Examination malpractice: This is how deep we have sunk

 

Government Reaction

When presented with the findings of the investigation, the Executive Chairman of Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Sopeyin Oluremi, was surprised that impersonation is possible during the state organised Common Entrance Examination.

He said the state now has the pictures of candidates on their answer booklets in the bid to forestall cases of impersonation during the examination.

The undercover children who sat in for the examination at different centers also confirmed that there are pictures on the booklets. Unfortunately, despite this precaution, school owners induce government invigilators who aid and abet the act.

Mr. Oluremi, however, refrained from commenting on other findings presented to him. Instead, he requested for a proper interview when more evidence would be presented to him.

However, all attempts to secure another date to show the official the collage of pictures and videos captured during the course of investigation were unsuccessful. He did not respond to subsequent calls and text messages to his telephone number.

Also, Seyi Akitoye, the board’s Public Affairs Officers, who promised to notify this reporter on suitable date for the interview, never did.

Similarly, the Minister of State for Education, Anthony Anwukah, when contacted said he could not comment on the findings as he was out of the country at the time.

Way Forward

Ms Bammeke, the sociology professor, believes that children need be carried along in advocacy against examination malpractice. She said this is necessary so that children can serve as a checkmate for parents who are likely to encourage such.

Another way to curtail examination fraud, the professor said, is for the media to continuously report the matter.

“The media can organise studies without declaring what they are doing. Observe an exam setting, record an examination setting and come up with findings and publicise it. The media has a role to play. The media must not compromise,” she says.

She also urged the government to put in place policies that would check corruption within the education system.

“There is a malpractice law. But it is not just the law; the law must be applied. We hear reports of examination malpractice, but we rarely hear of people who were imprisoned for malpractice. They law must be applied and we must make examples of people.

“It is sad that the way people feel shame now is disappearing. People flaunt negative behaviors and they get applauded because they do not question the means through which they have achieved their success. However, there will be change if we involve local communities and begin to shame people and stigmatise them.”

Similarly, Mr Makanju, the psychology professor, puts the onus of ensuring the integrity of the education system on the “grown-ups” who are expected to know better.

“We have to intentionally realise that we have done a lot of damage in the past to those immediately around us and to the larger society, because we fail to uphold the straight and narrow path and inculcate it in our children,” he said.

He added that for corruption in the education sector to be mitigated; the government must pay attention to education at all levels.

“There must be severe punishment for those who engage in malpractice. Anything that impinges on the moral upbringing of the younger generation, in such a way that the society pays a heavier burden in the future, should not be condoned at all,” Mr Makanju said.

Mr Onyenchere of the Exams Ethics Marshal Board warned that for any changes to be effective in the education sector, the government must not politicise appointments into the sector. He argued that the education sector is the foundation for all other sectors, hence the need to recruit the best hands.

”We need to clean the education sector for us to get a proper result, before we are able to make progress in the general fight against corruption,” he said.

INVESTIGATION: How forgery, bribery, exam malpractice booms at Lagos primary schools

The sun was intense. It was a Saturday, a day when many people were either relaxing at home or attending functions. However, parents clustered under a shade beside the gate of Government College Victoria Island (GoCoVi) in Lagos — their faces, a mix of excitement and exhaustion as they received their children who had just concluded the National Common Entrance Examination.

As the kids filed out — into the warm embrace of mommies and daddies — one could tell from the dissimilar expressions on their tired faces that even though they might have all written the same examination, answered the same questions, their experiences were, definitely, not the same.

“They paid money so that they will teach that girl…” were the words that caught my ears from the conversation among Air Force Primary School pupils, who had formed a small circle away from the other pupils.

The pupils, four girls and three boys, could not hide their irritation.

“Uncle was telling them answers, especially Latifa. Uncle said A, C, D, D… and later they will be saying don’t cheat during exams,” one of the angry pupils said.

I stood seemingly aloof, but close enough to capture their conversation. As I listened to the children recall how their teachers and parents — their first role models — colluded to compromise the examination they had just concluded, it became a surreal realisation that the act is, indeed, a common experience for many primary school pupils, and not just a wild journalistic conjecture.

The Common Entrance Examination is a capacity test written by final year pupils of primary schools for admission into Junior Secondary Schools. On one hand, there is the National Common Entrance Examination also known as ‘Federal Common Entrance’ organised by the National Examination Council (NECO) to screen pupils seeking admission into Federal Government Unity Colleges.

On the other hand is the ‘State Common Entrance’ organised by the education board of the states, for entrance into state-owned junior secondary schools. In Lagos State, where this investigation was carried out, the examination is called ‘placement test’.

Lagos: Where Anything Is Possible

I had walked into Honeyville Schools as an aunt seeking to enroll her nephew into the school. Honeyville Schools is hidden amidst a line of closely-built houses on Tokunbo Street, Lagos Island. The school itself is a stretch of parallel rooms; what is commonly described as ‘face-me-I-face-you’ in local parlance.

The pupils screamed out different recitals from the opposite rooms used as classrooms. The sound from the classrooms created a cacophony capable of inhibiting learning. I peeped into the rooms, trying to find an adult standing in front of the screaming children.

“Good morning. I am here to make enquiries about enrollment,” I said to a stocky man, with low afro hair seated behind a table in the cubic-like room that served as the administration office.

Uncle Dayo — I later discovered was the man’s appellation — offered me a chair.

“What class is the child?” he asked.

“Primary four,” I said and quickly added that my main concern was to have the boy enroll for the common entrance examination.

Uncle Dayo did not ask further questions. He called in the proprietor, Segun Olatunji, a tall, fair man who carried himself with the poise of one fully aware of his position. Mr Olatunji is the typical ‘Lagos sharp guy’; his mannerism and seeming impatience easily gave him away.

Lagos Island is that notorious city where almost anything — legal or illegal — can be done if one knows the ‘right’ people and has the right amount of money. It is not by happenstance that the city houses the ‘world-famous’ Oluwole Market where any kind of document — including currencies — can be forged, duplicated and curated.

Mr Olatunji appeared to be that type of ‘right person’ that gets things done within his field — education. He would later say that he has been in the business of education for over 30 years; growing from being a classroom teacher to becoming a principal and now the proprietor of a school.

He entered the small office that could barely accommodate the three of us, took a chair at a corner as Dayo retold what I had said to him.

“But why do you want him in Primary 6? Is he too old for primary school already?” Mr Olatunji asked, staring hard at me, as if trying to probe my body for answers to whatever was on his mind.

I knew that was the right opening to pitch in my full cover story.

“The case is complicated,” I started, wearing a subtle frown on my face to depict worry.

I explained to Mr Olatunji that the child in question is my nephew. His mother — my own sister — was dead and his father was a no-good-fellow who had abandoned him. The boy stayed with his grandmother and it so happened that my other elder sister who lived outside the country wanted our mother to come join her abroad. Our mother — the boy’s grandmother — insisted she was not leaving the country without the boy.

Hence, I had been instructed to get the boy’s travel documents; and one of the things he would need was his record of schooling at least at primary level. Unfortunately, his current school was not government approved, hence the reason to enroll him in another school.

“Where does the boy live?” he asked, abruptly putting an end to my narration.

“He lives with his grandmother in Ijora,” I replied, not sure why he had asked.

“Okay. I can’t say anything now until I see the boy. Bring the boy tomorrow, because I am not sure a boy in Primary 4 now can write common entrance. When you bring the boy tomorrow, I will test him by myself to see if he would be able to pass the exams on his own,” he responded.

As I made to leave, I asked if his school was government approved, and he answered in the affirmative. I knew there was no way the school — with its chaotic environment — could have been approved by the Lagos State government but that lie was a clue that I had found my first subject. I knew there and then, that if Mr Olatunji was offered the right amount of money, he would compromise any process.

Six Years Education In One Week For Just N120,000

A week later, I took a boy — my supposed nephew — to Mr Olatunji. He asked him random questions about his age, class and school and then concluded the boy would not pass the examination. Although, I had carefully selected a boy who was not very bright academically, but it was baffling how Mr Olatunji easily concluded — without any written test — that the boy would perform woefully in the exam.

“I thought so too,” I said in agreement with his verdict on the boy’s performance. “So, what can I do? How can you help me out?” I asked feigning dejection and frustration all in one stare.

Mr Olatunji gave a succinct breakdown on how the 10-year-old boy would be “assisted” to pass the common entrance examination. Not once did he mention any tangible academic assistance for the boy, even when I suggested special tutorial classes. Mr Olatunji was rather dismissive.

“No amount of lessons can help him within the short time,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

This school proprietor unabashedly offered to prepare his school’s report for a boy, who in his own assessment is academically poor. He would later suggest to me during a phone conversation that he would get another child to write the examination for my ‘nephew’.

“Let me tell you something,” Mr Olatunji said, a dint of arrogance in his voice, “anything you want can be done. The only thing is, once we agree what would be paid, there is no problem.

EXPOSED: How Super Eagles Coach Salisu Yusuf Received Bribes To Feature Players At CHAN 2018

The head coach of the team that represented Nigeria at the Ghana WAFU 2017 Tournament, Salisu Yusif, took $1000 from Tiger, who was there as an undercover players’ agent, and agreed to use two of his players in the upcoming CHAN 2018 Tournament regardless of their form to make it possible for Tiger’s Players Agency to sell these players, out of which Yusif would receive 15% of their sales.

WAFU 2017, Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana.

Encouraging even earthy ethics’ eventual end, Eagles’ elder (coach) eagerly embraces enticing envelope expertly extended, expressly entangling him to ensure he fields extolled exportable players for entrepreneurial ends.

The head coach of the team that represented Nigeria at the Ghana WAFU 2017 Tournament, Salisu Yusif, took $1000 from Tiger, who was there as an undercover players’ agent, and agreed to use two of his players in the upcoming CHAN 2018 Tournament regardless of their form to make it possible for Tiger’s Players Agency to sell these players, out of which Yusif would receive 15% of their sales. The meeting took place at the Visitor’s Lounge of the Best Western Plus Atlantic Hotel, Sekondi-Takoradi.

Salisu Yusuf (Coach), the head coach of the Nigerian football team at the WAFU 2017 in Ghana, in a meeting with Tiger at the Best Western Plus Atlantic Hotel, Sekondi-Takoradi, accepted to use Osas Okoro of Rangers International and Rabiu Ali, the Kano Pillars’ midfielder, in the then upcoming CHAN 2018 Tournament to take place in Morocco except for injury and sickness regardless of their performance.

Mr Yusuf, with smiles all over his face, took a 1,000 US Dollars at the meeting and accepted an assurance of 15% from the sales of these players should all go as planned. He appreciated the offer with a promise: “Don’t worry, they would be at CHAN”.

The meeting, which was interrupted many times with phone calls by the head coach and exchange of pleasantries from passers by, has the following transcript as bits of the conversation between Tiger, the undercover players’ agent, and the Head Coach of the Super Eagles at WAFU 2017, Salisu Yusuf.

Tiger went straight to the point as usual and made known to Yusuf the agendum for the meeting and his proposal for him after exchanging pleasantries when he – Yusif – arrived for the meeting.

Tiger: Errm, we are monitoring two of your players.

Coach: (slightly bent towards Tiger with his right arm on his lap supporting his upper body and listening intently at what Tiger had to say) Uhh?

Tiger: I say we are looking at two of your players.

Coach: (Still bent over his lap) Okay.

Tiger: Errm, two of your players. Errm, Moses (Osas) Okoro,

Coach: (Assumes the former posture after being interrupted by passers-by) Umm?

Tiger: Moses (Osas) Okoro,
Coach: (Still bent over his lap) Okay. Tiger: The right back and then Rabiu Coach: Rabiu Ali.
Tiger: Ali Rabiu, the number 10. Coach: Okay.

Tiger: Yeah. We are seeing potentials in them and then, we have agencies that are looking at them too. So, we have agencies that are looking at them.

Coach: Okay.

Tiger: Yeah. That are looking at them too. Errm, we know you have qualified for CHAN.

Coach: Ehh (Yes).

Tiger: So, we are just simply out here to see you as the coach and then encourage that you send them to CHAN too, so that we would continue (Coach laughs a bit) to monitor, we would follow you to CHAN. So, that I’ll monitor them (another passer-by interrupts the conversation), so that we’d continue to monitor them. And ten, we can then bring them in,

Coach: Ehh, yeah! (Nods his head to indicate understanding Tiger’s proposal as another passer-by interrupts the conversation, followed by a phone call from his brother in Nigeria and then another passerby). Errm, it’s not that they cannot go to CHAN, but we don’t know what would happen tomorrow. But they are part of the team. They are first-team players, so, here’s nothing that would stop them from going to CHAN, only maybe what we don’t pray for, injury or sickness. So, that’s no problem, eh?

Tiger: Okay. So, we can follow you to CHAN?

Coach: We don’t know where to play CHAN yet. Whether we’d play in Kenya or Morocco.

Tiger: I’m sure it’d be in Kenya, I’m very sure. I’m very certain. From my sources.

Coach: They say Kenya?

Tiger: Yeah!

Coach: So, if you want to be in Kenya, apart from these two factors (another interruptions and exchange of pleasantries).

Tiger: Okay. So, no problem. We know they are good, so far, the games that they have played and we have watched them, we know that they are good. But you are the head coach, you also give them small time, small playing time, in (on) the big stages. (Laughs) Hahaha.

Coach: You see, in football, you have to be, it’s supposed to be about, your consistency and form. If you are very consistent, you don’t have a problem (another interruption with a phone call).

Tiger: If you don’t mind, we can exchange contacts.

Coach: Okay. I have two numbers, +2348102991960.

Tiger: (After entering the number) Okay. Yusuf. Coach Yusuf.

Coach: Yeah!

(After struggling a little with the contact umbers, Tiger handed out an amount of $1,000 to Coach)

Tiger: Okay. Now we are going, so we have something for you (hands out a $,1000 to Coach).

Coach: (Laughs after collecting the money) Hahaha. Thank you. Tiger: This is $,1000.

Coach: Okay. Don’t worry, okay. (He exchanges handshakes to seal their deal as they part ways)

Tiger: Ehh! So, if anything goes through (Coach nods his head as he intently listens to Tiger) and those players get the contract, you would get 15% of the contracts.

Coach: (Coach nods his head in agreement to Tiger’s proposal) That’s no problem. Then, they would be in CHAN. (They finally part ways).

Meanwhile, Nigeria reached the final of CHAN, eventually losing 4-nil to hosts Morocco.

EXPOSED: How Super Eagles Coach Salisu Yusuf Received Bribes To Feature Players At CHAN 2018EXPOSED: How Super Eagles Coach Salisu Yusuf Received Bribes To Feature Players At CHAN 2018

THIS IS BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION

The coach committed a sin, an infraction. When you are a coach, you owe a duty not just to the team, but to your country as well. Your job is to win games by using the best tactics as possible and the players that can help you achieve this. So first of all, selection of a player must be based on merit, your strategy, and tactics. You cannot allow financial, family ties, politics or personal reasons to determine who plays. Some may argue that, the Coach may have already selected the players or would have selected the players anyway since they are already on his team.

My answer is that we don’t know that for a fact. What we do know is that, the money and 15 % selling price of the players, offered the coach influenced the inclusion of the two players in that game irrespective of their form. If money was not an influencing factor, the coach could have simply said NO, I have already selected these two players or NO, these players are part of my team and come what may, they will play, or NO, this game I am not fielding these players because of a, b and c. But none of these occurred. He simply took the money and fielded the players. So, one can conveniently say the money and the 15 % promise of the selling price of the two players caused their inclusion in that particular match.

COACH COMMITTED NO CRIME

Lawyer Bukari has argued that the coach committed no crime because he did not demand for the money and 15% of the selling price of his players. His players were going to participate in CHAN 2018 Tournament anyway. Coaches are also entitled to 15% of sales of players. When the coach was offered the money, he did not make any promises. As a coach, he already knew who would play. The coach knew that the players were already on his list. So let’s call it HAPPY coincidence or a gift.

ALI RABIU AND OSAS OKORO

Indeed, Ali Rabiu and Osas Okoro, whom Tiger paid to be featured in the Super Eagles team of Nigeria, played at CHAN 2018 as per Tiger’s desires. Whether they were the best for their positions or were picked because of Tiger’s proposal remains a question to be answered by the court of the footballing masses.

RECENT OCCURRENCE

The head coach of Ghana’s Accra Hearts of Oak, Frank Nuttal, was recently sacked for his admission for been involved in aiding, introducing and signing out players of the club to agents, including his own agency (NM Agency) and vice versa without the knowledge of the management of the club. He as well promised the players involved lucrative deals outside the shores of Ghana. Winful Cobinna, the team’s most sought-after playmaker; Kwame Kizito, a forward in the team; Thomas Abbey, captain for the team and Atinga, one of the team’s most dependable centre full-backs were some of the players involved in his escapades. These were mostly players with little time left on their contracts.

WAFU 2017

The WAFU 2017 Cup of Nations (which was dubbed, Ghana 2017) is an association football tournament that took place in September 2017 in Ghana with sixteen participating teams from West Africa, a sub confederation of CAF. The tournament was originally to be hosted at the Sekondi-Takoradi Esipong Sports Stadium and the Cape Coast Sports Stadium but had the Esipong Sports Stadium was set to change to the Elmina Nduom Sports Stadium by the local organizing committee due to structural defects at the Esipong Sports Stadium and the danger it could pose to fans during the tournament. The tournament had match officials and other football managers from most part of the continent to participate in the success of the tourney. But as the saying goes, “in every bunch of nuts, there is a rotten one” and the same happened at this tournament.

The tournament saw Ghana, the host nation facing their arch-rivals on the continent in the grand finale which Ghana thrashed Nigeria by 4:1 to lift the trophy.

Stay tuned for more

A Wife’s Tears, An 80-Year-Old Mother’s Half-Nudity… Two Years Of Jones Abiri’s Illegal Detention By The DSS

For almost two years, Jones Abiri has not been seen nor heard from. Married with a wife and five children, Jones would have celebrated his 50th birthday on June 4 this year. Jones was a 300 Level student aspiring for his first degree in Law from the National Open University of Nigeria.

In tears, 80-year-old Mama Abiri undressed. Before strangers, family, and friends alike, Mama clasped her frail breasts, and cried inconsolably, naked. With emotions only a mother could express, Mama cried in the native Ijaw language of the Niger Delta creeks. Mama was calling on Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, to feel her pain and hear her plea.

“Please, I am begging. Please, pity me. Anyone that is holding my son, please release him for me,” Mama cried. “I gave birth to him. I breastfed him. I know my son. He is not a militant. He is not a criminal. He is a journalist.”

For almost two years, Jones Abiri has not been seen nor heard from. Married with a wife and five children, Jones would have celebrated his 50th birthday on June 4 this year. Jones was a 300 Level student aspiring for his first degree in Law from the National Open University of Nigeria. All that is in the past.

Now, Jones remains in a state of forced disappearance as the State Security Service, Nigeria’s secret police, has detained him for over 700 days without trial, and without access to his family, lawyers, and doctors. Under international human rights law, a person is a victim of (en)forced disappearance if detained by state authorities or a third party with the authorisation of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s whereabouts and condition in a bid to deny the victim the protection of the law.

Arrested without warrantBack then… the office of Jones Abiri’s weekly source

On 21 July 2016, a dozen heavily-armed agents of the self-styled Department of State Services arrested Jones, the publisher of Weekly Source newspaper, outside his office at 288 Chief Melford Okilo Expressway, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. Eyewitnesses said the SSS agents, who came in three cars, did not read Jones his rights and did not produce a warrant before handcuffing him, raiding his office, and taking him into custody.

“Some men wearing black came to where we were and asked if he was Jones,” Garba Suleiman, a local provision store vendor who witnessed Jones arrest said in pidgin English. “He said yes, and they grabbed him, handcuffed him, and took him. Nobody knew why.”

John Angese, the chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists in Bayelsa State, in an interview March 2018, recalled how at gunpoint the SSS threatened everyone, including journalists, not to cross a parameter line. The SSS spent hours searching Jones office before carting away his computer and documents, sealing his office, and taking him handcuffed into custody.

“I was personally there when he was taken away. I tried to ask what was the problem and I was rebuffed with their guns. I was threatened to be shot if I come any closer. Everybody was scared,” Angese recalled.

The allegations against him

Two days after his arrest, the SSS on 23 July 2016 released a statement alleging Jones is a militant named General Akotebe Darikoro, operating under the nom-de-guerre ‘General Kill and Bury’, the leader of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force, “which has been furthering separatist tendencies in connivance with other criminal gangs in the Niger Delta region”.

The SSS said Jones “confessed and owned up” to vandalising and bombing oil pipelines belonging to international oil companies Agip and Shell in early July 2016, sending threat messages to management of both oil companies demanding a total of N750m payment, threatening to launch missile attacks against the Presidential Villa and selected targets in Abuja, and masterminding the rumour in 2016 that the military was planning a coup against President Muhammadu Buhari.

Weekly Source, a local tabloid which operated by mostly sourcing and publishing critical stories of the government culled from online and national newspapers, had in its last edition dated 10 July 2016 published as its lead a story originally published by the online pointblanknews.com titled ‘Rumble In The Military: Inside The Coup Plot Story… Militants’ Warning Alters Plot’. The story elaborated an alleged conspiracy that top military officers working with politicians had approached the JNDLF militant group to intensify bombing pipelines as a justification to overthrow President Buhari. The military denied the allegations.

Weekly Source in the same edition published another story sourced from pointblanknews.com on how President Buhari’s loyalists, including the director general of the SSS, were blocking investigations into an oil and gas company implicated by the anti-graft Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in syphoning billions of dollars in fraudulent oil deals. The story claimed that the company donated heavily towards President Buhari’s 2015 presidential campaign through the loyalists.

Jackson Ude, the publisher of pointblanknews.com based in the U.S., in an interview in 2016, said he had received threats, from proxies of the SSS, asking him to pull down stories from his website which local based journalists like Jones were re-publishing in their newspapers and tabloids. He said he had been warned of possible arrest whenever he came to Nigeria.

Jones’ family heads to courtJones Abiri’s sister

In August 2016, Jones family filed a fundamental rights enforcement lawsuit against the SSS asking the Bayelsa State High Court to declare Jones arrest and continued detention without trial unconstitutional, unlawful, illegal, null and void, and order the SSS to release Jones on bail, and direct the SSS to open Weekly Source newspaper’s office.

The SSS in response tendered as its only evidence in court a confessional statement allegedly written and signed by Jones on the same day of his arrest, admitting to “being the founder, co-ordinator and spokesperson” of the militant group and “directing his foot soldiers (still at large) to carry out bombings of oil pipelines” and blackmailing oil companies for money with threats of further bombings.

On 7 September 2016, Bayelsa State high court judge Nayai Aganaba ordered the SSS to reopen Weekly Source newspaper’s office but ruled that the SSS arrest and continued detention of Jones, then almost two months, was lawful. The ruling effectively gave legal backing for the SSS to continue detaining Jones without charge for almost two years and without access to his family, lawyers and doctors.

“The offence of terrorism and related offences for which [Jones] was arrested and detained is a capital offence by virtue of Section 1 (2) under paragraph (h) of the Terrorism Prevention Amendment Act 2013 and by virtue of Section 35 (7) of the 1999 Constitution, the arrest and detention of [Jones] by the [SSS] is therefore not unlawful,” Judge Aganaba ruled.

The SSS also swore on oath that the “seeming delay in charging [Jones] to court” was due to “ongoing efforts to arrest other members of the militant group” as well as results of “scientific analysis of evidence” still been awaited. The SSS promised “to ensure an expedited conclusion of investigation on the case and to charge [Jones] and his accomplices to court without undue delay”.

It is almost two years and Jones, a husband, father of five children, and breadwinner for his family including an 80-year-old mother and several siblings, has not been charged to court. In the past two years, the SSS has rebuffed all efforts by Jones’ family, lawyers, journalists and civil society actors to get any information on Jones.

In June 2018, during the International Press Institute World Congress held in Abuja, Garba Shehu, spokesperson to President Buhari, sold to the world that Jones is not a journalist but a militant who remains a “guest of [the SSS] because of his alleged criminal activities”. Nigerian authorities including Information minister Lai Mohammed also declined to allow Jones wife and son who traveled from Bayelsa State to Abuja have access to see Jones in SSS captivity.

All downhill for Jones’ familyAbiri’s mum goes half-naked to beg Buhari for mercy

In the past two years, Jones’ family relocated from Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital, to the village in the Southern Ijaw local government creeks where they barely survive on petty farming and handouts. In the past two years, Jones’ children also dropped out and have not gone back to school due to the family’s inability to pay school fees. In the past two years, Jones’ younger brother, Ebikesayi Abiri, died from fire burns he sustained in 2017 after he involved himself for the first time in illegal oil bunkering which his family said was in a bid to raise money to pay among other things legal costs and other bills associated with getting Jones released. Ebikesayi left behind a widow and two children, one of whom was born the same day he died.

Curiously, in the past two years, the SSS and Nigerian authorities have also kept hidden from the public and refused to act on vital information relating to members and financiers of the Joint Niger Delta Liberation Force militant group, according to Jones’ alleged confessional statement dated 21 July 2016 in court records.

“The only person that has funded the group to the best of my knowledge is the former commissioner of Ijaw National Affairs, Dr Felix Tuodolo who gave us the sum of N500,000 through Sele Dise some time between 1st and 15th June 2016,” Jones allegedly wrote in his confessional statement. “Sele told me that the commissioner called him on phone and gave him the money to support the group.”

Felix Tuodolo is presently the Special Adviser on Ijaw national affairs to Henry Seriake Dickson, the governor of the oil-rich Bayelsa State. Tuodolo, a former state commissioner, is well-known as a human rights activist and the founding president of the influential Ijaw Youth Council which was set up at the twilight of Nigeria military dictatorship to coordinate the Ijaw people struggle for self-determination and greater control of vast oil and gas resources in the Niger Delta region.

Tuodolo was influential in stemming the tide of militancy in the 2000s by advocating for the government to grant amnesty to known militant warlords and their camps in a Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration program in exchange for assurances of a stop to the destruction of oil installations. The militants who ostensibly repented and surrendered their arms were given lush government contracts, placed on regular stipend running into billions of naira yearly, and sponsored around the world for training in diverse skills acquisition and education programs.

Jones in his alleged confessional statement mentioned Mr Sele Dise, Mr Ebi John, Justice Tare and Ebi-Ladei as other members of the JNDLF militant group. Independent findings during this investigation, including obtaining communication exchanges between Jones and an individual believed to be Sele Dise, reveal both had been friends prior to Jones’ arrest in July 2016.

“Sometime February this year 2016, Mr Sele Dise came to my office with the idea that let us form the organisation. I don’t know what they [other members] do for a living but I know Sele is a 200 Level student of Public Administration in Niger Delta University [Bayelsa State],” the statement read.

When contacted, Tuodolo said he is only aware from media reports that Jones Abiri is a journalist but that he does not know him personally nor the details of his arrest. He said as a prominent Ijaw leader he often renders financial assistance to his kinsmen who regularly solicit his help to pay school fees, house rent, and other financial support, but not to fund militant activities. Tuodolo expressed shock over Jones alleged conf “I don’t even know Jones Abiri. This is the first time I am hearing about this that Jones Abiri made a statement involving my name. That sounds strange to me,” Tuodolo said in a telephone call June 2018. “And if indeed he made such statement, why hasn’t the SSS come to question me about it? I have never been invited.”

Tuodolo’s claim has not been independently verified as efforts to get the SSS to react to Jones Abiri’s case and other instances of human rights violations, including indefinite detentions, torture, and extra-judicial killings, have repeatedly been ignored over the years.

Dead or alive?The tears of Jones Abiri’s wife

Since 2015, the agency has been operating without a physically identifiable spokesperson or official contact to interface and respond to information requests from the public and the media. Press statements distributed by the SSS cite as its spokesperson one Tony Opuiyo, a fictitious character whom no one has met, several journalists who cover the defence and security beat have said. The journalists complained that during parades of crime suspects, the SSS does not permit them to ask questions and many times hinder their reporting factually through intimidation and threat of arrests.

“The way the SSS operates now is we can’t ask for information and get it. There is no spokesperson, no one to make enquiries on behalf of the public who we are reporting for. No one to hold accountable. It is serious. Even in court, many of the cases, they disturb us from covering,” said one journalist during an informal chat during this investigation.

In June 2017, Richard Ogbage, a newspaper publisher in Bayelsa State, in media reports said that “we are privileged to have an unconfirmed information that Jones Abiri is long dead in DSS custody and that is the reason why they have refused to bring him to court”. Ayebaitari Easterday, the chairman of newspaper publishers in the State, in March 2018 said Jones whom he had known for over 20 years as a law-abiding citizen had been on medication for an undisclosed ailment at the time of his arrest. He said the liability of responsibility lies on the SSS to disprove rumours of Jones death.

“I dont want to believe Jones is dead because you can only believe what you’ve seen and what you know is true,” said Easterday. “The SSS should declare the condition of Jones Abiri, where he is right now, what is the state of his health, and why they have refused to prosecute him over the years. Something should be told to the public. We are curious. We want to know. And we have a right to know.”

Comrade (name withheld), a Niger Delta Ijaw activist whose identity is being protected for his safety, said he met Jones in SSS custody while detained for nearly two years on allegations of being a militant. Comrade said that before his release in 2017 he was detained with over 50 Ijaw and Niger Delta youth, numerous Boko Haram suspects and members of the IPOB secessionist group, who were all routinely tortured at the SSS Headquarters in Nigeria’s capital Abuja.

“We were all together for over one year so we knew ourselves. I was in New Depot detention facility while Jones was in Old Depot. I remember one particular day Jones was shouting ‘They wan go beat me again. They wan go beat me again’. It pained me so much I cried,” Comrade said.

Early 2016, the newly sworn-in government of President Buhari declared an influential ex-Niger Delta militant commander wanted, froze his bank accounts, and began an unsuccessful manhunt for the former warlord after he refused to appear before a court to answer corruption charges over contracts obtained from the previous government of President Goodluck Jonathan. His supporters alleged a ploy by the government to arrest and indefinitely detain the former warlord seen by many as a very influential folk hero in the Niger Delta. They cited with examples several ongoing cases where the SSS continues to refuse to obey Nigerian and international court orders granting the release on bail to several high-profile suspects in SSS custody. Militant groups responded to the government’s clamp down with renewed bombings of oil installations. Security agencies, in an unsuccessful bid to flush him out, arrested scores of Niger Delta activists and youth perceived as sympathetic to the former militant leader.

Comrade said Jones told him he was set up by powerful people who capitalised on the government’s clamp down in the Niger Delta to punish him for publishing a story that exposed how their company, which was a local contractor to Agip [international oil company], failed to fulfil its corporate social responsibility to oil-producing host communities.

“His article led Agip to find out that their company was shortchanging the communities and this caused problems for them. They were angry and then petitioned the security agencies that Jones is the media handler to militant groups and that was how he was picked up,” Comrade said Jones told him.

Comrade said suspects in SSS custody are habitually tortured. In tears, he narrated how the SSS at different times used beating, electrocution, and exposure of radiation to his testicles to force him to confess being a militant. Comrade quoted his case officer as once telling him “the DSS is above the laws of the land. DSS only listens to the instruction of Mr President. Anything short of that, including court orders, you are just wasting your time”.

Jones just one of the many illegal detainees of the Buhari government

Femi Falana, a foremost human rights lawyer, wrote an open letter to President Buhari in December 2017 asking him to end the illegal arrest and detention without legal justification of Nigerians and foreigners by security agencies, especially the SSS, which he described an embarrassment to the country by its continued violation of the Nigerian constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act, and the Nigerian Administration of Criminal Justice Act.

“From the information at our disposal, the DSS has detained several Nigerians and foreigners to settle personal scores,” Falana said to President Buhari. “Others have been arrested and detained by the DSS on the suspicion that they have committed criminal offenses, a matter that is within the purview of the Police and the anti-graft agencies. To compound the illegality of such arrest and detention, the orders made by competent courts of law directing the DSS to either release or produce detainees in court have been treated with contempt.”

In the past three years since President Buhari appointed Lawal Daura, his kinsman from Katsina State, as SSS director general, the agency’s mode of operations has been reminiscent of past Nigerian military dictatorships, which created the organisation and deployed it with impunity to intimidate, indefinitely detain without charge, and habitually torture individuals, including journalists, activists, and political figures, deemed critical of the military government.

Under Buhari’s rule as military Head of State in the 80s, the SSS, then known as the National Security Organisation, became an agency of repression and a crack violator of human rights. Buhari promulgated and implemented several laws including Decree 2 which granted the SSS arbitrary powers to indefinitely detain any person without charges, and Decree 4 which provided imprisonment to any person who published any information deemed false or ridiculed his government.

Leading to the 2015 general elections, the SSS under former President Jonathan had become politically partisan, targeting journalists, activists and political opponents including Buhari and his political party. Buhari while campaigning said he had become a reformed democrat and, if elected, promised to uphold the rule of law, respect fundamental rights, and ensure access to justice for all Nigerians.

Yet, in the past three years, the SSS has been discredited for operating with utmost secrecy, crass impunity, and total disregard for the rule of law, including serially disobeying court orders and violating federal laws in lopsided recruitments to favour President Buhari’s kinsmen.

Jones ordeal as a persecuted journalist represents possibly hundreds of people detained and tortured across all the offices of the SSS in Nigeria’s 36 States and the federal capital Abuja. Falana, in an interview June 2018, said Nigeria’s terrorism law is been abused by the SSS to violate Jones and other citizens’ rights to personal liberty and fair hearing in a competent court within a reasonable time.

“Subject to obtaining a court order, section 27 of the Terrorism Act permits a detention for 90 days which, subject to review, can be renewed once for another period of 90 days. Afterwards you have to release the suspect. Either conditionally or unconditionally, you grant the suspect bail,” Falana said.

A global advocacy effort from the media, Nigerian and international human rights defenders, civil society, and social impact groups calling for Jones’ release is mounting. The Ondewari Health, Education and Environmental Project, a civil society group working in the Niger Delta creeks, took the lead in March 2018 by gathering signatures from several Ijaw communities which was sent to local and international human rights organisations as an appeal calling on the international community to intervene in Jones plight.

On a visit into Bayelsa State’s creeks, several youth and elders from different Ijaw communities refuted the government’s allegation that Jones is a militant. In a show of solidarity with the Abiri family, community members gathered to sign OHEEP’s petition as a single voice echoing their growing frustration and anger with the government. Resonating loudest among the pleas directed at President Muhammadu Buhari were those of Jones children calling for the release of their father.

“My father is a journalist. All the allegations against my father that he is a militant are lies,” said 16-year-old Abadeifa Abiri Jones with eyes red and swollen from flowing tears. “He did not do anything and he does not know anything. The government should release my father unconditionally.”

Lives of Nigerian Peasant Farmers under Threat

Statistics from the Jos University Teaching Hospital, Comprehensive health center Zamko, in Langtang North local government area, Plateau State in North Central Nigeria, indicate that about 150-200 people are bitten by snakes monthly. This number further increases in periods where peasant farmers go out to plant or harvest their crops.

At a time when agriculture as an economic activity is being encouraged within the country, the lives of peasant farmers is under threat from menacing snake bites and the unavailability of a very important drug meant to cure victims of these snake bites.

According to the medical superintendent of the facility, Dr. Titus Dajel, the Echitab anti-snake venom which is sold between 26 and 30 thousand Naira per vial has become scarce in the country. This, has resulted in an increase in death of patients in the hospital.

“The number of victims has not really changed but what makes it news now, is the scarcity of the anti-snake venom and that has increased the mortality very seriously,” he said.

Dr. Dajel cited the high foreign exchange rates among the factors responsible for this scarcity.

“The foreign exchange is responsible for the scarcity of anti snake venom and the entire country has run out it completely. Those that are used currently are the ones being made in and for India and are not working for our snake bite treatment. The company that supplies the drug either has challenges with foreign exchange or made supply and payment has not been made”.

He said although the victims do not die in the hospital, they have been forced to leave and seek alternative medication elsewhere.

“If we have the anti-snake venom, out of the 100-150 patients, we rarely loose at least, 1 or 2 patients. But with the lack of anti-snake venom, a lot of people have died and why I can’t give you straight figures is because most of them do not die in the hospital.

EXPLAINED: Why Nigeria Still Imports Anti-Snake Venom

“There was a research in Nigeria where a anti-snake venom was produced in n Nigeria, after that research in 2006, the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo gave approval for the production of the anti-snake venom and he wanted the money to be sourced from the then millennium development, but that was not done and so after that, Echitab and Nigerians relied on the anti-snake venom produced in United Kingdom and Costa Rica in South America.”

The increased number of deaths as a result of this development is counter productive, not just to families of victims but to an economy of a nation that has returned to agriculture as a major source of its economy and a means of livelihood is encouraged.

It is hoped that stakeholders will rise to the occasion by making OK no the needed commitment to ensure the provision of anti-snake venom to victims of snake bites, if not free, at a subsidized rate.