The Federal Ministry of Health has yet to submit a budget proposal to the National Assembly for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines — over one month after the legislative arm of government asked the ministry to do so. This has, however, begun to spark fears that the delay may affect the procurement of the much-awaited vaccines. The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, had on 22 December 2020 told the Senate that the FG would need about ₦400 billion to vaccinate 70% of Nigeria’s population. The Senate leadership subsequently asked Dr Ehanire to draft a budget while they promised to give it quick consideration. Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora said the calculations were still being done, hence the delay in the submission of the budget. This comes as the FG announced that seven cases of the UK variant of COVID-19 have been identified in Nigeria. The Africa Centre for Excellence in Genomics in Ede identified five cases in Osun, one in Kwara, and one in Abuja. The FG, therefore, urged health workers to increase their index of suspicion for COVID-19 as the new variant has been identified with increased transmission. The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Chikwe Ihekweazu, who confirmed the cases of the new variant, noted that some health workers, particularly doctors and nurses were found not to be wearing their face mask within the hospital premises. He urged them to be an example to Nigerians by complying with the protocols. “In the last week, we had 75 healthcare workers infected in Nigeria. So we are very worried about this. We can reduce this risk by maintaining a high level of suspicion for COVID-19 all the time,” he said.

A Dutch court on Friday ordered Shell to compensate Nigerian farmers for oil spills that polluted swathes of their land in the Niger Delta. After 13 years of legal battles, an appeals court in The Hague ruled that Shell’s Nigerian branch must pay out for leaks on land in two villages. It also held the Anglo-Dutch parent company, Royal Dutch Shell, liable for installing new pipeline equipment to prevent further devastating spills. “The court ruled that Shell Nigeria is liable for the damage caused by the spills. Shell Nigeria is sentenced to compensate farmers for damages,” Judge Sierd Schaafsma said. The court ordered Shell to compensate three out of four farmers who first lodged the case in 2008, saying damages would be determined later. The case involving the fourth farmer will also be resolved at another time. The case has dragged on so long that two of the Nigerian farmers have died since it was first filed. The Dutch arm of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, which backed the case, said there were “tears of joy” and that “after 13 years, we’ve won”. Shell Nigeria said it was “disappointed” by the verdict. The farmers sued Shell over pollution in their villages Goi, Oruma and Ikot Ada Udo, in southeastern Nigeria. A lower court in the Netherlands found in 2013 that Shell should pay compensation for one leak but that Shell’s parent company could not be held liable in a Dutch court for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary. But in 2015 the Hague appeals court ruled that Dutch courts did indeed have jurisdiction in the case.

The Nigerian Army has disbanded its legal team for the Lagos State Judicial Panel, effectively pulling out of the investigative hearing as more evidence resurfaces confirming that Nigerian soldiers shot at peaceful protesters last October. S.N. Agwhe, a member of army counsel to the panel made the development known to the Judicial Panel on 30 January 2021. Agwhe had appeared before the panel on behalf of the army legal team but revealed that the job of the army counsel ended on 21 November 2020. “We do not have any further mandate to represent the army in any subsequent proceedings,” Agwhe told the panel. He reminded the panel that Akinlolu Kehinde, head of the army legal team, had earlier submitted a memo notifying the panel of the decision. The last hearing on 23 January 2021 was the third time in a row that the army and its counsel failed to appear before the panel. The panel chairman Doris Okuwobi, a retired judge, however, warned that the army would not claim denial of fair hearing when the panel submits its findings to the government. The Army’s withdrawal from the panel comes after Reddington Hospital testified to treating victims from the #EndSARS protest with bullet wounds on 20-22 October 2020. Petitioners had alleged that soldiers opened fire at peaceful protesters, killing and injuring several protesters, which led to the Army being summoned before the judicial panel of inquiry. The army had reluctantly admitted being at the scene of the Lekki shootings after initial denials. Still, it denied opening fire on the protesters, many of whom sat on the floor and were singing the national anthem. The army, however, claims that officers were sent out to enforce a curfew that was imposed by the Lagos State Government but didn’t open fire on peaceful protesters.

Kano Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje has called for the enactment of a law that will abolish the movement of herdsmen from the northern part of the country to other parts. He said until this was done, repeated herder-farmers clashes might continue. Ganduje made his position known in an interview with journalists on Saturday after an Alł Progressives Congress state governors lunch with President Muhammadu Buhari in Daura, Katsina. The governor’s suggestion comes at a time of heightened tension in some South-West states, especially Ondo and Oyo, over quit-notices issued to herders. He said the ban would also stop the problem of cattle rustling. “My advocacy is that we should abolish the transportation or trekking of herdsmen from the northern part of Nigeria to the Middle Belt and to the southern part of Nigeria. “There should be a law that will ban, otherwise we cannot control the conflicts between herdsmen and farmers and cannot control the cattle rustling which is affecting us greatly,” the governor said.

Commentary

  • With Nigeria’s peers on the continent – Egypt, Morocco and South Africa – having begun or about to begin their vaccination programmes, the fact that the Ministry of Health has yet to even submit a budget, or even decide which vaccines to procure, should be a bigger scandal than it currently is and provides a cogent reason for strong censure of the President. Even tiny Seychelles, has taken advantage of its size to rapidly inoculate its population, becoming one of the world’s leaders in the proportion of its population that has received the vaccine. Nigeria’s uncertain vaccine strategy is emblematic of its underwhelming handling of the coronavirus threat. According to the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, Nigeria ranks 49th globally on its COVID-19 Performance Index – a measure which tracks the average performance over time of countries in managing the pandemic in the 36 weeks following their hundredth confirmed case of the virus up until 9 January. Rwanda, Togo, Tunisia, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Uganda, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Ghana and Ethiopia ranked higher than Africa’s largest economy. It bears repeating that the faster vaccines are administered, the quicker a recessionary economy will return to normal and an overstretched health system will begin to ease. The bottom line must not be lost in the haze as well. The suggestion by a former governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi, that vaccines could be procured for significantly cheaper should warrant engagement, given current fiscal challenges. Nigeria can ill-afford unnecessary expenditure in any area at the moment.
  • While the success of the farmers’ decade-long struggle for justice is welcome, this development still leaves some food for thought. Nigerian farmers had to go to a court in another continent to obtain legal recompense simply because they could not get justice at home. It is increasingly the case that international pressure must be brought to bear in order to shed light on the glaring abuses, inequalities and injustices which appear to be the norm in countries like Nigeria, or else they are eventually swept under the carpet. The widespread environmental degradation in oil producing areas is a well known fact, but ensuring that the polluter pays principle is adopted by Nigerian courts appears further off than ever. In that sense, the Dutch judgement has set what is sure to be a well utilised precedent that multinationals can be held legally responsible in their home countries for acts of environmental injustice in far off places. More generally, Nigeria must develop the capacity to address grievances in a fair and timely manner, in order to stop the erosion of trust in the legal system. These communities had spent years working through the domestic courts, with little success, before taking their grievances to the Netherlands – which also took its sweet time but still came through. In much the same fashion as the conviction of former Delta governor, James Ibori, on corruption charges in the United Kingdom, and cries by activists for the ICC to intervene post the EndSARS protests last year, the outsourcing of Nigerian questions on justice to Europe is fast becoming an unwholesome trend.
  • The withdrawal of the Nigerian Army from the Lagos State Judicial Panel doesn’t come as a surprise as all denials by the army regarding its involvement in the Lekki toll gate shooting has been contradicted by victims, eyewitnesses and other actors such as the Lagos State Government. It has also been apparent that the army has no intention to be held accountable, something for which no precedent exists for it as evidenced by the well documented accusations of systemic abuse of human rights by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch which have gone unheeded over the years. Like the head of the panel rightly said, the army cannot claim not to have been given a chance of fair hearing when its report is released at the conclusion of the panel. Having said that, the Kaduna State Judicial Panel into the December 2015 massacre of Shiites in Zaria raises the uncomfortable question of whether any recommendations against the army will be followed through or enforced. After all, judicial panels of inquiry are basically fact finding exercises which possess only the most basic coercive mechanisms and rely heavily on the political appetite of the appointive political authorities to enforce their determinations. Considering the general indifference of state governments, not just Lagos, to empower these panels with the political capital necessary to justify their legitimacy (and the cost to the public purse of constituting them), the army will have no questions to answer and suffer no consequences from the powers that be, save a miracle happens. In many ways, this is the final disrespect that Nigeria’s institutions have paid to the memory of the victims of the Lekki Massacre.
  • Mr Ganduje’s proposal is, so far, the most radical one from a high-ranking northern politician with regards to tackling one of the root causes of farmer-herder clashes in Nigeria but it stops short of calling for a ban on open or night grazing as some states have done. Although Mr Ganduje has announced the setting up of a cattle rearing settlement called RUGA as part of a national plan that generated controversy, he has not advocated for more ranching as a lasting solution to nomadic herding. If his proposal is to be followed, it implies that intra-northern nomadic herding will be allowed, even though there have been well documented farmer-herder clashes in the North; and despite the fact that the greater percentage of cattle rustling happens in the North where it is a driver of conflicts such as the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East and armed banditry in the North-West. It is also important to note that as official opposition to nomadic herding grows in more states, there is still a glaring lack of a cogent plan from the FG that includes policy instruments that will transit Nigeria’s animal rearing to a ranching model. This gap will be the cause of more problems if visionary ideas such as Mr Ganduje’s are not implemented and scaled quickly.