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OPINION

To Protect Everyone’s Health, Protect Everyone’s Rights

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By Leopold Zekeng*

The enactment of Nigeria’s HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act – a national law hinged on the protection of the rights of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS from discrimination based on their HIV status, is indeed progressive. However, to date, only about 18 states in Nigeria have domesticated the Act.
Evidence from the Nigeria PLHIV Stigma Index Survey revealed that 24.5% of adults aged 35-44 and 21.7% of young adults aged 18-24 have experienced stigma and discrimination. In some instances, key populations in Nigeria have experienced discrimination, violent law enforcement practices, arrests and other forms of human rights violations. Violence and discrimination against women and girls also remain pervasive. These violations often shove persons living with HIV and key populations to the margins of society, denying them access to life-saving health and social services, including HIV services.
Globally, 38 countries have pledged to end HIV-related stigma and discrimination through the Global Partnership for Action to Eliminate all Forms of HIV-Related Stigma and Discrimination (Global Partnership). These are hard-fought gains. Nonetheless, Nigeria is yet to formally join the Global Partnership.
However, the unwavering commitments and investments by stakeholders including the Nigerian government, National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA), UNAIDS, Global Fund, United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and other partners, have been instrumental in catalyzing progress towards ending stigma and discrimination in Nigeria. Communities of persons living with HIV have also been at the frontline of combatting stigma and discrimination. Recently, the Community of Practice to address HIV-related stigma and discrimination in Nigeria was launched by the Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN), Association of Women Living with HIV in Nigeria (ASWHAN) & Association of Young People living with HIV in Nigeria (APYIN). The platform seeks to facilitate capacity strengthening, exchange of best practices and promote synergy amongst stakeholders in addressing stigma and discrimination in health care, education, workplace, justice systems, communities, emergency and humanitarian settings.
When marginalized communities are criminalized or stigmatized, their vulnerability to HIV infection increases, and their access to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support services is obstructed. Countries that are beating the AIDS epidemic are doing so by repealing laws and policies that discriminate, by expanding human rights for all and by allowing marginalized communities to lead the response.
Public health is undermined when laws, policies, practices or norms enshrine punishment, discrimination or stigma for people because they are women, key populations, or persons living with HIV. Discrimination obstructs HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care, and holds back progress towards the end of AIDS.
We have hope, however, from communities on the frontlines. As Dr. Martin Luther King noted, “Social progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of people.” It is the communities most affected by discrimination that are leading the pushback against the erosion of their right to health, against the right to life. They are uniting their efforts to protect and advance human rights. They need, and deserve, all our support. The rights path strengthens entire societies, making them better equipped to deal with the challenges we face today and those that are emerging.
The right to non-discrimination as guaranteed under Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights treaties and standards, is the cornerstone of international human rights law. Having ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other relevant treaties, the Nigerian government has an obligation to ensure that national laws and policies do not discriminate against people and that all persons including persons living with HIV are protected against such discrimination by third parties.
Furthermore, the Global Aids Strategy requires that all countries including Nigeria create an enabling legal environment by removing punitive laws, introducing and enforcing protective legislations and policies, and eradicating the abuse of criminal and general laws to target people living with HIV and key populations.
Discrimination against anyone is harmful to the health of everyone. For Nigeria to deliver on the promise to end AIDS by 2030, action is urgently needed to advance the protection of the human rights of everyone, everywhere. The Zero Discrimination Day, celebrated around the world every 1 March, presents an opportunity for Nigeria to strengthen its commitment through ensuring the domestication and effective implementation of the HIV/AIDS Anti-Discrimination Act in all states across Nigeria, formally joining the Global Partnership, committing to take actions on HIV-related stigma and discrimination across all six settings; and letting communities lead in addressing stigma and discrimination.

*Dr. Zekeng, UNAIDS Nigeria Country Director, writes from Abuja.

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OPINION

The Naira Abuse Palaver

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The habit of spraying money

By Dakuku Peterside *

There is no disputation that Naira abuse or more specifically the act of spraying money at social events has become an acceptable norm or cultural practice in Nigeria. Nigerians have a cultural affinity for lavish social gatherings. Many people regard these occasions as a means of displaying social status and wealth. Spraying Naira notes, and other currency notes, at events progressively appears to be the ultimate way to flaunt your social standing. Even burials that are supposed to be sober moments have been turned into considerable fanfare. This has created a new industry of mint note trading and events management. All of these constitute the social infrastructure of Naira abuse. A new dimension of the social infrastructure of Naira abuse is the arrival to the scene of the nouveau rich. Society has labelled them with all sorts of nomenclature: Yahoo Boys, Yahoo Plus, and 419.

 

Nigeria has since recognized the dangers of Naira abuse but that is not the focus of this piece. The government has made rules and laws to check it and provided enlightenment campaigns to educate people. The Central Bank of Nigeria( CBN) gave Naira abuse as one of the reasons why it is pushing for digital-based financial transactions. Naira abuse, like its ancestor-mother social epidemic of corruption, has remained stubborn and refused to go away.

 

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There is ambiguity about what constitutes Naira abuse. The Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007 in Section 21 of the CBN Act 2007 clearly defines Naira abuse and prescribes various punishments to deter citizens from abusing the Naira. They include – spraying banknotes at events; writing on banknotes; stapling banknotes; tearing banknotes; dancing or stamping on Naira; defacing the bank notes with substances or ink, oil; selling currency banknotes; mutilation of the Naira note; money bouquets. However, law enforcement has been lax. It is commonly believed that the laws against Naira abuse are either symbolic or desuetude because no one is held accountable, everyone gets away with it, and things have normalised.

 

The social phenomena of Naira abuse, especially the spraying of money, have become an epidemic in Nigeria. Lately, it is of significant concern. We have exported this to many parts of the world, and social media is replete with evidence of this in weddings and other social events attended by Nigerians in different parts of the world.

 

Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” explores the idea that social phenomena, like trends and epidemics, often reach a tipping point where they suddenly become widespread. He identifies three key factors that contribute to this tipping point: the Law of the Few (the idea that a small number of people have a disproportionate influence), the Stickiness Factor (how messages or ideas stick in the minds of people), and the Power of Context (how the environment influences behaviour).

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Through engaging anecdotes and research, Gladwell illustrates how understanding these factors can help individuals and organizations create or manipulate trends and epidemics. The book emphasizes the importance of paying attention to small details and understanding the social dynamics behind spreading ideas and behaviours. The fundamental concepts of the book about Naira Abuse are twofold. First, the cultural context or external environment provides the soil for bad or good behaviour to grow and spread. Second, key people with remarkable personalities can cause or stop social epidemics because of their social profile or social network.

 

There is a link between the recommendation of Malcolm Gladwell and the arrest and prosecution of  Idris Okuneye better known as Bobrisky, a cross-dresser and social influencer, for Naira abuse, and the arrest and ongoing prosecution of Cubana Chief priest Pascal Okechukwu in connection with Naira abuse. Why selectively arrest the duo when everybody is involved in some form of Naira abuse either by trampling, spraying, mutilation or rumpling? The truth is that it is nearly impossible for any law enforcement organisation to find and apprehend every perpetrator. Resources exist in limited supply. It is simple wisdom to begin with people who have disproportionate influence. This is perhaps what EFCC has done.  The first common ground is that both of them enjoy considerable social media influence whether for positive or negative reasons depending on your value system. These two cases, though similar, are following different paths. Bobrisky, in court, pleaded guilty and has since been handed six months imprisonment. Cubana Chief Priest did not plead guilty, so his case will go to full trial, putting the law to the test. This court case will assist us in providing answers to some critical questions: what are the societal ramifications of Naira spraying, and how can Naira misuse be proven? Is there a need to amend the existing law and make it more relevant to the challenge? Will this fresh wave of enforcement stop the epidemic of Naira abuse? Regardless of how the legal proceedings turn out, they have highlighted how important it is to take the triplet societal plague of poor social behaviour, Naira abuse, and their ancestor-mother corruption very seriously.

I have identified six pillars to control or stop Naira abuse: Fight corruption because it is an enabler for abuse of the Naira. The incestuous relationship between corruption, illicit financial transactions and Naira abuse is well established. Second, the government should deepen knowledge and change people’s orientation by embarking on mass enlightenment, people must understand clearly what constitutes Naira abuse and what the punishment is for such offence. Third, address cultural issues relating to Naira abuse through community engagement. People gifting money to celebrants on occasions is no crime but the manner of gifting is the issue. Fourth, the government should renew the push for digital transactions. Fifth, the government must strengthen the structures of law enforcement. It is not just a police and EFCC matter. The judiciary must upend its knowledge of the subject matter. Sixth, the government must be impartial and objectively enforce the law to change cultural norms and public behaviour that defaces the Naira. This may entail revisiting and improving the law.

CBN, Police and the EFCC should study different models of changing public behaviour in the past and draw up a model and strategy to deal with the issue of Naira abuse, especially since it has become embedded in some cultures. Good examples abound abroad and in Nigeria. The British government employed various strategies to change public behaviour regarding spitting and other personal vices. Spitting in public places was prohibited by local bylaws or municipal regulations but it is social persuasion that gave the result. These laws serve as deterrents and can result in fines or other penalties for offenders. They launched public awareness campaigns, collaborated with community stakeholders, and monitored and enforced the law. However, most of all, they leveraged social norms and peer pressure to influence behaviour and encourage individuals to conform to accepted standards of behaviour by highlighting the societal consensus against spitting and certain destructive behaviours and showcasing positive role models who embody desirable conduct. Today, the practice of spitting publicly, urinating on the road corners, and other public nuisances are controlled to the barest minimum.

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In Nigeria, good examples of efforts to change public behaviour can be seen around us. Most were successful to a greater degree. The government should revisit some of these campaigns and learn from them.

A model that seems to be working in Akwa Ibom State is the State Ethical and Attitudinal Reorientation initiative. Before 1999, the Akwa Ibom people experienced a severe social epidemic, “The Pervasive and prevalent House help Syndrome,” which gained widespread notoriety and led to the dubbed moniker “Ekaette” for nearly every female domestic helper. The administration of Obong Attah took up the task of reorienting the Akwa Ibom people’s mindset. He established the Ethical and Attitudinal Reorientation Commission (EARCOM) in Akwa Ibom and gave them the responsibility of raising public awareness about the importance of “minoring” vices and “majoring” in moral principles.

The struggle has persisted throughout the regimes, and Pastor Umo Eno’s present administration appears to be taking it to newer, more profound heights by hiring assistants for each ward and unit and charging them to carry out the Commission’s work of value reorientation in remote areas. As bait, he is using the incentivization and social support model, drawing on the country’s current food and hunger crisis to reach out with the message of value reorientation. Today, a negligible number of Akwa Ibom daughters are house helpers, and the majority are highflyers in the professions and business.

The success story of Akwa Ibom is a model that the federal government can replicate. Changing public behaviour requires a multifaceted approach that combines legislation, education, community engagement, social support and enforcement efforts. By addressing the underlying factors contributing to undesirable behaviours and promoting positive alternatives, governments can effectively shape public attitudes and foster a more socially responsible society.

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OPINION

Wanted By EFCC: Yahaya Bello Or White Lion?

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By Ikeddy Isiguzo*

A white lion is a rare appearance. Only a few claim to have seen one. A white lion is sighted following the rare appearances.
The earliest recorded sighting of a white lion was in 1938, according to a 2018 online post. Only about 200 white lions remain globally, and only about 12 of these are to be found in their habitat of South Africa’s Timvabati region. There are no records of white lions in Nigeria.
Yahaya Adoza Bello, former Governor of Kogi State, whom the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has declared wanted with a frenzy, calls himself White Lion. It could be important to know if EFCC is after Yahaya Bello or White Lion.
The clarification is important to cleanse parts of the disgraceful conduct of EFCC. Bello’s residences are well-known to EFCC. It would be a shame if EFCC did not know where to find Bello or arrest him.
Declaring him wanted is a waste of public attention and resources. Many people woke up on Thursday to see media platforms flooded with messages that there were obstructions to the arrest of Bello. EFCC officials know what they did or refused to do. They can keep the excuses to themselves.
A day earlier, EFCC laid a siege to Bello’s house in Wuse Zone 4, Abuja. It inconvenienced many residents of Benghazi and surrounding streets. What were EFCC doing there? Was it safe-guarding the house for Bello’s convenience?
Bello has a house in Benghazi. If EFCC did not have credible information on its target’s location, what were its operatives doing in Benghazi?
EFCC did nothing because it wanted to do nothing. What is special about Bello and his offence that he cannot be arrested and charged in court?
Was EFCC acting out a script? When a different EFCC was in charge it invaded Rochas Okorocha’s residence and pulled him out. Rocha’s prayer session was reportedly disrupted. What has EFCC done with Rochas since then?
EFCC’s mission to Bello’s house was simple. Get to the house, and make your presence known until Governor Usman Ododo’s convoy arrives to re-confer immunity on Bello with which to ferry him back to Lokoja where Bello has been reportedly holed up in Government House since he ceded office to Ododo last May.
Benghazi Street on Wednesday was designated a “crime scene”. Suspicious vehicles and any possible mobilisation that could aid Bello’s escape should have been shut down. Nothing of that nature happened.
A recreation of Wednesday’s scenario seems to establish that EFCC was waiting for Bello to work out his escape which should not be blamed on Governor Ododo. Before his arrival what had EFCC done?
If agents at the scene required re-enforcement did they ask? What stopped them? Who stopped them? The performance was beyond disgraceful.
We have witnessed EFCC officials smash doors, break windows, and take out roofs in a hot chase for students accused of cybercrimes. Sometimes they arrive at night, hit the wrong addresses, damage buildings, invade people’s privacy, behaving worse than armed robbers. There are no apologies or compensations for the people some of whose health conditions these attacks worsened.
So, when Bello is declared wanted we should applaud EFCC for acting in line with its mandate? If some small-time suspects were involved, EFCC would arrest and hurl them to court by the time you are halfway through this piece. EFFC knows when to be efficient. Its high level of efficiency was on exhibition on Wednesday.
Then, the Inspector-General of Police Dr Kayode Egbetokun weighs in with the more serious joke – policemen attached to Bello had been withdrawn. He may have forgotten that Ododo has enough policemen to spare. Those would be farmed out to the White Lion.
It is also possible that Dr Egbetokun missed the part where Bello had enough louts with him. They dared anyone to come near their hero. EFCC alluded to that in the reasons for Bello’s escape.
Amid the brouhaha, does anyone still remember Honourable James Abiodun Faleke, a ranked Member of the Representatives, Ikeja Federal Constituency, Lagos, but from Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi State?
He was running mate to Prince Abubakar Audu in the 2015 governorship election which Audu won. Audu died while the results were being announced.
The forces that were, considered Faleke unworthy of being Governor. Old Kabba Division, Faleke’s origin, was the wrong side of the Kogi political map. It was also argued that a Faleke governorship would give Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a toe hold in Kogi State.
In a most bizarre decision, APC counted Audu’s votes for Bello who was second in the party’s primary. The Supreme Court ruled in Bello’s favour.
“I will not disappoint Prince Abubakar Audu. I, James Abiodun Faleke, will not be there for the swearing-in. Nobody consulted me before making me a deputy to Bello. Bello too did not consult me. I have made my position known to the party leadership on this,” said Faleke who kept his word.
The theory is that Faleke’s godfather is making Bello pay for displacing Faleke.
Is this why Bello is running from the law? How long will he run? How far can he run?
People should leave Faleke out of Bello’s troubles. Soon, they would say Faleke made Bello conduct himself in a manner that resulted in the N80 billion alleged fraud.
Those who know him should whisper to Bello that no lion of any hue is afraid, cowed, frightened, and avoids roaring.
Bello should be able to roar his innocence. He cannot do that in hiding. He cannot continue admitting guilt by running from the law that is meant to protect him to the refuge of the Governor.
As it is too difficult to see the White Lion, can we see Bello, the owner of Kogi who ruled that there was no COVID-19 in Kogi State? One of the allegations against him is that he mismanaged the COVID-19 allocations to Kogi State.

Finally…
DR. Ogbonnaya Onu, former Minister of Science & Technology, a gentleman to the core is gone. Some still cannot understand why they trusted Muhammadu Buhari to the point of contemplating that Buhari would have helped him to be President of Nigeria. May the Almighty rest him.
A FEDERAL Government agency officials are raiding markets and shops in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, and Kaduna to crash prices of goods. These raids cannot crash prices. The government knows but must be seen as doing something. Why did this federal project exclude the South East and North Central?
ELEMENTARY economics would explain that “Naira gaining value”, a supposed win over the Dollar cannot result in a reduction in the cost of manufacturing where other areas are whipping out the gains. Assuming a company had money to buy cheap Dollars, its Band A electricity supply has worsened. It has to buy more diesel to generate power, pay more for the security of its products, and pay for the high cost of transportation. Consumers gain nothing from “Naira gain”. They have no money to buy the goods.
Did you read this? “Once you join the rising spending power of Africa’s largest population with the historic availability of trillions of Naira for consumer credit that will bolster the real sector, you will see why Nigerians will be most pleased that they elected a financial engineer and businessman as president by the end of his first term in office, even as the signs are increasingly more evident today,” Ajuri Ngelale, Special Adviser to the President on Media & Publicity. Ngelale is undergoing financial engineering. Congratulations to him.
Correction: I wrote last week that the boat accident which claimed Nollywood actor Junior Pope and others was on Anam River. My apologies. It was on River Niger.

*Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues

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OPINION

EFCC, Naira Abuse And The Real Anti-Corruption War

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EFCC Operatives

By Emeka Alex Duru*

It is becoming clear that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is not looking back in its battle against abuse of the national currency, the Naira. Or so it seems! Two quick moves by the commission within the month, indicate that it perhaps, means business in this regard.

On Wednesday, two days ago, EFCC arraigned a businessman and socialite, Pascal Okechukwu, popularly known as Cubana Chief Priest, before a Lagos court on three counts bordering on abuse of naira, by allegedly spraying and tampering with the nation’s currency at a social event.

According to EFCC, Okechukwu had on February 13, 2024, at Eko Hotel, within the jurisdiction of the court, while dancing during a social event, tampered with funds in the denomination of N500 notes, by spraying the same for two hours, and thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act 2007.

The commission also alleged that sometime in 2020, during a social event in Lagos, Cubana Chief Priest tampered with funds in the denomination of N500, by spraying the same for two hours.

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In Count 3, EFCC alleged: “That you, Okechukwu Pascal, sometime in January 2024, in Lagos during a social event, tampered with funds in the denomination of N500 (Five Hundred Naira) issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria by spraying the same and you thereby committed an offence, contrary to and punishable under Section 21(1) of the Central Bank Act 2007.”

The EFCC had on April 5, 2024, secured the conviction of controversial cross-dresser, Idris Okuneye, also known as Bobrisky, on similar charges for which he was sentenced to six-month imprisonment on Friday, April 12, 2024. The judge, Abimbola Awogboro, imposed the sentence after the 31-year-old socialite pleaded guilty to the alleged offences.

Earlier in February, a Federal High Court in Lagos had convicted an actress, Oluwadarasimi Omoseyin, of spraying and stepping on new naira notes at a wedding in Lagos.

Ms Omoseyin was apprehended on February 1, following the viral circulation of a video clip showing her spraying new Naira notes at a wedding in Lekki, Lagos State, on January 28. On February 2, the trial judge, Chukwujekwu Aneke, sentenced Ms. Omoseyin to six months imprisonment, but with the option of a N300,000 fine.

Many celebrities, according to the EFCC, are facing investigations and will soon be prosecuted for Naira abuse. We must commend the commission for waging the battle against abuse of the Naira.

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A country’s currency is its legal tender; its store of value, unit of account, and medium of exchange. It is a major tool in transactions by its nationals and residents. In the absence of money, the transactions would become inefficient, and the economy would not be able to produce. By extension, the currency counts among the indexes of national security of a country. How a country treats its currency goes a long way in determining how others see it and its citizens.

Over time, the Naira has been an object of abuse by Nigerians, especially of low value and fleeting identities. Careless spraying of the Naira or even trampling on it, has become an easy path for upstarts to announce their arrival in social circles. If proper analysis is done on the rising incidences of kidnapping, cyber fraud and the get-quick tendencies among the youths, flaunting of the Naira at public functions, will have some blame for the odious acts.

The desire to be celebrated has led many into crimes. It is nearly impossible for anyone who has struggled and toyed to make his or her money to flaunt or spray it in a meaningless fashion. Every effort at safeguarding the value and essence of the Naira should therefore be lauded.

But then, there is the greater task ahead for the EFCC. That is the real war against graft and other acts of corruption. Incidentally, that was even why the commission was established.  Established under the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004, EFCC has among other functions to investigate all financial crimes including advance fee fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal charge transfers, futures market fraud, fraudulent encashment of negotiable instruments, computer credit fraud and contract scam.

It is also empowered to examine and investigate all reported cases of economic and financial crimes to identify individuals, corporate bodies or groups involved. It can also identify, trace, freeze, confiscate or seize proceeds derived from terrorist activities, economic and financial crime-related offences or the properties the value of which corresponds to such proceeds.

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Given the initial success of the Commission in reining in advance fee criminals and scammers, it was generally seen as a bold move in tackling crime and other misdemeanours that had dented the nation’s image locally and abroad.

With time however, especially, due to the closeness of the leadership of the organisation to successive administrations and the willingness to be used in executing vindictive wars of any seating president, EFCC gradually began to be seen as an instrument of blackmail and intimidation by the government. The agency began to lose steam.

The result is that Nigeria is still rated among the countries with high levels of corruption. By the 2023 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) released by Transparency International (TI) in January this year, Nigeria ranked 145 among 180 countries surveyed. The EFCC had on its own, in 2015, admitted that about $20 trillion had been stolen from the national treasury by leaders who had access to the nation’s money between 1960 and 2005. That figure must have been exceeded over time.

Some of the perpetrators of the heinous acts against the country and their cronies are still in the government houses at the state or federal level or other agencies. The opacity and dirty deals in the oils sector, also portray Nigeria as a country that is neck-deep in corruption.

It is therefore not enough for the EFCC to go about raking in petty thieves, internet fraudsters or those abusing the Naira at social functions while leaving out the brains behind huge crimes. For the anti-corruption war to have meaning and be convincing, it must be comprehensive and encompassing.

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The EFCC may have done well in securing a conviction for those trifling with the Naira. But leaving the real thieves roam freely, casts doubt on the genuineness of its anti-corruption war.

  • Duru is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos (08054103327, nwaukpala@yahoo.com)            
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