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I WAS WRONGLY JAILED, NIGERIAN IN US PRISON, ABEGUNDE, CRIES OUT

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File photo: Prisoners in the US Prison

In 2014, Mr. Olufolajimi Abegunde, relocated to the U.S. He aimed to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree at Texas A & M University in College Station, Texas.

Upon graduation in 2016, and recognizing opportunities in the remittances industry, he incorporated FJ Williams Inc. doing business as (DBA) TranzAlert, a financial technology start-up. He is currently serving a jail term in the US. In this interview, Abegunde speaks on his ordeal.

Tell us about the situation…‘I have been incarcerated for over 50 months in the U.S prison. Things are tough and hard here. My travails began in August 2016 when a long-time friend, Ayodeji Ojo, visited me in the US from Nigeria along with his pregnant wife and infant daughter.

Ojo and his family were accommodated at my home in Atlanta, Georgia. At the time of the visit, Ojo had a wholly legitimate cheque of $26,900 that was issued to him by Bank of America. He intended to cash the cheque and utilise the funds for expenses associated with his family’s trip, including medical expenses related to his pregnant wife.

After being unsuccessful in his attempts to cash the cheque at multiple Bank of America branches, due to the relatively large size of the cheque, Ojo was advised by a Bank of America banker to open a new bank account at another bank, to let the cheque go through the clearing process before the funds would become available to him.

Ojo chose Wells Fargo Bank, and at Wells Fargo, he was told that he was required to provide a valid identification document, and contact information for correspondence in the form of a US mailing address and a US mobile phone number. Ojo informed the Wells Fargo banker that he was a visitor in the US and did not have a US mailing address and a US mobile phone number.

After Ojo asked me, I permitted him to utilize my address and mobile phone number to open the account. And so the bank account was opened on August 29, 2016, and Ojo was able to access the funds two days after without any challenges. From 2014 to 2016, there was a financial crisis in Nigeria around that time, and the government had stopped providing U.S. Dollars through official channels.

So people and businesses that needed U.S. Dollars had no choice but to access it through informal channels; which is a fancy way of saying the black market in Nigeria. In other words, informal currency exchange services became a de facto part of the marketplace for exchanging currencies, such that there is no legal requirement for buyers to know the sources of the funds the seller is exchanging.

So after about three months that my friend left my house and back to Nigeria, he needed to buy some U.S Dollars, he approached one Leke Adenuga , who after agreeing on the rate requested that he provide his U.S. bank account (that he opened using my address and US mobile phone number) for the deposit of the agreed US Dollar amount of $9,000.

In other words, Ojo simply engaged in a foreign exchange transaction where he gave up the Nigerian Naira equivalent of $9,000 for the actual $9,000 which Ojo neither accessed nor spent.

Needless to say, with the FX situation at the time, Ojo cannot be blamed for an innocent transaction with Leke Adeleke due to the prevailing scarcity. Few days after that deposition took place, I received a phone call from Brian Ancona, an investigator with Wells Fargo Bank on my phone, the same mobile phone number Ojo had utilised to open his Wells Fargo Bank account, stating that a certain Luis Ramos Alonso had inadvertently deposited $9,000 into Ojo’s bank account, and was seeking a reversal of the $9,000 deposit.

I told Ancona that the account owner was in Nigeria, and attempted a three-way call to connect Ancona with Ojo (the owner of the account). The effort was, however, unsuccessful. I eventually got through to Ojo and conveyed Ancona’s urgent message regarding the reversal, in which Ojo immediately agreed and authorised the reversal of the $9,000 deposit. The $9,000 was reversed and I thought that was the end of the story.

At what point did the police intervene?

However, on March 15, 2017, two FBI agents – Kevin Hall, and Tyson Fowler of the Atlanta Field Division of the FBI – visited my home to inquire about Ojo. One of the agents pulled out a copy of Ojo’s Nigerian passport data page and asked if I knew the bearer of the passport data page. I confirmed to the agents that Ojo was a long-time friend who I had accommodated during Ojo’s visit to the U.S. in August 2016.

I also confirmed to them that I had granted Ojo permission to utilize my address and mobile phone number to open a bank account with Wells Fargo Bank for the reason that Ojo resides in Nigeria and neither had a U.S. address nor a U.S. mobile phone number.

The agents engaged in wide-ranging convivial discussions about my remittances business and fraud in general. In these discussions, I vehemently and categorically condemned all forms of fraud. With the benefit of hindsight, two questions by the agents stood out and should have raised thunderous alarm bells. The questions were asked by agent Tyson Fowler.

The first was ‘How is it that you can afford a place like this?’ And the second was ‘why do you Nigerians like to defraud Americans?’ After the second question, Kevin Hall appeared to have an adverse reaction to the question and Fowler ceased going further. I offered the agents full cooperation by providing them Ojo’s contact information and also ensured that Ojo contacted the agents’ shortly after they departed my home.

I thought that was the end of the story. Unfortunately, the decision to hospitably open my doors to the FBI agents, and engage in unfiltered innocent discussion with them – in the absence of competent legal representation led to my undoing. On February 7, 2018, I had intended to travel to the Dominican Republic.

However, due to circumstances beyond my control, the trip had to be rescheduled. So I went to the airport on that day to effect the flight change. The initial ticket was scheduled for a departure from Atlanta on February 7, 2018 and return on February 10, 2018.

And the rescheduled ticket was booked to depart Atlanta on August 30, 2018, and return on September 2, 2018. This unequivocally indicates that I did not intend to depart the U.S.

To my greatest surprise, we were done with the flight change, and were walking away from the check-in counter when all of a sudden two men in plain clothes who identified themselves as Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) officers that were acting on behalf of the FBI accosted me with so much force that I was both confused and terrified. I kept telling them they had the wrong person.

After placing me in handcuffs, they took out my wallet from my pocket, took out my driver’s license, and then brought out an arrest warrant to confirm my identity. It turned out that they did not have the wrong person. The initial indictment charged me and Ojo with the same Counts of Wire Fraud Conspiracy, Money Laundering Conspiracy and Aggravated Identity Theft.

Court records show that there was no evidence to support these charges. At the bond hearing held on June 25, 2018; under cross-examination by my attorney at the time, FBI Special Agent David Palmer – one of the lead case agents – was questioned regarding the bank account that Mr. Ojo opened using my address.

My attorney: was there anything illegal about that? Is there anything illegal about using an address you know, as a point of reference to a bank to open an account? Agent Palmer: No. As long as we’re assuming there’s permission.

Again, at the trial, the testimony of one of the FBI agents that investigated the case – Special Agent Marcus Vance – corroborates the facts that Ojo’s account was opened August 29, 2016; a wholly legitimate cheque of $26,900 was deposited into the account on the same day; and that there was no evidence that the check was associated with the July 25, 2016 fraud in particular, or any form of fraud in general.

Wells Fargo Investigator, Brian Ancona also confirmed during the trial that his calls to my phone led to the reversal of the $9,000 deposit because Ojo did not protest when asked to return the money.

The entire case was centered on the infamous $9,000 transaction. However, from the indictment to my sentencing – there is no evidence whatsoever that reflects any link between me and the $9,000 transaction.

Rather, all the evidence on the record points to the fact that I was neither directly nor remotely connected to the $9,000 transaction. No evidence was also found on my seized devices to show money laundering, or any involvement with BEC, romance scams or fraud in general.

Similarly, testimony by Mr. Theodore Vlahkis, an expert witness from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, as well as testimony from Special Agent Marcus Vance, made it abundantly clear that my business, FJ Williams Inc. DBA TranzAlert was in full compliance with its regulatory obligations and so did not violate any anti-money laundering policy. U.S. District Courts Judge, Judge Sheryl Lipman sentenced me to 78 months in prison and ordered that I pay $57,911.62 in restitution despite no evidence that I knowingly received illicit funds. So I call on our government in Nigeria to look at the case and the evidence. All the evidence are documented and available online.

What’s the current situation over there?

The prosecutors presented falsehoods that were not only unsupported by the evidence at trial but were actually contrary to the evidence at trial – to the jury during trial summation. For reasons I do not understand why my lawyer did not object to these falsehoods. I appealed the case and the Appeal Court didn’t look at the case at all nor consider any of the evidence on the record.

Rather, the Appeal Court swallowed the prosecutor’s falsehood hook, line and sinker. I then approached the Supreme Court. They declined to pick up the case. So I am working on another appeal right now, if history is a guide, I am not likely to get justice through the U.S Court system. However, I see a remedy. If there is enough public attention to my case, the U.S justice system will be forced to deliver justice. If we can put a spotlight on my case, by pushing the evidence out for the whole world to see, I will become a free man and my reputation will be resuscitated.

How do you want Nigerian government to come to your aid?

Nigeria has a bilateral relationship with the United States. The Attorney General of Nigeria can contact the U.S Attorney General to demand a review of my case.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Head of the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, can also utilize diplomatic channels – with their U.S counterpart – to demand Justice in my case.

I am also using this medium to call on civil/ human rights organizations – in the U.S, and all around the world- to use their resources and capabilities to bring about justice in my case.

VANGUARD

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WHY 2023 ISN’T ALL ABOUT ATIKU, TINUBU ALONE — IKEYINA, SDP CHIEFTAIN

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Ebenezer Ikeyina, a Social Democratic Party chieftain.

Senator Ebenezer Ikeyina, a Social Democratic Party, SDP, chieftain, in this interview, speaks about the reason President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor should come from the South, why the President’s successor should have courage, capacity, empathy, among other issues. Excerpts:

You are a very strong advocate of a president of South-East extraction, is that the reason you threw your hat into the ring?

Beyond regional sentiments my love for a united Nigeria is what inspired me to take the decision. It is true that the South-East region has been greatly marginalized and for us to have unity in the country where the citizens will live in peace, have a sense of belonging, we need to address some of the burning issues. We cannot pretend that there is no problem when the problem is glaring at us straight in the face. We used to have a Nigeria where you had a Fulani man as a mayor in Enugu. We want to get to the level where as a graduate you have a job offer before you write your final exams in the university. At that time companies go to the university to seek graduates, join their workforce, but now, a graduate would have left school for ten years he or she is still unemployed and even when the person tries to start something on his or her own the infrastructure is not on ground to enable that to happen. There is need to have all these issues addressed. We cannot be servicing our debts with 80 percent of our revenue and we sit down and say all is well. The killings across the country are frightening. We need to be concerned. It is true that I have been advocating for a president of South-East extraction because if there is no equity, fairness and justice there is bound to be strive. If you have three major tribes in Nigeria and two, Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba have all tested power at the highest political level in the country, while not the third one which is the Igbo nation. My party decided to elect me as the party’s flag bearer in rancor free primaries. They elected me not on the basis of ethnic or religious leanings, but on the basis of capacity. My party has a national outlook, the chairman of our great party, Chief Supo Sonibare is not from South-East and we have other members of our party spread across Nigeria.

 Ekiti election

Your party is not as popular as the two major political parties, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC); how do you want to achieve that under the party?

How do you measure popularity? SDP may not be popular in the context of being in control of states. SDP is a known party and I can tell you that Nigerians are tired of the parties that you referred to as popular; they want a party that is populated by men and women who are concerned about the plight of Nigerians, the party that will present a candidate with courage, capacity and empathy. President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor should have courage, capacity and empathy. He should be worried about the killings across the country and should be ready and courageous to stop them. SDP is a party that has national outlook and it is prepared to address the challenges confronting Nigeria with all sense of commitment.

Can you face the likes of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP, who has been in the race so many times, and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the APC?

What I will tell you is that it is not about what some people will call a popular politician. At the state that we are in now, in this country, Nigerians are tired of these recycled politicians. They want to see real change. They want to see the killings stopped, they want to see their children go to school and they want improvements in the economy. We cannot be servicing our debts with 80 percent of our revenue and we are still talking about gurus in the contest, people who are used to the game of politicking, people who have been in government before. We should be talking about people who have the capacity to do the job. The ordinary Nigerian should be concerned about the capacity of candidates to positively affect their lives. We should be concerned about candidates who understand roadmaps to tackle the country’s multifaceted socio-economic challenges. Nigerians must not just be content with the assumption that a politician means well. The demand this time must be meaning well and being able to do well. People have made a lot of promises in the past that they did not fulfill. We should be concerned about visionary leaders. Nigeria at the moment needs a courageous leader. This involves the ability to make the best decisions in the interest of the country without fear or favour, not a leader who will look at his people before making decisions at the expense of the nation or other regions. I can emerge the president of Nigeria with the support of Nigerians. It doesn’t matter who is contesting in the race, what matters is whether Nigerians are behind you and I will conveniently tell you that in the 2023 general elections there will be lots of surprises because people reject the statuesque. The voters are wiser now, they will reject money bags and vote for the candidate that will lead them to the Nigeria of their dreams.

Do you have the capacity and courage as you just mentioned considering the fact that you have never been a governor before nor held any executive political office where Nigerians can assess your performance?

You don’t have to be a governor to be seen as competent and courageous. We have governors who have been president of this country but we have not really seen that level of change that we desire. I have been a Senator of the federal Republic of Nigeria. I know my contributions in the senate at that time. I have held leadership positions of my association, the Surveyors association at national and continental levels and I know the impact that I have made. I have held so many other leadership positions and my legacy is still there. I am a selfless Nigerian and a nationalist. I believe in one great and united Nigeria. I am concerned about the state of the nation. We are really drifting as a nation too fast which is the reason I am an advocate of a restructured Nigeria. People need to have a sense of belonging.

There is speculation that some of you from the South joined the race banking on the support from the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum which has told its people not to vote for presidential candidates from the North, did you join the race because of the group’s support?

There is no right thinking Nigerian who will not support power shift in this country. It has been guiding our peaceful co-existence, harmony and unity as a nation. We cannot shift the goal post at the middle of the game. No peace loving Nigerian will want a Northerner to succeed Buhari.

We must do everything in our power to sustain the unity of this country. The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum under the leadership of Chief Edwin Clark has done the right thing by the decision they have taken. It has encouraged some of us to still believe that there are people who are committed to ensuring that Nigeria remains a united indivisible nation. We need to have Nigeria before we talk about a President of Nigeria.

You have at different fora expressed support for true federalism, if elected president how do you intend to make it happen?

It has not happened because the political office holders don’t have the political will to make it happen, and that is why I said that Buhari’s successor should be courageous and have empathy. My dream is to have a restructured Nigeria where every state will grow at its own pace. There is no state in this country that doesn’t have the mineral resources that can sustain it, if we have true federalism this entire rancor that we witness across the country will stop. Oil is not the only mineral resource that we have. We had the era of the ground pyramid, we had palm oil plantations, just name them. Let us go back to the period. Again we have state and local government police to fight insecurity. You cannot have a federal government controlled police defeat insurgency. Fighting insecurity should be localized. If you have traditional rulers, the locals as stakeholders in the fight against insecurity you will get positive results. Of course the use of technology is also necessary but intelligence is key in the fight against insurgence. If you create jobs for young people they will be too busy to consider getting involved in crime. Restructuring will open the economy and states will be buoyant enough to take care of their people. SDP as a party has been singing restructuring for years and when we get into power we will restructure Nigeria.

VANGUARD

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PETER OBI’S MOVEMENT BIGGER THAN ENDSARS – ABURE, LP CHAIR

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Embattled National Chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure

Embattled National Chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure, shares his views with ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCIS on the lingering feud in the party, Peter Obi’s candidacy and other issues

Why is it difficult to resolve the issue of the Labour Party chairmanship tussle between you and the factional leader, Callistus Okafor?

It is only in Nigeria here you find that somebody can just wake up and say he is a party national chairman. Callistus Okafor is just somebody who wanted attention, and unfortunately, he is getting it. Was there an election or convention that produced him as the national chairman?

But Okafor said the constitution states that when a party chairman dies or gives up his position, the deputy immediately assumes the post.

Which constitution is he talking about? Somebody can wake up and say anything. It is left for us to find out from INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) and other bodies. People who are hungry shouldn’t just wake up to present another presidential candidate because an election is coming and claim that he is the chairman of the party. Since he said the issue is in court, there is no problem. There are several cases in court; how many do you see being advertised on the pages of newspapers? When we had our presidential primary, it wasn’t hidden; it was clear. Pat Utomi and others were there. You saw what played out before we arrived at the decision we took.

The factional chairman (Okafor) also warned that Peter Obi was sitting on a keg of gun powder by accepting to be your presidential candidate. What is your reaction?

If we are sitting on a keg of gun powder as he claimed, why can’t he just wait for it to explode? The truth is that Okafor just wants food to eat. His case is not a threat to us at all. We will meet in court as he said. It is not a difficult task for anyone to find out who the chairman of the Labour Party is from the Independent National Electoral Commission. I don’t think that at this time of our development, when we want to get it right politically that we should be promoting what will bring down the momentum of the people. This country is dying and it is on the brink of collapse. I think we need to show enough patriotism to prevent it from collapsing.

Recently, Peter Obi has come under fire for travelling to Egypt when he ought to be campaigning for your Ekiti governorship candidate. How do you react to that?

It is a normal thing for people in opposition to find something negative to talk about a candidate or party. What’s their business with him travelling to Egypt? It is because they are already afraid of Peter Obi. That’s why they are always looking for excuses to attack him. Is it a few days before the election that electioneering campaigns are done? People who want to win an election already know how to go about it. The truth is that there is no amount of negative report that will bring down Peter Obi’s presidential train. It is clear that he is ahead of other candidates. His track record is clear.

When you put him on a scale with other presidential candidates, it is very obvious that he stands out. Compare him with Atiku (Abubakar), and the difference is clear. That is because we knew Atiku when he was in Customs and later became the Vice President. When Peter Obi was also governor of Anambra State, we knew what happened. We know what both of them did in their private lives and in public offices. Is it (Bola) Tinubu that we want to talk about? It is clear Obi is way ahead. If he is going to Egypt for a meeting and that is his priority, what’s their problem?

Don’t you think Obi’s presence in Ekiti State would have boosted the chances of your candidate in the state?

Not really. Even the President cannot be expected to do everything on his own. There should be division of labour. There are leaders in Ekiti State who have been working hard. The people already know their candidates and where they are heading. Nigerians are suffering and they are tired. The people have made up their minds as to where they want to go. If they like, let them bring 100 bullion vans of money. The popular reggae icon, Bob Marley, said ‘you can fool some people sometimes but you can’t fool all the people all the time.’

What is the Labour Party doing differently to ensure Obi wins the 2023 presidential election?

Obviously, everybody has come to a realisation that our party is not the Labour Party of yesterday. We’re building on that momentum and expanding our horizons. You know people have been clamouring for an alternative to the APC and the PDP over the years and that is the opportunity we have provided for Nigeria. That was also why we sought the best candidate. By the time we come up with our vice presidential candidate, it will shock Nigerians because we are going to get somebody with the same credentials as Peter Obi. That will put an end to the whole of the APC and PDP. Quite frankly, we need to change those who have mismanaged this economy.

Nigeria just finished celebrating June 12 Democracy Day. In all honesty, has the country fared well?

I gave a historical perspective of June 12 and what it symbolises during the last commemoration. I said that was an election that brought all Nigerians together because it gave hope and became a symbol of the democratic struggle of the country. It has become a symbol of good governance in Nigeria. But unfortunately, the Moshood Abiola family ended up paying the ultimate price. Abiola died in the struggle, and his wife, Kudirat was also killed in the process. Their businesses, including newspapers like Concord and Abiola Group of Companies went down the drain as a result of that struggle. While we can say that Nigeria has attained democracy and people now enjoy the freedom of speech, all these are dividends of June 12. The 1999 Constitution is clear that the principal purpose of government is to provide security and welfare for the citizens. Section 2 harps on the fact that the national resources of the country must be managed in such a way that it gives maximum welfare to the people of Nigeria.

As we speak, Nigerians are not even asking for welfare. All they are asking is for the Federal Government to secure their lives. This is because people are killed on a daily basis in this country. The government has failed us. Over 100 million Nigerians are living below  the poverty line. Inflation is in double digit; people’s salaries cannot take them home. Poor people have no food, no shelter and no water. So, yes, we have to have democracy but it is not yet Uhuru for Nigeria; there is more to be done. Those who have not yet taken their PVCs are urged to do so.

There is a perceived assumption that Peter Obi is a social media president who may lose at the poll when the actual voting process begins. What’s your take on this perception?

If you look at the EndSARS protest, you cannot underestimate what the social media can do, especially with the younger generation. It is very clear that the people of Nigeria are tired. The truth is that a mind that is equipped is one that will be able to effect changes. Our youths have taken the election and collection of PVCs up as a challenge to actualise the changes. My party office here is already filled up with people registering for PVCs. The same thing is also evident across the federation. It is a very powerful movement that is good for us. It is even good that the opponents are underrating us and they will see the result in February 2023.

This movement is more than EndSARS, I can assure you. You can see how people are moving around, struggling to get their PVCs. If you visit INEC office in Abuja, the unprecedented crowd there now will send a signal. Go to Lagos, Warri, Imo and even Sokoto in the North, you will be shocked to see the crowd. But it is always good for your opponents to believe you are not on the ground. Technology has broken all barriers. What we actually need now to mobilise Nigerians are smartphones and social media. In the past, these were absent. People had to be in different wards to canvass for votes. Now, you can canvass on your phones. Was the success of the EndSARS process not attributed to the social media? They had to bring in the military to kill people before they could have their way. If not for the use of brute force by the military to break up that movement, you can be sure that something would have come out of it. This is why it is good for us to be underrated over our presence on social media at this moment.

Is Peter Obi not feeling threatened by the incursion of Atiku and Tinubu in the North and South-West zones where they rely heavily for votes?

If you look at the mood of the people, you will discover that it has ruled out the option of APC and PDP, irrespective of whoever they feature as their presidential candidates or running mates. The people, especially from the South-East, South-South and even the South-West, have made up their minds to do away with them. I don’t think they are a serious threat to us. I must admit that we may have one or two challenges in the North. However, from the statistics and polling that we have done, we don’t see it as a threat. We have had a president from the North for eight years, how has he impacted on the region?

What exactly do you mean by impact on the region?

Check the statistics, you will discover that the number of out-of-school children is even higher now. Even the Almajiri children that you see protesting in Kaduna, Kano and Sokoto states, who have carried arms against the country were given birth to when Buhari was just made president. Today, they are on the streets fighting for justice. Of course, they are children that were not trained by the system and those the states have abandoned. Today, they have taken up arms against the country. It is not about where the president is coming from. The northerners have seen it. Giving a northerner the president or vice president position doesn’t mean it may impact the lives of the people. The 2023 election is all about who has the capacity, character, antecedent and competence to drive the process of development in the country. The northern region has huge natural resources that can even pay the country more than oil.

What sort of natural resources are we looking at?

I don’t want to go into details or enumerate what we have in the North. As we speak, I am aware that some of these resources are being exploited by private individuals. Those resources exploited by these individuals with the active collaboration of the government would have gone a long way in providing education, healthcare and other welfare arrangements for people in the North. It is not about whether Atiku’s people are from the North or Tinubu has a stronghold in the West. We have had the PDP for close to 20 years and we have had APC for eight years. We know their results. Obviously, the people are tired and are ready to do away with the two. And that’s the mood of the country. I am confident that Labour Party will do very well in the 2023 elections. I have no doubt about it.

You seem so confident about the chances of Obi even in the South-West. Do you think Labour Party can defeat Tinubu in his stronghold?

If you study the situation very well, you will discover that the youths are actually in the majority. Although it is not in my place to comment on aspirants’ age or health status, people generally believe that a younger person should rule as president. Definitely, we cannot be talking about somebody like Asiwaju, who is old and may not be able to cope with the challenges of governance. There is no sentiment about it. This is all about the lives of the people. It is obvious that Asiwaju can’t cope. The mood of the people even in the South-West is not different. We need a younger and more vibrant person to do the job. My advice to him would have been to support a younger person and occupy a seat in the background. He needs to emulate people like ex-President (Olusegun) Obasanjo and Abdulsalaam (Abubakar) by having some rest while playing with his grandchildren. Even people like the late Nelson Mandela had the opportunity for a second term but he concluded that age was not on his side and he needed to rest. The people respected his decision. We must learn to quit at the stage when the ovation is loudest.

Many APC supporters believe Nigeria stands to benefit more from Tinubu’s brain based on his wealth of experience, not his physical attributes. Do you have a contrary opinion?

The truth is that the brain cannot function without the body. There is no way a brain in a weak body can function effectively unless we want to deceive ourselves. The country is facing a lot of challenges; we cannot afford to have a sleeping president who will be moving from one hospital to another. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to comment on this because it is sensitive and touches on the life of somebody but the truth has to be told. The country is full of so many challenges. People get kidnapped every day, some die in road accidents, and others are killed. Nothing is done about it and we want to bring a president who will be running from one hospital to the other. I think this nation has gone beyond that. We cannot put the burden of over 200 million Nigerians on the shoulder of somebody who is already weak. This is about our lives and the future of this country. I want to assure you that we will win in Lagos and other states in South-West clearly. The Yoruba will not go with Asiwaju.

People from the South-East have intensified efforts towards getting their PVCs. What could be the reason for the current rush to get the voter cards?

The answer is clear. People are fed up and seriously planning to vote out the APC and PDP from governments at all levels. You are aware that we once had voter apathy at a stage. People were not interested in even going to pick up their PVCs because they saw no difference between Tinubu and Atiku. So, they concluded that it is better to stay back in their homes. Now that Labour Party has come on board and also has Peter Obi as its presidential candidate, the rush you are seeing now is because of the Labour Party resurgence and Obi. I can assure you that there won’t be voter apathy in 2023 as people will come out and vote massively  for Labour Party.

Don’t you think issues like monetising of the process or vote buying as witnessed in the past can edge out the likes of the Labour Party?

Nigerians have since realised that the money they are sharing with them was stolen. It is our common patrimony taken from the government purse for themselves and their children. That’s the same money they bring to buy votes. I can assure you that Nigerians will collect the money and do the right thing this time. We have seen that done in Edo. I have had the privilege of campaigning during the time of (Adams) Oshiomhole. I have seen people collect money from the PDP and voted against them in Edo. The same thing will play out in the 2023 general elections. The reason people collected money and do whatever they like is that they may not have seen any difference between Buhari and Atiku in 2019. Therefore, they will just take the money when given as if there is no difference. But those who see that Peter Obi is better and may change their lives will collect the money and still vote against them. Some may not even collect and do the right thing. Buying of votes will definitely end in the 2023 elections.

Are you sure that some Labour Party aspirants are not involved in vote buying?

 Nigerians have witnessed our party primaries. They can use that to benchmark this assumption. We have seen how money was spent in the PDP primary. We also saw a similar thing play out at the APC national conference. I am sure nobody saw that at the LP convention that produced Peter Obi. That should tell you that vote buying is not part of our agenda. The people have decided and I am sure they will do the right thing. The people have seen bad governance over these few years and learnt some lessons. At least, we have seen that Nigerians rushing to get their PVCs are not induced or given money. Immediately after LP announced Peter Obi as its presidential candidate, there was a rush for the collection of PVCs by a massive crowd. It is an indicator of the fact that the Labour Party won’t buy votes but Nigerians will do the right thing.

Will Peter Obi’s emergence somehow put an end to secessionist tension by IPOB in the South-East?

In a way, it will. It is not the first time we are seeing an uprising. You will recall that in the South-West, there was a similar thing when the people felt marginalised. Groups like OPC and others sprang up and agitated for rights to secede from Nigeria over the rising case of insecurity in the South-West. When Olusegun Obasanjo became the President, he almost ended it. In the Niger Delta, we had the Avengers also threatening to cause tension over secession. But when Goodluck Jonathan became President, it was also doused. I am sure if Obi becomes president, the agitation from the South-East will resolve itself. This is because part of the agitation was because they were denied the chance of producing a president and given no sense of belonging. If such an opportunity is eventually given, I am sure that they will gladly support one of their own and allow peace to return to the country.

But we must also note that the issue of insecurity is not limited to the South-East alone. There is Boko Haram, ISWAP, unknown gunmen and violence all over the country. I think all these are down to the problem of bad governance. If people are poor, have no jobs and are hungry, the obvious thing to do is to go into crime. That is what Peter Obi is out to correct. If you are to provide jobs, create an enabling environment, and take care of the vulnerable in society, I am sure this problem of insecurity will die naturally. Sadly, we have repeatedly endured a government that has no passion for its people. Otherwise, what is happening in this country can’t happen elsewhere, and the people will still remain together as one. Nigerians are just very peaceful and loving people.

PUNCH

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FIRST DAUGHTER MARRIAGE IN ELEME LAND (OSI-ECHI OSILA IN ELEME LAND)

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Marriage rites for an Eleme First Daughter like her birthday come with Joy and marked with far greater festivities.

By Emmanuel Obe

This is because she bears the title or pet name ‘Osila’.

Osila is always One in any family – ‘Osila bin nne’ that has female children and her birth is a reward to her parents especially, her father since it promises a return for his investment in the marriage between himself and his dear wife.

This reward is never a monetary reward but a blessing and pride to any family whose daughter overcomes the challenges of childhood, the temptations in single hood and graduates into marriage.

Mr. Emmanuel Obe explains that the first daughter is carried shoulder-high by a relative to the market (Echi) where she would purchase some items in the company of children and women who cheer her up singing and chanting in praise of her.

Remember the song, ‘So onwi nje, ame ka nee’ and the celebrated ‘Osila kasi Echi….’

Here are some beautiful pictures of Osi-echi Osila Ceremony among others.

Eleme is a tribe in Rivers State, Nigeria whose people make up the Eleme Local Government Area and plays host to multinational companies including a Onne Seaport.





Special regards to the Photographer.

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