Abba Kyari, died on 17 April, after struggling for many years with diabetes and contracting COVID-19. He had been Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari since August 2015. A sociologist and lawyer, with degrees from universities in Warwick, Cambridge as well as Harvard, he was considered as the most powerful person in the country after the President. He was buried in a well-attended, nationally televised ceremony at Gudu Cemetery in Abuja. The FG and state governments have expressed concern that some of the ceremony’s attendees disregarded social distancing guidelines from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s on COVID-19. At its daily media briefing the following day, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 said it regrets the behaviour of the burial’s attendees but shied away from saying it will pursue any prosecutions.

Nigeria’s annual inflation in March rose for a seventh straight month, the statistics office said on Tuesday, as border closures continued to push prices higher. Inflation rose to 12.26% year on year, up from 12.20% in February and the highest since April 2018, when it stood at 12.48%. Food inflation grew to 14.98% year on year, up from 14.90% in February, the figures showed. The increases were driven primarily by a land border closure that began in August 2019, shutting out all trade in goods in an effort to stamp out smuggling of banned items such as rice coming in from neighbouring countries. The closure has led to sporadic shortages of items such as chicken and margarine and has boosted the price for other staples such as rice for Nigeria’s 200 million citizens. The nation has since imposed lockdowns in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states in an effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, but those did not begin until April, and so are not reflected in the March statistics. A decline in the value of the naira is also likely to add upward pressure to consumer prices later in the year. In late March, the Nigerian central bank devalued the official currency rate by 15% in a move to converge a multiple exchange rate regime which it has used to manage pressure on the naira.

Gunmen have kidnapped the Edo Commissioner for Science and Technology, Emmanuel Agbale. The state’s police command confirmed the abduction on Saturday. According to the command’s public relations officer, Chidi Nwabuzor, Agbale was abducted by yet-to-be-identified kidnappers on Friday evening by Ogbemudia Farm, along the Benin-Auchi road in the Ehor divisional jurisdiction. The commissioner was said to have been travelling from Benin to Ekpoma when the gunmen ambushed his car, shooting directly at the vehicle. The police orderly attached to Agbele was shot dead by the kidnappers before he was taken away while his driver, however, was said to have escaped. He said the force has commenced an investigation into the abduction. On Sunday, armed bandits have killed at least 47 people in attacks on several villages in the northwestern Nigerian state of Katsina. The attacks took place in the early hours of Saturday, between 12:30 am (23:30 GMT Friday) and around 3 am (02:00GMT) in six communities in Safana, Dutsinma and Danmusa local government areas, Katsina police said in a statement.

The National Human Rights Commission has accused the Nigerian security forces of killing 18 people in two weeks while enforcing lockdowns imposed to curtail the spread of the new coronavirus in the country. The NHRC, an independent body, said there had been “eight documented incidents of extrajudicial killings leading to 18 deaths” between March 30 and April 13. The killings were carried out by the Nigerian Correctional Service, the police force, and army. Responding to the report, a spokesman for the Nigerian Correctional Service said four inmates had died after violence broke out and left a number of prisoners and staff hospitalised. The rights commission report alleged eight deaths. Though, the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army did not respond calls seeking comment on the NHRC statement as the report notes that most of the violations witnessed during the period arose as a result of excessive or disproportionate use of force, abuse of power, corruption and non-adherence to national and international laws, best practices and rules of engagement. The Lockdowns initially slated to last 14 days were put in place on 30 March in Lagos, Ogun and the country’s capital Abuja. They were extended on Sunday by another 14 days and other states, such as Kano, have also imposed restrictions. Nigerian security forces have a reputation for brutality as at least 1,476 people were killed by state actors in the country over the past year, says the Council on Foreign Relations.

Commentary

  • The Punch reported that most of the individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, who patronised private hospitals, contrary to the government’s order, were prominent persons. This is important to note as the virus enters a phase of community transmission. One unfortunate reality for Nigeria is that regardless of the government in power, military or civilian, there is always a different set of rules for the rich/powerful on the one hand, and the rest of the country on the other. This is one factor that has bred the get rich quick mentality of Nigerians and the COVID outbreak is only reinforcing the sentiment. Among others, the NCDC’s protocol on COVID-19 requires anybody coming from countries with a high burden of the virus to be in isolation for 14 days. If such individuals show symptoms of the virus, they are not expected to seek treatment at non accredited hospitals, but to contact the NCDC. Unaccredited hospitals that receive such patients are required to refer them to health facilities approved for treating COVID-19. Nigeria has ramped up its testing capacity in the past week and the expectation is that the number of cases will rise rapidly as more widespread testing is achieved. Unfortunately, it would appear that the country’s elite, by ignoring directives from the very government that they run, has undermined the fight against COVID-19. This follows a clear pattern from Mr Kyari himself who returned to the country from three COVID-19 hotspots and failed to self-isolate; to a former ambassador who upon returning from a hotspot visited Lagos, Abuja and Kano; right up to Mr Kyari’s funeral. A failure to prosecute these violations sends a message to the majority of the country that might is right and will make a mockery of any further attempt to extend the current lockdowns.
  • Quite unfortunately, Nigeria has to deal with this rise in food prices in the midst of a COVID-19 induced food scarcity that is also bound to further drive up the price of food items. The current trend started in September 2019, just a month after the border closure and the 12.26% rate marks the highest inflation rate since April 2018. Whilst the main pressure came from food prices (14.98% vs 14.90% m/m), other segments also experienced price increases, including various services and goods. No doubt the lockdown of ports and factories in Lagos and Ogun states is a factor, it is also clear that the Naira adjustment has started impacting inflation and with crude oil price continuing its downward trajectory in the international markets, it is becoming more likely that the CBN will be forced to further devalue the Naira. The full impact of this will only begin to appear in the April inflation figures when this is released. Coupled with low oil prices, the potential for further devaluation of the Naira, the statement credited to the Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi on Wednesday that the federation will have no money to share among the states by June, and the fact that the average family spends more than half of its income on food, it appears that Nigerians are in for a bumpy couple of months.
  • Although the coronavirus pandemic has been just about the only story happening in Nigeria, insecurity remains an issue in the country, and these two incidents remind us of that. No one knows yet if the kidnapping of Mr Agbale in Edo was motivated by just money or politics (especially considering the deteriorated relationship between the state governor, Godwin Obaseki and the APC National Chairman and immediate past governor, Adams Oshiomole). The reality is that road travel in Nigeria continues to bear the risk of such attacks and kidnapping. Meanwhile, the continued banditry attacks in parts of the North West shows how efforts to quell the crisis have not yet yielded the desired result, most likely due to the fact that the country’s security agencies do not have the capacity to cover a large territory which is more integrated with the wider Sahel sub-region of West and Central Africa than the rest of Nigeria. Indeed this week, four soldiers were killed in an ambush in Zurmi LGA of neighbouring Zamfara. Added to this mix is the failure of intelligence to pinpoint the criminal networks behind these attacks and neutralise them. A partial lockdown has been in effect in Katsina since 10 April, and given the inability of the state to police its territory, this might contribute to the residents of those areas becoming sitting ducks for bandits and other criminals. This fact is important because the attacks happened shortly after relief materials were shared to some members of the affected communities to cushion the economic hardship brought about by the coronavirus. The state needs to do better.
  • Violence by state actors is a recurring issue in engagements in Nigeria between citizens and the state. The outcome is not surprising considering how Nigerian security forces are very prone to using disproportionate force on unarmed civilians, whether to deal with protesters or enforcing security measures. It is ironic that as of 13 April, more Nigerians had been killed by security forces enforcing the COVID-19 lockdowns in Nigeria than by the disease itself. Up until the number of COVID-19 related deaths surpassed those killed by state actors on Tuesday, Nigeria was perhaps the only country in the world with such a statistic, and it drives home the point. It is only an expression of what is more deep-seated in the approach of the country’s security agencies and the accountability placed on them for their conduct towards and the lives of Nigerians. Dating to colonial times, Nigeria’s security services have never been people-oriented, and this trend escalated under decades of military dictatorship. While specific incidents receive the attention of the authorities and end up being prosecuted, often under withering citizen pressure complemented by civic advocacy, the majority of these incidents go unpunished. In other cases, the punishments meted out are not commensurate with the crimes committed. This state of affairs can only be addressed by a serious reorientation and retraining of the country’s security agencies with an emphasis on relations with civilians, human rights and modern approaches to crowd control. In this regard, agencies will need to appropriately discipline defaulting officers in order to send a clear message that deviant behaviour will not be tolerated. Relationships between the civilian population and security agencies are already at a low point and further violence will only alienate the security agencies further, leading to even more people placing their trust in vigilante organisations.