President Muhammadu Buhari has said that the inability of Nigeria to effectively supervise and to ensure that other countries in the Africa Union don’t dump goods on Nigeria to the detriment of its young industries as reason it has not agreed to sign the African Continental Free Trade Area. Nigeria, according to Buhari, will be guided by ‘‘national interest’’ in taking any decision on the agreement establishing the AfCFTA. Speaking during a courtesy visit by the National Council of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Buhari said that if signed at this moment, the AfCTA might be detrimental to Nigeria’s capacity to utilise foreign exchange for imported goods. Buhari received a report on the impact of the AfCFTA and Nigeria’s readiness for it. The Presidential Steering Committee on the AfCFTA Impact and Readiness Assessment Committee was inaugurated on 22 October 2018, with the mandate to assess the extent to which Nigeria was ready to join the agreement, and what the impact of doing so would be.

Global credit rating firm, Moody’s, has said that Nigeria is trapped in a low growth path for the time being as its balance sheet had “deteriorated to a level that is worrisome.” The firm said that Nigeria’s real GDP growth remained subdued at 1.9 percent in 2018 following 0.8 percent growth in 2017. It added that the growth level remains insufficient to markedly improve living standards. During Moody’s Nigeria Annual Summit in Lagos on 19 June, its Vice President and Senior Credit Officer, Aurelien Mali said government revenue weakness remained a key credit challenge and the current policy mix would lead to the same subdued real growth, with limited room to manoeuvre. However, Moody’s said that the authorities’ efforts to reduce corruption in the public sector and revive the oil sector had the potential to improve overall institutional strength and to promote greater savings of oil revenue in the Excess Crude Account over time. The agency set government liquidity risk at “low (+)”, saying, debt is mostly denominated in local currency and is refinanced largely by the local capital market, with liquid banks and pension funds exhibiting continued willingness to buy more government instruments.

The immediate past governor of Ogun state and current senator, Ibikunle Amosun told the state commissioner of police that he had thousands of arms and millions of ammunition in store at a secret armoury in Government House, and he had decided to hand them over to the police. This confession, which was reported by Premium Times, happened towards the end of his tenure as governor and was made in a bid to remove any incriminating material that might be exploited by his successor, Dapo Abiodun. According to the report, the Commissioner of Police, Bashir Makam, received at least four million rounds of ammunition, 1,000 units of AK47 assault rifles, 1,000 units of bulletproof vests and an armoured personnel carrier (APC) which Amosun said he procured to check widespread insecurity in his state. This report surfaced in the same week an analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations’s Nigerian Security Tracker showed that no fewer than 25,794 Nigerians were killed in various crises in President Buhari’s first four years in office. Between June 2015 and May 2019, Borno suffered the highest number of casualties with 9,303 deaths, followed by Zamfara (1,963) and Adamawa (1,529). Others include Kaduna (1,488), Plateau (771), Taraba (649), Benue (1,642), Niger (252) Rivers (730), Cross River (467) and Ogun (301), among others.

More than 50 people were arrested 27 June after an alleged coup attempt in an Ethiopian region, an opposition party says. The National Movement of the Amhara (NaMA), said dozens of its supporters had been arrested. Police said earlier that several suspects were being questioned in the state where the alleged coup happened. An attempted military coup in the north eastern region of Amhara left the Chief of Army Staff and three other senior officials dead, June 23. Trouble started when the head of security in Amhara region, General Asamnew Tsige, tried to seize control of Amhara. The Prime Minister’s Office said that Army Chief General Seare Mekonnen had been shot dead at his residence in the capital, Addis Ababa, by his bodyguard. A retired army general visiting the army chief at the time was killed in the same attack late on Saturday. Also killed were Amhara’s state president, Ambachew Mekonnen, and Ambachew’s adviser, Gize Abera. On Monday, a government official said that the man accused of trying to seize control of Amhara state had been shot dead and a number of other plotters arrested.

Commentary

  • The AfCFTA came into effect on 1 June without Africa’s largest economy in tow. To be clear, there are genuine concerns about the free trade pact. A widely cited estimate that AfCFTA will lead to a 52.3% increase in intra-African trade by 2022 assumed that a fully-liberalised and continent-wide trade area would be in place by 2017 (the initial study by two UN Economic Commission for Africa specialists was presented in 2012); harmonisation of external tariffs across the continent would have occurred by 2019 and a series of practical trade facilitation measures would be in place. None of those things have happened and the removal of tariffs on all goods will not take place under current plans. For these and other protectionist reasons, it is unclear if and when Nigeria will sign the agreement as the President appears unwilling to break his step. In our opinion, it is not positive for Nigeria to be a bystander in developments of such a continental scale, as it stands to miss out on the deal’s long economic benefits – its flaws notwithstanding – which we believe outweighs the short term shock that the pact may have on certain local industries. A wiser tack would be for the federal government to support local manufacturers – especially on infrastructural rollout which significantly increases the cost of Nigerian goods – to be more competitive, while ensuring continued engagement with the rest of the continent to ensure Nigerian companies can tap into the huge market that the pact provides.
  • Moody’s submission will come as no surprise to economic observers. Former CBN governor and current Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido issued a similar tone recently, when he said the country’s debt service to revenue ratio was close to 70% and rising, whilst the government was spending over 20% of scarce revenues subsidising oil and power. Nigeria seems to now be locked in a vicious cycle where low growth, low revenue, rising debt and debt service sit pretty with high population growth, high recurring expenditure and rife insecurity. Each of these components feed off the other to create the long term low growth scenario that exercises Moody’s. What is more, the policy options available to the government continue to shrink by the day. Coupled with the fact that we now know that monetary policy will remain unchanged, we can deduce that fiscal policy is unlikely to change either. President Buhari appears unconvinced that there is a need to get rid of the subsidy burden, so we are unlikely to see the drastic measures that can arrest this cycle and reset the country on a new path.
  • The Premium Times report has already elicited a reaction from Amosun who has said that while it is true that the weapons were handed over to the police, every procedure and legal requirement was followed in the purchase, storage and handover of the arms to the police. There are several questions to be asked, chief of which is that if this can be taken as a norm, how many such arms caches exist in the hands of governors across the country? Were these budgeted and appropriated for? What sort of controls were in place? Why did the governor not follow the former Lagos governor, Babatunde Fashola’s example where he handed over arms procured immediately to the police? We think ex- governor Amosun has serious questions to answer and the security agencies should be sufficiently incentivised to ascertain the likelihood of weapons caches in other government houses across the country. This inquiry, along with the new NST numbers is necessary considering the known strong links between the flow of small arms and rising violence in the country.
  • It is uncertain how the coup plotters in Ethiopia would have held onto power even if they had succeeded as they would have come up against federal power and institutions. We think as a result, that the attempt was likely part of a destabilisation plot whose aim was not limited to the Amhara regional government, of which Asamnew was the head of security, but the Ethiopian federal government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The reformist prime minister has certainly presided over significant political and economic changes as well as restructuring the country’s security architecture during his fifteen months as the head of Ethiopia’s ruling party and government. Not all Ethiopians have been pleased with the Abiy-led reforms and the government has been challenged by persistent internal conflict involving dissent from constituent stakeholders, notably the Amhara and Tigrinyans. The effect of this coup could have on Abiy, who goes into an election next year despite winning widespread applause for his reformist policies, is that he might be forced to assert greater government security control over the country in order to forestall another such occurrence. The violence incidents highlight the disharmony within the multi-ethnic Ethiopian federation, but while it may not derail the institutional reforms the government is pushing through, it will reignite conversations around the country’s federal structure and how to best make it work, particularly considering the open discontent in Amhara and Oromia, the two largest regions and home to the largest ethnic groups.