Villagers in Borno on Sunday buried 43 farmers killed in an attack by suspected Islamist militants while security forces searched for dozens of people who are still missing. Roughly 30 of the men killed were also beheaded in the attack, which began on Saturday morning in Zabarmari village. Residents said a total of 70 people are feared dead. President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the killings and said: “the entire country is hurt.” In Zabarmari, dozens of mourners surrounded the bodies, which were wrapped in white burial shrouds and placed on wooden pallets, as clerics led prayers for the deceased. One resident and Amnesty International said 10 women were among those missing. Borno Governor Babagana Zulum, speaking at the burials, called on the federal government to recruit more soldiers, Civilian Joint Task Force members and civil defence fighters to protect farmers in the region. He described desperate choices facing people. “In one side, they stay at home they may be killed by hunger and starvation, on the other, they go out to their farmlands and risk getting killed by the insurgents,” he said. While no group claimed responsibility, such massacres have been carried out in the past by Boko Haram or the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). They are both active in the region, where Islamic militants have killed at least 30,000 people in the past decade.

The Minister of Agriculture, Mohammed Sabo Nanono, has said Nigeria’s borders will remain locked and “the key is thrown into the lagoon.” He stated this on 28 November at the flag-off ceremony of the distribution of agricultural inputs to farmers affected by the recent flood in Kebbi State. He stated this, yesterday, at the flag-off ceremony of the distribution of agricultural inputs to farmers affected by the recent flood in Kebbi State. He explained that the Federal Government was not ready to reopen the borders, so as to boost the country’s agricultural sector. He said: “Nigerian farmers have been performing well by producing such food items as rice, millet, guinea corn, and shea butter, among others. We are not ready to reopen the borders, which is why the Federal Government is ready to support the dry season farming to regain what farmers lost to the flood disaster.” The Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Adamu Aliero, supported the continued closure of borders, to encourage the growth of local rice farming. He commended federal and state governments for supporting flood victims in the state.

The Independent People of Biafra has said it sent a memorandum to the National Assembly, requesting for devolution of powers and the restructuring of Nigeria into six autonomous regions. The original founder of IPOB, Emeka Emekesiri, said the decision was taken after the IPOB team made several delegations to the British government asking for assistance in the restoration of an independent state of Biafra but was turned down. According to Emekesiri: “In 2018 we opened up the discussion with the British government, we met them three times and the last time, they told us clearly that they want Nigeria to be one, they don’t want Nigeria to break up. Britain has maintained its stand, it said it wants Nigeria to remain as one country. We went to the British archives and got the British government policy of 1969 and used it to draft a memorandum which we presented to Britain. In the memorandum, we accepted that Nigeria should remain one, but that the model as it is in Britain, let be also in Nigeria,” the IPOB leader said. “Britain is four nations in one, in Nigeria we want six in one and that is the South East, the South-South, the South West, the North Central, the North West and the North East, that the six geopolitical regions shall now become six nations in one Nigeria and every nation will govern itself in one Nigeria; control your resources, develop at your own pace and we pay an agreed percentage of tax to the centre. That is the issue of devolution of power or regional government or restructuring that we are talking about now. The politicians call it restructuring but we Biafra activists are calling it devolution of power to the regions. “So the Biafra memorandum for devolution of power to regions is currently with the senate. That is where we are now and we are waiting,” he added.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has announced that beneficiaries of diaspora remittances through the International Money Transfer Operators (IMTO) shall now have such inflows in foreign currency (US Dollar) through the designated bank of their choice. The apex bank in a statement signed by O.S. Nnaji, Director of Trade & Exchange of CBN, said recipients of such remittances may have the option of receiving these funds in foreign currency cash or into their domiciliary account. “These changes are necessary to deepen the foreign exchange market, provide more liquidity and create more transparency in the administration of Diaspora remittances into Nigeria,” the statement read. “In addition, these changes would help finance a future stream of investment opportunities for Nigerians in the Diaspora, while also guaranteeing that recipients would receive a market reflective exchange rate for the market.” The apex bank also noted that beneficiaries shall have unfettered access and utilisation to such foreign currency proceeds, either in cash and or in their domiciliary accounts.

Commentary

  • The killings in Zabarmari bear the marks of an attack by the JAS faction of Boko Haram which is led by Abubakar Shekau, and is known for its indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Almost a decade into the country’s longest armed conflict, these various factions had deployed adaptive measures, engaging in considerable interaction with many rural communities, often by extorting payments from farmers and fishermen in their operational areas in exchange for security and buying community noncooperation with the security authorities. While the dust is still settling on this particular incident and more will be known in the weeks and months ahead, a reasonable way of looking at this attack is to see it as retribution for perceived or actual cooperation between some of these communities and the security authorities. All said this incident represents yet another failure of the military’s super camps strategy which has fortified the bases of the military from attacks but has left vast swathes of mostly unpoliced and ungoverned spaces for the insurgents to roam freely, attack villagers and ambush the military itself while on patrol. This particular attack also has huge implications for food security in the region as farmers will be discouraged from returning to their fields for fear of repeat and copycat attacks. This is the sort of incident which should have repercussions for anyone who is managing the country’s military effort but it is unlikely that this will cause any changes in the command structure as President Buhari has refused to appoint new service chiefs despite the inability of the current ones to restore security to the region. For the many grieving and terrified families in the North East, it will, unfortunately, be just another dark day.
  • Mr Nanono has been consistent in supporting the border closure and continues to express statist and autarchic views with regards to food production in Nigeria. However, his opinion, which shows his complete disregard of data and facts on the ground that don’t reflect any real increase in food production, remains one with significant backing in government circles. In between the use of archaic farming methods, lack of access to sufficient and timely inputs, flooding, COVID-19 lockdowns and insecurity, Nigerian food production is actually more likely to go down than go up. The continued use of the argument – that the cost of locally produced food puts more money in the pockets of farmers to justify the border closure – ignores the fact that it is actually a reflection of demand far outstripping supply and has direct implications for food security and by extension, inflation. Unfortunately, we think that opinions such as Mr Nanono’s will carry more weight on the President’s decision on whether to lift the border closure or to maintain it. For the time being, the border locks are not going anywhere.
  • The approach by Mr Emekesiri’s IPOB (not to be confused with the more militant Indigenous Peoples of Biafra led by Nnamdi Kanu) differs vastly from those of other pro-Biafra groups, including the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), in that it has adopted a more pacifist stance, employing engagement and political lobbying to achieve its aims. The approach of other pro-Biafra groups has made them the object of vociferous attacks by the Nigerian security establishment which clamps down heavily on any talk of secession from the old Eastern region as it is reminiscent of the Nigerian Civil War from 67-70. This strategy will further raise the ante on the conversation around restructuring at a time where there are louder voices on it, especially from other parts of the South. In the end, we do not think that the current demands for restructuring will go very far in the current constitutional amendment exercise despite the plethora of memoranda which has flooded the various National Assembly committees. It, however, remains important to keep an eye on what each group is demanding as the restructuring conversation will happen someday.
  • In an abrupt policy reversal, the CBN is allowing beneficiaries of foreign money transfer to have access to foreign currency, with the hope that this will support liquidity in the parallel market. Only last week, CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele, declared that the parallel market is an illegal market, accounting for only 5% of FX market share. However, the CBN has struggled to fund a growing demand backlog by manufacturers and foreign investors at the official market, inevitably fuelling demand at the parallel market. The result has been a widening gap in rates between the two markets. This week, the exchange rate at the NAFEX window has averaged ₦390/$1 whereas the rate at the parallel market has averaged ₦485/$1, a 25% difference. We believe that the stage has been set for a quiet devaluation at the official window, but it will not be enough. More needs to be done to reduce Nigeria’s chronic exchange rate disparity; eventually the CBN will be forced to do the sensible thing, float the Naira.