Nigeria’s unions under the auspices of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) have thrown their weight behind the emergence of the former Anambra governor, Mr Peter Obi, as the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in next year’s general election. Against the background of the emergence of a splinter group laying claim to both the leadership of the party and its presidential ticket, NLC said that both NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC) recognize the leadership of the Labour Party led by Julius Abure, a former trade union leader. In a statement signed by NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, the Congress said that the Labour Party “is the creation and offspring of the Nigeria Labour Congress”, adding that workers are part of the leadership of the party. Wabba said that the NLC and TUC recognise only one presidential primary, which was held in Asaba, Delta State on 30 May 2022, and produced Obi as its presidential candidate. The NLC described the emergence of a factional group led by Calistus Okafor as a fruitless effort to distract the Labour Party from ongoing mass mobilisation efforts for sweeping electoral victory in the 2023 general election.
Although the two main labour unions in the country were part of the formation of the Labour Party, they have not been involved in its running and have not previously attempted to leverage their reach, even at the zenith of the labour movement under Adams Oshiomole (which coincided with the period of formation of the LP to boost the party’s membership base and electoral chances). Like most of the parties in Nigeria outside the PDP, APC, and the parties that merged to form the APC, its electoral chances have been dependent on which politician is able to ‘borrow’ the platform and win an election on his or her own merit. This was how former Housing and Urban Development Minister Olusegun Mimiko resigned from the PDP and former President Obasanjo’s cabinet in 2006 to the LP to run for the Ondo State governorship, which he won albeit via an election petition in 2009. But once the group fractured with the Mimiko-led group splitting to form the Zenith Labour Party, the Labour Party’s fortunes dipped. In the 2019 elections, the Labour Party won only one contest, a House of Representatives seat in Benue whose member defected to the APC in 2021. At present, its only elective office is due to the recent defection of a member of the Plateau State House of Assembly, Nandol Daniel (Langtang North-Central) to the party. The recent crisis over factions in the party is symptomatic of the opportunism that is rife within Nigerian politics: the defection of Peter Obi to the party has provided a massive boost to the party, but has also made it attractive to politicians who will seek to ride this current wave of popularity for their own gain, or possibly sabotage the party from within on behalf of opponents. This also explains the sudden involvement of the NLC and TUC in the party’s affairs after being on the sidelines for close to two decades; the TUC said it had established a political committee in all states and the Federal Capital Territory to ensure its members participate in the 2023 polls. While they have thrown their weights behind the Abure faction, it also enjoys the advantage of being the faction whose primary is recognised by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Barring a court ruling against the Abure faction, Mr Obi will be the candidate of the party in 2023. Mr Obi has emerged as the alternative candidate of choice to the APC and PDP. His candidacy has inspired thousands of young people to register and commit to voting. Whether the unions are able to mobilise a solid bloc of votes for Mr Obi in the 2023 elections (after reuniting the factions within the party) would truly put to test the position of the unions in their relationship with the Labour Party.
A member of the House of Representatives, Ebonyi’s Chinedu Ogah (APC: Ikwo/Ezza South Federal Constituency) said the presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress, Bola Tinubu, was not responsible for an attack on Igbo residents, who went to collect their Permanent Voters Card in Lagos. Online media had reported that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party called for Tinubu to be held responsible for the attack. In a press statement, the APC lawmaker said Tinubu has been good to Igbo people in this APC-led administration, making a series of nominations into President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet and federal parastatals as it concerns the welfare and appointment of Ndigbo. Ogah said he is “confident that Tinubu will bring more dividends of democracy to the South-East” and assured the candidate of the support of Igbo APC leaders in Ebonyi and other stakeholders within the South East.
Mr Ogah’s submission turns black on a crimson test and hardly holds up to scrutiny given antecedents that have been attached to Mr Tinubu and his family. What happened at the Alaba market last week is a facet of what anti-establishment minority voters in Lagos have suffered for a long time. In 2015, the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu infamously said that ethnic Igbos who refuse to vote for Akinwunmi Ambode, the APC’s governorship candidate at the time, would be thrown into the Lagos Lagoon. In the 2019 elections, a tape recording released by Reno Omokri, a former adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan showed Mr Tinubu giving his ‘enforcers’ carte blanche on the use of violence to disrupt polls in Igbo-dominated areas “if they so wish”, adding that he would stand to protect them when the blowback comes. Mr Tinubu’s wife, Senator Remi Tinubu, after casting her vote in that year’s presidential elections, addressed the crowd in a mixture of pidgin English, Yoruba and Itsekiri, and told a physically challenged voter from the South-East who was present at her polling unit that, “You Igbo, we don’t trust you anymore”. There is a well documented history of coordinated anti-Igbo sentiments whipped up by the political class in Nigeria, of which Mr Tinubu is a part. These allegations do not do him any good in his quest to succeed President Buhari. It is not expected that he will muster a sizeable number of votes from the South-Eastern states as he goes head to head with former Anambra Governor, the Labour Party’s Peter Obi and the PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, who is has settled for a running mate that identifies as ethnic Igbo. Statements like Mr Ogah’s deflect from the real issue at hand – citizens were targeted for violence due to their ethnicity and denied access to their fundamental right of participating in the electoral process, a basic tenet of democracy in Lagos State. INEC as the institution responsible for electoral practice in Nigeria should take this more seriously and pursue every legal means to ensure the culprits are brought to book. Simply put, what anyone, including the Ebonyi lawmaker releases, does not matter – only a vigorous prosecution of this issue truly matters. Nigeria is fraught with different groups testing the application of violence to see which violent acts they will not face consequences for, in order to expand and broaden the deployment of such violence. This should not be one of such, and the consequences should be swift and decisive.
Online platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Tiktok will be required to register and open offices in Nigeria and appoint contact persons with the government, new draft regulations from the information technology development agency show. The code of practice for “interactive computer service platforms/internet intermediaries” was meant to curb online abuse, including disinformation and misinformation, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) said in the regulations posted on its website. A statement from the agency’s spokesperson dated 13 June said the regulations were developed with input from Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Google and TikTok, among others. NIDTA said the platforms would be required to provide to users or authorised government agencies relevant information, including for the purpose of preserving security and public order. They would also have to file annual reports to NITDA with the number of registered users in Nigeria, the number of complaints received and content taken down due to disinformation and misinformation. Nigeria earlier this year lifted a ban on Twitter saying the United States-based company had agreed to set up a local office among other agreements with authorities.
Since 2020, the government has tried to pass a social media bill, shut down Twitter, and has continued a campaign against hate speech that is based on loose definitions and almost no legislative oversight. One thing that is clear is that this administration is bent on controlling the social media space and this is likely an approach to avoid the legislative process as well as limit backlash from the general populace. For one, the government is supposed to encourage freedom of speech as well as youth engagement with governance, however, the reverse is the case. The Nigerian government, using the #EndSARS protest as an example, sees social media platforms as a threat to regime security, hence the obsession with curbing citizens’ online freedoms irrespective of the impact on the information and technology sector. Secondly, NITDA is clearly overstepping its mandate, as is synonymous with most government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) who typically have overlapping mandates and overeager mandarins baying for blood. Additionally, the proposed code of practice by NITDA has vague guidelines and is open to misinterpretation. Herein lies the perennial problem with the approach to regulation in this land. The new reporting requirements – from political hate speeches to people’s sex tapes, each linked to people’s profiles – is far too wide to not be construed as anything other than a dragnet. The privacy and anonymity that social media affords will be all but stripped and this may lead, in some cases, to the government instituting cases against victims. While this approach may be useful to the government to push back against the forces of misinformation and disinformation, this administration’s track record of disrespecting free speech and human rights does not engender trust with industry stakeholders of all stripes. For many, it is yet one more avenue to institute suppressive measures against contrary and critical perspectives, particularly from young persons who form the majority of social platform users, activists and anti-government opinionists. Furthermore, unlike its global counterparts such as India and China, Nigeria is simply not a big enough market to be able to make these types of demands from big tech – this is the reality. This draft regulation, as with previous attempts, seeks to flood the regulatory regime with vague guard rails, advance curbs on freedom of expression, offer regulators unwarranted discretion and create the building blocks of a contemporary surveillance state. It is important for all stakeholders to engage in the process and ensure that the regulation in its current form does not pass.
The Debt Management Office (DMO) says Nigeria’s total public debt (federal and state governments) hit ₦41.6 trillion at the end of the first quarter (Q1) of 2022. This represents an increase of ₦2.04 trillion compared to the ₦39.56 trillion recorded at the end of December 2021. In a statement on Tuesday, the DMO attributed the increase to new domestic borrowing by the federal government to partly finance the deficit in the 2022 budget, the $1.25 billion Eurobond issued in March 2022, and disbursements by multilateral and bilateral lenders. The agency said that there were also increases in the debt stock of the state governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The debt management agency said the total public debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio was 23.27 percent as of 31 March. This, it explained, is still below Nigeria’s self-imposed limit of 40 percent. According to the agency, the momentum by the government to grow and diversify revenues remains a priority in order to ensure debt sustainability.
The rate of increase in sovereign debt under the current government is the highest in the country’s history, in addition to the historic levels they currently occupy. While the debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio is below the 40% mark, there are a few important markers to look at to show how much of a waste such debt increases have been. First, the federal government’s debt service to revenue ratio is north of 90%. It means the debt has not done much to generate activities that would increase government income and hence how much it needs in order to not only run the country but to service the debt within reasonable limits. It is always important to note that there are different debt sustainability indicators which must be taken into consideration to build a true picture of the debt status of any country. The Debt-to-GDP is a key indicator of the size of the debt and the possibility of repaying that debt in the long term as it can be interpreted as the number of years needed to pay back debt if economic activity is dedicated entirely to debt repayment. This kind of dynamic creates a vicious cycle where the country is incurring ever more expensive debt in each borrowing cycle, in order to simply meet repayment obligations. A second is to look at the fact that debt has grown over 300% in the Buhari years, yet little by way of trade growth, GDP, manufacturing, employment and other indicators of increased economic activity due to expansionary government spending would indicate that rising borrowing is being invested in productive projects. Neither can the government see it as a fait accompli. It clearly chose not to listen to warnings from the IMF and analysts of all stripes, us included, that clearly hinted at the long-term negative impact of such outrageous borrowing patterns. Essentially, these two indicators – a rising debt-to-GDP indicator sat within the context of a runaway debt-to-revenue ratio – point to the fact that Nigeria is assets rich but income poor. Any business which cannot generate cash flow to meet its obligations is not a viable one. It is sad that Nigeria under Buhari has borrowed so much, and has little to show for it. The next administration will be in the unenviable position similar to that which Mr Obasanjo found himself in when he took over from the military in 1999, where crippling debt meant his capacity to execute government programmes was severely limited. However, there will be one difference – the world is unlikely to forgive Nigeria’s debt in the 2020s as it did in the early 2000s. Nigeria will have to work its way out of this morass while servicing its debt.