02 Feb

The week ahead – The fog is slowly settling in

Former Cross River governor and a leader of the Coalition for Nigeria, Donald Duke, dismissed concerns that the newly-formed political movement proposed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo could ultimately benefit President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019. “I don’t see how this would favour him,” Premium Times quotes Duke as saying on the sidelines of the formal launch of Coalition for Nigeria Movement in Abuja. Duke’s comment was aimed at debunking claims that the group might end up achieving the opposite of what it was founded to do by unwittingly returning Buhari to power in 2019. Some political commentators have accused the group of lacking that basic fundamentals of politics that could portray its members as persons with clear and fresh ideas about Nigeria’s political future. “It is not a spoiler,” Duke said. “We’re not here to help anybody.” Duke said the coalition’s anger is directed more at the incumbent Buhari than any other political force in the country.

The Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved the sum of ₦1.128 billion for the purchase of 50 operational vehicles to be deployed towards the purchase of vehicles for an anti-rice smuggling task force. The approval was made on Wednesday during the FEC meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari. Finance minister, Kemi Adeosun, while journalists said the contractor for the project was Elizade and the FG was taking the measure in order to stop Customs officials from going to the markets to seize imported rice. The task force, already operational since July 2017, will be a multi-agency effort which includes Customs, NAFDAC, the Consumer Protection Council, the Ministry of Finance, the Trademark Practices Bureau and will focus on gathering information on how rice comes into the country, its key entry points and mapping out an effective strategy to stop it.

The MTN Group says it is anticipating a profit in its 2017 financial statement, adding that it has recovered from a $1 billion fine it paid for its Nigerian unit. In a statement, the company, Nigeria’s largest telecommunications network, said the financial statement would cover 12 months for the period ended 31 December 2017. The company announced that it lost $200 million in 2016 – the first full-year loss of the company in its 22-year existence, blaming it on the fine imposed on it by the NCC. In 2016, NCC imposed a fine on the telco over its failure to disconnect 5.1 million unregistered SIM cards. The fine was reduced to ₦780 billion in December 2015 and was further reduced in June 2016 to ₦330 billion, with payment spread over three years. As of March 2017, the company had paid a total of ₦110 billion. The remaining payments to be made in tranches of ₦55 billion by March 31, 2018; ₦55 billion by December 31, 2018; another ₦55 billion by 31 March 2019 and a balance of ₦55 billion by 31 May 2019.

The Nigerian Army on 31 January said its troops destroyed Boko Haram’s tactical ground, Camp Zero, in an ongoing clearance operation to dislodge remnants of Boko Haram insurgents in Sambisa Forest. Army spokesman, Sani Usman, a brigadier general, said troops of Operation Lafiya Dole under the operation DEEP PUNCH II, “recorded tremendous success” in its ongoing military offensive against the insurgents. He said the military recovered a battle tank, guns, ammunition, religious scriptures, gas cylinders and assorted fertilisers, ostensibly for making IEDs. The troops also destroyed seven gun trucks, several vehicles, motorcycles and makeshift shelters tents and household items used by the insurgents. In an unrelated development, Amnesty International accused Nigerian security agencies of killing dozens of villagers in air attacks it deployed to quell communal violence in parts of the country. According to its country director, Osai Ojigho, the Nigerian Air Force often sent fighter jets to fire rockets at the affected villages as a warning to curb clashes. It described Nigerian authorities’ response to communal violence as “totally inadequate, too slow and ineffective, and in some cases unlawful.”

Suggestions

  • President Obasanjo’s coalition is an interesting entrant into Nigeria’s political space. Critics say the group, which has yet to be formally registered as a political party, might end up playing a spoiler role in the 2019 elections by spreading the votes of the major opposition parties. Having said that, it will be interesting to see exactly how the Coalition for Nigeria movement will function, given that it draws membership from both major political parties and some other, smaller, parties. We believe that the coalition is trying to amass the kind of influence that will make it attractive to likely candidates looking to unseat President Buhari. These candidates will then make overtures to the movement and give them concessions in exchange for their support.
  • The ₦1.128 billion approval is worrisome on three levels. First, the Buhari administration explicitly promised during its campaigns that the FEC would not be the contract approving body that it had become in previous administrations. This promise can be counted as broken. Second, by bringing the smuggling issue to the level of the FEC, the administration is tacitly admitting that its trumpeting Nigeria as becoming self-sufficient in rice production may not be accurate. Third, and perhaps most important, is the question of why a rice smuggling task force is required in a country that has to import rice to meet its consumption needs, and where domestic production is clearly insufficient. It appears that this administration’s obsession with being seen as making Nigeria self sufficient in rice production has clouded better judgement. It is willing to spend unjustifiable sums to procure vehicles for a task force that has no business being in existence and which will bring hardship to Nigerians.
  • MTN’s announcement will not come as a surprise to telecoms industry observers. While the fine impacted on profitability on the year it hit initially, MTN’s business remains fundamentally sound, hence the quick return to profitability. This is particularly good news as MTN inches towards its listing on the Nigerian stock exchange.
  • In the past three years, the Nigerian Army has destroyed at least 30 Boko Haram camps within the Sambisa Forest, including Camp Zero, the insurgents’ erstwhile base. That Camp Zero is being destroyed again raises questions about the accuracy of the information relayed by the Army; the accuracy of their intelligence about the locations of the terrorist camps; the impact of the destruction on the terrorists’ camps; and the ability of the terrorists to regroup. Meanwhile, the Amnesty International report on the Air Force is an indictment of Nigeria’s security apparatus. The main effect of the bombings, so soon after the bombing of a refugee camp at Rann in Borno state, is the weakening of already low levels of trust between Nigeria’s military, and the population it is meant to protect.