Nigeria’s Senate on Wednesday passed a bill imposing jail terms of at least 15 years for paying a ransom to free someone who has been kidnapped and made abduction punishable by death in cases where victims die. Armed gangs operating mostly in the country’s Northeastern and North-central states have, for more than a decade, spread terror through kidnappings for ransom, targeting students, villagers and motorists on highways. They have also killed thousands of people. The bill, which amends Nigeria’s terrorism law passed in 2013, mandates the death penalty for convicted kidnappers where the abduction leads to loss of life and life imprisonment in other cases. Opeyemi Bamidele, the All Progressives Congress member representing Ekiti Central and chairman of the Senate’s judiciary, human rights and legal committee, told the Senate that making ransom payment punishable with jail would “discourage the rising spate of kidnapping and abduction for ransom in Nigeria, which is fast spreading across the country”. He assured that the amendment to the Terrorism Act would set standards and regulatory system intended to prevent terrorist groups from laundering money through the banking system and other financial networks. He explained further that the need to comprehensively review the Terrorism Prevention Act arose from the unfavourable ratings of Financial Act Task Force (FATF) recommendations of Nigeria’s Mutual Evaluation Report and consequent placement of Nigeria in FATF’S International Cooperation and Review Group Process with its impending sanctions on Nigeria’s economy. He stated that the National Task Force on improving Nigeria’s Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regime in Nigeria proposed improvement on the Act to address the deficiencies noted in its provisions to align with the required standard as obtainable in other jurisdictions. President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has already classified the armed kidnapping gangs, known locally as “bandits”, as terrorists this year – but that has not stemmed the kidnappings, now almost a daily occurrence. The bill will be debated in the House of Representatives before being sent for the president to sign.
Nigeria’s government has directed the reopening of four land border crossings which have been shut for almost three years. In a circular signed by the Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs, Jibiya in Katsina, Ikom in Cross River, Idiroko in Ogun and Kamba in Kebbi will be opened “in compliance with extant operational guidelines.” In 2019, the government closed the country’s land borders as part of its efforts to prevent the smuggling of illegal arms, food & agricultural products to stimulate local production. In December 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the immediate reopening of four border crossings Seme in Lagos, Illela in Sokoto, Maigatari in Jigawa and Mfun in Cross River. In the maritime sector, a new 15 percent National Automotive Council levy slammed on used imported vehicles by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) may be dividing clearing agents as a faction plans a strike action while another seeks dialogue. The new NCS policy has not gone well with clearing agents in the country’s maritime sector who argue that the NAC levy is meant for new vehicles. The market for new cars is small as Nigerian motorists overwhelmingly purchase used vehicles from abroad. The new levy will force agents to raise used car prices in what is sure to be an unpopular move. The NCS has said that the move complied with the Economic Community of West African States’ Common External Tariff. A factional task force chairman of the Tin-Can Island chapter of the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, Rilwan Amuni, had, in a circular over the weekend, said all freight forwarders were going on a warning strike on 25 April against the NAC levy and a new Customs benchmark on pre-arrival assessments. But giving an update on the strike hours before it was due to start, Amuni said that the association had postponed the planned strike action to next week after the Eid-el Fitri holiday as a concession to Muslim association members. “The only thing they (the government) understand is force and some of us are of that opinion. If they don’t lose revenue, they (the government) will not listen to us. We are not happy going on strike; nobody would want to stop work, but if you don’t, they will not listen to us,” he said in remarks to the press. Reacting to this, the Tin-Can Island Chapter Chairman of the Association of African Professional Freight Forwarders and Logistics, Godfrey Nwaosu, said that a “strike is the last option in making demands. My position as the Tin-Can Island chairman of APFFLON is that we should allow for dialogue for now. We don’t have any plans for a strike.” The Tin-Can Island chapter factional ANLCA chairman, Ojo Peter Akintoye also said that the group was not going on strike.
The President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, has accused the Federal Government of not giving priority to tertiary education. According to him, the government had addressed the issue of fuel subsidy with a budget of ₦4 trillion, whereas, it ignored issues concerning university education. Speaking during a Channels Television programme on Wednesday, Osodeke asked the government to take ₦200 billion from the ₦4 trillion budgeted for the subsidy to address the challenges of its members, thereby putting an end to the industrial action embarked upon by the union. Osodeke said, “It is always funny that the government cannot raise ₦200 billion to revamp all Nigeria’s universities annually, to world standards. The same government can raise ₦4 trillion for fuel subsidies. You can raise a budget to make ₦4 trillion for subsidies in a year, but you cannot raise ₦200 billion to fund your education where you don’t have the infrastructure. You can spend ₦228 billion to feed children in primary or secondary schools but you cannot raise this fund for your university; it is an issue of priority. That is the problem. If you remove ₦200 billion from ₦4 trillion to fund your universities, you still have ₦3.8 trillion for fuel subsidy,” he said in remarks reported by The Punch. Last week, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) promised to “cripple the economy” in solidarity with four striking university-based unions – ASUU, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), the Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied Educational Institutions (NASU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT). The four unions affiliated with the NLC shut down universities over longstanding unresolved issues including difficulties with the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) resulting in shortfalls in their salaries, and the non-payment of the minimum wage arrears, revitalisation funds and academic allowances, as well as a yet-to-be implemented review of the 2009 agreement with the government.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday voided the participation of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate in last November’s governorship election in Anambra. The highest court in the country upheld the 23 February verdict of the Court of Appeal which affirmed the ruling of the lower court on the APC governorship primary in the state. Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal The High Court had ruled in December 2021 on an application filed by a governorship aspirant that Andy Uba was not the duly elected candidate of APC for the election. The politician, according to the judge, was a product of an illegal primary conducted by the party. He declared that all votes recorded in favour of Uba and APC by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were unlawful votes and should be expunged from the commission’s record. At Tuesday’s proceedings, a five-man panel of the Supreme Court quashed the APC primary election that produced Uba. The apex court held that the party breached its guidelines for the conduct of the primary election and described the exercise as null and void.
- Like many laws in Nigeria, this one sounds good on paper but will fall flat on implementation. The reality is that ransom payments are not done by ordinary people, many of whom are too poor to afford them anyway. Ransom payments in Nigeria, especially the larger sums, are settled by state officials, sometimes on behalf of the state government, even though no one will publicly admit to them. For instance, the Kaduna State governor, Nasiru El Rufai, in December 2016, admitted to paying militant Fulani groups to stop attacks on communities in southern Kaduna. This action may not directly be a payment for a specific kidnap case but it runs afoul of the government’s stated policy of not paying terrorists and under this new law, would be criminal. More recently, the Managing Director of the Bank of Agriculture, Alwan Ali Hassan, was freed after being abducted in the recent Kaduna railway attack, but only after a hefty ransom, rumoured to be around ₦100 million ($170,648) was paid. That is equivalent to 727 times the median annual income of a Nigerian household. It is highly likely that if any of the lawmakers who passed this bill or their loved ones were to be kidnapped, they would pay a ransom. Nigerians pay ransoms, not because they want to or because they feel it is legal. Rather they do so because they are convinced that the state will do nothing to help them and therefore these payments are the only chance at saving their loved ones. There is no number or severity of preventive laws that would stop kidnap for ransom and other forms of terrorism, especially not laws that essentially pass the responsibility to the hapless Nigerian already failed by a state that is meant to protect her. National security cannot be guaranteed by enacting legislation that is not grounded in reality. It requires strong action and a desire by the state to ensure security and uphold justice, not pass that burden to the taxpayer. Rather than criminalise a desperate response, the Nigerian government would do well to rise to its responsibility and secure the lives of its citizens. This bill has failed before it even sees the light of day.
- Before anything else, we must state unequivocally that the border closure policy did not achieve the government’s stated goals of stamping out smuggling and bringing insecurity to heel. Instead, it led to a rapid expansion of the grey economy in border communities, raised the sceptre of arbitrage in smuggled goods and simultaneously ensured the flight of capital from the country while enriching major players in prohibited or restricted goods. For context, Benin and Cameroon saw their rice imports rise sharply even as rice prices in Nigeria rose during the life cycle of the border closure. Furthermore, it spooked and shocked Nigeria’s regional partners into near tit-for-tat responses at a time when buy-in on such things as security cooperation was vital. In that sense, the policy was an unmitigated and unqualified disaster. Part of its unintended effects was more corruption by border officials who used the opportunity to get rich by looking the other way while smuggling increased. The exercise worsened the country’s food insecurity, contracted national GDP and accelerated inflation. The only trend line that has reversed course since the policy’s demise is the slowly growing size of the economy. Not only did smuggling not end, but insecurity also ballooned throughout the period. In Jibiya, one of the crossings that are only just being reopened, security which had been very poor to the point of non-existent, got even worse as armed groups got free rein. The result is a rise in illegal activities such as kidnapping and illegal arms dealing in the region. At an institutional level, Nigeria needs to learn to take stock of its policies and take action based on results and reality, not populist sentiment. It cannot afford to keep scoring own goals.
- Prof Osodeke’s statements might sound like the televised ramblings of an out-of-touch academic who is desperately pleading his cause against an unwilling and tone-deaf administration, and while that is largely correct, there is more than meets the eye on this issue that merits some scrutiny. Earlier this year, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) disclosed that it beat its 2021 tax revenue target of ₦6 trillion by generating ₦6.4 trillion, a record haul. It, however, did not disclose that it generated much of this through harassment of many lawful individuals and businesses and in the process put some off business. The government has now turned around and willingly budgeted more than two-thirds of that hard-earned money for petrol subsidies which holds little benefit to Nigerians but rather promoted illegality and distorted fuel prices through smuggling across much of West Africa. Aso Rock has its priority list backwards. While ASUU is right to accuse the federal government of not prioritising university education while ploughing hefty sums into wasteful ventures like fuel subsidies, ASUU is just as guilty of not prioritising university education. The union has constituted itself into one of the biggest bottlenecks standing in the way of sustainable tertiary education in Nigeria, one that appears more interested in extracting unworkable agreements from the government and short term payouts, instead of actually solving the issues. Founded in 1978 in the wake of a slew of military coups stifling critical scholarship and amid stagnating wages, the union has been responsible for over 20 strike actions with a periodicity or average gap of about one and a half years, most of which last more than three months. Their demands have ranged from promoting public university infrastructure to the payment of salaries and unpaid compensation. In this current strike season, ASUU is demanding ₦200 billion, a sum agreed with the government in 2013 for funding universities. At the back of this is an unresolved problem around a centralised system – the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) – used by the government to settle salary commitments across all its ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). The lecturers say acceding to Abuja’s demands to join the IPPIS, which almost all federal MDAs now utilise, would cede an excessive amount of power to bureaucrats. The government says it cannot make a special exemption for academics and non-movement on this item means universities will have to fend for themselves. Hence, the stalemate. On funding, the entire budget allocation for education, primary, secondary and tertiary, in 2021 was 5.6%, a share which amounted to ₦742.5 billion. Government should be allocating more to the sector – the UNESCO prescription is 26% – but much of that should go to primary and secondary education, the tiers which many experts say are the most critical in the development of human capital. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a country with clearly delineated educational outcomes depending on the source of funding. Public primary schools are currently for the poorest of the poor and most public federal secondary schools are heading in that direction. The middle class, for all of its inflation-fuelled struggles, feel no compunction, forking out extra money to ensure their children avoid the public school system and the trend is moving upwards to public universities too. What has sustained the universities this far is the rolling cycle of strikes and compromises, but like other strategies, they have gone past their lifecycle of efficiency and are now counterproductive. They have resolutely refused to swallow the pill of autonomy for the universities, which will see them raise funding from other sources, and stop the federal government from being the primary funder of tertiary education. State-funded universities fare a little better. The often unspoken but widely acknowledged truth is that the best run and most stable universities in the country are run this way – without government funding. The public universities that have somewhat managed to keep up have established tenuous but growing links with the private sector to fund priority disciplines such as science and engineering. As long as ASUU continues to insist on being funded by the Nigerian government, tertiary education will continue to be subject to the vicissitudes of the administration in force. Take the IPPIS issue. A compromise was reached where the government agreed for ASUU to design a system that captures their unique peculiarities such as funding sabbaticals and visiting lectureships. ASUU commissioned the design of such a platform, but the federal government rejected the one they developed without proposing alternatives. The untrustworthiness of policymakers on this issue illustrates both its bone-headed approach to utilising compromise as a tool of policy setting as well as the inability of ASUU to smell the coffee. This is a lost cause. In the end, this issue represents in textbook detail the problem of solving complex problems in emerging democracies like Nigeria. The Muhammadu Buhari administration has its priorities all wrong and ASUU is content with playing the ostrich, sometimes going as far as countenancing policy that contradicts its interests. ASUU should have fully denounced the continued insistence of its parent body, the NLC, on maintaining petrol subsidies. Instead, they just want their share of the bounty. Nigeria is slaloming down a slippery slope to an economic crisis and our intellectuals, like many who should know better, are egging us on.
- It is important to recall a similar case during the 2019 general elections where the APC was disqualified from participating in governorship contests in Rivers and Zamfara states. Both cases had to do with controversies surrounding the conduct of primaries. The Anambra election in 2021 showed that the party is yet to learn from its mistakes. Nigerian political parties, despite robust rules enshrined in law as well as party constitutions, tend to treat primary elections as a passing inconvenience, and as such, cannot be counted upon to do the right thing by delivering rancour-free primary contests. It is with this in mind that the timetable for the 2023 elections has provided nine clear months between the primaries and the general elections to allow for enough time for pre-election cases such as this to be concluded in the courts. In effect, the new rules seek to prevent the confusion that naturally occurs when, even after elections are long gone, there is little clarity as to who was the valid candidate of a party; a scenario which can affect voters’ confidence in future electoral processes. The APC has elevated this bad behaviour and exported it to other political exercises, such as choosing its national leaders. As a result, it can’t be counted on to do the right thing without being compelled by external bodies such as the INEC and the courts. It does not set a good example, particularly from a ruling party that got into office through a relatively free and fair election. Away from this, the Supreme Court sitting to rule on this matter should be seen as an anomaly that must be rectified, ideally by the Constitution. While the case calls INEC’s ability to impose its will on the parties into question, the Supreme Court must be restricted to constitutional matters that concern the interpretation of the law and the settling of disputes between the Executive and the legislative arms of government. Overburdening the apex court with issues such as this that can, and should be handled by special tribunals with finality, distracts it from its ability to attend to pressing and urgent issues. This has been a perennial problem for the Nigerian judiciary and despite the recently concluded constitutional and electoral amendment processes (exercises which were defective in design and execution), it should be revisited when the next (and inevitable) amendment cycle comes around.