Six persons were feared killed, 31 March, at Adani in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu, following a clash between armed herdsmen and the Eastern Security Network (ESN). The clash reportedly started when some herdsmen allegedly shot a member of Igga community on his farm and blocked sympathisers from taking the victim to the hospital. It was gathered that the refusal to allow the wounded farmer get medical treatment triggered a rumpus that attracted ESN members to the scene, leading to a showdown. The Guardian said the incident led many residents of the agricultural community of Adani to flee the area to neighbouring communities in Nsukka and Igboetiti local councils. In neighbouring Ebonyi, the state government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Effium and Ezza-Effium communities in a bid to deal with a surge in violence. The state’s Deputy Governor, Kelechi Igwe, announced the curfew in Abakaliki on 31 March. The two communities which are located in Ohaukwu LGA have been embroiled in a deep crisis, leading to the loss of life and destruction of property. Media reports say the crisis is linked to a leadership tussle in the local chapter of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). On 6 April, many people were killed during a military operation on Tuesday in a community in Essien Udim LGA, Akwa Ibom. The Nigerian military carried out aerial bombardment in the community – Ntak Ikot Akpan – which it said was targeted at miscreants who attacked and killed some police officers in the local government area recently. Three police officers were killed last week, while four are still missing in the area. The Nigerian Army said Wednesday that those killed during the military operation were ‘hoodlums.’ It did not, however, mention the number of people killed in the operation. The military operation in Akwa Ibom happened on the same day that eight soldiers were killed in an ambush around Bonta, a community in Konshisha LGA, Benue State. The troops were part of a deployment to keep the peace between Bonta in Konshisha LGA and Ukpute-Ainu in Oju LGA. In response, the military raided and destroyed some hideouts with 12 suspected bandits killed and arms recovered in the process. The Benue state security council have convened an emergency meeting believed to be connected to the attack.

Nigeria’s total public debt portfolio stood at ₦32.92 trillion as of 31 December 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said in a new report. In its Nigerian Domestic and Foreign Debt report for Q4 2020, the agency said ₦12.71 trillion or 38.60 percent of the debt was external, while ₦20.21 trillion or 61.40 percent of the debt was domestic. “Further disaggregation of Nigeria’s foreign debt showed that $17.93 billion of the debt was multilateral, $4.06 billion was bilateral from the African Development Bank (AfDB), the [Export-Import] Bank of China, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), India and [German state-owned development bank] KfW. “Meanwhile, $11.17 billion was commercial which are Eurobonds and Diaspora Bonds and $186.70 million in(sic) promissory notes.” This comes as Africa’s largest crude producer says it’s spending up to ₦120 billion ($294 million) monthly on gasoline subsidies, setting up the stage for policy reforms. While Nigeria produces 1.6 million barrels of crude a day, the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. imports virtually all its fuel from abroad due to the country’s low refining capacity, reselling it locally at a subsidised price. “Our current consumption and evacuation from the depots is about 60 million litres a day,” NNPC Group Managing Director Mele Kyari said at a briefing Thursday. “We are selling at ₦162 ($0.40) a litre, compared to the actual market price of around ₦234,” he said. That amounts to a subsidy of about ₦100 billion to ₦120 billion a month, according to Kyari.

72 hours after electric power was restored in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, Boko Haram insurgents on 27 March blew up another transmission tower in the city. Sources said the insurgents planted explosives on each leg of the tower, which they detonated at about 6 a.m. On 24 March, jubilant residents of Maiduguri were seen in a video that trended on social media as they celebrated the return of electricity after nearly two months of blackout. It took officials of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) that long to repair the transmission tower brought down by the insurgents at a location about 50 km from Maiduguri. While reconnecting the installation, three TCN officials were severely injured by a landmine planted by the insurgents. Another official was said to have lost his life after falling off a tower. The Saturday morning attack did not come as a surprise as residents had expressed fears of the insurgents plunging the city into darkness again as soon as the lights were restored. A security agent said the tower that was attacked was not far from the one brought down in January. “It is a major setback for Maiduguri because the tower that was brought down has affected other poles,” he said. “They planted bombs on each leg of the tower which caused it to go down, and they had also fired at some of the high tension wires that caused the lines to cut into bits,” he added. It took officials of the TCN and the Borno government nearly two months to temporarily fix the first tower. With the latest attack, residents of Maiduguri would suffer from the attendant harsh economic impact the resumed blackout would cause. The TCN and the Borno state government were yet to speak on the development at the time of filing this report.

A town in northern Mozambique that was attacked by Islamic State-linked insurgents in late March is now secure after the military killed a “significant number” of militants and cleared one final area, an army spokesman said. “We have completed the clearing (of the town). It was the only sensitive area that we needed to clear. … It is completely safe,” spokesman Chongo Vigidal said, in comments broadcast by state TV channel TVM late on 28 March. Insurgents on March 24 attacked the coastal town of Palma, near natural gas projects worth $60 billion that is meant to transform Mozambique’s economy. Clashes continued nearby as recently as Friday, security sources say. The government’s account could not be verified independently. Most means of communication with the town were cut off after the attack began. Footage taken by TVM in Palma showed a soldier covering a body lying in the street and burning buildings. Mozambique’s defence ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on Monday. Islamic State-linked insurgents have been increasingly active in the surrounding province of Cabo Delgado since 2017, although it is unclear whether they have a unified aim or what specifically they are fighting for. Aid groups believe the latest attack displaced tens of thousands of people, many of whom fled to safety in dense forest areas nearby or by boat.

Commentary

  • These incidents highlight the proliferation of illegal arms in the hands of non-state actors in Nigeria, which makes it easy for conflicts to turn violent. For one, the emergence of the ESN at a time of rising tensions in the country over the activities of herdsmen militias and growing anti-Fulani sentiment (helped in large part by the (in)actions of President Buhari) has made it inevitable that such incidents will occur. For another, it is noteworthy that recent incidents are geographically spread over an area that on a map, traces a contiguous arc from Akwa Ibom through eastern bits of Abia, past Ebonyi and the southern reaches of Benue before terminating in the northeast portions of Enugu. It is important to note that the clashes in Enugu, the communal violence in Benue and Ebonyi, and the criminal activities in Akwa Ibom, are happening in rural areas that suffer from poorer policing in terms of presence and quality than urban areas in Nigeria. This is consistent with the bulk of security incidents across the country which have overwhelmingly been in rural areas and on highways where policing is very poor to almost non-existent, providing criminals with vast opportunities to carry out attacks. Furthermore, these developments continue to highlight the growing problem of violent non-state actors with various motivations: from political to criminal gangs in urban and rural areas. On the other hand, the response of the military is likely to increase resentment for it as an aerial bombardment increases the chances of civilian casualties. The low capacity of the police to carry out a thorough investigation into the attack on its officers and specifically identify the culprits is likely a reason for this heavy-handed approach by the military towards bringing the criminals to justice. The rise in attacks on security agents underscores the urgency of intelligence gathering to identify and dismantle criminal networks before they carry out attacks, and to mop up illegal arms in their possessions, and also for political leaders to examine the remote (often economic) and immediate causes of this violence, and resolve them before they escalate.
  • When the Buhari administration first came on board in 2015, it promoted a rhetoric that previous administrations were corrupt for implementing petrol subsidies, clueless for not solving Nigeria’s electricity problems and lazy for not growing tax revenue. The administration quickly implemented the Treasury Single Account (TSA), launched the Voluntary Assets and Income. Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) and declared an end to petroleum subsidies. Fast-forward, a few years and the government has all but accepted defeat on the key legacy issues bedeviling Nigeria’s economy. The economic plan appears to now comprise of the following: devalue the Naira to increase Naira-denominated revenues, borrow money from all available external and internal sources, and get the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to extend its line of credit to plug the resulting revenue gaps. No surprise that total public debt has hit record highs of ₦32.92 trillion in December 2020 (19% higher than the previous year), and is on track to hit ₦40 trillion by 2023. Contrast this with estimated total revenue in 2020 of ₦3.93 trillion (a 29% drop on the previous year). Consequently, the debt service ratio is well over 80%, signifying that the country spends 80 Kobo of every 1 Naira earned on debt service, before even paying wages. Subnational governments are not having a jolly time either. The report noted that the total domestic debt of all states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was ₦4.19 trillion, with Lagos accounting for 12.15 percent all by itself. Just this week, Kano announced a reversion to the ₦18,000 ($38) per month minimum wage, yet another indicator of stressed finances. All of this is occurring while the prospect of raising petrol prices looms. While raising pump prices is a move that we support in principle and indeed is long overdue, raising them, let alone allowing them to move in line with international crude markets, is a risky proposition for Nigerian politicians. Many in Africa’s largest economy (which is also home to the highest number of people living in extreme poverty globally) regard cheap fuel as the only dependable benefit from the country’s misspent oil wealth. The current situation though is not sustainable and calls for drastic measures.
  • The attacks on the transmission lines are not unexpected: since the Boko Haram factions have been unable to infiltrate Maiduguri due to it being a garrison town, they have identified the transmission lines as a soft target for their attacks to make life unbearable for the city’s residents. This has huge economic consequences for the city – the biggest in Nigeria’s North-East – as residents resort to expensive petrol-powered generators to get electricity and the prices of goods and services shoot up. Furthermore, the security risks for TCN in trying to repair the lines means that repairs will be slow, just like previous efforts. It will probably take another two months for Maiduguri to enjoy grid-connected power. A solution would be clearing Boko Haram from the area through which the transmission lines pass, but this will be difficult considering the vast swathes of land that Boko Haram can easily traverse to carry out such attacks, especially with a military that is strained beyond capacity and lacking in nimbleness. Alternatively, it will mean the ramping up of off-grid renewable energy supplies such as mini-grids to critical infrastructure such as hospitals and large schools, or to neighbourhoods with low power needs, or standalone solar systems for individual consumers. This could be either through government contracting (for the government-owned infrastructure) or co-financing with private RE companies, or guaranteeing an installmental payment scheme for individuals interested in solar power solutions. These will require careful programme design and execution, but considering that Borno State was of only three states where the DFID-funded Solar Nigeria programme was executed, this will not be an entirely new idea to the government. Another idea will be the installation of turbines at the Alau Dam, located about 15km outside Maiduguri to generate electricity that could be embedded into the distribution network supplying Maiduguri (which falls in the franchise area of the Yola Electricity Distribution Network). However, this will require studies to determine the power capacity that can be generated, securing financing, and obtaining the necessary licensing from the NERC before execution. At a minimum, that would take two years. Boko Haram might not be able to get into Maiduguri currently, but it is showing a use case for how to make the life for its residents unbearable by targeting one of the essentials of modern life. Essentially, the insurgents hold the upper hand, and that’s a worrying evolutionary track.
  • Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, its northernmost region, has continued to face attacks from insurgent groups with recent spillovers to Tanzania. The target on the province has an economic undertone, being the location for key infrastructures around the region’s oil production, an important financing tool if held by the insurgent group. Since its inception, at least 600 attacks have been recorded, earning Mozambique the 15th spot on the 2020 Global Terrorism Index. The recent attack on Palma, which has displaced about 11,000, by insurgents who call themselves ISIS-Mozambique or Al-Shabaab (not related to the more prominent Somali Al-Shabaab) constitutes the most significant threat to the Mozambican economy since the insurgency started in 2017 due to its proximity to the LNG projects being built by Total, – billed to be the largest in Africa when completed. However, the retaking of Palma does not mean that the insurgent threat has been eliminated and serious questions about the capacity of the country’s military to finish the job remain. Barring a shoring up of capacity building in terms of training, numbers and equipment, the Mozambican government might adopt a containment strategy, where they ensure that the insurgents do not pose a direct risk to the LNG project (especially after Total withdrew all its staff and closed the plant in the area). The three-year long crisis has now seen about 700,000 persons displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The threat to the Total facility also raises the possibility of French military involvement in the conflict, chiefly by patrolling the coasts of Mozambique with a view to securing the LNG project, or by providing training and support to the Mozambican military. Although the US has reduced its military engagement in Africa, in effect allowing the French to assume a bigger role, there have been whispers of the American military providing similar support but it remains to be seen if the Biden administration will consider this high priority. Neither the African Union or the Southern African Development Community has offered a coherent strategy for dealing with the crisis. A resolution to this renewed conflict is far from certain.