The federal government will meet with state governors and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on Thursday to find a solution to the issue of the pricing of petrol. Rising from its meeting with the unions last night, the FG said that both sides have resolved to allow more time in order to look into ways of tinkering with the domestic fuel price template. At the meeting which ended at about midnight, ThisDay reported that the NNPC, accounting for landing costs among other cost factors, came up with a price of ₦206 per litre. It explained that the new price range was as a result of the rise in crude oil price in the international market. However, the unions disagreed with the NNPC’s pricing template, insisting that certain cost elements needed to be reviewed so that the petrol price could come down. Addressing journalists after the meeting, Labour Minister, Chris Ngige, who chaired the discussion, said that it ended peacefully. “As for the issue of the price of petrol, it is a work in progress. The governors are to discuss this on Thursday at the National Economic Council and hopefully there will be a way out of the situation,” he said. When asked about electricity tariffs, Dr Ngige said that a committee report was well received by both sides and the committee was asked to continue further work on grey areas. He said that the meeting with labour was adjourned till April, after the Easter celebration. Speaking on the outcome of the talks, the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba said they were able to point out areas of the report on petrol pricing that labour disagreed with. Mr Wabba also said that labour maintained it was not comfortable with the import pricing method that the country is adopting, which meant that the country imports 100 percent of all the petrol used in the country when it still has refineries.

Islamic scholar, Ahmad Gumi, has alleged that non-Muslim soldiers launch attacks on communities in troubled northern states, leading bandits to seek vengeance by killing residents. Gumi was speaking during a visit to some villages in Zamfara, as part of a peace initiative aimed at getting bandits to surrender their weapons. While addressing some of the bandits in a video that was posted online, Gumi claimed that soldiers are stirring confusions with the aim of wreaking havoc. “What I want you people to understand is, soldiers that are involved in most of the criminalities are not Muslims. You know, soldiers have Muslims and none Muslims. The non-Muslims are the ones causing confusion just to ignite a crisis,” Gumi said. There has been some controversy over how he was able to locate the camp of some bandits operating in Zamfara and Niger, without the help or intervention of security authorities. Many Nigerians have been displaced, killed and kidnapped by armed bandits who have sacked communities in parts of the country’s north and south. It is unclear where the cleric’s claims sprang from, but he queried the bandits on why they should attack villagers in vengeance. “If you people, in return, retaliate or seek vengeance, attack residents in the city, you may end up in killing youth, children and old men which eventually results in tension in society. Why would military men launch attacks on your community and you take your revenge on innocent citizens in the city? That is what is denting your image in the society,” the cleric added.

Many soldiers were killed when a Boko Haram insurgent rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into them during a clash in Yobe on Monday. The bomber, believed to be a member of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction of the group, targeted the military convoy in Goniri, a border community between Yobe and Borno states. “There was an SVBIED (Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device) attack at Goniri yesterday, so many soldiers were killed and injured. The number of casualties is currently unknown,” a military source said. On Sunday, the group killed five Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Borno State. The IDPs were attacked inside a forest outside Damboa town while they were searching for firewood. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s military counter-insurgency headquarters have replaced the commander of a super camp after Islamic State insurgents overran two bases in Borno. The military command relieved Y. Ibrahim, a Brigadier General, of his position as the Brigade commander of Nigerian Army 22 Brigade Super Camp Dikwa and replaced him with Brigadier General AGL Haruna. The change is coming on the heels of separate attacks by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) on the Army Super camp in Dikwa and 153rd Task Force Battalion in Marte on Friday. According to the security website HumAngle, the military is “setting in motion” plans to strengthen its presence in New Marte after a series of setbacks and the overrunning of the base located at the Lake Chad Basin Quarters. Chief of Army Staff, Major General Ibrahim Attahiru has arrived in Maiduguri, the state capital for a briefing with the Theatre Commander and other commanders of the country’s counter-insurgency operation against Boko Haram and ISWAP. ISWAP, which split from the mainstream Boko Haram in 2016, has become a dominant group, focusing on military targets and high-profile attacks, including against aid workers.

Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was killed on Monday during a fact-finding mission to the country’s troubled east, a senior diplomat told AFP. The envoy, Luca Attanasio, “died of his wounds” after a convoy of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) came under fire near Goma, the source said in Kinshasa. Two other people also died in the attack, Major Guillaume Djike, the army’s spokesman in North Kivu province told AFP, without identifying the casualties. North Kivu governor, Carly Nzanzu, told Al Jazeera the seven-member convoy was not escorted by any security forces when the incident happened. The WFP said it was seeking information from local authorities as the ambush occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which took place at about 1015 hours (0815 GMT). Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, expressed his “great dismay and immense sorrow” over the attack and left a meeting in Brussels with European Union counterparts to make an early return to Rome. Mr Nzanzu, the North Kivu governor, said local security forces had not been informed of the delegation’s presence in the area. Mr Nzanzu said Mr Attanasio was hit by bullets fired by the attackers during an exchange of fire between the rebels and Virunga park rangers supported by the DRC’s armed forces, who were alerted to the attack. The DRC’s army said troops were searching the area in the Virunga National Park for the assailants.

Commentary

  • Rising oil prices will be the true test of the government’s commitment to stay true to its decision to end the petrol subsidy. As we have pointed out before, the implication of subsidy removal is that petrol prices will go up when oil prices go up. Oil prices have gone above $60, the highest mark since May 2019. It, therefore, follows that the price of petrol at the pumps will rise, as the landing cost of the fuel as announced has shown. The only way to stop this from happening is to reintroduce subsidies, which history has shown is fraught with corruption and waste. A not-exactly irrational fear that once pump prices go up they are unlikely to come down even if oil prices generally become low is perhaps another reason for the government’s continuous attempt at teleguiding pump prices despite its past commitment to allow market forces to decide. However, all stakeholders – the unions, the government, the public and the press need to speak with one voice and reject a reintroduction of subsidies. This might be a difficult proposition, but it is the way to ensure that the market and the actual effective demand of petrol corrects and adjusts to the realities on ground. It is also one of the key mechanisms in curtailing the corruptive tendencies of racketeers and unproductive middlemen. A return to the old way does no one, especially the consumer, any good.
  • Sheikh Gumi’s comments have predictably created a backlash and risk increasing tension between the Muslim and Christain communities in Nigeria, particularly given that a large section of the Christian population tends to lump “bandits” and “Fulani herdsmen militias” together with “Boko Haram terrorist groups” as sharing the same ideology and objectives, despite evidence to the contrary. Mr Gumi’s comments also risk causing disaffection between local Muslim communities where banditry is rife and troops who have been deployed to these places to restore security. It is also important to note that despite Mr Gumi’s well-publicised visits to the terrorists in the bushes and his latest public comments, there is no evidence of his being invited by the military, police or the secret police for questioning. This has drawn inevitable comparisons to the fierce and swift reaction from security agencies compared to when a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Obadiah Mailafiya, claimed on a radio show that some Boko Haram members had informed him that a northern governor is a key funder of the group. These disparities will only increase the mutual suspicion between Christians and Muslims. It remains to be seen how effective Mr Gumi’s seeming non-violent approach to peacebuilding through engagement with the terrorists will work in reducing or ending the violence, especially as there are numerous terrorist groups operating independently in the region. What is clear is that he is not leaving the spotlight anytime soon.
  • The attack on the convoy is consistent with the focus of ISWAP on the military and high-profile victims, such as aid workers in the region. It shows the vulnerability of the military, especially outside their super camps. However, the perceived impregnability of the super camps themselves have been shattered by recent attacks on installations in Dikwa and Marte, following which the commander of the Dikwa facility was replaced. The new Chief of Army Staff gave an order for the camps to be recovered in 48 hours as of Monday, and by Wednesday, the army’s spokesman claimed that Marte had been recovered. Some chatter disputes this, and we are inclined to agree as the deadline was unrealistic considering the large number of soldiers and equipment that would need to be deployed to actualise it, the size of these camps, and the need to coordinate logistics with Nigerian Airforce (NAF) for close air support. On a positive note, it appears that going forward, there will be tighter integration with the NAF following the appointment of Abraham Adole, an Air Vice Marshal, as Deputy Theatre Commander for Operation Lafiya Dole. All these events, however, continue to call into question the super camp strategy which has made the military less responsive to attacks, forgoing sweeping swathes of land to the terrorists who roam, and even set up checkpoints used for extorting civilians. This strategy has left civilians at the mercy of the terrorists, such as the recent killing of five IDPs in Damboa, likely by the Shekau-led JAS faction. Despite all claims of Boko Haram’s imminent defeat by both the government and the military and in spite of recent attacks on the terrorists by the military, it is apparent that both factions remain a potent force capable of harming both military and civilian interests. This is far from a done fight.
  • The attack on the Italian ambassador’s convoy and the killings bring into sharp focus the perennially volatile situation in Eastern Congo, where dozens of armed groups continue to operate 25 years after long-term dictator Mobutu Seseseko was deposed in a coup by Laurent Kabila, ushering in a war that at its height, drew in up to seven countries. It bears pointing out that the continuation of the conflict has created humanitarian disasters such as the inability of aid workers to provide sufficient medical aid to fight recurring outbreaks of the Ebola virus. The thick forests and mountains of the region make it a conducive habitat for these armed groups to deepen their roots – plundering villages, recruiting child soldiers and committing gross human rights violation including rape and mass murder. These armed groups are driven by different motivations: for a major group like the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda or FDLR, which is composed of Hutu rebels, it uses the Eastern DRC as a base to attack the Tutsi-led Rwandan government. For other groups, they mostly traffic in the mineral wealth – including gold, diamond, coltan, copper, cobalt, cassiterite that abound in Africa’s largest country and has fuelled endless proxy conflicts. Nonetheless, it is quite unusual for armed groups to target foreign diplomats. No group has claimed responsibility and the FDLR, which is the biggest suspect considering the location of the attack, has denied responsibility, fingering the Rwandan and Congolese armies instead. It is also unclear if the group had intended to keep Ambassador Attanasio as a hostage for ransom before the attempted rescue that led to his death. This killing will renew global interest in one of the longest-running conflicts in Africa, already home to the world’s biggest and longest running peacekeeping mission. Perhaps the international community will explore new approaches to bring this to an end, especially as Kinshasa seems incapable of ending the conflicts and has more or less given up on these regions.