29 Sep

The week ahead – It doesn’t have to be this complicated

The federal government has asked the National Assembly to amend its spending law to enable a debt program to settle ₦2.7 trillion ($8.6 billion) worth of obligations including pensions and salary arrears, according to a letter from Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The letter, read out in the Senate on Tuesday, requested amendments to the law, which stipulates allocation of government spending, to allow Nigeria to fund recurrent expenditure from proceeds of the debt rather than just capital projects. The Fiscal Responsibility Act states that proceeds of government borrowings can only be applied towards capital expenditure. Osinbajo said the amendment was to provide the legal backing for the use of the debt to meet the obligations. The vice president sent the letter to the Senate last month while President Muhammadu Buhari was on medical leave in the United Kingdom. The letter was read out after the Senate reconvened following a seven-week recess.

At least 17 suits concerning the propriety or otherwise of Ibrahim Magu remaining as the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission have been filed before various divisions of the Federal High Court, according to the Vanguard newspaper. Lawyers who appeared before Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja when one of the cases came up on 26 September said a related case was filed in Yola as well as another pending suit in Kano. A majority of the cases were said to be pending before various judges of the Abuja division of the court. It is understood that some of the 17 cases are in support of Magu while the rest sought Magu’s removal from office on the grounds that he had been rejected by the Senate.

The police in Borno state stopped hundreds of refugees who abandoned their various camps on a mission to trek to their hometown. Online news site NAIJ quoted one of them, Facebook user Mohammed Pulka, as saying that: “in the three years of our displacement, life has been so miserable, our people are been followed and killed even at the so-called [Internally Displaced Persons] camps, while others are artificially dying of disease, poverty and hunger. Enough is enough” Frustrated IDPs from Bama Local Government Area of the state who constituted the larger population of the displaced persons currently taking refuge in official and unofficial IDP camps in Maiduguri, have consistently complained of overstay and expressed a determination to go with their pledge even though no official permission and arrangement for their safety had been made by local authorities. Bama was overrun by Boko Haram militants on 1 September 2014 and was only recaptured in March 2015 by the military. The state government has been coordinating some reconstruction work in Bama town since September 2016.

Cameroon has broken international law by forcibly deporting at least 100,000 Nigerians who had fled there to escape Islamist Boko Haram militants, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday. Cameroon’s minister of communications declined to comment on the report, which said the army had been detaining the refugees and torturing some of them, before the authorities pushed them back into neighbouring northeast Nigeria. Human Rights Watch said the expulsions reported since 2015 were one of the largest illegal forced repatriations it had seen in recent years, and were in “flagrant breach” of global and Cameroonian law. “Cameroon’s army has been aggressively screening newly arriving Nigerians at the border, subjecting some to torture and other forms of abuse, and containing them in far-flung and under-serviced border villages,” the report said. “This policy of blocking asylum seekers from accessing protection has made it easier for Cameroon to deport them,” it said, adding that the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) has been denied access. The UNHCR said the report was broadly in line with its own understanding of the situation, though it could not confirm all the details in the paper.

Suggestions

  • The request to the National Assembly is another, in a series of attempts, by the federal government to get around tackling its spending problem and the wide gap between its actual revenue and spending plans. When taken in isolation, there will always be justification for raising new external debt. However, when taken as a pattern of behaviour, it becomes clear that the government is sleepwalking into a debt crisis. Already, the government is in significant violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act as regards overdraft from the CBN. The National Assembly, being the institution charged with securing the long term future, will do well to decline this request. Nigeria will continue to exist after this government is gone and it is important to not hobble the future in order to fix the present.
  • To illustrate the hardly understandable depths to which the fight over Magu’s fate as EFCC boss has descended to, at one of the pro-Magu suits on Tuesday, two lawyers representing two different law firms presented separate letters of engagement claiming to be acting on behalf of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and the Senate. While Magu is at the crossroads of a proxy tussle between Aso Rock and the Green Dome and should be closely monitored, the verdict is in on the inability of the country’s public officials to resolve their petty, and substantial differences. It bears repeating again – on Magu, all three arms of government have failed to cover themselves in glory.
  • A week ago, Buba Galadima, a founding member of the APC, told the Guardian newspaper that Boko Haram was still in control of a number of local government areas in Borno state. The next day, the Army denied it. Then the refugee protest happened. The failure, so far, to reconstruct Bama and other towns, such as Damboa, and also the failure to have a semblance of civilian administration, have hindered the resettlement of refugees. On top of that, frequent attacks on refugee camps have exacerbated the problems of these displaced persons. We urge both the Federal Government, and the Borno State Government to collaborate and instil a governance structure. More importantly, we urge the military to come clean about the situation in the territories once controlled by Boko Haram. It is important that people should be able to return home and live their normal lives. We however commend the police for stopping the refugee march, however unpopular, as it undoubtedly saved countless lives.
  • It goes without saying that other people are taking a cue from the Nigerian government on how to treat Nigerians. The conditions of Nigerian refugees in Cameroon is at various levels of deprivation and Abuja has been culpable in struggling to get a handle on the humanitarian situation. Nigeria’s neighbour has ramped up its military contribution in the fight against a resurgent Boko Haram that has over the last twelve months, shown itself to be more than willing to hit soft and hard targets on Cameroonian soil and these latest actions seem to be indicative of a breakdown in the coordination pact with Nigeria and its other security partners in their joint fight to deal with terrorism. Cameroon’s refusal to guarantee the security of people it is legally obligated to protect, both by a compact and as a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, particularly the principle of non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom, should be seen within the wider context of a harder, heavy-handed approach by Yaounde to dealing with the security challenges in its northern borderlands. On the Nigerian side of the border, an unwillingness by the Nigerian side to cooperate on joint humanitarian and security concerns in the wake of these revelations could see a simmering but low-level situation very well lead to a wider security contagion in the region.