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European parliament president, David Sassoli, dies at 65

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According to his spokeswoman, David Sassoli, the President of the European Parliament and an Italian social democrat, died at the age of 65.

“On the 11th of January, @EP President David Sassoli died at 1.15 a.m. at the CRO in Aviano (PN), Italy, where he was hospitalized.

The funeral date and location will be announced in the coming hours “Roberto Cuillo made a Twitter post.

Sassoli had been in hospital since December 26 “due to a major complication owing to a disfunction of the immune system,” according to the spokeswoman, and all official activities had been canceled.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter that she was “deeply saddened by the terrible loss of a great European & proud Italian”. She described Sassoli as “a compassionate journalist, an outstanding President of the European Parliament and, first & foremost, a dear friend”.

EU Council President Charles Michel called Sassoli a “sincere and passionate European. We already miss his human warmth, his generosity, his friendliness, and his smile”.

The head of Sassoli’s Democratic Party (PD) Enrico Letta called him “someone of extraordinary generosity, a passionate European” and a man of “vision and principles, theoretical and practical”.

David Sassoli had been struggling for months with poor health. Having suffered in the past from leukaemia, he was struck by a severe case of pneumonia in September during a plenary session of the Parliament and had to be hospitalised.

He returned to Italy to recover but had a relapse that kept him away from his duties for a while. He was absent again in November after medical tests related to a case of Legionnaires’ disease.

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His condition improved enough to preside over a European Parliament session in December to give the EU’s main human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, to Alexei Navalny’s daughter on behalf of the Kremlin critic.

Sassoli’s mandate as head of the European Parliament was due to expire this month, halfway through the five-year legislative term which began in 2019.

“I am heartbroken. Europe has lost a leader, I have a lost a friend, democracy has lost a champion,” said Roberta Metsola, the Christian Democrat who was already set to take over from Sassoli as president of the parliament next week.

She said Sassoli “dedicated his life to making the world a better, fairer place”.

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Crime

NURTW member, two others jailed for drug trafficking

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A 45-year-old driver and member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Tapha Mustapha, and two others, were on Thursday convicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for trafficking hard drugs.

Other convicts sentenced alongside the NURTW member are Andrew Ukelere and Anthony Chiemerem.

The three convicts were earlier arraigned before the court by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, on April 27, 2024, on charges bordering on conspiracy, trafficking in 13.9 kilograms of tramadol and 590 litres of Pentazocine, a psychotropic drug similar to cocaine.

During their arraignment, the prosecutor, Mariam I. Erondu, who was represented by Julian Negedu, told the court that the convicts were arrested with the drugs on March 19, 2024, on the Long Bridge area of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Lagos State.

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According to the prosecutor, the offences committed contravened Sections 11(b) of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act Cap N 30, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, and are punishable under the same Act.

The trio, however, pleaded guilty to the charges.

Following their guilty plea, Justice Kehinde Ogundare, adjourned the matter to Thursday for a review of facts and sentence, and then ordered that they be remanded at the Ikoyi Correctional Centre.

At the resumed hearing of the matter for review of facts, the prosecutor called Mr Benjamin Naetah, a Senior Exhibits Keeper with the agency, who tendered the drugs and other exhibits, which were admitted by the court.

Upon the conclusion of the review of facts, the prosecutor urged the court to convict and sentence the trio in accordance with the sections of the NDLEA Act that they were charged with.

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But the convicts’ lawyers, Lilian Omotunde and Ore-Ofe Ogunleye, in their plea for mercy, urged the court to award a non-custodian sentence on their clients, being first-time convicts and for not wasting the time of the court.

Omotunde, who is the counsel for the first and second convicts, said: “The first convict is a first-time offender; he is a member of the National Union of Road Transport Workers. He was contracted by the roadside to deliver a good after Lagos State, but he was caught up by the law.

“The second convict is a 35-year-old medicine store attendant, who was sent on an errand by his master.

“I urge the court to award a non-custodian sentence,” she said.

Also, counsel for the third convict, Ogunleye, urged the court to award a non-custodian sentence to her client.

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She particularly cited Section 426(2) paragraphs a, b, d and e of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.

Responding to the counsel’s submissions, the prosecutor, Erondu, who also cited Section 311 of ACJA, urged the court to consider the commercial quantity of the prohibited drug seized from the convicts and the damage it would have done to the country.

In his judgment, Justice Ogundare sentenced the first and second convicts to two years imprisonment, while the third convict was sentenced to a year imprisonment.

The judge however ordered both the first and second convicts to pay the sum of N500,000 each, and the third convict to pay the sum of N100,000, in lieu of the jail term.

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Education

FG opens student loan application portal May 24

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The Federal Government, through the Nigerian Education Loan Fund, on Thursday, announced May 24, 2024, as the official date for “the opening of the portal for student loan applications.”

The announcement was made in a statement by the media lead for the NELFund, Nasir Ayantogo.

Ayantogo, in the statement, said the opening of the application portal marked a significant milestone in the commitment of President Bola Tinubu to “fostering accessible and inclusive education for all Nigerian students.”

On June 12, 2023, Tinubu signed the Access to Higher Education Act, 2023 into law to enable indigent students to access interest-free loans for their educational pursuits in any Nigerian tertiary institution.

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The move was in “fulfillment of one of his campaign promises to liberalise funding of education,” a member of the then Presidential Strategy Team, Dele Alake, said.

The Act, popularly known as the Students Loan Law, also established the Nigerian Education Loan Fund to process all loan requests, grants, disbursement, and recovery.

Although the government initially announced that the scheme would be launched in September, it suffered several delays leading to an indefinite postponement in early March.

The Presidency had linked the delay to Tinubu’s directive to expand the scheme to include loans for vocational skills.

After receiving briefing from the NELFund team led by the Minister of State for Education, Dr Yusuf Sununu, on January 22, the President had directed the Fund to extend interest-free loans to Nigerian students interested in skill-development programmes.

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Tinubu based his decision on the need for the scheme to accommodate those who may not want to pursue a university education, noting that skill acquisition is as essential as obtaining undergraduate and graduate academic qualifications.

“This is not an exclusive programme. It is catering to all of our young people. Young Nigerians are gifted in different areas.

“This is not only for those who want to be doctors, lawyers, and accountants. It is also for those who aspire to use their skilled and trained hands to build our nation.

“In accordance with this, I have instructed NELFund to explore all opportunities to inculcate skill-development programmes because not everybody wants to go through a full university education,” he had said.

Through the portal, students can now access loans to pursue their academic aspirations without financial constraints.

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The portal, according to the statement, provides a user-friendly interface for students to submit their loan applications conveniently.

“We encourage all eligible students to take advantage of this opportunity to invest in their future and contribute to the growth and development of our nation.

“Students can access the portal on www.nelf.gov.ng to begin application,” the statement said.

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Religion

Emir of Ilorin sent us to order you to disband -Muslim group storms Kwara Chrislam centre

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Members of an unidentified Muslim group recently stormed a worship centre that plays host to both Christian and Islamic services in the Alalubosa area of Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.

The group members who said they were acting on the instruction of the Emir Ilorin, Dr. Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, revealed that the worship centre was originally a mosque but has been housing worshippers outside the religion.

They were led by a man referred to as “Olojatuntun” who declared that such practice was an anomaly that would not be tolerated.

“We are here because of the report that the mosque in Alubosa, Ilorin where Christians, Muslims, and even traditionalists worship. We observe this practice which should not happen in this town,” the man declared in a video that surfaced on Facebook and sighted by our correspondent on Thursday.

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In the video, worshippers at the centre including four men, some women, and children were seen listening as the leader of the delegation voiced his displeasure.

Olojatuntun added that henceforth, such practice will not be tolerated as it contravenes the rules laid down by the forefathers of Ilorin.

“We are not here to fight but what we want in the name of the Emir is that the practice must not happen again. It is not an advice; if they must hold Christian service there, they can, but not mix things up.

“We won’t allow anyone to destroy this town; to gather people and ask them to be practicing both religions. So tell them (the owners of the mosque) that we must not come back. Though they could claim they own the land, this is the town of the Emir,” he stated.

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Another video was cited by our correspondent, where members of the group met with the owner of the worship centre referred to as Iya Meta Lokan. The meeting was seemingly called to sort out concerns raised by the group.

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The middle-aged woman, dressed in a white gown and covered in a white scarf, said she is a devoted Muslim but started her ministry “using the ways of Christians.”

“When I was called by God, I was told to teach following the Christian way,” she revealed.

She continued,” I was told to preach to both Muslims and Christians. I have been on the mountain; when Muslims come, we pray likewise for Christians.”

She added that focusing only on Islam will be difficult as that will be against her “spiritual call.”

Recall that a Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Malcolm Omirhobo, in 2023 sued the Emir of Ilorin for allegedly stopping traditional religious worshippers from holding their Isese festival in Ilorin, Kwara State.

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In the suit filed before the Kwara State High Court, Omirhobo, who described himself as an Olokun worshipper, asked the court to declare that the alleged action of the Emir was an affront to the constitutional rights to “freedom of dignity of the human person, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly.”

In July of that year, Theheute reported that a Muslim group, Majlisu Shabab li Ulamahu Society, went to the house of a traditional religion priestess to warn her against going ahead with her planned Isese festival in Ilorin.

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The priestess, Yeye Ajesikemi Olokun Omolara Olatunji, an Osun devotee, had earlier reportedly released fliers announcing a three-day traditional event aimed at celebrating certain Yoruba deities.

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