25 Aug

The week ahead – Forget #BBNaija, the real Big Brother just stood up

The first meeting of Nigeria’s cabinet since the return of President Muhammadu Buhari from three months of medical leave in Britain has been cancelled, his spokesman said on 23 August without explaining why. Buhari returned to Nigeria on Saturday after travelling to Britain on May 7 for an unspecified illness, and had written lawmakers on Monday to confirm he had returned and was resuming his duties. In a related development, the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on the same day submitted the report of the committee that investigated allegations against two high level officials, the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal; and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke, to the President.

Separatists calling for the breakup of Nigeria have crossed a red line and the country’s unity is not negotiable, President Muhammadu Buhari said on 21 August in his first speech since returning home after three months of medical leave in the United Kingdom. In a televised speech, broadcast two days after his return on 19 August, Buhari said he followed events in Nigeria on a daily basis during his absence and was concerned by discussions over the possible dissolution of the country. “Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable. We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble,” he said, adding that some ethnic violence was “fuelled by political mischief makers”. The Southern Leaders Forum on Wednesday in Lagos said Buhari’s statement was less than desirable, accusing the President of deploying the imagery of the late Emeka Ojukwu, the political leader of the separatist Biafra state, in his broadcast to play down the demand for the renegotiation of the structure of Nigeria by saying they both agreed in Daura in 2003 that the country must remain one and united. In a statement, they said that “The claim that Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable is not tenable. Every country is in a daily dialogue and there is nothing finally settled in its life. Stable nations are still fine-tuning details of the architecture of their existence. How much more Nigeria that has yet to attain nationhood?”

The activities of Nigerians on the social media are now being monitored for hate speech, anti-government and anti-security content by the military. Defence spokesman, Major-General John Enenche, told Channels Television that the move became necessary in the light of a recent uptick in troubling activities and misinformation capable of jeopardising the country’s unity. His comments come less than 48 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari said in a national broadcast that some of the discussion on social media in his absence on medical leave crossed the line and left him distressed. “It is a double-edged sword and we are also having a bit of it,” he said when in an appearance on Channels Television’s primetime ‘News At 10’ programme and said one of the steps the military will take would be the establishment of strategic media centres. “What are we doing? In the military, we are now taking on it more seriously than ever. We have our strategic media centres that monitor the social media to be able to sieve out and react to all the ones that will be anti-government, be anti-military, (and) be anti-security,” the military chief continued. He gave no clear indication what the military will consider hate or unpatriotic speech and what sanctions will be applied.

Nigeria’s oil production, excluding condensates, was slightly below 1.8 million barrels per day in July, the country’s oil minister said on 24 August. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, speaking on the sidelines of an event in the capital, Abuja, said there had been issues with ageing pipelines.”We continue to have challenges, some of our pipelines are old, so these are basically technical. They are not militancy-induced stoppages, but they are basically maintenance-induced stoppages,” he said. Nigeria’s oil output has rebounded this year, aided by government efforts to placate militants in the Niger Delta region where the bulk of the country’s crude is produced, but it has struggled to maintain peak output levels.

Suggestions

  • The cacophony of official voices from the Presidency explaining away President Buhari’s absence, first from the country (medical), then from the FEC (they could not be bothered to find an excuse) and his office (a pest infestation coupled with the fact that he has a home office) has been a sorry chorus to behold and is affecting official business. Take the Osinbajo committee – it was initially billed to submit its report to Buhari on May 8, but could not do so because the President left the country on May 7 for London. The President had on April 19 suspended Lawal and constituted the three-man committee led by Osinbajo to investigate them. Their remit was serious – allegations of violations of law and due process made against Lawal in the award of contracts under the humanitarian focused Presidential Initiative on the North-East. On his part, Oke was at the centre of the on the discovery of a huge stash of foreign and local currencies by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in a residential apartment in Lagos that the NIA, to the astonishment of the world, is laying claim to. The country will be keenly interested in seeing what actions will arise as a result of this report. The President will have to show that he is healthy enough not only to appreciate the findings of this report and many others sure to come, but also keep up with the pace of day-to-day governance.
  • President Buhari’s speech did not address increasing agitations across the country, especially regions south of the rivers Niger and Benue. The restructuring of Nigeria is often thought about, in terms of the pre-civil war governmental structures that saw the constituent units wield greater powers than the centre. While there is some merit to this school of thought, it fails to take into account that Nigeria’s post-independence government had fault lines that caused it to fail. This shows up the need for people to come together openly, and address their grievances honestly. We advise President Buhari to think of his legacy, and make attempts to reform the Constitution in a manner that reflects a united Nigeria with a diverse array of nations, tribes and ethnic groups who can articulate their own modes of development towards ensuring a stable and just society. That, is his only job going forward.
  • Major-General Enenche’s disconcerting interview came hours after President Buhari met with service chiefs and ordered them to strengthen their efforts to deal with elements deemed to be inimical to national security. The Chief of Defence Staff, Abayomi Olonisakin, had told journalists such issues as the alleged ‘Secret Service’ of the Indigenous People of Biafra, the raging Boko Haram insurgency, a rising spate of kidnappings and the so-called ‘quit notice’ by a northern youth group to ethnic Igbos were discussed at the close door meeting. With a botched social media bill, consistent gripes about the online commentariat and the coming into force of a Cybercrime Act which seems to be less concerned about cybercrime and more employed with regulating speech, this government has a chequered record trying to make sense of Nigeria’s vibrant online space. That the President would rank the effective criminalisation of free speech online along with the country’s current existential threats in the face of scant evidence that online comments translate into offline security threats is not only concerning, but confirmatory of the views of those who believe that the President fundamentally espouses a ‘crackdown first, ask questions later’ approach to national security issues.
  • Despite being the revenue lifeline of the country, the investment into oil infrastructure over time has been grossly inadequate. Before Dr. Kachikwu’s pronouncement, it was easy to miss this fact under the blanket reason of militancy. However, with the factor of militant attacks largely absent, the stark reality now stares Nigeria in the face. What is absent from Dr. Kachikwu’s statement, is an action plan to deal with this under-investment. It is important to start planning now as Nigeria will continue to be dependent on oil for the foreseeable future.