President Muhammadu Buhari finally addressed Nigerians last night after up to 41 protesters were killed by state-backed actors on Tuesday according to a tally by Nigeria’s Daily Independent newspaper. In Lagos, the country’s commercial capital, soldiers opened fire on Nigerian protesters in the Lekki district, witnesses said. Protesters have staged demonstrations here over allegations of police brutality for more than a week. “They started firing ammunition toward the crowd. They were firing into the crowd,” said Alfred Ononugbo, 55, a security officer. “I saw the bullet hit one or two persons,” he said. A Lagos state spokesman told Reuters that he saw reports of a shooting on social media. Eyewitnesses said that one person was killed and several others injured. According to him, they were all sitting on the floor when soldiers began to shoot. Also, videos of continuous gunshots went viral on social media. A popular female disc jockey, DJ Switch, took to her Instagram Live to show the aftermath of the shooting Authorities on Tuesday imposed a round-the-clock curfew on Lagos, which contains Africa’s biggest city, in response to the protests, which the state governor said had turned violent. The United States has shut down its consulate in Lagos for two days over the protests. Ekiti and Plateau also announced similar measures and along with Edo, brings to four the number of Nigerian states with active curfews. In Plateau, protests were banned in Jos North and Jos South Local Government Areas after violence left at least three people dead. The Inspector-General of Police also ordered the immediate deployment of anti-riot forces nationwide following increased attacks on police facilities, a police spokesman said.

The Nigerian Army says its upcoming Operation Crocodile Smile will tackle cyber warfare and insurgency in the country, particularly in the North-East, where Boko Haram insurgents continue to maintain a significant operational presence. In a statement, the Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Col Sagir Musa, said this year’s Operation Crocodile Smile would hold between 20 October and 31 December. The statement read, “The exercise is deliberately intended to be all-encompassing and will include cyber warfare exercises designed to identify, track and counter negative propaganda on social media and across cyberspace. This is the first-ever cyber warfare exercise to be conducted in the history of the armed forces. Musa said the army was committed to the sustenance of peace and security in the country and asked members of the public for support throughout the period of the exercise. This comes as the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu said the training of officers of the new Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team commenced on Monday. Adamu listed the requirements for joining the new unit, adding that no ex-SARS operatives were shortlisted in the SWAT team. “The officers selected for the training are young, smart and energetic officers who have acquired not less than seven (7) years working experience with clean service records – no pending disciplinary matters, no record of violation of rights of citizens or misuse of firearms – and are physically fit to withstand the rigour of SWAT Training and Operations,” he added.

The Federal Government may lose some of its powers to states of the federation, including its exclusive control of the power sector, railway, among others, with the ongoing review of the Constitution by the National Assembly. The House of Representatives is considering devolution of power from the central government to the states through some bills seeking to move items from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List. Three bills sponsored by Mr Babajimi Benson at the House passed the first reading. The first bill particularly seeks to amend Second Schedule in Part 11 of the Constitution especially Items 13 and 14 to allow public and private entities to be involved in “generation, transmission and distribution of electricity within the state or from the state to any other state with the consent of the state governments concerned.” Another bill also seeks to alter the Second Schedule of the Constitution “to provide that the Federal Government and the state governments shall have Concurrent Legislative Authority with respect to railway and matters related thereto.” The third bill seeks to alter section 315(5)(d) of the Constitution “to remove the Land Use Act from the Acts listed in the section in order to make the amendment of the Act flexible and similar to other Acts of the National Assembly.” Benson, who is Chairman of the House Committee on Defence, linked the ongoing nationwide protests against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force to the fault in the governance structure of the country. The House had on Thursday inaugurated its Special Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution. The Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the House Committee on Constitution Review, Ahmed Wase, who disclosed that the panel had received over 15 bills, said they border on the restructuring of governance structure, decentralisation of the current policing system, autonomy for local governments and the judiciary, among others.

Rwanda and Burundi have agreed to start talks to end tensions between the neighbours. Rwanda’s top diplomat Vincent Biruta met his Burundian counterpart Albert Shingiro at the Nemba-Gasenyi border point as part of efforts to kickstart talks to resolve outstanding bilateral issues. Relations between the two countries have soured since 2015 when conflict broke out in Burundi and the late Pierre Nkurunziza accused Rwanda of backing the dissidents, a claim denied by Kigali. The foreign ministers stressed the need to revitalize the historical relations between the two countries. “This meeting is part of a shared desire to assess the state of bilateral relations between the two neighbouring countries and to agree on the modalities of their normalization,” the diplomats said in a joint statement. They said that their respective governments agreed on the need to continue the dialogue and normalise relations. The meeting came nearly two months after the military intelligence chiefs of Rwanda and Burundi met at the same location to discuss security issues and cooperation.

Commentary

  • The use of military force against unarmed protesters is reminiscent of the darkest days of military dictatorship in Nigeria, and a reminder that even after 21 years of elective democracy, the Nigerian state is yet to shed its terrible habit of using deadly force against its citizens. The President’s speech was essentially a middle finger to Nigerians. In saying nothing of note, and refusing to show any empathy for the plight of the people he purports to govern, he has alienated a new generation. Despite past examples of how the use of force against citizens seeking to enforce their rights only serves to further militarise the situation – the Niger Delta comes to mind – the Nigerian state continues to employ this approach: first repeatedly against its minority Shia Muslim population and now against young people frustrated by gross human rights abuses by the police and calling for reform. Throw in the state of the country with a high youth unemployment rate, pervasive corruption, ridiculously high food inflation, and widening inequality, and we have a toxic mix. Almost predictably, the killings have failed to end the protests and only serve to fuel a growing backlash, on the ground and online, causing the country significant international embarrassment. Although the government claims to have accepted the five demands of the protesters and started working to meet them, there is little confirmatory evidence, and multiple reports of ostensibly disbanded SARS operatives harassing members of the public abound. This speaks to trust, or the lack thereof by the protesters, of government’s intentions, and also speaks to the likelihood that the authorities have lost control of the unit. The government needs to achieve quick wins in order to rebuild trust with the protesters and potentially end the protests. One such win is to fire the Inspector General of Police. But following the President’s speech last night, that will not happen. We suspect that the protests will continue in another form when the curfews are lifted.
  • Although the Nigerian Army has held this operation on an annual basis, the timing of this year’s with the current #EndSARS protests have led to insinuations that it is a cover for clamping down on protesters using military force. Additionally, it is rather curious that the operation will be focused on ‘identifying, tracking and countering negative propaganda in cyberspace and on social media’ without defining exactly what constitutes negative propaganda. We fear that this will be used to restrict freedom of expression, especially online, and have the effect of shrinking one of the most vibrant spaces for Nigerians to express themselves by targeting government critics and activists. The army would have been better served by suspending the operation until the end of the current wave of protests. On the matter of the SWAT training, we are curious to know if the police have a proper and comprehensive database of all its police officers, their disciplinary records and their current postings. In the absence of this, there is a strong likelihood that former SARS officers will find their way into the new SWAT unit. However well-intentioned these moves might be, they still do not go far enough to reform what is reputed to be one of the worst police forces in the world: in terms of recruitment, training, conditions of service, accountability and oversight.
  • Mr Benson’s bills have the potential to radically alter Nigeria’s politics and economy, especially with regards to unlocking latent capital in land by decoupling the Land Use Act from the Constitution and potentially amending it to allow for private ownership of land other than communal land. This is in contrast to the current practice where those lands are in the hands of state governors, disincentivising private sector investment in such things as rail transport. Curiously enough, the Second Schedule of the Constitution does not prevent state governments from investing in power as is popularly thought as the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity are on the concurrent list of the Constitution. Nonetheless, a more clearly defined elucidation of this in the Constitution could provide confidence to willing state governments to invest in power generation. Whether the amendment proposals will scale remains to be seen, as the northern political bloc has been lukewarm at best to such proposals, particularly the Land Use Act which is seen as a prelude to removing the Federal Government’s exclusive control of mineral resources on private land. This will depend a lot on how those who support restructuring are able to rally behind the bills and campaign for it not just within the National Assembly but at the state assemblies. Overall, the restructuring of the Nigerian state has begun despite the desires of the current administration and powers at the centre. One major factor driving this is that the status quo is increasingly unsustainable and is accelerating the country’s descent into anarchy and bankruptcy. The Nigerian state is pushing against the tide of devolution and restructuring despite the fact that it is straining at the seams. As we have always maintained at SBM, it is inevitable that restructuring will happen. The choice of the leadership is whether it will be a managed process or if it will allow the state to burst at the seams and achieve it in an uncontrolled manner. The outcome of the later scenario is better imagined than experienced.
  • In one of our previous reports on Burundi’s new president, Évariste Ndayishimiye, we noted that his emergence, being the first peaceful transition of power in Burundi, offered the country the opportunity of a fresh start. We also projected that Mr Ndayishimiye would walk the path of peace, attempting to reconcile warring ethnic groups and mending fences with the country’s neighbours. In the recent past, armed groups from Burundi have been accused of being active participants in violence in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and attacking Rwandan troops. Rwanda had accused Burundi of being a “sanctuary” for armed militias, which disturbed the peace of countries in the region. The recent peace talks between the two East African countries signals a departure from the rhetoric of former Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza, who led the country to a gradual isolation from her neighbours and the international community. By waving the white flag and establishing security collaboration with Rwanda, the region is set to have a more stable economic and security outlook. It is also indicative that Mr Ndayishimiye wants to get back in the good books of the international community and revive a struggling economy with an estimated GDP of a little above $3 billion. According to the UN, harsh economic conditions, as well as political instability, has compelled more than 330,000 Burundians flee the country to neighbouring Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and the DRC. Towing the path of peace is likely to encourage Burundians abroad and in neighbouring countries to return home and contribute to the country’s growth under its new leadership.