The writings of an intense journalist

Monday, 19 November 2007


'The Hyena Men'Adetokunbo Abiola
Abdullahi Ahmadu was 15 years old when he joined his father's business in the small town of Malumfashi in Katsina State, Nigeria. This meant that he had to acquire his own hyena, as his family made their living as entertainers accompanied by hyenas, snakes and monkeys, in addition to selling the fetishes and herbal medicines that are popular in Nigeria.
Abdullahi's grandfather, Nalado Ahmadu, taught him how to catch and control the animals, and introduced him to the charms that help subdue the creatures and protect their captors from harm.
Today Abdullahi is an experienced animal handler in his early thirties, who travels across Nigeria as part of a troupe of entertainers including his younger brother, Yahaya, and other members of his extended family. Together they work with three hyenas, two rock pythons and four baboons. According to Abdullahi, this is a tradition exclusive to his family, and only they are taught the secrets of how to trap and take care of the creatures.
The first time I met up with the hyena men, as they have become known, the group was staying in a ramshackle three-bedroom apartment in Dei Dei Junction, a suburb of the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The animals were housed in specially constructed boxes. Every member of the party had sores and scars on their faces, legs and hands - legacies of times when the animals suddenly turned hostile and pounced on their handlers with their teeth and claws.
'We use a heavy stick to hit the hyenas on the head when they misbehave,' Abdullahi said. 'We knock them down on the ground. All of us hold the sticks in case the animals become aggressive.'
However, Abdullahi's daughter, six-year-old 'Mummy', played with the animals with no sign of fear. She even rode a hyena as if it were a miniature, slope-shouldered pony. 'She cannot be harmed,' said Abdullahi. 'It's the same thing with the snakes and monkeys. She has taken a potion of traditional herbs and has been bathed with it. So her safety from the animals is guaranteed for the rest of her life.'
The animal handlers make use of herbs, concoctions, powders, amulets and esoteric incantations to catch and train their captives, protect themselves against harm and build up their own confidence. Amulets are also placed into 'akayau', metal rings tied around the men's ankles, to enhance their dancing skills. The handlers believe that humans are capable of transforming themselves into animals such as hyenas, hence the need for powerful voodoo charms and incantations as protection.
When setting out on an expedition to capture a hyena, Abdullahi and his partners drink a protective potion and also bathe themselves with it. They travel to the caves and forests of northern Nigeria accompanied by hunting dogs which assist in sniffing out the animals. The young men use a powerful torch to light their way through the darkness, believing that the potion they drank has made them invisible to the animal. At the entrance to the animal's lair, they chant incantations and blow clouds of white powder, a traditional African tranquiliser, at its face, rendering it senseless and easy to subdue. Sometimes, the powerful light from the hyena's eyes might damage the bulb of the torch, but the men eventually have their way.
'After bringing the animal out of the cave,' said one of the handlers, 'it will fight, since it's not familiar with humans. A traditional medicine is administered to its body so it automatically becomes obedient to us. It begins to obey all our commands.'
The animal is subjected to one or two months of training. It must learn to live alongside other animals and humans, and to engage in different kinds of play without becoming violent. In return, the handlers feed the hyenas with scraps purchased from abattoirs (a goat every three days or so helps prevent the animals becoming aggressive). Maintaining good relations with the animals, said Abdullahi, requires both skill and tact.
'They're alert and the slightest sound keeps them awake,' he said. 'They hate hot environments so they're kept in a cool place. When necessary, cold water is sprinkled on their bodies to comfort them. They're very sensitive creatures.'
Galadima Ahmadu, who controls a hyena named Jamis, explained that the handlers wear 'bante' dress and charms. 'If we give onlookers the charms, they can play with the animals as well and they won't be harmed,' he said. The concoctions sold to the public are meant to protect against snake, hyena or monkey bites, while the charms and amulets shield people from the antics of witches and wizards, which many Nigerians believe are responsible for their misfortunes.
The animals are good business. The family has sold traditional potions and charms for many years, but trade increased dramatically after the acquisition of the hyenas and other creatures. 'We parade the animals on the streets,' said Mallam Mantari, the owner of a 13-year-old hyena named Mainasara. 'They can be very funny and the public showers them with money.'
As unemployment and poverty continue to bite in Nigeria, youths in particular must devise inventive ways of making money for survival. 'I've been in this business since childhood,' said Abdullahi Mohammed, a quiet young man who is responsible for a baboon called Frayo. 'This animal has helped us. The money we make gives us food every day. This runs into a few thousand naira.'
I travelled with the group from Ogere-Remo to Bar Beach at Victoria Island in Lagos, and watched as scores of fascinated people were entranced by the spectacle of the hyenas, monkeys and snakes being paraded through the streets. Commercial buses and private cars stop, causing a traffic jam, while passengers gape at the animals as they perform their tricks. Within seconds people start to gather and a crowd forms, everyone staring in wonder.
Yahaya Ahmadu explained how they operate: 'When we get to a place, we make the baboons do somersaults, jump on the back of motorcycles and shake people's hands. Those watching are impressed with our animals. Before you know it, naira notes start to fly here and there. Some throw them at the baboons, others give directly. The baboons bring the money to us and we put it in the common till.'
Important members of the troupe include the drummers, Nura Garuba, Abdulkarim Lawal and Sanusi Ahmed. They follow the hyena men as they travel from city to city, beating the traditional Hausa drums that are the signal for the baboons to start dancing.
Others in the group are traditional healers. According to Yahaya, 'They make herbs to take care of snake bites, scorpion stings and other animal problems. We also have herbs for spiritual problems, and illnesses such as typhoid fever, malaria and syphilis. When we get to a market, street junction or public place, people gather to watch us. We use the opportunity to sell these herbs to them.'
In addition to street shows, the animal handlers take part in film projects and make money from the sale of wild animals. 'Any animal that people want, we can get for them,' said Yahaya, who claims that they have supplied hyenas, pythons and other animals to zoos in Nigeria, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Benin. 'A mature hyena is sold for one hundred and fifty thousand naira, but a cub is more expensive at two hundred and fifty thousand naira. This is because a cub can be trained. An adult baboon goes for fifteen thousand naira, a young one for eight thousand. A python goes for eight to ten, depending on the size.'
The hyena men use the hunting dogs that accompany them to trap smaller animals for food. Konyami Murtala, who handles a baboon called Mora, said the dogs catch rabbits, grass cutters, antelopes and other small animals in the forests surrounding their camps. These animals are skinned and eaten or offered for sale.
People who benefit indirectly from the hyena men's business include the bus drivers who transport the animals from town to town. According to Lekan Fabuyi, who plies the Ogere-Remo/Lagos route, the drivers charge higher than usual rates for carrying the wild animals, making the animal handlers their preferred customers.
Other beneficiaries are the provision store owners and food vendors who locate their small businesses at the outskirts of towns, where the hyena handlers usually set up their makeshift wooden huts amid abandoned houses, cluster of shacks and the inevitable cattle markets. Store-owner Biola Adekumi said: 'When they're around we sell more. Also, they give us fun, especially the younger ones. Their animals make us laugh and feel lively.'
Not everyone views the hyena men in such a favourable light. Although they have licenses to operate their business from a number of states in Nigeria, officials occasionally harass them and prevent them moving their animals about. One official commented: 'These animals are wild. No matter how you handle them, an animal is always an animal. Tame an animal for ten years and one day it'll behave like an animal. For instance, if a hyena breaks loose it can attack and kill people. I don't think these people should be allowed to carry these animals about.'
The entertainers have also been accused by the Nigerian police of using the animals to threaten or intimidate members of the public into parting with money or possessions. In June 2004 a report in Lagos newspaper This Day claimed that an armed 'gang who used a hyena and a monkey to rob their victims' had a shootout with police. The paper reported that two gang members were killed and four arrested, while a policeman ended up in hospital after being bitten by a hyena. The hyena and a monkey were shot.
Abdullahi Ahmadu gives a different side of the story: 'We refused to stop at a police checkpoint, so the police opened fire on us, killing two hyenas and two fellow policemen. To protect themselves, they fixed a charge of armed robbery on us. Thank God, the case has died a natural death.'
The bus driver, Lekan Fabuyi, defended the hyena men, saying: 'They eat by taking these animals around. Stop them and they take to criminality. Those criticising cannot give them another job.'
Indeed, the troupe's diverse activities generate enough money for their daily survival and to establish maize and yam farms. Abdullahi Mohammed, for example, owns a farm in Danja in Katsina State, and Yahaya said the group has plans to establish a cassava farm in Ogene-Ofada in Kogi State.
After three days of following the group, I was preparing to leave when the hyena men brought their menagerie of animals to the side of a road in Lagos. The drummers struck a beat and the baboons pranced about and jumped. Passing cars stopped and their passengers craned their necks through the windows and gaped. Motorbike riders parked at the fringe of a gathering crowd and stared in fascination. The handlers shouted at the baboons and they somersaulted and performed several acrobatic movements. Before long naira notes started being thrown at them. As one onlooker commented, 'Though their way of making money is odd, these people are in real business.'

Dieting to lose weight

These days, your best choices are lean meat. Choose "loin", "round " and "extra loin". Try to avoid dark meatasit contains twice as much fat as white meat. Use skinless chicken variety. In the alternative, remove the skin off the chicken before cooking, or before serving to eat. Also, say no to chicken fingers, nuggets, and franks.Say yes to cooking chcken stuffing separately. Make sure turkey fat does not soakm into dressing. Use lean margarine or butter to prepare the stuffing.

Keep in mind that to cook healthy meat roasting, baking, grilling brasing and broiling are time-tested methods.As in turkey, to prepare avoid oil, butter or margarine.Cooking sprays should be used in the alternative, also use non-stick pans.As in meat, choose broiling, roasting, baking or steaming when preparing chicken.Avoid butter and margarine during process. Use cooking sprays in the alternative. To save calories, choose light turkey meat over dark. Skim off the fat of the gravy.

Choose a diet version of white bread, if you must eat bread. However, use whole grain as your bread choice. For seconds, choose vegetable over bread-based dishes. Avoid casseroles or those topped by butter or cheese.By choosing this option, you'll be adding more fiber to the body rather than extra calories. Try evaporated skim meat or powered variety when baking rather than milk or cream. Fondue, fruit cocktail, yogurt parfait, fresh piece of fruit are good for dessert. Avoid pie, sweets or cake.

For children, use sugar-free ice creamor non-fat frozen yogurt. Don't top sundaes with chocolate or caramel syrup. Instead, try an all-fruit spread and serve less ice-cream in smaller dishes to control portions. Keep in mind to try fat-fighting baking substitution. Use unsweetened cocoa powder to repalce unsweetened chocolate; choose graham crackers to pie crusts. Substitute ice-creamwith non-fat frozen yogurt; oil desserts with unsweetened applesauce; egg with egg white.

Miss World Contest

Miss World Contest Deepens the Nigerian CrisisBy Adetokunbo Abiola
The proposed holding of the Miss world contest and the Arrival of the beauty queens in Nigeria as well as the Violent protests which followed the contest have revealed deep cleavages which if not properly managed could lead to a permanent split in the West African country. When the Miss World contest was first broached, the predominant Muslim North was against it as it felt the event was not a priority to the Nigerian economy and that the spectacle of girls parading themselves in semi nude attires and prancing to an ogling audience is against the tenets of Islam.
Alhaji Lateef Adegbite, the Secretary General of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (SCIA) has another reason for the Muslim opposition to the contest when he said it was an affront to Nigerian Muslims for the contest to hold in the month of Ramadan.
Other Muslims were not for it because Amina Lawal, the young woman slated to be stoned to death for having a child out of wedlock, was supported by a number of the beauty queens who vowed non-participation in Nigeria if Amina was executed. Says Ibrahim Khamil, an unemployed youth in Kaduna, scene of the scene of riots when informed about the comments of the queens: "To hell with the contest. Nigeria does not need it. And we will make sure it does not hold here." But for the predominant Christian South the event was an opportunity to showcase the tourism potentials of Nigeria and to enjoy some benefits through improved infrastructure, massive hotel revenues, television coverage etc. For instance, Rivers State, a co-host of the event, spent the sum of four million dollars on logistics while it lost the sum of seven hundred million dollars from the rescheduling of the event to London.
Contractors, understandably, were enthusiastic about the event as many supplied various items booked for the pageant and lost millions more as a result of the transfer of the contest to England. Cross Rivers State, another co-host, was happy at putting its internationally famous Obudu Cattle Ranch in top condition but lost all its investment and expected revenue as a result of the shifting of the event. Investigations revealedthat prior to the hurried departure of the beauty queens from Nigeria all the top hotels in Abuja, Nigeria's capital city, had been fully booked in anticipation of the beauty festival taking place in the most populous country in Africa.
The shifting of the contest, sparked off by a bloody riot over a report in the Nigerian daily, Thisday, deeply grieved the Christian South which expected another Nigerian success following on the heels of that of Agbani Darego, the immediate past Miss World. The riot spread from Kaduna to Abuja and led to the burning of houses, shops, the vandalization and burning of vehicles, the breaking of curfews imposed by authorities and the murder of people suspected to be Southern Christians.Investigation revealed that over two hundred and fifty people Died as a result of the riots, three thousand five hundred wounded and over a thousand people arrested over the issue. The writer of the Thisday report, Miss Isioma Daniels, the publisher of the newspaper, Nduka Obiagbena, as well as the editor, Eniola Bello, had the fatwa put on them by Zamfara State, the first Nigerian state to adopt sharia in the advent of the new Nigerian democracy. Reports have it that the state's acting Governor, Alhaji Mamudu Shinkafi, declared on November 25 at a frenzied rally in Gusau, the state's capital,that the writer of the purported blasphemous article as well as her editor and publisher should be beheaded. Isioma Daniels had to flee Nigeria for the United States while Mr Obiagbena had to resort to a series of daily apologies to Northern Muslims in the hope that the fatwa will be lifted. However, the action ofMuslims have angered the Christian South and there are talks herethat there should be a national conference which will serve as abasis for the future essence of the country.
Tired of the violence on the South by the Muslims Christians in states such as Abia, Imo, Anambra and Enugu protested and contemplated reprisals until they were stopped by security agencies. They were following Northern Christians in Kaduna neighborhoods such as Murmin, Gwari, Nasarawa, Trikaniya, Gori, Gora and Sabon Tasheb who attacked the Muslims as a reaction to being killed over the years by Islamic fundamentalists.
Says John Olatunde, a statistics student at the Yaba College of Technology in Lagos: "This country does not belong to Muslims alone. What is happening is that the Muslims are infringing on the other Nigerians. The people in power are not capable of putting their house in order. If you don't stop them now they will tell you the clothes to wear in public." For the Afenifere, a South West socio-political group, "the incidence of the riot is deep as it borders on the unity of the country and the sustenance of democratic practise in Nigeria." The Islamic fundamentalists have had their way in shifting the Miss World from Nigeria to London, but could this have been Achieved by widening the already deep cleavages in Nigeria? Events in the coming weeks and months will tell.
Copyright © 2002 Adetokunbo Abiola, Nigerian correspondent to Earthhope Action Network

Cancun Economic Summit

The Rich Set to Reap in CancunBy Adetokunbo Abiola
There is something seriously wrong with the international institutions that govern globalization. This was why Professor Joseph Stiglitz, the former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton, said: "The developed world needs to do its part to reform the international institutions that govern globalization. We set up those institutions and we need to fix them." Fixing these institutions is imperative in the backdrop of the Fifth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial conference which is taking place in Cancun, Mexico today. The main task of the conference is to take stock of the progress of negotiations under the Doha Development Agenda. The agenda, needless to say, is one of the few deliberations to take the interest of the developing countries at the centre of a broad and balanced working programme. Before and after Doha the WTO has been beset by a number of criticisms. It has been accused of being undemocratic and non-transparent in its decision making prcess. This enables the rich and powerful developed countries to prevail over the developing countries, making globalization to benefit the former. Though the WTO is meant to promote free trade, the fact that a few advanced countries manipulate its decision making machinery defeats the purpose of why the organization was set up. The manipulation has led to massive subsidies in the agricultural products of the few rich nations, hurting farmers in Africa and Latin America, since their produceis no longer competitive in the world market compared to those from the EU, the United States, Japan and Canada. Indications are that Cancun could suffer from the tradition of decision making process of the WTO. In the preparatory months to Cancun, the informal and non-inclusive nature of the decision making and drafting which the WTO has been accused of having reared their ugly heads. A few weeks to the conference, there was noi draft text for the ministerials and developing countries members did not know when the text would emerge. This was a deliberate ploy. Deprived of the draft text, developing nations would have little time to respond to the document and co-ordinate among themselves towards a common initiative. The possiblity of inadequate time forced a group of developing nations to call for orderly procedure that are well accepted in concave or organizations of sovereign states. Apart from this, the process of negotiations in the count down to Cancun was unknown. For instance, modalities on the agricultural negotiations were meant to be agreed upon by the month of March, but this had not been deliberated upon in July. There was no agreement in sight, as well as decisions on whether or not to initiate negotiations in investment, competition, transparency in government procurement, trade facilitation and other key areas. This engendered surprises on the part of devloping nations as the ministerials drew near. The latter states were put on their back foot, forcing them to react to situations rather than to control them. Months after the start of the "offers" round, when nations indicate sectors they are willing to liberalize, the rich nations were not forthcoming and the WTO had no mechanism, or did not see the need, to control the situation. The fall out of this is that the most important decisions by the ministers of the developing world will be taken right there in Cancun. And their handle on the complex technical details of the issues cannot match those of trade experts who should have been privy to the deliberations. Furthermore, there will be no fundamental change in the voting rights in Cancun. The trade ministers of the industrialized world will head the WTO meetings. This, of course, hampers the effective participation required from representatives of the Third World. Seen wiothin the background of the expected push of the EU, Canada and Japan for a WTO investment agreement, this could prove to be suicidal. An investment agreement in Cancun means the advancement of the corporate agenda of the rich countries to create new opportunites for expansion of their multinational corporations. It will also give these entities sweeping powers in the countries they invest, including the ability to control the environmental, social, natural and local laws and regualations of these nations. The decision making apparatus of the WTO needs to be overhauled. The negotiating process should be agreed upon by all deligates for the preparatory phase of WTO conferences. All members should be given the chance to express their views on the draft agenda drawn up, as well as be given sufficient time to study the documents to facilitate proper consideration by and consultation with their capitals. Finally, representatives of develpong nations need to head WTO meetings too in order to promote effective participation. Since these features are not in place, it will be business as usual in Cancun. The rich industrialized countries will get in proposals which will make them richer, while at the same time forcing poor countries to become poorer.
Copyright © 2003 Adetokunbo Abiola, Nigerian correspondent to Earthhope Action Network

Okpella Oil Spill

Oil Spill Devastates Niger Delta Community
By Adetokunbo Abiola
OKPELLA, Nigeria, October 17, 2002 (ENS) - The Niger Delta town of Okpella in Nigeria's Edo state suffered its second oil spill in three years when a pipeline belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, a state owned concern, ruptured and spilled an as yet undetermined amount of refined crude oil into the environment.
The incident took place in late September, and threw the more than 20,000 inhabitants of the town into confusion. Local residents responded slowly to the disaster in the face of belated official initiatives to prevent the spread of the spill.
The spill took place in one of the villages that constitute Okpella, 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) from the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The refined crude oil seeped into the underground water supply and then into a stream which provides the villages with water.

Spilled crude oil and burned grass blacken the ground around the cement top of a well. This well, along with more than 50 others, were polluted by the oil spill. (Photo courtesy Adetokunbo Abiola)Investigation revealed that more than 53 wells in the town have become polluted as specks of refined crude float in the water. The villagers have abandoned these wells as they now consider this water unfit for human consumption.
Jumeh Ibrahim is a native woman of the town, a farmer who lives 20 meters (65 feet) from the burst pipeline.
"We have lost a lot of goats from the problem," Ibrahim said. "They die when they drink the polluted water. There are now many cases of dysentary and malaria. Some people have ignored warnings and drunk out of the polluted water."
The oil spill has also affected the farmlands of the community. Crops are now visibly withered due to the presence of toxic materials in the soil, a major blow to a population that depends on farming for its survival.
The inhabitants grow plantains, yams, cassava, coconuts, groundnut, potatoes and other crops, but most are destroyed and drying up in the aftermath of the spill.
Kayode Olowu, a member of the local committee set up to look into the problem, said, "Trees are beginning to die. The wildlife is affected. So are the farms. The damage is so serious that we need immediate response to the problem."

The town of Okpella is about 250 miles south of Abuja, in the Niger Delta near the Gulf of Guinea. (Map courtesy U.S. Energy Information Administration)The Environment News Service has learned that the Nigerian National Petroleum Company laid the pipelines in 1973 and has not replaced them since. Now they have become rusty and prone to burst underground, in the backyards of Okpella inhabitants.
After an inspection, oil company officials acknowledged that the spill was a result of equipment failure and was not due to sabotage. Company officials presented two plastic water tanks to this community of thousands of people who are struggling to deal with contaminated water.
Okpella residents complain that this is a grossly inadequate compensation for the devastation visited upon their community as a result of the spill.

LONELY World of Kerosine Victims

Lonely World of Kerosine Fire Victims
By Adetokunbo Abiola
On the evening of Jan 21, 2001 Christian Ekeluba,a motor cyclist, turned his motor bike into the AP filling station at New Benin, Benin City. After waiting for ten minutes his bike pulled up beside the fuel pump and he bought ten litres of kerosine. Satisfied with this, he whistled under his breathe as he manouvered his bike through about six cars that parked in the station and then rode home. He was not to know that the kerosine he bought would irrevocably change his life. When he got home, as usual, the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) had switched off power at the New Benin Area where he lived.So Christian gave the small gallon of kerosine he bought to his wife to pour into the lantern so they could have light in their one bedroom apartment.
Pushing the four year old child that clung to her away, Mrs Ekeluba dutifully poured the kerosine into the lantern and took out a stick of matches from its box, struck it and held out its flickering flame against the wick of the lantern. Instead of light, there was an explosion of fire. No one in the room was spared the consequences. Before Mrs Ekeluba could jump from the fire, it blazed through her right hand. Her daughter, who was nearby, got to her feet and ran but the fire reached out to her and burnt her at the back of her neck. Chibuzor Ekeluba, the four year old boy, was too bemused to run.
The fire lashed at him and burnt him from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. Christian Ekeluba did not know when he rushed the boy out of the house for treatment at the Owen Clinic, Upper Mission Road of New Benin.It was from here that his problem began. He spent about one hundred thousand naira in the six weeks Chibuzor was admitted at the Own Clinic. When he was referred to the Central Hospital, Sapele Road for treatment, Christian had to provide money for board, feeding and drugs for Chibuzor. When doctors at Central Hospital referred him to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital at Ugbowo, Chibuzor had to raise the hard cash alone to pay the bills. Three years later, broke and his motor bike sold in order to raise money to take care of his son, he is bitter:"Up till now, the Edo State Government has not done anything for me." While Christian Ekeluba made this declaration on March 7, 2004, other people had the same conclusion. They are saying the government led by Chief Lucky Igbinedion had done nothing for the kerosione explosion victims. Left to take care of situation anyhow they deemed it fit, bread winners have faced financial ruin in saving their children and wives from the effects of the kerosine explosion, with most of the victims still in pain and sorrow. Angry at the response to their plight, some of them have formed themselves into a pressure group to fight government indifference to their problem. On June 19, 2001, hundreds of people in Benin City and its environs bought kerosine from filling stations or from retailers who bought the product from filling stations. The filling stations got the product from the Nigerian National Petroleum Company depot in Benin City. When the kerosine was poured into lamps the following and subsequent days, and then lit up, explosions occurred. The explosion fire burnt through the flesh of women and children, scouring out muscles into bloody patches of scarred flesh, leaving faces, legs, stomachs disfigured and rotten with stink within a few days : 200 people died from the explosions, while over 1000 others were hospitalized. Mrs Eki Igbinedion, wife of the Edo State Governor, said on visiting the hospitals:"I feel so bad, that words are not enough to describe what I have just seen. Its so sad to see many women and children badly burnt." A week after the explosions donations started coming in. Church organizations, civil society groups, and individuals brought money, food and medical materials and presented them to government which served as trustee for victims.
The Nigeria National Petroleum Company, Standard Trust Bank, All States Trust Bank, Union Bank, Delta State Government and others donated drugs and food for the victims as well as cash for them.Officials of the health ministry later said the money got trapped at the Savannah Bank and victims ended up buying their own drugs. A few days after the tragedy broke out, following accusations that it was responsible for it, the NNPC set up a team to look into the situation. The team found out through standard analysis of the kerosine that it had a flash point of 27 degree centrigrade. The team also discovered that this was within the flashpoint for petrol, which is between 25 to 30 degree centrigrade. However, the NNPC did not hold itself responsible for the situation. Ndu Ughamadu, the Public Relations Director of the company then said:"The petrol came from people who vandalized NNPC pipelines, diluted it with kerosine, and sold it to customers as kerosine." About two months later the Edo state Government set up the Akomolafe Wilson Judicial Enquiry into the kerosine fire issue. The panel was to determine the overt and remote cause of the kerosine fire explosions. It was also to determine who was at fault and so be responsible for paying compensation to the victims of the tragedy.
Thirty six months later, say kerosine victims, the result of the investigation and the recommendations of the panel are not out, even though the panel submitted its findings to government. Three months after the Akomolafe Panel was set up, the House of Representative Committee on Petroleum held a public sitting in Benin City. It took memos from kerosine victims, civil society groups and government officials . It summoned staff of the NNPC Benin Depot, whose negligence many believed led to the killer kerosine problem, and questioned them. It sat for two days. Kerosine fire victims say the result of the committee's sitting has not been made public two and a half years after. The abandonment of the kerosine victims to their fate has made many of them to be very bitter. Beatrice Imafidon, 38, who lives at NIFOR, five kilometers away from Benin, is one of them. She had bought the killer kerosine from a filling station near NIFOR on January 22, 2001 and when she used it for her lamp it exploded and burnt her right down from the breast to her navel. "It would have been a different thing if I had gone to vandalize a pipeline and got this," she says, "But here I am, a poor housewife, who went to a licensed filling station to buy kerosine which I thought was normal, getting burnt. I bought sorrow and tragedy with my money."
The experience of victims and their families has been that of financial ruin and emotional collapse as a result of abandonment which came with the crisis. "That Jan 21 2001, there had been a blackout,"says Mr Johnson Owie, a father of a victim. "I sent my son, Osagbanka, to buy 20 naira kerosine from a neighbour who works at the NNPC Benin depot. My brother's daughter then struck the matches after the kerosine came. It exploded. She threw the lantern on my son who was lying on top of a well. That was when the problem started." Since assistance came from nowhere he bore the brunt of the problem alone "I had to borrow fifty thousand naira with an interest of fifteen thousand naira per month so I could take care of my son. I used the approval document of my house as a surety. I could not pay the money lender. I lost the approval document to him. Right now, I'm very confused." As if his son's tragedy was not enough, another came as a direct result of his son's condition. "As we were running around for my son my wife became worried. She then developed hypertension over the issue. My problem became compounded. I was running around for my son, I was running around for my wife. I was spending money for my son and I was spending money for my wife." Johnson Owie has six children, three of them in schools.
When the double tragedy occured, and he was spending money for his wife and son, the remaining children were also affected. "I had no money to continue to keep them in school so I withdrew them. Right now, the three of them are at home because there is no money to sponsor them to school. Conditions have become so bad that eating a meal a day has become a problem." This is not the only problem victims and their families go through. A number of them want their children to be as they were before the tragedy occurred. Johnson noted that the only way this is possible in Nigeria is through skin grafting at the University of Benin teaching Hospital or at the UCH, Ibadan. "We took our children to the University of Benin," Johnson says, "We noticed that all the children taken for skin grafting did not survive. They all died. So I refused to take my son there." The best option is to take the boy out of the country for surgery and this will cost hundreds of thousands of naira, which he cannot afford. Another issue that rankles victims and their families is education. "My son cannot go to school because his body is deformed," says one of the parents of the victims."He cannot play with the other children in the street. He used to attend Bethel Nursery and Primary School at Upper Mission Road before the incident.When he came to resume school, the other children did not accept him. Our children no longer fit in with others." As a result, they have to stay at home. The Edo State Commissioner for Health denied all the charges against the state government. "We care for the victims," he insists. "Their money got trapped at the Savannah Bank, we sourced for some other money and gave some of them.
The Akomolafe report is out. We have done everything we can do but a few of them remain trouble makers." Three weeks ago, victims say, the government seems to be doing a rethink as it sent feelers to the Kerosine Fire Victims Association (KEVA), the radical arm ofthe victims, for meeting with government to solve their problems. But government rethink after three years might not assuage them. "We want the government to publish those who donated money it received on behalf of victims," says Tony Erha, coordinator of LifeTag, am NGO which fights for victims. "If this is not done the public will feel further donation will be embezzled as others have been." The victims also want the government to publish the Justice Akomolafe Wilson Judicial Panel report, which they say greatly indicted the NNPC. If this happens, says Tony Erha, victims will have a chance of getting compensation from the NNPC and also be willing to meet with government for discussion. This, however, is not all. Christian Ekeluba, apart from having his family scarred by the fire explosionis also an executive member of KEVA, and he wants some things done by government. "We are aggrieved and we want all serious victims taken abroad for surgery because it can't be successfully done in this country," he says. "We are asking government that if the children who are victims are their children, can they accept them like that? If the women are their wives, can they accept them like that?" The victims would want a few other things before they can cooperate with the government. They want the committee set up by government to look into the issue to be expanded to include victims, since they are directly involved. Many want compensation from those responsible for the killer kerosine and free education for all those children concerned. "If they refuse our demands," says Christian, "We will go ahead and take the fight to the whole world. We are ready to fight and lose our last bloodas far as this issue is concerned." Back in January 2001, Chief Dan Orhih, a politician,. when speaking on the kerosine issue, said:"Honestly speaking, I am disappointed with how this issue has been handled."
After three years of badly scarred faces, arms and legs oozing stinking pus a result of wounds left untreated due to poverty, a lot of the victims have long come to similar conclusions.

The Hyena Men of Nigeria

"This business helps us make money," said Yahaya Ahmadu. "We use the money to help our families. It rescues us from poverty."

You wouldn't have guessed that Yahaya's business is taking about wild animals such as hyenas, baboons, monkeys and snakes round Nigeria and surrounding West African countries for shows on city streets. The business has been quite sustaining also. It has attracted many other young men from the northern part of Nigeria to the south, building camps on the fringe of towns and cities, making living in 'no man's land' a way of life, making money to keep body and soul together.

When Yahaya dropped out of secondary school a few years ago, and with scarcity of jobs due to the economic depression in Katsina State, his home state, carrying wild animals about became an option, especially as it was a family tradition. The same with his brothers, cousins, uncles and other members of the extended family, who all see their work as a way to beat crushing poverty. Today, all have their hands full.

One Sunday at Ogere-Remo in Ikenne Local Council of Ogun State in Nigeria, Yahaya and his relatives earned about twenty six thousand naira from being hired for a photo session for three hours by a photographer who had come to town just to capture them in his lenses,

Yahaya and his brothers were elated by the money. But they also made more from a cut from the drivers they contacted to help convey the animals for the session, as well as from others enthralled by the antics of the beasts and were only too pleased to part with their money.

As youth unemployment continue to bite hard in Nigeria - along with the associated poverty - many are using their talents to devise whatever ways of making money for survival. Hyena handlers told this reporter that apart from street shows they also take part in film projects. Some money is also being made from selling some of the animals they carry about. As they move from city to city in their itinerant life, they carry herbs for sale.

"Its not easy doing this kind of thing at all," says Abdullahi Mohammed, "A quiet young man of about twenty five, who is responsible for a baboon called Frayo. "But we have to do it. I have been in it since childhood."

They were initiated into the business, they said, by Nalado Ahmadu, the family patriarch, who began about twenty years ago to take them to the caves and forests of Northern Nigeria to catch the animals, along with teaching them how to control them, as well as introducing them to charms that helped in subduing them.

Concretely, this reporter gathered that they drink a protective syrup and use the rest of it for bathing before they set out on an expedition to capture the hyena. Taking along with them hunting dogs to assist them in sniffing out the animal in its hideout, they move to caves and forests in Gombe, Bauchi, Taraba and other places where the prey can be found. When the dogs sniffs out the hyena, the young men enter the cave or forest, holding a powerful torch to light way through the darkness, believing the charm they drank earlier makes them invisible to the animal. On getting to it, they chant incantations and blow a profuse amount of a white powder on its face, rendering it senseless and easy to subdue and then chain it. After a struggle which might take days, they succeed in taking out their prey to their settlement, where it is taught how to familiar with human beings

"The animal has helped us,\" says Abdullahi Mohammed. "The money we make gives us food everyday. This runs into a few thousands of naira. We use some of the money to establish maize and yam farms in our place. I, for instance, own a farm in Danja in Katsina State." While this reporter followed them from Ogere-Remo top bar Beach at Victoria Island in Lagos, scores of fascinated people could be seen entranced by the spectacle of the hyena, along with the baboons and the snakes, walking along the street. When for instance the baboons dance and execute somersaults or jump on the back of a motor-cycle at any stop on the street, onlookers are mesmerized. Commercial buses and private cars stop, creating a traffic jam, while passengers gape at the animals as they perform their tricks. Within seconds, people gather, and a crowd is formed, everyone staring in wonder, and some of the brave ones shake the outstretched arms of the dancing baboons, those not brave enough scampering away.

At Ogere-Remo is a menagerie of two hyenas, four baboons and snakes which the handlers insist helpes them in their struggle against poverty and unemployment. "This business is a family one," states Yahaya, the only one in the lot who can speak fluent English. "All of us are members of the same extended family. It is only those in the family or selected friends of the family who can join our group. All of us learnt it from Nalado Ahmadu, or grandfather." Eloquent and suave, Yahaya tells how the animals enables them to generate money: "When we get to a place, we make the baboons do somersaults, jump on the back of motor cycles and shake peoples' hands. The people watching are impressed with our animals. Before you know it, naira notes start to fly here and there. Some throw them at the baboons. Others give them directly. The baboons bring the money to us and put it in the common till." Yahaya tells of another source of making money through carrying the animals about: "Among us are traditional healers. They make herbs to take care of problems such as snake bites, scorpion attacks, and other animal problems. We also have herbs that take care of spiritual problems of people. We have traditional herbs for ssuchn illnesses as typhoid fever, malaria, syphilis, and others. When we get to a market, street junction or public place, people gather to watch us. We use the opportunity to sell these herbs to them." Another racket which the men are involved in is the direct sale of the wild animals. "Our business is to catch wild animals. Any animal that people want we go to the forests and caves for them. But they must pay an advance for this. When this is done, we supply the animals when we get them," Yahaya says. He told this reporter that through this process they have supplied hyenas, pythons and others to zoos in Ikorodu, Port Harcourt, Jos, Maiduguri, Kano, benin and others. "A matured hyena is sold for one hundred and fifty thousand naira but the cub is higher at two hundred and fifty thousand naira. This is because while a matured may not be trainable the cub can be trained. A baboon goes for fifteen thousand naira, while the young one goes for eight thousand. A python goes for the same price and might get to ten, depending on the size." This business of selling wild animals to zoos is not limited to only to Nigeria. According to Yahaya, zoos in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Benin republic and others patronize them. He says they have had to nationalise in these countries so they can go about their business there. "Lastly, we survive by taking part in films," says Yahaya. "Not the Nigerian Nollywood, which does not understand us, but in Benin republic. Sufiya telescope has given us big business in that country. We're hoping to get such opportunity in Nigeria." Through making money from diverse activities such as these, these reporter gathered that they are planning to invest heavily in another line of business. "We're planning that when we really make big money we'll establish a big cassava farm. We're going to locate it at Ogene-Ofada in Offa Local Government Area of Kogi State. We want the farm here because the soil is good for cassava production. We'll pay money to the villagers there to farm for us, as a large parcel of land has been given to us by the community," Yahaya says.

The hyena handlers told this reporter that the hunting dogs that accompany them in their search for wild animals are also useful in another direction. Konyami Murtala, who handles a baboon called Mora, says the dogs are used to trap rabbit, grass cutters, antelopes and other small animals in the forests surrounding their camps. The killed animals, Murtala says, are skinned and eaten or offered for sale to generate money for the group.

The hyena men are not the only ones smiling from making money from the fringe. Others connected top them directly or indirectly are also smiling.

To transport their animals from town to town, a variety of commercial bus drivers are needed. Some of these say the risk involved in transporting the animals has meant the rates being charged hyena handlers are different from those charged ordinary passengers. Says Lekan Fabuyi, a driver who plies the Ogere-Remo - Lagos route: "Normally, because of the wild animals, they pay higher than others. It is to their advantage because no bus driver would carry them except us. The increased price is also to our advantage. We're making money."

Another group of people at the margin of society who benefit are the provision store owners, food vendors and others who locate their small businesses at the outskirts of towns, where the hyena handlers usually set up their wooden, make-shift huts amidst abandoned houses, clusters of shacks and the inevitable cattle markets where Hausas mill about.

Says Biola Adekumi, a store owner :"These people are our customers. They buy things from, us. When they're around we sell more. Also, they give us fun, especially the younger ones. Their animals make us laugh, make us feel lively."

Unemployed youths, beating traditional Hausa drums, are part of the group. As the hyena men move from city to city, carrying their animals around, the drummers follow. This reporter noted that their job is to beat the drums so that when the baboons hear they start to dance.

"We're part of the group," states one of the drummers. "At the end of the day, when money has to be shared, they put us in the picture. "This is how we make our money."

The hyena men complain that though they have licenses to operate their business from many states in Nigeria people harass them and prevent them moving their animals about. "Since we started this business twenty years ago," says Abdullahi Ahmadu , "No animal has escaped from our hands. We've got papers to operate from Kaduna, Bauchi, Katsina, FCT Abuja, Kano and others. We have also had to get papers from zoos and veterinary doctors. This is because officials always call for these papers and when we give them they stop disturbing us. But despite this, forestry people in some states like Ondo State disturb us. In some other cases, those who have no business to do so always want to disturb our business."

officials in Ondo state contacted declined comment but one official gave insight into why hyena handlers who come to the state may be prevented from carrying their animals from place to place unhindered.

"The official said: "These animals are wild. No mater how you handle these things an animal is always an animal. Tame an animals for ten years and one day it'll behave like an animal. For instance, if the hyena breaks loose it can attack and kill people. I don't think these people should be allowed to carry these animals about."

But those who profit from the business claim that such talk shows insensitivity to the hyena men. Lekan, the bus driver, says: "They eat by taking these animals all around. Stop them and they take to criminality. Those criticising cannot give them another job." The handlers argue that they have been able to completely tame the animals. Even if they escape, according to Abdullahi, they have been inoculated while the jaws of the hyena has been clamped together by having a matting pushed about it.

While this reporter was preparing to leave after three days of following them about, the handlers brought their menagerie of animals to the side of a road in Lagos. The drummers struck a beat and the baboons pranced about and jumped. Passing cars stopped and their passengers craned their necks through the windows and gaped. Motor-bike riders parked at the fringe of a gathering crowd and stared in fascination. The handlers shouted at the baboons and they somersaulted and performed other acrobatic movements. Before long naira notes started being thrown at them. Says an onlooker: "Though their way of making money is odd, these people are in real business."