At least 30 people were killed in Borno state after an improvised explosive device detonated on a bridge. The attack comes a week after the Nigerian Government said it will gradually withdraw military operations in some volatile spots in the country starting from the first quarter of 2020. The bomb, sources told Reuters on Monday detonated at roughly 1700 hours on a crowded bridge in the market town of Gamboru that leads into neighbouring Cameroon. More than 35 people, an eyewitness, Modu Ali said, were injured and taken to the local hospital following the attack. Two sources with the Civilian Joint Task Force confirmed the attack and the early death toll estimates. Both Boko Haram and the regional offshoot of Islamic State, known as ISWAP, are active in the area. But no group at the time of report took the responsibility of the bombing.

The police and army have refused to carry out joint patrols with Operation Amotekun, the security outfit that governors of south-west states put together to tackle crime in the region. A lack of proper training was one of the reasons the security agencies cited for the unwillingness to move along with the outfit comprising members of the Oodua Peoples Congress, vigilante, hunters and local guards. Amotekun, initiated by the six southwest Nigerian governors who were worried by the high rate of banditry and kidnapping, is meant to commence operations on Thursday. In September last year, the governors in the six states got the nod to establish the regional security outfit following an approval given by the office of the National Security Adviser for the region to establish a joint task force. This was a response to address the security challenges in the region particularly kidnapping and armed robbery. Sources say that unconventional security personnel, including local hunters and members of the Oodua People’s Congress and other related personnel, will be part of the security outfit.

Fourteen state governments in Nigeria have increased the cost of Right of Way for telecommunications infrastructure levy paid to state governments for laying of optic fibre on state roads. As a result of this, subscribers in the country may pay more for data and voice call services. The minister of telecommunications and digital economy, Isa Pantami, said he has written to state governors to comply with the national economic council’s resolution on the Right of Way. The states which hiked the levy are Lagos, Kano, Anambra, Ondo, Cross River, Kogi, Osun, Kaduna, Enugu, Adamawa, Ebonyi, Imo, Kebbi and Gombe. The cost of RoW on federal roads at present is ₦142 per linear metre. The fourteen states, however, increased RoW fees from between ₦300-₦500 per linear metre to between ₦3,000-₦6,000 per linear metre. The new management of the Lagos state infrastructure maintenance and regulatory agency increased RoW fee from ₦500 per linear meter to ₦5,000 per linear metre. A single telecoms operator needs RoW covering thousands of kilometres. According to the special adviser on innovation and technology to Lagos state governor, Tunbosun Alake, the issue of Right of Way has always been a challenge between state governments and telecoms operators who seek permission on RoW to expand their networks and infrastructure. Telecoms operators across the country have previously blamed the poor service experience of subscribers on the refusal of federal and state agencies to grant RoW licence to lay more fibre optic cables in cities. The operators had told Thisday that they had envisaged heavy surge during the festive season and had long requested for RoW licence that would enable them to expand their networks by laying more broadband fibre optic cables. Their requests were however rejected by the various government agencies, forcing them to maintain the available network infrastructure which is insufficient for peak periods.

One of Nigeria’s biggest lenders, UBA has laid off several of its employees in a move described as an extreme example of corporate right-sizing. However, the bank says that it employed 4,000 new staff and promoted more than 5000 at the start of the new year. It also said it upgraded its staff salary with immediate effect this January, but made no mention of any mass sack or retrenchment. Some UBA employees told the business website Nairametrics that they are yet to receive official letters despite the bank announcing the promotions, while others who spoke to various news websites said the new hires are casual staff employed to replace terminated workers as a cost-cutting measure.

Commentary

  • The Gamboru attack is more characteristic of the Abubakar Shekau faction of Boko Haram than of ISWAP as the latter tends to try to minimise civilian casualties especially compared to the former. This highlights how the Lake Chad basin area is still at high risk of being attacked by the terrorists. Even further, the withdrawal of Chadian troops from the area has created open spaces for the terrorists to operate in, as evidenced not just by the Gamboru attack, but also by the recent killing of dozens of fishermen on an island in Lake Chad, and an even more recent attack, this time on the town of Monguno on Wednesday, likely by the ISWAP faction, which killed up to 20 soldiers, an unknown number of civilians, and has potentially brought the town under ISWAP control. In the wider region, the United Nations envoy for West Africa and the Sahel says the region has experienced a five-fold surge in attacks in the Sahel region to more than 4,000 deaths in 2019 compared with an estimated 770 deaths in 2016. These attacks are yet to be acknowledged by the Nigerian government which having long claimed “technical victory” over the terrorists, may view speaking about these attacks as an admission of failure. The Borno State Governor remains the highest-ranking government official to continually speak out on the recurring attacks within the state and how the terrorists still present a threat. He appears to be more grounded in reality than Abuja.

  • Operation Amotekun is a practical example of the kind of national restructuring that many Nigerians have been clamouring for. Little by little, the sub-national units are chipping away at the tottering anomalous federalism Nigeria is practicing. As the federal government and its agents continue to prove unable to solve the big problems for the states, it is inevitable that security self help schemes like Operation Amotekun will arise. The overstretch of the Nigeria Police Force and rising crime rates will force more states to improvise by creating vigilante groups. We have already seen this with the Civilian Joint Task Force in the North East recently, but even a little further in the past with groups such as the Oodua People’s Congress in the South West, and the Bakassi Boys in the South East. Our advice is that the federal government adopt a similar stance to that which it has done in the NE and cooperate with the state governments and these security measures they come up with in this period. However, the police and the army do have a point that the vigilante groups lack sufficient training, and this could cause a long term setback. As the partnership between the military and the CJTF showed, while there are benefits, there is a risk of such ad-hoc arrangements being normalised across the country rather than pursuing the more sensible course of allowing the creation of state police forces that will be properly trained and supervised.

  • It may amaze some people that Nigeria’s states. which should be clamouring for the expansion of telecoms infrastructure to power various tech related industries within their domains have, for the short-sighted returns from Right of Way taxes, constituted themselves into a stumbling block for such expansion. But the incentives for this kind of behaviour exist. The rules for Right of Way vary in different countries, depending on legislation. In Nigeria, the Land Use Act gives the states the ownership of land in their respective domains. This is problematic as any cost imposed affects infrastructure development and such costs are eventually passed on to end users. Nigeria’s warped practice of ‘feeding bottle’ federalism where states get money from the centre whether they are competitively being productive or not is at the heart of this seemingly irrational behaviour. Until this core structural anomaly is resolved, the symptoms will continue to appear in issues such as this. We have seen recent pronouncements from the Minister for Communications that telecom service providers should slash the cost of data, but as usual, this decision does not appear to have been made on the back of detailed analysis. What is required is for incentives for this kind of behaviour to be tackled at the root.

  • Nigeria’s financial sector is perhaps the most competitive part of the national economy, with the most profitable lenders in a slugfest to ramp up revenue, guarantee profitability and cut costs. One well established cost-cutting measure in recent years has been the hiring of contract staff for branch operations. However, it appears some banks are taking this further by actually retrenching already confirmed full staff and replacing them with contract staff. While SBM believes in the free market rights of employers to hire and fire as required by business exigencies, we are also emphatic about the need for employers to carry these out in a thoughtful, ethical and responsible manner. Nigerian banks have not been made to fully carry the cost of firing staff in the manner they do, and as a result, they have created a vicious cycle of hiring and firing without any deep consideration. In a related manner, the casualisation of labour that is rife in the industry is an unwelcome development which exposes far too many Nigerians to insecure job contracts. It is to be hoped that common sense regulation by policymakers with the input of organised labour will begin to address the systemic issues that have led to the rise of casual labour.