03 Nov

The week ahead – Back to the beginning

Suspected Boko Haram militants killed at least 10 villagers in northern Cameroon on the night of 29 October in what army and local officials said was revenge for attacks by Cameroon’s army. Cameroon’s Far North region has been a target of Boko Haram suicide bombings and raids for eight years as the Islamist insurgency spilled over the border from Nigeria, killing 20,000 and uprooting nearly 3 million in the Lake Chad region. Cameroon forces have tried to beat back insurgents but have struggled to stop unpredictable attacks that have been the hallmark of Boko Haram’s bid to carve out an Islamic state. A senior army source said the attackers came to the village of Gouderi at 11 p.m. on Sunday and killed 11 people. Two local officials said “about 10” had been killed.

Nigeria was among the 10 economies showing the most notable improvement in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business list published on 31 October. It rose 24 places, in the ranking of countries, to 145th place. Nigeria, this year, introduced initiatives aimed at improving the business environment, such as new systems to speed up the processing of visas for executives. Although local and foreign business leaders still complain that red tape, mismanagement and corruption have made it difficult to operate in Africa’s largest economy, the World Bank says Nigeria has made the process of starting a business faster by introducing the electronic approval of registration documents, improved access to credit information and introduced a centralised electronic system to pay federal taxes.

President Muhammadu Buhari on 31 October announced that he plans to expand the Federal Executive Council, an indication more ministers are to be appointed to the cabinet. Buhari stated this in his address to the National Executive Committee of the All Progressives Congress on Tuesday. “The compressed Federal Executive Council will be expanded to bring in more supporters at Federal Level, with fresh ideas to be injected into the government,” the president said. Currently, the FEC meets once a week and is made up of one minister from each state of the federation. The Nigerian constitution requires that at least one minister must come from each state.

President Muhammadu Buhari on 30 October sacked the country’s most senior civil servant after an investigation into graft allegations. This is the highest profile casualty of the anti-corruption pledge that helped bring Buhari to power. A replacement, Boss Mustapha, has been appointed an investigation into Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir Lawal – an ally and one of the president’s first appointments – has been ordered. This sack is coming after lawmakers in a separate probe alleged that Babachir inflated the value of contracts for humanitarian aid projects in parts of the northeast ravaged by Boko Haram as part of a suspected kickback scheme. The director general of the National Intelligence Agency (CIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke, was also sacked on Monday in connection with the discovery of large amounts of cash in foreign and local currencies by the financial crimes agency in a residential apartment in Lagos this year, according to a statement from presidential spokesman Femi Adesina.

Suggestions

  • According to security chatter, during the Gouderi attack, Boko Haram separated males from females. Also, it is now believed that last week’s Nigerian Air Force air strike at Gudubali disrupted a planned counter assault on Marte, Borno. These are indicative. We are at the start of the harmattan fighting season in the North East and Boko Haram are going to utilise all resources available to them to mount sneak-attacks on Nigerian Army positions. We believe the terror group is getting significant strategic and logistical support from ISIS via the Nigerien border. As long as they have that outlet of support, Boko Haram will keep demonstrating perseverance, and there is the danger of them wearing out the Nigerian Army. That, could be their ultimate objective, and if that happens, they have unfettered access to communities.
  • The annual World Bank report covered the period from June 2 last year to June 1 this year. The target for the EBES was an improvement by 20 places, hence by moving up 24 places, they have surpassed this target. It is however not time to rest on our oars. 145th place is still very low. It is worth noting that other African countries like Rwanda are close to the top of the list. Despite the improvement, it still takes about 19 days to register a business and 110 days to get a construction permit. By implication, it is more difficult to get a construction permit for a business in 2017, than it was in 2016. To register a property takes 68 days and 149 days for a new business to get electricity in Nigeria; all improvements on 2016 figures, but still an eternity in the world of business. All these are areas that need to be continually improved to enable Nigeria continue to move up these ratings and hopefully this translates to more businesses opening up and flourishing.
  • The move to expand the cabinet, and the reasons President Buhari gave for making it, signal a few things. First, even though the numbers already said this, the cost reduction mantra of the Buhari administration is in effect, dead. As oil recovers, the Nigerian government is behaving exactly how it has always behaved – expanding the government and making it even more expensive at the slightest hint of a boom. Not only has the government failed to use the lean times we have experienced to engender structural fiscal changes, it is poised to lavish any boom we get. Second, we have entered election season where courting the support of party members and politicking will take the front burner for the President as well as governors, and governance will be relegated to the background. This is clear, 18 months to the end of the current mandate.
  • The administration’s signature corruption war had been suffering from a credibility deficit through much of 2017. Over the past two weeks, it has become a crisis. The FEC, and the public were treated to a rare public confrontation between Head of Service Winifred Oyo-Ita, and presidential Chief of Staff Abba Kyari over a leaked private memo by Oyo-Ita to Kyari warning President Muhammadu Buhari of a possible public backlash to the controversial reinstatement of disgraced Pension Reform Task Team ex-chairman, Abdulrasheed Maina. The Maina saga has led to the sort of name-calling and blame-avoidance that the government explicitly said it would not indulge in during the heydays of an unlikely election triumph in mid-2015. These new developments only serve to remind Nigerians that corruption is not only endemic in the country but that the people who have declared more than anyone that they are impervious to this cancer might not be after all.