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Pilgrims throng Mount Arafat for peak of hajj

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Their palms facing the sky, around two million Muslims gathered Thursday on Saudi Arabia’s Mount Arafat for the highlight of the hajj pilgrimage, one of the world’s largest annual gatherings.

Muslim worshippers, some carrying umbrellas to protect them from the scorching sun, gather for prayer at Namirah mosque near Mount Arafat, also known as Jabal al-Rahmah (Mount of Mercy), where the Prophet Mohammed is believed to have given his final sermon, on August 31, 2017, ahead of the climax of hajj.

With temperatures pushing 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) under the desert sun, the faithful climbed the hill east of Mecca where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed gave his last sermon some 14 centuries ago. The second day of the hajj — a five-day pilgrimage which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lifetime if physically and financially able — is dedicated to prayer and reflection.

“I came up here last night and prayed, took pictures and called my family and friends,” said Maolana Yahia, 32, who made the trip from Indonesia. This year’s hajj has seen the return of pilgrims from Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran following a diplomatic row and a deadly stampede in 2015. But thousands who would normally make the journey from neighbouring Qatar are absent apart from a few dozen because of the diplomatic crisis shaking the Gulf.

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Helicopters flew around the area as the pilgrims converged from dawn on the Mount Arafat plain and the hill known as Jabal al-Rahma, or Mount of Mercy. Forming a sea of white, the pilgrims ascended the hill and took up positions to pray on rocks already heated by the morning sun. On the concrete pathways linking the plain to the hill, hundreds of thousands of devout Muslims invoked God, as others rested in makeshift tents or on sheets along the side of the road amid empty bottles and waste. – Beating the heat – Tunisian mother-of-three Fatima Arfawi said she was moved beyond words. “This is the first time I see anything like this, ever,” she said.

“This day is dedicated to prayer for my three children and my family.” In a hospital opposite the mountain, an area was set aside for people suffering dehydration or heat exhaustion. Saudi Arabia’s Red Crescent said it had deployed 326 ambulances along the pilgrimage route to handle health emergencies.

“Some pilgrims, for example, forget to protect their heads with an umbrella when they pray,” said Bandar Al-Harthi, a nurse at a hospital facing Mount Arafat. In the evening, the pilgrims will travel to Muzdalifa where they will spend the night before taking part in a symbolic stoning of the devil. The Jamarat Bridge, where the ritual is held, was the scene of a stampede in 2015 that claimed the lives of nearly 2,300 pilgrims — the worst disaster in the history of the hajj.

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Tehran reported the largest number of stampede victims, with 464 Iranians among the dead. – Politics and pilgrimage – The next year, amid heightened political tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Iranian pilgrims stayed away from the hajj after authorities from the two countries failed to agree on arrangements and logistics. Iranian authorities say more than 86,000 Iranian pilgrims are taking part this year, each equipped with an identity bracelet in case of any accident.

Reza, a 63-year-old former oil company official from Iran, said he was torn between the joy of taking part and lingering grief over the stampede. “They’ve taken more security measures otherwise we would not have come,” he said. Saudi Arabia says it has deployed more than 100,000 security personnel to keep pilgrims safe. At the foot of Mount Arafat, mobile barriers have been installed to control the movement of the crowds.

“They will be moved to enlarge the passages when there are more pilgrims,” said Ahmed al-Baraka of the Saudi security forces. Seated near the barriers at Mount Arafat, eight young women from Ghana who are all related took a brief respite after making their way from Mina, east of Mecca. Aged between 18 and 30, for some of them it was their first time away from home. “This is the first time I leave Ghana,” said 25-year-old Khadija. “My husband let me come alone because it is Mecca.” AFP

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‘I can’t be blackmailed, no more business as usual’ – FCC boss, Dankaka spits fire

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The Executive Chairman, Federal Character Commission (FCC), Dr Muheeba Dankaka, has said nobody can blackmail her over sponsored false and fabricated stories to smear the Commission and her name, in her quest to return sanity to the system.

Dankaka also warned the purveyors of the fake news to get used to ‘no more business as usual’ as indeed the Commission has entered a new dispensation.

According to her, the Commissioners cannot work in isolation, stressing that the Directors and Career officers will join in the smooth operation of the Commission

The FCC boss, in a statement released on Tuesday and made available to newsmen in Abuja, by the Commission’s Director of Public Affairs & Communication, Dipo Akinsola, disclosed that no fewer than thirty commissioners are currently working in harmony to bring positive changes. She added that under her watch, the Commission has recorded successes in all areas and centralized the administrative structure of the monitoring and enforcement department.

The statement reads, “My attention has been drawn to a social media report in circulation in which it is alleged that some commissioners accused me of holding them to ransom by taking over their jobs and giving same to Directors with impunity. Over 30 Honourable Commissioners are currently working in harmony with me in bringing positive changes.

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“Five of the Commissioners are fighting for their personal and selfish interests; they want business as usual in the Commission which is not possible under my watch. The contents of the publication are false and mere fabricated stories to dent my image and that of the commission through social media.”

Dankaka, in the statement, also revealed that the monthly monitoring allowance of Commissioners has been embedded into their monthly salaries as approved by the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RAMFAC).

“These allegations are not true in all areas. We assumed office during the peak of the terrifying COVID-19 which slows down the operation of government generally.

“We thank God that there is an improvement in the allocation to the Commission by President Muhammadu Buhari, once the implementation of the year’s budget commences, there will be an improvement in the activities of the commission”, Dankaka assured.

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DAWN commission proffers solution to fulani herdsmen, farmers skirmishes

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The Development Agenda for Western Nigeria, DAWN Commission, has proffered solution to  the frequent skirmishes between farmers and Fulani herders in Nigeria, attributing it to the archaic open grazing practice.

DAWN Commission, through its Director General, Mr Seye Oyeleye suggested that governments at all levels  should make urgent arrangements to stop open grazing adding that in the 21st century, nobody should be engaging in this practice.

He advised the government and stakeholders to embrace modern methods of cattle ranching.

According to him, “governments at all levels and the stakeholders in the agricultural sector should accept and embrace modern methods of cattle ranching to solve the recurrent problem of collision between farmers and herders”.

Speaking on the agenda that brought Lagos state into the fold of O’dua Investment Company after it was initially excluded by past western states’ leaders, the DG said the coming on board of the former capital of Nigeria  is already adding more economic benefits to O’dua, DAWN commission and to the sister states including Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti.

He said, “Lagos State has the fourth biggest economy in Africa. It is only logical that the governors decided that Lagos should be brought on board at O’dua and DAWN Commission did a lot of work in the background because Lagos State is an integral part of Yorubaland. It is a logical thing for the five states to collaborate and work with Lagos”.

DAWN Commission boss made all these known on Monday evening while featuring on Parrot Xtra Hour on Radio in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.

Continuing, Oyeleye also informed that the commission was established to promote and engender cooperation and faster development among the six states in the western part of Nigeria, since they have the same economy, culture, challenges and speak the same language.

He equally avowed that the six states have been speaking with one voice in several areas in relation to the recent developments that was experienced by the collaborating states which led to the ban placed on all forms of open grazing in all parts of the South-West as adopted by all stakeholders during the recently held governors’ meeting in Akure, Ondo State.

He said, “prior to the coming of DAWN, the six states did not have any formal avenue to meet. The coming of the commission created an official platform for the states to come together on a regular basis to work towards economic development”.

On the issue of restructuring of the country being clamored for by the people of the western states, the DAWN Commission Boss stated that Nigeria is not a truly federal state. He noted that the powers given to the federal government by the constitution made it too powerful and this has not helped the states, adding that his commission is working on advocacy to ensure that the yearnings of the people of the region are respected.

He condemned the 1955 Railways Act that gave only the Federal Government the exclusive rights to the building of railways.

While addressing the issue of the South West Security Network codenamed Amotekun, he stated that the governors must be given kudos for implementing the idea while praising them for their determination to see to the success of the project despite the teething problems encountered at the initial stage.

Oyeleye, however, disclosed that the commission is open to receiving support from well-meaning Nigerians and private sectors in terms of technical and financial help while admonishing that the governors should do more to ensure that the commission is well funded.

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Catholic bishops advocate review of Nigeria’s security architecture

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Catholic Bishops of Ibadan Ecclesiastical Province, comprising Ibadan Archdiocese, Ilorin, Ondo, Oyo, Ekiti and Osogbo Dioceses, on Tuesday called for a thorough review of Nigeria’s security architecture.

The bishops, who gathered at the Jubilee Conference Centre in Ibadan, the Oyo state capital, also expressed concern over the rising insecurity in the country, adding that it was unfortunate that the Federal Government has remained impervious to this call.

The meeting had in attendance, Most. Rev. Gabriel Abegunrin, (Ibadan), Most. Rev. Felix Ajakaiye (Ekiti), Most. Rev. Emmanuel Badejo (Oyo), Most. Rev. Felix Job (Ibadan).

Others are: Most. Rev. AyoMaria Atoyebi (Ibadan), Most. Rev. John Oyejola (Osogbo), Most. Rev. Jude Arogundade (Ondo) and Most. Rev. Paul Olawoore (Ilorin).

According to them, “With the current realities, it has become more necessary than ever to demand the review of Nigeria’s security architecture. Given  the campaign promises of the present government and the cauldrons of insecurity erupting all over the country, it is unfortunate that the Federal Government has remained impervious to this call. As a consequence, we parade a Nigerian Army that has not been able to effectively check the atrocities of Boko Haram for over a decade. How does one deny the allegation that kidnapping and banditry are abetted by government when  even State governments pay bandits and herdsmen as a means of placating them?

“How can we claim to have a Nigeria Police, when the body is no longer trusted to protect the same people it was set up to serve in many parts of the country?”, the bishops questioned.

The Catholic Bishops, in a communique jointly signed by the President, Most Rev. Gabriel Abegunrin and the Secretary, Most Rev. John Oyejola  at the end of  their first meeting for the year 2021, identified the ongoing effort of the governors of some South Western States  to regulate the activities of Fulani herdsmen within the zone, noting that insincerity, selfish interests and lack of political will had in the past, caused needless destruction of life and property and inflicted untold pain and hardship on innocent citizens.

However, they urged the governors to shun deceptive adulations and empty promises on issues that impact the security of life and property.

The communique read, “they must work with the security agencies to courageously implement the law in all cases and sanction those who blatantly and murderously flout it in their territories. No Nigerian or foreigner should be above the law in any part of the country.

“It is frustrating to see Governors, constitutionally empowered  as the first security officers of their States, being impeded and rendered ineffective by mitigating actions and pronouncements allegedly made on behalf of the Federal government, when they take lawful steps to respond to security needs in their States. Such manner of governance, that exerts itself to protect the interest of a segment of the population at the expense of the security of life and property of the majority, makes the emergence  of militias and self-appointed messiahs inevitable.

“We therefore join all well-meaning Nigerians who have called on the authorities to allow alternative and lawful initiatives which are established for protecting life and property like the South Western Security Network (SWSN), codenamed Amotekun, to thrive. Such initiatives deserve to be supported and optimised  as a complimentary security organization for the benefit of the people in different parts of Nigeria”.

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