Nigeria’s Health Minister, Dr Osagie Ehanire, has said that the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is the dominant strain in the country. Speaking at the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 briefing on Monday, the minister urged Nigerians to keep all protective measures. “The dreaded 3rd wave of COVID-19 may appear to be levelling out because there had been no catastrophic increases in infections and fatalities. But, it is not wise to assume that the threat is gone, especially as cases are fluctuating and have to be identified by genomic sequencing. The evidence so far is that the Delta strain is already the dominant one in Nigeria. We must keep our protective measures in place and increase testing to determine our situation. We also remain on alert at points of entry, including land and sea borders, to confront the importation of COVID-19. Several cases have indeed been identified by rapid diagnostic tests and taken care of accordingly,” he said. On vaccines, the Minister said that the government had secured nearly 40 million doses of J&J vaccines to be arriving at a rate that NPHCDA would set to align with their utilization strategy. According to him, “all states have received doses of AstraZeneca, Moderna and J&J vaccines for the ongoing second phase of the vaccination exercise in all states, while the federal government has done due diligence to ensure vaccine quality and safety.” This comes as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) directed foreign airlines to board passengers travelling to Nigeria who are unable to show evidence of payment for a repeat COVID-19 test. Musa Nuhu, NCAA Director-General, in a letter to all airlines operating international flights, said the decision was taken due to challenges facing some travellers to Nigeria. According to him, travellers are now finding it difficult to fill their health and travel history into Nigeria International Travel Portal (NITP). As part of COVID-19 rules, passengers pay for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which they are expected to do after seven days of quarantine. Passengers had reported issues generating a QR code after payment of the compulsory fees has led to many travellers travelling to Nigeria being denied boarding by airlines. In a 11 September letter, the DG explained that the presidential steering committee on COVID-19 had been notified of the challenges facing travellers. According to Nuhu, such passengers would be required to make payment for the repeated day-7 COVID-19 test at their destination airport in Nigeria. Holders of diplomatic passports and children aged 10 years and below, who were unable to complete the NITP were also to be allowed to board their flights, the letter said, adding that their health declaration and travel history would be captured by the Port Health Services at the destination airport. Within the country, only 1.4% of the population have been tested despite the third wave of the disease propelled by the highly infectious Delta strain. This is as data obtained over the weekend from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) showed that seven out of Nigeria’s 36 states had stopped testing since 1 September, 2021. The seven states that have not sent any update in the past 10 days are Borno, Ebonyi, Sokoto, Kebbi, Yobe, Zamfara and Kogi. The NCDC data also revealed that 110 deaths were reported between 1 and 11 September and 735,573 tests were conducted between 10 January and 11 April. But between 11 April and 11 July, a total of 521,738 were conducted, a 29.08% reduction. Between that date in July and 11 September, a total of 505,239 tests were also conducted.

Five gunmen on Monday attacked the Comprehensive Secondary School, Nkume in Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State following the declaration of sit-at-home order by the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The armed men invaded the school premises when some students were participating in the ongoing 2021 West African School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and stopped the exercise. The students were preparing to sit for English when the gunmen forcefully infiltrated the school premises and dispersed them. Although no casualties were recorded during the attack, the attackers set ablaze some motorcycles belonging to some of the staff and students. IPOB had ordered that all Southeastern states observe sit-at-home every Monday in solidarity for its leader, Nnamdi Kanu who has been in the custody of the Department of State Services. Compliance was low in the Imo capital, Owerri, as residents went about their daily activities in defiance of the IPOB order.

Six Nigerians were on Monday named by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as financiers of Boko Haram and terror activities. According to the State-run WAM news agency, the information was released at the country’s federal cabinet meeting in Abu Dhabi.Nigerians among the 53 names published include Abdurrahaman Ado Musa, Salihu Yusuf Adamu, Bashir Ali Yusuf, Muhammed Ibrahim Isa, Ibrahim Ali Alhassan and Surajo Abubakar Muhammad. The financiers were prosecuted in 2020 for wiring funds to Boko Haram. The U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, had during a roundtable on U.S.-Nigeria military cooperation with journalists in Abuja, declared that her country was very eager to partner with Nigeria in identifying Boko Haram sponsors. According to a former Assistant Director of the Department of State Services, Dennis Amachree, the U.S. had been positively disposed to supporting Nigeria, especially in the fight against terrorism, noting that the question was whether the FG would embrace the gesture. Within the country, the State Security Service has asked security agencies in Kaduna to “step up surveillance and intelligence gathering” in the state as commanders and foot soldiers of Boko Haram have relocated from Sambisa forest in Borno to Rijana forest in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna. A memo from the SSS, reported Peoples Gazette, said that a “senior Boko Haram fighter, Ibrahim (FNU) alongside his foot soldiers” were relocating to join their counterpart “under the leadership of one Adamu Yunusu (aka Saddiqu).” The secret police ordered the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) to increase security measures in the “aforementioned areas and environs,” and that operatives of the corps “should be placed on alert and report accordingly.” The directive was issued a little under 24 hours after Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Faruk Yahaya, warned army commanders that he will no longer accept excuses in the war against terrorism, banditry and other crimes in the country. Yahaya gave the warning Monday at the opening ceremony of the ‘Combined Second and Third Quarter Chief of Army Staff Conference’ in Abuja.

Gunmen have attacked a border community between Taraba and Benue states, killing one person and abducting many. The gunmen who stormed a border community in Benue forced residents to flee to Koffai Ahmadu in Takum Local Government Area for safety on Saturday. In a phone conversation with Channels Television on Saturday, the Chairman of Takum council, Shiban Tikari, said that security has been beefed up in the neighbouring communities to avert escalation. He described the incident as an act of cowardice, stressing that efforts are in top gear to cater for the displaced and return them to their ancestral homes. “One person was killed in the attack and I recovered the corpse and many others were also said to have been kidnapped,” Tikari said. “When the bandits invaded, residents there all ran to Koffai Ahmadu for safety, but they were people from Benue State. People were also alleging that houses were burnt, but I can also confirm to you that no house was set ablaze as I went to the scene. Actually, what really happened is that people are referring to Koffai Ahmadu as the centre for the hostilities, but precisely where it took place is at the border between Taraba and Benue states. We have put security in place to restore normalcy in the border communities, especially the operation whirl stroke [whose members] are now camping close to the affected community to avert any further breakdown of law and order.” The council boss added that no arrest had been made by security agencies so far. Also in Benue, the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) has thrown its weight behind the Southern Governors Forum for mobilising its members to enact laws prohibiting open grazing by cattle herders in their respective states. It has also commended some governors in the Middle Belt region and their state assemblies for their courage in passing Anti-Open Grazing Laws in their states. The MBF, however, condemned in very strong terms the counter position taken by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) and its twin, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore on the laws enacted to curb incessant conflict between nomadic pastoralists and farming communities across the country. So far, 12 southern Nigerian states have enacted laws banning open grazing. The passage of the law in the South came after Benue in the Middle Belt took the initiative to outlaw open grazing. However, MACBAN and its affiliates have asked their members not to obey these duly passed in several and threatened to make states that attempt to implement such a law ungovernable. In a communiqué issued by the MBF after a two day meeting of its National Executive Council (NEC) the forum describes the position of Miyetti Allah as a clear threat to national security. The group’s national president, Dr Pogu Bitrus, urged the Federal Government and its security agencies to arrest the leaders of Miyetti Allah and prosecute them under the anti-terrorism laws.

Commentary

  • The increased availability of vaccines has seen what amounts to vaccine mandates being issued by a few institutions in the public and private sectors. We expect these mandates to become more widespread in the coming months. The case for vaccination bears repeating: not only does it significantly reduce the likelihood of serious illness and hospitalisations due to COVID, it also gives the virus fewer opportunities to evolve into more contagious and perhaps deadlier strains. As such, as many Nigerians as possible should get vaccinated. Having said this, the dropoff in testing is lamentable, especially as the country was not even testing adequately to begin with, meaning that the true situation of the third wave will remain unknown and adequate steps will not be taken. The states that have been not sending updates regularly are Borno, Ebonyi, Kebbi, Kogi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara. From the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Nigeria has seriously lagged behind in testing. This is unsurprising for a country where data collection has always been an issue due to underlying political undertones to data. Population size, birth and death rates are at best guesstimates. Whilst Nigeria has been spared the full health impact of COVID-19, the pandemic has negatively impacted economic activity, hence the willingness to relax some of the restrictions, including those around travel. Nigeria depends on foreign investments and diaspora remittances as key sources of foreign exchange, and in the last 18 months these have dwindled and consequently the value of the Naira has been in freefall. Thus, Nigeria is saddled with twin issues: it needs to urgently step up its vaccination drive to ensure and restore economic confidence while convincing foreigners and its citizens resident abroad that it is a destination of choice in these perilous times. The odds are not stacked in its favour.
  • To enforce its orders, especially the sit-at-home protests, IPOB is increasingly resorting to utilising force on residents of Nigeria’s South-East. This portends significant direct and indirect economic consequences, including the loss of revenue for businesses that are forced to close down, and in this particular case, students that would likely have to rewrite exams that only happen once a year. The manner in which the secessionists are approaching the issue also speaks to the subtle class war that is happening in the region, with IPOB members mostly from the economically deprived ranks in terms of jobs and incomes, and thus unaffected by the closures and violence. A recent SBM Intel survey indicated that the largest cluster of support for the sit-at-home came from unemployed respondents, artisans, and teachers (who happened to be on the long summer holiday at the time of both the first sit-at-home and the survey). The least support was found among transporters and people in the hospitality business; groups which also complained of the biggest drops in productivity. Very importantly, the use of force by the group will only provide justification for the continued and increasing militarisation of the region by Abuja. This could set the stage for an insurgency in the region between IPOB and the Nigerian state. An insurgency in the South-East will be unlike the current one in the North-East, or the use of military force to rout bandits in the North-West due to its much smaller land mass, high population density and extensive urbanisation. Such an insurgency will impact its economic centres, amass civilian casualties and likely cause a humanitarian disaster. Even worse, it will force the region to start rebuilding again just 50 years after it did in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War. Unfortunately, it does not appear that IPOB and its supporters are looking at this larger picture, and as the economic burden of the sit-at-home protests continue, IPOB is likely to alienate more and more of its sympathisers. In addition, the Nigerian government will have to explore other means of ending the agitations (as it is not likely that Nnamdi Kanu will be released) while also avoiding the escalation of violence.
  • This is not the first time these names have been mentioned by Abu Dhabi. The names first came up in 2017, and in 2020, they were convicted in a UAE court and sentenced in absentia to 10-years jail terms. However, the Nigerian government has done little to identify, investigate and prosecute these individuals, considering they are Nigerian citizens and Nigerians constitute the primary victims of Boko Haram terror. Despite the detailed descriptions by the Emiratis, one Alhaji Ashiru, who is said to be a senior government official in Nigeria, and was responsible for facilitating transfers to the group, has not been fully identified. In addition, the identity of Alhaji Sa’idu, a Boko Haram courier, remains shrouded in mystery. We acknowledge the possibility that the details of the transfers were shared with the DSS in order to track the recipients and shut down the conduits used to receive funding for the group, and considering that the two partly identified suspects are based in Nigeria, we expect that the DSS would track and identify them. Nigerian security agencies have been continually blamed for a failure of intelligence to identify and go after high-value targets from within the terrorist group; a failure that became even glaring with the killing of Abubakar Shekau in May 2021 not by security agents but by ISWAP, and the possible (and recent) death of Abu Musab Al-Barnawi (an event which the military has said they know nothing about). With the takeover of Boko Haram’s territories by ISWAP, the expected exodus of unwilling Boko Haram fighters to other parts of the country, particularly the North-West, where they could try to take advantage of ongoing terrorism to set up cells and launch attacks, appears underway. It is, thus, very important for security agencies to not only step up their intelligence gathering capabilities across the country (especially high-risk areas), but to also increase interagency information sharing. We hope the DSS will accept the offer of partnership from the US in tracking and identifying the sponsors of the terrorist group, as well as work with other willing countries, especially in the Lake Chad region to share intelligence that will assist them in effectively combating the terrorist group. While it is important to carry out field engagements to battle the terrorists, without following the money and nabbing their sponsors, any victories on the ground can only be temporary. The Nigerian government needs to wake up to its responsibility to the world at large and the Nigerian people in particular.
  • While the general insecurity in the country continues to grow, it is worth noting that blanket descriptions of violence bury age-long issues that existed long before the inclusion of more brutal violence by pastoralists. This attack bears all the signs of the earlier type of violence, showing that the hostilities continue to remain among these communities. Having said that, no group has been identified as being responsible for this latest round of violence and it could be an ethnic militia of Fulani, Junkun, or Tiv origin. Although it has not been clearly stated, it seems that the victims of the attack are of Tiv origin. For years, the Benue-Taraba border area has been the site of a long-standing intercommunal conflict between Jukun and Tiv armed groups, and among Tiv clans for the control of the region and its resources. This conflict, which goes back to the 1990s, has turned the area into a wasteland that has been taken advantage of by armed groups for economic purposes. This includes the notorious kidnapper, Bala Hamisu Wadume, who was first arrested by the police, freed with the assistance of military accomplices and rearrested by the police, all in 2019. There have also been the operations of Tiv militia leader Terkwase “Gana” Akwaaza, who was arrested after being offered an amnesty deal by the Benue State Government in September 2020 before being extrajudicially murdered by the military. The activities of Fulani militia has also been evident in the area as part of the continuing conflict between Fulani herders and farming communities arising from disputes over land and water for farming and grazing. It is important for the authorities to beef up security in the region to forestall revenge attacks by other militias. It is also important to increase the alert level across the two states against possible attacks on communities by herdsmen militia with the intent of displacing the local populations and occupying spaces where there are ample grazing resources, especially as both Benue and Taraba have banned open grazing within their domains. Considering the adoption of the resolution by southern states to ban open grazing, of which 11 have already put the bans in place, it means there is a large contiguous area unavailable to nomadic herders down south, leaving the Middle Belt to the immediate north as the area with the most ample grazing resources. But even in the Middle Belt, Benue and Taraba have banned open grazing, and Plateau’s state legislature is considering a similar bill to the southern states. We do not know if and when other states within the Middle Belt such as Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa and Niger states will begin the process to institute similar bans. However, despite MACBAN’s belligerence towards these laws, they are increasingly becoming a minority as even ‘core’ northern states such as Kano and Katsina have indicated a readiness to ban open grazing. Despite the desires of the Buhari administration to maintain the status quo by attempting to revive grazing reserves, the Constitution is clear that the administration of land rests with state governments, effectively giving them the legal clear to institute laws that prohibit open grazing. It is best for the FG to review its policies and plans related to livestock production to take into cognisance the opposition of states to open grazing and its implications for national security and the country’s continued co-existence. While dealing with the larger pastoralist violence therefore, stakeholders must acknowledge and not lose sight of the bigger issue – the economic use of land resources.