State Security Service officials forcefully rearrested journalist, activist and former presidential candidate, Omoyele Sowore on 6 December in the premises of the Federal High Court, Abuja. The situation caused chaos at the court with videos emerging of SSS officials, inside a courtroom, physically assaulting Mr Sowore in a bid to arrest him. Mr Sowore was only released the night before on the orders of Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu. Mrs Ojukwu criticised the SSS for refusing to obey her earlier order to release the activist after meeting his bail conditions. She ordered the SSS to release the Sahara Reporters publisher within 24 hours and also pay him ₦100,000 for improper legal conduct. The SSS complied with the directives but rearrested Mr Sowore the next day. No reason has been given for the rearrest.

President Muhammadu Buhari has appointed Muhammad Nami to replace Babatunde Fowler as chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) following the expiration of Fowler’s term on 9 December. A government statement said that Nami, a tax consultant and graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna, has almost three decades of work experience in auditing, tax management advisory and management services to clients in the banking, manufacturing, services and public sectors including non-profit organisation. Buhari also asked the Senate to confirm the nomination of Edward Adamu, as the Chairman of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria to replace Muiz Banire, in accordance with Section 10(1) of the AMCON Act, 2010.

Electricity distribution companies in Nigeria have announced another collapse of the national electricity grid. In different statements by the DisCos on Wednesday, they said the blackout being experienced across the country is as a result of the industrial action by electricity workers. Earlier in the day, the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) had announced the commencement of a countrywide strike. The NUEE started the indefinite strike on 11 December, following the expiration of a 21-day ultimatum given to the FG. The workers had issued the ultimatum to the federal government as well as the management of other players in the electricity sector to address their grievances, including non-payment of salary arrears, remittance of pension deductions and payment of gratuities to former PHCN workers, or face strike. The Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC), the country’s largest power distributor, later issued a statement to announce that the strike had disrupted its services. This was followed by the Eko DisCo which informed its customers of the system collapse, via Twitter. Abdulazeez Abdullahi, the spokesman of the Kaduna DisCo, later confirmed the system collapse.

Saudi Aramco has become the world’s largest listed company, as shares in the state-backed oil producer rose by 10% on its stock market debut in Riyadh. The company’s market valuation reached $1.88 trillion amid a push from the Saudi Arabian government to reach the $2 trillion market value coveted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. However, the valuation means Aramco – which also has the distinction of being the biggest corporate contributor to carbon dioxide pollution in history – is already worth more than the next five largest oil companies, ExxonMobil, Total, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and BP, combined.

Commentary

  • We are unequivocal in our condemnation of the rearrest of Omoyele Sowore by the SSS. The action shows lawlessness, from the way it was carried out to the fact that no explanation has been provided for it. After not complying with multiple court orders, the secret police chose to desecrate the courts by rearresting Sowore in commando-style fashion. The fact that arrests cannot be affected inside a court is a fundamental principle taught in law faculties across the country and the SSS’s attempt to rewrite this must be roundly condemned by law-abiding Nigerians. While the secret police has offered a belated apology to the courts, Sowore remains in custody. This, of course, is part of a larger trend of state agents at the federal and state level utilising security forces to silence dissenting voices and incarcerating them on trumped-up charges. It harkens to the dark days of military rule, the semblance of which must never be allowed to return to our polity.

  • On the surface of it, Messrs Fowler and Banire’s replacements seem like purely routine appointments – the two officers serve at the pleasure of the President and it is his prerogative to retain or change them. Mr Fowler had finished his first tenure and could have been renewed or otherwise – the President chose not to retain him. It is of some concern that Mr Fowler’s replacement, Mr Nami, comes to the job with little public sector leadership experience, and a resume that looks weak. It had also become quite clear that Mr Fowler would leave following a memo, leaked in August, which was issued by the President’s Chief of Staff over the failure of the FIRS to achieve its projected tax revenue under Mr Fowler’s stewardship. Regarding AMCON, Mr Banire’s removal was in compliance with a new finance law which mandates that the AMCON chairman must be a deputy director of the Central Bank. It is, however, noteworthy that both men are key figures in the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos – a realm that is firmly in the orbit of the APC National Leader, Bola Tinubu. For both men to lose their appointments in quick succession, it is difficult not to divorce these moves from wider political dynamics.

  • The Nigerian government has two ministers assigned to the Federal Ministry of Power, and two ministers assigned to the Federal Ministry of Labour. Yet, neither ministry considered it a priority to bring the NUEE to the negotiating table during the three-week ultimatum period. This says a lot about the attitude towards pressing issues within the highest echelons of the government. Luckily, within 24 hours of the grid collapse, the union has been called for negotiation and the strike was suspended. The systemic issues within Nigeria’s power sector transcend labour disputes. The national electricity grid has recorded at least a dozen collapses in 2019, worsening supply in a country that is in desperate need of power if it is to have a decent shot at industrialising and modernising its economy. Creaking transmission infrastructure has combined with poor investment and flaky government policy to create a broken sector that has proven incapable of satisfying none of its key stakeholders – government, regulators, operators and consumers. Perhaps it is time for the government to completely take its hands off the sector and stick to just regulating. Serious regulators only, please.

  • The long-awaited Saudi Aramco IPO is key to the Vision 2030 plans of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to diversify the country’s economy away from oil. As the largest oil company in the world by production and reserves, it is bound to excite investors even as oil prices are predicted to take a dip in 2020. However, risks remain with Aramco, chiefly around security after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels attacked oil facilities using drones in September, which cut that country’s oil production by half. As both Saudi Arabia and Iran continue to battle for dominance in the region, these facilities remain a target for attacks to hurt the kingdom severely. Geopolitically, the privatisation of Aramco will force the company to be transparent about its earnings and expenditures, and this may have huge geopolitical implications as it is likely to lead to the reduced sponsorship of Islamist groups by the kingdom, an accusation which the Saudi government always denies. For Nigeria, this IPO will serve as a lesson for reforming Nigeria’s state oil company, the NNPC, which has proven to be more of a sinkhole for funds than a profit centre for Nigeria. In the last general elections, a proposal by opposition candidate Atiku Abubakar to privatise it was criticised in many quarters as an attempt to ‘sell off the country’s commonwealth’. The Saudi example should show very clearly to Nigerians, many of whom look up to Saudi Arabia, that such thinking should be consigned to the past.