A lack of confidence in the ability of the political class to deliver on their promises, or to safeguard their life-savings has led to growing opposition to the FG’s plan to borrow ₦2 trillion of the ₦10 trillion in the Contributory Pension Scheme to finance an ambitious infrastructure programme. While the United Labour Congress is unequivocal in its submission that the future of Nigerian workers cannot be guaranteed “if a large chunk of pension funds are controlled by crass, profligate and often insensitive politicians famous for their careless handling of public funds,” the Nigeria Labour Congress reminded that the Contributory Pension Scheme, which came into being in 2004 is fully funded by workers and employers, and privately managed by Pension Fund Administrators (PFAs), adding that the funds are in the individual Retirement Savings Account (RSA) of beneficiaries. The Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association also expressed concern for the government’s plans, calling it was unthinkable for the government to borrow from the pension fund when the citizens have not felt the impact of the mounting debt of government at all levels.

Islamists have killed at least 30 people and abducted women and children in a raid. Most of the victims were travellers who were burnt alive while sleeping in their vehicles during an overnight stop in Auno town on a major highway in Borno State, 25km from Maiduguri. The state government spokesman, Ahmad Bundi, said the Islamist group came in trucks mounted with heavy weapons, before killing, burning, and looting. He also confirmed the abduction of women and children but did not give a number. The military has not yet commented on the incident. It is, however, unclear which faction carried out the attack.

Amid high political drama, Wamkele Mene, who was Pretoria’s chief negotiator during the AU’s discussions on the formulation of the AfCFTA, was on 10 February endorsed by the AU heads of state summit in Addis Ababa as the newly-appointed head of the AfCFTA secretariat. Mene’s appointment was settled by voting by heads of state following intense debates after Nigeria attempted to block Mene’s appointment by putting up arguments in favour of their preferred candidate, Cecilia Akintomide, a Nigerian banker. The West African country “went for the jugular” when the matter was tabled at the AU, hours after South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, took his seat as chairperson, by arguing that their candidate, Cecilia Akintomide, who was ranked third, should hold the position. Diplomats at the summit said the matter sparked a passionate debate. They said after two days of discussions on the issue, it took seven rounds of voting for SA to secure the two-thirds majority it needed for Mene’s appointment to go through.

Massive swarms of locusts sweeping across much of east Africa have reached Uganda and Tanzania, the United Nations has said, threatening millions of more people with hunger in an already fragile region. Tanzania has detected swarms in its northern border areas close to Mount Kilimanjaro and hired three planes to spray pesticide, a tactic seen as the most effective means of countering the spread of the insects. Ugandan authorities have rushed pesticides to affected areas and have mobilised thousands of troops. “We are using motorised sprayers, a drone and manual sprayers,” Stephen Byantwale, the commissioner for crop protection at the ministry of agriculture, said. “They [locusts] are spreading like wildfire, so they are a real, major threat.” The outbreak in East Africa is the most serious in decades and has already devastated crops across a swath of Kenya and Somalia.

Commentary

  • A useful context to understanding the government’s effort to tap more of the CPS’s resources is to remember that 70% of the country’s ₦10 trillion in pension funds are already loaned to the federal government. The key differentiator is that these are via well structured financial instruments that conform with necessary regulatory and economic scrutiny. As of today, pension fund administrators already invest in bankable infrastructure projects. What everyone fears is this – the government wants to circumvent scrutiny and the hard work of designing bankable projects while getting access to more of the retirement savings of Nigerians. It is perceived by many, not unreasonably, as a raid on the next available pool of funds given that other sources are drying up. Many have noticed that Nigeria has not met its approved revenue targets for any budget in the last half-decade at the very least. It thus goes without saying that the reactions are understandable and, we say, justified.
  • The attack by the insurgents is a clear indication of how wrong the military’s strategy of restricting entry into Maiduguri after dusk is. This strategy forces travellers to sleep outside the city and effectively makes them sitting ducks as we saw so tragically this week. The attack on the city on Wednesday evening, just after President Buhari left the city is a strong indicator of the impunity with which the terrorists now operate. The military’s strategy shows how brute force is being used to deter entry into the city rather than relying on intelligence, in order to pinpoint sleeper cells and supply lines into the city. Considering how vast the landmass of the surrounding areas are, and the ease with which the terrorists move across these ungoverned spaces, the movement restrictions will likely result in more attacks. Once again, there is a need for the military to deploy intelligence aided by technology, including drones and air reconnaissance to identify the camps of the terrorists and destroy them while minimising collateral damage.
  • The competition for the Head of the Secretariat highlights the rivalry between Nigeria and South Africa, the two biggest powers on the continent as well as its two largest economies. However, Nigeria presenting a candidate is curious considering that it is yet to ratify the signing of the agreement, and even worse, the county’s land borders have been closed to continental trade for months now, an action that runs contrary to the spirit of the AfCFTA. Also, having an inaugural head of the Secretariat be from West Africa when the Secretariat is sited in Accra would have created the perception of the sub-region dominating the agreement. Most importantly, the election of a head means that the agreement can now begin to be implemented, with the close coordination of member states critical to achieving its objectives.
  • Climate experts have pointed to unusually heavy rains, aided by a powerful cyclone off Somalia in December, as a major factor in the crisis. The locusts arrived from the Arabian peninsula after cyclones dumped vast amounts of rain in the deserts of Oman – creating perfect breeding conditions. One especially large swarm in north-eastern Kenya measured 60km long by 40km wide. Even a small swarm of the insects can consume enough food for 35,000 people in a day. The infestation from the Arabian peninsula has also affected India and Pakistan. With further rains expected in the region in the coming weeks, experts fear the number of locusts if unchecked could grow by up to 500 times by June, when drier weather is expected. One challenge is that many locusts are breeding in the semi-autonomous Puntland region of Somalia. Much of the territory there is threatened or held by al-Shabaab, the Islamist extremist group. That makes it difficult or impossible to conduct aerial spraying to kill the insects. A single swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per sq km of farmland, an area the size of almost 250 football fields, regional authorities said. Even before this outbreak, nearly 20 million people faced high levels of food insecurity across the east African region long challenged by periodic droughts and floods. Some analysts have blamed the locust outbreak on climate change, though a direct link is difficult to establish. The threat in East Africa comes from the desert locust, one of a number of species that form swarms. There have been six major desert locust plagues since the 1900s, the last of which was in 1987-89. The last major rise in the number of locust plagues occurred in 2003-05. A coordinated, continent-wide approach is required before this plague spreads and significantly alters the complicated geopolitical picture of Central and East Africa.