Burkina Faso, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen are expected to “soon slip into famine” if conditions there undergo any more deterioration in coming months, the World Food Programme (WFP) has said. In a report released by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the WFP, the latter warned the four countries face acute food insecurity. “Parts of the population in the four hotspots of highest concern are already experiencing a critical hunger situation, with the report warning that escalations in conflict, as well as a further reduction in humanitarian access, could lead to a risk of famine,” the WFP said. The UN agency said the four countries are not the only ones, as “another 16 countries are at high risk of rising levels of acute hunger.” “Acute food insecurity levels are reaching new highs globally, driven by a combination of factors, “ the WFP said, adding that “a toxic combination of conflict, economic decline, climate extremes and the COVID-19 pandemic” is driving people further into the emergency phase of food insecurity. This comes as the budget office says that the implementation of the new ₦30,000 minimum wage will be botched as 428 out of the over 700 federal government agencies will not be able to pay workers’ salaries by the end of November. The office’s Director-General, Mr Ben Akabueze told the Senate Committee on Public Accounts that since the new minimum wage’s introduction, most agencies had been struggling to pay their workforce, a stretch going back 10 months. Akabueze, however, did tell the committee that the government will dip its hand into the service-wide vote to cater for the shortfall in public sector salaries.

An Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal in the United Arab Emirates has convicted six Nigerians over aiding the funding of Boko Haram. The conviction was upheld by the appellate court after they lost at a lower court. Surajo Abubakar Muhammad and Saleh Yusuf Adamu received life sentences. The others, Ibrahim Ali Alhassan, AbdurRahman Ado Musa, Bashir Ali Yusuf and Muhammad Ibrahim Isa each got ten-year sentences. Court documents show that between 2015 and 2016, the convicts were involved in cash transfers totalling $782,000 to Boko Haram, an act contrary to the UAE’s Federal Anti-Terrorism Law of 2017. The country’s National Security Bureau said an investigation of the Nigerians “confirmed their involvement and membership of Boko Haram”. They were arrested between 16 and 17 April 2017. Most of the transactions were facilitated by two undercover Boko Haram agents based in Nigeria, one named “Alhaji Sa’idu” and the other, a certain “Alhaji Ashiru” was described as “a Nigerian government official”.

The Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation has said there is not sufficient evidence to prosecute 33 operatives of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad indicted in a report by a presidential investigative panel last year. The AGF’s office said it has asked the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to set up “a special investigation team” to conduct a “thorough investigation” into the cases. In a report issued by a committee set up by Abubakar Malami, to review the individual cases recommended for prosecution by the special presidential panel. The Presidential Panel led by the Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission, Tony Ojukwu had between 2018 and 2019 probed complaints of brutal activities of SARS and submitted a report to President Buhari in June 2019. The report indicted 35 police operatives in 12 states and the Federal Capital Territory for various rights violations including, extrajudicial killings, deaths in police custody, unlawful arrest, biased investigation, unlawful intimidation, harassment, criminal assault, torture, cruelty, inhuman and degrading treatment, threats to life, extortion and confiscation of property, among others. But after reviewing the panel’s report, the committee set up by the AGF said the report “does not meet prosecutorial needs” as it was lacking in vital exhibits, such as “medical evidence and statements of the suspects”. In a related development, the Federal High Court in Abuja granted a request by the Central Bank of Nigeria to freeze the accounts of 19 individuals and a public affairs company linked to the #EndSARS protests. The CBN filed the request before presiding judge, A.R. Mohammed on 20 October 2020, and the court granted the request on 4 November. Some of the affected individuals and businesses include Bolatito Racheal Oduala, Chima David Ibebunjoh, Mary Doose Kpengwa, Gatefield Nigeria Limited, Saadat Temitope Bibi, Bassey Victor Israel, Wisdom Busaosowo Obi, Nicholas Ikhalea Osazele, Ebere Idibie, Akintomide Lanre Yusuf, Uhuo Ezenwanyi Promise, Mosopefoluwa Odeseye and Adegoke Pamilerin Emmanuel. The court order was addressed to the head offices of Access Bank, Fidelity Bank, First Bank Nigeria, Guaranty Trust Bank, United Bank of Africa and Zenith Bank and will last for 90 days “pending the outcome of investigation and inquiry currently being conducted by the Central Bank of Nigeria”.

The Nigerian government has allowed Dangote Cement to resume exports across its land borders, raising hopes that Africa’s largest economy may be opening up trade with neighbours after a year-long blockade. President Muhammadu Buhari‘s administration gave its authorization for Africa’s biggest producer to export cement to Niger and Togo in the third quarter for the first time in ten months, CEO Michel Puchercos said on an investor call in Lagos. The government also granted its competitor, BUA Cement a limited approval to export some cement from its Sokoto plant to the neighbouring Niger Republic, the company said on an investors call in June. The exemption to Dangote and BUA is seen as a softening of the government’s position on a border closure that started in August last year and could open the way for other businesses to fully resume exports across the country’s land barriers. Nigerian authorities closed borders with neighbouring countries including Benin and Niger to curb smuggling and boost local production. Although the blockade encouraged the consumption of locally grown produce such as rice, it hurt factories across West Africa, which rely on Nigeria’s market of 200 million people and led to a surge in domestic food prices.

Commentary

  • The WFP’s statement hardly comes as a surprise as the countries mentioned have been plagued by a combination of conflict, the pandemic, climate change and economic decline in varying degrees. Of great concern to us, North-East Nigeria is still an active conflict zone with the Boko Haram insurgency tieing up large tracts of Borno and Yobe states, preventing farmers from being economically productive. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected farmers even in parts of the region that have been free from the fighting. When rising insecurity in other parts of the country is factored in (such as banditry in the North West) with the effects of the pandemic and the year-long land border closure, we can easily see how large parts of Nigeria sit on the precipice of a major food shortage. The announcement by the FG that it will have trouble meeting the salaries of civil servants is likely to compound the food insecurity picture largely because rising food inflation is erasing the ability of many public sector employees to feed their families. Significant policy change is required in the short-term (such as reopening borders to jump-start the economy) and intensified efforts to end national insecurity as well as pruning the size of government in the medium to long-term.
  • The Abu Dhabi convictions, though not in Nigeria, are the biggest yet, and about the only ones so far, in which individuals and organisations responsible for the funding of Boko Haram were apprehended and tried successfully. However, we are compelled to point out that the bulk of funding for the group is local, indicating that Nigeria’s government needs to intensify tracing financial flows to the group. A good place to start will be to pick up from where the Emirati case stopped; that is, identifying Alhajis Ashiru and Sa’idu mentioned in the case, investigating the allegations against them, and prosecuting them if enough evidence is gathered. Until now, the Nigerian government has not shown any concrete political will to track the funding of the terrorist group despite possessing the technological capabilities to do so. More importantly, increased intelligence-gathering is required to apprehend funders. Without such, the insurgency – now in its second decade – will go on for much longer.
  • There is a reason why many Nigerians do not trust the inquiry panel processes instituted following the #EndSARS protests. As the AGF’s action shows, panels have been used in the past to delay and ultimately deny justice. From the running evidence, not much has changed. The AGF recommending a new panel investigation after a presidential panel indicated officers is a clear indication of how sub-national-level panel indictments will be treated. The opinion of the AGF doesn’t bode well for public confidence regarding the call for justice for victims of police brutality and holding erring police officers accountable, especially as the presidential panel report isn’t publicly available to independently determine if the AGF is in the right. It is interesting to note that the AGF was silent on the recommendations of the panel report for compensation of victims; but it is safe to say that there will be no action on that considering the fact that the Nigerian Police Force has disregarded numerous court judgements awarding compensations to victims, and has neither bothered to appeal nor pay the awards. When juxtaposed with the actions of the CBN obtaining a court order to freeze the accounts of persons involved in the protests without a fair hearing and on the spurious allegation of the accounts being involved in funding terrorism, it shows that there is no political will by government to initiate reforms and hold the police accountable, but rather an obsession with muzzling voices that speak out against the police and government actions. This is likely to energise the protesters to continue to sustain the pressure in other ways, notably through the international media. The Nigerian government needs to realise that continually denying its people access to justice will ultimately lead to a demand for said justice by means that will be impossible to ignore. When the instruments of state are used to intimidate the peaceful expression of the rights to protests as well as the demands for the rights of the sanctity of life, it is disingenuous to ask that the same people trust other contraptions of state like the new inquiry panels. It’s basic political math.
  • The move to grant an exemption to some people by the FG has been criticised by many economists and analysts, as the border closure has had an adverse effect on the wider economy, particularly in increasing food inflation. Granting exemptions to Dangote and BUA is not only unfair but also ill-advised, as investors, especially small-cap ones who do enter the market as behemoths, will almost certainly judge such arbitrary policies unfriendly. Atedo Peterside, the founder of Stanbic IBTC, alluded to this crony-capitalism in a statement where he averred that “allowing legitimate exporters & importers to move their goods across the border should be a no-brainer.” The government’s decision, as Mr Peterside rightly points out, gives the impression that “the Nigerian economy is rigged in favour of a handful of well-connected persons”. The Nigerian government appears to have forgotten that its role in enterprise is to create a system of rules and a level playing field for all to create value – especially in an economy with tens of millions of small and medium scale businesses. When, as in this case, it makes ill-advised policies like closing the border, which drives prices through the roof, and then makes exceptions for specific businesses, it is creating a rigged playing field. This idea of creating bad policies, and then arbitrarily picking winners is an ill wind that blows the country no good.