09 Sep

The week ahead – Old problems and wishful thinking are making a forceful comeback

 

The military doubles down in the Delta
Niger Delta Affairs minister Usani Uguru Usani, says President Muhammadu Buhari is not contemplating any war in the Niger Delta. There is an air of apprehension in the oil-rich region, the Niger Delta as a convoy of about 32 articulated vehicles on Thursday, was seen on the roads of its principal city, Port Harcourt carrying long-range tanks, armoured personnel vehicles and a wide range of weapons. In response to the above security event, the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) opined that deployment of troops and weapons in the region was an indication that the Federal Government was not interested in peace in the Niger Delta region. Similarly, the Pere of Seimbiri Kingdom, His Royal Majesty Ayemi Botu, condemned the growing military presence in the region, saying the frenzied deployment of military hardware and troops in the region showed insensitivity on the part of the Buhari government and could throw the region into chaos. Earlier this week, the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Buratai, paid a visit to Rivers governor, Nyesom Wike to show support for the administration renewed push, tagged Operation Crocodile Smile, which was launched in August to address the security challenges in the region. On Monday, the mission lost four soldiers in a boat accident in Brass LGA, Bayelsa.

NLNG faces an unneeded existential crisis
The Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Company says it generated $20 billion in revenue for the country through the NNPC, which holds a 49 percent stake in the gas producer. The new NLNG MD, Tonny Attah, who met with information and culture minister, Lai Mohammed in Abuja, added that the company has paid over $6 billion in taxes during the period. “We contributed more than $20 billion, with over $6 billion in tax over the last five years through the NNPC which owns 49% of NLNG.” Attah is on a lobbying spree to win the support of government officials over plans by federal lawmakers to repeal the NLNG Act, calling the development detrimental to the reputation of the country in the global market.

Recession is actually just a word when it comes to lawmakers’ pay
Federal lawmakers received a total of ₦6.78 billion in salaries and allowances annually, a new investigation by Economic Confidential magazine has revealed. The report said the ‘legitimate’ remuneration of the federal legislators in compliance with the statutory approval of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal included annual salaries, accommodation, vehicle maintenance and fuel, personal assistants, house maintenance, domestic staff, entertainment and utility allowances. Each Senator is entitled to an annual salary of ₦2.02 million while a member of the House of Representatives receives N1.98 million as an annual basic salary. The basic salary of the Senate President is ₦2.48 million while that of the Speaker of House of Representatives is ₦2.47 million. The numbers for the Deputy Senate President and the Deputy Speaker are ₦2.30 million and ₦2.28 million respectively. The Senate, consisting of 109 senators gulped ₦1.85 billion annually, while the 360 members of the House of Representatives got ₦4.93 billion.

Nigeria gets another go at badly needed electoral reforms
The federal government is said to be in the final stages of constituting a 20-member committee to review existing electoral laws and past reports on electoral reforms, including that of the Justice Muhammad Uwais National Electoral Committee, The Punch reports citing people familiar with the plans. The committee will be constituted and inaugurated by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. The paper says the Independent National Electoral Commission will nominate five members of the proposed committee. The date for the committee’s inauguration of the committee is yet to be announced. According to the AGF’s spokesman, Salihu Isah, “The proposal is just waiting for the final directive of the AGF.”

Signs of everyday hope emerge from a weary North East
The Damboa Local Government Area council in Borno on Tuesday re-opened the Damboa township market closed down since 2014 due to repeated Boko Haram attacks. The sleepy town is located just a few kilometres from the Sambisa forest home of the weakened but still raging insurgency group. In a related development, on Monday, the largest group yet of refugees affected by the conflict, nearly 2,000, was transported to villages around the town of Konduga. Though Konduga and its environs lie just 35 kilometres (22 miles) from Maiduguri, north-east Nigeria’s biggest city, they are also on the fringes of the Sambisa Forest where the Islamist extremists still have strongholds. Finally, the Department of State Services arrested Ahmed Salkida, a journalist declared wanted by the Nigerian Army in August for possible links to Boko Haram. He was escorted from the airport shortly after his flight from Dubai, the United Arab Emirates landed in Abuja.

Govt keeps eating grass on herdsmen menace
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, has called on states and the federal government to pass legislations restricting cattle rearing to modern ranches and also setting up forest rangers to enforce such laws. The minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Muhammad Musa Bello has banned free grazing by herdsmen in the nation’s capital. The latest developments come days after the Ekiti signed into law a bill restricting grazing by herdsmen within its borders. Also, there was a peaceful demonstration by women in the Ikot Umo Essien community in Odoro Ikot Clan, Essien Udim LGA, Akwa Ibom at the weekend, expressing their dismay over the incessant destruction of their crops and farmland by herdsmen.

Our health sector’s dark side casts its shadow

Nigeria has reported its third polio case in Borno, the World Health Organisation said on Monday, warning more cases could be reported in what will be seen as a major health setback. Two polio cases were reported in early August. The country was on track to be certified free of the virus next year. “A third child has been paralysed by wild poliovirus type one in Borno state,” WHO said in a statement. “It’s all linked to the same outbreak,” the statement continued, adding: “detection of new cases is not unexpected and can be anticipated, particularly as disease surveillance is being strengthened including by conducting retrospective case searches.” The latest case was observed in the border LGA of Monguno. Nigeria’s outbreak response, which includes a large immunisation campaign, is expected to continue until November and includes neighbouring areas in Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Health Minister Isaac Adewole warned in August that the affected areas “have had their health facilities destroyed by insurgents” and “accessibility was a barrier to service provision.”

Suggestions:

  • The latest developments in the delta region represent the clearest signal of a coordinated, cross-agency attempt at getting a handle on the perennially volatile situation in the region. Also this week, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, on a visit to Bayelsa, announced plans by the Nigerian Air Force to deploy additional personnel to the Niger Delta to combat militancy and other security challenges. While there is clearly a military component to addressing the concerns of residents, oil companies and other businesses which have been in the grip of the most significant militancy escalation since the heydays of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta dating from the early parts of this millennium to 2014, ultimately, we believe a holistic social and economic solution is the only way to address the historic grievances of a region that is often remembered only for what it gives the country than for what it actually needs. One cannot say that successive governments have not tried to address the Niger Delta question in other ways. For one, the region has its own federal ministry as well as a development commission. Current junior petroleum minister, Ibe Kachikwu once declared that $40 billion in federal transfers have been sent to the region over the past 12 years. This year, the Niger Delta Development Commission has a budget of ₦241.9 billion. All this activity do not tell the full story, the delta ministry has invited questions over ₦700 billion in contracts that have not borne any appreciable fruit and much of the monies allocated for the region get syphoned either into private pockets or are inefficiently channelled into recurrent expenditure purposes. It does not help that right now, the political elite is mired in a tussle that has spilt to the courts over the legality of the President’s latest appointments to the NDDC. At this time when Nigeria is grappling with a grinding recession, it should solemnly realise that ordinary brute force is not the solution to the crisis in the Niger Delta, such moves will only serve as a further strain on an already exhausted economy.
  • At a time when Nigeria needs its businesses to contribute more to the national pot by way of taxes – a topic we exhaustively treated two weeks ago – we cannot understand the thinking behind the move to repeal the NLNG Act of 2004. The NLNG stands as a beacon of corporate responsibility and is widely regarded as the best model of a Nigerian run oil company, a model which the unflappable NNPC ought to aspire to. We can only imagine in unwaveringly colourful terms why the National Assembly will want to destroy the most efficient government-owned organisation in the land, for the nearsighted reason that they cannot have a direct say in the management of its affairs – which we must point out is a good thing. We agree with Tony Attah that NASS’s moves will cause serious damage to the country’s already unflattering reputation as a business destination. As information minister Mohammed put it, “One thing investors like most is predictability. When we keep changing the goal posts, we are not going to attract investors.” It is not every day that the executive in Aso Rock actually says the right things; federal lawmakers need to get in line and let a clearly proven formula run its course.
  • At a time Nigerians are groaning under the yoke of a stinging recession, a new report which solidly confirms our legislators’ place as the most handsomely rewarded in the world couldn’t be more unflattering. Lawmakers in the class of 2011-2015 found a rare moment of solidarity and unity in 2013 when they roundly criticised data from The Economist showing that they earned wages equivalent to 116 times the country’s GDP per person – the highest globally. For context, the price of Brent Crude as at year’s end in 2013 was $109.56 and Nigeria was in the heydey of its wasteful oil bonanza. In those days, it would take a Nigerian worker earning the minimum wage of ₦18,000 a month four years’ worth of work to earn just the utility allowance of one legislator. These are not those days. Brent is currently looking for a floor in the nether 40s and around the world, oil producers are scaling back investment, cutting public sector jobs and generally instituting some form of fiscal discipline. Not Nigeria, it seems. We have repeatedly called for the government not only to take a pay cut but to trim its girth altogether. It is too bad that at the highest levels of this administration, the idea of scaling back in the age of a recession is a case of mere semantics.
  • This should be viewed as a welcome and long overdue development. Part of the committee’s brief is to “review the laws impacting elections in Nigeria, in relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) to assess their impact and adequacy for the administration of elections in Nigeria; recent judicial decisions on election petitions as they relate to conflicting judgments; the delay in issuing Certified True Copies of judgments; the review of the lessons learnt from the 2015 general elections and make recommendations; identify and assess international best practices on electoral system relevant to Nigeria’s experience and identify best practices that would impact positively on the quality and credibility of the nation’s electoral process.” We can recommend a globally established electoral practice which has strangely not been implemented in our clime – staggered elections. We do not understand why Nigerians must choose its President, federal and state lawmakers and most state governors (less a function of the legal rules and more a consequence of judicial activity) at the same time. It places an unnecessary and politically combustible burden on the electoral commission (which is happy with the imminent news of this committee, for the record), is hugely expensive and operates to defeat the point of electors acting as a check on elected officials – mid-term elections are a reliable referendum on the performance of sitting governments; the thought of getting kicked out by your constituents is a potent deterrent to irresponsible governance. We hope this committee if inaugurated makes no issue sacred – our democracy hangs on its every action.
  • It is a testament to the resolve of the people of North East Nigeria that they are excited over the opening of markets and other public places, a signal of a return to some form of normalcy after the trauma of years of war. It is still expected that many would be fearful, as they return after two years to homes and properties that have been torched, destroyed and for the most part, non-existent, all while still living in the shadow of the dreaded Islamist insurgents. The government, through the security forces, the civilian bureaucracy, as well as the private sector must ensure that the mammoth rebuilding effort that lies ahead is completed. Sadly, issues like the DSS picking on a journalist who has been a fierce critic of government policy in the North East reinforce an increasing perception that the current administration has a low tolerance for dissent, even one of a constructive nature as the #BringBackOurGirls movement – who were prevented from carrying out a peaceful march in Abuja on Tuesday.
  • This issue has come to a head and Abuja’s continued silence, and more dangerously, lack of movement on this issue is not only worrying for national security, it is downright irresponsible. Multiple media outlets reported on Tuesday that herdsmen have taken over the national stadium in Abuja to feed their cattle, overwhelming stadium security and brandishing weapons – underscoring the depths this government has fallen to in acquiescing to the demands With pockets of discontent rising from Akwa Ibom to Lagos, where this week, a chemist in Ketu was almost lynched by a predominantly northern crowd for writing words on a magazine that constituted ‘blasphemy,’ Aso Rock cannot continue to sound a mute tone because if it continues on this course, states will increasingly step in to fill the gap, creating a patchwork of mismatched security priorities to a problem that needs a unified response. As the Senate’s second most important lawmaker, Ekweremadu has to transcend the urge by Nigerian politicians to create cute headlines and hollow sound bites (In May, for example, agriculture minister Audu Ogbeh said plans to address the herdsmen issue were at an “advanced stage”) and lead a legislative move to help form a coherent, national strategy to dealing with this admittedly politically inconvenient situation.
  • While three cases can hardly be seen as a resurgence, it is worrying that the commendable effort put in by successive Nigerian governments in rolling back the scourge of endemic diseases may not be enough. The reports of new polio cases should be viewed as a call to arms for the government to ensure that health infrastructure is improved in these frontline states to aid them to cope with a rise in these cases. And this is not only limited to polio. Plateau says it has recorded seven new cases of Lassa fever, according to the News Agency of Nigeria, the tenth state to report the disease this year alone. Some deaths have been reported in Bauchi, with Kwara recently announcing that it has spent N30 million on a statewide Lassa prevention effort. Lassa fever, which is endemic in Nigeria, has between December 2015 and January 14, 2016, resulted in 53 deaths in 10 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Outbreaks of the disease are an almost yearly occurrence during the dry season in the country but, this year’s outbreak is seen by experts as more widespread with 10 states – Nasarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo and Oyo being the other affected states – 140 suspected cases and 30 confirmations. The case fatality rate (CFR) has also been significantly higher at 53 or 37.9% of all cases. While a lot of the new cases being reported may not necessarily indicate an uptick, the WHO has said that sensitisation and better reporting mechanisms may be responsible for some of these new revelations, it leaves little room for comfort that in a country saddled with significant security concerns, we have to add health concerns to our dirty laundry list.