Suspects in Freddie Gray Case: A Portrait of Baltimore Police in Miniature

Suspects in Freddie Gray Case: A Portrait of Baltimore Police in Miniature

BALTIMORE — The first police officer Freddie Gray encountered on the morning he sustained a fatal spinal cord injury was Lt. Brian Rice, a seasoned 41-year-old white law enforcement officer who, several years earlier, had his guns confiscated by deputies who took him to a hospital after a worried ex-girlfriend expressed alarm about his well-being.

About 40 minutes later, when Mr. Gray, who was black, lay shackled in a police van and was no longer breathing, Sgt. Alicia White — a 30-year-old churchgoing black woman with a reputation as a rising star — tried to remove him. “She’s not even the type of person that would jaywalk,” one neighbor said.

In between, Mr. Gray was subdued and handcuffed by two rookie bicycle officers, each in his 20s, both white. A 25-year-old black patrolman arrived to check on him. The van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, also black, is an old-timer at 45. Described by colleagues as “passive,” he never moved up the ranks.

“You can’t just label this something racial,” said Representative Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat who lives just four blocks from West North and Pennsylvania Avenues, where a burned and looted CVS store stands as a symbol of the riots set off by Mr. Gray’s death on April 19. “When you have three African-American officers involved, you’ve got to say: ‘Wait a minute, is there a system in place in which they don’t want to tell on each other? Has it become a routine?’ ”

Over the past three decades, Baltimore’s roughly 3,000-member police force has undergone a slow, painful process of integration. In 1984, the year the city settled a lawsuit that forced the department to hire and promote more minorities and women, 19 percent of officers were black. By 2007, blacks were 44 percent of the force; the city’s population is nearly two-thirds black. The commissioner, Anthony W. Batts, is black, and African-Americans hold other high-ranking posts.

Despite that, tensions between black residents and the police run deep. Last week’s decision by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to request a “pattern or practice” Justice Department inquiry — something she had long resisted, even as she pushed for changes — emphasizes that mistrust. Civil rights advocates say it is long overdue.

So do some black police officers. In 2004, Sgt. Louis Hopson, now the board chairman of the Vanguard Justice Society, the association that represents the city’s black officers, was the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit alleging that the department systematically disciplined black officers more harshly than whites. In 2009, the city settled the case, agreeing to pay $2.5 million to more than a dozen plaintiffs and to hire an outside consultant to monitor the internal discipline process for three years.

But the problems have persisted, some black officers say. In March, court records show, Baltimore settled another bias suit, brought by a former officer, Richelle Johnson, a black woman who complained that she was forced to retire and that the department was more accommodating to white officers who were injured and requested light duty than to blacks. The terms of the settlement have not been made public, and a lawyer for Ms. Johnson would not discuss it.

An Internal Divide

“There are two Baltimores, and there are two Baltimore City Police Departments,” said Sergeant Hopson, 63, a 35-year veteran. “This department is a very racist police department. The issues that you see manifesting themselves on the outside are the same problems we have been dealing with on the inside for years.”

The relentless drumbeat of criticism is depressing officer morale. Many police officers are furious with Ms. Rawlings-Blake, whom their union supported when she ran for mayor in 2011, for asking for the Justice Department review. They feel undermined as they work to maintain the peace in a city with a high homicide rate.

“Our police officers have a number of conflicting emotions, from anger and shock to sadness and depression,” said Sgt. Robert F. Cherry, a 21-year veteran and former president of the Baltimore chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, in an interview. “It is a tough time to be a police officer.”

The union has stood firmly behind the six arrested in Mr. Gray’s death; Sergeant Cherry accused Marilyn J. Mosby, the prosecutor who filed the charges, of “political opportunism” and wondered aloud if she had “an exit strategy for grossly overcharging our six officers.” Sergeant Hopson said the Vanguard Justice Society was also planning a news conference for this week to show support for the three black officers.

Sergeant White, the lone woman among them, is an example of how the six officers reflect the two Baltimores, and the two Baltimore Police Departments. After joining the force in 2010, she caught the eye of Sergeant Hopson, who said he recruited her into a program he runs to prepare black officers to take tests required for promotions.

She became a sergeant this year, said Dana Neal, a nondenominational minister who said Sergeant White regarded her as an adopted aunt. “She is a Christian and wants to be a good role model for young black women,” Ms. Neal said, adding that Sergeant White hoped to “bridge the gap between the police and the neighborhoods.”

Sergeant White grew up in Baltimore and lives here; Sergeant Cherry said 35 percent of the force now lives in the city. But black residents have complained that too many officers live outside Baltimore and feel no attachment to it. Sergeant White has worked for the Police Athletic League, helping young people with homework, and her church, New Bethlehem Baptist Church, is in Sandtown-Winchester, the blighted neighborhood where Mr. Gray grew up and was arrested before his fatal injury.

Now, she faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office; Ms. Mosby alleges Sergeant White “did nothing” to help Mr. Gray even though he was lying on the floor of the van and unresponsive.

The encounter that led to Mr. Gray’s death began around 8:40 a.m. on April 12, when the three white officers — Lieutenant Rice, Officer Edward Nero and Officer Garrett Miller — were patrolling the streets around the Gilmor Homes, a public housing development in West Baltimore. Lieutenant Rice spotted Mr. Gray, making eye contact with him, police have said, and Mr. Gray ran off.

Gary Neville: Man Utd need three or four players to challenge Chelsea for title

Gary Neville: Man Utd need three or four players to challenge Chelsea for title

Gary Neville expects Manchester United to sign three or four players to challenge Chelsea for the title next season.

Louis van Gaal’s side strengthened their chances of finishing in second place on Saturday Night Football with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, and it has been a season of improvement at Old Trafford.

Having agreed a deal to sign PSV striker Memphis Depay in the summer, Neville believes the club are going to be aggressive forces in the transfer market once again.

“What they have to do next season is challenge and get closer to the title,” he told Sky Sports’ Gary Neville Podcast.

“For Louis van Gaal, this season is par. He has done exactly what he wanted if he completes the job in the next couple of weeks and gets into the Champions League.

“Having finished seventh last season, which was a terrible season, that’s all that was asked of him this season. It looks like he’s going to do it.

“They’ve already started buying the players. Depay has come in already so it looks like they’re going to be aggressive and on the front foot in the transfer market again.

“It needs that really. If you look at Manchester United’s squad at this moment in time it won’t get close to Chelsea, as it currently is.

“But with three or four signings – the right ones – then they can challenge Chelsea for the title next season. Arsenal and Manchester City will feel the same.

“To win it in the third season probably would be his aim. To jump from here to win the title next season is probably what Louis van Gaal will be thinking, but it’s a big jump.”

Having won the title last weekend, Neville pinpointed areas in which Chelsea could strengthen in the summer to build on their success.

But the former Manchester United right-back, who won eight Premier League titles at the club, says the right-back, centre-back, wide midfielder and forward positions will come under scrutiny in the summer market at Old Trafford.

“If Michael Carrick gets injured, he needs someone in holding midfield,” Neville added.

“I would think the right-back position is going to be looked at, either as support to Antonio Valencia or someone to take the number one spot.

“I think centre-back. Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones don’t stay fit long enough to keep a partnership there. Left-back is probably ok with Luke Shaw and Daley Blind.

“I think probably a wide area and it depends what he does with Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao at the end of the summer. There will be a big decision in the forward area as well.

The world of Ghana’s internet fraudsters

The world of Ghana's internet fraudsters


Internet fraudsters in Ghana are easy to spot. The young men in fast cars have become such a conspicuous group that they even have their own nickname. Meet the Sakawa boys.

David is 25 years old. He’s been defrauding people on the internet for the last two years.

“I know it’s wrong but it gives me a lot of money,” he says.

He used to sleep on the streets. Then he saw his friends in internet cafes earning money defrauding people online.

A typical con is pretending to be a woman romantically interested in men from Europe, America or Asia.

He learnt the trade and, with little formal education, earned enough money to rent an apartment, buy a car and have money left over to spend.

But he insists the money isn’t earned easily.

“Some say this work is easy but it is not.”

“You have to be patient, smart, fast and cultivate trust between you and the white person”.

Fraudsters like David (not his real name) pretend to be beautiful women. They play clips of the women saying hello. They then tell their targets that their microphone or speakers aren’t working so they can’t speak, they can only communicate via messages.

Over time they build up a romantic relationship with them before convincing them to send them money.

Others pretend to have a concession in gold, timber, securities or oil to persuade people to hand over money for their fake business arrangements.

The group of fraudsters have come to be known as the Sakawa boys in Ghana, a term which means “putting inside” in the Hausa language.

It’s not just a living, but a lifestyle.

Sakawa boys are so renowned in Ghana that a primary school pupil can point one out – their lavish lifestyle gives them away.

They can be spotted on a Saturday night in Santa Marie, a suburb of Ghana’s capital Accra.

The streets are filled with unlicensed Range Rovers and Toyota Camrys.

Young men in tight jeans, baseball caps and flashes of gold sit with their car windows wound down and play loud music.

A decade ago the term Sakawa was not even used in Ghana. Instead internet fraudsters were called Yahoo boys – a term mostly used for conmen in Nigeria.

The Nigerian singer Olu Maintain released the song Yahooze in 2007. In the song he says “it’s all about the Benjamins baby”, referring to hundred dollar bills. And at gigs he started spraying money at fans.

He said in an interview with Modern Ghana at the time “nobody is interested in how you got to where you are. Everybody is interested in results”.

Although he said in the same interview “the song has nothing to do with yahoo”.

Now the term Sakawa boy has taken over in Ghana. There is even a collection of Sakawa boy films, whose storylines often reference the use of black magic.

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NIGERIA: APC Transition Panel Mulls Tough Economic Policies

NIGERIA: APC Transition Panel Mulls Tough Economic Policies


There are indications that the transition committee set up by the All Progressives Congress may have decided to work out some tough economic prescriptions for the incoming federal government based on its own independent assessment of the economy amid alleged failure of the incumbent administration’s transition team to share ideas or records, THISDAY has learnt.

The APC transition committee is supposed to interface with the incumbent government’s committee to ensure a smooth changeover from the Peoples Democratic Party government of President Goodluck Jonathan to the APC government of General Muhammadu Buhari. But barely three weeks to the handover date of May 29, APC has alleged that the federal government transition committee is yet to meet or transmit documents to the incoming government’s team. This was said to have prompted the APC transition team to engage experts to study the economic environment and come up with findings that would guide the committee’s recommendations to the Buhari government.

In a related development, the APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, said yesterday in Yola that the Nigerian economy was on the edge of a precipice and seriously needed financial experts to help fix it and prevent a looming economic collapse. Odigie-Oyegun said this at the seventh graduation ceremony of the American University of Nigeria, Yola.

A reliable source within APC disclosed that based on its preliminary assessment, the 19-man transition panel may consider recommending tough economic measures in a bid to arrest the slide in the economy. The source, who preferred that his name was not mentioned because he was not mandated to discuss the issue, said the committee believed some austere measures might be needed to help the incoming government to keep the country afloat.

The actions being canvassed by the committee include cost-saving measures, like pruning down the size of government and devising means of mopping up resources for the government. Also on the cards is a plan to abolish fuel subsidy, which many see as fraught with corruption.

The source, who is a top chieftain of APC, said an initial assessment of the economic situation showed that things might be worse than what was being portrayed by government.

He said, “I can tell Nigerians that we all in APC will put our heads together to support the captain of the ship, General Muhammadu Buhari, to salvage the nation. It is going to be tough, it is going to be very, very tough, indeed, and we are going to make that clear to Nigerians very soon.

“In the months ahead, we have to borrow money to subsidise the distributable resources going to the states. At present, states are getting about 40 per cent less than what they used to receive from the Federation Account.

“So, you are going to be hearing tales soon of the inability of states to pay workers’ salaries. It is so bad that we are now borrowing to subsidise our recurrent expenditure. We are not even talking about the capital projects. That is the extent to which the economy of the country has been run aground.”

He said the new government’s information minister would face an uphill task of trying to make Nigerians understand the reality of the things on ground and accept corrective measures that will be put in place by the incoming Buhari administration.

“The important thing is that there is hope that the ship of state will be turned around in the nearest future and Nigerians will begin to enjoy the benefit of change and the benefit of a regime whose ultimate concern and focus is the happiness of the people of Nigeria,” the source said.

Members of the APC transition committee have literally taken over a section of the Trancorp Hilton Hotels in Abuja where they have been provided with accommodation and meeting rooms following their inauguration on April 29. The team is chaired Alhaji Ahmed Joda, with Dr. Doyin Salami as vice president and Malam Adamu Adamu as secretary. The committee was getting worried by the delay in convening joint meetings with the federal government transition committee and, thus, decided to independently study the issues with the aid of experts.

The Jonathan government’s transition committee, headed by Vice President Namadi Sambo, was inaugurated on April 13.
The APC transition committee has since its inauguration met almost on a daily basis, with the exception of Sundays.
The national publicity secretary of APC, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, while responding to an enquiry from THISDAY confirmed that the transition committee had started meeting while waiting for the federal government to furnish it with formal handover documents. He said the committee had invited experts, resource persons, and non-governmental organisations to come and brief it on issues affecting various sectors of the economy.

Mohammed said, “I do not know about hiring of consultants, but what I can tell you is that the committee has invited some resource persons and non-governmental organisations, like the civil society bodies, to come and brief it on crucial issues of governance.
“We in the committee felt that we could go ahead with other aspects of our terms of reference, since the PDP-led federal government has decided not to meet with us and is delaying the commencement of the handover process.

“Part of the terms of reference of the transition committee is that it should brainstorm and make adequate recommendations on strategies the incoming government could adopt in order to move the nation forward.”

The committee’s members include Wale Edun, Mrs. Bola Adesola, Dr. Festus Odumegu, Mrs. Nike Aboderin, Chief John Oyegun, Rotimi Amaechi, Chief Audu Ogbeh, and Boss Mustapha. Others are Senator Hadi Sirika, Dr. Ogbonaya Onu, Alhaji Abubakar Malami, General Lawal Jafar Isa, Mohammed Hayatudeen, Solomon Dalong, and Professor Tam David West.

As part of its terms of reference, the committee is expected to develop a clear framework for liaison with the outgoing administration for purposes of a smooth handover/takeover and to receive handover documents from ministries, departments and agencies and itemise the most important or most urgent issues confronting the incoming government.

The committee is also to review and assess the balance sheet of government with particular emphasis on the status of assets and liabilities of government; cash flow position of the government; quantum of public domestic and external debt of government and their deployment; government’s outstanding contractual obligations and its ability to meet such obligations and the status of implementation of capital projects.

They are expected to do a preliminary assessment of the security challenges facing the country and the counter-insurgency measures taken by the government thus far; the counter policy measures being implemented in the Niger Delta to deal with unrest and major economic crimes in the area, in particular, the status of the Amnesty Programme; the readiness of the Police and other national security and intelligence agencies in addressing threats to law and order; and provide a brief overview of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Nigerian Communications Commission, Customs, and the Federal Inland Revenue Service.
Other items in the committee’s terms of reference include to suggest “quick fixes” which will result in tangible, visible and practical measures so that change will be seen after 30 days, after 100 days, after six months of the administration taking office, and to make any other observations which in the opinion of the committee would be helpful to the transition and take-off of the new administration.


Desperate measures for African migrants

Desperate measures for African migrants

People across the continent are risking death through conflict and dangerous boat journeys to escape poverty at home

Charkos township in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa is no different from many other townships in Africa.

The same iron sheet shanties, dirt alleys, poor sanitation.

The stories from those who live in similar neighbourhoods across Africa are also similar.

Poverty, a sense of hopelessness, crime. There are some positive stories too….but very far in between the negatives.

What sticks out in Charkos though is the overwhelming desire by so many young people to leave, not just the township, but Ethiopia. To risk dangerous sea and desert routes, pay smugglers thousands of dollars cobbled together by poor family members to get to Europe or to Gulf countries.

We are at a vigil for Elias, Biruk and Bekele. They grew up dreaming of one day leaving the township, having a better life in another continent far from home.

They were killed by ISIL fighters alongside other Ethiopian migrants in Libya as they tried to make that dream a reality.

Bekele’s mother told us that she did not even know her son had left until he called her from Sudan, asking for money to pay smugglers to help him travel through the Sahara desert and into Libya. From there he hoped to cross the Mediterenean sea to Italy and then onwards to his European country of choice, which he had not decided yet.

Five of those who were killed including Bekele were from Charkos.

I spoke to a dozen or so of their friends who were at the vigil. They saw them off two months ago.

Here’s how the conversation went.

Question: Why did your friends leave?

Answer: They were good people looking for a better life. Ethiopia was not enough for them anymore, not enough for any of us.

Question: What is so wrong with being home, trying to make a life here?

Answer: There are no opportunities. If I don’t go, I’m stuck here with nothing to do and I don’t want to be a burden to my family.

Question: But knowing what you do about how dangerous the journey is -would you still do it, still risk death?

Answer: I know it’s dangerous, but I might be one of the few to make it safely so yes, I’d take the risk.

Question: It’s a very expensive trip, no less than $3000. Surely with that kind of money, you can start a business here.

Answer: Our families can’t give us money while we’re here. They only help when there’s a plan to leave, because they’re more certain that eventually send the money back.

Michael Girema is only 20 and he’s already attempted the journey. In March this year, he crossed in to Sudan and paid smugglers to take him to Libya and onwards by boat to Italy. He only got to the Libyan border. His smugglers disagreed on payment with the border police. They were returned to Sudan and the money they had paid for the first part of the journey was never refunded.

“The journey is very hard” he told us, “the smugglers don’t care about anything but money.”

I asked him if he’d make the trip again.

“Yes, not now, I don’t have the money and it’s dangerous but when it’s calmer, I’ll try again.”

While being poor is a driving force for people leaving Ethiopia, some analysts argue that besides poverty, there’s a decades long fixed mentality that life is better abroad, blinding many to the possible opportunities at home.

Mehari Taddele Maru who once worked at the African Union ‘s human migration docket and is now a consultant on migration, peace and security put it this way;

“Previously, during the military regime there was a saying that you have to get out of the country through Bole, the airport, or Bale,the desert. That actually explains the mindset that existed for many years, decades and this mindset, this collective social psychology of going to dream land,countries of destination with plenty of opportunities has been a driving factor.”

The government has set up several vocational workshops to empower young people. It also gives low interest loans to youth and women groups with good business ideas, the main focus is agriculture.

But some people we talked to either did not know about these government facilities or said they are too hard to access.

As long as there’s poverty, civil strife, repression and a strong conviction that life is better on the other side, people will always find ways of trying to get there. How to deal with dangerous loopholes is what is crucial.

Source: Al Jazeera

Explosion target ex-Yemen president Saleh’s Home

Explosion target ex-Yemen president Saleh's Home

Warplanes from the coalition led by Saudi Arabia has bombed the residence of Ali Abdullah Saleh in the capital, Sanaa, but Yemen’s former president is believed to be safe, witnesses have said.

Three air strikes hit Saleh’s residence early on Sunday morning, but the president and his family are “well”, Yemeni news agency Khabar said, according to the Reuters news agency.

Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the area in the latest strike in Sanaa following a night of intensive air raids against rebel positions after rebels shelled Saudi border town on Thursday.

Saleh, who stepped down in 2012 following a year of deadly nationwide protests against his three-decade rule, is accused of siding with Houthi fighters who ousted UN-backed President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in February.

Air strikes against the Houthis and fighters allied to Saleh have been carried out by a coalition of Arab nations since March 26.

Saleh’s residence was targeted on Sunday as Houthi fighters said in a statement they would deal “positively” with any efforts to lift the suffering of the Yemeni people, a sign that they will accept a five-day humanitarian ceasefire proposed by Saudi Arabia. It is not known, however, if the latest strikes will affect that position.

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall, reporting from Saudi capital, Riyadh, said that a Houthi foreign affairs spokesman had indicated on social media that the rebels may accept the truce, if it was “real and serious”.

“We still wait for more confirmation from the Houthi side – more official confirmation,” our correspondent said.

“For the first time since the Saudis offered the truce, these are signs that [the Houthis] might be thinking of accepting the truce.”

The latest strikes in the capital also came after the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen said that the coalition’s recent air strikes on Saada city in Yemen are in breach of international law.

“The indiscriminate bombing of populated areas, with or without prior warning, is in contravention of international humanitarian law,” Johannes van der Klaauw said in a statement on Saturday.

“Many civilians are effectively trapped in Saada as they are unable to access transport because of the fuel shortage. The targeting of an entire governorate will put countless civilians at risk,” van der Klaauw said.

The coalition said on Saturday it had hit Yemen with 130 air strikes over the previous 24 hours.

It had called on civilians to evacuate Saada, the city in northern Yemen where support for Houthi rebels is strongest, before the bombing but it was unclear how they could leave.

Houthi leadership targeted

The air strikes targeted bases of Houthi leaders across Saada and Hajja provinces, said Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, as well as hitting tanks and other military vehicles.

Missiles also pounded rebel chief Abdul-Malik al-Houthi’s hometown of Marran, and nearby Baqim, Al-Masirah television reported.

Other strikes targeted Sanaa airport’s runway, a Yemeni official there said, and Houthi targets in the al-Sadda district of Ibb in central Yemen, residents there said.

In the southern port city of Aden, clashes continued on Friday and Saturday in the central Crater, Khor Maksar and Mualla districts as the Houthis and forces loyal to Saleh shelled local militias trying to oust them from the city.

Miliband Resigns

Miliband Resigns


The Labour leader quits after a shock election drubbing, and tells supporters he is “truly sorry” he did not succeed.

Ed Miliband has announced his resignation as leader of the Labour Party after a disastrous election defeat which saw the Conservatives win a majority.

He made the announcement shortly after noon to a room full of supporters, saying solemnly: “This is not the speech I wanted to give today because I believe that Britain needed a Labour government.

“I still do but the public voted otherwise last night.

“I am tendering my resignation taking effect after this afternoon’s commemoration of VE-Day.

“I want to do so straight away because the party needs an open debate about the right way forward without constraint.”

Mr Miliband says he phoned David Cameron earlier to congratulate him on his victory.

He then told the audience: “I take absolute and total responsibility for this result.”

Harriet Harman will take over the role temporarily, but says she will step down as deputy leader when the new leader is chosen.



George Osborne, Theresa May, Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon are all re-appointed to their Cabinet roles

David Cameron has maintained continuity at the top of Government after he re-appointed four senior Conservative MPs as the first members of his new Cabinet.

George Osborne, MP for Tatton, will retain his role as Chancellor, and will also be the First Secretary of State – the ranking Cabinet Minister in the Government and the equivalent to Deputy Prime Minister.

The 43-year-old arrived at 10 Downing Street shortly after Mr Cameron had announced on his Twitter page that he was set to announce a number of Cabinet posts.

Mr Cameron wrote: “I have re-appointed George Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He will also be First Secretary of State – the ranking Cabinet Minister.

The appointment is a mark of the Prime Minister’s appreciation of George Osborne’s handling of the Treasury during the coalition and maintains continuity in the top two posts in Government held since 2010.

Theresa May also entered number 10 shortly afterwards, before Mr Cameron confirmed on Twitter that she had agreed to remain as Home Secretary.

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INEC Chairman, Jega, To Appear Before Senate Today

INEC Chairman, Jega, To Appear Before Senate Today

The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Attahiru Jega, is expected to appear before the Senate today to explain reasons for the postponement of the general elections by six weeks.

The Senate on Tuesday issued a summon to the professor of Political Science when plenary resumed at the Upper Legislative Chamber.

The Senate also asked Professor Jega to appear before it with card readers to demonstrate how INEC would use them during the elections.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had announced a shift in the general elections dates to March 28 and April 11.

The new schedule was announced on February 7 by Prof Jega, after meetings with political stakeholders.

Prof Jega said that the Presidential Election will hold on March 28 while the Governorship election on April 11.

“We have done wide reaching consultations to enable us have as much input as necessary before taking an informed decision.

“In the series of consultations that we had with stakeholders, the questions constantly posed to them for consideration are; in view of the latest developments, should INEC proceed with the conduct of the general elections as scheduled in spite of the strong advice and if so, what alternative security arrangements are available to be put in place.

“The second is; should INEC take the advice of the security chiefs and adjust the schedules of the general elections within the framework of the constitutional provisions,” Professor Jega said.

‘Concerned About Security’

According to him, the commission decided to take the advice of the security chiefs and adjust the dates of the elections in line with the provisions of the Electoral Act.

“We have done this, relying on section 26 (1) of the Electoral Act, as amended.

“Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct an election as a result of natural disaster or other emergencies, the commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area or areas concerned appoint another day for the holding of the postponed election provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.”

The chairman of the INEC pointed out that for the fact the commission was not a security agency that could guarantee protection of personnel, voters during elections and observers, the commission could not likely wave-off the advice by the nation’s security chiefs.

National Assembly elections will hold on March 28

“The commission is concerned about the security of our ad-hoc staff, the young men and women of the NYSC and students of the tertiary education who constitute at least 600,000 young men and women that we will use in the election,” he said.

Professor Jega further said that the concern was not limited to the areas in the north-eastern part of the nation that has witnessed series of attacks by the members of a terrorist group, the Boko Haram but to the security of the commission’s officials and the observers.

“We believe that few election management bodies around the world will contemplate conducting elections under these circumstances,” he said, emphasising that “the prospect for free, fair and credible elections will not be guaranteed if the election was held as scheduled”.

In the new schedule, the Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on March 28 while the Governorship and State Assemblies elections will hold on April 11.

In the initial schedule, the elections were meant to hold on February 14 and 28

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Recently, the bodies of two victims of the AirAsia plane crash have been returned to Indonesia’s Surabya airport from where the ill-fated jet took off three days ago before plunging into the Java Sea.


Nigeria Struggles to Sell Oil Cargoes, Offers Discounts to Asian Buyers

Nigeria Struggles to Sell Oil Cargoes, Offers Discounts to Asian Buyers

Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, Nigeria’s oil minister

India asks for 90-day credit line
•Oil price crash claims first US LNG casualty
Alike Ejiofor with agency report

Almost half of Nigeria’s cargoes due to be exported in January are still available, Reuters has reported, even as oil prices reach the $50s trough, almost $10 below Nigeria’s benchmark price.

The backlog has pushed Nigerian oil differentials versus Brent to their lowest since at least 2009 BFO-QUA at 65 cents a barrel, down 80 per cent since May, said Reuters. And it is also creating a discount frenzy between African and Gulf oil producers to Asian buyers.

Asia has become a hotspot for a price war between African and Gulf oil producers who, hobbled by bulging global supplies and waning demand, are offering steep discounts to defend their market share in the world’s top net crude buying region.

The competition is welcome news for Asian buyers. If oil stays near $60 per barrel, import costs for the world’s second biggest oil consumer, China, would drop to under $125 billion a year, versus $222 billion in 2013 when crude averaged $110.

But for producers, it means more competition, and African sellers like Nigeria and Angola, faced with precarious finances due to plummeting oil prices, are struggling to make inroads into Asia, a Middle Eastern stronghold.

Owing to the frantic competition for Asian buyers, India, THISDAY learnt, has taken the unusual step of asking Nigeria to offer it a 90-day credit line if it must continue to buy her crude oil.

With the loss of the US market earlier this year, India has replaced it as Nigeria’s biggest buyer of the country’s light crude grade.

“There is competition between West African and Middle East suppliers for the Asian markets, but the Middle East suppliers have the cost advantage,” said Philip Andrews-Speed, head of Energy Security Division at the National University of Singapore. The city-state is a major oil trading hub in Asia.

Low operating costs in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Emirates already allow these countries to offer hefty discounts.

Now, a more than 50 per cent jump in freight rates between West Africa and China since September is adding to the relative advantage of Middle Eastern grades, which require shorter shipping distances to Asia. This has been a big setback for West African producers.

West African exports got a brief boost in August when Brent’s premium to Middle East crude DUB-EFS-1M narrowed to less than $2 per barrel from almost $5 in June. But with Middle Eastern producers now offering even more competitive prices, the advantage has faded.

“A year ago, a $2 premium would have been attractive, but in today’s environment it’s different,” a trader dealing with West African crude said.

West African producers traditionally sold most of their oil to North America and Europe, but exports dwindled given a gusher of shale oil from the United States and higher output from nations outside the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

West African crude exports to Asia rose more than 4 per cent between January and December, Reuters data has shown. China accounted for most of the rise as it took advantage of low prices to build up oil reserves.

But the higher West African arrivals into Asia were mainly due to sales before October, and have dropped since then due to Middle East discounts.

Middle East producers continue to dominate the Asian oil market, with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait all increasing shipments to the region since 2012.

The Middle East accounts for around half of China’s imports and Africa has a 25 per cent share.

With pricing an advantage for Gulf producers, one hope for West Africa is China’s drive for diversification in order to avoid over-reliance on Middle Eastern oil, JBC Energy said.

But analysts are sceptical about the sustainability of steep discounts, as producers need higher prices to finance their budgets.

“Governments that underpin their budgets with oil or metals have seen currency values plummet, reserves erode or current account deficits rise… Regimes built on oil wealth will come under pressure,” risk consultancy and insurance brokerage JLT Group said in its 2015 outlook.

Meanwhile, Excelerate Energy’s Texan liquefied natural gas terminal plan has become the first victim of the oil price slump threatening the economics of US LNG export projects.

A halving in the oil price since June has upended assumptions by developers that cheap US LNG would muscle into high-value Asian energy markets, which relied on oil prices staying high to make the US supply affordable.

The floating 8 million tonne per annum (mtpa) export plant moored at Lavaca Bay, Texas advanced by Houston-based Excelerate has been put on hold, according to regulatory filings obtained by Reuters.

The project was initially due to begin exports in 2018.

Excelerate’s move bodes ill for 13 other US LNG projects, which have also not signed up enough international buyers, to reach a final investment decision (FID). Only Cheniere’s Sabine Pass and Sempra’s Cameron LNG projects have hit that milestone.

Back when LNG and crude oil prices were riding high in February, Excelerate, founded by Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, applied for permits to build the facility.

Eleven months on, its submission to the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on December 23 said that uncertainty generated by a steep decrease in oil prices has forced it to conduct a “strategic reconsideration of the economic value of the project” and to suspend all activities until April 1, 2015.

“Due to the recent global market conditions, the company has determined that, at this time, this project no longer meets the financial criteria necessary in order for us to move forward with the capital investment,” a company spokesman told Reuters.

Stiff economic headwinds are making new developments tough going.
Prices that LNG projects can charge for long-term supply are falling from historic highs as new producers crowd the market, which is already oversupplied due to slowing demand and rising output that has seen spot Asian LNG prices halve this year.

At the same time, major consumers from Japan to South Korea and China are seeking to offload some of their long-term LNG supply commitments, contributing to the glut.

Excelerate Energy will update the regulator on the status of Lavaca Bay in April, 2015, according to the filing.

The export plant operates under a tolling model, whereby the developer sells liquefaction capacity to LNG consumers who then must arrange for shipping to transport the fuel.

Typically, companies seek to lock-in buyers for around 85 per cent of a project’s capacity before reaching an investment decision.

Excelerate hints in the filing that lacklustre demand for capacity was behind the suspension, saying that only “renewed interest of potential counterparties” could get it moving again.

Even before the oil price slide, US LNG projects were struggling to sign up the big Asian buyers needed to underpin multi-billion dollar investments, resorting finally to tapping vestiges of demand left in Europe.

Seen in the light of plus-$100 a barrel oil, projects to liquefy and export US gas by ship promised major cost savings to Asian buyers reliant on costly oil-linked gas supplied by Australia and Qatar, which generated huge demand.

The advantage of US export plants was that the LNG costs would reflect local benchmark Henry Hub gas prices, currently trading around $4 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), plus shipping and liquefaction costs.

“The oil price plunge makes US LNG with prices linked to Henry Hub potentially uncompetitive with LNG from other sources especially those using an oil price linkage,” independent consultant Andy Flower said.

Prior to the oil price crash, the US discount to rival Brent-linked LNG supply from Qatar and Australia was around $8-$9 per mmBtu. Now those supplies represent a cost saving over US projects.

“With US LNG no longer looking to be the cheap LNG that off-takers have been seeking, finding companies prepared to commit to tolling fees for 20 years has become more challenging,” Flower said.

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