03 Aug

The week ahead – Hello from the other side

The Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Zone C of the Nigeria Customs Service intercepted a truckload of military camouflage, combat boots and other kits with a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of ₦61,411,384.00 on 31 July. The 1×40 feet container which also held other contraband goods used as a decoy to conceal the bales of the military camouflage was arrested along the Aba-Eleme axis by Customs Officers. Three suspects, Emeka Omaliko, Udokachi Igba and Godwin Kalu were arrested in connection with the importation and clearing of the contraband items. While parading the suspects and the impounded items at Imo/Abia Command Headquarters in Owerri, the Comptroller General of Customs, Hammed Ali, represented by the Zone C Zonal Coordinator, Assistant Comptroller General Sanusi Umar, said “the arrest was another milestone recorded in our efforts to stem smuggling activities and to protect our national security”.

A raft of defections saw senior politicians including the Senate President, the APC spokesman, and the governor of Sokoto state leave the ruling party, dealing a new blow to President Muhammadu Buhari ahead of elections next year. Bukola Saraki, Nigeria’s third most senior politician, defected to rejoin the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), becoming the highest-profile figure to leave the All Progressives Congress (APC). Last week, 16 lawmakers in the upper house left the APC, as did 32 in the lower House of Representatives and earlier this month an APC faction said it no longer backed Buhari. The APC in a statement queried Saraki, alleging that he facilitated the defection of some lawmakers thereby violating the party’s constitution. The ruling party asked him to respond within 48 hours or face sanctions. The PDP welcomed Saraki from the APC alongside Ahmed Abdulfatah, governor of Saraki’s central Nigerian home state of Kwara. The country’s ambassador to South Africa, Ahmed Ibeto, also defected to the PDP after resigning his post, the PDP said. Sokoto Governor, Aminu Tambuwal joined a day later.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has linked Benue Governor Samuel Ortom to an alleged ₦22 billion fraud. The EFCC further alleges that 21 members of the Benue State House of Assembly are under investigation for allegedly diverting ₦375 million meant for the procurement of vehicles that were earmarked for oversight functions. The allegations are contained in a report of an investigation which began in 2016 but was only made available to the Nigerian press this week. According to the report, Ortom had, between 30 June 2015 and March 2018, ordered the withdrawal of ₦21.3 billion from four government bank accounts in Guaranty Trust Bank, First Bank of Nigeria and the United Bank for Africa. On paper, about ₦19 billion out of the sum was said to be meant for the payment of six security agencies that had been deployed in the state to address rising clashes between herdsmen and farmers. However, the EFCC stated that less than ₦3 billion of the money was paid to the security agencies while the rest could not be accounted for.

Hundreds of athletes scheduled to participate at the African Senior Athletics Championships are crying foul after being stranded at Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed airport. Usher Komugisha, a veteran Ugandan sports journalist tweeted pictures of a stranded Ugandan team and a video of a Moroccan high jumper who was lamenting that they have been stranded in at Terminal 2 for at least two days without being put on a connecting domestic flight. The championship, hosted in the southern Delta State was billed to officially kick off on 1 August with the men’s and women’s decathlons. This year’s edition features athletes from 52 countries including global icons like South Africa’s Caster Semenya. South Africa are the defending champions of the African Senior Athletics having hosted and won the last edition on home soil in Durban.

Suggestions

  • While recent arms interceptions are commendable successes on the part of the Nigeria Customs Service, they must be qualified. Nigeria’s notoriously poorly policed borders raise concerns as to how much contraband slips through the cracks. The proliferation of small and light weapons as well as of armed groups (some of which have been reported to be dressed in camouflage) make these concerns even acuter. The NCS has previously recorded interceptions of illicit consignments of weapons evidently bound for non-state actors. What has been lacking is sufficient follow-through in terms of investigations to unearth and prosecute the key figures bankrolling such imports. While smugglers are often apprehended, those further up the chain, and who should be of real interest typically remain shrouded in mystery. Until there is sufficient institutional and political will to track down and prosecute the kingpins, not merely arresting their mules, these occasional headline-grabbing interceptions will remain wholly inadequate victories, insufficient to dent the plague of non-state violence and insecurity.
  • The defection of the Senate President not only places the third most powerful political office-holder in the country in the ranks of the opposition, it also in a sense makes him the symbolic arrowhead of the opposition to the All Progressives Congress. Senator Saraki’s defection is also the culmination of a long drawn out cold war that began from the moment that he emerged as the leader of the upper house against the wishes of the party hierarchy in June 2015. Recent efforts to facilitate a détente between Saraki and the presidency collapsed. The gale of defections also represents the failure of the administration not only to keep the coalition that won it power three years ago but the President’s continuing loss of political capital. The election of a new APC national chairman has proved insufficient in defusing the discontent within the party. The PDP has grown in confidence in recent weeks and the reinfusion of heavyweight political actors from the ruling party has increased optimism within its ranks about its chances of returning to power in 2019. The presidency’s attempt to use strong-arm tactics to forestall the defections of legislators has failed. That failure reflects the lack of prudence and finesse that has characterised the president’s approach to managing dissent. Regardless, we believe that the presidency will double down on its strong-arm tactics – an approach that would have the effect of increasing public sympathy for the opposition and raising public anxiety levels regarding next year’s crucial elections. For now, though, momentum is with the PDP.
  • There are two separate issues in the EFCC’s tapping up of Governor Ortom. One is the magnitude of the fraud allegation against the Benue Governor. This definitely merits an investigation and should he be found guilty, he must face repercussions. The second issue, however, is the timing of the announcement of these EFCC allegations. It is no coincidence that the EFCC made the announcement just after Ortom defected from the ruling APC to the PDP; which brings a reality to stunning clarity. Clearly, the EFCC has been constituted into a tool to bring any politician who steps out of line with the ruling party to heel. It is a sad commentary on the current state of Nigeria’s politics, and on the much-touted anti-corruption fight of this administration.
  • Such logistical nightmares as seen in Asaba 2018 have sadly become commonplace with events organised in Nigeria. We would have expected that the organisers would have put in place an adequate arrangement for flights to the venue of the championship. This is yet another illustration of a complete lack of communication between various arms of governments, and various ministries, departments and agencies, and this are indicative of how these MDAs operate in the wider economy. It also reveals in stark detail, the lopsided reality of the Nigerian air travel market, where according to the statistics agency, five airports – Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Owerri and Kano accounted for 92 percent of total passengers traffic in Q4 2017 (the last period where data is available) with the bulk being on the Lagos to Abuja route and other routes having very few, and on some days, no flights because of low demand. Sporting talent might be the victims in this instance, but investors and foreign travellers looking at exploring other parts of the country away from the Abuja-Lagos corridor will certainly be observing this with understandable trepidation.