…As Romania’s measles outbreak kills dozens of children***
The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright, has asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission not to take sides with any political party ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Arkwright also called on the EFCC to collaborate with the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure that there is no vote buying.
The UK envoy said this when he visited the corporate headquarters of the EFCC in Abuja on Wednesday.
He said, “INEC and EFCC should be there to preserve the integrity of the political process, including taking forward investigations without any prejudice on one side or the other, following the evidence and taking action where it is justified.”
Arkwright further gave assurances of the British Government’s support “both in technical assistance, in investigation and of course broadening support of this great independent institution of the EFCC.”
The high commissioner commended the ant-graft agency for its recent achievements in tackling corruption.
“We are pleased to see how the EFCC operates, and we are assuring you of the endless support of the British Government in the fight against corruption.
“The UK and Nigeria have evolved and made progress in the fight against corruption, and the EFCC’s achievements have been impressive,” he added.
In his remarks, the acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, appreciated the British Government for its support, and assured him of the independence of the EFCC in the discharge of its mandate.
He said, “I assure you that there is no political interference in what we do. We will continue to work with stakeholders like INEC who we have an agreement with to ensure that there is no interference to ensure free and fair elections in Nigeria and we will stop people using money to buy votes.”
According to him, the EFCC operates international best practices, and “does diligent preliminary investigation.”
Magu said, “We do not invite anybody here if he is not found to be involved in one offence or crime and that is why when you come here, it takes a lot of efforts to be off the chain. Whatever case that comes to the EFCC is investigated to a logical conclusion. We take the case to court which gives the final decision.”
Meanwhile, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum will on Friday meet to discuss critical national issues, including its demand for the removal of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu.
The Joint Secretary of the forum, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, who disclosed this in a telephone interview with our correspondent on Wednesday, said the leaders would not back down on their demand for the removal of Yakubu and the service chiefs before the 2019 elections.
The SMBLF, had at a press conference in Abuja on Sunday, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to remove the INEC chairman and the service chiefs.
The forum had said that there were “accumulated indications” that he might rig the 2019 elections in favour of Buhari.
Odumakin, in the interview with our correspondent, said that the four geopolitical zones that constituted the forum had no confidence in Yakubu.
He said, “The meeting is a continuation of our normal consultations on the issue of restructuring to have a just and fair Nigeria. Those issues continue to dominate our agenda. We have put our demand for removal of the INEC Chairman and the service chiefs as a cardinal issue. We are not going to back down on them. We would continue to press on them. They would form part of the issues for discussion on Friday.”
Faulting Buhari, Odumakin stated that 15 out of the 17 security chiefs were from the northern region.
He said, “The impediments (to the 2019 elections) are so many. The major impediment is the security architecture in the country, the way the President has organised the security architecture, having 15 out of 17 service chiefs from his region.
“The tenure of the service chiefs has expired, but he kept them. This is geared towards the 2019 elections. Again, the composition of INEC does not give us confidence about the elections.
“The former acting Chairman of INEC, Amina Zakari, appointed by President Buhari happened to be his relation. Our information indicated that Zakari is more powerful than the INEC chairman. The nepotism that had crept into INEC does not give us confidence that there would be free and fair elections,” the forum insisted.
The forum observed that the alleged violence that attended the congresses of the ruling All Progressives Congress was an indication that the election might be turbulent.
The forum, according to Odumakin, had learnt that foreigners including Nigeriens were being registered by INEC to vote in 2019, adding that the electoral commission had refused to release the report of its findings into underage voting in Kano.
“We also learnt a lot of foreigners had been brought in from Niger Republic to register so that they can vote in 2019 and INEC has not responded to this.
“Underage voters were registered in Kano and they voted and INEC set up a committee to look into it, but up till now, it has refused to release the report, why? These are some of our fears for the election in 2019 and if they are not addressed, it is going be so turbulent,” it noted.
Efforts to get a response from INEC on the alleged registration of foreigners proved abortive as the Director for Publicity and Voter Education, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, neither responded to three telephone calls nor to a text message on Wednesday.
Explaining the concern of the SMBLF, the secretary, Odumakin, stated, “Even the way the APC has been conducting its congresses does not give us confidence that they will conduct credible polls. They are killing people in their own party, what will they do when they face the opposition?”
In the meantime, an outbreak of measles in Romania has killed dozens of infants and children, with 200 new cases reported each week.
Doctors say the surge in the disease is fueled by the country’s low rate of vaccination. Some Romanian celebrities have waged media campaigns warning about the perils of immunization, and local superstitions such as keeping the vaccine-preventable disease at bay with cabbage juice or not cleaning one’s house have also exasperated doctors.
Some doctors also complain they don’t have sufficient stocks of vaccines.
Some 13,700 people in Romania have contracted measles since the epidemic began in 2016, and 55 have died, of whom only one had been immunized, according to the National Center for the Supervision and Control of Transmissible Diseases.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said the number of measles cases across the continent tripled last year, with Romania, Ukraine and Italy the worst affected.
Alexandru Rafila, a laboratory chief at the Matei Bals National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Bucharest, told The Associated Press this week that the highly contagious disease is spreading quicker in Romanian because millions of its citizens work abroad, get exposed to different strains of measles and then return home.
He said the disease first appeared in a community of Roma in northwestern Romania in 2016. He said that strain was foreign to Romania but often found in Italy.
The World Health Organization recommends a 95 percent level of vaccination for measles but Romania has one of the lowest European rates — less than 84 percent.
Doctors like Rafila are also up against celebrities like Olivia Steer, a television personality who publicly promotes an anti-vaccine stance.
“Unfortunately there is an appetite for anything sensational,” Rafila said. “People opposed to vaccination are promoted (in the media) in a way which is, shall we say, unethical.”
Punch with additional report from NBC