featured Op-Ed

The Beautiful Ones Are Now Born

The Beautiful Ones Are Now Born
  • PublishedMay 12, 2020

By Olowogboyega Oyebade

Do you know that we have to celebrate the Governor of the State of Osun, Mr Adegboyega Oyetola for continuously providing food for thousands of vulnerable people in the State?  Do you know that we have to acknowledge with thanks, the efforts of the 21-member Committee headed by an international preacher, Pastor Adeboye and his dynamic team for assisting the State to pool together funds and palliative materials to intervene in the social inclusion of the mass of the vulnerable people during the period of the total lockdown and partial lockdown occasioned by the spread of COVID-19 pandemic? Do you know that the intervention provides a strong cord to link the high-net-worth individuals and organisations with the disadvantaged class in line with international protocols established by the United Nations? Do you know that by these overwhelming acts of charity expressed by the high net-worth individuals and organisations, all of us must endorse a petition to Ayei Kwei Armah, the author of the book titled: “The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born”? Do you know that we have to tell him frankly that here in Nigeria, particularly in the State of Osun that “ The Beautiful Ones Are Now Born”? By these acts of charity, do you know that our State can proudly celebrate this year’s International Day of Living Together in Peace? You care for more?  Come along.

Are you aware that we have got a reason to smile on the recovery of crude oil prices from last month’s unprecedented crash as more countries ease their coronavirus lockdowns and output cuts agreed by OPEC+ and other top oil-producing countries start to consume the supply glut? Do you know that on Tuesday, 5th May, 2020, oil prices continued the upward swing as demand started improving and some economies began to open up? Do you know that the Nigerian headline crude, Bonny light, sold for $23.24 per barrel on  that day  compared to the $18.94 per barrel which it sold for the previous day, representing a whopping 22.7% increase, the highest in about 3 weeks? Do you know that an on-line report  declared that  oil demand has risen by 2.5 million barrels per day from its low point in mid-April 2020 and that as more countries ease their coronavirus lockdowns, oil prices will continue the upward swing, thus improving the economic fortunes of Nigeria? Do you know that this is enough good news as we celebrate this year’s ‘Day of Living Together in Peace’?

Hurray! Do you know that the UN General-Assembly, in its resolution 72/130, declared 16 May of each year the International Day of Living Together in Peace to mobilise the efforts of the international community to promote peace, tolerance, inclusion, understanding and solidarity?  Do you know that the celebration aims to uphold the desire to live and act together, united in differences and diversity, in order to build a sustainable world of peace, solidarity and harmony? Do you know that governments of different member States are mandated to employ all possible reconciliatory measures and acts of service to encourage forgiveness and compassion among individuals in different groups? Do you know that the billions of Naira and relief materials solicited by various tiers of government from high net-worth individuals in Nigeria to provide palliatives to the poor and challenged in the country is a short step to demonstrate the celebration of this day marking our living together in peace?

Do you know that ordinarily, no Nigerian should have anything to do with poverty, if not because of the fact that some of our past leaders looted and siphoned our public treasury and public service became a euphemism of personal enrichment? Have you heard the news that the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has revealed in its latest report that about 40 per cent of Nigerians (or 82.9 million people) live in poverty? According to this 2019 Poverty and Inequality report, do you know that the poverty rate varied across States which is highest in Sokoto where almost 90 per cent (87.73 per cent) of the population are poor and lowest in Lagos where 4.5 per cent of the population live in poverty?  Do you know that by this report, Nigeria is having a weird war at hand before the advent of  COVID-19 which is now testing the strength of our institutions and character? Do you know that if the beautiful ones will continue from now to be born in Nigeria, two institutions, namely: the police and the judiciary are key in our sudden flight to probity? Do you want know more about that?  Come along, please.

Are you aware that the present outbreak of COVID-19 throws up a lot of institutional challenges confronting us as a nation and a breed of homo sapiens? Have you read about some acts of kindness that won hearts in India occasioned by COVID-19 lockdown as published on 3 May 2020? Are you aware that India has been in lockdown since 25 March, 2020 which forced many people stuck at home alone, leaving the elderly especially feeling lonely and cut-off from families and friends?  Do you know that Karan Puri, an elderly resident of Panchkula, a town in the northern state of Haryana in India, was in for a pleasant surprise when the police came knocking at his door recently as telecast in a video that has since been shared widely?  Do you know that in the video, Mr Puri can be seen striding towards the gate, suggesting a voice calling him out of his apartment? The voice of Mr Puri in the video cuts in, saying, “I am Karan Puri, I live alone and I am a senior citizen.”

Do you know that as he introduced himself to his visitors who were in police uniform, a song burst out to him, singing: “Happy birthday to you‘? Do you know that the lonely Mr Puri was gripped in awe, weeping profusely  as the police officers sang and in utter surprise, asking them how they knew, despite that his children were away? Do you know that the police told him there was  no need to feel lonely because they were like his family too?  Do you know that they presented him a birthday hat and a cake which they bought with their own money and posed with old  Mr Puri , chorusing sweet birthday songs as he was cutting the cake bought for him for the celebration? The last remark of Mr Puri, while appreciating the police cuts in: “Thank you! You’ve made my day!” Do you know that our security forces doing civil duties must strive always to make the day of an average Nigerian so that they can say that “The Beautiful Ones Are Now Born”?

Have you read about the story of another Indian boy, Vatsal Sharma who had to celebrate his 15th birthday during the lockdown, but he would have to do it without his father around, a father who had  gone to the United States to do an official duty and was not able to return in time when India suspended all incoming flights? Do you know that Mr Sharma was surprised and touched that his father still managed to send him a birthday cake through the local police?  How? Can you believe that his father wrote to the local police, asking if they could wish his son a happy birthday on his behalf?  Do you know that the police turned up at the house, cake in hand, to do just that?  Can you believe that young Sharma found himself cutting a cake on the bonnet of a police car, while the officers clapped and the happy  birthday  song  blared from the car’s  stereo of the police?  Do  you know that the celebrant and the police shared that momentary camaraderie, obeying the protocol of social distancing and still made that adolescent to feel loved by his parents and society? Can these beautiful ones be born in Nigeria?

Have you heard the news? Are you aware that the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Coronavirus, Boss Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), on Thursday 7th May, 2020, during the daily briefing of the PTF, lamented compromise by some security operatives, which is increasingly leading to violation of government COVID- 19 guidelines on a daily basis, especially restriction on inter-state movements? Do you know that he noted that non-compliance is manifesting in several ways occasioned by our security operatives, which he said “could be costly in the future”?  From the testimony of the Chairman of the PTF, can we say of our security men maintaining  law and order during this pandemic that “The Beautiful Ones are Now Born” The voice of Mr Boss Mustapha cuts in:

“It is worrisome to note reports received about isolated cases of compromise by some security operatives. Reports from various parts of the country as on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, indicated amongst other things, a high level of non-compliance with the ban on inter-state travels. This resulted in a high number of vehicles finding their way across many state borders despite the curfew/ border restrictions; lack of respect for timing and the curfew also resulted in heavy traffic gridlock where many motorists spent the night following the enforcement of the curfew; an increasing level of abuse of exemption granted to vehicles conveying specified goods. Reports across the country show that they continue to hide passengers with the intention of ferrying them across state boundaries, and continual transportation of Almajiris across state borders is still evident. I have highlighted the foregoing as it relates to the road transportation sector to underscore the dangers inherent in the seeding of the virus across states… It is important to remember that this is a war in which every Nigerian is a combatant and must resist any effort by a few individuals or groups, to endanger our collective survival.”

Have you heard the news? Do you know that it has been reported by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that within the initial stage of the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria, security agents across the country extra-judicially killed more Nigerians than the novel coronavirus? Do you know that a statement signed by the Commission’s Executive Secretary, Tony Ojukwu, decried that while coronavirus had so far killed 12 people in Nigeria as at then, according to data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), security operatives had caused the death of 18 people? How do we defend shooting to death those we are to guard to safety?  Do you know that the Commission, in its assessment of human rights violations over the first two weeks of the lockdown, noted that the deaths were illegally executed by law enforcement agents to impose the lockdown regulations in Kaduna Abia, Delta, Niger, Ebonyi and Katsina States?  Do you know that of the 18 deaths, the Nigeria Correctional Service was responsible for eight deaths, police were responsible for seven deaths, the Nigerian Army was found to be responsible for two deaths while the Ebonyi State Task Force on COVID-19, Afikpo South LGA, was responsible for one death? Do you know that the events were suggestive of a competition among the security services alluding to the theme: ‘my gun can kill faster than yours’? Do you know that the Commission further revealed that it documented 105 complaints of human rights violations within the first 14 days of the lockdown and the report indicated that the Police were responsible for 90 percent of the total cases of violation across the country, as Lagos had the highest recorded cases with 28 incidents, followed by Abuja which had 10 cases? Do you know that no agency of our security system was reported to have sent  any birthday card or cake to any lonely senior citizen nor assisted an absentee father to wish his lonely boy happy birthday in their domain, talk less of playing music for him on the bonnet of their car? If we assess the two jurisdictions in terms of policing during the lockdown, do you know that the Nigerian Police have to defend the inclusion  of  the  name  of  their  institution  in  the  anti-thesis to be  published soon, titled: “The Beautiful Ones Are Now Born”?

By the way, have you read “The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born” ever  before? Do you know that it is the debut novel by Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah,  published in 1968 to tell the story of a spiritual trial of a civil servant of a new post-colonial nation called Ghana? Do you know that the characters include the Man, Oyo, teacher, Joseph Koomson, Estella Koomson, Sister Maan and Ella mai? Do you know that all these characters display their sense of probity at varying degrees in the service of their country? Do you know that many of them drop their crowns  of professional competence at the shrine of money and corruption? Do you know that The Man in the novel and the  protagonist  works at a railway station as a civil servant?  While on his daily duty, do you know that he is approached  and offered a bribe without soliciting for it?  As a man of conscience that he is, do you know that he refuses, thinking not to breach the ethics of the service and the provisions of the General Order guiding the Service? Can you believe that his colleagues are demanding for bribes and engages in taking it with relish? Do you know that they are better appreciated? Do you know that when his wife becomes aware that he refuses to take bribe, the wife becomes very furious and begins to taunt him with nagging?  When the man sees the ugly countenance of his own wife for not conforming to the social order to take bribe and succumb to living fake life, do you know that the man begins to feel guilty despite his innocence? Do you know that all his colleagues that are taking bribes are prospering while he continues to be nagged by his family?  Do you know that his choice to walk down the narrow path lands him in penury wants and privations and he never arrives as he hopes?  His voice cuts in:

“Those who are blessed with power and

The soaring swiftness of the eagles and

Have flown before,

Let them go.

I will travel slowly and

I, too, will arrive.”

Do you know that there are some stories of very clean men and women in the public service of Nigeria, holding strong the flag of fidelity, and abiding in legality with strong character and conviction  like the man in the Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born? Do you know that President Buhari is one of this breed of strong characters in fidelity and integrity? Through his personalty, do you know that ‘The Beautiful Ones Are Now Born’ in Nigeria? You care for more? Please, come!

Do you know that the institutional challenge in our dear country is huge? Have you heard the news? Do you know that the Nigerian government, on Monday, 5th May, 2020 confirmed the receipt of $311 million looted by a late dictator, Sani Abacha? Can you recall that the recovered funds were laundered through the US banking system and then held in bank accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey?  Do you remember that in 2014, a US Federal Court in Washington D.C. forfeited the money as property involved in the illicit laundering of the proceeds of corruption arising in Nigeria during the period from 1993 to 1998 when General Abacha was Head of State?

Do you know that in 2020 it has been reported that an estimated US$21 to $32 trillion of private financial wealth is located, untaxed or lightly taxed, in secrecy jurisdictions around the world? Do you know that illicit cross-border financial flows have been estimated at US$1-1.6 trillion per year, dwarfing the US$135 billion or so in global foreign aid? Are you aware that  since the 1970s, it had been reported that African countries alone had lost over US$1 trillion in capital flight, while combined external debts are less than US$200 billion?  From this revelation, can you see that Africa is a major net creditor to the world – but its assets are in the hands of a wealthy elite, protected by offshore secrecy; while its debts are shouldered by poor African populations wallowing in poverty and misery? Do you know that a global industry has developed involving the world’s biggest banks, law practices, accounting firms and specialist providers who design and market secretive offshore structures for their tax- and law-dodging clients in Africa and Middle East? The song of Fela Anikulapo cuts:

‘Every day my people dey inside bus,

Suffering and smiling…’

Are you aware of Financial Secrecy Index promoted by Tax Justice Network (TJN), an independent international network which pushes for transparency and ranks countries on the size and secretiveness of their financial sectors every two years by examining how various legal and financial systems in countries  allow wealthy individuals and criminals to hide and launder money? Do you know that the parameters used in the ranking include automatic exchange of information and registration of beneficial ownership?  . According to TJN, do you know that  an estimated $21 to 32 trillion of private financial wealth is located, untaxed or lightly taxed, in secrecy jurisdictions (tax havens) around the world at the detriment of the poor and the needy in the world? Have you seen this year’s report updated on 19th Feb, 2020? Do you know that Cayman Island ranks first? Do you know that Switzerland no longer retains the top position in the newly released financial secrecy index (FSI-2020) – a slot occupied by it since 2011? Do you know that  Switzerland’s improved status is partly due to its reduced role in financial secrecy and partly due to the increasing number of countries with which it automatically exchanges information under the ‘Common Reporting Standard’? Do you know that the ‘great’ United States   is yet to sign up on the Common Reporting Standard and some ill-gotten wealth are still laundered to it from the Middle East and Africa? Do you know that the billions of Dollars laundered to the United States of America by Shah Palavi of Iran is yet to be given to Iran? Do you know that the United States kept quiet on the gruesome murder of Kashogi so as not to raise any withrawal of assets of Saudi high-net worth individuals from the United States?

Do you know that Nigeria has been working with governments around the world in recent years on an asset recovery scheme to help repatriate its stolen funds to boost its finances?  Can you believe that as at 2013, Nigeria had recovered about $1.3 billion of Abacha’s money from various European jurisdictions, with more than a third of that from Switzerland? Do you know that the Swiss government in 2017 said it would return to Nigeria about $321 million in assets seized from Abacha’s family via a deal signed with the World Bank?  Are you aware that Abacha’s laundering operation extended to the United States and European jurisdictions such as Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Luxembourg, yet, his family, has never admitted that he stole? Do you know that a news release of the U.S. Department of Justice declared that it was seeking to enforce forfeiture judgments for approximately $30 million in assets located in Britain and more than $144 million in France belonging to Abacha? Do you know that in 2014 a U.S. court forfeited the money as property involved in the illicit laundering of the proceeds of corruption arising in Nigeria during the five years when Abacha was Head of State and negotiations for repatriation of the fund commenced in 2018?

Do you know that the United States and the British dependency of Jersey  agreed with Nigeria under President Buhari to repatriate more than $300 million in funds stolen by former military ruler General Sani Abacha? Can you recall that Abacha ruled Nigeria  from 1993 until his death in 1998 and Transparency International estimated that  he stole as much as $5 billion of public money during that time through the public service of our dear country? Do you know that he was never charged with corruption during his life and Nigeria has been fighting for years to recover the money?  Are you aware that companies linked to the Abacha family went to court to prevent repatriation, alleging infringement of their rights to a fair trial? Do you know that local and international lawyers stood up to put strong arguments in their defence of the stolen wealth known to the world? Do you know that the governments of Nigeria, Jersey and the United States entered into an asset recovery agreement to repatriate forfeited assets to Nigeria  pegged at $321 million? Can you believe that the funds were laundered through the U.S. banking system and then held in bank accounts in Jersey in the name of Doraville Properties Corporation, a British Virgin Islands company, and in the name of the son of the ex-military ruler?

Are you aware that Mr Malami led the negotiation team to sign the Tripartite Agreement and the process towards  the  implementation of International Asset Recovery and Repatriation Agreement which seeks to provide benefit to the victims of corruption? Do you know that the money was with-held for years because previous government’s were perceived to be too “corrupt” and  and ‘The Beautiful Ones Were Not Yet Born’? Do you know that the personal integrity of President Buhari convinced the world that the fund should be repatriated back to Nigeria ?  Through this administration, do you know that ‘The Beautiful Ones Are Now Born’? The voice of Nigerian Attorney General Abubakar Malami cuts in:

“This agreement has culminated in a major victory for Nigeria and other African countries as it recognizes that crime does not pay and that it is important for the international community to seek for ways to support sustainable development through the recovery and repatriation of stolen assets.”

Are you aware that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Umar Gwandu, said approximately $311,797,866.11 of the Abacha loot was repatriated from the US and Jersey?  Do you know that in line with the 2020 Asset Return Agreement, the fund has been transferred to a Central Bank of Nigeria Asset Recovery designated account and would be paid to the National Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) within the next fourteen days, an agency that is responsible for the management and execution of the projects to which the funds will be applied?

Are you aware that in the agreement the Nigerian government has covenanted  that the asset will support and assist in expediting the construction of three major infrastructure projects across Nigeria, namely: The Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, Abuja – Kano Road, and the Second Niger Bridge? Do you know that Nigeria covenanted further to inaugurate a Project Monitoring Team to oversee the implementation of the projects and report regularly on progress made to the public?  Do you know that in order to maintain transparency in the use of the returned assets, Nigeria also covenanted to engage a civil society organisation, which has combined expertise in substantial infrastructure projects, civil engineering, anti-corruption compliance, anti-human trafficking compliance, and procurement to provide additional monitoring and oversight? According to Mr Malami, do you know that the amount increased significantly from over $308 million as stated in a press release in February to over $311 million because of the interest that accrued from February 3, 2020, to 28th April, 2020, when the fund was transferred to the Central Bank of Nigeria? As explained by the Justice Minister, do you know that the litigation process for the return of these asset titled “Abacha III” commenced in 2014, while the diplomatic process that culminated in the signing of the Asset Return Agreement on February 3, 2020, by the governments of Nigeria, the US and Jersey commenced in 2018? Sure! You know US.  Do you know Jersey as a tax haven?  Do you care to know it? Come along, please.  The voice of the Minister of Justice cuts in:

“This agreement is based on international law and cooperation measures that set out the procedures for the repatriation, transfer, disposition and management of the assets. The recovery effort further consolidates on the established record of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government which has a history of recovery of $322m from Switzerland in 2018 which is being transparently and judiciously deployed in supporting indigent Nigerians as specified in the agreement signed with the Switzerland and the World Bank.”

Do you know that the receipt of these stolen monies – and the hundreds of millions more that have already been returned from the United Kingdom and Switzerland – are an opportunity for the development of Nigeria, made far harder for those decades the country was robbed of these funds due to bad leadership? Can you believe that previous monies returned  from Switzerland – some $320 million US dollars – are already being used for the government’s free school feeding scheme, a stipend for millions of disadvantaged citizens, and grain grants for those in severe food hardship in the country? Do you know that the latest return is a testament to the growing and deepening relationship between the government of Nigeria and the government of the United States and that “the Beautiful Ones are Now Born”? Do you know that without the cooperation both from the UK Government, the US Executive branch and US Congress, and the handsome standing integrity-wise, of President Buhari, Nigeria  would not have achieved the return of these funds at all? Do you know that the latest release of assets by the US, UK and other jurisdictions is a living testimony that these countries have found the partnership with the nation of Nigeria they can finally trust under the administration of President Buhari? Have you ever asked why Late General Abacha chose that his assets be lodged in Jersey and some other tax havens?  You care to know?  Come along, please.

Do you know that Jersey is officially recognized as the Bailiwick of Jersey and is home to about 100,000 people? Are you aware that it is a British Crown dependency that is located near the coast of Normandy, between Britain and France? Do you know that it had been part of Britain since 1066 and  surrounded by some other islands? Do you know that it is a self-governing parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy, with its own financial, legal and judicial systems and the power of self-determination while the Lieutenant Governor on the island is the personal representative of the Queen of England? Do you know that it is not part of the United Kingdom and  has an international identity separate from that of the UK but the UK is constitutionally responsible for the defence of Jersey?  Do you know that the definition of United Kingdom in the British Nationality Act 1981 is interpreted as including the UK and the Islands together? Do you know that the Island adopted English Language as its official language and the British pound as its primary currency? Do you know that the Jersey way of life involved agriculture, milling, fishing, shipbuilding and production of woollen goods and tourism?

Do you know that the pains of the Great Depression of the 1930s imposed a duty on Britain to impose heavy tax on the high net-worth individuals and companies to finance public infrastructure and social inclusion? Are you aware that after the depression, if  persons died wealthy, their heirs had to give 80% of any inheritance over £1m to the government? Do you know that this development made rich Brits to seek for tax-haven in nearby Jersey, an Island that had no inheritance tax? Do you know that Jersey capitalized on this by making its own jurisdiction a tax haven, a country that offers foreigners little or no tax liability in a politically and economically stable environment and created a cesspool of Asset Protection Trust (APT), a financial-planning vehicle for holding an individual’s assets to shield them from creditors?

Seeing this fertile land for stolen assets, do you know that big banks including Credit Suisse, Citi, HSBC, Société Générale, PWC and other big American Banks  moved in to do business with many African and Middle East leaders who cannot separate their personal needs from the collective wealth of their countries, cashing in on the tax-haven status in practice in the Island? Do you know that many of the big North American, European and British banks opened branches in St Helier in Jersey, brought the money in and sent it out again, often on the same day to lower the tax burden? Have you not read about Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire who at the time of his death was richer than his country in foreign assets?

Do you know that Jersey is a particularly attractive location for high net worth individuals and application for residency approval must be accompanied with evidence of a sustainable minimum annual income of not less than £625,000 per annum (#302,396,250)? Do you know that additional income rate on personal wealth attracts only 1%?  Can you believe that most Jersey companies are subject to zero per cent tax on their worldwide income? Do you know that with pools of funds from different jurisdictions, Jersey built new schools, new hospitals, new roads, a new harbour, a new marina and unemployment was barely 2%? Do you know that there was no inheritance tax; no VAT; no capital gains tax; no tax on corporate profits if your business was outside Jersey? Do you know that the Island is nicknamed a miracle of plenty? Do you know that by the end of the 1980s, Jersey had evolved from simply serving UK depositors keen to avoid tax but opened its doors to help anyone, from anywhere, to avoid anything? Do you know that African leaders of all shades moved their stolen wealth to this Island? Do you now see why Late Abacha decided to keep part of the funds he stole in one of the American Banks based in Jersey Island?  Can you now see why the United States became a party in the tripartite agreement on the release of the fund to Nigeria? Do you know that  Tax Justice Network’s calculated  that tax havens hide up to $32tn from proper scrutiny, thus multiplying poverty in the world?  Do you know that the secrecy provided creates a suitable crime-laden  hot-house for multiple evils including fraud, tax cheating, escape from financial regulations, embezzlement, insider dealing, bribery, money laundering,  ways for insiders to extract wealth at the expense of countries , creating political impunity and undermining  democracy?

Do you know that some studies have shown that some of the funds stashed abroad by African leaders are the bulk of the loans we are getting from some financial institutions abroad? Can you now see that the beautiful ones must now be born?  We want to thank President Buhari whose moral probity is fetching us the repatriation of stolen funds from Nigeria.  Do you know that all institutions in Nigeria particularly, the Civil Service and the Public Service must clone this moral probity of President Buhari so that the world will say truly that “ The Beautiful Ones Are Now Born.”

We seize this medium to appreciate Mr Adegboyega  Oyetola again for being enough good news as he is  emulating the good virtues of President Buhari.  We appreciate the regular payment of salary, the steady development of  infrastructure in the State and for generous implementation of social inclusion programmes in the State. This is the time to counter Ayei  Kwei  Armah who titles his book: ‘The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born’. Nigerians must sing aloud now that ‘The Beautiful Ones Are Now Born’. Will the Police, the Judiciary and the Civil Service  join in the publication of this new title? Meanwhile, let the music of peace and love continue.   Now that the fund is back safely, may it not fly back again.  Amen! The second stanza of the National Anthem cuts in:’ Oh God of Creation…’

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