25 Nov

The week ahead – Technical, victories or recessions, we need to face the reality

The Nigerian Army has officially declared one officer and 45 soldiers missing in a major Boko Haram attack on October 17. A Premium Times report quotes military sources as saying that the Army has formally informed the families of the 46 personnel of the fate of their loved ones and requested that their next of kin forward bank details for onward remittance of accrued payments. The notification is said to be contained in a November 20 notice sent by M. Jimoh, the new commander of the Nigerian Army 145 Task Force Battalion in Damasak, Borno. Jimoh, a lieutenant colonel, sent the signal to the 145 Battalion rear base in Ohafia, Abia, and copied nine army battalions and divisions which contributed soldiers to the force which was attacked by the Islamist group, according to the paper. The latest admission comes five weeks after the soldiers were dislodged from their base in Gashigar, Borno by Boko Haram operatives. The troops were on deployment in Gashigar, which sits on the northernmost edge of the state, as part of the ‘Operation Gama Aiki’ aimed at displacing insurgents hibernating around the Nigerian border with Niger and Chad. Army spokesman, Sani Usman at the time, maintained that the report was false. But on the same day that he spoke, the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole in the northeast, Lucky Irabor, a major-general, claimed only 39 soldiers went missing. The Army are also said to have opened a secret inquiry into the attack after some brigade commanders raised questions about the conduct of the soldiers. A similar attack by the sect against a Lake Chad army base manned by an anti-insurgent regional force on Tuesday has left six Cameroonian soldiers dead, according to a military source.

The Borno state government has said that in order to sustain the relative peace and security, all processions under any guise, form, and whether by individuals, groups or organisations were banned. Secretary to the State Government, Usman Jidda Shuwa, in a press release said the security agencies in the state have been mobilised to ensure that the ban is fully enforced. “As part of efforts to ensure the sustainability of the current appreciable degree of peace and security in the state, the Borno State Government, as part of its statutory obligations, has put in place a number of stringent measures to improve the situation and forestall any likely breach of law and order within the framework of extant security guidelines,” he said. News reports indicate that members of the Shi’ite group, the Islamic Movement of Nigeria had organised a march in Maiduguri, the state capital but were dispersed by security personnel. Borno joins Kaduna, Plateau and Kano among states which have placed total bans on the organisation or restricted their activities.

The FG told the National Assembly on Monday that less than ₦1 billion has been spent so far from the ₦500 billion earmarked for the Social Intervention Fund in the 2016 Budget. According to the government, ₦25 billion has been released as at October for the programmes and it was still expecting a release of ₦40 billion this month into the same account. Speaking in Abuja during a meeting with the Joint Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate, Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on the Social Protection Plan, Maryam Uwais said, “we did not get the release for the intervention programme on time, even the ‎amount given to us, we won’t be able to spend it before the end of the year. The special intervention Programme is to begin in 11 states and cater for school feeding, a ₦5,000 monthly stipend for the unemployed and market women amongst others. Lawmakers expressed unhappiness at the slow pace of disbursements.

BusinessDay is reporting that President Buhari is strongly opposed to including constituency projects in the budget on the grounds that not only that the realities of government’s thinning resources can no longer accommodate such ‘frivolous’ projects, but also that they have barely made a considerable impact in many years of implementation. The President is insisting that this time around, projects will be done collectively through communities and zones, and not handed out as constituency projects which have been a major issue between the executive and the legislature, especially in the 2016 appropriation. A senior Presidency official who preferred to speak off the record said that the President is insisting that there will be no constituency projects in the 2017 budget. This news comes as Civil Society Organisations have kicked against a bill presently at the Senate titled, the Constituency Projects (Budgetary Provision) Bill, which seeks to now earmark as much 20 percent of the annual national budget for the implementation of constituency projects.

The draft budget framework for 2017 submitted to parliament by President Muhammadu Buhari is based on unrealistic assumptions about oil production and the currency exchange rate, lawmakers said on Wednesday. The budget plans, which include spending a record ₦6.866 trillion ($22.57 billion) to pull Africa’s biggest economy out of recession, assume oil production of 2.2 million barrels a day and an exchange rate of ₦290 to the U.S. dollar. The framework must be approved by the Senate before the final budget for next year is submitted. “There’s no doubt that the assumptions are not realistic. Even in times of peace, we cannot achieve 2.2 million barrels per day,” said Senate President Bukola Saraki. “Our responsibility is to work on it and do the right thing,” he said, adding that the spending plans would be referred to Senate committees on finance, appropriation and national planning to be reworked. It could be months before a final budget is passed into law. The 2016 budget became law in May after being delayed by several weeks due to wrangling between the government and the Senate. Attacks on energy facilities in the Niger Delta cut crude production, which was 2.1 million barrels per day (bpd) at the start of 2016, by more than a third earlier this year.

Nigeria’s economic slump deepened in the third quarter as oil production continued to fall and factory output was hit by a dollar shortage. GDP contracted 2.2 percent in the three months through September from a year earlier, after shrinking 2.1 percent in the second quarter, the NBS said in an e-mailed statement Monday. The economy expanded a non-seasonally adjusted 9 percent from the second quarter, the statistics office said. Crude production fell for the fourth consecutive quarter to 1.63 million barrels per day, from 1.69 million barrels in the three months through June, the new figures show. The oil industry contracted by 22 percent from a year earlier. The non-oil sector, which includes manufacturing, banking and agriculture, expanded 0.03 percent. Factory output contracted 4.4 percent, the third consecutive quarter of decline and construction shrank 6.1 percent, the fifth straight quarterly contraction.

Suggestions:

  • After months of pretending that all is well in the counter-insurgency efforts, the admission of missing troops by the army, following the murders of two of our most distinguished officers and dozens of soldiers, is an admission that things are not going as planned. It is the first step. The second step is to properly study the nature of Boko Haram’s resurgence, and prepare to counter the insurgents. Finally, reports coming from the front indicate that morale is fading among troops. This has to be checked. There has to be a firm commitment on the part of the Federal Government to ensuring the welfare of our troops, and properly equipping them. The war can, and will be won. What matters most, at this point, is the how.
  • For a state that is still under the Boko Haram sceptre, Borno’s move against the Shia  is ill-advised. We have warned in the past that Nigeria risks pushing the Shi’a over the edge, and the signs bear this. The language coming from the Shi’a camp is becoming increasingly combative, and the group is showing its ability to mobilise by staging processions and protests in locations as diverse as Abuja and Borno plus many other states in between. We suspect that the proverbial camel’s back is being held together by a hope that their incarcerated leader will still be released to them. If they stop believing this to be possible, they might go over the edge. A combination of Boko Haram, and the Shi’a, in the entire North of the country, and not just in Borno, will be a disaster that is better left in the furthest recesses of the public imagination.
  • The current administration ran on a populist agenda which prioritised, at least on paper, the gradual redistribution and reallocation of resources to segments of Nigerian society that have traditionally been disenfranchised from the largesse of the oil boom years. That one of its flagship programmes has, nearly two years into its tenure, essentially been gutted by Nigeria’s infamously labyrinthine allocation and disbursement process is a commentary on the ability of government to deliver on its own expectations. A majority of Nigerians are young, female, in school and live in rural areas. A programme specifically designed for them should not be failing so spectacularly.
  • Ostensibly instituted as a compromise between a powerful executive and lawmakers groaning under repeated calls by their constituents for demonstrable ‘dividends of democracy,’ constituency projects were created to ensure a minimum presence of government in every constituency by having some grass-roots projects sited in each, during the budgeting process. Legislators were merely required to identify projects which they wished to be sited in their constituencies for inclusion in the budget, with a financial ceiling for the budgetary provisions for such projects in each constituency. In the Obasanjo years, the ceiling was pegged at ₦5 million for each Senator, while each Representative received ₦3 million as a constituency allowance. The devil has been in its implementation. The two primary challenges have been a lack of consensus among Representatives and Senators from each Senatorial district on a set of projects to be implemented in their respective constituencies and the ballooning costs of the projects which have long breached their original pegs. As a result, a preponderance of Nigerians view the concept as yet another conduit pipe through which the nation’s treasury is being drained. The current bill before the Senate offers no meaningful contribution to the debate, instead, it represents an obstructionist take on allocating scarce government resources to mostly feel good projects that do not address the core needs of constituents. The continued debate around constituency projects is not just a debate about fiscal prudence, it is about the core idea of federalism. Successive generations of Nigerian leaders have operated to ignore that question. It cannot go on for much longer.
  • When the MTEF was first leaked to the public, SBM was one of the first to point out that many of the assumptions that guided the document were not based in reality and this would ultimately be reflected in a budget draft that would be closer to wishful thinking than an actual working document. In the case of the 2016 budget, for example, capital expenditure accounted for only 7% of spending, as opposed to the budgeted 30%. If the 2017 budget is passed as is, we will have an even poorer performance. We are glad that the Senate has taken this as an issue and we hope that they will not jettison this stance on the altar of political expediency, but see it through to foster a more realistic budgeting process. The outcome of such can only be for the good of the country.
  • With three consecutive quarters of negative growth, record high inflation and poor performance in raising funds in the bonds market, it is a wonder that the government is not showing the urgency, creativity and fortitude to take the hard decisions that will return Nigeria to a path of growth. While there is indeed a slight growth in non-oil GDP as a whole, a dive into the details shows that in every area that really impacts the lives of Nigerians, such as manufacturing, construction, trade, healthcare and much more, the growth was negative. This is instructive. The economy is clearly the big issue the Buhari administration will be measured by, and it is currently failing woefully.