Nigeria lifted the ban placed on interstate travel on Wednesday, provided such journeys are made outside curfew hours. Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, also said on Monday at the daily briefing of the task force that the government had approved the safe resumption of domestic flights in the country. Also on Wednesday, the aviation minister, Hadi Sirika announced via Twitter that the Abuja and Lagos airports are scheduled to resume domestic operations on 8 July, while Kano, Port Harcourt, Owerri and Maiduguri are set for 11 July; other airports will resume operations on 15 July. Sirika said that a date would be announced for the resumption of international travel. The latest developments, according to Mustapha, were contained in the task force’s fifth interim report submitted to President Buhari earlier on Monday. However certain measures placed to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic shall either remain in place or come into effect. The measures include maintaining the current phase of the national response, for another four weeks in line with modifications to be expatiated by the National Coordinator; permission of movement across state borders only outside curfew hours with effect from 1 July 2020; enforcement of laws around non-pharmaceutical interventions by states, in particular, the use of face masks in public places; safe reopening of schools to allow students in graduating classes resume in-person in preparation for examinations; safe reopening of domestic aviation services as soon as practicable; and the publication of revised guidelines around the three thematic areas of general movement, industry and labour; and community activities.

Gunmen, on Wednesday, attacked the Federal Medical Centre in Lokoja, Kogi, and disrupted a COVID-19 press conference. The hospital had scheduled a media briefing for the day to demand a COVID-19 screening centre in the state and to also speak about the challenges health workers are facing with regard to the disease. The armed men arrived at the facility in three vehicles and shot sporadically to disperse the meeting. Health workers had laptops and vital documents stolen from them by the gunmen who also destroyed property. This attack came a day after Yahaya Bello, governor of the state, insisted that the virus was created to “shorten the lifestyle of the people”, asked residents of the state not to accept what he described as “cut and paste COVID-19″, and said that Nigerians are being made to accept the reality of COVID-19 “by force”. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has so far announced three cases of COVID-19 in Kogi, but the state government has insisted that the state is free of the disease and repeatedly accused the NCDC of falsifying COVID-19 cases in Kogi.

The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, says consumers should be properly metered before any increase in the electricity tariff. On Monday, the National Assembly asked DisCos to halt the proposed increase in tariff for power consumers, and speaking on Tuesday after a visit to the presidential villa, Lawan said President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo have agreed on the deferment of electricity tariff hike. Lawan noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people negatively and the situation requires that everything possible is done to make life easy for Nigerians. In January, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) had announced that there would be an upward review of electricity tariff across the country from 1 April but suspended it as a result of the pandemic. However, a few weeks ago, power minister, Sale Mamman, said the proposed hike will take effect from 1 July. According to NERC, only 3.9 million of the registered 10.3 million subscribers in the country have prepaid meters. A few days before, the House of Representatives insisted that cable and satellite television service providers in Nigeria introduce a pay-as-you-go subscription plan for customers. In order to “address the yearnings of Nigerians.” The House had, in March, resolved to investigate complaints about high tariffs and monopolised bouquets on the cable subscription service. The committee chairman, Unyime Idem, at the committee hearing last Thursday, said excuses on why DStv and other service providers have not introduced PAYG plans are not tenable.

The funeral of an Ethiopian singer and activist, Hachalu Hundessa, which was held in his hometown of Ambo in the Oromia region has sparked days of protests in which at least 81 people have been killed, including three Oromia special police force members, according to a police chief on Wednesday. The event, under heavy security with the sparse crowd, joined the final rites for the artist whose killing on Monday night sparked spontaneous protests in parts of the country. Hundessa’s political songs gave voice to the Oromo’s longstanding sense of marginalisation, the country’s largest ethnic group, and his murder led to angry protests in Addis Ababa and the region of Oromia which surrounds it. The slain singer’s wife Santu Demisew Diro, who gave a short speech after mourners laid wreaths, requested for “a monument erected in his memory in Addis where his blood was spilt.”

Commentary

  • The lifting of the ban on interstate travel was expected, as Nigeria moves to restart its economy after months of reduced activity. Although the number of cases keeps rising exponentially – it sat at about 25,694 at the time of writing this report – the government is left with very little choice but to lift the travel ban as it has put a lot of hardship on Nigerians with the rising prices coming at a time of decreasing incomes. The manner the interstate travel lockdown was implemented emphasises a key thing – the Nigerian state is weak. Save for flashes of exaggerated violent enforcement, it was unable to enforce as simple a measure as an interstate travel ban in a systematic manner that would have ensured near-universal compliance. The reality on the ground during the ban, of course, was that people moved around freely, once they were willing and able, to pay bribes to the security agents who turned it into a windfall. As a consequence, transporters hiked travel fares, and these directly fed into the increase in the price of goods. With the majority of Nigerians on daily incomes, a lot of which is dependent on travel, it was inevitable that the ban was going to be flouted. It now remains to be seen if the lifting of the ban will lead to a fall in transportation and food costs over the coming weeks.
  • The attack in Lokoja happened a little over two weeks after the Association of Resident Doctors, Kogi State Specialist Hospital, Lokoja, the state-owned tertiary hospital, issued a statement complaining about the poor remuneration of its medical staff and the loss of 10 of its members to COVID-19 despite the incessant denial by the state government. This attack represents a dangerous escalation that not only needs to be roundly condemned but demands a strong response from federally-controlled security agencies. As a state that shares boundaries with ten others, Kogi is too strategically located to be ignored in a country where healthcare is shambolic, with healthcare personnel continually and vociferously demanding the basics to enable them to work. Adding security concerns from a state government that has repeatedly refused to accept the reality of a global pandemic must not be allowed to happen. Nigeria is not testing enough, and the governors of Kogi and Cross River have been particularly belligerent towards the NCDC because they are very invested in declaring their states COVID-19 free. Not even high-profile deaths from the virus such as those of the state’s Chief Judge, Nasir Ajanah, last week, and the governor’s personal assistant, Abdulateef Suleman, has made the Kogi State Government change its stance. Rather, the governor has doubled down on conspiracy theories and stonewalled the NCDC on testing, while claiming, without evidence, to be partnering with the American CDC on a testing lab. It is thus not a stretch to connect him with this attack on the Federal Medical Centre. With actions like this, what will the rest of the world do? As they bring the pandemic under control, they will lock Nigerians out, and it will be impossible to reason against their justifications if we have whole states that refuse to take COVID-19 seriously and threaten health personnel demanding for better.
  • The electricity tariff debate is one prominent issue Nigerians are falling over themselves to emphasise the need for the government to postpone price hikes whilst at the same time blaming the privately held generation and distribution companies for an erratic track record. A better approach should be to conduct a sectoral root cause analysis to take a stab at the real issues. A visit to the original power privatisation plan will reveal some shortcomings. First, the transmission leg was left in the hands of the government which has failed to invest in the sector thus limiting the Gencos capacity to evacuate power from the generation plants. Second, the GenCos are owed humongous amounts of money and the simple reason is a tariff regime that makes it unprofitable to invest in and operate across the entire power value chain. The GenCos have now threatened to declare force majeure if the increase continues to be delayed. It appears that the untenability of the situation has now brought the chickens home to roost, and perhaps the stakeholders in the power sector on the regulatory side will begin to be amenable to a more market-friendly stance. Then there is the government’s failure to implement periodic tariff increases which were meant to bring consumption rates closer to cost eliminating the need for subsidies. Subsidies simply don’t work, hence the current push to remove petrol subsidies. The overarching point though should be that you cannot raise prices across the board and expect private businesses not to do the same. The cost of doing business in Nigeria has gone up, and this brings us to the issue with DStv. The House of Representatives is specifically probing DStv for high tariffs and restricting Nigerian customers to prepaid plans. The reality is, of course, very different – DSTV’s charges in Nigeria are lower than in other markets such as Ghana and South Africa. A pay-as-you-go model is likelier to make cable content more expensive for Nigerians, but the House seems oblivious to this. Nigeria needs to decide on what it wants – good services governed by market forces and reasonable regulation, or excessive government control and poor or non-existent services. Legislators, and indeed the whole government apparatus, should desist from trying to play both umpire and participant, but instead, ask the hard questions as to why Nigerian companies are not competing in the space rather than harassing companies which have done quite well and have shown an eagerness to grow their Nigerian investment footprint.
  • The death of Hachalu Hundessa and the protests that followed come at a time when Ethiopia is slowly healing from years of ethnic violence and a crippled economy. When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took over office, his ascendancy was greeted with optimism as he pledged to unify the country following years of protests across the Oromia and Amhara regions. He followed through with his commitment by releasing political prisoners, making strategic economic reforms, punishing corrupt officials and perpetrators of human rights abuses as well as signing a landmark peace agreement with neighbouring Eritrea, which won him the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019. Ironically, Abiy Ahmed’s support has dwindled even within his home region, Oromia, which has seen several ethnoreligious conflicts since he took office in 2018. With Hachalu’s death, who some considered a torn in the flesh of successive governments, the agitation from the heartland of the Oromo people who have long complained of oppression at the hands of smaller ethnic groups in this diverse country of 100 million people is set to test the Prime Minister’s ability to keep the country unified. Even though the motive for Hachalu’s killing remains unknown, the government, through the police, have taken serious steps to try to identify the killers. So far, several persons have been arrested, according to reports, including Mr Jawar Mohammed, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, and a previous supporter turned critic of Prime Minister Abiy. Ensuring that justice is served with respect to Hachalu Hundessa’s murder is an important step to guarantee that peace is restored in the country.