TIME Nigeria

Nigerian Army Frees More than 50 People From Boko Haram

59 prisoners were freed, including women, children, and elderly men

Nigeria’s army announced Thursday that it had freed 59 women and children who had been captured by the extremist group Boko Haram.

The military raided two jihadist camps in Borno Wednesday as part of an ongoing offensive against the group, rescuing 29 women, 25 children and five elderly men from the camps, the AFP reports. A spokesperson for the Nigerian army also said that some Boko Haram members were killed in the process.

Boko Haram is responsible for the abductions and deaths of thousands in the region. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced in July that he would create a multinational African force to redouble efforts to fight the Islamic extremist group.

[AFP]

TIME India

India Will Become the World’s Most Populous Country by 2022, the U.N. Says

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Getty Images

That's much earlier than previously thought

India is on track to become the world’s most populous nation in less than a decade — or six years earlier than previously thought, according to the U.N.

With 1.38 billion people compared with India’s 1.31 billion, China is currently the world’s most populous country. Figures for both countries are expected to swell to around 1.4 billion by 2022, at which point India’s population is likely to expand beyond China’s.

At the end of the next decade, in 2030, India is projected to have 1.5 billion people, a figure that’s forecast to balloon to 1.7 billion by 2050. China’s population, on the other hand, is forecast to remain relatively stable until the 2030s, at which point the U.N. says it is likely to “slightly decrease.” In a forecast published two years ago, India had been expected to overtake China around the year 2028.

The projections from the population division of the U.N.’s economic and social affairs unit were published in a new report that also forecast an expansion in the world’s overall population to 8.5 billion by 2030. By the middle of the century, there are likely to be as many as 9.7 billion people worldwide, with six of the 10 largest countries — India, China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and the U.S. — expected to have populations exceeding 300 million people.

“While the global projections should not be cause for alarm, we must recognize that the concentration of population growth in the poorest countries presents a distinct set of challenges, making it more difficult to eradicate poverty and inequality, to combat hunger and malnutrition, and to expand educational enrollment and health systems,” John Wilmoth, who heads the U.N. division that produced the report, told the Associated Press.

India’s population is not growing the fastest, however, with Nigeria growing at such a rapid pace that it is expected to have more people than the U.S. by 2050, at which point it is likely to become the third most populous country in the world.

TIME Nigeria

A 10-Year-Old Girl Has Killed 16 People by Blowing Herself Up in Northeast Nigeria

The city has already faced two other suicide bombings in July alone

A 10-year old girl killed 16 people in a suicide bombing in the northeastern Nigeria city of Damaturu on Sunday.

The girl detonated her explosives next to a crowded market as shoppers were being screened by security services. According to the BBC, around 50 people were injured.

The city has already faced two other suicide bombings in July alone.

Although Boko Haram hasn’t claimed responsibility for the attacks, the Islamist group has carried out a string of similar bombings recently. The renewed violence comes after Nigerian forces successfully pushed the group back earlier this year in a concerted offensive.

Cameroon has also seen an uptick in violence; more than 60 have been left dead in a spate of recent Boko Haram–style suicide bombings. On Saturday, a suicide bomb killed at least 10 people in the north of the country close to the Nigerian border, the Associated Press reports.

Boko Haram has promised to attack Cameroon because of its support of Nigeria’s fight against the jihadist group. According to the AP, Cameroon has since closed many mosques in the north in an attempt to control the violence.

[BBC]

TIME vaccines

Seattle Flunks Vaccine Science

Northwest nonsense: Vaccine rates in Seattle are dangerously low
Edmund Lowe Photography; Getty Images/Moment RF Northwest nonsense: Vaccine rates in Seattle are dangerously low

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

In the same week Nigeria frees itself from polio, vaccine rates continue to fall in the Pacific northwest

Nothing says First World city like Seattle does. Come for the cachet, stay for the Seahawks, and give a nod to the Starbucks and the Amazon and the mothership that is Microsoft just to the east. There’s nothing this so-hip-it-hurts town lacks, it seems—except perhaps for common sense. If you’re looking for that, the developing world is a far better bet.

That’s the inescapable conclusion on what should be a very good week for public health—and childhood health in particular—with the World Health Organization and other groups announcing on July 24 that Nigeria has gone a full year without a single reported case of polio. Pending further certification, the country will be removed from the dwindling list of countries in which the disease is endemic, leaving just Pakistan and Afghanistan. If Nigeria’s caseload remains at zero for two more years, it will be officially declared polio free.

How did the country that as recently as 1988 saw 30,000 children—a stadium’s worth—paralyzed or killed by polio every year achieve such a stunning turnaround? No surprise: vaccines—the same vaccines that have saved the lives and health of millions of children around the world, and the same vaccines that saw polio eradicated entirely in the U.S. in 1979.

So it came as a head-slapping development that earlier this month, Seattle news outlets reported that polio vaccination rates in their city have hit a low of just 81.4%, or worse than the rates in Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Algeria, El Salvador, Guyana, Sudan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Yemen, according to the WHO. Why? Because Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Algeria, El Salvador, Guyana, Sudan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Yemen may have a lot of problems, but they don’t have the anti-vaccine crazies.

Vaccine denialism is a perverse affliction of people who should be smarter than they act—the well-educated, high-income folks who know just enough to know too much, and to assume that simply because they haven’t seen a disease in a long time it’s gone away. And hey, if it does turn up, they’ve surely got the resources to deal with it.

That’s the reason that in the U.S., anti-vaxxers tend to cluster in wealthy, blue-state communities like Silicon Valley, New York City, Columbus, Seattle and it’s down-coast little sister Portland. It’s the reason too that the nonsense that animates the anti-vaxxers—the idea that vaccines are toxic or overprescribed or nothing more than a cash grab by big pharma and big government—is a lot likelier to gain traction in other wealthy countries around the world than in ones that have only recently done away with scourges like polio or are still struggling with them, and either way have images of sick or dying children still fresh in their minds.

“Polio is nonexistent in the states, so if you’re going to travel, it makes sense to do it,” said one Washington State resident interviewed by Seattle’s KUOW radio station on July 14. “We are doing vaccines based on our family’s needs, not based on what doctors say we need to follow.”

Never mind how abjectly ridiculous that thinking sounds if you shift its frame even a little: “We are fire-proofing our home based on our family’s needs, not based on what the fire department say we need to follow,” or “We are fastening our seat belts during turbulence based on our family’s needs, not based on what flight attendants say we need to follow.”

Never mind, too, that that the very reason polio is non-existent in the states is because people have been good about getting vaccinated and that, as an outbreak in an unvaccinated Amish community in 2003 showed, there is no virus in the world that isn’t just an incoming airline flight away. If it lands in a community where vaccine rates are low, it will find plenty of people to infect.

What’s more, while polio may indeed have been KO’ed in the states years ago, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough and more are all very much still at large, and outbreaks of those diseases have been on the rise thanks to the anti-vaxxers. The vaccination rate for measles, mumps and rubella specifically is below 90% among Seattle kindergarteners, dangerously short of the 95% rate needed to keep communities as a whole protected.

For most people, living in the developed world is a mere accident of birth and geography—a demographic freebie that gets you started in life far ahead of people born in less lucky places. Privilege can be part of that first world birthright, as can wealth and freedom and the opportunity for good heath. But smarts, it seems, have to be earned. That, clearly, is something Nigeria and Rwanda could teach Seattle.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Nigeria

Blasts Have Killed at Least 29 People in Northeastern Nigeria

This is the second week in a row that the city has been attacked

Multiple bomb blasts, including at least one suspected suicide bombing, killed at least 29 people and wounded 60 at two bus stations in Gombe, Nigeria, on Wednesday.

Although no one immediately came forward to claim responsibility, the style of the attacks was typical of Islamist militant group Boko Haram, Reuters reports.

Witnesses told Reuters that the first explosion, which occurred around 7 p.m. local time at a mosque in Dadin Kowa motor park, was the work of a suspected suicide bomber and that a separate bomb went off near the same bus station not long after.

“I heard two loud explosions, one after the other; I saw people coming out of the mosque with blood gushing out … I counted about seven dead bodies,” Ahmed Abu, a bus driver, told Reuters of the second bombing.

Two more blasts were later reported near Duku bus station, southwest of Dadin Kowa.

This is not the first set of attacks in Gombe this month: at least 50 people died in dual bombings at a market there on July 17.

[Reuters]

TIME Nigeria

Nigerian President Reveals Plan to Fight Boko Haram

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at an interview in Washington on July 21, 2015.
Cliff Owen—AP Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at an interview in Washington on July 21, 2015.

Muhammadu Buhari says neighboring countries of Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger would join Nigeria by the end of July

(WASHINGTON) — Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said Tuesday a multinational African force will be in place within 10 days to take the fight to the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram that has killed thousands and was behind the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls.

Buhari predicted in an interview with The Associated Press that Boko Haram would be defeated in 18 months or less. But he conceded that Nigerian authorities lack intelligence about the girls still missing after the mass-kidnapping from the northern town of Chibok in April 2014 — an act that stirred international outrage and a campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls” that reached as far as the White House.

He said his government is open to freeing detained militants in exchange for the girls’ freedom, but only if it finds credible Boko Haram leaders to negotiate with.

“I think Nigeria will make as much sacrifice as humanly possible to get the girls back. This is our main objective,” Buhari said, a day after meeting with President Barack Obama.

Buhari spoke at the presidential guest house opposite the White House in a room decorated with murals of ceremonial Washington. He wore a traditional embroidered hat, popular among Muslims in northern Nigeria.

The visit by the 72-year old former dictator comes two months after taking office. Both Nigeria and the United States look to improve relations that soured because of government and military failures under Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, who was defeated in March elections. Obama said Monday the U.S. wants to cooperate on counter-terrorism and in combating corruption in Africa’s largest economy and oil producer.

The elections heralded the first democratic change of power in the West African nation that has suffered decades of military rule, but Buhari faces formidable challenges — not least the Boko Haram insurgency that has killed more than 13,000 people and driven another 1.5 million from their homes.

Buhari, a former general, last week fired the service chiefs of the once-mighty Nigerian military, which he has accused of corruption. But he expressed confidence that the Islamists that have launched suicide bombings and village attacks since his inauguration, killing hundreds, would be surrounded and eliminated with the help of neighboring Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. He said the multinational force would be ready by the end of the month.

“We are going to deny them recruitment. We are going to deny them free movement across borders. We are going to deny them training. We are going to deny them receiving reinforcement in terms of equipment,” said Buhari, who studied 35 years ago at the U.S. Army War College.

Boko Haram in March declared an affiliation with the Islamic State group, and Buhari said it has links with Islamist militants in northern Mali. But he predicted that the multinational force could break the back of Boko Haram within 18 months.

Despite the fighting talk, the Nigerian leader said he remained open to negotiations over the kidnapped girls but said it was first necessary to establish that those claiming to negotiate on behalf of the insurgents were really Boko Haram leaders who know the girls’ location and condition.

Dozens of the schoolgirls escaped in the days after the abduction, but 219 remain missing.

A human rights activist told AP this month that the extremists are offering to free the girls in exchange for the release of captured militant leaders. Buhari said: “We just can’t say yes or no in a sort of an impulsive manner. We have to establish the facts before we agree” to negotiations.

Buhari’s early visit to Washington is a sign of the importance the U.S. attaches to good relations with Nigeria, the world’s seventh-most populous nation at 170 million and America’s top trading partner in Africa. Top U.S. trade and finance officials have met the Nigerian delegation, and Buhari was meeting Tuesday with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, and CIA Director John Brennan, where he would be urging more American help against Boko Haram.

“The United States is very clear of the situation. What we need is intelligence, we need training facilities, we need some equipment,” he said.

Buhari acknowledged U.S. concerns over human rights abuses by Nigeria’s military. Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian army’s leadership of complicity in the death of 8,000 detainees in the battle against Boko Haram. Such concerns prompted Washington last year to block the sale of U.S. attack helicopters. Buhari said that new military chiefs were retraining forces and would adhere to internationally acceptable rules of engagement.

Nigeria also wants U.S. help in recovering government funds and the proceeds of crude oil exports that have been illegally diverted from the nation’s coffers, also hit by the decline in world oil prices.

In a Washington Post opinion commentary on Monday, Buhari wrote that $150 billion in funds have been stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts on behalf of former, corrupt officials.

____

Associated Press writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.

TIME Nigeria

Suicide Bombs Kill 64 People in Nigeria on Muslim Holiday

Muhammadu Buhari Nigeria
Mujahid Safodien—AFP/Getty Images Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari gives an interview to Agence France-presse at his hotel during the 25th African Summit in Johannesburg on June 14, 2015.

The blasts are blamed on Nigeria's homegrown Boko Haram Islamic extremist group

(DAMATURU, Nigeria) — Suicide bombs have killed at least 64 people in multiple blasts in the northeastern towns of Gombe and Damaturu, officials said Friday, scaring people into staying home during the Muslim Eid al-Fitr celebration.

Police say two women suicide bombers killed 12 people at two prayer grounds in Damaturu on Friday morning as people were preparing to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Hours earlier two bombs killed 50 people buying goods for the holiday at the market in Gombe, according to National Emergency Management Agency spokesman Sani Datti. Another 75 wounded are being treated in two hospitals there, he said.

The blasts are blamed on Nigeria’s home-grown Boko Haram Islamic extremist group which has launched a string of attacks that have killed hundreds during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ended Friday.

The upsurge in attacks followed a directive to create more mayhem during Ramadan from the Islamic State group, to which Boko Haram has sworn allegiance. It also followed the May 29 inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari, who has sworn to defeat the insurgents.

Nigeria’s new army chief, Maj. Gen. Tukur Buratai, was in Damaturu on a visit to boost troops’ morale Friday and prayed at the town’s Central Mosque. He was appointed last week when Buhari fired the entire top echelon of the military that he has accused of corruption that prevents what was once Africa’s mightiest armed force from curbing the insurgency centered in Nigeria’s northeast.

Recent attacks also have included the central city of Jos and the northern cities of Kano and Zaria.

___

Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.

TIME Nigeria

Twin Blasts In Northern Nigeria Have Killed At Least 49 People

Another 71 were injured in the attack

Twin blasts struck a marketplace in the northeast Nigerian city of Gombe Thursday, killing at least 49 people and injuring dozens more.

The market was crowded with people doing last minute shopping on the eve of the Eid festival that marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, reports Agence France-Presse.

The first bomb went off outside a busy footwear shop at 5:20p.m. local time (12:20p.m. ET) and was followed by a second explosion minutes later.

“I and many other people rushed to assist the victims. While we were trying to attend to the wounded, another blast happened outside a china shop just opposite the footwear shop,” local trader Badamasi Amin told AFP.

Ali Nasiru, another trader at the market said he saw “people lying lifeless on the ground.”

A senior rescue worker said 49 people had been killed and 71 injured in the attack but warned the death toll could climb as some of the wounded were in a “critical condition.”

No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts, but in recent months Gombe city has been the target of bombs and suicide attacks by militant Islamist group Boko Haram

More then 15,000 people have been killed in the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria since 2009.

[AFP]

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Offers to Release Chibok Girls If Leaders Freed

nigeria boko haram
Olamikan Gbemiga—AP The parents of children abducted by Nigeria’s Boko Haram group attend an event linked to the 'Bring Back Our Girls' campaign at the presidential residence in Abuja, Nigeria on July 8, 2015.

The new initiative reopens last year's offer to the Nigerian government to release the 219 students in exchange for 16 Boko Haram detainees

(LAGOS, Nigeria) — Nigeria’s Boko Haram extremists are offering to free more than 200 young women and girls kidnapped from a boarding school in the town of Chibok in exchange for the release of militant leaders held by the government, a human rights activist has told The Associated Press.

The activist said Boko Haram’s current offer is limited to the girls from the school in northeastern Nigeria whose mass abduction in April 2014 ignited worldwide outrage and a campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls” that stretched to the White House.

The new initiative reopens an offer made last year to the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan to release the 219 students in exchange for 16 Boko Haram detainees, the activist said. The man, who was involved in negotiations with Boko Haram last year and is close to current negotiators, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters on this sensitive issue.

Fred Eno, an apolitical Nigerian who has been negotiating with Boko Haram for more than a year, told the AP that “another window of opportunity opened” in the last few days, though he could not discuss details.

He said the recent slew of Boko Haram bloodletting — some 350 people killed in the past nine days — is consistent with past ratcheting up of violence as the militants seek a stronger negotiating position.

Presidential adviser Femi Adesina said on Saturday that Nigeria’s government “will not be averse” to talks with Boko Haram. “Most wars, however furious or vicious, often end around the negotiation table,” he said.

Eno said the 5-week-old administration of President Muhammadu Buhari offers “a clean slate” to bring the militants back to negotiations that had become poisoned by the different security agencies and their advice to Jonathan.

Two months of talks last year led government representatives and Eno to travel in September to a northeastern town where the prisoner exchange was to take place, only to be stymied by the Department for State Service intelligence agency, the activist said.

At the last minute, the agency said it was holding only four of the militants sought by Boko Haram, the activist said.

It is not known how many Boko Haram suspects are detained by Nigeria’s intelligence agency, whose chief Buhari fired last week.

The activist said the agency continues to hold suspects illegally because it does not have enough evidence for a conviction, and any court would free them. Nigerian law requires charges be brought after 48 hours.

Thousands of suspects have died in custody, and some detainees wanted by Boko Haram may be among them. Amnesty International alleges that 8,000 detainees have died in military custody — some have been shot, some have died from untreated injuries due to torture, and some have died from starvation and other harsh treatment.

In May, about 300 women, girls and children being held captive by Boko Haram were rescued by Nigeria’s military, but none were from Chibok. It is believed that the militants view the Chibok girls as a last-resort bargaining chip.

In that infamous abduction, 274 mostly Christian girls preparing to write science exams were seized from the school by Islamic militants in the early hours of April 15, 2014. Dozens escaped on their own in the first few days, but 219 remain missing.

Boko Haram has not shown them since a May 2014 video in which its leader, Abubakar Shekau warned: “You won’t see the girls again unless you release our brothers you have captured.”

In the video, nearly 100 of the girls, who have been identified by their parents, were shown wearing Islamic hijab and reciting the Quran. One of them said they had converted to Islam.

International indignation at Nigeria’s failure to rescue the girls was joined by U.S. first lady Michelle Obama. In a radio address in May 2014, she said she and President Barack Obama are “outraged and heartbroken” over the abduction.

Jonathan’s government initially denied there had been any mass abduction and delays of a rescue that might have brought the girls home became a hallmark of his other failures. He steadfastly refused to meet with the Bring Back Our Girls campaigners, charging they were politicizing the issue.

On Wednesday, President Buhari welcomed those campaigners at the presidential villa in Abuja and pleaded “We only ask for your patience.” He said “The delay and conflicting reaction by the former government and its agencies is very unfortunate.”

Campaign leader Oby Ezekwesili said, “The rescue of our Chibok girls is the strongest statement that this government could make to showg respect for the sanctity and dignity of every Nigerian life.”

There have been unconfirmed reports that some of the girls have been taken to neighboring countries, and that some have been radicalized and trained as fighters. At least three were reported to have died — one from dysentery, one from malaria and one from a snake bite.

Last year, Shekau said the girls were an “old story,” and that he had married them off to his fighters.

Lawan Zanna, whose daughter is among the captives, said this week that 14 Chibok parents have died since the mass kidnapping, many from stress-related illnesses blamed on the ordeal.

Some of the Chibok girls who managed to escape have been rejected by their community and now live with family friends, tired of hearing taunts like “Boko Haram wives.”

The assumption that all girls and women held by the group have been raped is a difficult stigma to overcome in Nigeria’s highly religious and conservative society.

Shekau had threatened in 2013 to kidnap women and girls if Nigeria’s military did not release detained Boko Haram wives and children. The government freed them in May of that year as a goodwill gesture ahead of failed peace talks.

Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds more — girls, boys, women and young men. Some have become sex slaves, while others are used as fighters, according to former captives.

Nigerian opinion on negotiating with the extremists is mixed. Some say the group’s crimes are too heinous to be forgiven: The 6-year-old Islamic uprising has killed more than 13,000 people and forced about 1.5 million from their homes.

“A lot of people take a hard-line stance that you must never negotiate with a terrorist,” said Sen. Chris Anyanwu. She called it a “very complex” issue, balancing the lives of more than 200 girls against the dangers of freeing extremists.

The militants last year seized a large swath of northeast Nigeria and declared an Islamic caliphate. Nigeria and its neighbors deployed a multinational army that forced them out of towns and villages this year, but the bloodshed has risen at a fierce rate since Buhari’s May 29 inauguration amid pledges to crush the insurgency.

___

Associated Press writer Bashir Adigun contributed to this report from Abuja, Nigeria.

TIME Nigeria

At Least 20 Killed in Suspected Boko Haram Bombing

Nigeria Boko Haram attack explosion
Adamu Adamu—AP People gather at the site of suicide bomb attack at Redeem Christian church in Potiskum, Nigeria on July 5, 2015.

Three hundred people have been killed in a series of bomb attacks in the last week

LAGOS, Nigeria — A bomb blast in Nigeria’s northern university town of Zaria killed 20 people Tuesday, the Kaduna state governor reported, the latest in a string of deadly bombing and shooting attacks by the Boko Haram Islamic extremist group.

Gov. Nasir el-Rufai urged citizens to avoid crowded public places including mosques and churches as the militants widen and accelerate the pace of attacks that have killed some 300 people in a week. Boko Haram may be responding to an Islamic State group order for more mayhem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

On Twitter, El-Rufai said “I am sad that a terrorist bomb attack just killed 20 people in Sabon Gari, Zaria.” Local media said the blast targeted government headquarters as civil servants assembled for a training course.

Boko Haram wants to install an Islamic state across the West African nation of about 170 million people divided between a predominantly Muslim north and Christian south. The extremists say democracy has brought nothing but woes to Nigerians plagued by endemic corruption that keeps Africa’s biggest oil producer and richest economy mired in poverty.

Nigeria’s police force Monday night announced increased security around mosques and churches after Boko Haram assaults on Sunday killed more than 60 people in a mosque and posh Muslim restaurant in central Jos city and at an evangelical Christian church in northeastern Potiskum town.

The attacks come just five weeks into the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim and former military dictator who has vowed to crush the 6-year-old insurgency that has killed more than 13,000 people and driven 1.5 million from their homes.

Boko Haram took over a large swath of northeastern Nigeria last year. A multinational force from Nigeria and its neighbors forced the militants out of many towns, but attacks have increased in recent weeks.

 

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