TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. Says No Ransom For Kidnapped Nigerian Girls

Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Boko Haram
Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Boko Haram. Reuters

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the United States would not support ransom or prisoner exchange as part of a deal to release more than 250 Nigerian schoolgirls who have been held captive by the extremist group Boko Haram since last month.

The United States would oppose any ransom payment or prisoner exchange to free more than 250 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped last month by the extremist group Boko Haram, the Obama Administration said Tuesday.

“It is the policy of the United States to deny kidnappers the benefits of their criminal acts, and that includes ransoms or concessions,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters when asked whether Obama would support negotiations with Boko Haram, which abducted the girls last month.

The Nigerian government also rejected releasing prisoners this week.

“What I can tell you is that we’re focused on working with the Nigerian government to locate and bring home those girls,” Carney said. “That includes a team of [U.S. officials in the country]. It also includes manned reconnaissance flights that I can confirm we are conducting in cooperation with the Nigerian government.”

The kidnapping has sparked global condemnation of Boko Haram and criticism of Nigeria’s government for how it handled the aftermath. The U.S. recently sent a team of officials from the FBI, the Department of State and the Department of Defense to aid in the search. Carney wouldn’t say whether the team of U.S. hostage negotiators in Nigeria wold encourage the government to negotiate with Boko Haram.

Some senior lawmakers are floating the idea of sending special forces to help find the girls, who appeared for the first time since their kidnapping in a video released by Boko Haram on Monday.

“The Nigerians ought to be handling things in their own backyard, but frankly it’s a big vast country with a bunch of bad guys acting like cowboys and running around,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told TIME. “They can’t handle it. I think that’s why we’re treading very carefully, but we’ve got to be more forceful than what we’ve been thus far.”

TIME Infectious Disease

What Is MERS? Here’s What You Need To Know

CDC has confirmed a second case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the United States. The virus, which has over 500 lab-confirmed cases of the disease worldwide with 145 fatalities, most of them in Saudi Arabia, belongs to the same family of viruses as SARS

Updated May, 17 5:45 p.m

The CDC confirmed last week that there was a second case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in the U.S.. [Update: And today, a third case was confirmed in Illinois. The patient was someone in contact with the first U.S. MERS patient.] You may be wondering what the hoopla is about if there are only three cases in the U.S. Let me tell you.

What is MERS?
MERS is a respiratory disease that is caused by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus” (MERS-CoV). MERS is in the same family of viruses as SARS and the common cold, but it appears so far to be less transmissible. The virus first appeared in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and to date, there are over 500 lab-confirmed cases of the disease worldwide and more than 145 people have died. The virus has spread to other countries in the Arabian Peninsula, and it’s thought to have originated from camels.

What are the symptoms?
Shortness of breath, fever, and coughing. In some cases it can be fatal, with 30% of people contracting the disease dying, but the first U.S. patient in Indiana has fully recovered and is discharged from the hospital. How severe a case is likely depends on the initial health of the person who contracts it.

How did the virus get to the United States?
In both cases, the virus was imported into the United States by people living in Saudi Arabia who work in health care settings. The second patient in Florida flew from Jeddah to London, and then Boston. From there, the patient traveled to Atlanta and then Orlando. During travel, the patient and started feeling symptoms. When the patient arrived at the emergency room of a Florida hospital on May 8, they were put into isolation, and the patient is currently in stable condition. The CDC has frequently said that cases of MERS in the U.S. have been expected, so the arrival is not a surprise. The third case, as mentioned, was someone in contact with the first U.S. MERS patient, in Illinois.

On desktop, roll over this graphic to get a closer look; on mobile, click to zoom.

Heather Jones

How is the virus transmitted?
What we know about the virus is that human transmission appears to only occur when someone has direct contact with an infected person. That could mean treating a patient in their home or in a hospital setting. Still, the health care workers in Indiana who interacted with the MERS patient have twice tested negative for the virus.

Am I at risk?
The CDC says the risk for Americans is extremely low. The CDC released a travel alert for the Arabian Peninsula, reminding travelers to pay attention to their health before and after their trip. However, health care workers serving in the Middle East are recommended to take necessary precautions to protect themselves from infection. The CDC currently has a team in Indiana and Florida to monitor the infection, as well as a team in Saudi Arabia studying the disease.

But what if I recently traveled to the Arabian Peninsula? How do I know if I’m infected?
The incubation period for the disease is around five to 14 days. If within 14 days after traveling to these countries you experience symptoms of respiratory illness, you can check with your health care provider and explain your recent travel. But again, so far the disease appears to transmit when someone has direct contact with an infected person, usually caring for that person.

Is there going to be an outbreak in the U.S. soon?
Infectious disease experts don’t appear to think so. Take SARS as a model: the disease started in Southern China in the early 2000s resulted in over 8,000 cases and 774 deaths. But only eight cases made it to the United States, and none of those patients died from the disease. MERS is less virulent than SARS, and the spread of SARS was aided by the existence of “superspreaders” who were people who spread the virus in much more excessive amounts than others, according to Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who specializes in pandemic policy. There are currently no MERS superspreaders. “This disease doesn’t spread efficiently. It’s hostile, but it seems casual contacts have not been becoming ill,” says Dr. Adalja.

So, I don’t need to freak out right now?
Take a deep breath. The fact that there are three cases of MERS in the United States is more of a message to health care workers. If a patient comes in complaining of severe respiratory symptoms, it’s a good idea to ask them where they’ve traveled. As for the rest of us, the usual hygiene rules come into play. The CDC recommends the following:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, and help young children do the same. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact, such as kissing, sharing cups, or sharing eating utensils, with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs.
TIME world cup 2014

Watch: How Brazil Is Beefing Up Security Ahead of The World Cup

A massive security operation is expected during the world’s biggest soccer tournament

With just one month to go before the FIFA World Cup begins in Brazil, recent violence in Rio de Janeiro and frequent protests throughout the country have raised serious security concerns for the soccer tournament.

Crime statistics released this week for the city of Rio show that street muggings increased 44 percent in the first four months of this year, as a local newspaper reports that police plan to distribute a brochure to soccer fans that includes tips on how to avoid being robbed. The recent crimewave has prompted state police to put an extra 2,000 police on the streets Monday, far sooner than they were expected to patrol the streets for World Cup duty.

But there have been significant efforts to make the country safe for the quadrennial soccer tournament. In Rio, a state-of-the-art command center is expected to handle emergency response management. Around 170,000 officers will be on hand to ensure security in the 12 host cities. And President Dilma Rousseff said earlier this year that she was prepared to deploy the military if needed.

Watch the video above for more on the security challenges that the South American country is facing.


TIME India

India’s Election-Fueled Death Toll Climbs to 43

Indian villagers mourn the death of their relatives in the village of Narayanguri, some 200kms west of Guwahati on May 3, 2014, after they were killed by tribal separatists. BIJU BORO—AFP/Getty Images

Indian police discovered the bodies of five more women and children in Assam, where electoral tensions triggered violent rampages against Muslim civilians

Indian police have discovered the bodies of five more women and children in Assam province, where electoral tensions boiled over into a violent rampage last week that authorities described as “barbaric.”

The Guardian reports that the death toll climbed to 43 as police continued to search the tea-growing state for victims of the violent attack.

Police are investigating allegations that Bodo rebels, locked in a long-standing land dispute with the Muslim community and angered by its support for an opposing candidate, rampaged through Muslim villages, burning down homes and opening fire on women and children.

“The killings were indeed barbaric,” said Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, “with even a five-month-old baby not spared.”

TIME interviewed victims of the attack last week, as authorities were still grasping the scope of the rampage. Voting in the Indian elections ended on Monday, with exit polls suggesting the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies were on their way to a win.


TIME Foreign Policy

Lawmakers Mull Special Forces to Find Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls

Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram.
Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram. Reuters

Top U.S. officials including Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Dianne Feinstein of the Intelligence Committee are undecided over the most effective way to help Nigeria find more than 200 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in April as U.S. intelligence support begins but boots on the ground remain off the table

The social media campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, has built worldwide pressure to find and rescue the more than 200 school girls abducted nearly a month ago by the Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram. But just how far should the U.S. go in the hunt for them?

President Barack Obama has sent in an intelligence, logistics and communications team that includes 16 military personnel. On Monday, National Security Council and Pentagon officials told TIME that that the U.S. has begun sharing commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerians and is flying manned aircraft over Nigeria with the government’s permission for intelligence purposes.

The top ranking Senators on the Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told TIME that they would support sending in special forces under certain conditions: Feinstein would send in the additional assistance only if Nigeria requests it, and Chambliss would do so with our allies.

Retired General Chuck Wald, former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, said that America would need to send “several hundred” Special Operations troops “to get it done right.”

“You’d have to do some work on intelligence, you’d have to prep the battlefield [and] you’d have to have the ability from the Nigerians to move with some freedom,” said Wald. “It’s not going to be easy, but given the mission I’m sure they could do something.”

One problem that Wald laid out is that the terrorist group has reportedly split off the schoolgirls into smaller groups. “This is going to take awhile,” he said.

On Sunday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told ABC’s This Week that there’s “no intention” of putting boots on the ground, but “we’re going to bring to bear every asset we can possibly use” to help the Nigerian government.

“The Nigerians are the ones who understand the terrain, they understand the people, they understand all the subtleties,” said Col. Steven Warren, a top Pentagon spokesman, about why the Department of Defense has not yet considered a special forces-type rescue mission. “It’s their backyard. They are the ones best positioned to conduct an operation to try and locate these people…[It] is the technical piece that we’re best available to provide here.”

Another Pentagon official told TIME that the Nigerians had yet to ask for boots on the ground to help the search, which is a particular problem for Feinstein, the Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Chambliss, the ranking Republican.

“I don’t know what we do if the government doesn’t want help, and they have been reluctant to ask for help,” said Feinstein. “The people of Nigeria should have a say in that and if they want their government to ask for help, they have to make that known.”

Last week, Amnesty International reported that the Nigerian military may not be as strong as the U.S. government has portrayed them publicly, finding that it declined to provide assistance to the schoolgirls despite at least four hours of advanced warning “due to poor resources and a reported fear of engaging.”

“This business of ‘fear of engaging,’ what do you have a military for if not to engage when your country is being attacked,” demanded Feinstein. “I would say that Boko Haram is attacking the people of the country. The army is there to defend the people, not to allow kidnapping of young girls, not to allow schools to burned down.”

“The Nigerians ought to be handling things in their own backyard, but frankly it’s a big vast country with a bunch of bad guys acting like cowboys and running around,” said Chambliss. “They can’t handle it. I think that’s why we’re treading very carefully, but we’ve got to be more forceful than what we’ve been thus far.”

Of course, even U.S. special forces may not bring the girls back. In 2011, the Pentagon sent 100 special forces troops to help thousands of African troops search for Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, but have yet to capture or kill the warlord. Top LRA commanders have been taken out, however, and LRA attacks have drastically decreased. This year the Pentagon announced it would send in 150 more troops as well as CV-22 Osprey aircraft, and the United Nations has signaled that they are finally zeroing in on his whereabouts.

Chambliss believes our current intelligence assistance to Nigeria is “not good enough” and “not even a token.” But despite “great confidence” in the American military, even Chambliss is suspect that U.S. special forces could find a safe return for the abducted girls.

“Right now we just don’t the answer to that question,” said Chambliss. “We know it’s going to be difficult. The question is how do we do it…but I think we certainly have the capability of doing it.”

With reporting by Zeke J. Miller

TIME Israel

Israeli Ex-PM Ehud Olmert Sentenced to 6 Years in Jail

Former Israel prime minister Ehud Olmert is sentenced to 6 years accusation of corruption in Tel Aviv, Israel on May 13, 2014.
Former Israel prime minister Ehud Olmert is sentenced to 6 years accusation of corruption in Tel Aviv, Israel on May 13, 2014. Jack Guez—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The former prime minister and mayor of Jerusalem was convicted of accepting bribes over a contentious real estate deal in the Holy City

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six years in prison Tuesday and ordered to pay a fine of more than $289,000 after a court convicted him of accepting bribes during his time as mayor of Jerusalem.

Olmert was convicted of accepting $161,000 from realtors who sought approval for a contentious luxury housing development in Jerusalem called Holyland. He served as mayor of the city from 1993 to 2003, and was Prime Minister of Israel from 2006 to 2009.

Judge David Rozen compared Olmert to a “traitor” during the sentencing, the New York Times reports, and railed against the wider corruption of political and business elites. “The cancer must be uprooted,” Rozen said.

Olmert’s defense team had requested a commutation of the sentence to community service, but Rozen matched the prosecution’s request for jail time.

The former Prime Minister maintains his innocence and vowed to appeal the decision in a statement on Tuesday, calling it “severe and unjust.”


TIME privacy

Google Must Amend Some Search Results After E.U. Ruling

The European Union Court of Justice ruled in an advisory judgment on Tuesday that Google must remove links to outdated or irrelevant personal information from search results upon request by an E.U. citizen, allowing them the right to control their private data

Correction appended 2:21 pm ET

A European court ruled Tuesday that Google must remove outdated or irrelevant personal information on individuals from its search results if requested, enshrining a right to be “forgotten.”

The European Union Court of Justice in Luxembourg found that individuals have a right to control their private data and that they have the right to request that information be “forgotten” when the results show links to information that is no longer accurate or relevant, the Associated Press reports.

Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, welcomed the judgment. “Today’s court judgement [sic] is a clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Big data need big rights.”

The advisory judgment stemmed from a Spanish case against Google, ruling that the search engine is responsible for the content that appears after a query, and that it is not just hosting links to it and summaries about it. It also found that Google must respond to legitimate requests to remove data; exceptions could be made when the information is relative to a public figure, especially a politician, and it would be deemed against the public interest to remove the information.

Two noteworthy examples from the Spain case back in 2011 include a plastic surgeon who was sued for 5 million euro after supposedly botching a client’s breast augmentation and a high school principal who got a ticket for urinating in public. The two successfully convinced Spain’s Data Protection Agency to force Google to remove unflattering links to the incidents from its search engine results. At the time, another 88 people had fought and won the right to have various links about themselves removed as well.

Google can be bad for business, in other words, and one of the larger issues to this story is where to draw the line over what can be removed. Lobbying to have links to things you’ve posted about yourself is one thing; having search engine links to information someone else has posted about you deleted is another, more complicated issue entirely.

By April 2011, Google had already appealed the decision of Spain’s national court five times, arguing that — for better or worse — Google’s role is to index the world’s information. The search giant argued then, and still does today, that if people want inflammatory links about themselves removed from Google, their best course should be to take the issue up directly with whomever posted the content in the first place.

This latest ruling will affect all search engines that operate in Europe — not just Google: If people come across content about themselves they’d like removed, they’ll be able to contact the search engines, who “must listen and sometimes comply” to have the content removed, according to the Associated Press. Unlike the Spain case back in 2011, this ruling can’t be appealed by Google.

Details about how search engines will actually field and act upon requests haven’t been fully hashed out yet, but search engines won’t be automatically required to remove links for each request just because a request is made. According to the ruling, it’ll be up to the search engine to attempt to find a balance between ensuring information is available the public, and a person’s right to privacy. If the search engine and the person requesting information be removed can’t find a common ground, “the matter can be referred to a local judge or regulator,” reports the AP.

Correction: This piece originally misstated the location of the European Union Court of Justice. It is in Luxembourg.

TIME Syria

Stunned Residents Return to Ruins in Homs

Residents return to devastated Homs to salvage what remains from their homes, May 12, 2014.
Residents return to devastated Homs to salvage what remains from their homes, May 12, 2014. Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME

Residents have begun returning to the once bustling but now devastated Syrian city of Homs, as the terms of a ceasefire have relinquished nearly all of its control to the government in exchange for rebels' safe passage out

The former residents of the Qarabis neighborhood in the Old City of Homs in Syria ought to be forgiven if they start questioning the value of peace. Three days after the successful conclusion of a ceasefire between the government of President Bashar Assad and the rebels who had holed up in the neighborhood for nearly two years, residents were allowed back into the sealed off enclave to salvage what they could from their former homes. It’s miraculous that there was anything left to reclaim. Hospitals and mid-rise apartment buildings in the city had pancaked under the barrage of the bombs dropped during the siege, spewing their contents into the streets below with the force of their fall. Their tar-lined roofs have become the city’s new sidewalks. A trickle of dazed residents walked over the street-level rooftops trying to make sense of their former homes, trailing baby strollers and bicycles packed with their rescued belongings. What was left standing had been chewed by mortar fire. The facades of some buildings had been sheared off, exposing dining rooms complete with wall paintings, chandeliers and mahogany tables.

Homs was once a bustling city, home to over a million Syrians. It is now in ruins, and hundreds of thousands of its residents have fled. A hundred miles north of Damascus, Homs has seen perhaps more violence in an extraordinarily violent war than any other part of Syria. Some of the earliest fighting of the war was here. Under the terms of the ceasefire it is now almost completely under government control. The rebels who once considered it a stronghold have left all but one neighborhood of Homs.

“Take a picture, take a picture!” a woman named Umm Hamed, 65, shouted at a pair of TIME journalists roaming the ruins. “See what this war has brought us.” She opened a tattered shopping bag stuffed with a red velvet cushion and brightly patterned curtains she had ripped from the windows of her old kitchen. Her daughter in-law clutched a blue vacuum cleaner. It was all that was left of a house that had been in her husband’s family for generations. Umm Hamed, who asked to use a pseudonym to protect her family’s identity, had returned hoping to find at least a mattress or a sofa, as some of the other returning families had, but everything was either crushed under the weight of collapsed walls, or looted. Rebuilding, she said, was out of the question. “With what money?” She was wrapped in the black headscarf and loose cloak of conservative Sunni Muslims who tend to support the opposition, but said she wanted nothing to do with the rebels who claimed to fight for her freedoms. She was angry, she said, with those who launched the uprising, and the government that shelled her town in retaliation. “They were asking for freedom, and now we are asking for food,” she said.

What was once a vibrant middle class boulevard of dress shops, cafes and ice cream parlors has been reduced to dusty rubble. Even the Syrian flag draping listlessly from a military checkpoint is coated in dust. TIME’s photographer, Yuri Kozyrev, has covered wars for decades, including the brutal wars in Chechnya. He was amazed at the extent of the level of destruction he witnessed on Monday in Homs. “It’s worse than Grozny,” he said, as we walked through a post-apocalyptic landscape, broken teacups and eyeglasses crunching under our feet. Former residents trickled out of the side streets onto what was left of the boulevard to make their way home to whatever temporary accommodations they had arranged during the worst of the fighting. Mustapha, an engineer who would only give his first name, pushed an old bicycle laden with books in French, English and Arabic. His house, he said, had been looted. All that remained were his books, he said with scorn, as if he would have had more respect for the looters had they taken his treasured philosophy tracts and engineering tomes. Asked if he ever planned to return to the Old City to regain his life, he just shrugged at the destruction around him. “I am an old man, and an engineer. Return to what? I will be dead before this city can be rebuilt. This is the end of our history here.”

The ceasefire, like those conducted elsewhere in Syria, follows the government’s template for a possible way to conclude the war, which Assad says will happen by the end of the year. This is the government strategy, as it was used in Homs: a rebel-held area is encircled by government troops and bombed and starved into capitulation. Sometimes civilians are allowed to leave, but usually they are forced to suffer alongside the fighters. The Homs ceasefire, brokered by the U.N. and Iranian diplomats, came at the end of a nearly two-year siege. Fighters were allowed to leave with their weapons for rebel-held areas in the north, in exchange for the release of hostages and access to two pro-government towns near Aleppo that had been under siege by the rebels. The government controls all of Homs now, except for Waer, another rebel-held enclave about three miles from the Old City. On Monday, negotiations for a Waer ceasefire were underway, but seem to have broken down; we could hear mortar attacks and explosions coming from that direction throughout the afternoon.

Two middle age women, walking arm and arm for stability as much as for comfort down the Old City’s main street, had trouble holding back tears. They gave only their ages, 40 and 50, for fear of a government backlash for speaking their minds. The ceasefire in Homs was meaningless, the 40-year-old said. “This is not a peace. It is not even the beginning of peace, only the beginning of more destruction.” As she spoke, another explosion in Waer could be heard. “The rebels may have left Homs, but still the shelling goes on, and the bombing goes on.” Her companion, looking around her former neighborhood, sighed. “It’s sad to say that this is what Assad calls a victory, when the bombings were against his own people.”

Correction: The original version of this story misspelled the name of a neighborhood in Homs. The correct spelling is Qarabis.


Nigeria’s Nollywood Is Thriving Despite Terrible Conditions

Nollywood film set- Brookeville, MD
The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Nollywood Is Hollywood with more bribes, gunplay, and crime

Nigeria—with its booming growth, and its nearly 300 missing girls—has been all over the news lately. I’ve been here for the last 7 days, first reporting on the Africa meeting of the World Economic Forum in Abuja, and now in Lagos, to report a piece on the country’s burgeoning film industry, Nollywood. In some ways, the story of this industry is the story of the entire Nigerian and even African economy. It’s about sheer entrepreneurial will overcoming any number of obstacles, from inept governance, to corruption and crime, to the lack of basics like power, roads, and infrastructure.

The chirpy David Brook’s piece in the New York Times the other day certainly put forward the optimistic story—7% growth, a GDP that recently jumped by 89% thanks to a recalculation by the World Bank, huge consumer spending potential, a growing middle class, etc., etc. But what I have taken away from my reporting here is that this growth is happening in spite of incredible governmental roadblocks, and that much of the money is still flowing out of the country, or up to a small group of elites. If things got even a little bit better, Nigeria, already the largest economy in Africa, could truly boom in a more inclusive way.

Consider electrical power, or the lack of power, which everyone from Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, to the small producers of Nollywood says is the biggest obstacle to doing business here. The power setup in Nigeria is similar to the water setup in India. The government controls a grid, which runs haphazardly—sometimes because of poor infrastructure, other times because power gets pulled to choice areas. Either way, it means people have to buy generators and diesel to keep the lights on. (BTW, the lights just literally went off in my hotel, supposedly one of the nicest in Lagos, as I wrote this post.)

I spoke today with a filmmaker who was in the middle of making movie when his generator blew out. He bought a new one the next day, but it was stolen by one of the neighbors. (He hired the local vigilante police to find it; the real ones never come because they don’t get paid off.) Lack of power is one big reason production values in Nollywood, which churns out more movies than Hollywood and is second only to Bollywood in terms of number of films produced, have remained low for so long. But this kind of crime is just the tip of the iceberg.

The same producer released 50,000 copies of a movie to local distributors in Alaba Market, which is the birthplace and heart of Nollywood, and the largest consumer electronics market in West Africa. The next day, he got a call from Greece, from someone who’d seen his movie via a black market tape. It turned out that 100,000 copies had already been pirated (he believes by his own distributors in Alaba). The $5,000 in profit he’d hoped to make on his $5,000 investment was gone.

In fact, Alaba embodies all that is good and bad about the Nigerian economy. It is vast, chaotic, rough, entrepreneurial, and lawless. To get there from Lagos’ main business district, you drive hours in standstill traffic, on roads that are half pavement and half dirt. Once at the perimeter, I had to hitch a ride with a boy who had a motorbike, speeding along through the narrow market streets to get to where the Nollywood section was because the market itself is so big. (I felt like an extra in the Bourne Identity.)

Inside, you feel its possible to get lost and never emerge. It was a sea of bodies all selling everything you can image: extension cords, plantain chips, porn, cassava, washing machines, black market DVDs. Everyone everywhere is looking for money-making angles. One woman was selling empty plastic bags, and another was buying them and filling them with grain, to sell again. There was an open sewer with a 6 foot long board over it and a couple of guys had commandeered it and were making people pay a 25 naira toll to walk across.

Once inside, you see the different layers of the Nollywood economy—I followed a young man who’d come 80 minutes to buy DVDs for 50-85 naira that he would sell in a stall at home for 100 naira (about 75 cents). Interestingly, the foreign pirated movies, like 12 Year A Slave, sell for 35 naira—less than the local stuff, which is more popular. Distributors take the movies given to them by filmmakers and make copies of them (sometimes making extras for themselves), which they keep in warehouses and sell in the market to people from all over—Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, the Caribbean.

Once, I was told, four of the biggest filmmakers in Lagos got upset about the distributors pirating stuff and skimming too much off the top, and decided to go into the market with armed military police. They all came out a little while later, running, and being shot at by the distributors. Some of the larger filmmakers have since started their own stalls in Alaba and many now do their own distribution.

Despite all this, the industry thrives. The recent World Bank rebasing of GDP numbers has found that Nollywood contributes 1.4 % of the country’s yearly GDP (entertainment is 3 % in the US, so 1.4 % is really very good for a county like Nigeria). There is an entire ecosystem of stars, minders, and hangers-on here on Victoria Island. I went to a Nollywood party last night and saw them all getting dressed for the red carpet at an event sponsored by MTV and Absolut Vodka. They are already huge in Nigeria, obviously, but are also big in Africa and are increasingly grabbing the diaspora market in the UK, Caribbean, Germany, etc, in part because the industry is finally starting to digitize; expats are coming home and building out digital video on demand platforms, which is bolstering demand and helping production budgets and quality to grow.

I met a young woman who is the star of “Lekki Wives,” a take off on the real housewives theme. Lekki is like New Jersey—a part of Lagos where strivers live. Her character, Lovette, is a lens into the various socioeconomic issues that Nigerians now face—inequality, corruption, wealth than can be taken away in minutes, etc, etc. While there are plenty of sensational Nollywood films—thrillers, horror pics, religious ones—an increasing number show the way the country is changing and the challenges its facing.

I have another day of reporting to do, but so far, I’ve come away feeling that Nollywood, like the Nigerian economy itself, could be much bigger, but only if the government actually gets its act together and supplies basic business infrastructure needs (or the industry gets big enough to build it all out themselves, as rich business men like Dangote have done). Of course, the former would require a sea change in the political economy. It can’t come soon enough.

TIME Nigeria

Nigeria Refuses to Swap Militant Prisoners for Kidnapped Girls

Nigeria Kidnapped Girls
This photo taken from a video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network on May 12, 2014, purportedly shows some of the kidnapped girls Associated Press

Interior Minister Abba Moro says his government will not trade imprisoned Boko Haram extremists for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls, kidnapped by the militant group from a school last month, as demanded by the group's leader in a new video

The Nigerian government will not trade imprisoned Boko Haram extremists for schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist group, the country’s Interior Minister said Monday.

“As far as this government is concerned, the option of [the] swap of innocent citizens with people who have taken [up] arms against the country … is not on the table,” Abba Moro told the BBC.

In a video released Monday, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said the group will free the girls if the Abuja government releases imprisoned Islamic militants.

“We will never release them until after you release our brethren in your prison,” he said.

The video purports to show some of the 200-odd girls who were kidnapped from their school one month ago while doing their final exams. Boko Haram wants to rid Nigeria of Western education and form an Islamist state.

Several nations, including the U.S., France, Britain and Israel, have sent experts or offered help to the Nigerian authorities.


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