The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) said the country’s daily petrol consumption dropped from about 61 million litres to 50.22 million litres following the partial closure of Nigeria’s western border with the Republic of Benin. A PPPRA spokesman, Kimchi Apollo said that between 5 August and 8 September, the agency observed a marked reduction in the volume of petrol distributed from inland depots to various parts of the country, where they were needed. From its records, from 5 to 11 August, the volume of distributed petrol stood at about 61 million litres, representing the average daily volume trucked out before the border closure. Between 12 and 18 August, there was a 35% drop in the volume of petrol trucked out, from the previous week, which it added could be attributed to the reduction of activities at various facilities during the Muslim Sallah holiday. However, from 19 to 25 August 2019, which falls within the period in which the borders were partially closed, the agency recorded an average daily distribution figure of about 57 million litres, which falls below the daily average figure for the week 5 to 11 August 2019.

The United Nations’ special rapporteur on the rights to adequate housing, Leilana Fartha, has said that Nigeria’s government should introduce vacant home taxes to address a housing challenge that sees informal settlements house about 69% of the urban population. According to Fartha, most residents in the country’s ballooning informal settlements live without access to even the most basic services, such as running water, and lack any security of tenure, which has forced them to live in constant fear of being evicted. Fartha said that her 10 days of fact-finding in Nigeria revealed deep and structural economic inequalities, which have reached an extreme level and is playing itself out in the housing sector. She also expressed her shock in seeing that the communities most in need of protection and assistance by the state are instead persecuted, harassed, extorted and even arrested and jailed without having ever committed a crime. She put the estimated housing shortage in the country at 22 million units, while there are many vacant houses used as vehicles for money laundering or as a form of investment but serve no clear housing need. There is currently no current national housing action plan or strategy and coordination between federal and state governments seem lacking. The UN official, however, called on the Nigerian government to take urgent measures to address forced evictions with the urgency and rigour befitting a human rights crisis of this scale.

Boko Haram is occupying eight out of the 10 local government areas in the northern part of Borno, a member of the House of Representatives from the state, Ahmadu Jaha has said. The lawmaker, a member of the All Progressives Congress representing Damboa/Gwoza/Chibok federal constituency, said this during the plenary session of the house on Tuesday. Jaha, who was contributing to a motion on the need for special funding for security agencies, said the war against Boko Haram has not been transparent. Noting the rising insurgency in the north-east, Jaha said that parts of Borno have come under intense attack by the insurgents. Citing examples, Jaha said that in a local government that has 13 electoral wards like his, Gwoza, only three or four are not under the occupation of Boko Haram. In Chibok where he represents 10 electoral wards, only two are not under the occupation of the insurgents while in Damboa, out of his 10 electoral wards, only one is relatively free from the Boko haram grip, he said. The FG and the military had recently claimed that Boko Haram has been degraded and does not hold any territory in the north-east.

Last Friday, thousands of people took part in street protests in various parts of Egypt, including the capital, Cairo and the second-largest city, Alexandria. Chants of “the people demand the fall of the regime” and “Leave, Sisi” rang out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the hub of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. In the port city of Damietta, protesters tore down and stomped on a poster of el-Sisi, Port Said saw a second consecutive night of rallies on Saturday demanding the president’s departure. Egyptian security forces responded by dispersing the protests and arresting hundreds of people. The immediate trigger for Friday’s anti-government protests was an online call by a self-exiled Egyptian businessman, Mohamed Ali, who has accused el-Sisi and the army of squandering public funds on vanity projects at a time of austerity. Ali, who said he worked as a building contractor for the military for 15 years, said in one video: “Sisi has taken low-level corruption to a new level. I built five villas for Sisi’s aides and a palace for the president in a military camp in Cairo.” El-Sisi denied the allegations as “lies” and “slander”.

Commentary

  • The border closure, which has led to this drop in petrol consumption, is akin to cutting the head to cure a headache. It already violates the AfCFTA, which Nigeria is a signatory to, and is ultimately unsustainable. This means that Nigeria will need to solve the more fundamental problem of maintaining its oil consumption. During the years of military rule, domestic energy prices were kept artificially low to give Nigerians a sense that they were benefiting from the country’s oil wealth, whilst the leaders plundered the treasury. Not much has changed in the two decades since the return to civilian rule, and Nigerians remain addicted to cheap petrol. Unfortunately, with the failure to maintain local refineries, the government has to spend a huge portion of its income on importing fuel which has led to a strain on foreign reserves. The border closure has sharply delineated the source of petrol smuggling outside Nigeria, the price imbalance between subsidised petrol in the country and the rest of West Africa. Nigeria cannot close its borders forever, and once they are reopened, the flow will resume. The flow continues in the northern borders unabated as at the time of writing this report; on Tuesday, there was a gun battle between smugglers and Nigeria Customs Service officials at Jibiya in Katsina, which led to at least two deaths. Furthermore, the PPPRA announcement came on the same day that the CBN announced that it will no longer provide foreign exchange for the importation of cassava, starch, ethanol and its other derivatives into the country. While the reason for the drop in petrol consumption is due to the border closure, the reason for cassava import restriction is due to a wobbly fiscal policy that is putting pressure on forex demand. We are now firmly on the straight line that historically often leads to a currency shortage.
  • Fartha has identified a problem – the dearth of housing. However, her suggested solution does not correlate with the challenge in our view. A tax on empty housing does not solve the issue of the government evicting people from land to make way for empty luxury developments. The occupancy rate of most of the apartments is about 30%, and much of it has to do with the price point as well as the fact that people generally have to prepay for one or two years whereas a majority of Nigerians earn daily or monthly income. This is the core problem that needs to be resolved in our view, in addition to fixing laws that make it difficult and costly to acquire land and makes land ownership uncertain. Another major issue with Nigeria’s housing industry is the inadequacy of cheap credit. Only a few days ago, a report from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that loans from commercial banks to the real estate industry have maintained a downward trend as it dropped to ₦596 billion in the first quarter of this year from ₦784 billion in Q1 2018 (a 24% drop). Housing loans in Nigeria are offered at similar interest rates as normal commercial loans, require at least a 20% contribution, and have maximum tenors fixed at 10%. This is a far cry from what is offered in other jurisdictions and in large measure has prevented many Nigerians from having a proper roof over their head.
  • Hon. Jaha’s claims tally with informed accounts of security analysts and relief organisations about how Boko Haram is gradually regaining territory it lost in 2015. It needs to be mentioned that the specific faction that is in control of territory is the Islamic State West Africa Province, which is predominant in the northern part of the state and even has set up checkpoints and collects tax on economic activities. While the Boko Haram faction isn’t known to hold any territory, they are most active in the specific areas mentioned by Jaha. This is a huge reversal from the gains of the Nigerian military in 2015 when aided by private military companies (PMCs), it routed the terrorists out of all territory under their control. It is unlikely that the Nigerian government, or the military, will confirm the claims made by Jaha – the Federal Government still maintains that Boko Haram is defeated, basing their claim on the terrorists not controlling any territory. Jaha’s statement punctures that claim. It is in the light of this that the military’s constant harassment of civil society organisations is very suspect, with authorities constantly accusing them of aiding terrorists without any evidentiary basis to support these claims. This puts the relief organisations in a very difficult place, where they are targeted by the terrorists (five relief workers have been murdered in the last 18 months alone, including one on Wednesday, and at least five are held in captivity) and where they aren’t trusted by the military. It is no wonder that the North East continues to wade through a precarious existence.
  • El-Sisi’s ascendancy to the helm of affairs of Egypt was never on the back of the popular will of the people and he has used his position as the head of the military to crush dissent, first by detaining his predecessor, Mohammed Morsi, who recently died while still on trial. El-Sisi’s rule has also driven underground the Muslim Brotherhood which had for decades been the most formidable opposition to longtime dictator, Hosni Mubarak. However, these protests might be a spark for the Egyptian public to commence mass action against El-Sisi in much the same way they did against Mubarak, which led to his toppling. Since el-Sisi signed on to a tough IMF-backed reform programme in 2016, growth rates have accelerated, reaching 5.5% this year, the highest since 2010. Inflation has dropped to its lowest level in four years, while debt and deficit rates are going down, leading investors and economists to hail it as “the best reform story in the Middle East”. However, poverty is still endemic and living costs are skyrocketing even against the backdrop of a seemingly improving economy, granting some legitimacy to Mohamed Ali’s corruption allegations. Ali’s charge appears to have struck a nerve with people. It remains to be seen as to how El-Sisi responds to these protests and if he can weather the storm. Egypt’s track record of dispensing with its leaders through non-democratic means will not give him any comfort.