The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen has resigned following a recommendation of the National Judicial Council (NJC) for his early retirement which was sent to President Buhari on 3 April 2019. The NJC also recommended confirmation of the acting CJN, Justice Mohammed Tanko, according to news reports. President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to make any statement in confirmation of the receipt of the letter. The Supreme Court and the NJC have denied receiving a formal resignation notice from Justice Onnoghen.

The FG has ordered the suspension of all mining activities in Zamfara following a protest against killings in the state. It also ordered all foreigners engaged in the mining activities to leave the state within 48 hours. The Acting Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, explained that the order was part of measures to check banditry in the state. According to Adamu, the suspension followed an “intelligence report that has clearly established a strong and glaring nexus between the activities of armed bandits and illicit miners -with both mutually reinforcing each other.’’ Consequently, any mining operator who engages in mining activities in the affected locations henceforth will have his licence revoked.

The Senate has asked the FG to consider increasing taxes on luxury goods to boost revenues. The recommendation was made during its consideration of the 2019 budget. Nigeria has been making efforts to raise revenues in the face of lower oil prices after it recovered from a recession that slashed public finances, weakened its currency and cut spending on capital projects. Nigeria has one of the lowest tax rates on the continent, relying instead on crude oil sales for much of government revenues. The FG was budgeting for a deficit of ₦1.86 trillion ($6.1 billion) in 2019 to be funded via borrowing, privatisation proceeds and loans secured for specific projects, according to the Senate. It expected the country to generate ₦172.47 billion ($564 million) from privatisation proceeds. However, the Senate did not identify the assets for sale. Last month, the FG said it planned to cut its stake in oil joint ventures this year. Nigeria is budgeting ₦8.83 trillion of expenditure for 2019, based on oil output of 2.3 million barrels per day production at assumed benchmark price of $60 per barrel. The government has said it would borrow ₦1.649 trillion to help fund the budget, half of which is targeted to come from offshore sources.

Army tanks rolled onto the streets of Khartoum and the fate of President Omar al-Bashir was uncertain with military and government sources saying that the embattled leader had been relieved of his duties. The Sudanese army is expected to make “an important announcement”, state media said on Thursday, after months of protests against Bashir. Thousands of people poured onto the streets of the capital as they waited hours for the announcement. At least two army tanks, one with jubilant demonstrators on top, moved through the capital. Witnesses reported gunfire near the military headquarters that have been at the centre of six days of a defiant sit-in. The national intelligence and security service said on Thursday all political prisoners have been released, the country’s state news agency reported. The unrest erupted in December when demonstrations broke out over a rise in bread prices. They have grown to become the biggest challenge yet to Bashir’s 30-year rule.

Commentary

  • There has been media speculation that Onnoghen’s exit might have been a ‘negotiated’ one – with the timing coming barely a day after the NJC recommending his compulsory resignation to the President as well as Onnoghen’s effective elimination from the legal calculus when the inevitable challenge to the President’s reelection commences fuelling this line of thinking. Also, there is uncertainty about the continuation of the trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal now that Onnoghen has done what the Tribunal was going to compel him to do if he was found guilty. The entire fiasco raises important questions about the sacrosanctity of our country’s judiciary – an ideal which the current administration appears to be flailing at. We wrote in a January note that “…what undergirds all democracies is the respect for the institutional and judicial process of the state. In many cases, this respect for ‘due process’ as it is called in these parts, is slightly more important than the outcome for the simple reason that outcomes do not set precedent for future public officials, processes do.” Aso Rock might chalk this off as a win but Nigeria will ultimately suffer for not upholding due process.
  • The suspension of mining activities in Zamfara will increase the growing belief in a nexus between illegal mining activities, especially of gold, and the violence in the state. However, the move only attempts to tackle one of the many factors that have led to rising insecurity as well as offering a simplistic solution to it. Considering that the FG did not license most of these miners and has been unable to stop the killings and kidnappings in these areas of Zamfara, we wonder how it will enforce this ban. The underlying problem in Zamfara is large ungoverned spaces, laced with systemic poverty, and as in most of Northern Nigeria, the FG has been unable to come to grips with these areas being used by armed groups to carry out kidnappings and killings. In addition, some of the attacks are revenge attacks on communities arising from conflicts between herders and farmers. There is a need to isolate the different motivations for these violent activities and identify ways to resolve them rather than lumping them all in one category. While a concerted effort to quell the current violence is important, the longer term solution of responsible governance and lifting the people from poverty will achieve more. Rather than simply ban mining, can the government put a framework in place to enable the state benefit from legitimate mining activities? Can it create the jobs that Zamfara desperately needs? Can it drive private investment in the state within a legal framework? People will prefer to be in the legal framework if illegality is made more expensive. This is the task the government must face.
  • The plan to introduce new taxes as a means to finance the 2019 budget deficit is long overdue. Considering the government’s overdependence on oil revenue, Nigeria’s drive at enhancing revenue diversification as well as increased tax collection – from existing sources like VAT or introducing new ones such as a luxury tax – has become a necessity. Perhaps more importantly, the government needs to extinguish the subsidy regimes on refined petroleum products and the power sector. We have had this dance over and over again. Merely increasing taxes on luxury goods is a pin drop in the ocean of Nigeria’s revenue needs. It is a populist do-little approach – it appeals to the indignation against wealth, makes it look like the government has done something without really solving the problem. It was recently reported that the country may have spent up to ₦10 trillion in subsidising imported petrol from 2006 to 2018. Added to this is the fact that power distribution companies have experienced a monetary shortfall of over ₦1.4 trillion over the past couple of years because they either cannot charge consumers the required fees to at least break even, or collect fees due to the absence of accurate meter reading. The government’s course of action is clear – open up spaces, make it easier to do business, widen the tax net, simplify trade as well as its tax code.
  • Al-Bashir had been in power for 30 years and has ruled Sudan with a tight-grip, first as a military colonel, and since 1993, as an elected president. He had succeeded against fervent political opposition, and oversaw the split of his country into two, Sudan and South-Sudan, after a 19-year war. His resignation looked an unlikely prospect despite months of protests and uprisings that were triggered by removal of subsidies on wheat and oil in December. The protests were initially treated lightly but as they grew and spread across the country, the government deployed hard power which has led to the deaths of 41 people, further enraging protesters. Al-Bashir’s, along with Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika last week and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe in 2017 represents the third time that an African autocrat has fallen to a populist uprising in the past three years. Of these countries, only one, Zimbabwe, has led to a democratic transition and elections, a worrying trend for efforts at entrenching democratic norms on the continent.