Nigeria has received nearly four million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, shipped via the COVAX Facility, a partnership between CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF and WHO. COVAX shipped 3.94 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, arrived from Mumbai to Abuja around 11.30 am. According to a statement from the United Nations in Nigeria, the arrival marked a historic step towards the goal to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally. UN Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said, “The UN Country Team in Nigeria reiterates its commitment to support the vaccination campaign in Nigeria and help contain the spread of the virus. “The arrival of these vaccines in Abuja today marks a milestone for the COVAX Facility in its unprecedented effort to deliver at least 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines globally by the end of 2021.” The National Primary Health Care Development Agency had said it would commence the vaccination of Nigerians in priority groups, starting with frontline healthcare workers. “This is a landmark moment for the country and the COVAX Facility’s mission to help end the acute phase of the pandemic by enabling equitable access to these vaccines across the world. We are glad to see Nigeria is amongst the first receiving the doses from COVAX, thanks to the excellent level of preparedness put in place by the Government of Nigeria,” Managing Director for Country Programmes at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Thabani Maphosa, added.

The Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers of Nigeria (AUFCDN) has called off its nationwide strike after an engagement with the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello. The AUFCDN President, Muhammad Tahir, said the strike was called off following the Federal Government’s promise to pay ₦4.75 billion compensation, ensure the protection of its members and stop all forms of multiple taxation and intimidation from security officials on the highways. The group had earlier said that it prefers that farm produce go to waste rather than tolerate “continued attacks” on its members in the south. Awwalu Aliyu, an official of the union, who spoke to TheCable in Kano on Tuesday said the decision not to supply food to the south was not to starve southerners but to protest attacks on their members. Aliyu alleged that some members in the south were killed, maimed and lost properties especially during the #EndSARS protest and the recent Shasha market crisis in Ibadan, the Oyo state capital. When asked if members of the union were not concerned about food items locked up inside trucks in Jebba, Niger state, going bad and leading to losses, Aliyu said: “It would be better to lose the food items than to lose lives. You’re talking about losing goods; which one is better, to lose a life or to lose property? Losing property is better than losing a life. We prefer and our people will prefer to lose those farm items or goods than to continue losing their lives. If you are alive, you can plant another thing, you can rear another cattle. But if you’re dead, you can’t do that again. Only the living can go to the farm. We do not want to destroy anybody. We do not want to kill anybody. The number of Yorubas and Ibos that reside in Kano and Kaduna alone is far more than the number of northerners in the entire south-west, south-south and south-east.” Some tomato farmers said they have begun to dry their produce in order to preserve it as selling rates in markets across Kano are not favourable. The situation is similar for onion farmers. The biggest meat butchery in the south. Lagos State Abattoir Complex in Agege was mostly empty on Monday and Tuesday. Ishola Tawakalitu, a septuagenarian who sells beef in the market, told the Cable news site, The Cable, said the abattoir, which records an average of 1,000 cows killed every day, is now struggling to meet a 100 cow target as vehicles are not bringing in cows from the north.

Gombe Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya has appointed Malam Danladi Sanusi Maiyamba as the Mai Tangale. Ismaila Uba Misilli, Director General (Press Affairs), Government House, Gombe, disclosed this in a statement on Wednesday. “In exercise of the powers vested in him under the Gombe state Chieftaincy Law, 2020 and based on the recommendation of the Kingmakers of the Tangale Chiefdom, the Gombe State Governor, Alhaji Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya has approved the appointment of Malam Danladi Sanusi Maiyamba as the Mai Tangale. “The Commissioner, Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Ibrahim Dasuki Jalo who conveyed the Governor’s approval and presented the appointment letter to the new Mai Tangle in Poshiya, Billiri, said the appointment of Malam Danladi Maiyamba was informed by his personal qualities and suitability. “The presentation ceremony was witnessed by the Chairperson of Billiri Local Government Council, 9 Kingmakers of the Billiri Chiefdom, members of the traditional council and other functionaries. “Presentation of Staff of Office will be done in due course,” the statement read. The governor had suspended the appointment of a new king over the violence that broke out in February. He had imposed a 24-hour curfew on Billiri Local Government Area and warned the protesters that he would not be intimidated to choose their preferred candidate as the next Mai Tangale. “Let me make it clear that our administration will never cow into any blackmail, threat, intimidation or witch-hunt from any individual or group no matter how highly placed,” the governor had said in a statewide broadcast. The preferred candidate of some of the residents is Dr Musa Idris Maiyamba.

The National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (Retd.), on Tuesday said that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the declaration of Zamfara State as a “no-fly zone” as part of efforts to tackle the security challenges being witnessed in the state. Mr Monguno added that the President also approved the recommendation that mining activities in the state should stop immediately. He said, “The President has approved, based on our recommendations, the imposition and enforcement of a ban on all mining activities in Zamfara with immediate effect until further notice. “He has directed the Minister of Defence and the National Security Adviser to deploy massive military and intelligence assets to restore normalcy to that part of the country. “He has also approved that Zamfara State should be declared ‘a no-fly zone” with immediate effect,” Mr Monguno said. He added that Mr Buhari has directed security officials to clamp down on all those behind the security challenges being witnessed in the state and across the country. He said some people were already under surveillance.

Commentary

  • The arrival of the first batch of vaccines is a welcome development, but there is no time for the country to rest on its oars. Four million doses are only sufficient for 2 million people based on a two-dose regimen. If we assume that Nigeria has a population of 200 million, it means the country should be shopping to secure up to 140 million vaccines to achieve herd immunity. In that sense, this ‘landmark moment’ alluded to is merely the tip of the iceberg. Attention must now turn to three issues: first, the swift distribution and administration of the vaccines to frontline health workers and the most vulnerable. Second, ensuring that the process is as transparent and equitable as possible. Third, the quick fasttrack of a supplementary budget to secure more vaccines. The third task will doubtless be made complicated by the fact that the National Assembly has not passed a full budget for 2021. In addition, it is not yet time to relax masking and social distancing guidelines, given that vaccination has not yet begun. This is because more people could die before vaccines are made available, on top of the likelihood of mutations of the COVID virus. In all, there remains a long way to go. Finally, it is worrying that Dr Osagie Ehanire, the health minister, is only just convening a meeting with the health commissioners in the states to determine the effective sharing and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Even more concerning, state governments are already squabbling over vaccine dosage expectations. Abuja needs to ensure that its underwhelming project management track record does not get in the way of vaccinating enough Nigerians.
  • The decision not to supply perishable food to the South was unsustainable from the get-go, and has now been called off as most analysts predicted. The economics simply did not add up, especially for sellers who ended up either disposing of their stock at an over 80% discount in many cases while prices only increased slightly in the South – the presence of alternatives, as well as substitutes, made the case. It is a lesson in economics for all involved. In a country characterised by the absence of storage and preservation facilities for perishable foods such as tomatoes and peppers, traders were forced to sell their produce quickly at giveaway prices before they started to rot, thus causing a perceptible loss of income. The bigger lesson, however, is one of geopolitics – a section of the country that believed they controlled national food supply was willing to weaponize this perceived control against another section of the country. While the reality is that this control is illusory (producers in central Nigeria, the so-called Middle Belt, as well as southern Kaduna, refused to join the blockade citing synchronicity of political purpose with the South), the willingness to resort to what would have amounted to a food blockade in the middle of the highest levels of food inflation in the country in a decade begs the question – should other sections of the country resort to similarly brutal protest tactics? For many in the South, especially in the South-East and the Niger Delta, this week’s food blockade sparked eerie reminders of the Civil War where the Nigerian government (then resident in Lagos) resorted to a blockade of food and medical supplies that cut off Biafra from the world, devastated whole communities and fatally harmed the Biafran war effort. The key takeaway from these actions, and the observation of the SBM team on the field across the country this February, is that attitudes across Nigeria are hardening, and as long as the government continues to leave spaces and situations ungoverned and without justice, there is only one direction this will go. War tactics do not belong in democracies; to tolerate this represents the slow walk to a very dark place.
  • While Governor Yahaya is within his legal authority to pick any of the three nominees as the next paramount ruler of the Tangale chiefdom, the move to appoint Mallam Maiyamba is unlikely to be accepted by the chiefdom’s Christian majority, almost immediately jeopardising his legitimacy and authority. It will also further diminish the influence that the title holds among the people as violence in recent weeks has revived decades-old resentment towards the traditional rulership that has only ever had one Christian occupant despite the region being predominantly Christian. Most importantly, however, it reflects the increasing religious tensions, not just in Gombe, but across northern Nigeria, a region where religion has now superseded ethnicity as a stronger marker of identity; this was clear in how persons beyond the chiefdom identified with either the new Mai or the Christian candidate depending on their faiths. This dangerous trend is likely to spread and sow the seeds of future sectarian conflict in a region riddled with more than its fair share of strife.
  • The declaration of a no-fly zone over Zamfara is curious as the state has no airport or functional airstrip, necessitating air travellers to the state to go through either Katsina or Sokoto. While there have been rumours of helicopters supplying arms to bandits in Kaduna and Katsina States, none has been rumoured to be doing the same in Zamfara. Although there are mining activities in the state, they are mostly artisanal and illegal in nature, with the Federal Government which constitutionally has exclusive rights for awarding mining operating and prospecting licenses unable to stop it due to the mining activities taking place in hard-to-reach areas. However, the ban lends some credence to certain hypotheses that claim that the violence is aimed at clearing the areas for more illegal mining of gold, the most coveted mineral in the region. Furthermore, there is chatter that the state is at the heart of a lucrative underground gold trade with the Middle East, especially the United Arab Emirates. In that sense, the no-fly zone represents an admission by Abuja that it is in the know of this development and it is nominally ready to deal with some of the levers that fund these groups. To the other part of the President’s declaration: it will not be possible to move significant numbers of military assets to the region without moving them from other places, as the military is thinly stretched with deployments in 35 states. In the North-West alone, there have been at least six operations to date aimed at ending the banditry, with limited success. Due to the asymmetrical nature of the violence, it is unlikely that a purely military solution will be effective. What will work is the strengthening of border security and the use of intelligence to track down and quash gun-running networks and key gangs operating in the region.