Ondo Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) has signed into law the Anti-Open Grazing Bill passed by the state legislature. Information Commissioner, Donald Ojogo, made this known in a statement on 31 August. Akeredolu, while signing the law, said: “The move is in line with the resolution of the Southern Governors’ Forum at its last meeting in Lagos where September 1st was set as the deadline for governors in Southern Nigeria to sign the Anti-Open Grazing Bill into law. This is worthwhile and a very laudable development aimed at stemming needless instances of skirmishes, conflicts as well as infractions on the enviably peaceful disposition of the good people of Ondo State. It is very pertinent to aver and indeed reiterate that the law shall rather engender a more cordial, mutually benefiting relationship amongst residents of the state irrespective of ethnicity, religion or creed. For emphasis, no particular group of persons is the target. While the government hopes that all residents would take ample advantage of this law to enhance our socio-economic well being in Ondo State, compliance of the same shall be given the utmost attention. Government shall pursue with vigour, through lawful means, to ensure strict compliance. In this regard, details of the new law shall be made available to the public for proper information, more depth of understanding on contents as well as other relevant areas.” Akeredolu’s action was made pursuant to a resolution by the 17 southern governors in a meeting in Lagos on 5 July. Following the governors’ resolution, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Enugu, Ondo, Osun and Rivers have moved to enact anti-open grazing laws. Before the resolution, anti-open grazing legislation was already in force in Abia, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Ogun and Oyo. A notable exception has been Imo, where Governor Hope Uzodimma became the first governor from the region to go against the agreement. Uzodinma told reporters on 25 August after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House that though there is no anti-grazing law in force in the state, his government was trying to regulate grazing activities through collaboration between farming communities and herders. He reiterated that there is no law forbidding open grazing by cattle rearers in the state. In response, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo socio-cultural group called the governor “a confirmed saboteur” and said any Igbo governor that broke from the southern governors’ pact “will never escape the wrath of the people.” The conversation around open grazing has inflamed passions across the country. The Presidency in a strongly worded statement on 25 August accused the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, who criticised the government’s track record on security in an interview with private broadcaster Channels Television, of using sectarian language similar to that of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide while reacting to the security challenges in his state. It also said the people of the state deserved a better governor and should insist on having one in the next election. In a statement by presidential spokesman Garba Shehu, the Presidency accused Ortom of being unprincipled, having changed political party five times. “In an attempt to boost his sinking political fortunes, Ortom takes the cheapest and lowest route possible by playing on ethnic themes – and in doing so knowingly causes deaths of innocent Nigerians by inciting farmers against herders, and Christians against Muslims,” Shehu said. “As was the case in Rwanda where the then Hutu leaders of the country incited their countrymen against each other, claiming there was a ‘secret Tutsi agenda’ over the Hutu, Ortom claims there is a ‘secret Fulanisation agenda’ over other ethnic groups in his state and Nigeria,” he added. Ortom, responding in an interview with BBC Pidgin, also accused the Presidency of blackmailing him each time he tries to draw attention to its shortcomings. He said: “If the government has power to stop Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu, why don’t they have the power to stop bandits? All we hear is unknown gunmen. For me, I know it is Fulani bandits that are coming to kill us in Benue and our current leaders at Aso Rock in the presidency have a hand in all this that is happening.”

Zamfara governor Bello Matawalle has called on residents and visitors in the state to comply with the new directives set up, including the closure of weekly markets, as part of measures to address the worsening security situation in the state or face the full wrath of the law. The closure of weekly markets and other measures; ban sales of petrol in jerry cans, transportation of cows and firewood, have also been enacted while movements of food items will be strictly monitored. Few days after the announcement of the measures, bandits began attacking travelling motorists and threatening to launch new attacks in villages like Shinkafi in Zamfara with the motive to compel the Zamfara government to reverse measures imposed. In a bid to make criminal operations difficult for the bandits, the government decided to ban the transportation of livestock from one point to another while riding motorcycles beyond a certain time have also been banned. The new rules include the banning of riding on motorcycles and tricycles from 6 pm to 6 am in the state except for the state capital, and a curfew which starts from 8 pm to 6 am every day. “Furthermore, any tricycle that is covered will be stopped to verify its passengers, otherwise it will be apprehended. Governor Matawalle reiterated the ban on more than two persons riding a motorcycle and warned that those who break the law stand the risk of being shot at by security operatives,” a statement from the governor’s office said. The statement noted that security operatives will ensure that the new directives are enforced, and urged citizens to cooperate with the government. The movement of some of the bandits outside Zamfara has prompted the implementation of similar measures by neighbouring Kaduna and Katsina. In Katsina, two of its largest markets (Jibia & Mai’adua), which border the Niger Republic, will have a harsh devastating effect on the buying and selling of most people while grain markets in Kaita, Malumfashi and Kankara will be affected too. DW Hausa Radio reported that Zamfara residents expressed dissatisfaction with the total closure of all markets, which will worsen the lives of low-income households and hope it will not last for a long period. Gangs in the three states have been known to attack villages at dawn using powerful motorcycles – hence the popular support of the motorcycle and black market fuel bans in affected areas. The majority of people living in the affected states are agrarian, reside in rural communities and rely on local weekly markets to sell farm produce and support their families.

Nigeria’s Chief Justice Ibrahim Muhammad has summoned six chief judges over conflicting orders issued in their courts. The CJN issued the summons on Monday, requesting that the judges explain their recent court orders. In recent weeks, the chief judges had issued conflicting orders on issues bordering on the chairmanship tussle of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the gubernatorial logjam of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Anambra State. Those summoned by the CJN are the chief judges of Anambra, Cross River, Imo, Jigawa, Kebbi and Rivers. The CJN complained about the “huge embarrassment” caused by those who issued conflicting orders upon ex-parte applications by some political parties. The affected judges are to first appear before the CJN after which they will face the National Judicial Council (NJC) to explain what informed the issuance of the conflicting orders by courts of coordinate jurisdiction. “My attention has been drawn to media reports to the effect that some courts of coordinate jurisdiction were granting conflicting ex-parte orders on the same subject matter,” the summons reads. “It has become expedient for me to invite you for a detailed briefing on the development. This is even more compelling having regard to earlier NJC warning to judicial officers on the need to be circumspect in granting ex-parte applications,” the statement continued. The Nigerian Bar Association says it was “worried about this prevailing trend, its ridiculing effect on the profession and the attendant repercussions to Nigeria’s democracy.” NBA National President, Olumide Akpata, in a statement added that senior lawyers were perpetuating conduct which was “responsible for the unrelenting embarrassment of our judiciary in political matters.” The umbrella association of Nigerian lawyers said it will be considering deterrence options against its members involved in such conduct.

Nigeria’s central bank plans to own a stake in Bitt Inc., the preferred partner helping the regulator implement its digital currency initiative eNaira. Financial site Nairametrics cited unnamed “reliable sources within the central bank” as saying that one of the conditions being considered for accepting Bitt is for the company to register in Nigeria as a limited liability company allowing the central bank to own shares in its Nigerian entity. The site reports that the Central Bank of Nigeria sees this partnership as mutually beneficial. The CBN reported on Monday that it had selected Bitt from “among highly competitive bidders” and will rely on it to actualise its naira digitisation plans. Media reports say there were over 100 bidders made up of local and foreign potential partners but the CBN went with Bitt on the back of its experience in implementing this in five countries including the Bahamas. There was some backlash from local fintech operators on social media who believed the contract should have been awarded to a local company. Some alluded to the CBN’s decision being tantamount to impinging on Nigeria’s sovereignty. Nairametrics says Bitt’s role is to help mint and distribute the digital currency while local companies are expected to assist with building other capabilities with it such as leveraging on the eNaira to help with remittances, a key objective of the project. The CBN expects the eNaira to be the backbone for digital-enabled financial transactions in Nigeria such as enabling payment by utility companies, helping the government collect taxes and facilitating e-commerce. In a presentation to Nigerian banks, the CBN said the digital currency will have non-interest-bearing CBDC status, a transaction limit for customers, and a value-based transaction limit. Participants in the e-Naira program are featured in five stages, including a Monetary Authority Suite, a Financial Institution Suite; an eGovernment Suite and a Retail Consumer Suite. “It shall be the responsibility of Nigerian banks to promote and market the centrally issued digital currency as a cash alternative to existing and potential customers in support of the Nigerian apex bank’s goal for financial inclusion,” the document read in part. To catalyse the adoption of the e-Naira, banks will “facilitate onboarding and provide world-class customer service.” As part of the digital currency initiative, the monetary regulator says the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc (NIBSS) and other switching platforms will still be relevant; existing infrastructure will be integrated into the e-Naira implementation.

Commentary

  • With the assent of the bill by Governor Akeredolu, 13 Nigerian states – more than a third – now have anti-open-grazing laws, including nine that were part of the 5 July resolution by southern states to ban open grazing with a further four state assemblies considering similar bills. The Enugu State House of Assembly passed its own law yesterday, and that is now awaiting Governor Ugwuanyi’s consent. Although in Imo, Governor Uzodinma has chosen to break with the other Southern governors by not moving to institute similar laws, it seems that has already been done since 2006 during the administration of Achike Udenwa. It has, however, not been operationalised, and there is some debate about how far reaching it really is. While there is chatter about strengthening that law, it remains to be seen if any amendment will be signed by the governor. Despite the seriousness of the southern states, as well as some central states such as Benue, Plateau and Taraba to ban open grazing, it has not stopped Abuja from continuing with its desire to maintain the status quo, considering the recent directive to review grazing sites in 25 states. This continues to put the FG on a collision course with states in terms of the constitutionality of these efforts (since land is enshrined by the Constitution and its associated Land Use Act as under the administration of state governors). It also puts the President – accused of showing a bias for his Fulani kinsmen who dominate nomadic herding and have been accused of being responsible for violence across the country – at odds with a growing section of the political elite. Without coordination between Aso Rock and states on the best approach to be taken for proper livestock management in the country, the ethno-religious tensions that have arisen from the wanton violence between nomadic herders and farming communities will only worsen. This is evident from the escalation in the war of words between Benue’s Governor Ortom, who has consistently criticised the FG’s handling of the insecurity in the state and attacks on mostly rural communities, and the Presidency. Mr Ortom’s last statement accusing the Presidency of involvement in the violence and alleging an agenda to commit ethnic cleansing to the advantage of the Fulani ethnic group is the most strongly-worded accusation lobbed at the Presidency from him or any governor. It was not unexpected that there was going to be a rebuttal from the Presidency; however, beyond the rebuttal, there are yet to be any actions taken by the Presidency that will contribute towards a change in the political rhetoric. It remains to be seen if the FG will shift ground in terms of its National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) to allow for states to choose to allow open grazing or not while also providing funding for improving the livestock industry as a sustainable solution to ending the violence while guaranteeing meat and animal products’ supply. In addition, most of the Southern governors must follow up their joint resolution with specific actions. The fact that one of the states has refused to go with the rest is the beauty of federalism – each federating unit is at liberty to make such laws for themselves. It allows for observing and comparing the outcomes. As restructuring de facto continues as seen with the anti-grazing legislation and judgements like the one on VAT collection, the inevitable point will come – states will need the means to enforce these laws, and we will see more autonomous law enforcement frameworks.
  • A positive from the announcements by the Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara governments is that it shows that these states are starting to coordinate better among themselves, considering the uniformity of the measures. However, these measures need to be in synergy with kinetic and non-kinetic measures by the Federal Government, particularly as they relate to the deployment of security personnel to combat the bandits, improve border security and mop up illegal arms and weapons in the region. However, these measures illustrate the limited options at their disposal for dealing with the insecurity in their states, considering that they do not have operational control of any security agency and are not empowered by law to create such. On the flip side, these measures could have negative economic impacts on residents and may cause the loss of livelihoods for rural dwellers. A possible unintended consequence is it could drive legitimate economic activities, such as trading, underground (and in collusion with bandits), thus creating the opposite effect of enabling, not combating insecurity. Alternatively, it could see the migration of farmers and business owners to major urban centres – Gusau, Jibiya, Kaduna, Katsina and Zaria – which have been mostly unaffected by the insecurity, or across the border to the Niger Republic, further worsening economic indices in rural communities, forcing more people into lucrative criminal gangs and increasing crime in these cities. The future consequences, if not addressed rapidly, will force poor farmers in affected areas to devise dubious means of smuggling their goods to support their families and farmlands. In effect, people would resort to illegality as a means to cope with rising criminality. State governments can surely think of better ways other than compelling people to make harsh life and death decisions.
  • The declining quality of judicial pronouncements over the last several years is having an impact on the country’s democracy. With mere weeks until the Anambra governorship elections, there is no clarity on who the main candidates are due to the glaring inconsistencies of a myriad of court rulings. Added to the mix, this has led many close watchers of Nigeria’s judicial system to fear the worst for that storied institution, typically held up as the last hope of the common man. The summons from the Chief Justice could not have come at a better time, and hopefully, it will ensure consistency in pronouncements from courts of coordinate jurisdiction. Another issue that needs to be addressed is the apparent abuse of ex-parte rulings, that is, those issued without the other party present. It is clear that the frequency with which ex-parte rulings are issued must be checked, and only given as a last resort. As we head into a crucial political season with many changes likely, Nigeria’s judiciary must first recognise that it is knee-deep in an identity crisis that has left millions of Nigerians resorting to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms from often rogue state and non-state actors. It must ensure that the rulings from its various courts stand up to scrutiny to preserve what integrity is left in our nascent political process. Any other outcome is capable of adding fuel to an already raging fire and further imperilling one of this country’s oldest institutions.
  • There are important concerns about the utility of a digital currency and why one of the world’s most controlling central banks is spearheading the development of a monetary instrument which in theory should enable the democratisation of currency access and value. A quick detour, however, is necessary to address a key issue that has dominated the discourse around the eNaira – the nationality of its executing partner. While the talk has mostly been about how a foreign company won this contract, that should not be the focus – as long as the bid was competitive and if the country is getting the best service available. It will be in the public interest for the CBN, an institution not renowned for its transparency, to publish some information on the bidders and its bid evaluation criteria to enable an independent assessment of the process. Notwithstanding the above, the CBN should have utilised the opportunity to either use a local partner (Nigeria’s fintech industry is one of its few economic supernovas) or made partnership with a Nigerian company a prerequisite for any foreign firm to get the contract. The CBN may try to justify its decision by saying that Bitts has a track record but the fact is this remains a novel concept and Bitts did not have any track record in this space just a few years ago. It is important in an emerging enterprise that is not operational in many countries, including advanced ones, that Nigerian companies are perceived to be at the leading edge of innovation, just as their Chinese counterparts are with green energy and artificial intelligence or the European Union is with data science and sovereignty, In the case of China and the EU, those industries were cultivated by precision-guided policymaking, smart regulation and a long-term focus. In that sense, the CBN’s choice represents a missed opportunity. To the merits of the initiative, the eNaira program, despite the drip-drop of information about how it will look in practice, still appears esoteric and its benefits unclear to most Nigerians. The brick and mortar currency presently suffers from market concerns about the unholy trinity of its value, convertibility and regulatory provenance. The naira’s value maintains nominal stasis officially even when fundamentals don’t support it, that value is difficult to transfer to other currencies in an era where most currencies become other currencies with the click of a mouse and it is managed by a regulator which has an unwholesome propensity to tinker with economic fundamentals – including whole sectors – to artificially protect it for the benefit of a moneyed elite whose interests are often at odds with most economic participants. How the eNaira solves these problems remains a mystery. What is not mysterious, however, is that the CBN is infatuated with control and power. It simply wants to determine who holds the national currency, at what price they do and what they do with it. When seen from that standpoint, a digital naira, which if allowed to be a truly digital currency should facilitate payments outside of a regulator’s control, is befuddling. Away from the fancy presentations, evasive press statements and banking jargon, Godwin Emefiele and his board have some honest explaining to do if Nigerians will end up dropping their physical notes for what increasingly looks like a bytes dream.