24 Mar

The week ahead – Death, debt and dearth

Benue State was thrown into mourning on Sunday following the killing of a final year Geography student of the State University, Makurdi, allegedly by herdsmen. Hundreds of protesting students took to the streets demanding the arrest and prosecution of those behind the killing. The following day, more than twenty people were killed in an attack on Zaki Biam’s yam market. And the day after in Jato-Aka, at least one person was killed as the community intercepted a truck which they claimed was ferrying arms to herdsmen. The community claimed that soldiers opened fire on them, in defence of the truck and its occupants.

The Federal High Court in Abuja has fixed April 25 to rule on the bail application by the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, and three others. Channels Television reports that the court also reserved April 6 to hear the application seeking variation on its earlier ruling on protection of witnesses in the matter through the use of screen or mask. Nnamdi Kanu, David Nwawuisi, Benjamin Madubugwu and Chidiebere Onwudiwe, are charged with treasonable felony, by the Nigerian government, for leading the IPOB movement to ask for an independent Biafra out of Nigeria. The court recently struck out six out of the 11-count charge filed against the defendants for being incompetent.

Multiple blasts at informal IDP camps in Maiduguri have killed four and injured 18, the state police commissioner said on Wednesday. The attacks were the latest in a series in the past week. In a video circulated on Friday, a man claiming to be Boko Haram’s leader claimed responsibility for bombings in Maiduguri and a raid in a nearby town last week. Bombings near the city also killed four on Sunday.

Nigeria’s distributable government revenues fell to ₦429.127 billion in February from ₦465.19 billion in January, due to lower oil prices and attempts to sabotage its oil pipelines. Distributable revenue is government income that is shared at various levels of state including the FG, State and Local governments. Average oil prices fell to $44.74 from $49.57 per barrel in February. “Production diminished during the period due largely to leakages in the pipelines arising from sabotage,” said the FG.

The National Assembly on Wednesday approved the request by President Muhammadu Buhari for a $500 million Eurobond. VP Yemi Osinbajo had made the request as acting President while Buhari was away on medical vacation in the United Kingdom. This comes as new DMO data shows that the FG, the 36 state governments, and the FCTA currently owe foreign creditors a total of $11.41 billion. Statistics obtained from the DMO on Monday showed that while the FG’s foreign debt stood at $7.84 billion as of December 31, 2016, the 36 states of the federation and the FCTA owed $3.57 billion. As of December 31, 2015, the foreign debt portfolio of the nation stood at $10.72 billion. This shows that the foreign debt of the nation rose by 6.42 percent in the one-year period.

Suggestions

  • Tiv youths in Abuja gathered to protest escalating insecurity in their home state and to demand action from the Federal government. Benue’s governor, Samuel Ortom, also asked the FG to do more. Then, the Zaki Biam attack happened. Asides Benue, other North Central states have been experiencing increasingly severe stress from the activities of herdsmen and other criminal elements. The Tiv Professional Group claims that this has cost three states – Benue, Nasarawa, and Taraba, $14 billion in the last four years. The ambiguity expressed by the governor regarding the number of dead in the Zaki Biam Massacre clearly shows a failure to grasp how serious this situation is by the top security officer in the state. The political establishment in Benue State have tried to situate the problem, but have not had much luck with the FG in terms of proffering solutions to end the crisis. The lack of a strategy to quell the violence may lead to further outbreaks of violence as more communities stop listening to the government, and pursue the self-help option.
  • While the Nigerian judicial process grinds along ever so slowly, it pays to recognise the continued harm the FG is doing in its efforts at silencing calls for secession, especially from IPOB. This week, the group claimed that Nnamdi Kanu is going to be killed in prison by the government, citing his continued detention as part of a ‘grand plot.’ Outlandish as that claim may sound to some, IPOB has clearly leveraged on the continued detention of its leader and intellectual soul to advance its long term aims – a strategy which has found some currency with some Nigerians who ordinarily may not have given a second thought to re-legislating the Biafra issue. It does raise a few eyebrows as to why the FG has proved unwilling to obey court orders and rely on the strength of its arguments in the courts to prove what many legal observers see as a very good case of treason. It would count as a serious show of hypocrisy if they then proceed to enforce a favourable court order as is most likely to happen with this case. Prosecutors should do the proper thing and stop questioning the legitimacy of our judiciary.
  • It is important to note that there were reduced suicide attacks in the rainy season of 2016. Hopefully, as we approach another rainy season, these attacks will abate. Nonetheless, the increasing frequency of the suicide bombings confirms Boko Haram’s pivot in strategy, especially in the far north of Borno. It also highlights the weakness of our security services in countering the cells wreaking this havoc, and underscores the need for the protection of vulnerable areas like camps for displaced people. This lack of a clear cut strategy for protecting the population creates a sense of terror especially for these vulnerable people, and gives credence to the legend that Boko Haram has the capacity to strike anywhere, and at any time.
  • Beyond the fluctuations in oil prices and sabotage, Nigeria’s scenario planning for its oil revenues have to take two factors into serious consideration – One, sustained price increase in the oil market is not feasible, because the ongoing market disruption is caused not by simple demand and supply, but by new technology: Shale 2.0. Secondly, the Niger Delta sabotage issues will continue for some time and can only be managed and reduced to the barest minimum by concerted engagement and solving the fundamental problems in the region, such as resource control, infrastructure development and environmental clean-up. The amnesty payouts will secure only temporary respite to give the government the opportunity to do this, but they will need to take this chance, seriously, and quickly.
  • There is no doubt that Nigeria needs to borrow to fund its budget, especially as it tries to spend its way out of the recession. It is a smart idea to borrow in foreign currencies and from multinationals as these provide lower interest rates than issuing local bonds. However, it is worrisome that asides the federal government, so many states are also playing the borrowing game. For example, out of the sub-national debt of $3.57 billion, Lagos had a share of $1.38 billion, meaning that Lagos owed 38.7 percent of the country’s sub-national foreign debt. Kaduna State came second with a foreign debt of $222.88 million; Edo, $183.64 million; and Cross River, $114.99 million. Asides Lagos which derives bulk of its funding from internally generated revenues, these states will rely on their federal allocations to pay down their loans. In most cases, the loans are used to fund non-income generating projects, thus leaving the burden of repayment on successive administrations. Surely this is a model which is not sustainable.