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FG insists Twitter’s operation illegal despite ECOWAS court ruling

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The Federal Government has insisted that the operation of Twitter in the country’s social media space “is not legally permissible.”

This is despite the ruling of the Community Court of Justice of the ECOWAS restraining the government and its agents from unlawfully imposing sanctions against Nigerians who are Twitter users pending the hearing and determination of the suit filed before the court.

The government’s position was made known on Tuesday by Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed when he appeared before a House of Representatives investigative hearing on the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria.

Mohammed said the Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020 does not permit foreign companies to do business in Nigeria if not registered. He said Twitter cannot be given the legitimate rights to operate until it is incorporated in Nigeria.

“As it regards operation of foreign companies in Nigeria, the law provides that a foreign company, which fails to take necessary steps to obtain incorporation as a separate entity in Nigeria for that purpose, but until so incorporated, the foreign company shall not carry on business in Nigeria or exercise any powers of a registered company,” he said.

“Hence, flowing from this background a foreign company as Twitter cannot be clothed with the legitimate rights to operate as a company registered in Nigeria, as they are not licensed, accordingly.

“Notwithstanding the foregoing, it is also observed that the operations of Twitter in the Nigerian social space is not legally permissible when it is used in airing of information that endangers the life and security of the majority of citizens of Nigeria.”

Mohammed said Twitter’s suspension is backed by international laws including articles 24, 25 and 26 of the African Union on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (CCPR).

He said the government would not hesitate to suspend other social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Google hangout, and others if they are found to be promoting posts or statements capable of destabilising the country. 

The ECOWAS court had also ordered the Federal Government from “doing anything whatsoever to harass, intimidate, arrest or prosecute Twitter and/or any other social media service provider(s), media houses, radio and television broadcast stations and the plaintiffs.”

The ruling followed the suit filed against the government by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians arguing that “the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalisation of Nigerians and other people using Twitter have escalated repression of human rights and unlawfully restricted the rights of Nigerians and other people to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in the country.”

The court gave the order after hearing arguments from legal counsel to SERAP, Femi Falana (SAN), and lawyer to the government, Maimuna Shiru.

The court said: “The court has listened very well to the objection by Nigeria. The court has this to say. Any interference with Twitter is viewed as inference with human rights, and that will violate human rights. Therefore, this court has jurisdiction to hear the case. The court also hereby orders that the application be heard expeditiously. The Nigerian government must take immediate steps to implement the order.”

Falana, in his reaction, praised the intervention of the ECOWAS court as a timely relief for millions of Nigerians using Twitter who have been threatened with prosecution under the provision of the Penal Code relating to sedition.

“Contrary to the assurance credited to the Attorney General of the Federation ( AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) that violators of the Twitter would not be prosecuted, the Federal Government filed processes in the ECOWAS Court threatening to prosecute Nigerians using Twitter for violating the suspension under the provisions of the Penal Code relating to sedition.

“It is extremely embarrassing that the Federal Government could threaten to jail Nigerians for sedition, which was annulled by the Court of Appeal in 1983, in the case of Arthur Nwankwo vs The State,” he said.

The legal action and the ruling followed the suspension of Twitter by Lai Mohammed after the social media giant was banned in the country for deleting President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet. The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) also ordered TV and radio stations to “suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately”, and told them to delete ‘unpatriotic’ Twitter. The substantive suit has been adjourned to July 6, 2021 for hearing of the substantive suit.

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NIMC captures more than 60 million Nigerians

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The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) on Thursday announced it has registered more than 60 million Nigerians for the unique National Identification Number (NIN) records in the National Identity Database (NIDB).’

The Commission said the feat could not have been possible without the cooperation of all stakeholders, including the general public.

Its Head of Corporate Communications, Mr Kayode Adegoke noted in a statement “the transformational value of a robust and inclusive foundational Identification system in today’s world cannot be overstated.”

” As a Commission, we’re committed to keeping this momentum of scaling up and speeding up NIN issuance nationwide for better identification, authentication and improved service delivery,” Adegoke added..

Adegoke who commended Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami for his leadership in driving the programmes of the commission, emphasised that NIN remains “the Primary Identification for all citizens and legal residents”.

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Abba Kyari opens up on alleged bribe to arrest Hushpuppi’s ally

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Deputy Commissioner of Police Abba Kyari has denied receiving a bribe from a Nigerian Instagram celebrity, Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi.

The United States Department of Justice had said ongoing investigations showed that Hushpuppi allegedly bribed Kyari to arrest one Kelly Chibuzo Vincent, one of his accomplices in Nigeria.

Reacting to the allegations on Thursday morning, the DCP in a statement on his verified Facebook page said his hands are clean.

According to Kyari, nobody demanded money from the embattled Instagram influencer, stating that the focus of the police was to save people’s lives that were purportedly threatened.

Kyari explained that Hushpuppi had informed the police that somebody in Nigeria was threatening to kill his family. He added that the social media celebrity, who was based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, before his incarceration, also sent the suspect’s phone number, urging the police to act fast to save his family.

He however said the suspect was allowed to go after investigation showed they were long time friends with disagreements over money. Kyari insisted that he did not demand a dime from Hushuppi, saying the only time they had discussions about money was when the fraudster demanded to know who sews his native clothes and caps, adding that after linking both party, Hushpuppi sent N300,000 for five sets of attires.

Kyari said the clothes and caps were delivered to his office after which someone collected them for Hushpuppi. He urged anyone interested in further pursuing the matter to contact Vincent for confirmation.

He urged his supporters to remain calm, stating that those working towards damaging his reputation would be disgraced.

The statement reads in part, “For those who are celebrating that this is an indictment on us and mentioning some fictitious big money, They will be disappointed once again as our hands are clean and our record of service for two decades is open for everybody to see. They will continue seeing us serving our fatherland and we will continue responding to ALL distress calls from ALL Nigerians provided they are life threatening.

“For good Nigerians who appreciate our service, please don’t worry as our hands are clean and they should please not respond to those celebrating and creating many false narratives without any evidence. We are used to such types of people and false newsmakers and distributors”.

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How Hushpuppi bribed IGP’s team leader Kyari in $1.1m deal – U.S.

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The United States Department of Justice has narrated how Hushpuppi, a fraudster from Nigeria, bribed Nigeria’s celebrated Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari.

How it started

The statement from the office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office said a federal grand jury indictment unsealed this week said Hushpuppi, with real name Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, admitted to being part of an elaborate scheme to steal more than $1.1 million from a business person attempting to finance the construction of a school for children in Qatar.

He also admitted to subsequent laundering of illicit proceeds through bank accounts around the world.

However, trouble began among Hushpuppi and other conspirators on the sharing formula of the money received after they played the roles of bank officials and created a bogus website to steal the $1,1m from the business person.

The dispute led one of the conspirators, Vincent, to inform the victim that Hushpuppi is a fraudster.

However, Hushpuppi, in retaliation, contacted Abba Kyari, to help arrest and jailed Vincent.

According to the statement released by the U.S., Hushpuppi transferred to Kyari’s account after the police officer sent him the photos of Vincent in prison.

The statement said:

“Court documents outline a dispute among members of the conspiracy, which allegedly prompted Vincent to contact the victim and claim that Abbas and Juma were engaged in fraud. After this contact, Abbas allegedly arranged to have Vincent jailed in Nigeria by Abba Alhaji Kyari, 46, of Nigeria. According to the affidavit, Kyari is a highly decorated deputy commissioner of the Nigeria Police Force who is alleged to have arranged for Vincent to be arrested and jailed at Abbas’ behest, and then sent Abbas photographs of Vincent after his arrest. Kyari also allegedly sent Abbas bank account details for an account into which Abbas could deposit payment for Vincent’s arrest and imprisonment.”

Please read the full statement below:

Six Indicted in International Scheme to Defraud Qatari School Founder and then Launder over $1 Million in Illicit Proceeds.

Nigerian National Known as ‘Hushpuppi’ Admits Money Laundering in School Financing Scam and Additional Cyber and Business Email Compromise Schemes.

A federal grand jury indictment unsealed this week alleges an elaborate scheme to steal more than $1.1 million from a businessperson attempting to finance the construction of a school for children in Qatar – and the subsequent laundering of illicit proceeds through bank accounts around the world.

The three-count indictment returned on April 29 and unsealed Monday charges three U.S.-based defendants who were arrested last week – as well as three defendants believed to be in Africa – with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to engage in money laundering, and aggravated identity theft.

The criminal complaint that initiated the prosecution in February was also unsealed Monday, revealing that Ramon Olorunwa Abbas – also known by his social media handle of “Ray Hushpuppi” – was initially charged in this case. Court documents ordered unsealed today show that Abbas, a 37-year-old Nigerian national, pleaded guilty on April 20. A version of Abbas’ plea agreement filed late Tuesday outlines his role in the school-finance scheme, as well as several other cyber and business email compromise schemes that cumulatively caused more than $24 million in losses.

“The defendants allegedly faked the financing of a Qatari school by playing the roles of bank officials and creating a bogus website in a scheme that also bribed a foreign official to keep the elaborate pretense going after the victim was tipped off,” said Acting United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “Mr. Abbas, who played a significant role in the scheme, funded his luxurious lifestyle by laundering illicit proceeds generated by con artists who use increasingly sophisticated means. In conjunction with our law enforcement partners, we will identify and prosecute perpetrators of business email compromise scams, which is a massive and growing international crime problem.”

“Mr. Abbas, among the most high-profile money launderers in the world, has admitted to his significant role in perpetrating global BEC fraud, a scheme currently plaguing Americans,” said Kristi K. Johnson, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “His celebrity status and ability to make connections seeped into legitimate organizations and led to several spin-off schemes in the U.S. and abroad. Today’s announcement deals a crucial blow to this international network and hopefully serves as a warning to potential victims targeted with this type of theft.”

According to the indictment, Abbas allegedly conspired with Abdulrahman Imraan Juma, a.k.a. “Abdul,” 28, of Kenya, and Kelly Chibuzo Vincent, 40, of Nigeria, to defraud the Qatari businessperson by claiming to be consultants and bankers who could facilitate a loan to finance construction of the planned school. Juma allegedly posed as a facilitator and consultant for the illusory bank loans, while Abbas played the role of “Malik,” a Wells Fargo banker in New York, according to court documents. Vincent, in turn, allegedly provided support for the false narratives fed to the victim by, among other things, creating bogus documents and arranging for the creation of a fake bank website and phone banking line.

Yusuf Adekinka Anifowoshe, a.k.a. “AJ,” 26, of Brooklyn, New York, allegedly played a role in the fraud, assisting Abbas with a call to the victim posing as “Malik.” Special agents with the FBI arrested Anifowoshe in New York on July 22.

The conspirators allegedly defrauded the victim out of more than $1.1 million.

The proceeds of the fraud allegedly were laundered in several ways. According to the indictment, Abbas was assisted in laundering the proceeds of the fraud by Rukayat Motunraya Fashola, a.k.a. “Morayo,” 28, of Valley Stream, New York, and Bolatito Tawakalitu Agbabiaka, a.k.a. “Bolamide,” 34, of Linden, New Jersey. These two defendants also were arrested on July 22 by FBI agents.

Approximately $230,000 of the stolen funds allegedly were used to purchase a Richard Mille RM11-03 watch, which was hand-delivered to Abbas in Dubai and subsequently appeared in Hushpuppi’s social media posts. Other illicit proceeds from the scheme were allegedly converted into cashier’s checks, including $50,000 in checks that were used by Abbas and a co-conspirator to fraudulently acquire a St. Christopher and Nevis citizenship, as well as a passport for Abbas obtained by creating a false marriage certificate and then bribing a government official in St. Kitts.

Court documents outline a dispute among members of the conspiracy, which allegedly prompted Vincent to contact the victim and claim that Abbas and Juma were engaged in fraud. After this contact, Abbas allegedly arranged to have Vincent jailed in Nigeria by Abba Alhaji Kyari, 46, of Nigeria. According to the affidavit, Kyari is a highly decorated deputy commissioner of the Nigeria Police Force who is alleged to have arranged for Vincent to be arrested and jailed at Abbas’ behest, and then sent Abbas photographs of Vincent after his arrest. Kyari also allegedly sent Abbas bank account details for an account into which Abbas could deposit payment for Vincent’s arrest and imprisonment.

Anifowoshe, Fashola and Agbabiaka were arrested in New York and New Jersey on July 22, and they are expected to be arraigned in Los Angeles in August. All three are currently free on bond.

A criminal complaint and an indictment contain allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Both conspiracy counts alleged in the indictment carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year prison term.

The FBI is investigating this matter as part of Operation Top Dog. The FBI thanks the government of the United Arab Emirates and the Dubai Police Department for their substantial assistance in this matter. The FBI also thanks the Kenyan Office of Attorney General, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and Directorate of Criminal Investigations for their substantial assistance.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Khaldoun Shobaki of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in this matter.

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