15 Apr

The week ahead – The Middle Belt crisis has escalated

Rural communities across Nigeria’s Middle Belt have been turned into killing fields. Reports from parts of the North Central show that hundreds of men, women and children, have either been murdered in cold blood, or injured, and displaced. What is worse, is that this is spreading to the South West, South South and South East, with SBM Intelligence tracking incidents in areas as far removed from the epicentre of the conflict as Abbi, in Enugu State where two were killed, Ossissa in Delta State, where the community have fled following constant attacks, Ohali-Elu in Rivers State where the casualty figure is between seven and sixteen, and Ilara-Mokin in Ondo State, where a herdsman was killed this week, an apparent reprisal for last week’s attack which claimed the life of a member of the Oodua Peoples Congress. Not one of the incidents mentioned is in the Middle Belt. In the Middle Belt itself, the killings have become a part of life, and many have been killed for simply challenging herdsmen who have destroyed their farmlands.

A video has surfaced showing at least fifteen of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Chibok two years ago pleading for their freedom. Filmed standing against a brick wall, the young women abducted from the beds of their school dormitory in 2014 – were recorded to provide ‘proof of life’ in a clip sent to negotiators by their captors. The video is believed to have been made in December and is being used as collateral in discussions between Nigeria and the extremists. In it, the girls all dressed in full length, black robes state their names, their school and where they are from. They show no visible signs of injury or maltreatment and do not look starved. This video came as UNICEF said that Boko Haram dispatched 44 child suicide bombers to Nigeria and Cameroun last year, up from four in 2014. The UN agency said child suicide bombings have surged 11-fold over the last year, with children as young as 8, mostly girls, detonating bombs in schools and markets. The report suggest the use of child suicide bombers has spread beyond Nigeria’s borders, with an increasing number of deadly attacks carried out by children with explosives hidden under their clothes or in baskets.

The Kaduna State government has announced that three hundred and forty-seven people were killed during the December 2015 incident between the Nigerian Army and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria in Zaria. Kaduna’s Secretary to the State Government, Balarabe Lawal, said this in a submission at the ongoing public hearing of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the incident. Lawal, who led a six-man government witnesses before the panel, said a hundred and ninety-one corpses were taken from the Nigerian Army Depot, Zaria and were buried in Mando area in Kaduna. A hundred and fifty-six corpses were also conveyed from the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria, to the same Mando area. The corpses were committed into a single grave at the Mando area, jointly supervised by the state government officials and about forty soldiers. An SBM source counted almost two hundred corpses in the aftermath of the incident.

President Muhammadu Buhari has issued a stern warning to pipeline vandals regarding the blowing up of oil and gas installations. Speaking at a meeting with the Nigerian community China, Buhari warned them to desist or “face the same drastic action being taken against Boko Haram by the nation’s armed forces.” The President said that he is aware that in the last two weeks, the national grid has collapsed a number of times, incidents blamed on vandalism.

The Senate said it would not revisit the 2016 Budget it passed, asking President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the document as transmitted to him. Senate spokesperson, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, said the President was free to send a supplementary budget to the National Assembly after signing the document. But while the Senate was insisting on Buhari signing the budget, the House of Representatives has said it would consider the budget in the over all interest of Nigeria.

The International Monetary Fund has lowered Nigeria’s 2016 economic growth projections to 2.3 percent from its earlier January forecast of 3.2 percent amid fears that the negative impact of lower oil prices is now compounded by disruptions to private sector activity through exchange rate restrictions. Officially kick-starting this year’s annual Spring meetings which it co-hosts with the World Bank, the IMF, in a new World Economic Outlook, said it was raising an alarm but then alerting that global economy was recovering too slowly, too low, fragile, presents risks and not distributive enough. The new Outlook anticipates a slight acceleration in global growth this year, from 3.1 percent to 3.2 percent, followed by 3.5 percent growth in 2017. The IMF regrettably noted that its projections, however, continue to be progressively less optimistic over time.

The latest report from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics has said currency curbs introduced by the Buhari Administration, coupled with to the petrol scarcity, have contributed to an increase in inflation, to 12.8 percent in March, compared to 11.4 percent in February and 9.6 percent in January. It blamed the 1.4 percent rise in the headline index on an increase in the prices of goods and services across the country, the highest year-on-year rise since July 2012. The NBS stated that the planting season, transportation costs, as well as foreign exchange movements created significant upward pressure on the food index in March. It further stated that the knock on effect of foreign exchange movements, which have in turn affected the prices of imported food and non-food items, the importation of petrol as well as the adjustment in the electricity tariffs nationwide resulted in a surge of rates.

COUNSEL

  • The Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, bears direct responsibility for the current bloodletting, largely blamed on Fulani herdsmen, across the country. He has not shown any leadership, and was recently quoted as blaming social media for the escalation. Rather than talk of arresting and or disarming the perpetrators, he has chosen to blame those who have made the effort to bring these massacres to light. His actions on one hand, and lack of actions on another, will only serve to embolden the murderers. Ultimately, we believe that this ongoing conflict will define the legacy of the Buhari Administration, for good, or ill. The President must take responsibility, and declare a state of emergency across the five Middle Belt states of Benue, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba, where these conflicts are bloodiest in.
  • Nigeria has run out of excuses regarding the handling of the Chibok girls’ issue. The video showing proof of life, which was acknowledged by the Minister of Information, tells us that the FG may have reached advanced stages in the negotiations as far back as December last year. We urge them to use all available resources to rescue these girls, provide them with counselling, and reunite them with their families.
  • 347 Nigerians massacred by our own army, with not a single soldier facing indictment is a very telling story about the contempt with which Nigerians are viewed by the government, and security establishment, which are both sworn to protect Nigerian lives. While we acknowledge that the incident in Zaria may have happened without the Chief of Army Staff’s knowledge, ultimate responsibility for the conduct of his troops lands on his desk. We call for the removal of Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai as the barest minimum acceptable action if Nigeria is indeed a democratic country that lives up to the ideals of human rights for all its citizens.
  • Neither threats nor military action will solve the problem of pipeline vandalism, neither will the failed policy of giving millions of dollars, via contracts to a few. Given our Army’s conduct, President Buhari’s threat opens the frightening possibility of the massacre of whole communities. We suggest a sincere engagement of the host communities, not a bypassing the peoples of such communities to relate with a few ‘big boys’. The host communities should be involved in commercial ownership and protection of the pipelines.
  • Once again, Nigeria’s federal legislature and executive are trading blame, and going back and forth over the 2016 Budget. This embarrassment, from the shoddy handling initially, and the attempt by the Parliament to reallocate funds from urgent national priority projects for their own projects, will impact very negatively on Nigeria’s economy. There is no need to dwell on the fact that Nigerians will be hard pressed to find any “constituency project” that has benefited any legislator’s constituents over the past decade and half of democracy. It is time for the Executive and Legislature to sit down and properly deliver a 2016 Budget.
  • The reports from the IMF and NBS have shown the dismal nature of Nigeria’s economic outlook. Clearly the current strategy of currency controls is not working. The flip-flop on petrol subsidy payments, while it may ease the scarcity situation in the short term, is not a medium, or long-term solution. There is no clear cut policy on the economy, or on the oil and gas industry, and we fear the socialist inclinations of the President may not yeild any drastic policy decisions that can save Nigeria’s economy from the current rut. We suggest that the President give the floor to a team consisting of the Vice President, and the Ministers of Finance and Trade & Investment to run this economy and pick it up from the doldrums.