President Muhammadu Buhari has finally sent his list of ministerial nominees to the Senate for screening. The names were read to the floor by Senate President Ahmad Lawan on 23 July after a closed-door session. On the list are Festus Keyamo, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Rauf Aregbesola, a former Osun governor and Godswill Akpabio, a former governor of Akwa Ibom. Others among the 43 on the list are Sunday Dare, executive commissioner at the Nigerian Communications Commission, Sharon Ikeazor, a former lawmaker, Tayo Alasoadura, a former federal lawmaker and Olorunnibe Mamora, former speaker of the Lagos House of Assembly. The Senate President noted that screening of the ministerial nominee will commence on 24 July and “legislative activities will take the backstage.” Lawan had hinted of the Senate receiving the ministerial nominees’ list last week. The nomination of members of Buhari’s cabinet comes almost two months after he was sworn-in for a second term on 29 May after winning re-election in February’s general elections.

An army commander and at least 20 soldiers were killed in an ambush by Boko Haram insurgents in Yobe state on 17 July. The soldiers ran into insurgents on their way to Benisheikh, Yobe state. A captain was among those killed. This attack came a month after 28 soldiers were killed when insurgents ransacked a military base in Gajiram, in Nganzai Local Government Area of Borno. The following day, Boko Haram attacked a humanitarian aid convoy, belonging to the Action Against Hunger non-governmental organisation, which was on its way to Damask, also in Borno. A statement by the NGO said one of three drivers in a convoy conveying humanitarian workers were killed in the attack, while the others went missing.

A protest by members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, an organisation representing a majority of Nigeria’s Shi’ite Muslims, turned violent on 22 July. This latest clash comes about two weeks after two Shi’ites were killed and two police officers injured in a similar protest turned violent at the National Assembly complex in Abuja. The Shi’ites had begun the protest at Nitel intersection in the country’s capital with the intention of ending it at the Federal Secretariat. The Shiites are demanding the release of their leader, Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, who has been in detention for alleged murder since December 2015. A member of the group said that they were having a peaceful protest when security officers attacked them. Government vehicles including those owned by the emergency management agency were burnt by the aggrieved protesters. Some sources allege that the Shi’ites threw petrol bombs as part of the protest. Last week, the police ordered that protests in Abuja be limited to the downtown Unity Fountain area.

The top military adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on 24 July that Tehran would not negotiate with the United States under any circumstances, an apparent hardening of its position as the Gulf tanker crisis escalates. The Swedish operator of a British-flagged oil tanker seized by Iran in the Gulf last week said it had been able to speak to crew members and all 23 of them were safe. The tough remarks by Khamenei’s aide, Hossein Dehghan, a senior commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards whose views are seen as reflecting those of Khamenei, appeared to take a firm line in response to Western proposals to beef up security in the Strait of Hormuz in the wake of the seizure of the ship. Britain has called for a European-led naval mission to ensure safe shipping through the world’s most important oil artery after Iran seized the Stena Impero last week. The United States is trying to rally support for a global coalition to secure Gulf waters, although allies have been reluctant to join a U.S.-led mission for fear of escalating confrontation. France, Italy and Denmark gave initial support to the British plan. A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said Berlin was talking to Britain and France about the idea. Dehghan said Iran would take action if the status of the strait were altered, and that no country would be allowed to ship oil through it unless all countries can.

Commentary

  • After intense lobbying and politicking, the ministerial list is finally out; and in our view, it is indicative of a continuation of the governing approach of President Buhari’s first term. 18 ministers are not returning while 13 are. The replacements, save for a few, ae career politicians, former governors and party stalwarts. There are very few if any technocrats on this list, the largest since 1999. The governments of Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan had one less minister than Buhari’s second cabinet will have. On this specific point, Nigeria can no longer continue to carry the dead weight of too many cabinet-level personnel. While the President is bound by law to appoint at least 36 ministers, we firmly believe that six extra pieces of luggage offer the country no strategic advantage. What is more, women representation is at an all-time low since our return to democracy and there is no youth representation on the list. We believe that this set of ministerial appointments are geared more towards settling the various levers of the political ecosystem than any concerted effort at guiding the future implementation of smart policy. In these critical political and economic times, this is an unfortunate development.
  • It is saddening that Boko Haram is still able to strike the military in such a manner that it can still inflict a significant amount of damage and take many casualties. It is an unpleasant reminder that the war in the North East is far from over, and beyond a few fortified locations, a lot of the space in the North East remain effectively ungoverned, and are thus up for contest, and threatened, or in some cases even controlled by the insurgents. Events of this nature speak to a failure of intelligence, and perhaps a gap between the arms and ammunition that Nigeria’s soldiers possess and what they need to fight effectively. Just three weeks ago, funds earmarked for arms purchases were carted away by soldiers who were escorting the cash on behalf of a general who had allegedly expropriated the funds. These needless deaths at the front can be traced to such blatant acts of corruption. We urge the Nigerian Army top brass to commence the concerted prosecution of senior members involved in such acts of theft and ensure adequate equipment and intelligence are available to the troops in the front. We also remind the army to ensure that the benefits to the families of the fallen soldiers is paid without delay.
  • Since Mr Zakzaky was arrested in 2015, we have maintained the position that Nigeria’s government needs to be law-abiding and obey the multiple court orders demanding his release. Asking a movement to be law-abiding while refusing to obey the law yourself is insincere and counterproductive. What is worse is that some of the moderating voices in the movement have either been killed in previous incidents when the government attacked IMN protesters, or are losing their influence within the group as less moderate forces such as Mohammed Lawan hammer home the point that the peaceful approach has yielded little result except more death for its members. This is significant coming exactly a decade to the week when a similar case of government highhandedness ended up radicalising what eventually morphed into the Boko Haram movement, and spawned an insurgency that the country is struggling to come to grips with. We urge the Nigerian government not to walk with open eyes into another insurgency that is likely to dwarf the Boko Haram menace with its combination of powerful state backing from Iran and an experienced terror group like Hezbollah to nurture it. Releasing Zakzaky now will remove reduce tension and quell the momentum that is building.
  • While oil prices have mostly held firm since the current crisis began, the possible ratcheting of tensions in the Gulf region could have a downward effect on oil prices, thus exerting new and unwanted pressures on producers with wafer-thin wriggle room in their budgets – such as Nigeria. Longer-term, the current crisis is almost certain to incentivise hydrocarbon thirsty Western and Asian importers to ramp up their clean energy commitments, further dampening the prospects of increased patronage from some of Nigeria’s traditional markets. A sensible Nigerian economic strategy would almost certainly entail increased diversification away from oil coupled with driving efficiencies within the sector – particularly in the upstream onshore and downstream sectors – while growing a domestic market still distorted by inefficient subsidies. This week’s US$3.15 billion agreement between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Sterling Oil Exploration & Energy to develop the OML-13 might seem to be the future path for the country;’s economy. On the verdict of this week’s geopolitical developments and wider structural adjustments, that would be the wrong judgement call.