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As AFCON 2021 kicks off, here are the serious title contenders

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By Victor Okoye/ Garoua (Cameroon)

The wait for AFCON 2021 is over as hosts Cameroon face Burkina Faso in the opening match of the tournament on Sunday.

Ethiopia will later slug out with Cape Verde in the second match on Sunday.

In the history of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament, this is the second time 24 teams will battle it out for the coveted title of African champions.

This is the 33rd edition of the competition, and with the high number of participants, there are teams which simply make up the numbers.

And there the true title contenders. We showcase some of them:

Algeria

Defending champions Algeria head the list of favourites after an impressive run in 2019 where they beat Senegal in the final.

In the qualifiers, they topped Group H with 14 points to book their ticket to Cameroon where they are drawn in Group E alongside another African giants Cote d’ Ivoire.

Algeria have retained some of the players that did duty in Egypt. Led by the experienced captain Riyad Mahrez who is currently on fire in England for Premier League leaders Manchester City.

The Fennec Foxes have not been beaten since October 2018 and recently lifted the Arab Cup to further boost their confidence ahead of the 2021 AFCON.

They scored 25 goals in six World Cup qualifiers but they will have to be on the look out for Senegal who are looking to lift their first title after several attempts, including finishing as runners-up in the last edition of the tournament.

Senegal

The Lions of Teranga marched into qualification without losing a match, registering four wins and two draws.

With the likes of Sadio Mane of Liverpool and Chelsea goal minder Edouard Mendy, they are surely one of the sides to watch in Cameroon.

Nigeria

Nigeria is another nation that should definitely not be overlooked, having won the tournament three times in 1980, 1994 and 2013, including being losing finalists on five occasions.

Nigeria will head into the challenge with a new and interim manager in Augustine Eguavoen who will face the task of guiding the team to their fourth AFCON title.

He led the Super Eagles to third-place as a manager back at AFCON 2006.

Therefore, the likes of midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, striker Kelechi Iheanacho (both of Leicester City), Everton’s Alex Iwobi, Taiwo Awoniyi of Union Berlin and Frank Onyeka of Brentford will be looking to impress.

The West African giants open their campaign in Group D against seven-time champions Egypt on Tuesday.

Egypt

The Pharoahs failed to lift the trophy on home soil in 2019 and the appointment of new coach Carlos Queiroz of Portugal could bring back the inspiration they need to win their eighth title.

They can also call upon one of Africa’s biggest exports in captain Mohamed Salah who has been setting the scene alight in England for Liverpool.

They however did not do well in the Arab Cup recently and only managed to finish in third-place.

But they will surely be looking to put that performance behind them and focus on the business at hand.

Morocco

Another side that has the nation in huge anticipation ahead of the tournament is Morocco.

The Atlas Lions have been in fine form over the last few months with a World Cup qualifying record of six wins in six matches, scoring 20 goals and conceding only one in the process.

That is a strong indication of a very well balanced team.

In spite of being without key players who have been omitted from the final squad, they are still a force to be reckoned with in the tournament.

Cote D’Ivoire

Cote d’Ivoire is another side not short of talents but who have failed to impress in recent times.

They will not be going to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar after being knocked out and perhaps they could use that as motivation to do well in Cameroon.

The Elephants are one of the sides that boast of a large contingent of players based overseas and that experience could come in handy.

They have only lifted the trophy once, back in 2015.

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Edo vigilantes arrests three for trafficking 28 victims from South-East to South-West

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A team of local vigilantes in Benin City, the Edo State capital, has rescued 28 victims of human trafficking.

The Coordinator of the state Community Vigilante Security Network, Oboh Otoide, disclosed this while addressing journalists in Benin City on Saturday. He said the victims, who were between the ages of 13 and 17, were rescued during a stop-and-search operation by his men.

Otoide stated, “The victims were rescued by our men around 2am on Tuesday along the Akpakpava Road in Benin City. Three suspects, including two drivers conveying the victims to their destinations, were arrested during the operation and handed over to the Department of State Services for further investigation.

“Our preliminary investigations revealed that the victims were being moved from the South-East, en route from Edo State, to the southwestern part of the country.”

Otoide said in another operation, officials of the group arrested a man, who was robbing residents of their personal belongings while pretending to be insane, adding, “The man, who identified himself as Olatunji, was arrested around the Baptist Church on Ring Road, Benin City, and has been handed over to the Nigeria Police Force. Among the items recovered from the suspects are ATM cards belonging to victims of his criminal acts.” He said the ESCVSN was working with other security agencies to secure the state.

The coordinator urged residents to report criminal activities to the group’s central base control room through 09153333340 and 09153333341.

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Obasanjo rules out return to PDP, meets party leaders

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Fresh moves to drag former President Olusegun Obasanjo back to the Peoples Democratic Party failed on Saturday as he declared that no amount of persuasion from Nigerians, especially from the founding fathers of the party would bring him back into partisan politics.

Obasanjo held a closed-door meeting with the national leadership of the PDP led by the National Chairman of the party, Iyorchia Ayu, at his Abeokuta, Ogun State residence.

Emerging from the meeting, Obasanjo insisted that he had left party politics for good, but he would continue to play the role of an elder statesman for the development of Nigeria.

The team arrived at the Penthouse residence of Obasanjo, located within his Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Oke Mosan, Abeokuta, around 12.25pm and went into the meeting with the former President, which lasted over two hours.

In the team were the PDP vice-presidential candidate in the 2019 election, Peter Obi; and former governors Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo), Liyel Imoke (Cross River) and Donald Duke (Cross River).

The Deputy National Chairman of the PDP (South), Taofeek Arapaja, and other party officials were part of the entourage.

The former President quit partisan politics when some leaders of the PDP, led by the Chairman of his ward in Abeokuta North, Surajudeen Oladunjoye, visited him at his Presidential Hilltop mansion in 2015.

Speaking on Saturday, Obasanjo admitted that the PDP played an important role in his life, but he had since ceased being a member of the party the day he directed his ward chairman to tear his membership card.

The former President said, “I have been with the party right from inception. Whatever I do in my own life, because I became President on the platform of the PDP, the PDP will continue to be part of the history of my life, but having said that, the day that my ward decided to tear my PDP card was the day I ceased to be a member of the PDP and that day I vowed that I would not be a member of any political party again, but I will remain a statesman in Nigeria, in West Africa, in Africa and indeed in the world.

“I retired 14 years ago and I will remain retired by the grace of God.

“Bear in mind and I want to emphasise that, I’m no longer in partisan politics and there is nothing that will bring me back to partisan politics, but I will always be interested in what is good for Nigeria and anybody who wants to have my advice, I will distinctively give it in the best interest of Nigeria and in the best interest of Africa.

“But if I retired from partisan politics, if politics is welfare of the people, I must not retire from the welfare and well-being of people, whether in my own community, in my own state, in my own country, anywhere in Africa or indeed anywhere in the world, and that is why I have the type of responsibility that I now have in the Horn of Africa, which is not an easy responsibility, but it has to be done; but I will say that your (Ayu) own responsibility is not an easy one either. It has to be done.”

While charging Ayu, Obasanjo said the responsibility of the PDP and that of Nigeria rested on his shoulders and he would continue to make himself available for counsel.

He said, “Iyorchia, you have the PDP load with Nigeria load and it is only God that can help you to carry this load, which of course, I believe if God gives you a responsibility, he will also give you the wherewithal to be able to carry that responsibility.”

In his remarks, Ayu described Obasanjo’s administration as the golden era of the PDP and Nigeria, lamenting that the country ‘‘has now fallen short of leadership that Nigeria deserves.”

Speaking on Obasanjo’s retirement from politics, Ayu said, “Even though you (Obasanjo) retired from partisan politics, partisan politics will never retire from your blood, because you want the right thing done; and since you want the right thing done, for life you will remain an emeritus member of the PDP.

“You cannot build a house and leave it to collapse. You throw a challenge to me that if I have been there from the beginning, why have I not done anything, maybe I was doing something, but it was not good enough. We will continue to contribute our own quota; we will continue to come to you; so, I want to plead with you, please don’t be tired of us as we come knocking asking for your advice, asking for  wisdom, because the words of elders are words of wisdom and there is no leader here in this country (bigger) than President Olusegun Obasanjo.”

On the readiness of the PDP for the 2023 elections, Ayu said, “We want to assure you that the new leadership of the PDP with the rest of the PDP family will do everything possible from ward to ward, local government by local government across the country to restore the lost glory of Nigeria in which your era was a shining example.

“Anytime we talk about the history of the PDP, there is no way we talk about the PDP without mentioning between 1999 and 2007.”

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New Zealand PM Ardern cancels her wedding as Omicron rages

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Agency Reports

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has cancelled her wedding as the nation imposes new restrictions to slow the community spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, she told reporters.

New Zealand will impose mask rules and limit gathering from midnight on Sunday after a cluster of nine cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant showed community transmission from the North to South islands after a wedding.

A family travelled by plane from the North Island capital of Auckland to a wedding in the South Island attended by 100 people.

The family and a flight attendant tested positive.

New Zealand would move to a red setting under its COVID-19 protection framework, with more mask wearing, and a cap of 100 customers indoors in hospitality settings and events such as weddings, or 25 people if venues are not using vaccine passes, Arden said.

“My wedding will not be going ahead,” she told reporters, adding she was sorry for anyone caught up in a similar scenario.

Asked by reporters how she felt about her wedding cancellation, Ardern replied: “Such is life.”

She added, “I am no different to, dare I say it, thousands of other New Zealanders who have had much more devastating impacts felt by the pandemic, the most gutting of which is the inability to be with a loved one sometimes when they are gravely ill.

“That will far, far outstrip any sadness I experience.”

Jacinda’s wedding to Clarke Gayford this summer was rumoured to be fast approaching. Some reports said it was fixed for this month.

But no specific date has actually been announced.

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