The claim by the Buhari administration that normalcy has been restored to the northeast of the country is a “lie”, the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Humanitarian Affairs, Sani Mohammed, has said. The lawmaker, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), said the region has “failed”, and he feared such failure could affect other parts of the country. “We just returned from an oversight function from Borno and Yobe states and I can say that the description that the northern part of Nigeria is under siege by Hon. Chika is an understatement,” the lawmaker said in a rare frank comment about the situation in the region still facing a deadly Boko Haram crisis.

President Muhammadu Buhari has written the Senate, explaining why he refused to assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill, 2018 recently passed by the National Assembly. In a letter read on Tuesday, President Buhari stated among other reasons that, passing a new electoral bill at so deep into the electoral process for the 2019 general elections, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process, giving an opportunity for disruption and confusion. However, the Senate leader moved that all items on the Order Paper be stood down to another legislative day. For the fourth time last Thursday, President Buhari declined to assent to the Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018.

The CBN has added fertiliser to the list of 41 import items classified as ‘not valid for foreign exchange’ in the Nigerian forex market effective from December 7, 2018. This was stated in a circular titled ‘Inclusion of some imported goods and services on the list of items not valid for forex in the Nigerian forex market,’ released Monday by the bank. The regulator, however, added that it would ensure that transaction (Form M) on fertiliser “for which payments are outstanding are settled at the appropriate settlement dates.” Recall that on July 1, 2015, the regulator restricted the availability of foreign exchange to 41 items which could be competitively produced within the economy.

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria has announced the withdrawal of its services; aviation security, firefighting and rescue operations, from the MMA2 Terminal in Lagos, and other airports in Delta, Gombe, and Kebbi states, beginning from midnight Sunday, December 9, 2018. FAAN is taking this action in protest against a debt of ₦2.608 billion allegedly owed by the facilities. According to FAAN, MMA2 owes a debt of ₦1.9 billion for support services rendered from 2007 to date; the Gombe airport owes ₦607 million; Kebbi, ₦124 million; and Osubi airstrip, ₦77 million. The Osubi airfield, a private facility in Warri, Delta State, however, denied it owes FAAN, stating that it has not been dependent on the agency’s services in the last two years.

Suggestions

  • Honourable Mohammed’s remarks underscore the gulf between official propaganda regarding the North East and the realities on the ground. The region has been described previously by The Economist as “a failed state within a failed state” and boasts some of the worst socio-economic and developmental indices in the country. Its low ranking on the human development index predated the insurgency, and nearly 10 years of conflict have compounded the situation with a humanitarian and developmental crisis from which the region will require decades to recover. In the immediate term, the lawmaker’s remarks raise concerns about the veracity of official claims of progress in the north east. If this progress reports amount to no more than official spin, questions must be raised regarding the true situation in the region and how much human suffering has been obscured by propaganda. Without a true picture of the situation, the effectiveness of the administration’s responses and policies addressing the region can only be doubted. Understating the scale of the emergency in the north east may earn propaganda points but ultimately ill-serves the people of the region. For the beleaguered denizens of the north east, this amounts to double jeopardy; having been first victimised by a deadly terrorist insurgency, it now seems that even the depth of their suffering has been airbrushed out of the national consciousness by spin doctors eager to declare a victory that has yet to manifest in the lives of the people that live in the conflict zone.

  • The President does have a valid point from a legal standpoint. Operatively, the law in force, and on which INEC announced the timetables and modalities for this election, is the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). Combined with Nigeria’s litigation-fuelled brand of politics, it is eminently plausible that a losing candidate in 2019 could apply to the courts to have a vote invalidated on this ground and be on a reasonable legal footing. The above notwithstanding, the Executive and the National Assembly have paid lip service to electoral reform. There was ample time to get a good bill passed when reform was first mooted in the middle of last year. A Senate bill with substantially the same provisions as one which passed in October 2018 emerged in February. On the Executive side, Buhari has offered unsatisfactory explanations the first three times a workable bill sat on his table only to wave the ‘insufficient time’ card now. As with many things that have occurred during his administration, the greater good has fallen victim to narrow political considerations.

  • The impact of the 41 item restriction has been mixed thus far. On the one hand, it has aided the development of industries such as cement and salt, though the impact has yet to be felt in final consumer prices. On the other hand, however, it has also fuelled widespread smuggling (e.g. rice) which has led to the loss of import tariff revenues and asphyxiated the economy. The only industries that seem to have thrived under the ban are those in which conglomerates like Dangote, BUA and Ibeto play, and with Dangote’s petrochemical plant likely to come on stream in 2019, it does appear this initiative by CBN was timed accordingly.

  • On December 7, FAAN had released a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) stating that fire fighting and rescue services had been withdrawn from BI-Courtney Services’ MMA2. While no reason was given in the NOTAM, it can only be assumed that this action was in connection with the reported ₦1.9 billion the agency claims it it owed by MMA2. By the following day, the affected airport owners had reached out to the agency and thus, FAAN suspended its proposed action. Bi-Courtney also released a statement noting that it had its own staff on ground to manage its operations and pointed to its ₦132 billion judgement credit against the government since March 2009. It is important to note that this is not FAAN’s first enforcement action against its debtors. In June 2017, the Enugu Airport’s manager disrupted the flight operations of Air Peace over a ₦7 million debt. It was later found that the airline had already meet its obligations and the agency was forced to apologise. While the large debt profiles within the aviation industry are an ongoing concern to all industry watchers, the willingness of FAAN to publicly shame and cause loses to operators is worrying for an industry susceptible to shocks and panics. The inability of the agencies to work with operators to amicably settle disputes shows a continued lack of maturity of the regulatory mechanisms within Nigerian aviation, which will only continue to stifle growth within the industry.