The Kogi state government has contracted a consultant to collect a levy on every loaf of bread baked, with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry saying the levy is to improve the internally-generated revenue. However, the Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria in the state have spoken against the levy. A member of the association, Godfirst, said the association will meet with the consultant, noting that they received a memo from the ministry imposing a levy “on each loaf of bread” produced. This comes as inflation reached 14.23% in October 2020, according to figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Monday. Inflation rose by 0.52% compared to the preceding month, fuelled by a rise in food prices and consumption. On the consumption side, the Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), increased the ex-depot price of the product, to ₦155.17 per litre from ₦147.67 per litre. The FG said Monday that the increase in the retail price of petrol was informed by the announcement by American pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, of its recent breakthrough in the discovery of a COVID-19 vaccine. The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr Timipre Sylva, who gave this explanation, spoke on a day the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, warned the government that there was a limit to what the citizens could tolerate if the abysmal increases in the price of refined petroleum products and other essential goods and services continued. The minister told State House correspondents after a routine visit to President Muhammadu Buhari at Aso Villa in Abuja that the announcement of a COVID-19 vaccine by Pfizer triggered a slight increase in the price of crude oil in the global market.

The FG on Thursday insisted that there were no mass killings at the Lekki toll gate in the wake of the #EndSARS protests contrary to the general belief. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said this at a press conference in Abuja. Mohammed said those who alleged massacre at the toll gate only succeeded in misleading the world. He said while the government awaits the outcome of the panel investigating the matter, “we can say that the world has just witnessed a massacre without bodies” in Lekki. He has also threatened to sanction CNN over its report on the shooting of #EndSARS protesters by soldiers at the Lekki Toll Plaza on 20 October 2020. The government described the report by the American news channel as “irresponsible journalism”. The minister alleged that CNN relied on social media video without verification to produce its report. “This should earn CNN a serious sanction for irresponsible reporting,” Mohammed said. The minister insisted that the military did not shoot at protesters at the toll gate. He added that the government has no plan to shut down the internet or social media and would only work with stakeholders to regulate social media.

Peter Eronmosele Adene, an #EndSARS protester, was released yesterday evening after a magistrate court in Yaba, Lagos granted him bail in the sum of ₦1 million. The court granted bail on Tuesday after it rejected a request by the police for an order to detain him for another month to enable them to conclude an investigation into the allegations against the defendant. Counsel for the defendant, Mr Adeshina Ogunlana argued that the facts were not weighty enough to support further remand of his client, who has been in police custody for about 12 days since his arrest. Security operatives had cordoned off the area, blocking the road leading to the court premises. Adene was arrested in Lagos on 7 November by the police on allegations of providing financial support to the movement. He was subsequently whisked to Abuja, quickly sparking a social media campaign for his release. In the north, despite the opposition against the disbandment of the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) by northern governors, some state panels have continued to receive petitions from individuals alleging police brutality. In the wake of more than two weeks of protests, the FG had directed all state governors to set up judicial panels of inquiry to investigate complaints on police brutality or related extrajudicial killings — with a six-month time frame. But 19 northern governors led by Plateau Governor and chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Simon Lalong, kicked against the disbandment of the police unit, saying it has been useful in the fight against insecurity in the region. However, over 120 petitions have been submitted to various panels set up in some of the northern states. In Katsina, Abbas Bawale, chairman of the judicial panel, told journalists on 15 November that 61 petitions have been received from various individuals ahead of the public hearing which would commence on 23 November. Mark Mallan, registrar of the Plateau panel, disclosed that as of 13 November, 30 petitions had been received by the panel. The Taraba state panel has received 11 petitions, 16 have been submitted in Nasarawa, while Kwara has 10.

Resignation letters from hundreds of officers in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests have allegedly been rejected by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu. The Guardian quotes unnamed senior officers as saying that hundreds of policemen were ready to leave after their humiliation and burning of stations. “There is no amount of talk that will assuage the anger of policemen. We are very angry. Many of my colleagues tendered their resignation, but they are not accepting it. The morale is terribly low. Our officers were dehumanised. Some were killed. Many of us don’t have offices anymore. Nigerians should ask us to go if they don’t need police anymore. Are we not also Nigerians? Why should we be treated like animals?” an unnamed official told the paper. IGP Adamu had vowed to arrest perpetrators in Lagos with a view to restoring the pride of the force. According to him, 1,590 suspects have been arrested nationwide for arson and looting. He spoke while addressing hundreds of personnel of Lagos State Police Command in GRA, Ikeja last week. He had urged them not to be deterred by the action of the hoodlums in the discharge of their duties and asked the cops to resume work with open minds. It was the IGP’s first visit after the nationwide demonstrations. Lagos was the epicentre of weeks of #EndSARS protests which were followed by the violence that claimed numerous private and public properties. Six officers were killed, 36 critically injured and 46 police stations burnt in the nation’s economic capital.

Commentary

  • The protests and outcry that followed the announcement by the Kogi state government have forced the governor to distance himself from the new levy, conveniently blaming it on a rogue senior civil servant and promising disciplinary action. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Nigeria’s federal and sub-national governments are desperately in need of revenue, so all sorts of levies will be mooted, Unfortunately, Kogi’s idea of a new levy is one of the many ideas that will be tried, which will push many bakeries (and other SMEs) in the state out of business and increase the cost of bread for those who survive as they pass the costs onto consumers, at a time when food inflation in Nigeria is, as the NBS showed this week, has touched highs last seen in late 2017. The levy also shows how the prevalent thinking among policymakers is to increase levies and taxes on businesses that are already over-taxed, rather than expand the tax net and bring in more businesses from the informal economy into the formal. We expect things to get tighter for the Nigerian as inflation will keep rising in the short term, driven by food and record petrol prices. Yet, a government attempts to do what is essentially a cash grab by introducing a levy on one of the most staple foods. It is all well that they have backtracked. However, it leaves us wondering, what will the next attempt be? And which will push the people to the wall? A quick way for the government, and indeed the country, to stave off disaster, will be the reopening of land borders that have been closed since August last year. In the light of current recessionary trends, it will indicate a government that understands its work.
  • We are not surprised about the outrage expressed by the Federal Government following CNN’s report, we had expected it, especially because the report has caused Nigeria’s government considerable international embarrassment. The denials will become more stringent as other international news agencies also report more on the events of 20 October. Lai Mohammed’s reaction also toes the line of the government’s online supporters as they have embarked on what is an obvious disinformation campaign targeted at refuting the shootings and killings by the army. However, in aligning itself with the army’s position that it used only blanks, the government has also tied itself to the deficit of credibility that the army is currently suffering as a result of the incident where it has walked back several claims or has been contradicted by the Lagos State Government, which is also involved in the incident. There is clear evidence that people were shot by the army and some died, even if the exact numbers are still not known. For how long the army and the FG will sustain their current position before they walk back and admit that live bullets were used and caused injuries and fatalities on that fateful day, remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen how the social media regulations constantly being mooted by the FG will look like, as there are yet to be any specifics in that regard. It is unlikely that the FG can impose any sanctions on CNN. What we are more likely to see going forward is that foreign reporters could be targeted by state and state-allied actors, including using online bullying and harassment, a losing battle for a government that desperately craves international acceptance, and desperately needs international funding.
  • The arrest and illegal detention of Mr Adene before arraigning him before a court on charges that lack merit constitutes one among many actions taken by agencies of the government against innocent protesters (another was the seizure of the international passport of Modupe Odele, a lawyer who was involved in securing the release of protesters, for five days before it was released without explanation). Such actions rob the government of any confidence that people may have in its sincerity and willingness to address popular demands to end police brutality. They are also a clear example of the terrible and rudimentary state of policing in Nigeria. In this case, a man was arrested and detained before any investigation into the allegations he was accused of, and rather than gathering all evidence prior to arrest and arraignment, the police flew him to Abuja, detained him for over a week, then brought him back to Lagos and created a charge. Mr Adene’s case illustrates the vivid disconnect between the authorities and reality; a point also illustrated by the curious situation where the dubious claim by northern governors of SARS’ stellar record in the region is contradicted by the hundreds of petitions received in many northern states alleging human rights abuses by the unit. This disconnect raises an important question about the willingness of state Attorneys-General to bring charges against accused police officers before the courts based on the testimonies offered at these panels. Furthermore, the panels, while a great idea, will have their recommendations made subject to the authority of political appointees who could very easily ignore them. Victims of police brutality seeking justice would be better served if independent special prosecutors are appointed in each state who will determine the probative legal merit of each claim against police officers on a case-by-case basis. As a whole, the system needs a serious rejig.
  • While it is true that the morale of the police force sunk during the protests, it is not entirely due to the violence meted against them. This development speaks more to the outpouring of popular anger and the low public trust in the police as an institution. This, however, should provide the police high command with an opportunity to begin long overdue reforms with a view to repositioning the force as an effective crime-fighting and prevention organisation. So far, there has been no such indication as the police continue to arrest and illegally detain persons who were actively involved in the protests on spurious charges. This does not bode well for the future of the force and it further damages its legitimacy in the eyes of the people it is meant to protect and serve. What will be even more damaging will be a crime wave over the December holidays while the police sit idly complaining about its wounded pride. Its legitimacy will not recover if the public bands together to protect itself. Until these reforms are carried out and the police start acting like an honest partner, it is unlikely that the perception of the police will change in communities they work in.