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Has Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari honoured his promises?

Lagos, Nigeria – Four years ago, hundreds of thousands of people had thronged the streets of Nigeria to celebrate Muhammadu Buhari’s historic win in the presidential election in 2015, hoping the country’s problems would end soon. The former army general had defeated rival Goodluck Jonathan by more than two million votes on the strength of his grassroots…

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Has Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari honoured his promises?

Lagos, Nigeria – Four years ago, hundreds of thousands of people had thronged the streets of Nigeria to celebrate Muhammadu Buhari’s historic win in the presidential election in 2015, hoping the country’s problems would end soon.

The former army general had defeated rival Goodluck Jonathan by more than two million votes on the strength of his grassroots appeal and his military background.

However, with the 2019 election taking place on Saturday, Buhari’s supporters are questioning his time spent in the office.

“I don’t want to vote for the president [Buhari] again. I don’t think anything will change,” Christopher Akanbi, a businessman in the commercial capital, Lagos, told Al Jazeera.

The 52-year-old voted for Buhari in 2015. It was the first win by an opposition candidate since Nigeria’s return to civil rule.

“I campaigned with everything I had. I encouraged my family, convinced my friends and even made enemies because of my role when he defeated Jonathan,” said Akanbi. “He has disappointed many of us and I can’t support him any more.

“My support is now for the opposition candidate. Atiku [Abubakar] is his own man and takes responsibility for his actions, unlike Buhari who has been hijacked by a few friends and family.”

Security

Buhari assumed office on the heels of the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok in the country’s northeast Borno state by the Boko Haram armed group.

When he promised to fix the pervading insecurity, very few people doubted his ability, given his military track record.

Some dismissed it as campaign sloganeering, but his supporters did not relent.

Shortly after he was sworn in, Buhari relocated the country’s military command from Abuja to Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram.

The military made some gains, recovering lost territories. But the honeymoon did not last long. Boko Haram regrouped and carried out vicious attacks, overrunning military bases and killing security operatives.

Herder-farmer clashes erupted across some central states, leading to the killing of hundreds and displacement of thousands.

In recent months, these clashes have reduced but some fear they may resume after the elections.

Economic woes

Before taking office in 2015, Buhari campaigned on a promise of delivering annual economic growth of about 10 percent annually. But the realities of global oil markets collided with that pledge.

Nigeria is Africa’s top oil producer. Like many petroleum-rich states, it depends heavily on oil for foreign currency and income and has failed to sufficiently diversify its economy to guard against price shocks.

When oil prices started to plunge in 2014, Nigeria was ill prepared for the blow to its finances. Attacks by armed groups on oil facilities further exacerbated the pain by lowering output.

By 2016 the country had slipped into a deep recession that lasted more than a year.

“Unfortunately there was a recession. But the indicators had always been there,” Muhammad Abdullahi, an economist, told Al Jazeera.

“Failure to plan for the rainy day was met with stiff resistance by the governors of the era, which meant that the country had no buffer when oil prices slumped.”

The National Bureau of Statistics reported on Tuesday that Nigeria’s economy grew 1.93 percent last year. But the low-growth recovery has failed to keep pace with rapid population growth.

Unemployment has surged since 2015, while per capita incomes adjusted for inflation have fallen.

“The government’s economic recovery and growth plan has seen a return to almost two percent growth, but given our population-growth rates, we need a minimum of 3.5 percent to witness positive growth,” said Abdullahi.

An estimated three million jobs have been lost since 2015 [Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]

 

According to World Poverty Clock, Nigeria overtook India last year as the country with the largest number of extreme poor, with roughly half the population – some 87 million people – living on less than $1.90 a day.

Creating a more hospitable climate for business activity, investment and job creation is key to alleviating poverty and unlocking Nigeria’s economic potential.

But corruption remains a problem. Nigeria ranked 144 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index.

Some firms have found it tough to operate in the country and ceased trading.

But Buhari supporter Ayodele Segun told Al Jazeera some of the firms that closed shop either existed on paper only or were uncompetitive and overly reliant on government patronage.

“Most of them are briefcase companies [not structured or existing on paper only],” said Segun.

“Some of these companies benefitted from free money by cheating the system over the years. They barely paid taxes and benefitted from dubious government contracts.”

Anti-corruption campaign

The anti-corruption commission has had a busy time prosecuting alleged corrupt individuals and politicians.

Some of them were given jail sentences, while others ended as mere media trial after suspects were acquitted.

Corruption charges against some public officials and politicians have been put on hold as some of the accused are now part of Buhari’s campaign team.

Buhari has blocked perceived leakages in government, for example, faulty contract-bidding process and lack of financial documentation. This has made it more difficult to indulge in brazen corrupt practices.

The opposition, however, said the president’s campaign against corruption is selective and targeted only those outside the ruling party.

He has been accused of granting amnesty from prosecution to politicians who join the ruling All Progressives Congress.

Opposition leader Atiku Abubakar is Buhari’s main challenger [Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]

Buhari’s challenger Atiku Abubakar, a businessman, has been campaigning on the strength of his experience in the private sector to fix the economy and create more jobs.

But the president says solving the problem of corruption was key.

“A policy programme that does not have fighting corruption at its core is destined to fail,” Buhari said in a social media post on Sunday.

“The battle against graft must be the base on which we secure the country, build our economy, provide decent infrastructure and educate the next generation.”

He said, “The vested interests at play can make this fight difficult.”

“By way of their looting, the corrupt have powerful resources at their disposal. And they will use them. For, when you fight corruption, you can be sure it will fight back.”

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New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

NEW YORK: The man widely believed to be the new leader of Daesh was once an informant for the US, according to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), a research body at the US military academy of West Point in New York. “Stepping Out from the Shadows: The Interrogation of the Islamic State’s…

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New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report

NEW YORK: The man widely believed to be the new leader of Daesh was once an informant for the US, according to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), a research body at the US military academy of West Point in New York.

“Stepping Out from the Shadows: The Interrogation of the Islamic State’s Future Caliph” is based on Tactical Interrogation Reports (TIRs) — the paper trail the US military creates when enemy fighters are detained and interrogated — from Al-Mawla’s time in captivity in the late 2000s.

Before his release in 2009, Al-Mawla named 88 extremists involved in terrorist activities, and the information he divulged during his interrogations led US forces in the region to successfully capture or kill dozens of Al-Qaeda fighters, the report claims.

The CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed in a US air raid in Syria in October 2019.

Although Daesh announced that a man called Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi was Baghdadi’s successor, US officials have also stated that Al-Qurashi’s true identity is actually Al-Mawla — also known as Hajj Abdullah.

Before joining Daesh, Al-Mawla is believed to have been the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda.

While details about the operation resulting in his capture are scarce, the TRIs reveal that he was captured on January 6, 2008.

The following day, US Central Command announced the capture of a wanted individual who “previously served as a judge of an illegal court system involved in ordering and approving abductions and executions.”

In his interrogations, Al-Mawla offered up details of terrorist plots to his interrogators, while minimizing his own involvement. He identified many jihadists by name and offered descriptions of their roles in the terrorist organization and details of their involvement in attacks on US-led coalition forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Al-Mawla — a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s army and once Baghdadi’s speechwriter — emerges from the TIRs as a mysterious personality with a vague past, whose ethnicity could not be determined with certainty. The statements in the reports are rife with contradictory elements and open to a wide range of interpretations. As the authors point out in their introduction: “It is incredibly difficult to ascertain whether what Al-Mawla divulges regarding himself or ISI (the forerunner of Daesh) as an organization is true.”

Details of the specific demographics of Al Mawla’s birthplace of Al-Muhalabiyyah in Iraq’s Tal Afar district are sketchy, but it is generally accepted to have a predominantly Turkmen population. The authors of the report point out that some sources have suggested “this could pose legitimacy problems for him because (Daesh) mostly has Arabs in its senior leadership echelons,” but add that at least two other senior members of the group were reported to have been Turkmen.

Al-Mawla also claimed to have avoided pledging allegiance to ISI because he was a Sufi. The report’s authors cast doubt on that claim, given his quick rise to prominence in the terrorist group and the fact that ISI and Daesh branded Sufism as heresy.

But the authors do believe the TRIs give some valuable insights into Al-Mawla’s personality.

“The fact that he detailed activities and gave testimony against (fellow jihadists) suggests a willingness to offer up fellow members of the group to suit his own ends,” they wrote. “The amount of detail and seeming willingness to share information about fellow organization members suggests either a degree of nonchalance, strategic calculation, or resignation on the part of Al-Mawla regarding operational security.

“He appears to have named individuals in some capacity across all levels of the organization, while describing some individuals in some detail,” they continued.

The US Department of Justice has offered a $10million reward for information about Al-Mawla’s identification or location.

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The poisoning of Alexey Navalny: Five key things to know

What happened on the day Navalny fell ill? On August 20, a Thursday, Alexey Navalny, Russia’s leading Kremlin critic, had finished up campaigning for opposition politicians in Siberia for local elections, which were taking place from September 11 to 13.  He left Xander Hotel and headed for the Tomsk Bogashevo airport. There, he drank a…

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The poisoning of Alexey Navalny: Five key things to know

What happened on the day Navalny fell ill?
On August 20, a Thursday, Alexey Navalny, Russia’s leading Kremlin critic, had finished up campaigning for opposition politicians in Siberia for local elections, which were taking place from September 11 to 13. 
He left Xander Hotel and headed for the Tomsk Bogashevo airport. There, he drank a cup of tea. He was on the way to Moscow.
In the first half-hour of the flight, he fell ill and witnesses said he screamed in pain. He was later in a coma.
He was airlifted to Germany’s capital, a six-hour flight, to the Berlin Charite hospital.The plane made an emergency landing at Omsk. He received treatment in the Russian city, where doctors said he was too unwell to be moved, but two days later on August 22, a Saturday, they said his life was not in danger.
Was he poisoned? 
Navalny’s team believes he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, a claim several European countries support.
A laboratory in Germany said it had confirmation on September 2, followed by laboratories in France and Sweden on September 14.
Samples from Navalny have also been sent to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague for testing.
Russia says there is no evidence to prove Navalny was poisoned, while its ally Belarus has also doubted the claim. The doctors in Omsk said they had not detected poisonous substances in Navalny’s body. 
US President Donald Trump has been criticised for towing Russia’s line, saying on September 4 – two days after Germany’s claim to have “unequivocal evidence” – that “we have not had any proof yet”.
How is Navalny’s condition now?
On September 7, more than two weeks after falling ill on the plane, Navalny’s doctors in Germany said he was out of a coma and that his condition was improving. His spokeswoman said, “Gradually, he will be switched off from a ventilator.”
On September 15, Navalny posted on Instagram that he was breathing alone. He has said he plans to return to Russia. 
If he was poisoned, who may have poisoned him and where?
Navalny’s team believes he was poisoned at the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin – a claim the Kremlin has strongly denied. 
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh had initially said she believed Navalny’s tea at the airport was poisoned, but on September 17, his team said the nerve agent was detected on an empty water bottle from his hotel room in the Tomsk, suggesting he was poisoned there and not at the airport. 
What effect has the alleged poisoning had?
The alleged attack has widened a rift between Europe and Russia, with Germany and France leading calls for a full investigation but stopping short of outrightly blaming the Russian government. 
MEPs have called for sanctions against Russia, saying on September 17, “The poison used, belonging to the ‘Novichok group’, can only be developed in state-owned military laboratories and cannot be acquired by private individuals, which strongly implies that Russian authorities were behind the attack.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Germany’s ambassador to Moscow, while the United Kingdom has summoned the Russian envoy over the incident.
For its part, Moscow rejects what it called the politicisation of the issue.
Significantly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure to halt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which transfers Russian gas to Germany. Once again, the Kremlin has warned not to involve the Navalny case in any discussion about the pipeline, with Dmitry Peskov saying on September 16, “It should stop being mentioned in the context of any politicisation.”
 
A timeline of events surrounding the alleged poisoning attack on Navalny: 
August 20 – Navalny falls ill on flight; plane makes emergency landing in Omsk; his spokeswoman says he was poisoned, perhaps by the tea he drank at the airport
August 22 – Navalny airlifted to Berlin Charite hospital 
September 2 – Germany says it has ‘unequivocal evidence’ Navalny was poisoned, Russia responds by saying the claim is not backed by evidence
September 4 – US President Donald Trump says ‘we do not have any proof yet’
September 6 – Heiko Maas, German foreign minister, threatens action over gas pipeline project, saying, ‘I hope the Russians don’t force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2’
September 7 – German doctors say Navalny is out of an artificial coma
September 11-13 – Russia holds local elections; Navalny’s allies make gains in Siberian cities
September 15 – Navalny posts on Instagram that he is breathing alone
September 16 – Kremlin spokesman warns against politicising Navalny issue in discussions over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Germany
September 17 – Navalny’s team now suspects he was poisoned in his hotel room, not the airport, citing traces of nerve agent on an empty water bottle
September 17 – MEPs call for sanctions against Russia 

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Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan to lend voice to Amazon’s Alexa

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan will be the first Indian celebrity to lend his voice to Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant starting next year, as the Silicon Valley giant expands its presence in the significant market.The 77-year-old actor has been a household name in India for nearly half a century, and his deep baritone is instantly recognisable…

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Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan to lend voice to Amazon’s Alexa

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan will be the first Indian celebrity to lend his voice to Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant starting next year, as the Silicon Valley giant expands its presence in the significant market.The 77-year-old actor has been a household name in India for nearly half a century, and his deep baritone is instantly recognisable to listeners in the country of 1.3 billion.Foreign firms such as Amazon have spent tens of billions of dollars in India in recent years as they fight for a piece of the Asian giant’s burgeoning digital economy.In a blog post on Monday, Amazon India said Bachchan’s “voice experience” feature will become available for purchase on Alexa next year.”It will include popular offerings like jokes, weather, shayaris (poetry), motivational quotes, advice and more,” the firm said.Alexa first rolled out celebrity voice option last year with actor Samuel L Jackson, following a similar move by Google the year before, which gave users the option of hearing singer John Legend on the Google Assistant.”I am excited to create this voice experience,” the Bollywood megastar said on Amazon’s blog.”With voice technology, we are building something to engage more effectively with my audience and well-wishers.”His earlier foray into vocal blogging in 2010, Bachchan Bol-Bachchan Speak, allowed fans to listen to pre-recorded messages by the star at the push of a button.In addition to competing with voice-activated devices such as Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant for consumers, Amazon is battling Walmart-backed Flipkart and JioMart, owned by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, for a share of the online retail market.The tech giant, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, is also trying to win eyeballs with its streaming service that competes with Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar.Bachchan and his family have been among India’s highest-profile coronavirus patients. The superstar, his actor son Abhishek, actress daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai, and granddaughter Aaradhya were all admitted to hospital in July. All four have since been released.The veteran star returned to work last month filming India’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? after authorities eased coronavirus curbs on movie and TV shoots.Nevertheless, with cases in India nearing five million, authorities in Mumbai – the home of Bollywood – have asked production houses to ensure that common facilities are regularly sanitised, masks worn and social distancing “followed as far as possible”.Bachchan’s last film, comedy-drama Gulabo Sitabo, went straight to Amazon’s streaming service in June, after theatres in India shut down in March due to pandemic fears.

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