Monday, October 30, 2006

Nigeria's Top Muslim Leader Dead In Latest Plane Crash; 98 Are Killed

In the latest and perhaps the most far-reaching plane crash in Nigeria - the third in little more than a year - Nigeria's Muslim spiritual leader and 97 others were killed near the capital city of Abuja, the New York Times reported late Sunday:

October 30, 2006

Nigerian Plane Crash Kills 98, Including Top Muslim Leader


DAKAR, Senegal, Oct. 29 — A commercial airliner with 104 passengers and crew members on board, including the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s vast Muslim population, crashed shortly after takeoff in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Sunday. It was the third deadly passenger plane crash in Nigeria in a little more than a year.

Six people were taken to local hospitals, aviation officials told reporters at the crash site. The other 98 people on board were presumed dead. The plane crashed just past the runway at the Abuja airport after taking off in stormy weather, and the wreckage was strewn across a wooded area beyond the runway. News agencies reported that some bodies had been recovered, but it was unclear how many.

The flight was operated by ADC Airlines, one of Nigeria’s many small domestic airlines. The 23-year-old plane was a Boeing 737-2B7, The Associated Press reported, quoting an Aviation Ministry spokesman.

The plane was headed to Sokoto, the capital of a state near Nigeria’s northern border. Among the passengers was the sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Maccido, the spiritual leader since 1996 of Nigeria’s Muslims, who are believed to constitute half of the country’s estimated population of 130 million.

“It is a terrible tragedy, an unimaginable loss,” said Mustapha Shehu, a spokesman for the Sokoto State government, in a telephone interview just moments after the sultan’s body had been brought to Sokoto for burial by a government plane. “Everyone is in mourning.”

The crash was the latest in a string of disasters in Nigeria’s skies. More than 200 people died in two aviation accidents in Nigeria in 2005. Last October, a flight operated by Bellview Airlines, one of the country’s most popular carriers, crashed shortly after taking off from Lagos on its way to Abuja, killing 117 people.

Just two months later, a flight operated by Sosoliso Airlines crashed on the runway at Port Harcourt, the main hub of Nigeria’s oil industry. Dozens of high school students on their way home for Christmas from an elite boarding school in Abuja were among the more than 100 people killed in that crash.

The two episodes, coming just months apart, prompted the government to ground the entire domestic fleet of both airlines for inspections. Nigerian aviation officials later said that sudden weather changes were to blame for both accidents.

Last month 10 senior military officials were killed in a military plane crash in Benue State.

Despite its vast oil wealth — Nigeria is the world’s sixth-largest oil exporter — its infrastructure is crumbling, and traveling even a few hundred miles by road takes more than a day.

With most domestic fares running at least $100 one-way in a country where 60 percent of the people live in poverty, the airlines tend to cater to the country’s business and political elite. Politicians, diplomats and prominent business people have been among the dead in recent crashes.

In addition to the sultan, several top Sokoto State officials were on the plane, Mr. Shehu said, including two senators and the deputy governor. The group had been in the capital attending a government meeting on education, Mr. Shehu said.

The death of the sultan leaves Nigeria’s Muslim population without one of its most prominent voices against interreligious conflict as the country enters a contentious period leading up to elections next year. Mr. Maccido was crucial in calming religious tensions in 2002, when deadly riots broke out over a beauty pageant in northern Nigeria, and in 2004, when interreligious violence killed dozens in Plateau State.

The 2007 presidential election is likely to fan these flames again as the largely Muslim north and the largely Christian south battle over which region the country’s next president will come from.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Luca's October Update Illuminates Little

A second monthly uypdate from Interim CEO Nicolae Luca offers little that is new or significant to investors, but does say ERHC Energy will hire a Technical Vice President to "manage those relationships" and singles out an article by David Ivanovich for mention without either praising or condemning it.

The share price, along with the entire market, has risen since the update, albeit only by $0.025 cents to $0.365 on shares of 340,957 Thursday in another day of lackluster volume and trading.

Indeed, for ERHC, all is waiting. Will there be an indictment? No, I think. Will there be an SEC action, like a fine? Tes, we think. Will there be a buyout or buy-in? Maybe, I think; wait and see.

Generally, within limits, I would approve a strategy of accumulation now, although I don't think the stock (OTC BB symbol: ERHE) is as low as it will go. If I should be wrong and an indictment does come from U.S. Atty. Mary Kay Dimke's investigation, there will be a momentary - and I mean a few hours, at most - opportunity to buy shares in the $0.22 range, I believe.

The effect of an SEC action is less predictable, as it shakes the securities industry to its roots, so far as this stock goes; if one comes, we could hit a low of $0.15 if coupled with an indictment; alone, it would mean much less, I think, and probably bottom us out around $0.25.

And what of nothing? That is, what if nothing happens, for a long time (i.e., until Sprimng 2007)? Then we will be on one of the long, slow upward trajectories that bore the sternest, most discipline observer, with the price improving through Decmber to the $0.45 - $0.48 range and moving into the $0.50s - and maybe slightly higher - by the end of March.

Once a drilling rig is secured, bets are off; this analysis must also be suspended in the event any of our partners or other players hit any major fields in any JDZ block. There may also be some limited sensitivity to a change in political fortunes in Abuja, but we are likely to be unaffected by any further violence in the Niger Delta.

The fact that the share price has risen following an update on low volume while the market was setting all-time highs does not suggest momentum very strongly to me; rather, I think, we will top around $0.37 tomorrow, and may fall back to $0.35 by the end of the day. It was telling that there were no trades after 3:31pm EST Thursday.

For those curious about my thoughts on other stocks, I have watched in rapture as Phelps-Dodge (PD) moved up another $2.46 to $93.30 today, and I have touted Urban Outfitters (URBN) to subscribers since it hit $14.85 twe weeks ago; I was pleased to see it close at $19.32 and this afternoon. I am waiting again on Vion Pharmaceuticals (VION), which has fallen to $1.14 after jumping more than $0.30 on my last tip to $1.30. There's a stock called IVAY which interests me, and it was up $0.01 to $0.19 today, but it has been falling from a post-hype high of $0.28 and may yet have a little ways further to fall.

Again, I would liek to thank all those who have written to offer condolences about my Dad, either here or on I-Hub, and I look forward to resuming a more regular posting schedule soon.

Here is the latest ERHC Energy update:

ERHC Energy Inc. Interim CEO Issues October Update
HOUSTON, TX -- (MARKET WIRE) -- October 11, 2006 -- Nicolae Luca, interim chief executive officer of ERHC Energy Inc. (OTCBB: ERHE) issued the following update after the market closed on Wednesday, October 11, 2006.

"To ERHC Shareholders:

"I am pleased to again update the ERHC Energy family on the company's progress during the past month.

"As described last month, ERHC representatives participated in September meetings of the Operating Committee and the Technical Committee for the Blocks and in Management Committee meetings between consortium partners and the Joint Development Authority (JDA). I believe that the meetings were productive. We continue to develop our relationships with our consortium partners in the Joint Development Zone (JDZ) Blocks, Addax Petroleum and Sinopec Corp., and we remain positive about the progress being made.

"The committee that is conducting the search for the Company's new Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer has narrowed down the list of candidates and begun interviewing. We understand that this period of transition has been unsettling for some investors, but we are convinced that a deliberate process that leads to the selection of the right CEO and CFO is in the best interests of the company and its shareholders.

"As we have said before, our normal business operations continue unabated as the executive search continues.

"In addition to those executive positions, ERHC has begun recruiting for the position of Vice President (Technical). To date, the Company has been satisfied with using technical consultants in meetings with organizations such as the JDA and in technical discussions with our consortium partners. Until now, the intermittent nature of ERHC's requirement for the technical function made it a cost-effective option to use consultants to carry the function out. However, as operations begin to grow in the JDZ, the board has determined that it will be in ERHC's best interests to have an in-house executive officer to manage these relationships.

"Meanwhile, with the guidance of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld LLP, the Company continues to interface with the US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with their respective investigations. This interface includes responding to an additional SEC request for personnel records (specifically, those regarding former CFO, Franklin Ihekwoaba) and other corporate records from the Company.

"Because the government's search warrant affidavit remains under seal, there has understandably been significant speculation regarding the investigations. Several news reports, including a front-page story in The Houston Chronicle, have referenced ERHC Energy. Houston Chronicle reporter David Ivanovich has followed ERHC for years and the article discussed the Company's promise and its challenges. We have worked to keep the discussion of ERHC in the media grounded in reality by quickly correcting inaccuracies and articulating a clear message.

"Finally, we closed the books on fiscal year 2006 on September 30th. We continue work on the year-end financial report, which is due in December 2006.

"We value our shareholders and appreciate your continued support. As this update illustrates, we are committed to maintaining regular communication with the ERHC Energy family regarding the Company's activities and opportunities."