital, where she died.

“When I asked my sister’s fiancé what happened, he said he went out and someone called him on the telephone that SARS had arrested my sister and when he came back, he called someone he knew at the SARS office to help in facilitating her release, but the person was unable to do it that night.

“The following morning, he gave the woman money to help facilitate the release, but the woman called back to tell him that Ifeoma was dead. When my uncles saw the picture of her corpse, they saw signs that she was sexually assaulted. We’re waiting for the result of an autopsy to come out to ascertain what happened to her.

“My sister was arrested four days after her introduction in the village and her wedding was slated for December. We want the killers to be brought to justice.”

When our correspondent contacted Ifeoma’s fiancé, he said he was too distraught to talk.

The family’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Mamah, who spoke to our correspondent on the telephone, urged the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to order a proper investigation into the matter.

He said, “She (Ifeoma) had just finished cooking that day, while her fiancé and her friend had finished eating and the friend left, while the fiancé went to see a friend in one of the neighbouring estates, when he received a call from a neighbour that the police had come to arrest his fiancée and she had been taken away and he received another call from Ifeoma that she was been taken away by SARS, but she didn’t know where they were taking her to.

“Ifeoma’s fiancé called a friend of his to help in looking for her and secure her release, but she was not found, only for the fiancé to receive a call the next day that she was dead and her corpse had been deposited in the morgue.

“The family of the deceased have not seen the corpse; the picture we have is the one the IPO snapped and sent to us when she went to the hospital, where her corpse was deposited; from the picture of the deceased, it appeared she was sexually assaulted before her death.

The SARS officers alleged that they met Ifeoma in an unconscious state and that when they got there, there was cocaine on the table and that they only helped to take her to hospital, where she was examined and pronounced dead, but they forgot that people witnessed when she was being taken away.

“We want justice to be served; we want the matter to be thoroughly investigated and assigned to good investigating officers, because the IPO that has been handling this matter is not erudite enough; that is why we do not have confidence in them. The officers, who perpetrated this act, must be brought to justice.”

Mamah’s petition to the IG read in part, “The IPO, Inspector Bullus, and DPO Usman informed us at the police station on September 15, 2020, in explanation that the deceased was met in an unconscious state by the officers. This explanation is contrary to the information from residents and our clients are not confident with the way the matter is being handled at the Apo Police Station.

“The SARS operatives, who did the arrest, are still not yet arrested and are freely walking the streets of Abuja. Our clients are not confident that the division will do justice in the matter, and the deceased body is still lying lifeless at Gwagwalada Specialist Hospital. Sir, we appeal that you use your highly esteemed office to ensure that proper investigation is carried out, that the culprits be brought to book and justice done.”

Our correspondent learnt the matter was first reported at the Apo Police Station and later transferred to the FCT Command.

When contacted by our correspondent, the FCT Police Public Relations Officer, Anjuguri Manzah, said he was not aware of the matter and urged the family of the victim to come to the command for further investigation.

“I’m not aware of this incident, but give me time to make enquiries. You can also link me up with the family of the victim so that they can come to the command,” he stated.

The Punch

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14-Year-Old Girl Brutally Raped, Murdered in Ogun



A 14-year-old secondary school pupil, Fathia Ojewoye, has been raped to death at the Agbeloba-Oriyonrin area of Abeokuta, Ogun State.

The teenager had on Wednesday been declared missing by her parents, but her corpse was found three days after with some of her personal effects in an uncompleted building in the area.

When our correspondent visited the residence of the deceased’s mother, who had separated from her husband, sympathisers were seen consoling her.

When PUNCH Metro attempted to speak to her, she asked to be left alone.

She, however, vowed to ensure that the killer(s) of Fathia, whom she gave birth to while in secondary school, was brought to justice.

A source in the area told our correspondent that Fathia was sent on an errand by her mother to refill the gas cylinder around the area, but she did not return home.

The teenager was reported to have been last seen with a young man, while she was going to the gas station.

The young man, who lives around the area, was said to have run away, apparently to avoid arrest.

It was gathered that her corpse was found in an uncompleted building near her grandmother’s residence.

She was reportedly defiled in a brutal way and later murdered by yet-to-be identified person(s).

The Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Abimbola Oyeyemi, confirmed the incident.

Oyeyemi said investigation into the brutal killing of the teenager had commenced.

He gave an assurance that the command would ensure that the perpetrators were apprehended soon.

The police spokesman said the corpse had been deposited in the morgue of the State Hospital, Sokenu, Abeokuta.

Oyeyemi added that arrangement was being made to conduct an autopsy on the corpse.

Meanwhile, the Ogun State Child Protection Network, a coalition of non-governmental and civil society organisations, has condemned the incident.

The network, in a statement by its Coordinator, Alfred Soleye, expressed shock over the brutal murder of Fathia.

It urged the police to carry out detailed investigation and accurate forensics on exhibits recovered from the crime scene to ensure that the perpetrators were brought to justice.

The Punch

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Passengers Feared Dead As Bus Carrying Church Members Plunges Into River



A 30-passenger bus carrying church members returning from a burial in Afikpo, Ebonyi State plunged into a river along Akaeze-Ishiagu bridge on Friday, with many people missing.

A woman out of the five persons rescued by local divers as of 10pm was said to have died in a hospital. The accident occurred around 6pm.

This is just as emergency agencies responded to a tanker explosion at Anthony inward Gbagada area of Lagos. While two vehicles were burnt, casualty figures could not be ascertained as of 11pm.

In the Ebonyi accident, Saturday PUNCH learnt that the bus driver wanted to overtake a truck when he lost control and skidded off the bridge.

The Federal Road Safety Sector Commander in the state, Stella Uchegbu, who confirmed the crash to our correspondent on the phone, said the number of people on board could not be ascertained as the bus was still trapped.

She said, “The accident involved a 608 bus carrying members of a church returning from a burial. They were coming from Afikpo to Enugu. The bus lost control on Akaeze Bridge while trying to overtake a truck or while the truck was trying to overtake it. It lost control and plunged into the river.

“I learnt about five people were rescued by divers organised by the local government area chairman and they were taken to a hospital. We could not ascertain the number of people on board because the vehicle has not been found.

“Being a group outing, we do not know whether they observed COVID-19 protocols. That kind of bus normally carries up to 30 or more passengers. We do not know whether it was fully-laden. Search and rescue is still on and our men are on the ground. The divers said it was already dark and they could not continue.”

The police spokesperson in Ebonyi, DSP Loveth Odah, told our correspondent that one of the rescued victims had died while the four others were receiving treatment.

“The bus is still trapped in the river. We don’t know the number of passengers in the bus,” she added.

A preliminary report on the tanker explosion released by the General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, Dr Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, indicated that the petrol-laden tanker fell while in motion.

It read, “The agency responded to distress calls and upon arrival at the scene of the incident, it was discovered that a tanker with unknown registration number conveying PMS lost control while in motion and subsequently fell sideways. This led to an explosion in which two unidentified vehicles were burnt.

“A joint team of responders led by LASEMA, LASG fire service, LRU fire unit, Nigeria Police and LASTMA are working together to curb the inferno from escalating further. Casualties cannot be ascertained at this time (11pm) Rescue operation is ongoing.”

The Punch

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