The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has picked former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as its candidate for the 2023 presidential elections. Vote counting started late on Saturday and Abubakar garnered 371 votes, defeating his nearest rival Rivers Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike who received 237 votes. Abubakar has made numerous bids to capture the presidency. The 75-year-old lost to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 during the last election, which he claimed was rigged. Buhari will not be on the ballot next year when the second of his two four-year terms comes to an end. The PDP, which ruled Nigeria after military rule ended in 1999, was removed from power by Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) party in 2015. In his acceptance speech, Abubakar reiterated his campaign promise to end insecurity in the country and revive its fragile economy, among other pledges, and promised to work with his opponents. One of them, Peter Obi resigned his membership 72 hours before the primary, joined the Labour Party and picked its candidacy for the top job. In a letter conveying his resignation to the party’s national chairman, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, he cited “recent developments” within the party as making it “practically impossible to continue participating and making such constructive contributions.” Mr Obi, a former Anambra Governor, was until his resignation one of the 15 aspirants vying for the PDP’s presidential ticket. Abubakar’s main opponent will be from the ruling APC, which will choose its candidate at a special convention to be held 6-8 June. A meeting of APC governors held Tuesday evening to discuss President Muhammadu Buhari’s stance on the party’s presidential candidate ended in a deadlock, according to multiple media reports. The meeting was held in Abuja, minutes after the APC governors had a meeting with the President. At the meeting, Mr Buhari told the governors that he would like to pick his successor and wants the governors to support him to do so. The President left for Spain immediately after the meeting. The APC postponed its presidential primary from Sunday after the electoral commission extended the deadline for political parties to choose their candidates. Twenty-five candidates from the APC have registered to take part in the primaries.

The number of Nigerians studying in the United Kingdom (UK) has risen from 13,020 in the 2019/2020 academic session to 21,305 by the 2020/2021 session. The figure, which amounts to an almost 64 percent increase within a year, is confirmed by data from the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency. The UK has also witnessed a 13.08 percent increase in international student enrolment at the postgraduate level between 2019/20 and 2020/21. The country was home to 605,130 students in the 2020/2021 session, up from 556,625 in the previous academic session. The data showed that Nigeria is the third non-EU country with the most students in the UK with 21,305 students currently enrolled in UK institutions, ahead of the United States with 19,220 students. China and India with 143,820 and 84,555 students respectively have the highest number of students in the UK. According to the data, Nigerians settled majorly in England (16,980), Scotland (2,655), Wales (935), and Northern Ireland (740). Back home, Nigerian manufacturers cut a total of 4,451 jobs in 2021, according to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN). In its half-yearly review of the economy, the association said 11,949 job losses were recorded in the manufacturing sector in 2020. The total historical cumulative direct jobs in the sector were estimated at 1,671,441 by the end of 2021, based on surveys conducted since 2013. According to the report, a total of 16,110 direct jobs were created in 2021 against 8,692 jobs in 2020. “The net job created in the sector in 2021 stood at 11,659 while net job losses in 2020 were 3,257. The trend thus shows that the manufacturing sector is rebounding following the gradual return of economic activities in the sector after a year onslaught brought by COVID-19 pandemic,” it added.

Industry stakeholders have called on the federal government to suspend the 15 percent levy imposed on wheat grain importation to avert production and a major food inflation crisis. The stakeholders made the call in a recent report on the global wheat market following the war between the two top wheat exporting countries – Russia and Ukraine. According to them, the multifaceted value chain crises, including the shortage of foreign exchange, mounting freight charges, and hike in the price of diesel further worsened by the war, continue to take a heavy toll on the wheat value chain. The report showed that the price of wheat in the global market rose to $1,000 per bushel in March 2022 from $761.25 in January. Arguing for the removal of the 15 percent levy in a recent interview, Jude Okafor, National Secretary-General of the Association of Master Bakers and Caterers of Nigeria (ABCON), said discussions have been had with the government on the matter. “We had earlier made a plea to the government to cancel the 15 percent wheat (cassava) levy.” The stakeholders said the 15 percent levy was meant to drive up local cassava production to the point of substituting cassava flour for wheat flour in most bakery production. According to them, however, there has been no significant improvement in the cassava value chain since the introduction of the cassava substitution policy and the levy. Considering the crisis in Ukraine and the global food crisis, the stakeholders called on the Nigerian government to reconsider the removal of the 15 percent wheat import levy as “this is necessary to prevent a wider supply chain breakdown and recession.” Measures proposed by the stakeholders to help the millers, bakers, and consumers include increased access to forex at the import and export (I&E) window, allowance for tax concessions in line with the key backward integration programmes index, and the provision of logistic support.

The Prelate of the Methodist Church in Nigeria, His Eminence, Samuel Kanu-Uche, who was abducted by hoodlums in Abia State, said the church paid a sum of ₦100 million to secure his freedom. In an interview with journalists on Tuesday in Lagos, the cleric said he was beaten by his abductors, who threatened to kill him if the ransom was not paid. His Eminence Samuel Kanu Uche was kidnapped Sunday along a highway in the Umunneochi in Abia, state police spokesperson Geoffrey Ogbonna said. Two other senior clerics with him were also taken hostage. Nigeria’s South-East has in recent years grappled with violent attacks and abductions often blamed on unknown gunmen. Authorities have accused members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, a leading separatist group, of being behind many of the attacks. There has been no word yet from the kidnappers, Ogbonna said, adding that “we are making efforts” to rescue him and the two other captives. The leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) condemned the kidnapping and called on Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to “give an express order to the security agencies to free them immediately and stop the incessant abduction of clerics and other innocent Nigerians.”

Commentary

  • Nigeria’s political season went up a notch this week with Mr Atiku’s revived push for the presidency. However, his victory at the PDP’s primaries will upset an unwritten agreement that allows power to alternate between the North and the South. Before the primaries began, there were calls for both major parties to rotate the presidency to the South, with some stating that it should go to the South East for the sake of equity. Had such calls been heeded by the PDP, the major beneficiary would have been Peter Obi. Mr Obi’s defection to the Labour Party, which also saw his loyalists especially among Nigeria’s internet savvy youths move with him, is a big loss for the PDP as he would effectively take a chunk of his votes from Mr Atiku. However, the southern politicians only have themselves to blame. While a clear understanding was reached among the northern candidates, the multiple southern candidates divvied up each other’s votes, clearing the way for Atiku to emerge. It appears that Mr Wike had gone into the contest confident of support from Mr Tambuwal since he had been one of Tambuwal’s strongest supporters in that candidate’s failed 2019 bid (which was won by Mr Atiku). His confidence was clearly misplaced, as Mr Tambuwal’s last-minute withdrawal in favour of Mr Atiku seemed perfectly orchestrated. As the dust settles, the PDP is likely to have a hard time convincing southern voters that they should vote for a northerner after eight years of Muhammadu Buhari. Mr Atiku performed much better in the South than in the North, but that is unlikely this time with the emergence of Peter Obi on the Labour party’s platform. Peter Obi has organically built online support that has followed him across party lines and his candidacy has inspired a base of mostly urban youth to ramp up a registration effort. This base must prove it is able to convert passionate online advocacy into electoral value if Mr Obi is to rise above the fray. While supporters of Mr Atiku love to point to a ‘kitty of 11 million votes’ which no current aspirant can boast of, he will need to build on this base and secure some elusive states if he is to be Aso Rock’s tenant next year. On the other hand, opponents of the former Vice President point to his age and his constant presence in Nigerian presidential elections as indicative of an uninspiring candidacy. Mr Atiku’s campaign promises to end insecurity in the country and revive its fragile economy are reminiscent of the promises made by President Buhari during his 2015 and 2019 campaigns. President Buhari also made the same claims of a support base in 2015, which many saw as the foundation of his victory. The big risk for the Atiku campaign is who the APC nominates as his opposite number. The party is faced with the ‘small matter’ of bending to the will of the President who allowed state governors to return for a second term or pick their successors (for governors who have served two terms). This is seen by many as a deft political move by Mr Buhari who expects the governors to ‘return the favour’ and let him pick a candidate for the party. The governors (who were rumoured to favour one of their colleagues as the presidential candidate) are caught between a rock and a hard place. Tension continues to build, and speculation is rife following the extension of the deadline for political parties to choose their candidates and the APC’s postponement of its special convention to 6 – 8 June 2022. In considering its candidate, the APC must factor in ethnicity, the ability to inspire the Nigerian psyche, as well as the will of the President to appoint a candidate. If President Buhari manages to name a successor without the APC imploding, then the advantage in this emerging three-horse electoral race would be with the APC. If President Buhari picks a southern successor, it will become that much harder for the PDP to justify its choice. As things become clearer over the next week and the campaign season gets into full swing, the choice of running mates will become a crucial signal on each of the major presidential tickets. But the 2023 race is fraught with one big risk: the likelihood of Nigeria’s political class manipulating the country’s ethnic fault lines in order to win would increase significantly, meaning that 2023 may end up more violent than 2019.
  • The number of students studying in the United Kingdom does not paint the complete picture of Nigerians who have fanned the globe over the last four years. Australia, Canada, the European Union and the United States also host a significant number of Nigerians, who are studying with a view to entering the workforce of their host countries. A proper study that needs to be done to understand the demography of these recent migrants – an informal survey carried out by SBM in October 2021 showed that increasingly middle and older-aged Nigerians who had built long careers, were opting to seek educational opportunities in Europe and North America as a proxy for leaving the country. This speaks to an even greater loss of faith in the country from a constituency that would traditionally be reluctant to leave. The UK has been a natural destination for Nigerian students dating back to colonial rule, but from the 1970s, Nigeria’s non-aligned stance meant that Cold War politics played a part in creating a broader pathway for students aiming for higher education. After the civil war, Nigerian students flocked East, attracted by heavily subsidised tuition in the then Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War, the return to democratic rule and increased optimism in the diaspora about Africa’s prospects meant that the trend reversed itself. In the 2000s, the objective of many students was to get their degrees and return to Nigeria to pursue high paying jobs in a fast-growing private sector and a civil service struggling to keep pace. Today, rising insecurity and diminishing opportunities in the country mean that obtaining foreign resident permits is back in vogue. A consequence of this is increasing brain drain and foreign capital outflows. The former is not specific to Nigeria as businesses globally are experiencing the effects of the Great Attrition, a term coined to describe the shift of power from employers to employees which was accelerated by the global pandemic. Nigerian companies are now faced with a net deficit in skilled workers, many of whom are now single-mindedly focused on relocating to other countries. Back home, the problems remain real. June is the fourth month in which the Academic Staff Union of Universities–the country’s public university lecturers union–have been on strike over a 2009 agreement reached with the Nigerian government over badly needed investment in the sector, with the union seeking about ₦200 billion. In a previous version of this editorial, we explained how university lecturers may not get what they want and must resort to alternative means of keeping their schools running. This is a reality not lost on Nigerian students who seek better academic prospects abroad. Following the EndSARS protests in late 2020, there was a noticeable uptick in the number of young people who left the country in what is now referred to as the Japa Wave. Given that the NBS has not released unemployment figures in almost two years, only proxies like this release by MAN offer interesting insights into the evolving employment crisis rocking the country. This, coupled with the loss of skilled labour to immigration is bound to have a negative effect on aggregate productivity. This migration caused by Nigeria’s moribund education sector will in turn fuel the country’s existing brain drain; the health sector is currently the most affected as Nigerian trained doctors leave in droves, prompting the government to forcefully shut down a Saudi medical professionals recruitment drive in August 2021. Seepage of the country’s talent is not something that can be reversed with physical force but for a government more inclined to resort to such measures, it gives one the feeling that the worst is yet to come.
  • Nigeria tends to do things differently from other countries, and mostly achieves negative results. First, a general rule of thumb to promote trade is to lower tariffs, which increases trade volumes, and in the long run, leads to more economic benefits. Second, as most nations see food security as one of the most important objectives of good governance, food is typically exempt from arbitrary tariff hikes. For example, while the Trump Administration imposed tariff hikes on steel, cars and other finished goods on China and the European Union, food items were largely spared. This wheat levy is yet one example of how Nigerian government policies end up making Nigerians poorer. The 15% levy on wheat imports was introduced in August 2012, and almost immediately, led to an increase in the price of flour-based commodities. For instance, a bag of wheat flour which sold for ₦6,000 before the levy, sold for ₦8,000 in the months after, while a loaf of sliced bread which sold for ₦220, went up to ₦240 soon after the levy. A decade later, the country faces similar hikes, with the NBS reporting in April that inflation touched 16.82%. Per the US Department of Agriculture, Nigeria’s wheat demand could reach 6.5 million tonnes this year, a 13% increase from 2021. In essence, without actually developing the cassava flour industry vigorously to cover demand and campaigning to drive consumer adoption, the government preemptively raised the cost of wheat domestically with the levy. Wider geopolitical developments put the seal on the price coffin. The CBN, as well as the government, are facing a dollar shortage at the moment which gives scarce foreign currency to more “deserving” sectors and is likely to continue their protectionist stance, not to improve production, but to conserve dollars for other expenses such as the frivolous petrol subsidy. For a country where purchasing power has tanked and unemployment is sky-high, this is the proverbial putting the cart before the horse. In effect, the products Nigerians turned to as a substitute – noodles, pasta and bread – when rice became too expensive as a result of government policy, are getting costlier at the same time, hence consumers are becoming poorer and hungrier. This poverty and hunger are already spilling onto the streets. The worst is yet to come.
  • Mr Kalu-Uche, who was released on Monday, told journalists that his abductors–a seven-man gang–all spoke Fulfulde, the language of the Fulani ethnic group. This is potentially explosive given that over the last seven years, the Fulani have been blamed for a lot of the domestic terrorism that Nigeria has witnessed, and Fulani militias are active combatants in the pastoral conflict. The possible presence of kidnappers of Fulani extraction in the South East adds to the layers of insecurity already troubling the region. Mr Kanu-Uche’s narration of events also provides rhetoric arsenal to IPOB when they seek to make the case for what they term “Fulani terrorism”. Another key issue raised in his press statement was the complicity of soldiers stationed in the area he was abducted, something we have mentioned in the past. This behaviour, left unchecked, risks complicating the military’s own counterterrorism operations. In May, a lance corporal who was arrested and detained after being accused of collaborating with a confirmed terrorist informant known as Babagana Kura in Bama LGA in Borno allegedly committed suicide. Reacting to this, Chief of Defence Staff General Leo Irabor wrote a letter to field and operational commanders on the “need to educate personnel on the implications of collaborating with the enemy”. In the letter, Mr Irabor urged the commanders of operational units to take appropriate actions that would forestall such incidents. The security services’ major problem has been a historic refusal to acknowledge that this problem exists. In the South East where the security services are not fondly remembered, this behaviour has not, and does not improve its standing. What the prelate’s abduction juxtaposed with the kidnaps from the Abuja-Kaduna rail two months ago, and the government’s seeming lack of interest in both incidents show is that we are now reaching a point in this new insecurity wave where the elite no longer enjoy access to priority rescue. As the political will to chase down marauders becomes increasingly thin and only available to a shrinking cast of people much closer to power, Nigeria will head into a state of ‘every man for himself and God for us all.’