About 90 percent of bandits behind renewed armed attacks on communities in five local government areas in the Nigerian state of Kastina “are from the Niger Republic and Zamfara State,” the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari has alleged. Masari said some of the bandits who refused to accept a peace accord last year, and rice smugglers were behind the renewed armed attacks in the five LGAs. The Governor further alleged that the infamous bandits known as ‘Dangote’ and ‘Dankarami’ were among those who refused the rapprochement between the government and other bandits in the state. Masari, the Speaker of House of Representatives between 2003 and 2007, had granted amnesty to bandits after a tour of Fulani settlements and strong enclaves of the bandits in Rugu Forest in September 2019. At the time, the renowned bandits and forest commanders denounced banditry and accepted peace in an initiative brokered alongside other governors in North-west after the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu convened a peace summit in Katsina. The renewed attacks on villages in the LGAs had forced residents, particularly businessmen and herders, to flee their ancestral homes to the affected council seats as well as the state capital.

The Nigerian government says the newly launched South-West security outfit code-named, ‘Amotekun’ is illegal. The Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, said security remains the exclusive constitutional preserve of the federal government. His spokesman, Umar Gwandu, said the paramilitary organisation runs contrary to the provisions of the law as the Constitution has established the armed services, including the army, navy and air force, the police and other numerous paramilitary organisations for the purpose of the country’s defence and security.

MTN Nigeria has announced the attorney general’s decision to withdraw a $2 billion tax demand against it. The firm, in a letter filed with the Nigerian Stock Exchange, said the government had decided to drop its case and refer the issue to tax and customs authorities “with a view to resolving contentious issues.” MTN Nigeria’s CEO, Ferdi Moolman, said they are very pleased with the decision of the government in the case which critics had said damaged Nigeria’s appeal to foreign investors. Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, had ruled that the firm owed taxes relating to the import of equipment and payments to foreign suppliers from 2007 to 2017. Shares in MTN Group, which Nigeria is its biggest market, with roughly 60 million users, rose by more than 4 percent after the announcement. The firm, whose local unit listed on the NSE last year, has said it would sell more shares to the public and increase local ownership once the tax row is resolved.

Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi concluded his traditional beginning of the year trip to Africa with a stop at Zimbabwe on 12 January. Wang had previously been in Egypt, Djibouti, Eritrea and Burundi. As the biggest investor of infrastructure projects in Zimbabwe, it is expected that Wang’s visit will also give fresh stimulus to mega Chinese projects such as the US$1.1 billion Hwange 7 and 8 power expansion project, the US$100 million New Parliament building in Mount Hampden and the US$153 million Robert Mugabe International Airport facelift, according to a report in the Sunday Mail, Zimbabwe’s state-owned newspaper. In Burundi and Djibouti, Wang pledged to commit to peace and stability in the Great Lakes region and offered to strengthen cooperation with Djibouti in fleet escort, peacekeeping, counter-terrorism, and combating piracy; in Eritrea, he pledged support for a project to build roads in the country that is largely isolated from the rest of the world, while promising Egypt to help the country combat extremist violence and grow its economy.

Commentary

  • As we have maintained in previous editions of this commentary, the peace deals made with various groups, most notably with various gangs of bandits in the North-West and with militants in the Niger Delta, are indicative of the inability of the state to deal with large-scale organised crime. When the fact that these criminals can easily move across borders is considered, these deals seem to represent little value other than the paper they are enshrined in. A better approach will be to improve community policing and increase intelligence assets in these areas in order to prevent attacks and apprehend culprits. Other than that, the government will be just grasping at the symptoms and ignoring the causal factors.

  • Maintaining law and order is one of the state’s most fundamental functions, and you cannot pretend to be a state if you are unable to do this. The Federal Government could deny the regions the right to secure themselves, but it cannot conceal its lack of moral authority. There is precedent in recent history for setting up vigilante groups without any challenge (and even overt support) from the FG. The best example is the Civilian Joint Task Force in the country’s North-East which has been instrumental in fighting Boko Haram and is recognised as part of the security architecture in the cities of the region. The FG’s opinion on Amotekun is likely to set up a legal jostle over the position of the Constitution as it applies to such groups. Most importantly, it is likely to force open the conversation on state policing and the country’s federalism, which politicians have been skirting around for years. How this is resolved will determine if similar security outfits will be set up to fill in the gaps often left by the inadequate policing in the country with the backing of regional governments, or if it will be done by non-state actors. However the conversation goes, similar security outfits will be set up. That is inevitable. It feeds into the larger restructuring conversation. We do not believe that the much talked about restructuring will be one big event – rather it will be chipping away of this nature until it becomes the de facto state of things.

  • The withdrawal of the demand against MTN brings to a close an episode which objective observers, including SBM, had noted was baseless from the beginning. In addition to the many uncomfortable truths this episode unearthed, we also continue to question why the Attorney General’s Office took the lead on a tax matter, which is statutorily the responsibility of the Federal Internal Revenue Service, at the federal level. What is true though is that these actions erased significant economic value and more cynical minds have suggested that it is possible that this is deliberate in order to drive a kind of value loss and, in the wake of the announcement, value gain of MTN shares to allow for certain interests to take positions. Ultimately, the AGF’s actions leave big question marks in the mind of investors and significantly increases the risk profile of potential Nigerian projects, effectively pushing up the required returns on such investments and rendering these projects uncompetitive.

  • China evidently has a more coherent strategy and policy for engaging with countries in Africa at a time when the United States is becoming more insular and disengaging from the continent. This is reinforced not just by cheap concessionary loans from China but by the annual continental tour by the Chinese foreign minister. This minister visited Nigeria twice in 2017 and 2018 and secured Nigeria’s diplomatic split with Taiwan in exchange for $40 billion of infrastructure investments. Africa will gradually fall under more Chinese influence as American influence falters due to the latter’s more reactionary Africa policy; one which is overly focused on terrorism challenges in a few countries across the continent, challenges which are more often the result of poor economies and weak states, issues which China’s mode of engagement, in theory, looks a surer bet to solve.