Sokoto declared an immediate 24-hour curfew to quell protests demanding the release of suspects in the killing of Deborah Yakubu last week, a statement from the governor’s office said. Last week, Ms Yakubu was beaten and burned by fellow students for alleged blasphemous statements about the Prophet Mohammad in a WhatsApp group. Protests have erupted following the police arrest of two students and a search for other suspects who appeared in footage of the gruesome murder of Ms Yakubu, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, which circulated on social media. The curfew applies to the state capital Sokoto. Some of the protesters besieged the palace of Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, the sultan of Sokoto and the highest spiritual figure among Muslims in Nigeria who condemned the killing and demanded that those involved face justice. Nigeria is almost evenly divided between the largely Christian south and mainly Muslim north, where some states have adopted strict sharia laws, including death sentences for blasphemy. President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the killing and said there should be an impartial investigation. Nigeria’s largest grouping of Christian churches has demanded the authorities bring the culprits to justice.

Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), has expressed sadness over the spate of killings and other forms of criminalities in the South-east, Anambra Governor Charles Soludo said. The governor said Mr Kanu stated this when he visited the IPOB leader at the facility of Nigeria’s secret police on Friday. Mr Soludo said the visit to Mr Kanu was part of his ‘wider consultations’ with critical stakeholders to ensure lasting peace and security in the Southeast. “He was in very high spirits and we had quality and frank discussion in a very convivial atmosphere,” Mr Soludo said of the IPOB leader. “He expressed sadness over what he described as ‘sacrilegious killings’ of innocent persons, kidnappings and all forms of criminalities, including the brutal enforcement of the senseless ‘sit-at-home’ perpetuated by sundry groups claiming to be acting for or on behalf of IPOB,” the governor added in a post on his Facebook page on Saturday night. The governor said the IPOB leader promised to ‘personally’ prevail on his followers, through a broadcast, to maintain peace whenever he gets the opportunity to interact with them. Security in Nigeria’s South-east has deteriorated in recent times with attacks by armed persons reported almost on a daily basis across the region. Anambra has witnessed some of the worst violence in the region. The attacks often target security agencies, government officials and facilities. During his inauguration, Mr Soludo had called for dialogue with the IPOB group and others behind insecurity in the state and region.

Withdrawals from pension savings by disengaged workers rose for the first time in five years, by 24 percent to ₦21.52 billion at the end of 2021, indicating worsening job losses and unemployment across the country. In 2020, the total withdrawals stood at ₦17.39 billion. The number of laid-off workers that approached their pension managers for withdrawals rose by 22.5 percent to 38,846 in 2021 from 31,716 in 2020, indicating that 7,130 pension contributors lost their jobs during this period. Quoting PenCom data, the Vanguard reported that the withdrawals are in sharp contrast to the 45 percent and 16 percent decline in the number of contributors that lost their jobs and withdrawals from their pension savings between 2017 and 2020. The Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, told the newspaper that the development portends grave implications for the country’s socio-economic environment while appealing for urgent government intervention to address the difficulties. The number of contributors that lost their jobs had declined steadily to 31,716 in 2020 from 52,416 in 2017 before the reversal in 2021. Similarly, the value of funds withdrawn from the pension savings fell steadily during the four years to ₦17.39 billion in 2020 from ₦20.68 billion in 2017 before the spike in 2021.

The National Judicial Council (NJC) has recommended the appointment of 46 judicial officers as part of efforts to beef up the bench in preparation for 2023 election litigations. The successful candidates were presented for NJC consideration during its 98th meeting in Abuja. The NJC’s spokesman, Soji Oye, on Thursday indicated that the successful applicants are recommended for appointment as Heads of Court and other judicial officers for the Federal and State Judiciaries in Nigeria. The recommended Heads of Court are Justice Chukwuemeka-Chikeka Theresa Eberechukwu as Chief Judge for Imo State, Hon. Kadi Bahago Yusuf Abubakar Agwai II as Grand Kadi, Sharia Court of Appeal, Nasarawa State; and Hon. Justice Okorie Victor Uchenna as President, Customary Court of Appeal for Imo State. Three judges were recommended for Benue State and they are Felicia Mnguashima Ikyegh, Omale Gabriel Anebi and Shishi John Mkoholga. Jigawa has two that includes Auwal Ya’u and Mustapha Bello Adamu while Delta State has three- Diai Christopher Dumebi, Odebale Ekuogbe Baro and Gesikeme-Akebofah Angonumere Mary. Four candidates, Ladi Agyer Madaki, Longden Danladi Jacob, Elizabeth Ibrahim Angai and Samchi Dasplang Simon were recommended for Plateau State and three for Kebbi State and they include Hassan Shehu Kuwwa, Shamsudeen Jaafar and Maryam Abubakar Kaoje. The four candidates recommended as Judges for Adamawa State are Ishaku Yakubu Haliru, Felix Daniel Nzarga, Abbas Adamu Hoban and Maxwell Tartius Pukuma. Similarly, the three for Kogi State are Clement Ohiani Kekere, Hawa Eleojo Yusufu and Isa Jamil Abdullahi while the six for Imo State are Okereke Chinyere Ngozi, Onyekachi Michael Bless Chibueze, Antoinette Chinenye Onyeukwu, Innocent Chidi Ibeawuchi, Alinnor Lotanna Chukwunyere Leo and Nwachukwu Obinna Emmanuel. One Kadi was recommended for the Sharia Court of Appeal in Plateau in person of Yahaya Mohammed Kanam while that of Kebbi is Nasiru Umar Zaggan and the two for Adamawa State are Magaji Chiroma and Ibrahim Barkindo. The three judges recommended for the FCT Customary Court of Appeal are Yunusa Idris Kutigi, Muhammad Boyi Marafa and Ubom Unwana Sam while the one for Delta State is Akumagba Ete Francis. Also, two judges recommended for Adamawa Customary Court of Appeal are Momsisuri Bemare Odo and Evaristus Paul and the three for Kogi State are Comfort Ekwuojo Toluwase, Paul Ade Olupeka and Shaibu Yakubu. The two for Imo State Customary Court of Appeal are Okafor Emeka Paulinus and Onuegbu Chinemerem Ucheoma. The candidates would be inaugurated after approval of the NJC recommendations to their respective State Governors and the respective State Houses of Assembly, as the case may be.

Commentary

  • Deborah Yakubu joins a long list of persons such as Gideon Alakula, Samuel Achi, and Bridget Agbahime among others who have been killed for what their assailants defined as blasphemy. As is depressingly consistent with these lynchings, there have been inconsistent versions of the content of Deborah’s alleged blasphemy, in this case, a WhatsApp message which led to her murder. This is as much a fault of the region’s religious elites as it is the fault of her killers. The reaction to blasphemy-related violence has to go beyond statements of condemnation to clearly spell out what these red lines are. From a stability point of view, it is mind-blowing to note that anyone in Northern Nigeria can, in theory, be killed within moments of being accused of blasphemy. Mob actions arising from these might be fanatical on the surface, but they represent an even more insidious trend–the lack of trust in institutions. It is little wonder that capital flight is an ever-present reality in the region. It is important to note that such violence is a product of religious indoctrination where prominent clerics in the region consistently advocate that “blasphemers” should be killed outright due to the belief (and reality) that institutions such as the police and courts end up releasing the alleged blasphemers or hand out sentences that they consider as a slap on the wrist. This is reinforced by the Chief Imam of the National Mosque who occupies an influential position in the Northern Nigerian Muslim community justifying the killing by stating that her murder was because she had crossed what Muslims consider a red line. It is within this context that Deborah’s accusers did not think she deserved a fair hearing, and also did not believe that the police and the government, in general, would be fair and impartial enough to grant relief to their resentment. This is a big problem with respect to security and law enforcement which has to be fixed. The country’s religious elites, especially the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) which the Sultan of Sokoto heads, have to make clear to clerics that the Constitution which grants everyone the right to a fair hearing gives such powers of adjudication and peaceful resolution to the government, and must be seen to actively demonstrate that. The underlying problem of mistrust created by a two-tier judicial system will keep throwing these issues, further widen the North-South divide, and keep the country in a vicious sociopolitical spiral. There is also the element of the northern establishment leveraging this atmosphere of unpredictable violence to keep religious minorities in the North under check, as well as using violence as a tool of negotiation within the Nigerian political framework. Until these paradoxes are addressed, Deborah Samuel Yakubu will just be another name in an endless list of names of victims killed at the drop of a hat.
  • Prof Soludo’s transcript of his meeting with Mr Kanu is inconsistent with the latter’s virulent anti-government messaging which got him detained in the first place, and it is not hard to see why his Finnish-based disciple Simon Ekpa has found it hard to come to terms with the meeting’s purported outcome. There are moves by other members with rising influence to demonise Mr Kanu for taking this meeting, but what is likelier is that some elements of IPOB will listen to Mr Kanu, giving Prof Soludo the legitimacy to go after those who use the cover of the movement to perpetuate economic and real violence while claiming plausible deniability. While Prof Soludo’s consultation with stakeholders is important for consensus building to solve the security problems that have bedevilled the South-East since 2020, there has to be an acknowledgement that these demons were largely unleashed by Mr Kanu’s vitriolic broadcasts, and have to a large extent gone beyond what he can contain. This elicits a third scenario: Mr Kanu’s influence is backed by his commitment to violence-induced change, and he risks losing said influence if he becomes a voice of calm. It is unlikely that he will be willing to do this, essentially making him a prisoner of the ideology he has helped foster – so he may ignore his promises to Prof Soludo and return to a tried and tested model. Simply put, before his incarceration, he unleashed a genie out of a bottle that he cannot put back in. The insecurity in the region has gone beyond IPOB. The group’s resort to plausible deniability as a tactic by never taking responsibility for any attack opened up avenues for criminal groups or “unknown gunmen” to carry out crimes similar to what Mr Kanu encouraged in his broadcasts, and are grouped under the same umbrella by the media and the government. IPOB’s attempts to distance itself from such incidents have not yielded fruits and this is where Prof Soludo’s visit presents an opportunity: Mr Kanu’s faction of IPOB has to work with the state to fish out erring members and proxies. This will prove difficult, but it also presents an opportunity. The kind of negotiations that can bring lasting peace to the South-East has to start from compromises that all parties must be encouraged to make. What is important, is that the Nigerian state needs to deal headlong with the democratisation of violence that has now permeated the region, while galvanising a hearts and minds campaign to get the people behind it in a bid to isolate IPOB and its ideology, in order to effectively counter it.
  • The last time unemployment numbers were published in Nigeria was in the second quarter of 2020. Before that, it had not been published since 2018. The tardiness with publishing unemployment numbers by the NBS must be viewed with utmost seriousness, especially considering the fact that proxy measures such as this pension withdrawals indicate that the alarmingly high unemployment rate from the last publication date continues to rise. The 2014 amendment of the Pension Reform Act made it mandatory for employers with at least three employees to participate in a contributory pension scheme for their employees. The CPS mandates both the employer and employee to contribute funds to the employee’s retirement savings account (RSA). Contributors who are no longer employed and have not attained the retirement age of 50 years can apply to withdraw up to 25% of the value of their RSA, and the value of pension withdrawals serves as a barometer of the engagement status of workers in the formal sector. In 2016, following the oil price crash, Nigeria slipped into its first recession in a generation. Just four years later in 2020, Nigeria slipped into another recession on the back of a pandemic induced global economic crisis. Even though the economy rebounded at the end of that year, the real sector is yet to fully recover, amid current challenges with rising inflation, heightened insecurity, foreign exchange shortages and the exit of foreign capital. In addition, the great migration of skilled workers from Nigeria is in full swing, a situation which is likely to get worse over the next few years. All these indicate that pension withdrawals may keep rising. Clearly, the Buhari administration, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary, has chosen to bury its head in the sand with regard to tackling this monster of a problem. Nigeria’s young people are unable to find work, and those who have, are labouring under the erasure of their income’s purchasing power. This state of things is not sustainable, and we worry about how much longer the lid can be kept on this problem.
  • The move by the highest administrative body within Nigeria’s judicial system to appoint 46 additional judicial officers as part of efforts to beef up the bench in preparation for an avalanche of election litigation is proactive and commendable. It also assumes that there will be an uptick in the number of cases in the pre-election and post-election period of the 2023 elections. The rate at which the courts, rather than the electorate, have played an outsize role in determining the actual winners of electoral contests, raises important questions about the overall credibility of Nigerian elections. To illustrate, INEC withdrew 64 certificates of return – documents issued to election winners – and reissued them to people declared winners by courts of law following the 2019 general elections. Since the advent of the current presidential constitutional paradigm in 1979, Nigerian courts have served as the last resort in cases of electoral result disputes and bar a few high profile exceptions, it has taken that responsibility seriously. The Electoral Act 2022 has often been touted as a measure toward reducing electoral disputes that may arise around the 2023 elections. The NJC’s move, while proactive, sends the message that the vote will be as eagerly contested in the courts as it will be at the ballot. This has the potential to embolden politicians to forgo the polls and instead try to “win” elections by influencing the judiciary in legitimate and underhand ways. On the whole, it is not a good sign of what is to come.