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Why Shutting Down Internet to Fight Kidnapping is Wrong

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By Joel Popoola

Nigerians may not object to internet shutdowns to stop kidnapping. But did we object to SARS being set up to stop robbery?

No-one would object to the government doing everything in its power to stop the kidnapping gangs terrorising Nigeria’s northern regions and tarnishing our international reputation.

That’s why the residents of Zamfara seem to be broadly supportive of the week-long internet shutdown, initiated as part of a recent security crackdown.

More than nine million Zamfarans were cut off from the internet for several days, as security forces hunted for the kidnap-for-ransom squads who have been plaguing the areas.

“I’m in full support of the ban” one resident told CNN. “Before now, everyone has been living in fear because of the bandits.”

But no-one would object to the idea of specialist police unit being set up to tackle robbery either.

And we all know what happened with SARS.

Internet and social media shutdowns are becoming a more and more pervasive tactic of African leaders stemming and suppressing the flow of information and opinion online – commonly during elections.

These shutdowns are self-defeating, leading to more – not less –unrest, not to mention human rights violations (and international condemnations), elections lacking in credibility at home and abroad, and as we have seen with Nigeria’s disastrous attempts at banning Twitter – economic loss.

We cannot fall into the trap of accepting dangerous measures when they are deployed to deliver desirable ends. This makes it more likely we will instinctively accept if they are used to destroy democracy.

Think of it as frogs in boiling water. If you put a frog in boiling water it will jump out. If you put it in cold water and heat it to boiling it will do nothing until it is too late.

At the digital democracy campaign I lead we have previously called for Nigeria to show continental leadership and amend our constitution to guarantee that our citizens will never have their access to the internet unreasonably or unavoidably restricted.

We are doing that again now.
Nations such as Greece and Costa Rica have already taken this step. But we could be the first in Africa.

This simple move could have a profoundly positive impact on public trust in Nigerian democracy too – trust which study after study has shown to be worryingly low.

If you need proof, just look at the recently published results of a major survey conducted by the African Polling Institute.

The study found that 63% Nigerians scored Federal Government “poor” on fight against corruption and 53% of our citizens believe that impunity thrives in the current administration. 83% also believe impunity amongst government officials is ‘increasing’.

The survey also found social cohesion to be under average in Nigerian. And an internet-protection clause in our constitution could improve that too.

As I have previously said, just think of the impact if Nigerian politicians of all parties and ethnicities came together as one to say the same thing. In 2021, and beyond, internet access is a fundamental human right. And if we put that in our construction we are saying loudly and clearly this: Though we believe in different things, we are all committed to the same democratic values. And we are enshrining this value in law.

At the digital democracy campaign, our primary aim is to employ digital technology to improve Nigeria’s democracy.

We have created a free app – Rate Your Leader – which puts verified voters in direct contact with their elected leaders allowing them to build two-way relationships of trust and transparency and to work together to improve both our communities and our country.

Rate Your Leader lets politicians know what is happening in their areas and what matters most to the people who elect them. It also allows voters to get important information directly from local leaders.

If you have leaders that voters trust, feel connected to, believe share their values and who can demonstrate they are immediately responsive to the needs of the people who elect them, you can build a co-operative collaborative nation, united in the national interest.

This kind of two-way communication, built on honesty and transparency, is what unites us as a nation and let us work together to build a better future. This is the communication democracy needs in the digital age.

Not internet shutdowns.

Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and is creator of the free Rate Your Leader app. He can be reached via @JOPopoola

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Metro

JAMB Advises Candidates Against Dressing Indecently to UTME

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Ahead of the 2023 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and Direct Entry Examination, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board has issued advisories against the use of henna otherwise known as “laali”, bogus jewelry, outrageous outfits among others.

The Punch gathered that the board took the decision following observations that such mode of dressings and adornment led to distractions during examinations organised by the board.

In the advisory exclusively obtained by our correspondent on Tuesday, the board said, “Henna when applied on the fingers obstructs the smooth biometric verification of the candidates’ fingers. Also in an attempt by candidates to clean their fancy henna drawings, they used chemicals that damaged the whorls on their fingers, hence making biometric verification and authentication difficult.

“The Board reiterated its position of “No Biometrics, No examination rule” and urged candidates to desist from any act that could jeopardise their chances of taking the UTME.

On indecent dressing, the Board warned candidates “against indecent dressing, which in some cases, had constituted a major distraction to candidates, embarrassing even the candidates wearing such dresses as others pass offensive glances at them thereby destabilising their comportment for the examination.

“In some cases, it has been used to aid and abet examination malpractices. The Board views such improper dressing as a serious breach of the UTME ethics, adding that provocative and seductive dressing as well as willful and deliberate exposure of one’s body to the public will no longer be condoned as they are capable of causing distraction to candidates and examination officials alike.”

The advisory listed indecent dressing to include, but not limited to, “sleeveless tops, body hugs, knickers, transparent clothes, canopy headties, bogus fashion jewelries, spaghetti tops, and off-shoulders, among others.”

The Board reiterated that pencils were allowed into the examination hall for the UTME.

The Punch

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Metro

Woman Commits Suicide Beside Two-Year-Old Daughter in Abuja

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A yet-to-be-identified nursing mother has committed suicide, abandoning her child in a bush where her corpse was discovered along Suuka Airport road, in the Federal Capital Territory.

PUNCH Metro gathered that an empty bottle of insecticide was found beside her corpse in the bush on Monday.

A resident in the area, who identified himself simply as Nnaji for security reasons, told our correspondent that the victim’s corpse was found when passers-by heard her baby crying in the bush.

Nnaji said, “The corpse of a middle-aged woman was seen in a bush in our area on Monday evening. A two-year-old girl was sitting close to her crying.

“It was even her cry that attracted passers-by to the scene of the incident. We got there and found an empty bottle of insecticide by her side; her body smelt of the insecticide. She is not a known person in the area and no one knows what made her do this.”

Contacted, the FCT police spokesperson, DSP Josephine Adeh, said the corpse had been deposited in a morgue, adding that the child was in the custody of the police as efforts were on to trace the woman’s relatives.

She said, “I can confirm to you that this case was reported at our division in Iddo. The corpse has been deposited at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital morgue.

“We cannot rush to the conclusion that she drank sniper, an autopsy will be conducted to determine the true cause of her death.”

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Metro

LASPOTECH Undergraduate Narrates Ordeal with Human Body Parts Merchants

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An undergraduate of the Lagos State Polytechnic, Marvelous Omobobola, who was abducted by a kidnap syndicate in the state, has been released after his family members paid N200,000 ransom.

PUNCH Metro gathered that Omobobola went to school on Saturday to sign a SIWES form.

After he was done, the undergraduate boarded a tricycle to his hostel in the Odogunyan area of Ikorodu, Lagos State.

The 28-year-old said the tricycle operator was conveying him and other passengers to their destinations in Odogunyan when he suddenly veered onto a street to avoid the traffic ahead.

Omobobola said the tricycle operator was navigating the street to link the expressway when he suddenly parked beside a bus located near a bush.

He said he and other passengers were lamenting the abrupt stop beside a bush around 5pm when some armed men stepped out of the bus, pounced on them and whisked them away.

Narrating his ordeal to our correspondent, Omobobola said, “I went to school on Saturday to sign my SIWES form because we were to start exams on Monday.

“When I was done around 5pm, I boarded a tricycle from my school to my hostel in Odogunyan. There was traffic along the way so the tricycle operator diverted into a street.

“We were three at the back of the tricycle and one man sat beside the tricycle operator at the front. We asked why he left the road and he told us it was because of the traffic.

“Suddenly, the tricycle operator parked beside a bus and some men with guns pounced on us and ordered us into the bus that was parked near a bush. We met some people on the bus when we entered it.”

Omobobola said the tricycle operator left to bring more victims, adding that the kidnappers seized their phones to keep them incommunicado.

The undergraduate said, “They drove us into the bush where some people visited to price us like goats. Some people among my group were taken away into a room where they were killed and well-dressed people came with coolers for their body parts.

“When we were told to take off our clothes, one of the kidnappers saw the Celestial Church crucifix on my waist and he put me aside. He asked me what the crucifix was for and I told him I am from a celestial family.

“He then returned my phone and told me to call my people to pay a ransom for me before their leader, one Alhaji, comes. He said when their leader returns, he would not be able to help me because Alhaji procures human parts for politicians and other people. He said I would be killed if he found me there.”

Using Omobobola’s phone, the kidnappers contacted his mother, Ronke, and demanded N700,000 ransom.

Our correspondent who was with Ronke when she commenced negotiation with the suspects heard them telling her to choose between purchasing a coffin to bury her son and raising the money to secure his release.

The kidnappers later agreed to collect N200,000 and after ending the call, the aggrieved mother was seen begging people including church members for money and was able to raise N100,000.

Speaking with our correspondent,  Ronke said, “I am not myself as I am speaking to you. I heard the sound of people crying on the phone and my son said the kidnappers cut two people’s throats like cows in an abattoir. I have been told to send the N100,000 into my son’s account for his release.”

Our correspondent quickly contacted the state Commissioner of Police, Abiodun Alabi, and he detailed the Divisional Police Officer, Odogunyan Police Station, to investigate the case.

Omobobola’s phone number was sent to the DPO who traced calls made to the number.

However, after the mother of the undergraduate paid the N100,000, the kidnappers, after using his ATM card to withdraw the money from a Point-of-Sale operator, used Omobobola’s phone number to borrow N100,000 from online credit companies.

It was learnt that the borrowed money was also withdrawn and the victim was released around 2am on Sunday.

Contacted, the Director of Information and Public Relations, Lagos State Polytechnic, Lanre Kuye, told our correspondent that the institution just got wind of the case.

He added, “We would make a case to the Lagos State Police Command to prevent future occurrences against staff and students.”

The state Police Public Relations Officer, SP Benjamin Hundeyin, when contacted, said the command was on the matter, adding that the culprits would be arrested soon.

The Punch

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