The week ahead – It’s not a prank

1st April 2022

At least eight passengers have died after gunmen attacked a busy train between Nigeria’s capital, Abuja and Kaduna. The gang mined the track forcing the train, carrying 970 passengers, to a stop on Monday evening. Gunmen subsequently surrounded the carriages and opened fire. An unknown number of passengers were abducted from the train, considered the safest way to get between two of the region’s biggest cities. Kidnapping for ransom has become commonplace across Nigeria. The Abuja-Kaduna highway is one of the most dangerous roads in the country as kidnappers have been known to have ambushed vehicles at several points along the expressway. Over the last few years this has pushed many to avoid the 150 km (93 mile) journey by road instead opting for the rail link, which opened in 2016. It is more expensive but considered safer as the trains have armed guards on board. This is the second time the rail line between the cities has been targeted in the last six months. According to BBC Hausa, 22 people, who were injured in the attack on Monday evening, are being treated at a military hospital in Kaduna. The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) has suspended operations along the route. Kaduna’s governor condemned the attack, describing it as a “terrorist” incident and sent his condolences to the families of the victims. The rail line is a gateway for millions of people in north-western states who want to travel to Abuja and further south. The authorities in Kaduna state say they are liaising with the NRC to find out where all the passengers are and who exactly is missing. Armed gangs carrying out killings and kidnappings for ransom have continued to unleash violence, especially in northern Nigeria despite military bombardments of their hideouts. On Saturday, Kaduna’s international airport was attacked. Earlier this month, the state government advised residents to be vigilant because it received intelligence that terrorists had plans to plant “explosive devices” in various parts of the state.

We talked about Kaduna extensively in last week’s review, and here we are again. Monday’s incident is just the latest attack on the Abuja-Kaduna railroad. By 2021, security around rail infrastructure in the country had become a major concern. On 8 May 2021, three people were arrested in Kaduna for vandalising the Kaduna–Kano line. Six days later, five people were caught violating the Warri-Itakpe line. Another five people were nabbed dismantling the rail line at Dalle village in Jema’a Local Government Area in Kaduna; while a similar incident was reported in Enugu at about the same time. On 16 May, the police arrested five people in connection with an attack on the rail tracks in Dalle Village in Jema’a LGA of Kaduna, an incident which the government sought to downplay by employing the term “vandals” to describe the identity of the attackers. In essence, Nigeria’s rail network is under attack and no longer represents a safe haven from the security threats that have long impacted road and water transport. Before Monday’s train attack, the airport in Kaduna State was targeted, leaving one person dead. The Abuja-Kaduna road has been one of the most terrorised federal roads in the country, rendering commuting on one of the busiest transport corridors in the country a nightmare. Put together, the near impassibility of the road, the current closure of the airport, and now the closure of the rail line makes entry and exit to Kaduna almost impossible. In all this, and given the rather absurd scenario of Kaduna having the largest number of military installations in the country, the lack of political will to decisively deal with the terrorist threat in the North West remains baffling. Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai recently claimed that the government knows where the terrorists are. Why the government has not acted on this intelligence (or intelligence lead) is befuddling. Intelligence gathering without coercive action cannot solve a country’s security problems. Given the sheer scale and impact of Monday’s incident, we expect that more money would be thrown at the problem with a sprinkling of kinetic actions such as the deployment of security forces to the area, only to be withdrawn when the dust settles. Commuters plying that route will be left to deal with a future resumption of terror attacks and the deadly human cost of being caught in the cross-hairs.

Civil servants in Anambra on 28 March did not resume work despite the state government’s directive to defy the Independent People of Biafra’s (IPOB) sit-at-home order. Most government offices were reported to have remained under lock and key. Only a few junior workers were seen loitering around the state secretariat complex, and even the Office of the Head of Service, together with the ministries in the block, was also under lock and key. The Office of the Accountant-General of the state was open and the Accountant-General, Chudi Okoli, and staff members were on duty at the time of the visit. Most staff buses, which convey workers to and fro their offices were also seen parked in the secretariat. Some workers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that people might want to comply with the directive but had no means to get to their offices. The new governor, Charles Soludo, had on 25 March had a circular sent out ordering workers to report to their duty posts on Mondays. The statement, which was signed by the Head of Service, Theodora Igwegbe, read in part: “Following the need to reposition the service for better performance and productivity, His Excellency, Prof. Charles Soludo has directed that all public servants should henceforth report to their places of work on Mondays as they do other work days. Consequently, absence from duty on Mondays or any other official workday without approval will be viewed as serious misconduct which will attract appropriate sanctions.”

Prof Soludo’s approach to achieving peace has so far been a marked deviation from the federal government’s preference for hard power through military operations which has only served to heighten tensions and create more problems than it is meant to solve. So far, dialogue with the separatists has proven to be a lot more productive than the use of guns. Now comes the hard part: restoring public confidence. The new government does not appear to understand the real reason many people stay away from their offices on Monday despite government directives ordering them to work. IPOB has entrenched a culture of violence and intimidation which regional governments as well as Abuja have not found an effective answer to. Initial attempts by residents in the South East to defy the sit-at-home order were met with violence unleashed by the group’s enforcers, and residents rightly judged that the government, whose primary responsibility is keeping them safe, did not have the ability to do so. They thus decided to take precautions by obeying the entity with the superior will to enforce its orders. Additionally, residual sympathy for the separatist ideals encapsulated by Nnamdi kanu and IPOB persists in the region. In part because there hasn’t been concerted state engagement on these issues, a perception and governance gap opened up which IPOB has filled through media indoctrination and pseudo-cultural propaganda. Rather than engaging in threat-peddling, coercion and hard law enforcement, Prof Soludo’s government must start a confidence building campaign and find ways to make residents in the state believe its words over that of non-state actors. Any potential peace deal between the government and IPOB must be broadcast widely, with affirmation and buy-in from IPOB, and a commitment to enforcement in the face of a violation. This has to be paired with an active and open media engagement effort to counter some of the revisionist positions of the separatist movement. Finally, Anambra, as well as other states in the region have to demonstrate by delivering on social and economic priorities that the Igbo nation can prosper, thrive and lead within the ambit of a resurgent and resilient Nigeria. This will take time and effort, and the government must show that it understands this rather than seek to have its way through shortcuts.

A newly commissioned terminal of Lagos’s Murtala Muhammad International Airport was so badly designed that it required a change of the airport’s original master-plan, led to the demolition of several operational buildings and requires millions of dollars in additional overhaul and operational costs, according to a Daily Trust report. The design defect stalled the commissioning of the project, which commenced in 2013 through a concessionary loan from the China Export-Import Bank and was constructed by the China Civil Engineering and Construction Corporation (CCECC). While other terminals in Abuja and Port Harcourt International had been completed, the commissioning of the Lagos terminal was stalled due to design error as the apron was facing the wrong direction. The error in the design prompted the federal government to order the demolition of several buildings around the MMIA. A building that used to be the headquarters of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), and was rebuilt and equipped in 2019, was demolished alongside private hangars with a combined value of ₦5 billion. Some staffers of the bureau asked to relocate to Abuja have been unable to secure office space and accommodation for them as its corporate headquarters is being built. In addition to the AIB and the private hangers, the office complex of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), the Federal Road Service Corps (FRSC) and some towing companies headquarters close by were affected. Despite the demolition, the apron is not wide enough to accommodate wide-bodied aircraft like the Boeing 777, 747 and Dreamliner as well as the Airbus A380 among others. The paper’s report cites an unnamed “highly placed source” in the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) as saying that the issue is a major headache that the federal government is trying to fix. Industry sources say it would be extremely difficult to get major international airlines to relocate the terminal.

The first thing to note is that this design error stems from 2013, clearly predating the Buhari Administration. The fact that such a design scaled through, got funding, was continued to completion over the span of two different presidencies, and commissioned by the President before this emerged is a testament to the institutional insouciance that pervades the government and public sector in Nigeria. Projects of this magnitude go through multiple design and approval stages. Clearly, the approval process for this project broke down either due to non-adherence to due process or inattention on the part of key stakeholders. Furthermore, the Chinese technical and financing partners are not known to impose their will, and will simply build what they are asked to build insofar as they get paid. These avoidable errors will now result in exorbitant cost overruns and the irreversible alteration and disruption to key sections of the airport complex, the bill of which will be footed by the public purse. The new terminal was constructed at a cost of $100 million and financed by loans which Nigeria is obliged to repay. Yet the very viability of the said terminal is in jeopardy due to the value chain of incompetence that has now become evident. In spite of this, as with everything else in Nigeria, there will be no consequences. The aviation minister who supervised this cacophony of horrors prominently anchored the ruling party’s convention where the President was present after reports first emerged. Additionally, the current administration commissioned a project delivered at a sub-optimal standard to score cheap political points ahead of the imminent election cycle – a trend which it has long established over its time in office. As is usual, other public officers will take a cue and understand that there will be no consequences for such egregious blunders past and present. Nigeria will be worse off for it.

Abdullahi Adamu and Iyiola Omisore, former chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), emerged as national chairman and national secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at the party’s national convention on 26 March. Mr Adamu ran unopposed for the party top job. Being the preferred candidate of President Muhammadu Buhari for the position, the new chairman emerged by consensus after six other contenders stepped down. Mr Adamu was Nasarawa’s governor on the PDP’s ticket for eight years between 1999 and 2007. While in the PDP, Mr Adamu served as the first Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). He was close to then-President Olusegun Obasanjo and allegedly worked for the former president’s third term bid. After his tenure, he got elected to the Senate in 2007 to represent Nasarawa West senatorial zone on PDP’s ticket. On January 29, 2014, Mr Adamu, alongside 10 other PDP senators, defected to the APC. The APC is the product of the merger of some opposition parties in Nigeria while the PDP was in power. On February 6, 2013, the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and a section of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) merged into a single party. The major aim was to oust the PDP from the federal centre during the 2015 elections, which it successfully did. At the time, the PDP had governed Nigeria for 14 years.

The emergence of Mr Adamu and Mr Omisore has been interpreted by some as a direct imposition–through a forced consensus–by Aso Rock. It is not a delusional argument. Mr Adamu’s ascension to the party top job shows that the President is firmly in control of the party machinery, and where it matters to him, he is able to impose his will. It also clearly shows that the President is invested in ensuring that his preferred candidate emerges as the flag-bearer of the APC from the presidential primaries which Mr Adamu is now tasked with organising. This comes against the backdrop of a growing internal schism within the interim national working committee headed by Yobe governor, Mai Mala Buni, and a committee member, Niger governor, Abubakar Bello, which was averted when President Buhari insisted on a consensus method of picking the party’s executives. Among other things, Saturday’s convention showed two things: Mr Adamu who defected to the APC from the PDP is seen as closer to the core Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) caucus. His emergence as national chairman continues what is perceived as the northern domination of the APC which the CPC caucus represents, with the largely southwestern Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) consigned to being a junior partner in the coalition. The consensus method of emergence, which is a euphemism for enforcing the will of a select group within the party, means that politicians whose strength lay in their understanding and ability to influence the delegate system in intra-party voting settings will need to have a rethink. All their investments in the delegate system can easily be negated by a similar consensus approach in the primaries. Finally, this arrangement is the earliest indication that the party intends to zone the Presidency to the South as the slot for the national chairmanship has gone North. The working tradition of Nigeria’s political parties is one that precludes the presidential candidate and the chairman of the ruling party from coming from the same region. Your move, PDP.