A Premium Times investigation across Nigeria’s six geo-political regions has shown that state governors who had originally called for the ban on interstate travels did very little or nothing in their domains to ensure full compliance. Some of the governors erected easily breached flimsy gates at major boundaries with neighbouring states. The effort, the online newspaper said, did little or nothing to stop motorists willing to bribe security officials or residents of surrounding villages from travelling through. President Buhari had on 27 April, during his third nationwide broadcast on measures taken by the FG to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic, announced a ban on non-essential interstate travels. The president also declared a nationwide curfew from 8 pm to 6 am. The directive would create an extortion bazaar for security personnel, state government officials and other non-state actors across the country. The newspaper said for five days during its investigation, its reporters travelled across 21 states and Abuja with little or no restrictions gathering pieces of evidence from tens of security checkpoints, bus terminals, towns and villages across their routes. Citing instances, the investigation showed that penultimate Sunday, at the popular Jibowu and Berger bus terminals in Lagos, business continued as usual for a lot of transport operators. Though the offices of branded and registered interstate transport bus operators were closed for business in compliance with Buhari’s directive, business was booming mainly for operators of Toyota Sienna minivans and owners of unbranded buses. In Abuja, the paper’s journalists found that about a 20 minutes’ drive from the Garki headquarters of the Nigeria Police, commercial vehicles at Nyanya Park convey passengers travelling to Kaduna daily, breaching the interstate travel ban. The report said that during the journey from Jibowu Terminal to the Sagamu Bypass on the Sagamu – Benin Expressway, there were no police checkpoints at the Berger boundary between Lagos and Ogun, but as soon as the mini-van passed the Sagamu bypass, the extortion bazaar began were almost all security outfits in the country – the police, the military, the Nigerian Vigilante Group, the Federal Road Safety Corps, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and even officials of states’ COVID-19 task forces and employees of the construction company, RCC, participated in the free-for-all shakedown of mainly commercial motorists flouting the presidential order.

The Nigerian Senate has on Tuesday approved President Muhammadu Buhari’s request for $5.51 billion in external borrowing from international lenders, International Monetary Fund, African Development Bank, World Bank and Islamic Development Bank. The borrowing is part of a revised budget for 2020, which allows for the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and a sharp drop in oil prices, which has dented Nigeria’s spending plans because oil sales make up 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings. The money from the International Monetary Fund, African Development Bank, World Bank and Islamic Development Bank is to fund the deficit. Buhari submitted a revised budget of ₦10.51 trillion ($29.19 billion) to parliament last week for approval. Additionally, the Senate raised the price of crude oil from $25 as the budget benchmark proposed by the executive to $28 per barrel. The benchmark was approved after the chairman senate committee on finance, Solomon Olamilekan, presented a report on the revised medium-term expenditure framework and fiscal strategy paper. The MTEF and FSP, which the 2020 budget was predicated on, were amended after a drop in crude oil prices owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Senate also fixed oil production at 1.8 million barrels per day.

Armed bandits in Nigeria’s northwestern state of Katsina killed at least 18 people, including a local official, and stole thousands of livestock on Sunday, two witnesses and a police spokesman told Reuters. The eyewitnesses said as many as 500 men riding motorcycles, some brandishing assault rifles, charged into the Faskari local government area on Sunday afternoon. “At least 18 persons were confirmed killed by now and many others were suspected to be killed,” local resident Isma’ila Ya’u told Reuters by telephone. The men went on to the nearby village of Sabon Garin where they killed local leader Abdulhamid Sani, 55, after attempting to kidnap him, the witnesses and a police spokesman said. Sadiq Hasaan, another witness, said the men were headed with the stolen livestock towards other villages in the Batsari local government area, and thousands of residents had fled their homes. Police spokesman Gombo Isa confirmed the attack, adding the assailants carried “sophisticated weapons”. He said security forces were “combing the forest with a view to arresting the hoodlums.” Criminal gangs carrying out robberies and kidnappings have killed hundreds in the last year in northwest Nigeria.

Weeks after the UN-supported Libyan government with the help of Turkey finally took control of a strategic airbase Al-Watiya also known as Okba Ibn Nafa Air Base in Nuqat al Khams district of western Libya, it is now fast emerging that Ankara is in process of building a massive airbase. The strategic Al Watiya airbase is Turkey’s first military airbase in the Southern Mediterranean and Ankara now is building up the base. Named after Uqba ibn Nafi, the Islamic general who conquered North Africa, for Libya the airbase is strategic as it is 27 kilometres east of the Tunisian border and 125 kilometres from Tripoli. It is reported that Turkey has now signed a military agreement with Libya that will allow Ankara to build its own airbase in Al-Watiya. According to a report in Italian Newspaper, La Stampa, the GNA’s control of Al-Watiya Airbase means it has regained control of almost all the western coastal and semi-coastal belt, while for Ankara it is the first military support facility on the southern shore of the Mediterranean.

Commentary

  • It is obvious that the security agents on Nigeria’s interstate roads, who were meant to enforce the interstate travel ban, saw it as an opportunity to make a quick buck. This situation was almost inevitable considering that those who work in the informal transport industry depend on income from their daily activities and cannot survive an extended period of lockdown without work. In addition, security agents have over a very long time created a culture of extorting transporters using checkpoints as points of collection. The interstate travel ban has only served to drive up the amounts being extorted with very little leverage for transporters whose only other option is to not travel during the lockdown. The Premium Times reporter counted about 58 checkpoints from the Sagamu bypass to the Delta State end of the Niger Bridge. Despite the proliferation of checkpoints on the road, all the drivers of minivans that were travelling and other commercial vehicles needed to be passed through were to pay at least a bribe of ₦500 ($1.15) at each checkpoint. That means a single bus would have had to pay a minimum of ₦29,000 ($66) to go from Jibowu, a major bus terminal in Lagos, to Upper Iweka, a major terminating point in Onitsha, a 460km journey. The price differentials would, of course, be passed on to the travellers. The investigation also showed that though many of the checkpoints were just a few metres apart, the heaviest clusters of checkpoints on the route were at state boundaries. While the state governors could be blamed for not showing the requisite political will in enforcing the ban on interstate travel, they are also hamstrung by the security agencies who will act independently of them, often taking orders only from their superiors at the federal level, and in many ways disregarding all authority and in effect gone rogue. Pretty much every Police Inspector General since Musiliu Smith in 1999, has announced a ban on checkpoints along Nigeria’s highways and has been promptly disobeyed by his men. There is no point maintaining the farce and only creating a money-making opportunity for unscrupulous people, especially if such a farce has the unintended consequence of rubbishing the intent behind the restriction and giving Nigerians yet another reason to be cynical about the Nigerian state.
  • Even before now, Nigeria’s economic indicators were already showing signs of distress, with falling external reserves, falling balance of trade, falling foreign investment inflows, falling revenues, rising debt to income ratios, rising inflation rate, amongst others. In all economies, the federal government is the largest spender and its fiscal activities drive economic growth. For a relatively large economy with GDP of over $400 billion, the FG’s annual budgets have hovered around $30 billion for years and depressed oil prices have meant reduced revenues (Q1 2020, revenue was reported as 52% below the budget). It is perhaps with all this in mind that as part of its submissions to the National Assembly to push through the 2020 budget revisions, the federal government released an update to the 2020-2020 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF). In this update, as at Q1 2020, revenue was 52% below the budget target but expenditure was only 2% down. However, when the budget was reviewed, education and health received reduced allocations of 54% and 43% respectively, while the National Assembly’s was cut by 10% and lawmakers were even able to score funds to renovate their building. There is no clearer indicator of the priority of the APC led government – even in a time of dwindling revenue and when the country is struggling, their own spending not only remains untouched but actually increases overall. In the wake of Brent crude reaching the psychological $40 mark, as we expected, there is no more talk of implementing the Oronsaye Report on government reform and cutting down waste. It is now business as usual, except it is not so. Nigeria is in a precarious fiscal position, and its leaders are playing a fiddle. Oil income was only down 30% of the government’s budget target. Debt servicing costs jumped 30% compared to budget and now stood at 99.2% compared to actual revenue. We expect Nigeria to be back at the IMF soon, and this time, the conditions will be harsh.
  • Attacks on communities in the north-western states of Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara continue despite COVID-19 lockdowns and peace agreements brokered by state governors, which were backed by cash payments to the bandits. These continued attacks point to the faulty approach by the state governments in the region (which in themselves are tacit admissions of the inability of the states to track down and apprehend the criminals). This approach, which lumps all the criminals into one category rather than interrogating the different motivations for these disparate groups – whether economic (through kidnapping and theft of livestock), revenge killings or an attempt to use attacks to raise funding through ransoms for jihadist groups in the Sahel region, has failed. The pattern of attacks aren’t unique to Katsina but extend to Sokoto and Kaduna, where mainly Fulani ethnic militias appear to be taking advantage of the situation to carry out attacks on mainly ethnic Adara villages in Southern Kaduna. These attacks continue to create internally displaced people as more people flee affected areas. The governments must intensify efforts in smashing the criminal gangs operating in the region while also increasing efforts to protect the communities. It must be seen to be doing both. This is important because this region is contiguous with the Sahel, and if not brought under control, these attacks could easily spill into the Niger Republic where the G-5 Sahel Force is active. Three weeks ago, we talked about how Nigerien soldiers have been making incursions into Nigerian territory at the behest of villagers to provide security. It is likely that there could be an increased presence of the G-5 along the Nigerian border in order to prevent jihadist groups from further taking advantage of the situation and use Nigeria as a base to launch attacks.
  • The construction of the Uqba Nafi airbase is a huge geopolitical statement by Turkey, signalling a shift away from Europe, and indicating that they are looking to play in the old Ottoman backyard. This is an attempt to consolidate gains made in the Libyan conflict not just against General Khalifa Haftar but also against his backers – Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, all of whom are either old Ottoman rivals or subjects. The capture of the airbase by Turkey gives them an upper hand in the air war aspect of the conflict and makes victory assured, which will likely force Mr Hafter back to the negotiating table and to keep with the 2015 Peace Accord. More broadly speaking, it establishes Turkey as a power in the region as it aims to reclaim the leadership of the Muslim world (essentially heralding a decline of the influence of Saudi Arabia as the demand for oil decreases together with planned and controversial reforms by that country’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman). This is a reason why the UAE is also involved in the conflict as it also has ambitions to be the preeminent power in the region, while Egypt views Turkey (and Qatar) as adversaries because of their support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Any further military support for Mr Haftar by his backers could risk escalating the conflict which is slowly replacing Syria as the second-biggest proxy war in the region, after Yemen. The fallout from the current geopolitical chess games being played in Libya will have an impact in the Sahel, and by extension in Nigeria as radical groups are likely to be mobilised to go and fight the Turks in Libya (and even in Turkey itself), giving a reprieve to the region for the short to medium term, and then causing trouble in this region when the Libya games are over in the medium to long term.