Sierra Leone begins three day ebola lockdown

BBC

Sierra Leone begins three-day Ebola lockdown.

The BBC’s Umaru Fofana says frenetic shopping had been taking place ahead of the lockdown

A three-day curfew or lockdown to try to stop the spread of the Ebola virus has come into effect in Sierra Leone.

The aim of the move is to keep people confined to their homes while health workers isolate new cases and prevent Ebola from spreading further.

Critics say the lockdown will destroy trust between doctors and the public.

Sierra Leona is one of the countries worst hit by West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 2,600 people.

The UN Security Council on Thursday declared the outbreak a “threat to international peace and security”.

The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on states to provide more resources to combat it.

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The BBC’s Umaru Fofana in Sierra Leone

Even the heavy downpour that deluged Freetown since dawn on Thursday did not stop thousands of people from rushing to supermarkets and vegetable markets to stock up on food ahead of the lockdown declared by the president.

The government hopes this drastic action will prove to be the magic bullet in the battle to stop the spread of Ebola, which has hit 13 of the country’s 14 districts, killing more than 500 people.

A supermarket attendant in the west of Freetown told me she that she has had to restock her shelves five times in two days – a mark of the brisk buying that’s going on by those who can afford it.

“I’m here to get some food and beverages for my family that will last us the whole weekend,” Christian Thomas told the BBC. “I’ve also bought dozens of litres of fuel for my generator should the lights go out as is so often the case,” he said.

In the poor eastern suburb of Calaba Town survival is on the minds of many. Customers and traders alike wondered how they would manage to pull it off.

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The medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has been strongly critical of the lockdown, arguing that ultimately it will help spread the disease.

MSF, whose staff are helping to tackle the outbreak, said in a statement this month that quarantines and lockdowns “end up driving people underground and jeopardising the trust between people and health providers”.

“This leads to the concealment of potential cases and ends up spreading the disease further.”

Freetown Sierra Leone (18 September 2014)There are reports of stockpiling in Freetown ahead of the lockdown
A World Health Organisation worker, (centre) trains nurses to use Ebola protective gear in Freetown, Sierra Leone (18 September 2014)Volunteers will go door-to-door to test people for the virus and take infected people to treatment centres
A drama film poster made about the Ebola virus hangs on the walls of downtown Freetown, Sierra Leone (18 September 2014)Posters warning about the dangers of Ebola can be seen all over Freetown
A charity worker educates children on how to prevent and identify the Ebola virus in their communities at Freetown, Sierra LeoneSierra Leona is one of the countries worst hit by West Africa’s Ebola outbreak

But the authorities insist that the measure “will minimise the spread of the virus”, and that thousands of officials would be deployed to make sure residents stayed indoors.

Volunteers will go door-to-door to test people for the virus and take infected people to treatment centres.

Health ministry spokesman Sidie Yahya Tunis told the BBC this month he did not expect the public to object.

“You follow or else you’ll be breaking the law. If you disobey then you are disobeying the president,” he said.

The disease infects humans through close contact with infected animals, including chimpanzees, fruit bats and forest antelope.

It then spreads between humans by direct contact with infected blood, bodily fluids or organs, or indirectly through contact with contaminated environments.

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Ebola virus disease (EVD)

Ebola virus
  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
  • Fatality rate can reach 90% – but current outbreak has mortality rate of about 55%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no proven vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats, a delicacy for some West Africans, are considered to be virus’s natural host
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West Africa Ebola casualties

Up to 14 September

2,630

Ebola deaths – probable, confirmed and suspected

  • 1,459 Liberia
  • 601 Guinea
  • 562 Sierra Leone
  • 8 Nigeria

UN deploys ebola mission in West Africa as death toll reaches 2,630

Reuters

U.N. to deploy Ebola mission as death toll reaches 2,630

NEW YORK/PARIS Fri Sep 19, 2014 1:53am BST

Health workers remove the body of Prince Nyentee, a 29-year-old man whom local residents said died of Ebola virus in Monrovia September 11, 2014. REUTERS/James Giahyue

Health workers remove the body of Prince Nyentee, a 29-year-old man whom local residents said died of Ebola virus in Monrovia September 11, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/James Giahyue

NEW YORK/PARIS (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council on Thursday declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a “threat to international peace and security” as the death toll hit 2,630 and France became the latest Western nation to step up its support.

French President Francois Hollande announced the deployment of a military hospital to the remote Forest Region of southeastern Guinea, where the outbreak was first detected in March.

Since then the virus has infected at least 5,357 people, according to World Health Organization (WHO), mostly in Guinea, neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia. It has also spread to Senegal and Nigeria.

With fragile West African healthcare systems overrun by the outbreak, Hollande said France’s response would not be limited to contributing to 150 million euros (118 million pounds) in aid promised by European Union nations.

“We must save lives,” Hollande told a news conference. “I have asked the defence minister to coordinate this action and to include military doctors and the civil protection agency plus air support.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday he will create a special mission to combat the disease and deployed staff in the worst-affected states.

“The gravity and scale of the situation now require a level of international action unprecedented for a health emergency,” Ban said. He added that he will appoint a special envoy to head the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, which will push a “rapid and massive mobilization” of people, material and financial resources.

“This international mission … will have five priorities: stopping the outbreak, treating the infected, ensuring essential services, preserving stability and preventing further outbreaks,” Ban told an emergency session of the Security Council.

SPEED IS OF ESSENCE

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said a surge of support could help turn things around for the roughly 22 million people in the hardest-hit countries, whose lives and societies have been shattered by the disease.

“In the hardest hit countries, an exponentially rising caseload threatens to push governments to the brink of state failure,” Chan said during the session of the 15-member council.

The Security Council also adopted a resolution that also calls on states “to lift general travel and border restrictions, imposed as a result of the Ebola outbreak and that contribute to the further isolation of the affected countries and undermine their efforts to respond.”

Joanne Liu, international president for medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres called on member states and others to follow the lead of countries that have committed to join the fight against Ebola.

“We need concrete action on the ground now. Speed is of the essence,” Liu said.

“Although dangerously late, the pledges such as those of the U.S. and UK are ambitious, but they must be implemented now. We do not have months or even weeks to wait. Thousands of lives are at stake,” she said, adding that other countries must commit to deploying assets and staff as soon as possible.

U.S. President Barack Obama, calling the disease a threat to global security, promised this week the deployment of 3,000 U.S. troops to help contain the epidemic. Britain also announced on Wednesday it would provide a further 700 treatment beds in Sierra Leone, its former colony.

One of the most deadly diseases, there is no known cure for the hemorrhagic fever, though development of several treatments and vaccines is being fast-tracked.

ATTACK ON JOURNALISTS, OFFICIALS

The WHO warned on Thursday there were no signs yet of the outbreak slowing, particularly in the three countries hardest hit. It said a surge in Liberia was being driven by an increase in the number of cases in the capital, Monrovia, where 1,210 bed spaces were urgently needed – five times the current capacity.

A U.S. C-17 military aircraft landed in Monrovia international airport on Thursday with a team of engineers to assess the capacity of the runway to handle large planes.

The U.S. plan will include the construction in Liberia – the country hit hardest by the outbreak – of 17 Ebola treatment centres with 100 beds each, plus training thousands of healthcare workers.

French forces will be based in an area where authorities are battling fears and stigma about the highly contagious disease.

Highlighting these difficulties, eight bodies, including those of three journalists, were found after an attack on a team trying to educate locals on the risks of the Ebola virus in a remote area of southeastern Guinea, a government spokesman said.

“The eight bodies were found in the village latrine. Three of them had their throats slit,” Damantang Albert Camara told Reuters by telephone in Conakry on Thursday.

In a rare piece of good news, the latest data showed no new deaths in Sierra Leone in the one day since the previous update.

The government in Sierra Leone has locked down the country, limiting movements for three days from midnight on Thursday. It said extreme measures are needed to contain the outbreak.

“Avoid touching each other, avoid eating bush meat, avoid visiting the sick, avoid attending funerals, report illnesses and deaths to the nearest health facility,” President Ernest Bai Koroma said in an address to the nation ahead of the start of the lockdown.

“We know some of the things we are asking you to do are difficult. But life is better than these difficulties,” he said.

However, many people fear the decision will bring more hardship to a nation that is already one of the poorest on earth and critics also question whether it will even be effective.

 

South Africa – will Ramaphosa be embarrassed by Lonmin’s Bermuda tax dodge

Mail and Guardian

Having recently blasted corporate tax evaders, the deputy president now has egg on his face after Lonmin’s Bermuda tax avoidance tactics surfaced.

Cyril Ramaphosa at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry in Pretoria. (Moeletsi Mabe, Gallo)

Evidence before the Marikana commission that Lonmin moved millions in platinum revenue from South Africa to tax-free Bermuda is likely to prove embarrassing for ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa, who was a Lonmin director and major shareholder until recently, came out swinging last month against corporate tax evaders, which he said have committed a crime against “ordinary” South Africans.

This week the Farlam commission of inquiry, which is investigating the events that led to the killing of 34 miners by police during the 2012 platinum strikes, heard that, for many years, Lonmin’s South African mines have paid “sales commissions”, recently averaging more than R200-million a year, to a company it owned in Bermuda.

Lonmin told the commission that it only put a stop to this practice in 2012, with a decision it says it backdated to 2008. The decision to stop was not made sooner, the company said, because it was blocked by its black economic empowerment partner Incwala – a company controlled by Ramaphosa’s Shanduka Group.

In a question-and-answer session in Parliament last month, Economic Freedom Fighters MP Leigh-Ann Mathys asked Ramaphosa what the government planned to do to crack down on corporate tax evasion.

In his answer, Ramaphosa said: “Tax evasion is not only a crime against the state; it’s also a crime against the people of our country, ordinary people.”

He said that multinational corporations minimise their corporate tax bills “by shifting profits to low tax operations where there is little or no genuine activity”.

He added: “In most cases, these strategies are not illegal,” but said government enforcement agencies are making sure “that, as far as possible, attempts to move capital offshore for tax reasons are reduced”.

Substantial commercial activity
Whether or not substantial commercial activity occurred at Lonmin’s Caribbean subsidiary, called Western Metal Sales, is not clear.

For several weeks, Lonmin has failed to explain, in response to amaBhungane questions, whether Western Metal Sales ever had an actual physical office staffed with employees who sold and marketed platinum on its behalf in order to earn the commissions.

When evidence leaders at the commission asked Lonmin to explain these payments on Tuesday, the responses were confusing and contradictory.

But among the facts that appeared to be agreed on by both Lonmin and the commission’s evidence leaders were the following:

  • Until 2007, all of the platinum produced by Lonmin’s South African subsidiary, Western Platinum, was “marketed” by Western Metal Sales, the Bermuda company. Western Platinum mines and refines most of the platinum group metals produced by Lonmin.
  • Western Platinum pays 2% of its turnover as a “sales commission” for this marketing service. Today the payments no longer go to Bermuda. Instead they are paid to Lonmin plc, the United Kingdom-registered parent company.
  • From 2008 to 2012, these commission payments totalled R1.2?billion. Western Platinum in South Africa booked these as payments to Western Metal Sales in Bermuda.
  • In June and July 2012, Lonmin and its Bermuda and South African subsidiaries signed two new agreements. According to these, the commission payments to Bermuda would be phased out and then stopped. Thereafter, the 2% commissions would be paid to Lonmin plc. But this new structure was backdated to become effective in October 2008, with the phase-out period occurring from 2007.

What Lonmin appears to be saying is that, even though payments had been booked to Bermuda until 2012, the new agreements in effect redirected the fees to the British parent company from 2007 onwards.

In effect, Lonmin had “rewritten” its financial history, “making six years of financial statements incoherent without a comment”, said Dick Forslund, an economist who researched the Lonmin financials for the Farlam commission.

System ‘no longer optimal’
Under cross-examination at the commission this week, Lonmin’s former chief of operations, Mahomed Seedat, told the commission he is “not sure exactly why” the change was made, but speculated that, for some reason, the system of paying commissions to Bermuda was “no longer optimal or economic”.

When evidence leader Matthew Chaskalson then pressed Seedat on why the decision was only made in 2012 and then backdated, Lonmin’s lawyer, Schalk Burger, interjected: “I have an instruction from the chief legal adviser to Lonmin to say the reason for the lateness of that agreement was that Incwala for very many years refused to agree to the new structure, and it was only by the middle of 2012 that that agreement could be obtained and that the agreement could be concluded.”


Lonmin mineworkers on strike in Marikana last year, demanding a bigger slice of the platinum pie. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Incwala Resources owns 18% of Lonmin’s South African subsidiaries Western Platinum and Eastern Platinum. Ramaphosa became a Lonmin board member in July 2010 when his Shanduka Group acquired a 50.03% controlling stake in Incwala.

He resigned from Lonmin’s board in January 2013 when he re-entered the political sphere.

The reasons why Incwala allegedly prevented the Bermuda payments from being stopped was not discussed further at the commission. It is also not clear when this happened and what Ramaphosa’s role was.

Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Ronnie Mamoepa, referred questions about the companies to Lonmin, but said he reiterated his statements that, “to the extent that there may be criminal transgressions with regard to taxation or money transfers, appropriate steps must be taken by relevant authorities, including the prosecuting authorities”.

‘Dormant’ company
AmaBhungane has sent three sets of questions about Western Metal Sales to Lonmin since August 12. In the only response, Lonmin spokesperson Sue Vey said: “This company [Western Metal Sales] has long been dormant and is no longer in use.”

Companies can legally avoid taxes by using aggressive tax planning and offshore structures, but this has become a nightmare for tax collectors across the globe as countries lose billions in potential revenue to offshore jurisdictions.

Of Lonmin’s Bermuda setup, Seedat told the commission: “A structure like this is normally set up to be optimal from a tax perspective.”

South African Revenue Service (Sars) spokesperson Adrian Lackay told amaBhungane this week that billions are lost from South Africa’s tax base as a result of “unacceptable transfer pricing practices”.

The fees paid from Lonmin’s South African subsidiary to its Bermuda subsidiary are an example of “transfer pricing” between companies owned by the same multinational (Lonmin’s parent company is registered in the United Kingdom).

But whether or not the “sales commissions” that Lonmin channelled to Bermuda would be acceptable in the eyes of the South African Revenue Service (Sars) is difficult to assess without more information.

For such a transaction to be acceptable under South African tax laws, it would have to be structured on an arm’s-length basis, as though each of the companies was trying to maximise its benefit from the deal.

Not an ‘exact science’
Lackay would not comment on the Lonmin example, but he said that assessing such transactions required in-depth information on the underlying commercial basis. And even then, judging whether or not transactions are at arm’s length is not an “exact science” and involved some “discretion”, he said.

In trying to ascertain whether or not Western Metal Sales is an operating company, amaBhungane tried to contact the firm.

Currently it is listed as being in the care of Appleby Services in Bermuda, an administration firm that services the offshore branches of many global corporations.


Cyril Ramaphosa was a shareholder and director in Lonmin, which has been accused of shifting profits to Bermuda for tax avoidance purposes.

When amaBhungane phoned Appleby, a staffer said Western Metal Sales is still active and is registered at Appleby’s Bermuda offices, contradicting Lonmin’s claim that the company was “long dormant”.

The Appleby staffer said that there are no Western Metal Sales employees based in Bermuda. She would not say whether it had previously employed staff, but did say the company had been in Appleby’s care for “a number of years”.

She directed further questions to Lonmin’s London head office.

Financial risks
When he testified on Tuesday, Lonmin’s Seedat said that Western Metal Sales “took ownership” of the mined platinum once it left Lonmin’s refinery and began its route to the end customer. Thus, he said, the Bermuda company earned its keep by assuming various financial risks.

For example, once the product was on its way to the customer, it might go missing or the platinum price could drop significantly – these were risks that the Bermuda-based marketing agent carried. But he later contradicted himself by saying he did not think Western Metal Sales took ownership of the metal, in which case it is not clear how it would assume these risks.

Forslund said: “To decide if [the payments to Bermuda are] legal or not is for experts to decide. Whatever is the case, August 2012 [the month that miners were shot by police at Marikana] as well as the strike in 2014 showed this practice of moving large funds from a South African subsidiary is unaffordable in the deepest sense of the word.

“A large part of this money should have been used for wages, and social and labour [spending]. This is the main point that has come out from this research.”

The Alternative Information and Development Centre, where Forslund is employed, said it will ask Sars to investigate.


The preacher, the farmer and the bottle store owner

Parliamentarians’ business interests range from Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s multimillion-rand shareholdings to a member who owns two bottle stores and is a partner in spare parts outlets. The register of MPs’ interests published this week lists the shares, properties and directorships local lawmakers hold.

As expected, Ramaphosa appeared to be the wealthiest MP as he declared shareholdings amounting to about R76-million, as well as property investments that generate income against bonds and an unknown amount from the Tshivhase family trust.

The Tshivhase Trust holds a financial interest in the Shanduka Group, a diversified investment holding company. These financial interests are confidential, as the trust is held with people other than the ANC deputy president who are not public representatives.

ANC MP Lemias Mashile, who until May 7 co-chaired Parliament’s ethics committee that deals with MPs’ interests, has directorships and is an owner of two bottle stores – Lemmy’s Liquor Stores – and has shares in South African Breweries’s Zenzele Holdings. He is also a partner in two Lemias Spares stores.

The Democratic Alliance’s parliamentary leader, Mmusi Maimane, declared that he receives remuneration outside his parliamentary work but he did not disclose his salary from the Liberty Church, where he is a preacher. He is also a director of Maimane Training and Communication and owns three properties.

Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, only declared his shareholdings in the Ratanang Family Trust, Mazimbu Investment Trust, Munzhedzi Family Trust and Kopano Charity Trust.

Malema holds no directorships, received no gifts, owns no property and has no sponsors, according to the register.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga declared ownership of two houses in Midrand and Duiwelskloof and two huts in Modjadjiskloof, whereas her husband, former ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga, declared that he owns no land or property.

Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Thandi Modise declared her controversial farm in Potchefstroom and two houses, one in Edenvale and another in Mafikeng.

Although many MPs have received all sorts of gifts, from expensive whiskies to walking sticks and knitted scarves, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said he had received no gifts during the period under review.

Instead, Buthelezi has presented a number of Cabinet ministers with Wessel de Kock’s book Usuthu! Cry Peace. – Andisiwe Makinana

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Click here.

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.


Guinea – bodies found after ebola team go missing

Guardian

Team spreading awareness of deadly virus set upon by angry residents in remote village

Liberian nurses in protection suits escort a suspected Ebola patient in Monrovia

Liberian nurses in protection suits escort a suspected Ebola patient in Monrovia. More than 700 cases, almost a quarter of the total so far, emerged in the past week. Photograph: Ahmed Jallanzo/EPA

The prime minister of Guinea said that seven bodies had been found after a team of health workers went missing during a push to raise awareness of the outbreak of Ebola which started in the country nine months ago.

Witnesses said the team were set upon by angry residents in the remote village of Womey, where many remain in denial about the disease, or suspicious of foreign health workers. Several failed to return following the visit on Tuesday. Officials earlier said some – including three journalists and the director and two senior doctors of the main local hospital – were being held captive. Atempts to reach them stalled when angry residents destroyed bridges leading to the village.

“The meeting started off well; the traditional chiefs welcomed the delegation with 10 kola nuts as a traditional greeting,” said a resident who was present at the meeting and gave only his first name, Yves. “It was afterwards that some youths came out and started stoning them. They dragged some of them away, and damaged their vehicles.”

In an announcement made on state television late on Thursday, Mohamed Saïd Fofana said authorities had located the bodies a day after the group was abducted. Among the dead were three Guinean radio journalists who had been covering the education efforts.

A government spokesman, Damantang Albert Camara. told Reuters: “The bodies were found in the village latrine. Three of them had their throats slit.” Some others from the delegation are still believed to be missing.

The Ebola outbreak across five west African countries has spiralled into the world’s biggest ever epidemic, with more than 700 cases – out of 5,300 overall – emerging in the past week alone, the World Health Organisation said on Thursday.

The WHO said there was a desperate shortage of health workers and supplies in an epidemic likely to last many more months. Health workers across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where most of the cases are, have been periodically attacked by citizens in a region experiencing the deadly virus for the first time.

The district of Nzérékoré, where the team disappeared, exploded in clashes after health workers tried to spray the local market last month. About 50 people were arrested and two dozen police officers who were sent to quell the riots were injured.

In Sierra Leone, almost 30,000 volunteers will go house-to-house to raise awareness of the disease during a three-day “lockdown”, when residents have been asked to remain at home. Thousands of soldiers are to enforce the curfew, due to start at midnight on Thursday.

A sluggish international response to the crisis has picked up in recent days. The US will send 3,000 troops to Liberia to help provide desperately-needed boots on the ground in the country hardest hit by the outbreak.

France’s president, François Hollande, said the former colonial power would set up a military hospital to help tackle the disease in Guinea. Guardian

Guinea – missing ebola awareness team; French aid pledged

BBC
Ebola outbreak: Health team ‘held captive’ in Guinea

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Guinean health workers wearing protective suits at a hospital in Conakry

Some villagers in Guinea have been scared at the appearance of health workers trying to combat Ebola
Officials in Guinea say a team of health workers and journalists who were trying to raise awareness about Ebola may have been kidnapped.

The team of six went missing after being attacked on Tuesday in a village near the southern city of Nzerekore.

Meanwhile, President Francois Hollande says France is setting up a military hospital in Guinea as part of its contribution to tackle the disease.

More than 2,600 people have now died from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

It is the world’s worst outbreak of the deadly disease, with officials warning that more than 20,000 people could ultimately be infected.

The UN Security Council is due to discuss the outbreak later on Thursday.

Last month, riots erupted in the area of Guinea where the health team went missing – near where the outbreak was first recorded – after rumours that medics who were disinfecting a market were contaminating people.

The three doctors and three journalists went missing on Tuesday after residents in the village of Wome pelted them with stones as they visited the village.

One of the journalists managed to escape and told reporters that she could hear the villagers looking for them while she was hiding.

The governor of Nzerekore told the BBC that the group were being held captive, although it remains unclear why.

Map of Guinea showing the capital Conakry and the southern city of Nzerekore – 18 September 2014
A government delegation, including the health minister and the communications minister, has been dispatched to the region but the BBC’s Makeme Bamba, in the Guinean capital Conakry, says the delegation have been unable to reach the village by road because a main bridge has been blocked.

The team is negotiating with local elders to try to gain access, she says.

There have been many reports of people in the region saying they do not believe Ebola exists, or refusing to cooperate with health authorities, fearing that a diagnosis means certain death.

Speaking on Thursday, President Francois Hollande said France was setting up a military hospital in Guinea as part of his country’s efforts to support the West African nations affected by the outbreak.

He said the hospital was a sign that France’s contribution was not just financial, adding that it would be in “the forests of Guinea, in the heart of the outbreak”.

The World Health Organisation said on Thursday that more than 700 new cases of Ebola have emerged in West Africa in just one week, showing that the outbreak is accelerating.

It said there had been more than 5,300 cases in total and that half of those were recorded in the past three weeks.

The epidemic has struck Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal.

A three-day lockdown is starting in Sierra Leone at 00.00 GMT on Friday in a bid to stop the disease spreading.

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Ebola virus disease (EVD)

Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
Spread by body fluids, such as blood and saliva
Current outbreak has mortality rate of about 55%
Incubation period is two to 21 days
There is no proven vaccine or cure

BBC

Nigerian Catholic Church says 25 towns now under Boko Haran control

This Day

18 Sep 2014

565-Boko-Haram-insurgents(1).jpg - 565-Boko-Haram-insurgents(1).jpg

  Boko Haram insurgents

By Michael Olugbode

The Catholic church yesterday gave a list of 25 towns in three North-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, presently under the control of the outlawed terrorist group, Boko Haram.

The towns include: Damboa, Buni Yadi, Madagali, Gwoza, Gujba, Gulak, Bama, Gulani, Shuwa, Marte, Kukawa, Michika, Dikwa, Bularafa, Bazza, Gamboru Ngalla and Buni Gari.

Others are Banki, Bara, Pulka, Bumsa, Ashgashiya, Taltaba, Limankara and Njibulwa.

“It may interest you to know the towns that are being controlled conveniently by the Boko Haram. Where their flags are flying in Borno, Yobe States and parts of Adamawa State that make up the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri. Apart from Sambisa which is their main Camp and many more camps which are yet to be touched by the Nigerian troops.

He added that: “Right now we have close to 20 priests taking refuge in Yola.
The church cried out saying that Maiduguri,  the Borno State capital “is sitting on a keg of gun powder, with the fall of Bama which is about 71 kilometres away and Konduga, the next major town is Maiduguri.

“There are conflicting reports about Bama as to whether it is in the hands of the terrorists. But the number of civilians that have migrated into Maiduguri on foot from Bama, Kawuri and Konduga is suggestive that the terrorists have an upper hand in the fight.

“We are faced with a huge humanitarian crisis; people are sleeping on the streets in Maiduguri, despite the seven or more camps within the city for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The state government is doing its bit to provide for them but the number is overwhelming and the resources are limited.”

While giving a situation report and update of the activities of the Boko Haram sect in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri over the last one month, the Archbishop of the Diocese, Oliver Dashe Doeme, said: “The last one month has seen the intensification and aggressive devastation of the Boko Haram activities in northern, central and southern parts of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri. The brutality and callousness with which people are killed can only be compared to that of the ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Many of our people are being forced out of their ancestral homes, villages and towns.

“Right now, thousands are living in caves on the mountains, some in the forest; the few who were able to escape are being absorbed by friends and relatives in Maiduguri, Mubi and Yola. Thousands have managed to escape into  Cameroun and are living under very difficult conditions of lack of food, shelter and medication.”

He lamented that: “What is very worrying and discouraging in the whole scenario, is the attitude of the military whom we mortgage and depend on for security. In the face of these attacks, they flee and ask civilians to do the same. There is no doubt that the morale of the security men and women is at its lowest ebb in the North-eastern part of Nigeria.”

Doeme said: “The level of sophistication and capabilities that these terrorists have attained within five years is very revealing and scary. The mastery and tact with which they fight is unequalled by our military. Their resilience can be compared to that of trained Marines. That is why they are able to over-run towns and villages almost unchallenged. They can boast of armoured tanks and armoured personnel carrier (APC), rocket launchers, anti aircraft and anti tank destroyers, sub-machine guns, new and latest guns AK 47 and an inexhaustible boxes of ammunitions and bullets.”

He added: “While I refused to believe a single narration of this reality because both Christians and Muslims are being affected, both Christians and Muslims have been killed; both Christians and Muslims have been driven out of their ancestral homes, villages and towns, Christians and Muslims have been internally displaced and are refuges in their own home state. There is still a religious under-tone to this whole mess.

“We might shy away from it, we may be silent and unable to speak up or speak out now against the plan to Islamize the North-east and eventually Nigeria. But what we are witnessing in Northern Adamawa is a clear confirmation and the unfolding of this agenda. But I am speaking as a leader and shepherd of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri and how much destruction and devastation we have seen and are still going through.”

He lambasted government, stressing that: “The near inaction of the government, the lukewarm attitude and the silence of the government is very disturbing. There is a total disconnection between what our so called leaders in Abuja report in the media and the reality on ground. We wish they have the courage to fly into these areas and see things for themselves.

“Our people are dying every day and in most cases with no one to bury them decently, they are left to rot; their homes and properties looted; they have become slaves and prisoners in their fatherland, here is a government that cannot safe guard the lives of its citizens and indeed life has become so cheap that it can be wasted any moment. We used to think that salt is the cheapest commodity in the market, well, life is cheaper now especially in the North-eastern part of Nigeria.”

The Archbishop added: “We are faced with a huge humanitarian crisis; people are sleeping on the streets in Maiduguri, despite the seven or more camps within the city for the IDPs. The state government is doing her bit to provide for them but the number is overwhelming and the resources are limited.”

He decried: “We are again witnessing a mass exodus of our brothers and sisters from the East, South and West. Many people are relocating to other parts of Nigeria; even the soldiers are moving their families out of the barracks to safer towns and cities in Nigeria.

“This is our current situation in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri. I may not know much about the politics and agenda of Boko Haram, those behind it, the sponsors and sympathizers.”

One thing I know for sure that they are human beings and not spirits, a local terrorist group with an International face and connection.”

He gave a verdict: “Does the government have all the facts and intelligence about this group, YES but the government and our political leaders lack the will to act in the interests of her citizens perhaps because of the political ambitions. As a Nation we are almost loosing this battle because it is spinning out of control. The earlier we come together as Nigerians forgetting our religious, ethnic, regional, cultural and ideological differences to face this menace the better for us. We are sinking fast in the quick sand, let us swallow our empty pride as Nigerians and ask for International assistance in tackling this problem. After all, if we have been assisting other countries and nations restore peace and order why do we feel that it is humiliating to ask for help now that our house is on fire.”

Nigeria’s “torture officers” in police – Amnesty report

BBC

Nigeria ‘uses torture officers to extract confessions’

A boy who was 15 years old when he was arrested and detained in Damaturu, Yobe state, for being a suspected Boko Haram memberThis teenage boy arrested for being a suspected militant had melted plastic poured on his back in 2013

Torture has become such an integral part of policing in Nigeria that many stations have an informal torture officer, Amnesty International says.

Both the military and police use a wide range of torture methods including beatings, nail and teeth extractions and other sexual violence, it says.

One woman accused of theft in Lagos said she was sexually assaulted, and had tear gas sprayed into her vagina.

The Nigerian government has not yet responded to the rights group’s report.

An artist's drawing portraying water torture in Nigeria People told Amnesty about a form of water torture in which hot and cold water is poured on naked bodies

Entitled Welcome to Hell Fire, it says people are often detained in large dragnet operations and tortured as punishment, to extort money or to extract “confessions” as a way to solve cases.

An electrified baton is used on a person to make them talk”  Former soldier

Extrajudicial executions

The use of torture is particularly extreme in the north-east in the war against Boko Haram Islamist militants, Amnesty says.

The UK-based rights group says between 5,000 and 10,000 people have been arrested there since 2009, and executions in overcrowded detention facilities are common.

A teenage boy, pictured at the top, was among 50 people arrested by the army in Pokiskum in Yobe state last year on suspicion being a member of the Boko Haram.

At the time he was 15 years old and spent three weeks in custody in Damaturu and said he was beaten continuously with gun butts, batons and machetes.

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Torture chamber testimony: Chinwe in Anambra state

An artist's drawing depicting the suspension of a detainee from a rod

Arrested in 2013 along with other hotel staff after two guns and a human skull were found. They were beaten, detained in a van for hours and then taken to an anti-robbery squad centre in Awkuzu.

“I was thrown inside a cell. I noticed a written sign on the wall ‘Welcome to hell fire’… I was taken to the interrogation room.

“There was a police officer at one end with two suspects who were chained together.

“I saw ropes streaming down from the ceiling tops, bags of sand elevated on the perimeter wall fence of the hall and all types of rod and metal in different shapes and sizes.

“I heard shouts and screams from torture victims… I saw buckets of water on standby in case anybody faints or opts to die before appending [their] signature to already written statements.”

The officer questioned him, tied his hands and legs, passed a rod between them and elevated him from a perimeter wall. They poured water on him whenever he passed out. He was charged with murder, has since been freed on bail and is awaiting trial.

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The boy told Amnesty that melted plastic was poured on his back and he was asked to walk and roll over broken bottles in a hole, and cold water was poured on him and others.

The scope and severity of torture inflicted… is shocking to even the most hardened human rights observer” Amnesty’s Netsanet Belay

A former soldier who served at Damaturu confirmed that torture was routinely used at the camp.

“An electrified baton is used on a person to make them talk,” he told Amnesty.

“They tie people with their hands stretched behind their arms… people kept like that for six or seven hours lose their hands, people kept like that much longer can even die,” he said.

Amnesty says the report was compiled using 500 interviews during 20 separate visits to Nigeria since 2007.

“Across the country, the scope and severity of torture inflicted on Nigeria’s women, men and children by the authorities supposed to protect them is shocking to even the most hardened human rights observer,” Amnesty’s Netsanet Belay said in a statement.

The 24-year-old woman sexually assaulted with tear gas says the abuse has left her with a permanent injury.

“A policewoman took me to a small room, told me to remove everything I was wearing. She spread my legs wide and fired tear gas into my vagina… I was asked to confess that I was an armed robber… I was bleeding… up till now I still feel pain in my womb,” she said.

An artist's drawing depicting a detainee being suspended upside-down by their feetDetainees spoke of being suspended upside down by their feet for hours

She has been charged with theft and remains in custody awaiting trial 10 months after her arrest.

Even though torture is prohibited under the constitution, Amnesty notes that Nigeria’s politicians have yet to pass a bill to criminalise it.

It says security forces enjoy a climate of impunity and the criminal justice system is riddled with corruption.  BBC