A large number of Nigerian households could not afford to buy sufficient supplies of the water they needed for handwashing, a survey in June 2020 has shown. According to the National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) COVID-19 Impact Monitoring report, despite high awareness of safety measures to curtail the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, almost a quarter of respondents do not have sufficient soap to wash their hands. This is even as frequent handwashing with soap is widely advised as a preventive measure against COVID-19. According to the findings of the second round of the NBS’ Nigeria COVID-19 National Longitudinal Phone Survey (NLPS) conducted last month, in the baseline, soap and cleaning supplies were the most commonly needed items, and most families confirmed that they were able to purchase soap when needed. The report said that nearly a quarter, 24% of households, did not have sufficient soap to wash their hands in June and about 7% of households also reported insufficient access to water for handwashing. It further noted that the shortage of water for drinking and washing hands faced by households was primarily due either to a disruption in the supply or inability to access the source of water. The NBS described the COVID-19 NLPS launched in April 2020 with the support of The World Bank as a monthly survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,950 households to monitor the economic impact of the pandemic and other shocks.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics show that inflation increased to 12.56% year-on-year in June 2020 indicating a 0.16% points higher than the rate of 12.4% recorded in May 2020. The report said that composite food index rose to 15.18% compared to 15.04% recorded in May 2020 while ”all items less farm produce” or core inflation, which excludes the prices of volatile agricultural produce, stood at 10.13% in June 2020 compared to 10.12% recorded in May 2020. On a month-on-month basis, the food sub-index increased by 1.48% in June this year, up by 0.06% points from 1.42% recorded in May 2020. The NBS said the rise in the food index was as a result of increases in prices of bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and other tubers, fruits, oils and fats, meat, fish and vegetables. The core sub-index increased by 0.86% in June 2020 on a month-on-month basis. This was down by 0.02% when compared with 0.88% increase recorded in May 2020. The highest increases were recorded in prices of medical services, hospital services, passenger transport by road, pharmaceutical products, motor cars, paramedical services, maintenance and repair of personal transport equipment, bicycles, motorcycles, vehicle spare parts and other services in respect of personal transport equipment. The highest inflation in the period under review on a year-on-year basis was recorded in Bauchi with 15.02%, followed by Sokoto state, 14.88%, Ebonyi 14.6%. Others include Plateau 14.49% and Taraba state 13.95%. On the flip side, Kwara state (10.03%) recorded the least all items inflation rate (year-on-year) followed by Lagos (10.78%). Others on the list include Cross River (10.95%), the Federal Capital Territory (11.02%) and Borno (11.11%). In terms of food inflation on a year-on-year basis, Sokoto (17.88%) recorded the highest followed by Plateau (17.04%) and the FCT (16.82%), while Bauchi (12.86%), Ogun (13.18%), and Lagos (13.46%) recorded the slowest rise.

Most contracts from the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) were awarded to National Assembly members, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio said Monday before the House of Representatives Committee on NDDC probing the commission based on an allegation of ₦80.5 billion in irregular expenditures. Akpabio, who had been invited by the lawmakers on Friday to defend his actions as Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and shed more light on financial misappropriation within the NDDC, was being questioned by members of the committee in a public hearing. The committee also summoned the acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Kemebradikumo Pondei, and the Managing Director of AHR Global Service among others. The Head, Directorate of Research and Programmes, Act for Positive Transformation Initiative, NGO, Johnson Kolawole, had accused the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC of gross abuse of budget implementation process. He said that the IMC had expended over ₦80 billion between January 2020 and May 2020 as against the ₦22 billion repeatedly portrayed by the IMC. The 2019 Appropriation Act as passed by the National Assembly, according to Kolawole, provided for some emergency projects across the state in the region with an additional ₦800 million as emergency contingency sum. He added that the IMC has spent ₦20 billion on emergency road repairs; there are fraudulent cases of contract inflation and non-implementation. Kolawale alleged that money meant for students on scholarship abroad was being diverted into a private account of the IMC. Meanwhile, former acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Joy Nunieh, told the committee that only N8 billion of the said ₦81.5 billion spent between October 2019 to May 2020 was spent under her watch as Akpabio predicted her to abuse processes and to engage in financial recklessness. She said that she prepared documents for the forensic audit mandated by President Muhammadu Buhari before she was forced out of office. Nunieh said this when she appeared before the house of representatives committee on NDDC, testifying on the alleged misappropriation of funds in the agency. Nunieh was meant to testify on Thursday before the committee but some police officers prevented her from leaving her residence in Rivers state. It took the intervention of Nyesom Wike, Rivers governor, to get her out of the siege.

The West African coast has become the worst area for reported piracy and kidnappings at sea in 2019. The region has surpassed Southeast Asia after recording the number of seafarers seized rising by more than 50%. The area also called the Gulf of Guinea, recorded the third-highest number of ship losses, the most yet, according to Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty SE, a unit of Munich-based Allianz SE. The International Maritime Bureau said abductions in the region accounted for 90% of the global total in 2019, while piracy remains an ongoing issue. Incidents on West Africa-bound vessels have most recently been rising steadily, with attacks targeting crew rather than the ship or its cargo. The head of maritime safety & security at the Baltic & International Maritime Council in Copenhagen asserted that “Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea emanates almost exclusively from Nigeria. “The Nigerian pirates use the Niger Delta as the staging point for attacks on shipping across the whole eastern part of the Gulf of Guinea and take hostages, holding them for ransom in camps in the Niger Delta.” Piracy will likely remain a threat for the foreseeable future amid heightened global political and economic uncertainties, Allianz said.

Commentary

  • The pandemic has amplified Nigeria’s many inequalities, particularly the lack of access to basic amenities, infrastructure, steady income and safety nets. Unsurprisingly, those at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder have been the most affected by the effects. Data of this nature reinforces the fact that the problems of countries such as Nigeria are significantly more base than those in the more developed parts of the world. While there is no publicly available data that disaggregates those who have contracted the virus in Nigeria based on demographics, it is very likely that those without access to water and soap in order to practice safety measures are more affected, possibly an indicator that they are also unable to afford or access facemasks. Despite a desire to adhere to safety measures, pervasive poverty makes it impossible for far too many Nigerians to follow through, especially as many of those affected live in densely-populated urban areas with very little social distancing or in rural areas. Considering the low testing rate in Nigeria (about 2,000 tests daily), it is very likely that there are many COVID-19 patients in these communities who may be asymptomatic and inadvertently increasing the spread.
  • Whilst the situation cannot yet be described as runaway inflation, prizes can no longer be given for predicting the trajectory of inflation in Nigeria. But if we are to draw a positive, this report says something, and it is that once the cost of food is excluded from the inflation numbers, the headline numbers are trending downwards, albeit marginally. Unfortunately, food inflation continues to grow quickly, making the overall inflation numbers rise. The challenge with this, of course, is that food is the most fundamental human necessity, and Nigerians spend more than 60% of their monthly income on food, with wide variations depending on which part of the country, and which demographic, we look at. In 2017, a surge in the Pastoral Conflict in the Middle-Belt region led to the disruption of national food supply and inflation hit 16.5%. What followed was an aggressive cash mopping programme which only made a small dent in the headline numbers until the conflicts waned. The recent spike in inflation has come about because of a toxic mix of increased unrest in the North-East, increased attacks on farming communities in the North-West and the Middle Belt, added to a border closure and disruption to food imports from the trade restrictions that brings. Considering that these factors are unlikely to change considerably in the near term, we expect food inflation to continue its climb, dragging headline inflation with it, and inevitably hitting Nigerian pockets hard. Sadly, policies such as the recent maize import ban and the ongoing war on imported rice, both important staples, show that the government does not get it. Making food more expensive due to ill-advised policymaking is making Nigerians poorer.
  • President Buhari rode into office on the back of an anti-corruption agenda. However, after five years in office, Mr Buhari seems disinterested in the task of governance and it has become a free for all. Perhaps no government agency embodies this freewheeling attitude to governance as the NDDC – one which served a riveting spectacle this week including its Acting Managing Director pretending to faint during a parliamentary committee session. The very effective distractions aside, it is difficult to agree with the premise that the NDDC, and its military-era predecessor, the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC), ever served the best interests of everyday Niger Deltans. What has happened under Buhari, though, is that this blatant corruption has accelerated. For example, a few days before the probe, the chief parliamentary inquisitor, Shehu Koko Mohammed (APC, Koko/Besse Federal Constituency) was declared wanted by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission for corruption; the ICPC has now rescinded that call saying members of the probe are ‘no longer wanted’. The minister in charge of the NDDC, Godswill Akapbio, was unable to answer questions before the panel as he accused the chairman and his deputy of having a bulk of the contracts issued under the NDDC, a move that proved to be effective as his session was summarily put to an end. Following these allegations, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Surulere I), asked Mr Akpabio to submit a list of those he had accused of receiving contracts from the NDDC; a request to which Akpabio replied by proceeding to deny ever making the allegation – despite the fact that it was made on live television. While the political horse-trading over the NDDC’s financial stewardship continues in the foreground, the FG is committing to borrow ₦4.28 trillion to finance next year’s budget – burying the country in more debt to fund the lavish appetites of the ruling elite. The probe, as well as any hope at meaningful reform at one of the FG’s wealthiest agencies, will almost certainly end up where most Nigerian corruption investigations do, in the graveyard of politics.
  • Piracy and attacks on seafarers are an increasingly worrisome issue in the Gulf of Guinea, especially off the coast of Nigeria, such that India, had in May 2019, banned its seafarers from the region due to the security issues. It is estimated that about 45% of global piracy occurred in the Gulf of Guinea in the first quarter of this year, which is a troubling development. It appears that the pirates, likely former militants, have changed the targets of their attacks (from cargo to crew) for ransoms, and have increased their capacity to go further into the sea to stage attacks as far as 315km offshore, suggesting better boats and weaponry. Despite numerous regional responses by the countries in the region, these attacks have persisted. In 2019, Nigeria became the first country in the region to pass an anti-piracy and other maritime offences law, a commendable effort to secure its coastline. However, this has not proven to be particularly effective. Nigeria needs to devote resources towards combating the piracy, as well as study and understand the underlying causes of piracy such as small arms proliferation, organised crime and unemployment in the Niger Delta region. These will have to be tackled in order to achieve a significant reduction in pirate attacks in the region.