Plastic Rice in Nigeria – Customs

Nigeria has confiscated 2.5 tonnes of
“plastic rice” smuggled into the country by
unscrupulous businessmen, the Nigerian customs service says.

Lagos customs chief Haruna Mamudu said the fake rice was intended to be sold in markets during the festive season.

He said the rice was very sticky after it was boiled and “only God knows what would have happened” if people ate it.

It is not clear where the seized bags came from but rice made from plastic pellets was found in China last year.

Rice is the most popular staple food in Nigeria.

Whoever made this fake rice did an exceptionally good job – on first impression it would have fooled me. When I ran the grains through my fingers nothing felt out of the ordinary.

But when I smelt a handful of the “rice” there was a faint chemical odour. Customs officials say when they cooked up the rice it was too sticky – and it was then abundantly clear this was no ordinary batch.

They’ve sent a sample to the laboratories to determine exactly what the “rice” is made of.

They are also warning the public not to consume the mystery foodstuff as it could be dangerous.

Fake food scandals are thankfully rare in Nigeria when you compare it to countries such as China.

The big scandal here is fake pharmaceutical
drugs that a kill a huge number of people every year.

A total of 102 sacks, each containing 25kg (55lb), was seized.

Investigations are under way to establish how much of the contraband has already been sold.

The customs official called on “economic
saboteurs who see yuletide season as a peak period for their nefarious acts to desist from such illegal” business activity.

Mr Mamudu did not explain how the plastic rice was made but said it had been branded as “Best Tomato Rice”.

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Cameroon’s anglophone protest francophone administration

At least two people have been
reported killed in the Cameroonian
city of Bamenda, capital of the
North West province, during a
confrontation between protesters
and security forces about two weeks ago.

The clashes broke out after protesters
set up barricades to prevent a rally by
president Paul Biya’s party from taking
place.

The North West and South West
provinces, Cameroon’s only English-
speaking areas, have been witnessing
protests in recent days with people
calling for an end to the use of French
and perceived disenfranchisement.

Some groups have been calling for a
return to a federal state system. Others
have called for the breakaway of the
North West and South West provinces
and the restoration of the so-called
“Southern Cameroons” or Ambazonia,
which was a British mandate during
colonisation.

On Monday, thousands of teachers and
lawyers in the English-speaking regions
went on strike, accusing the government of trying to marginalise them by imposing the French language on their schools and courts.

Some 5,000 people, according to the
police, demonstrated in Buéa, the
capital of the South-West, one of the two
English-speaking regions of Cameroon’s
22 million inhabitants, after the heeded
calls from the Social Democratic Front
(SDF), one of the main opposition
parties.

MPs and SDF activists expressed their
solidarity with Anglophone teachers and
lawyers who feel marginalized by the
Francophone majority.

They also denounced the injustices
suffered by lawyers, teachers and
English-speaking students since the
beginning of their sling at the end of
November.

Many of the protesters demanded a
return to federalism in Cameroon, as was
the case between 1961 and 1972.

Areas controlled by Britain and France
joined to form Cameroon after the
colonial powers withdrew in the 1960s.

Cameroon was initially a German colony,
before it was split into two by the
League of Nations after the First World
War (1914-18): one part was under
French tutelage and another part, close
to Nigeria, under the British mandate.

In 1960, French Cameroon gained
independence. A year later, a portion of
the Anglophones decided through a
referendum to join Cameroon. As a
result, the country now has 10 semi-
autonomous administrative regions:
eight are Francophone, while the North
and Southwest regions are home to
approximately five million English
speakers.

Federalism was then established in the
country between 1961 and 1972, but
the first president Ahmadou Ahidjo
proclaimed the United Republic in 1972.

Pregnancy alters woman’s brain ‘for at least two years’

Pregnancy reduces grey matter in specific
parts of a woman’s brain, helping her bond
with her baby and prepare for the demands
of motherhood.

Scans of 25 first-time mums showed these
structural brain changes lasted for at least two years after giving birth.

European researchers said the scale of brain changes during pregnancy were akin to those seen during adolescence.

But they found no evidence of women’s memory deteriorating.

Many women have said they feel forgetful and emotional during pregnancy and put it down to “pregnancy” or “baby” brain – and, it seems, with good reason.

Pregnancy is characterised by extreme surges of sex hormones and involves drastic physiological and physical changes in the body, the researchers say.

During those nine months, women experience a flood of oestrogen which is greater than for the whole of the rest of their lives.

Yet research on the effects of pregnancy on the human brain is scarce.

This study, from researchers at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona and Leiden University and published in Nature Neuroscience, looked at the brain scans of women before they became pregnant, soon after they gave birth, and two years later, to see how the brain changed.

And they compared these women’s brains with those of 19 first-time fathers, 17 men without children and 20 women who had never given birth.

The researchers found “substantial” reductions in the volume of grey matter in the brains of first-time mothers.

The grey matter changes occurred in areas of the brain involved in social interactions used for attributing thoughts and feelings to other people – known as “theory-of-mind” tasks.

The researchers thought this would give new mothers an advantage in various ways – help them recognise the needs of their child, be more aware of potential social threats and become more attached to their baby.

Just by analysing the brain images, computers were able to pick out the women who had been pregnant.

In one task, women were shown pictures of their own babies and other babies and their brain activity was monitored.

The parts of the brain which lit up when they saw pictures of their own babies closely matched the areas where grey matter had been reduced or “fine-tuned” during pregnancy.

The same areas did not light up when pictures of other babies were viewed.

Elseline Hoekzema, study author and postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Psychology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said:

“We can speculate that the volume reductions observed in pregnancy represent a process of specialisation or further maturation of this Theory of Mind network that, in some way, serves an adaptive purpose for pending motherhood.”

The study found that pregnant women were all affected in similar ways, regardless of whether they conceived naturally or underwent IVF.

And there were no changes in first-time fathers’ grey matter in the study when their brains were monitored before and after their partners’ pregnancy.

The research team also found no major changes in white matter in the brain.

Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF confirms Mugabe as 2018 election candidate

Zimbabwe’s governing Zanu-PF party has
confirmed President Robert Mugabe as its
candidate for the 2018 elections.

Mr Mugabe, who is 92, has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980.
At the party’s conference, the Zanu-PF youth wing even proposed that Mr Mugabe should be declared president for life.

However, there have been unprecedented
protests this year against Zimbabwe’s economic turmoil and Mr Mugabe’s leadership.

The Zanu-PF has also suffered serious infighting as factions battle it out to succeed Mr Mugabe once he eventually leaves.

His supporters broke into thunderous applause and chanted “tongai, tongai baba” [rule, rule father] as the Zanu-PF annual conference in the south-eastern town of Masvingo nominated Mr Mugabe on Saturday.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Mugabe called for an end to party infighting.

“We agreed that conflicts should end. Infighting should end. The party ideology should be followed,” he said.

“Let us be one. We are one family, the family of Zanu-PF bound together by the fact of understanding between its members.”

Mr Mugabe has blamed the country’s economic problems on sabotage by Western critics of his policies.

Amid violent protests earlier this year he warned there would be no Zimbabwean uprising similar to the “Arab Spring”.

Muhammad Ali letter to Nelson Mandela sold for £7,200

A signed letter from Muhammad Ali to
Nelson Mandela offering his condolences on
the death of an anti-apartheid leader has
sold for £7,200.

The typed letter, signed by the boxing legend on “Muhammad Ali in South Africa” stationery, dates from 1993.

It was sold in an auction in Devizes.
Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said: “It’s fair to say Mohammad Ali was the greatest sportsman of all time.

The letter was typed by the personal assistant to the general manager of the Elangeni Hotel in Durban, where former world heavyweight champion Ali was staying at the time.

Henry Aldridge and Son said the letter was sold to a collector in the US. It was expected to fetch between £6,000 and £8,000.

The letter also includes an explanation as to why Muhammad Ali’s name was typed incorrectly by the personal assistant, who has sold the letter.

“It is a truly iconic cross collectable and will
appeal to collectors of Ali memorabilia as well as those who collect Nelson Mandela material, items relating to apartheid, political history and collectors of iconic memorabilia,” Mr Aldridge added.

“Muhammad Ali was only in South Africa for a short period in April 1993, arriving shortly after the assassination of Chris Hani on 10 April.

“Hani was the chief of staff of Umkhonto WeSizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC).

“He was a fierce opponent of the apartheid
government and was murdered by a far right extremist outside of his home in Boksburg.

“Against that backdrop Ali arrived in South Africa at a time when the country stood on the edge of a precipice with civil war a possibility.

“He attended Hani’s farewell at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on 19 April 1993 and when he appeared to the crowd, they chanted ‘Ali! Ali!’.”

Mr Aldridge said Mandela kept a photograph of himself with Ali on his desk and his favourite book, in his later years, was an autographed copy of Ali’s biography.

Nigeria famine risk rising, those in danger may double in 2017 – IPC

Global food security monitors said on Friday that Nigeria’s Borno state was at increased risk of famine, with one study projecting the number of those affected will rise to 115,000 in 2017 from 55,000 this year.

The northeastern state is the area worst hit by the seven-year Boko Haram insurgency that has killed 15,000 people and uprooted more than 2 million during the Islamist militants’ attempt to create a “caliphate” in the area.

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which is backed by U.N. and other aid agencies, issued a special alert calling for urgent humanitarian action.

“There is an elevated likelihood that famine is ongoing and will continue in the inaccessible areas of Borno State assuming conditions will remain similar or worse to those observed in Bama and Banki towns from April to August of 2016,” it said.

“The current response is insufficient to meet the very large emergency assistance needs.”

People displaced by conflict are worst affected, it said, adding that low crop production, disrupted livelihoods and financial crisis were also to blame.

Nigerian military forces backed by troops from neighbouring states have in recent months ousted Boko Haram from most of an area the size of Belgium that they controlled until early 2015, revealing thousands living in famine-like conditions.

The U.S.-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has said at least 2,000 people may have died of famine in the region this year, and the United Nations has said 75,000 children could starve to death over the next few months if they do not receive humanitarian
assistance.

The IPC cited a report by the U.N.-backed Cadre Harmonise, a regional food security partnership that found 115,000 people in Borno state and more than 5,000 in Yobe state would be at risk from famine in the second half of 2017.

The FEWS NET study had confirmed the alarming situation and revealed an ongoing elevated risk of famine that was likely to continue into 2017, the IPC statement said.

FBI kept tabs on Muhammad Ali in 1966 during Nation of Islam probe

The FBI kept tabs on the late boxer Muhammad Ali in 1966, including his divorce and his speech at a Miami mosque, in its investigation of the religious group Nation of Islam, according to documents released by the agency.

The release of the documents, recently posted on the website of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was first reported by the New York Times online on Thursday.

The former heavyweight boxing champion died in June at age 74, after a life in the ring and in activism that made him one of the world’s most famous celebrities. Former President Bill Clinton was among the dignitaries at his funeral.

The FBI has been criticized for monitoring public figures, including civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr and rock singer John Lennon, in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s.

The latest batch of about 140 pages of FBI
documents from 1966 on Ali, which includes
previously classified material, were released following a lawsuit to obtain the papers brought in August by conservative group Judicial Watch.

The papers, which used Ali’s birth name Cassius Clay, includes a request for agents to monitor his divorce that year from his first wife as a “lead.” “The Miami (FBI) office is requested to follow the divorce action between Cassius and Sonja Clay
with particular emphasis being placed on any NOI (Nation of Islam) implication being brought into this matter,” one memo stated.

A separate FBI memo on a speech Ali gave in 1966 at a mosque said he discussed efforts to strip him of his heavyweight title and blamed the “white man.”

The controversy centered on Ali’s refusal to be drafted into the U.S. military during the Vietnam War and his claim of conscientious objector status, which would lead to his being stripped of the boxing title in 1967.

After a successful legal battle, Ali regained the title in a 1974 bout. In the documents, FBI officials stressed Ali was not personally under investigation.

One memo said Ali’s connection to the African-American religious group the Nation of Islam, which was under FBI investigation at the time, made the bureau interested in his activities “from an intelligence standpoint”.

In a status report filed in federal court on Dec. 2, Judicial Watch and the FBI said the bureau provided documents on Ali to Judicial Watch in November and anticipated releasing more papers around Dec. 21 and Jan. 21.