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EFCC recovers N38m bullet-proof SUV from ex-NIMASA DG

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) may have recovered a Toyota Land Cruiser Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) belonging to the ex-Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dr. Patrick Akpobolokemi.

Also, the anti-graft agency is also said to have frozen accounts of two companies financially associated with NIMASA, Mieka Divers Limited and Global West Vessels Limited.

The two companies are reportedly owned by ex-Niger Delta warlord, Chief Government Ekpompolo, otherwise known as Tompollo.

Head, Media Unit of the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, could not immediately confirm the development, but said the matter was still under investigation.

“I can’t confirm that to you immediately, but what I know is that the matter has been under investigation”, Uwujaren said.

Investigation also revealed that a number of private bank accounts, allegedly linked to Akpobolokemi, had also been frozen on the orders of the EFCC.

A security source who spoke under a condition of anonymity yesterday, however, confirmed the measures taken on the said bank accounts.

According to him, the move was aimed at checking the ongoing illegal movements of large sums of foreign and local currencies across the nation’s borders.

The source stated further that there were ongoing security surveillance on a number of private and corporate accounts suspected to be linked to slush funds and that those of Mieka Divers Limited and Global West Vessels Limited were just two of such accounts under watch.

Also affected is the contractor handling the N30 billion Maritime University at Okerenkoko, in the Gbaramatu, Delta State. The contract is being handled by Mr. Kime Engozi, believed to be a close ally of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Funds, amounting to billions of naira, allegedly paid to the contractor by the last administration, are said to have been trapped at a Yenagoa, Bayelsa State branch of an old generation bank.

The funds, are said to be part payment for the construction work on the Maritime University and the NIMASA Technical College, Okoloba, also in Delta State.

Further investigation revealed that freezing the accounts was not a move to stall the various projects for which monies had been paid.

Rather, the move, our source said, was to verify and to keep close watch on outflow of funds from the accounts, with the view to ensuring that such funds were not meant for sinister purposes.

“For instance, just one individual got about N13 billion from a single transaction with NIMASA. The same individual also collected about $57 million from similar deals from the agency without proper documentation.

“No serious administration would attempt to sweep this type of thing under the carpet. So there must be proper explanations, bearing in mind the security implications of movement of such large sums within the system”, the source stated.

Although Tompollo is not known to be under investigation by the EFCC, Akpobolokemi has been under the anti-graft agency’s investigation since August over issues relating to the running of the NIMASA under his watch.

The EFCC had since seized the international passport of the ex-NIMASA boss. A number of his close aides, including an Executive Director at NIMASA, had also been guests of the commission in the last few weeks.

A security source said yesterday that the aides were assisting the EFCC in investigation, relating to amounts spent on the Maritime Domain Awareness and Surveillance System (MDASS) as well the management of the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF).

Attempts by the last session of the House of Representatives to investigate spendings, particularly huge payments to Global West Vessels Limited by NIMASA in 2013 were thwarted under the last administration.

Of particular interests to the House of Representatives was the revelation that 50 percent of revenue being generated by NIMASA was allegedly being paid to Tompollo’s Global West Vessels against financial regulations.

The House investigation had also faulted the way and manner the CVFF account was being run by NIMASA, particularly the frequent movements of funds into different individual and corporate accounts.

At the time, the CVFF accounts were being operated in four different accounts in Skye Bank, Sterling Bank, Diamond Bank and Fidelity Bank.

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China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan

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China’s military announced fresh military drills on Monday in the seas and airspace around Taiwan — a day after the scheduled end of its largest ever exercises to protest against last week’s visit to Taipei by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

China’s Eastern Theatre Command said it would conduct joint drills focusing on anti-submarine and sea assault operations — confirming the fears of some security analysts and diplomats that Beijing would continue to maintain pressure on Taiwan’s defenses.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week infuriated China, which regards the self-ruled island as its own and responded with test launches of ballistic missiles over Taipei for the first time, as well as ditching some lines of dialogue with Washington.

The duration and precise location of the latest drills is not yet known, but Taiwan has already eased flight restrictions near the six earlier Chinese exercise areas surrounding the island.

Shortly before the latest drills were announced, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, telling him she was moved by his determination to visit despite China’s military pressure.

“Prime Minister Gonsalves has expressed in recent days that the Chinese military drills would not prevent him from visiting friends in Taiwan. These statements have deeply touched us,” Tsai said at a welcome ceremony for Gonsalves in Taipei.

It was unclear if Tsai had invited Gonsalves before or after Pelosi’s visit. “We don’t disclose internal planning or communications between governments,” the Taiwanese foreign ministry said when asked by Reuters.

Beyond the firing of 11 short-range ballistic missiles during the four earlier days of exercises, Chinese warships, fighter jets and drones maneuvered extensively around the island.

Shortly before those drills ended on Sunday, about 10 warships each from China and Taiwan maneuvered at close quarters around the unofficial median line of the Taiwan Strait, according to a person familiar with the situation who is involved with security planning.

Military talks shelved

Taiwan’s defense ministry said Chinese military ships, aircraft, and drones had simulated attacks on the island and its navy. It said it had sent aircraft and ships to react “appropriately.”

China’s defense ministry meanwhile maintained its diplomatic pressure on the United States, defending its shelving of military-to-military talks in protest at Pelosi’s visit.

“The current tense situation in the Taiwan Strait is entirely provoked and created by the U.S. side on its own initiative, and the U.S. side must bear full responsibility and serious consequences for this,” defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in an online post.

“The bottom line cannot be broken, and communication requires sincerity,” Wu said.

China called off formal talks involving theatre-level commands, defense policy co-ordination and military maritime consultations on Friday as Pelosi left the region.

Pentagon, State Department and White House officials condemned the move, describing it as an irresponsible over-reaction.

China’s cutting of some of its few communication links with the U.S. military raises the risk of an accidental escalation over Taiwan at a critical moment, according to security analysts and diplomats.

One U.S. official noted that Chinese officials had not responded to calls from senior Pentagon officials amid the tensions last week, but that they did not see this as a formal severing of ties with senior figures, such as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Asked directly about those reports, defense ministry spokesman Wu said, “China’s relevant counter-measures are a necessary warning to the provocations of the United States and Taiwan, and a legitimate defense of national sovereignty and security.”

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Biden denounces killing of four Muslims

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President Joe Biden denounced the killings of four Muslim men in New Mexico state that police say may be linked and could be a hate crime.

“I am angered and saddened by the horrific killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque,” Biden said on Twitter on Sunday.

“While we await a full investigation, my prayers are with the victims’ families, and my administration stands strongly with the Muslim community. These hateful attacks have no place in America.”

Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, said on Saturday that they are investigating the murders of three Muslim men that they now suspect are related to a fourth homicide from last year.

The Albuquerque police said in a statement that they discovered the latest victim overnight Friday. His body was found near a Lutheran Family Services office that provides assistance to refugees, TV station KOB4 reported.

Police did not identify the man, but said he was in his mid-20s, Muslim, and “a native from South Asia”.

” Investigators believe Friday’s murder may be connected to three recent murders of Muslim men also from South Asia,” police said.

Two of the previous victims were Muslim Pakistani men, a 27-year-old whose body was found on August 1 and a 41-year-old discovered on July 26.

Detectives are now investigating whether these murders are connected to the death of a Muslim man from Afghanistan who was killed on November 7, 2021, outside of the business he ran with his brother in Albuquerque, the statement said.

The police urged anyone with information to call a tip line and said the FBI was assisting with the investigation.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham expressed outrage at the killings, calling them “wholly intolerable”, and said she was sending additional state police officers to Albuquerque to aid in the investigation.

“We will continue to do everything we can to support the Muslim community of Albuquerque and greater New Mexico,” she said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights group in the United States, has offered a $10,000 reward to whoever provides information leading to the killer or killers’ arrest.

Tensions have risen sharply in the city’s Muslim community.

“Now, people are beginning to panic,” Tahir Gauba, the director of public affairs with the Islamic Center of New Mexico, told the Albuquerque Journal.

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UAE tightens visa rules for Nigerians

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has released stiffer visa regulations for Nigerians. The new regulations which came after a public disturbance purportedly by some Nigerians have generated concerns among Nigerian travellers while it has created uneasy calm in the travel industry.

When a video emerged last week of some Africans causing a public disturbance in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it was clear the government of the Middle East country would react appropriately in a bid to protect the country and its citizens from any form of harm.

In the video, youths were seen fighting in a Dubai community and destroying public property. An unconfirmed report claimed that a Dubai Police officer was killed by the hoodlums.

The Nigerian Community in Dubai under the umbrella of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), United Arab Emirates (UAE) chapter, swiftly condemned the development while particularly commending the swift intervention of the Dubai Police who got the hoodlums, about seven of them, arrested.

After arresting them, the police said a criminal case has been registered against the suspects and they will be referred to the public prosecution for further action.

The Dubai Police warned against such unacceptable behaviour and urged the community members to report such behaviour through ‘Police Eye Service’ on Dubai Police app or by calling the emergency hotline 999. The Force also warned the public of publishing or forwarding clips to avoid legal accountability according to article 52 of the UAE Federal Law No. 34 of 2021 on countering Rumours and Cybercrimes.

The law stated that whoever uses the information network to announce, disseminate, re-disseminate, circulate, or recirculate news or data, or broadcasts any provocative news that would incite or provoke public opinion, disturb the public peace, spread terror among people, or cause harm to the public interest, the national economy, the public order, or the public health shall be punished with at least one year of imprisonment and a fine of not less than Dh100,000.

For the Nigerian community in Dubai, that singular incident was a signal to what would happen in days to come. The incident sent jitters down the spine of Nigerian immigrants in the Arab country and this was coming at a time Nigerians have issues securing jobs in the country.

In a statement, the NIDO UAE Group, while commending the Dubai authorities for swiftly bringing the matter under control, clarified that the illicit act does not represent what the country stands for.

“We the Nigerians In Diaspora Organization (NIDO) United Arab Emirates group which represents the interest of law abiding Nigerians in the UAE wish to express our profound gratitude and appreciation to the Dubai Police for their swift action in clamping down on the perpetrators of the disturbing video in the last 96 hours.

“We commend the Authority and we wish to state categorically that such illicit acts do not in any way define or represent us. We are good ambassadors, law abiding citizens and therefore, we distance ourselves from those miscreants. We assure the security agencies of our full support and cooperation if the need arises.”

Not satisfied with the clarification of the Nigerian community and as a further belt tightening measure to screen those coming into the country, Dubai has updated its visa requirements by including three new conditions.

There was an initial rumour about the suspension of visa application to Nigerians which was denied by the Nigerian community. It was gathered that the visa was showing pending on the visa status portal which indicates it was neither approved, nor rejected.

But the fear of the Nigerian community was confirmed when the Dubai authorities imposed fresh visa requirements for applicants.

As seen from the updated visa portal, there are three new Nigerian requirements mandatory for all visa applicants to provide.

These requirements are to be scanned and uploaded in the visa portal as provided to enable the applicant complete and submit visa application online.

The three updated requirements are Hotel reservation/place of stay in UAE, six-month Bank Statement and return flight ticket. While the UAE did not state any reason for the new requirement, it is believed the decision was taken to control the influx of individuals with criminal intent into the country.

It was gathered that the development is already causing uneasy calm in the travel industry as many travellers scramble to meet the new requirements. This may ultimately reduce visitors to the country for those who are unable to meet the new requirements.

The new requirements have been greeted with mixed feelings from stakeholders with the majority saying the development was a lesson to Nigerians to imbibe the habit of doing the right thing in accordance with the laws of their host countries.

Our correspondent reports that Dubai is one of the most frequently visited countries for business and tourism by Nigerians. About 200,000 Nigerians averagely visit the country annually either for business or tourism.

Before now, many Nigerians enjoyed the privilege of travelling to Dubai with very relaxed requirements until some Nigerians began to abuse the near free entry status granted to them, according to analysts.

This, they noted, would further hurt some Nigerians with legitimate reasons for going to Dubai. Among those to be affected are Nigerians in search of jobs in the Arab country.

“This development is good and also will prevent some fraudulent people coming in. But the point now is, they should allow us that have a visa inside the country work before it expires, please, so that we can pay our taxes and live peacefully. Please beg on our behalf,” said a Nigerian in search of jobs in Dubai.

According to the Director of Research and Strategy, Zenith Travels, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, the UAE as a country can impose any requirement it deems necessary in the interest of her country and the citizens.

He said, “Every country has the right to introduce some consular requirements to protect their country and ensure that eligible tourists, visitors or business men are those who come into their country.

“The UAE has been very relaxed with their visa. It is the most relaxed of the Middle East countries. Unfortunately, we have not behaved well. We have abused it. At a time, they stopped single ladies from coming except you are 40 and above.

“I have no objection to it. It is their country. They need to do what they need to do to safeguard other tourists apart from Nigerians and ensure that their country is protected.”

President of NANTA, Mrs Susan Akporiaye, also blamed Nigerians for the new requirements imposed by Dubai, saying the UAE authorities must have changed its entry rules due to abuse of the visa process.

She said while the travel agents are not happy with the development, everybody must learn to live by it.

She said, “They must have their reason. It’s a diplomatic thing. There is nothing anybody can do about it. We don’t know why they did that. Maybe they are not comfortable with what many Nigerians are doing. Maybe they did it due to an increase in crimes by Nigerians.

“Before then, we learnt that there was a situation where a policeman was killed. I don’t think it’s just that one incident. Maybe it is a compilation of different incidents that have been going on and probably from their investigation (I have not confirmed that), it seems to always be the Nigerian community perpetrating it, according to them. We have not confirmed this though. Everything is according to them. They have not officially released any report to the Nigeria Police to say that this is the percentage of Nigerians committing crimes.

“But then again, it is a diplomatic thing. Every country has a right to do whatever they want to do and we cannot question them. Are we happy about it? No. We are not but there is nothing we can do about it. It is their country; they determine how people come into their country.

“Sad enough. It is a lesson to us too that when people give us easy access, we should not abuse it. If you abuse the easy access, it will be taken away from you and you cannot fault them. You cannot go to another man’s house and determine how the man should operate in his own house.

“It’s a lesson for all of us. And enough of even going to another man’s country. Why don’t we all sit down here and see how to make things better for ourselves? Running away to other people’s country and doing business or for holidays are two different things. I am not saying people should not travel to do business neither am I saying people should not travel for holidays. Because if it’s just business and holiday, we won’t be where we are now. Because if it’s business, you will come back. If it is a holiday, you will come back and there’s absolutely no reason why UAE would change their rules.”

Mrs Akporiaye advised Nigerians visiting Dubai to do the right thing to avoid a situation where the UAE would further tighten the requirements, saying for those with legitimate businesses to carry out in Dubai, submitting their six-month bank statement shouldn’t be a problem.

She said, “The problem is those that go in the name of business and holiday and they don’t come back. It is not only UAE but every other country.

“So, there’s really nothing much to say than to just respect their decision. It’s not going to be easy; everybody has to adjust. And for those that have legitimate things to go and do, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

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