08 Jun

The week ahead – A smeared painting

Three suicide bombers killed 10 people at a mosque in Niger’s southeastern city of Diffa who had gathered after breaking the Ramadan fast, an army spokesman said on 5 June. The area around Diffa, close to Lake Chad and the borders with Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon, is a stronghold for two factions of militant group Boko Haram, which have been fighting to establish an Islamic state in the region.“It was last night that these three people exploded their charges during a religious service,” the spokesman said. He later said the three bombers were female. Southeast Niger has seen sporadic attacks by militants loosely linked to Boko Haram.

Police in Benue say 188 persons are currently facing prosecution pursuant to the state’s anti-open grazing law. The state police commissioner, Fatai Owoseni, said a further 61 armed bandits associated with killings are facing trial. The police said there has been a steady increases of communal clashes in Konshisha, Apa and Agatu local government areas, adding that at least a hundred thatched houses were burned last week during a communal clash between Ugamba and Mbamar villages in Konshisha Local Government Area.

The Abia House of Assembly on Tuesday passed into law, the Control of Nomadic Cattle Rearing and Prohibition of Grazing Routes/Reserve Bill, first proposed in 2016. The bill, which sought to control nomadic cattle rearing and prohibit grazing routes in Abia was sponsored by Martins Azubuike, representing Isiala Ngwa North state constituency. In passing the bill into law, Speaker Chikwendu Kalu asked security agencies to ensure the law was properly implemented when signed by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu. Under the law, cattle will only be allowed into the state if transported by “rail or road haulage,” the movement of trade cattle to major towns in the state will only be permitted by truck, trailers/vehicles or pickup van and defaulters who transport cattle ‘on hoof’ through any road or environs into the state will be liable to a fine of ₦200,000, six months imprisonment or both.

Cote D’Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara said he is free to stand for a third term in the 2020 presidential election under the country’s new constitution. This is the first time Ouattara, who was first elected in a 2010 election that sparked a brief civil war, has made the claim, which will anger his political foes. “The new constitution authorises me to serve two terms starting in 2020,” Ouattara, 76, told French magazine Jeune Afrique, implying that his two election wins under the old constitution would not count against the new constitution’s two-term limit. Ivorian voters overwhelmingly approved the new constitution in a November 2016 vote that was boycotted by Ouattara’s main opposition.

Suggestions

  • After a deadly assault on the Nigerien town of Bosso in June 2016 killed 32 soldiers, Chad sent 2,000 troops to help Niger, but they were withdrawn in October last year. The incident highlights not only the resilience of Boko Haram, but its transnational dimensions. The countries of the Lake Chad Basin, recognising Boko Haram as a regional security threat, established the Multinational Joint Task Force to combat the insurgents and restore peace and security to the Basin. However, the MNJTF has been hindered by funding shortfalls, challenges of operational coordination and the historically fraught relations between member countries. In addition, unpoliced borders between these countries and the expanse of contiguous ungoverned spaces within their respective territories provide ample room for Boko Haram and other criminal elements to thrive. The factionalisation of Boko Haram has also rendered the group more protean and deepened the asymmetry of the conflict. The MNJTF has made progress over the past three years but unless relations between member countries are strengthened and coordination among their respective militaries and security services is enhanced, the insurgents will continue to find pockets of space in which to operate.
  • The reported prosecutions underscore the multilayered nature of the violence in the Benue Valley, long a site of inter-communal and inter-ethnic strife that extend into neighbouring Taraba State. The disclosure by the police regarding the 188 people currently being prosecuted contradicts the popular narrative that no arrests or prosecutions have been made in connection to the spate of attacks on Benue communities. The challenge for the authorities is threefold – first, how to promote the optics of these prosecutions in such a way that counters the narrative that the state is unwilling to punish the perpetrators of the violence. Second, the state must ensure that these cases do not become protracted while convictions must be secured, and be seen to be fair across board. Third, investigations must lead beyond the perpetrators of the mayhem to the sponsors of the violence. Too many conflicts in Nigeria keep burning because while a few perpetrators are caught, sponsors are almost never caught. These three measures will help restore flagging public confidence in the government.
  • Ultimately, the discussion on the anti open-grazing laws has a wider implication in Nigeria’s attempt to become a genuine federation and recognise the rights of states. While the Defence minister recently demanded that these laws be reversed, the states are clearly taking matters into their own hands and rightly so. The federal government and the security agencies have been unable to intervene appropriately to enforce the sanctity of Nigerian lives. We welcome the Senate’s intervention in the matter on the side of the states, and believe that more events will unfold over the years which will force the states to assert themselves even more. Ultimately however, without financial independence from the centre, these efforts will be limited.
  • Ouattara’s elegantly expansive interpretation of constitutional law aside, Ivorians voted in November to scrap a provision in the previous constitution requiring both of a presidential candidate’s parents be natural-born Ivorians, which had been used to disqualify Ouattara from a 2000 election and helped fuel regional tensions that saw the country split into two from 2002-11 – Ouattara has family ties that straddle the borders with Burkina Faso and Mali. His latest utterances have all the trappings of a red carpet lining to retaining his hold on political power, a move likely to lead to further political instability in a country which, as the world’s top cocoa producer, is finally seeing some of the highest (and much needed) economic growth rates on the continent on the back of record cocoa production and investments in infrastructure and services. With ethnic and religious divisions persisting, an army with a recent history of political interference and some discontent among public sector workers, this bright spot in West Africa may see some uncertain days yet.