The FG on Tuesday raised the fine for hate speech from ₦500,000 to ₦5 million as it mandated broadcast stations to devote airtime for public education on emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, at the unveiling of the reviewed broadcasting code, the amendments were necessitated by a presidential directive in the wake of the 2019 general elections for an inquiry into the regulatory role of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) as well as the conduct of the various broadcast stations before, during and after elections. Mr Mohammed noted that the recommendations were approved by President Buhari, to reposition the NBC to better perform its regulatory role in the areas of political broadcasting, local content, coverage of emergencies, advertising, and anti-competitive behaviour. Mohammed, who explained that section 2h of the NBC Act empowers the commission to establish and disseminate a National Broadcasting Code, said, “There are many desirable provisions in the new broadcasting code including the provisions on exclusivity and monopoly to boost local content and local industry due to laws prohibiting exclusive use of rights by broadcasters who intend to create monopolies and hold the entire market to themselves.

Africa’s biggest grocery retailer, Shoprite Holdings, has announced plans to exit Nigeria, one of its major markets. Making the decision 15 years after its operations started in the continent’s biggest economy, Shoprite said its financial results for the year 2020 do not reflect any of their operations in Nigeria. Hence, it will be classified as a discontinued operation. The South Africa-based retailer has started a formal process to consider the potential sale of all or a majority stake in its supermarkets in the country, adding to the growing list of South African retailers who have struggled to survive in the Nigerian market. According to a report from the company, its international supermarkets, excluding Nigeria, contributed 11.6% to group sales and reported a 1.4% decline in sales from 2018. This news came as data from the CBN has shown that 21 states in the country attracted zero investments in the last four months. The report which detailed the total amount of fresh investments attracted to the Nigerian economy during the period said Abia, Adamawa, Anambra, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu, Imo, Katsina, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Rivers and Yobe recorded zero capital importation in the last four months. The CBN said most of the states that failed to attract investments during the period under review also failed to attract any investments in 2019. The development indicates that either the necessary steps were not taken by the governments, or foreign investors could not find attraction in the states as the environments may not be conducive for investment. The report showed that Lagos, as expected, topped the list of states that attracted investments in the period as the state attracted the highest amount of $5.39 billion.

Ahmed Zakari, a special adviser to President Buhari on infrastructure, has said that Nigeria is not liable to pay $1.2 billion according to the agreements signed before the takeoff of the 461 megawatts Azura power plant in Edo. Zakari, who works in the office of the Vice President, said last Thursday, that an international legal tussle similar to the P&ID case would have ensued if the Buhari administration had cancelled the contract when it came into power. Nigeria is obligated to pay Azura $30 million monthly with or without power being taken from the generation company. To exit from the contract, Nigeria will have to pay Azura an estimated $1.2 billion and take over the plant. The Senate has called for the cancellation of the contract.

The Islamic State and Al-Qaeda terrorist groups are gradually taking over the West African region after being displaced in Syria and Iraq, The United States Africa Command has said. According to the Commander of the US Special Operations Command, Africa, Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, the extremist groups have begun deploying strategies to re-establish themselves in the region and expand further in the continent without drawing attention. He said, while speaking during a virtual media briefing, that Al-Qaeda has expanded in Mali, and had moved into northern Burkina Faso, where they attacked infrastructure, took out local governance and security forces, and are now controlling the local economy and exerting control over the population. Mr Anderson observed that some aggrieved local terrorist groups were being galvanised into a larger ideology and movement, stressing that al-Shabaab, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, was already instigating instability in Somalia in order to destabilise the horn of Africa. The extremist group is exploiting the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel to gain deeper roots in the region and in West Africa with Islamic State, West Africa, and Grand Sahara as they have established affiliates or leverage local grievances and consolidate this into a larger movement in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, Mozambique, as well as in Somalia, Anderson said. Gen. Anderson said Africa needs to be conscious of their plot and understand how to counter it.

Commentary

  • The new broadcasting code has been a source of concern to the content development industry with respect to both its local content and hate speech provisions. This new policy move is yet another illustration of the haphazard policy-making approach of Nigeria’s government without consultation with industry stakeholders. As such, these policies are often met with stiff opposition from the very sectors they are designed to operate in. Regarding the hate speech fine, while it is clearly defined at ₦5 million ($12,940), what constitutes said hate speech is vague and open to the whims of a regulator that has a well documented history of arbitrariness and a draconian past. Regarding the other provisions of the code, in spite of the unequivocal condemnation by industry stakeholders, the Lai Mohammed-led ministry has gone ahead to force it through. In what is tantamount to a government attempt to expropriate property, intellectual property legally created and acquired will be forcibly distributed by government fiat via the instrumentality of this code. The government simply fears what it cannot fully control and in an attempt to assert control, it will destroy value in one of the few areas of the economy that continues to thrive. This government, contrary to any posturing, does not love enterprise – its actions clearly show that it seeks to curtail and throttle any enterprise that appears to thrive. It has taken decades for the country’s creative industries to build it up to this point, yet on this whim, the government will destroy all this progress. It is another feather in the cap of perhaps the most anti-business government in Nigeria’s history that continues to demonstrate a visceral fear of the very freedom of speech that propelled it to power.
  • There are two sides to every coin. Not only are fresh investments in Nigeria slow and skewed, but existing investors are also leaving, and mainly due to macroeconomic issues exacerbated by policy choices that impact the exchange rate, port efficiency, repatriation of proceeds and ease of doing business. Shoprite, as can be expected, suffered declining customer visits and revenues due to the government imposed lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. However, more fundamental is the fact that foreign retailers appear to have misjudged the Nigerian consumer industry – perhaps more rigorous market intelligence should have been acquired. Nigerians still predominantly purchase their groceries from traditional channels and are yet to fully embrace the supermarket/mall model, unlike the South African consumer. The exit of international operators in this form is not an unprecedented event in the history of Nigeria. There was a mass exodus during the ‘indigenisation’ era of the 70s when they were forced to sell, and another, more relevant one, that was due to a similar mix of macroeconomic factors in the early to mid-1980s. The trajectory it took at the time is clear – while some foreign brands retained a presence, it was merely in name. Ultimately, even that skeletal presence left, and the domestic beneficiaries simply did not have the wherewithal to sustain that level of commerce and grow like the international brands they took over from. It remains to be seen how this current iteration plays out. When we put this beside the inability of most states to attract fresh new investment, the ultimate question becomes, what will drive economic growth in a Nigeria that is already battered by low oil prices and the COVID-induced economic slump?
  • Nigeria has a long history of executing contracts filled with minefields only to turn around after a few years and seek to renege on these contracts. Understanding this, international investors now strive to secure their interests by demanding sovereign guarantees when entering into such agreements with the Nigerian government. The drama surrounding suggested loans from China between the transportation minister and the National Assembly is a useful window into the future of Nigerian contract procurement. With regards to the Azura transaction, both Premium Times and the Cable have published fact-checkers that show that it was President Buhari and not President Jonathan that signed the agreement to guarantee Azura’s investments, despite an aggressive disinformation drive by the current government. The major issue here is that the plant appears to have reached key power generation milestones but the transmission infrastructure is lacking to evacuate power from the plant to the distribution companies, hence power cannot be monetised. Now in classic Nigerian style, the politicians are seeking the less tasking way out – abandon the project and cancel the transaction. Shame!
  • Nigeria’s defence establishment took 24 hours to respond, and eventually, Maj. Gen. John Enenche, the military’s spokesman said, “There is nothing new about ISIS, Al-Qaeda infiltration.” In a curious way he is correct. The spread of ISIS and Al-Qaeda across Africa does not come as a surprise. While these two groups held the fort in the Gulf, they had set up affiliate groups or had existing groups become their affiliates across the continent and even other parts of the world such as South East Asia. What is being witnessed here are these disparate groups being pulled closer into the orbits of ISIS and AQ, while benefiting from their experience and networks. They also take advantage of local grievances and parts of countries where the central governments have little control over in order to establish their presence. What this means is that there is a need for greater regional collaboration in fighting terrorist groups, including those that seem to be active only within a country, as it’s only a matter of time before they spill over into neighbouring countries. Also, it is important for countries to focus on the conditions that allow for local terrorist groups to thrive and deprive them of those conditions. Taking advantage of the instability in the Sahel, terror groups have gained grounds in much of Nigeria’s near abroad. Nigeria, itself, is currently besieged by an increase in terror-related activities in the North East, which has gained inroads into its North West. The government has to be deliberate about ensuring that Nigeria’s porous borders do not become conduits for the inflow and proliferation of arms, which according to our research, are becoming more sophisticated.