06 Oct

The week ahead – Of letters and lettered men

Nigeria’s top two oil officials are at loggerheads over the management of the state oil firm. An August 30 – dated letter was submitted to the president by the Minister of Petroleum Resources (MPR), Ibe Kachikwu. The letter, confirmed by the oil ministry, is titled “Matters of insubordination and lack of adherence to due process perpetrated by the GMD NNPC (Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation).” Kachikwu, here, accuses the state oil firm GMD, Maikanti Baru, of making “massive changes” without the minister’s approval, including appointments never approved by the board of the company on which the minister sits. Baru’s actions over the course of the preceding year were “disrespectful and humiliating,” Kachikwu wrote Mr President.

‘A military exercise in Nigeria’s restive southern oil production hub is unnecessary and the government should focus on economic development,’ an organisation representing the region’s largest ethnic group said on Wednesday. It was a response to The Nigerian Army’s recent statement about a coming training exercise holding from Oct. 7 to 28 in the region where attacks on oil installations last year cut the OPEC member’s crude production by around a third. A military deployment in the Delta last year saw communities accuse troops of intimidating locals in raids aimed at capturing oil militants. The Youth Council of the Ijaw ethnic group said in an emailed statement to journalists that it “disagrees” that troops would be in the area for a “routine military training exercise”.

The Finance Minister has announced plans to release ₦100 billion for capital projects, taking its total spending for infrastructure in the 2017 budget, to ₦440.9 billion ($1.44 billion) by next week. Kemi Adeosun said the government had spent ₦1.5 trillion on recurrent expenditure so far and, “We concluded our Sukuk last week, the money will be pushed out this week. As money comes in, we push it out.” Last week, Nigeria sold a debut ₦100 billion in sukuk in the local market to finance road projects. The Federal Government also said its Ministries, Departments and Agencies had been asked to roll over between 50 and 60 percent of their capital projects to the next fiscal year.

The Lawyers of Conscience Group (LAWCONS) has called for the arrest of Ifeanyi Ejiofor – legal counsel to IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, and other persons working for the outlawed secessionist group. According to LAWCONS, it was “an insult” to the Nigerian government that IPOB, which Abuja has labelled a terrorist group, could contemplate filing a suit at the Federal High Court asking for an order directing the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, to produce its leader. LAWCONS President, Babatunde Oladimeji, said the law enforcement agencies’ inability to act on the order that designated IPOB as a terrorist organisation is worrying, and Ejiofor was complicating a dicey situation by claiming that the military was in custody of his client and not in London as widely speculated.

Suggestions

  • In an apparent bid to deflect from the immediate furore of the leaked document, the MPR tepidly described the letter as, “normal procedural correspondence,” and the NNPC, the other interested party, said the letter was not addressed to it and so retains the right to remain silent on its contents. Kachikwu, who hitherto complained about a lack of access to the President, finally got an appointment with him, while the Presidency stays silent. This House of Cards style drama elicits three vital observations: First, the NNPC is a certified mess and the much vaunted #7BigWins and positive spin which the corporation has set on overdrive, in conjunction with Kachikwu’s ministry is well, a spin. Second, the allegations of $25 billion in unapproved and unsupervised contract sums, if true, bear all the hallmarks of a sizeable 2019 electoral war chest. And third, the FG’s war on corruption, which it has gone to great pains to say makes it the most unique Nigerian administration since Independence, increasingly bears the appearance of a smokescreen – a screen hardly recognisable even to itself.
  • Unfortunately, it appears that President Buhari has no clear-cut rapprochement policy in terms of reaching out to the regions where he is perceived very poorly. For a democratically elected leader, this is misguided behaviour, and we are being charitable. It is important to note that in the elections which brought President Buhari to power, he performed very poorly in that region, and people have not forgotten this. A military exercise will worsen the distrust between this people and the Federal Government. Our first advice would be to stop the exercise. Failing that, we advise the government to exercise caution in its deployment of troops and not exacerbate the fragile peace in the region.
  • Actual budget implementation figures released by the budget office revealed that the total amount released for capital expenditure in the last quarter is Zero. Coupled with escalating debt servicing figures, high interest rates that are crowding out private businesses, and government’s backdoor borrowing from the CBN, there is little confidence in the manner that the government is running the country’s finances at the moment. Government has refused to take hard decisions that would result in cost cutting to rein in rising recurrent expenditure and has elected to continue borrowing to meet recurrent expenditure. We are digging a hole out of which climbing will be near impossible if we don’t stop now.
  • Rule of law advocates will, and should be doubly concerned that an administration which is openly contemplating the muzzling of free speech on social media, clamping down legislatively on civil society under the guise of regulation, and shutting off dissenting voices in the media, is being egged on by people ostensibly trained to know better on such matters. Kanu, for all his divisiveness, has stirred up a necessary debate about some of the organising principles of the Nigerian state and in view of the government’s hard stance and significant public backlash, he is entitled to the constitutional guarantee of legal representation. On the whole, Nnamdi Kanu’s continued public absence/silence will continually implicate a central government whose stated goal is to eliminate the IPOB threats by all means necessary. That it has been unable to provide any satisfactory answers is not a good look in a Southeast region where it has precious little goodwill.