Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Nigeria’s Ugochi Anyaka Wins UNEP Young Environmental Journalist Award

28 year-old Ugochi Anyaka, a radio journalist from Nigeria has won the United Nations Environment Programme’s Young Environmental Journalist Award (YEJA), beating over 120 entries from reporters across Africa. Anyaka, who desscribes herself as an eco-journalist, environmentalist, singer, blogger and young photographer,  received her award at a special ceremony held during the 12th Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council / Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi, Kenya.  

The winning report, entitled Saving the Trees for Paper Briquettes, was broadcast on ASO Radio in Nigeria, where Anyaka works as a journalist and presenter. The radio feature profiled a project in a low-income suburb of Abuja that manufactures briquettes from waste paper, in order to provide an alternative fuel to traditional firewood. The project aims to reduce the health risks associated with indoor use of wood fuel, reduce deforestation and provide a source of income for the briquette makers.

Anyaka’s report also discusses the role of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). “This story was done to show the opportunities in a changing climate - and not just the woes,” said Anyaka.

“It also seeks to show the conflicting view points about the Clean Development Mechanism. But ultimately, it tells the story of what some Nigerians are doing to protect their vulnerable environment and save their very existence. Winning the UNEP Young Environmental Journalist Award is the greatest moment of joy in my career. It is such an honour to be recognised in this manner,” she added.

The YEJA jury described Anyaka’s winning entry as a “well-researched report that clearly explained the essence of reducing green house gas emissions and the need for creating environmental development in Africa”.

The winner was presented with her specially-commissioned trophy by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, Joseph Murphy, US Permanent Representative to UNEP and UN-HABITAT and Patricia Okoed-Bukumunhe, the winner of last year’s Young Environmental Journalist Award

Ms. Anyaka hosts an environmental radio show "Green Angle" on ASO Radio and also works as a producer, reporter and continuity announcer with the station. She writes an environmental blog, Eco Nigeria, at www.greennigeria.wordpress.com.

As part of her prize, Ms. Anyaka will take part in a professional exchange visit to the United States, following a specially-designed “green itinerary”. Last year’s YEJA winner, Patricia Okoed-Bukumunhe of Uganda, took part in a week-long placement with Voice of America in Washington DC, spent time with National Geographic magazine, the US Environmental Protection Agency and attended an environmental journalism conference in Florida.

“With less than four months to go until world governments meet at the UN Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20) in Brazil, raising public awareness of today’s environmental challenges is perhaps more critical than ever,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“The large number of entries received from journalists from Cairo to Cape Town and Dar es Salaam to Dakar for this year’s award, showed that young journalists are becoming an increasingly vital voice for telling the story of Africa’s changing environment - and showing the many solutions that are available on the continent. On behalf of UNEP, I congratulate Ugochi Anyaka on her achievement and wish her continued success in her work.”

Launched in 2010, the UNEP Young Environmental Journalist Award aims to showcase excellence in the field of environmental reporting and nurture new talent that will help to shape opinion on the environment in Africa, and beyond, in years to come. The award is made possible though funding support from the US Department of State.

This year, a total of 127 entries were received (in English and French) from television, radio, online and print journalists in 28 countries. The diverse topics covered included the economic and environmental impacts of invasive species in Lake Victoria, efforts to reduce plastic bag use in Togo and the breeding of climate change-resilient chickens in Namibia.

Friday, February 17, 2012


25-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the underwear bomber, who was accused of trying to bomb a US-bound flight on Christmas Day in 2009, has been sentenced to multiple life sentences in prison without parole. “The defendant has never expressed doubt or regret or remorse about his mission,” “To the contrary, he sees that mission as divinely inspired and a continuing mission,” U.S District Judge Nancy Edmunds said as she imposed four life prison sentences on Abdulmutallab.

Abdulmutallab, had already pleaded guilty on the second day of trial testimony last October to eight counts, including conspiring to commit an act of terrorism, use of a weapon of mass destruction and carrying a firearm or destructive device during a crime of violence. It was a failed suicide mission for al-Qaeda when he attempted to detonate a bomb in his underpants as the plane, en route from Amsterdam, approached Detroit. Nearly 300 persons were on board that flight. “This was an act of terrorism that cannot be quibbled with," Judge Edmunds said, as she imposed the maximum sentence after several passengers on Northwest Flight 253 talked about how the failed bombing attempt had forever changed their lives, causing them to fear flying, seek mental health counseling and have continuing nightmares.

Abdulmutallab, the well-educated son of a wealthy banker, sat with his hands folded under his chin, leaning back in his chair as the sentence was announced. During his trial he told the court that the bomb in his underwear was a 'blessed weapon' to save the lives of innocent Muslims’. “The US should be warned that if they continue to kill and support those who kill innocent Muslims, then the US should await a great calamity... or God will strike them directly," he added.

“We are grateful to God that the unfortunate incident that day did not result in any injury or death," the family said. “We pray for a more peaceful world and hope that all well-meaning persons, institutions and nations will work to establish to world peace,” read a statement from Abdulmutallab's familyreleased by Anthony Chambers, Abdulmutallab's standby defense lawyer. The family also asked the Department of Justice to intervene on their son’s behalf. 

Chambers, Abdulmutallab's standby defense lawyer, said that had Abdulmutallab allowed him to serve as a full-fledged lawyer rather than standby counsel, he could have gotten him more favorable treatment at sentencing. He added that Abdulmutallab “is a very misguided young man. … I think he's a very impressionable young man who got messed up with the wrong people." By no option of parole, Abdultallab’s sentencing is made mandatory. Parole, in the US criminal justice system, is the supervised release of a prisoner before the completion of their sentence in prison.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Johny (Jonathan) Akinyemi, who is training to be an accountant and has a degree in Theology, made history recently when he qualified to represent the country at the London 2012 Olympic Games, also the first Nigerian to qualify to represent the country at any Olympics canoe slalom competition.

In this exclusive interview – the first of its kind with any Nigerian media outfit, with Arukaino Umukoro, Akinyemi who has a Nigerian father and British mother talks about his life, sport, historic feat in South Africa, goals for London 2012 and the future of canoe slalom as a sport in Nigeria. Excepts:

How was it like growing up in the UK and discovering your passion for canoeing?

I grew up in Warrington, which is like a small town near Manchester. There’s not a very big Nigerian community in Warrington. I started canoeing when I was 12 years old in a local canoeing club in Warrington. This was after I watched the guy called Paul Ratcliffe win silver in the canoe slalom at the 2000 Olympics. And I was very interested. At the time, I really wanted to have a motorbike and wanted to go do some racing and jumps at the track. But my mum and dad said it would be too dangerous, that I should get a canoe. At the time, I was disappointed because I thought it was not as good as the motorbike. But I though I’d give canoeing a go. That’s how I got into it and realized I was quite good at it. That was when I started to compete and win races.

How does it feel to finally qualifying for London 2012 as Nigeria’s first canoeist in any Olympic competition or African K1 champion?

It’s just absolutely incredible and I’ve not stopped smiling since I won the race. I can wake up in the night and after about ten seconds, I remember that I’ve qualified for the Olympics and I just laugh out loud. I’m just so happy. And I think honestly the glory should go all to God though, because I honestly agree that it was a miracle that happened out there. I felt God with me on the road and saw many people praying for me. So, honestly, all glory goes to God.

Obviously, you’re a very spiritual person?


You became British Champion in 2006, but gave up your place at the top of the British canoe standings to compete for Nigeria, your father’s home country. What prompted your decision to switch?

At that time, I was really discovering my Nigerian roots, learning more about Nigeria and basically Africa in general. It was just something I thought I needed to do, just a switch to compete for Nigeria. And at that time, I felt quite isolated on the British team, like I felt different and didn’t fit in with the British team as well. This combined with me discovering more of my dad’s side of the family… I just decided to do the switch. I got in touch with the rowing/canoe federation and have been canoeing with Nigeria since then.

Before your first visit to Nigeria in 2007, what were your impressions about the country?

Basically, the main impressions I had of Nigeria before I went to visit was from my grand dad because he lived in Lagos his whole life and then moved on when he was an older man. So he was really fond of the country and told me lots of great stories about Nigeria and how he always missed the weather, the people, the jokes, the bars, joints and stuff. So I needed to go see for myself. I’m very proud of my Nigerian heritage. So I knew I had to go back. It was almost like going back to the homeland and seeing with my own eyes.
My first visit to Nigeria was like an emotional visit. It was great to see all these places you’ve been told stories about. My first impression was that the best things about Nigeria are Nigerians. Nigerians are just fantastic and so friendly, want to have a good time and a good party. When people talk about how great Nigerians are, it makes me really very proud to be a Nigerian.

Has anything changed about your perception of Nigeria?

Now I have been to Nigeria, you see a broader thing. It was like an emotional visit. It was great to see all these places you’ve been told stories about. My first impression about Nigeria is that the best thing about Nigeria are Nigerians. The Nigerian people are just fantastic and so friendly, want to have a good time and a good party. When people talk about how great Nigerians are, it makes me really very proud to be a Nigerian.

Where did you visit?

When I came, I stayed in Lagos, I saw the Surulere national stadium. I saw the sights but the guy I was staying with, Ibrahim, he took me to all the places, took me to Afrika Shrine to see Femi Kuti (perform) (laughs), listen to the music. So it was the best times. I walked up on stage and shook Femi’s hands.

So, what do you think of Fela and his music?

Oh, I love afrobeat. I have Fela Kuti and Femi Kuti cds in my car and was always listening to it. And when I was in South Africa on the day of the race, I had Femi Kuti’s cd in the car when I was driving to the river. It put me in the mood. And I was so impressed when I went to the Afrika Shrine. It was better than any night club or any concert.

Would you say that your visit in 2007 put a seal to your conviction that you were making the right choice?

Yes, definitely. They were two things. I went to the All Africa games in Algeria to meet the canoeing federation and realized that they were great people and really passionate about the sport, passionate that they could develop canoeing. After that, I went to Nigeria to meet with them again and that was what sealed the deal that I was making the right choice switching to Nigeria.

Did you ever think you were different or had any issues about your colour, where your roots were or you were more committed to Britain before your visit to Nigeria?

No. Definitely in Britain, I think race is quite like a big thing. I never felt really British because I’m mixed race. For a Nigerian, I’m quite pale, for a white person, I’m very dark. With my colour, I had to find my identity. And I found that being mixed race, I associate more with my Nigerian side, they welcoming me much more.

Canoeing is virtually unknown to most people in Nigeria. Do you think there is a future for such unique sports in Nigeria?

I think there is a future for canoeing in Nigeria because I know this when I was in Lagos over the Lagoons and the waters, there were this villages using canoe as their main form of transport. So all we need to do is get those youngsters, get all those people into them into the right canoe and environment and it would be perfect. There’s definitely a future. And I just want to be a role model for young Nigerians to look up to so that they can follow in my steps and maybe in the Olympics after, young Nigerians will be competing and maybe beating me. That would make me happy because I would know that canoeing is succeeding in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Olympic Committee has ecstatic about your feat. How much role would you say they played in ensuring that you represented the country?

They Olympic committee has been amazing and has helped with so much. Since the election of new committee members a few years ago, they have been doing a fantastic job supporting me, giving me all the support I have needed, they’ve always just been a phone call away so that I can ask them for help. They’ve come to see me training at the Olympic course. The support they have given me is fantastic and I don’t think I would have been able to qualify without their help. They’ve really done a great job.

If you were in position to advise on how to develop canoeing and make future champions like you for the country, what would your advice be?

The technical director of canoeing in Nigeria came to town and we discussed this already. We need to do a couple of things. But the most important thing is we need to find the rivers. We need to find wide water rivers where we could set up canoe clubs and basically make it more popular. Anybody can come in and just have a go in the canoe. I think that is an important thing. The federation is already doing a fantastic job, we ‘ve had technical seminars where kids have got involved. We’ve taught some coaches the basics how to train people. Then I think what needs to be done at the regional level is like having regional training centres and coaches in each region to identify which youngsters have the potentials to make it.

Asides catching them young and getting the right rivers, what does one need to be a good canoeist?

You need to have good upper body strength, mental toughness, and you have to be determined because you can take a while to peak in this sport. So you have to continue with it and stick with it, resilience and determination.

What’s your London 2012 Olympic dream?

It’s to win a medal at the Olympics. To get to the Olympics, I had to beat the Beijing 2008 bronze medallist (Benjamin Boukpeti of Togo) in the African championships. All the other canoeist countries around the world, including European countries, they just assumed he was going to get the place. So I really worked hard and went there to prove them wrong and I did that. So if I l keep the mental toughness at the Olympics and have the same attitude, then I think anything is possible.

© Arukaino Umukoro

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


This original poem won the COOL FM 96.9 Valentine Poem contest some years ago. So, in the spirit of the Valentine season, I have decided to share it with you. But remember, love goes beyond celebrating February 14, Valentine's Day; show love everyday. Love the most powerful force in the Universe. And like they say, Love conquers all; it makes the world a better place.
Happy Valentine!

Love is a four-letter word

That touches the bottom of one’s heart
And expands it.

Love is a picture 

Framed in gold

Showing unending treasures

Painted in beautiful colours

Love is precious.
Love is sweet.
Love is musical.
Love is poetry.

Love is like fire,
Refining fire.
Love is a desire 

To be irresistibly desired.

Love is potent.
Love is like a magnet.
Love is an emotion.
Love is tenderness.

Love is passion.
Love is companionship.
Love is a gift.
Love is light.

Love is eternal.
Love is life.
Love is beautiful.
Love is you.
                                                            © Arukaino Umukoro

Friday, February 10, 2012


On the morning of the final of the 2012 African K1 Canoe Slalom Championships in Bethlehem, South Africa, he was listening to Femi Kuti’s “Wonder, Wonder, Wonder" playing in his car. And like that, 23-year-old British-born Nigerian Jonathan (Johny) Akinyemi went on become a continental wonder as he swept away competition from Beijing 2008 bronze medallist French-born Togolese Benjamin Boukpeti and was crowned the African Slalom Men’s K1 Champion, the first Nigerian to achieve that feat. Most importantly, his victory meant that he qualified to represent the country at the London 2012 Olympic Games, also the first Nigerian to qualify to represent the country at any Olympics canoe slalom competition.

However, Akinyemi’s Olympic dream was 12 years in the making. At the age of 11, while sitting in his parents' front room in North-East England, watching the final Olympic run of British canoeist Paul Ratcliffe (who went on to win silver) at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, his personal Olympic torch was ignited. He started canoeing at the age of 12. In 2006, Akinyemi emerged junior British national Champion. However, the course of his Olympic dream changed when he gave up his place at the top of the British canoe rankings to compete for Nigeria, his father's home country, after a first visit to Nigeria in 2007. That made his K1 acheivement all the more special.

An unassuming fellow with a infectious determination to excel in his chosen endeavour; Akinyemi, who already has a degree in Theology but is also studying to be an accountant at the London School of Business and Finance, noted that his strong belief in God has also helped him reach this pivotal stage of his career. In this exclusive interview, and the first of its kind with any Nigerian media outift (also his first after that historic race in South Africa), with Arukaino Umukoro, Akinyemi who has a Nigerian father and British mother talks about his life, sport, historic feat in South Africa, goals for London 2012 and the future of canoe slalom as a sport in Nigeria.

Proud of his Nigerian heritage, the first question Akinyemi asked me was about the fuel subsidy and how it was affecting Nigerians “I keep an eye on all news and what’s happening from Nigeria," he said.

Watch out for the interview next week in TELL...
Please stay tuned here, also :)

Thursday, February 9, 2012


He founded ‘Soul Train’ in 1971, brought  R&B into America’s living rooms and broke down racial barriers through the nationally syndicated feel-good-music-and-dance show that he hosted from 1971 and 1983. However, Don Cornelius couldn’t find peace for his own soul or break loose from his train of personal troubles. On Wednesday, February 1, Cornelius, 75, was found dead in his Los Angeles home and it was confirmed by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Department that the cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

While he brought soul and music to million across the world through Soul Train, Cornelius’ personal life was full of discordant tunes. Plagued by health problems for the last three decades of his life, he survived a 21-hour operation in 1982 to correct a congenital malformation in blood vessels in his brain. In 2008, he was arrested and charged for felony domestic violence against his estranged wife Victoria Avila-Cornelius, who also filed multiple restraining orders against him. While in 2009, he pleaded no contest to one count of “corporal injury resulting in traumatic condition of a spouse,” was put on probation for 36 months, and ordered to pay over $1,000 in fines.

“He brought soul music and dance to the world in a way that it had never been shown, and he was a cultural game changer on a global level. Had it not been for Don Cornelius, we would not have ever transcended from the ‘Chitlin circuit’ to become mainstream cultural trendsetters,” said Rev. Al Sharpton, also an African American activist. Soul Train changed America’s pop culture, brought more African American artistes to a wider audience and was a springboard to greater fame for many others like James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.
Until it was rested in 2006, Soul Train could be said to have influenced many generations of African American artistes. No wonder, Aretha Franklin, whose rise to fame could be attributed to the show, said Cornelius’ death was ‘sad, stunning, and downright shocking … a huge and momentous loss to the African-American community and the world at large.” For legendary music producer, Quincy Jones, it was more.  Before MTV there was Soul Train, that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius,” said Jones in tribute to Cornelius. “Soul Train was a huge part of my Saturday mornings growing up,” tweeted hip-hop artist Talib Kweli. Soul Train” also gave rise to the Soul Train Music Awards and the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards.
Cornelius would also be remembered for his timeless quote with which he closed each episode: “I’m Don Cornelius, and as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!” Sadly, for the Soul Train founder who went on to become a broadcasting icon, had a Chicago street named after him in 2011 at the 40th anniversary of the show’s syndication and was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, there was no soul, music or dance to accompany his train to the great beyond; only a trail of blood and disbelief from million of fans in America and across the world.

Monday, February 6, 2012


One of his favourite quotation is “It is not a disgrace to reach for the stars and fail, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Aim high." So, it was that on a fine Saturday afternoon on February 4, in Bethlehem, South Africa, British-born Nigerian Johnathan  (Johny) Akinyemi, not only reached for the stars, he claimed it in spectacular fashion. He made history by becoming the first Nigerian to qualify to represent the country at any Olympics canoe slalom competition.
In what was labeled one of the biggest upset at the just concluded 2012 African Slalom Championships - which serves as qualifiers for the London 2012 Olympic Games, Akinyemi finished first ahead of Beijing 2008 bronze medallist French-born Togolese Benjamin Boukpeti and Mehi Rouich or Morocco, to qualify to represent Nigeria and Africa at the London 2012 Olympics canoe slalom competition. With this victory, Akinyemi also became the first Nigerian to be crowned the African Slalom Men’s K1 Champion.
Born and raised in England, Johny Akinyemi gave up his place last year at the top of the British canoe rankings to compete for Nigeria, his father's home country. By 2006, he was already junior British national champion and first visited Nigeria in 2007 when he was aged 18. That changed the course of his Olympic dream. “When I was a junior I used to raced for Great Britain. I started to get in touch with my dad’s side and became more interested in Nigeria,” explained Akinyemi when asked why he decided to compete for Nigeria instead of Great Britain.
“There's a choice, either you can ignore who you are or embrace it. I personally am really proud of my Nigerian nationality and want to embrace it as much as I can. I'm really grateful to the Nigerian Olympic Committee for allowing me to do it and for helping me explore that side of me,” he had noted in an interview with the BBC. Akinyemi also added that he hopes to help unlock the future of Nigerian young canoeing as well as inspire young Nigerians to rise through the ranks.  With his recent exploits at the African Slalom competition and a London 2012 Olympic medal in his sight, Akinyemi has certainly achieved that.

Friday, February 3, 2012


It was a sweet and sour story for African football on Wednesday, February 1, where on one hand, the beauty of football triumphed at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, but lost in Port Said, Egypt. While millions of fans from around the continent were being treated to two exciting matches at the 2012 African Cup of Nations, another ill-fated tie between local rivals - minnows Al Masry and giant Al-Ahly was simultaneously being played in Port Said, Egypt.

In the end, Ghana played a 1-1 draw with Guinea while Mali edged out Botswana 2-1.  Port Said recorded a surprise 3-1 win in favour of Al Masry and the shocking loss of at least 74 fans dead and a thousand injured after riots erupted at the blast of the final whistle. The violence escalated Al-Masry fans invaded the pitch and hurled sticks and stones as they chased players and fans from the rival team, who ran towards the exits and up the stands to escape. Police officers stood by, appearing overwhelmed. It was the worst football stadium disaster in the North African country, which has been the venue of recent political upheavals. The next day, protesters gathered outside the gates of the Cairo-based Al-Ahly football club's headquarters, close to the central Tahrir Square, the tipping point of the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak a year ago.

"I was beaten with fists and kicks to the neck, head and feet. I saw our fans die before us and we are unable to do anything." Said a shaken Manuel Jose, Al-Ahly's Portuguese coach, who has since returned to Portugal and has threatened to leave his coaching job with Egypt's most successful club.

According to reports, many fans suffocated after becoming trapped in a narrow corridor as they fled the violence, while some people blamed the Egyptian police and security forces for not doing enough to intervene. "From the beginning of the game, the fans of the opposing team were allowed to fire rockets and stones at us without any intervention. In the end, it turned into a state of madness without any role for the security in the stands. We tried to save the lives of some of the fans, but many died before our eyes," explained Pedro Barny, Al-Ahly assistant coach.

As a result, the Egyptian Football Federation has suspended all leagues in the country. "The Egyptian federation has decided to stop the football leagues in all four divisions for an indefinite period after the violence that occurred in the game between al-Masry and al-Ahly, which represented a tragic shock to the centre of sport in general and the football family in particular,” read a statement from the federation.

The incidence has so far claimed the jobs of senior officials in Port Said and the football association who have been sacked. The governor of Port Said resigned, while the city's director of security and head of investigations were suspended and are now in custody. The country’s government has also declared three days of mourning.
"African football is in a state of mourning,” Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou said. A one minute's silence will be observed for the victims during the Nations Cup quarter-final matches this weekend. World football governing body FIFA has demanded full investigation into the violence.