14 Oct

The week ahead – There’s work to be done, we should not create more

Worrying divides in Nigerian Islam

A number of people have been killed in attacks on members of the Shia sect in five states in northern Nigeria. In three of the states, mobs attacked the sect members, injuring many and destroying their homes, adding another dimension to the crisis. The clashes came the as Shiites were winding up their annual Ashura festival which commemorates “historical events associated with the Islamic month of Muharram that is particularly significant in the Shia calendar,” according to the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) which condemned the incidents. The crisis took place in Kaduna, Kano, Jos, Katsina and Sokoto resulted in the deployment of more security personnel to restore order in those places. In Jigawa, the government suspended all forms of processions to forestall confrontation of any kind. The processions are usually held to mark the martyrdom of a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. The violence comes less than a week after Kaduna state governor Nasir El-Rufai banned the Islamic Movement of Nigeria as an unlawful society, and calling on security forces to vigorously” arrest its members.

Corruption becomes a national security issue

Over the weekend, the Department of State Services raided the homes of some judges across the country and arrested a number of them. The operation was carried out in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Gombe and Kano. Among those hauled in were two justices of the Supreme Court, one justice of the Court of Appeal and four other judges of the Federal High Court, suspected to have engaged in bribery and large scale corruption.

We are in for more debt

Nigeria is planning to borrow more abroad than locally to fund next year’s budget in a bid to benefit from lower debt costs and reduce pressure on its interest bill, Budget and National Planning Minister Udoma Udo Udoma has said. There is going to be a shift to foreign, especially concessional debt, Udoma said in a Bloomberg interview Tuesday. According to the minister, “Lower interest rates from foreign debt will help us manage our debt servicing, and also free domestic credit for the private sector.” The country will probably boost its budget by 12.6 percent to ₦6.87 trillion ($22 billion) in 2017, according to preliminary budget documents. The DMO has said it plans to raise as much as $4.5 billion in the international market through 2018, starting with $1 billion of Eurobonds this year. The African Development Bank plans to lend Nigeria $4.1 billion over the next two years, and $10 billion by 2019. The country’s debt stood at $61.45 billion by June, of which $11.26 billion was foreign borrowing, according to debt office data.

A northern governor seems to understand the Niger Delta

Sokoto governor, Aminu Tambuwal on October 11 told participants of Course 25 of the National Defence College, who were on study tour in the state that the crisis in the Niger Delta region requires more of a political solution than military, saying that rather than use military might, we should lay much emphasis on engaging all parties in a dialogue. Tambuwal’s comments come amid the backdrop of the joint military force deployed to the Niger Delta dispersing hundreds of ex-militants blocking the East-West Road at Mbiama Community in Rivers State in a protest, which started as early as 6.30am, aimed at drawing the attention of the Federal Government to the neglect of the welfare of ex-militants.

Small miracles for #BringBackOurGirls

Twenty-one of the schoolgirls kidnapped in 2014 by Boko Haram in Chibok have been freed, the president’s spokesman has confirmed. Garba Shehu said the release was “the outcome of negotiations between the administration and Islamist militants”. The freed students are currently with the security forces and were taken to Maiduguri, where they will meet with the governor of Borno state, state officials said. The girls were not immediately named. Boko Haram seized more than 270 students from a school in Chibok, north-east Nigeria – an act that provoked international condemnation. It also sparked one of the biggest global social media campaigns, with tweeters using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman said on Twitter that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss government had acted as mediators in the talks with Boko Haram. Mr Shehu added that negotiations were continuing. According to the AFP, the students were released in exchange for four militants. The girls were driven to a military base in ICRC vehicles, and the militants were also transported by the ICRC.

Borno is tired of its IDP camps

Borno governor, Kashim Shettima said all Internally Displaced Person camps in the state would be closed in 2017. Shettima announced this at a plenary on Mitigating the Impact of Crisis and Conflict at the 22nd Nigerian Economic Summit in Abuja, saying the IDPs camps were fraught with lots of challenges. He said his target is May 29, 2017. “I want to close down all the camps in Maiduguri in order to restore the dignity of our people. We will not stampede or intimidate people to go back to terrains not well secured. The local government headquarters would put up security architecture that would secure those places.””Shettima further said that ”The IDPs we have right now in Maiduguri, Biu and other places are full of challenges, issues of early child marriages, child prostitution, drug abuse and gangsterism. If we allow these things to continue, the challenges will become unmanageable in a few years to come.””

Suggestions:

  • The genesis of the latest religious tensions within Nigerian Islam can be directly traced to clashes between the Nigerian military and IMN supporters which resulted in over 300 deaths in December 2015. Two days of violence began on December 12, when supporters of the pro-Iranian cleric and IMN head, Ibrahim Zakzaky, refused to allow the Chief of Army Staff’s convoy to pass through the northern city of Zaria in Kaduna state. Rights group Amnesty International would later accuse Nigeria’s military of excessive force. IMN leader Zakzaky, who lost an eye and was left partly paralysed in the violence, has been held in custody since December. A barrage of lawsuits, rights violations, accusations and counter-accusations and a commission of inquiry later, there are real fears the military crackdown could result in a violent uprising similar to the devastating seven-year Boko Haram insurgency which began under similar circumstances. The military, and the federal government by extension, have clearly failed to imbibe the lessons of Boko Haram’s origins and by pursuing a military-first policy in dealing with the country’s Shiite religious minority, the government risks opening a Pandora’s box of anti-Shiite bigotry, radicalisation, foreign intervention (Iran, the world’s dominant Shiite power is following developments very closely, as is Saudi Arabia, custodian of Sunni Islam which the majority of Nigerian Muslims practice) that could easily lead to more violence a consequence Nigeria can ill afford in hard economic and social times.
  • The DSS’s actions have divided opinion in a nation which has grown increasingly weary of public officials from all arms of the government, fleecing the common purse. While the judiciary can hardly be described as the most upright institution in Nigeria, neither can the executive or the legislature. Despite the pros and cons of the raids, the optics look bad. For one, the judges, now released, have still not been charged to court. For another, the raids sidestepped the judiciary’s own disciplinary mechanisms, anchored in the National Judicial Council. While different segments of the polity, especially the legal community have gone to great lengths to analyse the finer legal points of the legality of the secret service’s actions, one thing that the DSS’s latest attempt at corruption cleansing has proved is this the current administration is clearly comfortable deploying its intelligence apparatus into controversies that a growing section of observers feel should be within the ordinary jurisdiction of the police. Furthermore, it seems to have patented the art of spinning a media narrative which operates to essentially render the accused guilty before having been tried in the courts, turning its push to clean corruption into a self-fulfilling fetish. The DSS’s action, even if well intentioned will certainly stoke continued fears that this government is undermining its electoral commitment to the rule of law.
  • The government has been unable to fund its 2016 budget, and from information available on the 2017 proposal, there will be a deficit of about ₦2.5 trillion, so clearly, there is little choice other than to look at the international debt market, especially having promised to spend its way out of the recession. Sadly, the government’s current policy stances and the carelessness that allowed Nigeria to be taken off rating indices will affect the pricing of these debt financing the country is now constrained to seek. A note of caution is that money is only a means to an end. We already have a high debt servicing to revenue ratio hence we must be circumspect. There has been a lot of talk about diversifying the Nigerian economy but little action has been seen. If a recession provides an avenue to reset the economy, then this government seems to have no clue where the reset button is.
  • It is a little refreshing to see that some persons in government are thinking about a more holistic means of addressing the issues in the Delta. We have consistently called for the Buhari administration to make a genuine commitment to dialogue and negotiating with restive militant and even more frustrated residents in Nigeria’s primary oil-producing region. This is even more imperative as it reiterated this week that the amnesty programme for Niger Delta ex-fighters will end in 2017. While the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, has reaffirmed the government’s commitment to dialogue with the people of the region, it must do more than deliver sound bites at commencement speeches in fancy, elite tertiary institutions. Kachikwu should understand the implication of this more than anyone else in power the country has lost an average of 500,000 to 700,000 barrels per day under his tenure to pipeline attacks by militants as well as vandalism even as he touts a bullish forecast of 2 million barrels by December.
  • Despite the deadly bombings, terror attacks, narcissistic video threats and virulent anti-Westernism, Boko Haram’s most daring move till date remains the act of herding out of bed 276 girls in the middle of the night at a school in northern Nigeria in April 2014 — a kidnapping that spurred global outrage. As many as 57 girls escaped almost immediately, but scores remain missing. Thursday’s release is the largest group freed since the girls were kidnapped two years ago. It represents a small but significant victory for deft diplomacy over brute military force (even though the government’s renewed offensive is having a positive impact on the ground). A special mention of note should be reserved for the government of Switzerland the ICRC, institutions that are steeped in the time-honoured traditions of diplomacy and peace-making. While a lot of things about the condition of the girls remain unclear (early press reports say 18 of them are now mothers), the federal government should use this opportunity to double down on its efforts to secure the release of the remaining girls, as well as free Borno, and the rest of the north-east from the grip of the Islamist group.
  • Borno has taken the brunt of a very destructive half-decade insurgency and the human toll, which Shettima put as anything between 20,000 and 100,000 people have been killed, underscores the scale of the human tragedy. The number of displaced persons is even more enormous; the governor telling the NES that the population of IDPs in Maiduguri alone grew from 1.2 million to nearly three million in a year. The state government is making all the right noises about addressing this tragedy, but as our IDP report showed, a lot remains to be done on the ground and Borno, in conjunction with the federal government need to ensure the speedy release of resources, manpower and guarantee the safety of aid personnel in order for real progress to occur. If President Buhari and Governor Shettima needed any reminder of how daunting this task would be, a Wednesday bomb attack at a bus park left eight persons dead and 15 others injured in yes, Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.