The Senate on 28 June insisted that it will still go ahead with investigating the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, despite his recent resignation. This was sequel to a motion on Matter of Urgent Public Importance titled, ‘State of Affairs in the Supreme Court of Nigeria and Demand by Justices of the Court’, moved by the Chairman Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC-Ekiti). Following prayers of the motion, the senate resolved to mandate the committee to go ahead with its assignment to find a lasting solution to the matter by interacting with relevant stakeholders in the three arms of government as well as at the Bar and the Bench. While moving the motion pursuant to Rules 41 and 51 of the Senate Standing Orders, Bamidele noted that the poor welfare of judicial officers would affect the optimal delivery of the judiciary. Supporting the motion, Deputy Chief Whip, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, said “this motion will show clearly that the Senate is not unaware of the role it is supposed to play”. Tanko’s abrupt exit confirming his ill health comes amid a raging crisis in the Supreme Court following allegations by his 14 colleagues on the Supreme Court bench that he is hampering the operations of the court by failing to fund judges’ welfare, fuel generators, among other essential services. The most senior justice left, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, took the judicial oath of office as the acting Chief Justice shortly thereafter.

Mr Tanko’s unforgettable tenure at the helm of the country’s highest court began under acrimonious circumstances with the unprovoked, unconstitutional and hair splitting removal of his predecessor, Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari, an act which spelled the opening Salvo in his administration’s vicious attack on the democratic rule of law. It was followed by the home invasion of a number of Supreme Court justices by the secret police on bogus (and as yet unproven) corruption charges and garnished by repeated rhetoric and administrative attacks by the Executive branch on the judiciary. Staring at the face of an institution famed for its administrative inefficiency, an unwillingness to innovate, a public credibility crisis and a government who did not take its pronouncements seriously, Nigerians rightly accorded the judiciary all the seriousness of a pomade laced talking shop. Through it all, Mr Tanko, the most powerful judicial official in Africa’s largest democracy, did little to defend his profession, his constituency, his colleagues, his mandate and the institution he was sworn to uphold. Going by the unprecedented move by his colleagues to write (and leak) a bombshell letter alleging a robust effort on the former Chief Justice’s part to squelch their independence, professionalism and welfare, he was certainly effective at preserving his job. Until the game was up. That was a straw too far, even for the ruling authorities who had emasculated him. Mr Tanko, in essence, was a problem that needed to be fixed. His resignation was quietly celebrated in every building in the Three Arms Zone and the Presidency, this time around, decided that respecting the judicial doctrine of seniority at the Bench was in their interest. All’s well that ends well, right? Some federal lawmakers beg to differ and this is where the next chapter of this drama could yet be written. The decision by the Senate to continue with investigating the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria is the right one to take, especially considering the weighty allegations labelled against him by his brother justices. Pursuing the investigation to a logical conclusion will go a long way to ascertaining the root causes of the complaints by the justices on the court, and to ensure that it is resolved. However, it remains to be seen if the investigation will be completed in good time considering the fact that it is expected that within the next few months, political campaigning will reach a fever pitch, which will impact on the senators making this a priority. The move remains an important one to pursue if the judiciary is to have another shot at redemption.

The federal government on 24 June established a task force to halt the smuggling of petrol and determine the actual volumes consumed by each Nigerian state, among others. The task force named, “Operation White,” would ensure transparency and accountability of petroleum products distribution, as the queues for petrol grew worse on Friday in many parts of Nigeria. To curtail the development and help address the lingering fuel queues in Nigeria, especially in Abuja and its environs, the government, through its Nigeria Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA), had to establish the task force on Friday. “The task force is made up of the NMDPRA, the [Pipelines Product Marketing Company] and the [Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps],” the statement said. This comes as the amount the government spends as subsidy on every litre of petrol currently sits above ₦600, oil sector operators said on Sunday. Also, the latest petrol evacuation data from the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) on Sunday showed that the year-to-date daily consumption of petrol was 66.8 million litres. Going by the above figure, it implies that Abuja spends about ₦40.1 billion daily subsidising every litre of petrol. This also means that the government spends about ₦1.243 trillion on fuel subsidies every month.

Operation White might as well have been named Operation White Elephant because, in time-honoured Nigerian fashion, it is nothing more than a mirage set up to offer people the false impression that something is being done while ignoring the glaring solution to the problem it purports to solve. It is clear to all that the daily consumption numbers published by the government are at best imaginary, and at worst fraudulent. The question to ask is why this has continued to grow at an alarming rate. The answer is the presence of the subsidy incentive paid directly to petrol importers who are compelled by the allure of easy profits to report ever rising volumes. Put simply, there is an incentive to increase subsidy figures by simply manufacturing the consumption. In addition, as this editorial has consistently pointed out, Nigeria’s petrol prices are much lower than those of its much poorer neighbours due to the subsidy, which creates an added incentive for some subsidy recipients and their downlines to reap higher profits still, by smuggling the fuel into these countries. Smugglers, however, are largely pawns in this game of black-soaked chess. The real kings, queens and bishops of this game are in the corridors of power, the state oil firm and its associated companies, the enforcement agencies and the major international and local marketers. The labour unions have also been complicit in this charade of retaining this relic, first introduced in the military era as a temporary means of cushioning domestic fuel prices from the pains of structural adjustment. Not only has petrol subsidy maligned and misaligned the Nigerian economy, it has negatively impacted the economies of Benin, Cameroon, Niger and Togo. In 2012, Nigeria missed a clear opportunity to jettison subsidies for good. Now, it is in a race to the bottom with itself and the hand brakes are off. A crash is near.

Data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) shows that the operating costs of telecommunication companies in the country rose by ₦265.25 billion to ₦1.66 trillion in 2021. The cost was ₦1.4 trillion in 2020. According to the ‘2021 Subscriber/Network Data Annual Report’, this illustrates an increase of 18.74 percent up from the figure reported in 2020. In April this year, telecommunication providers under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) said that the rising cost of diesel had negatively impacted their operational costs while asking the federal government for special interventions. The President, ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo, said that the industry was worried about how the rising cost of diesel would further drive the high cost of business. Industry data estimate that mobile telecommunication operators use an average of 40 million litres of diesel per month to power telecom sites. This, therefore, means that telecom firms may spend as much as ₦720 billion in powering their services in 12 months. According to ALTON, the telecom industry is one of the largest consumers of diesel in the country accounting for about 35 percent of operators’ costs. In a recent letter to the NCC, ALTON suggested a 40 percent upward review in the cost of calls, SMS, and data. This would have increased the floor price of calls from ₦6.4 to ₦8.95 and the price cap of SMS from ₦4 to ₦5.61.

The telecommunications industry is a vital component of the Nigerian economy, with its services providing an essential commodity widely enjoyed by almost a hundred million Nigerians. In addition, it is one of the few segments of the economy that has consistently shown healthy growth throughout the lean Buhari years. As with other market participants, however, the telcos have been labouring under a challenging business environment, one made primarily tetchy by the fundamental inability of the state to solve the power problem. As a workaround, operators have had to design and maintain distributed power systems that are largely fueled by diesel, a commodity whose domestic pricing, unlike its primary cousin, petrol, is deregulated. Africa Check estimates that there are more than 100 million generating sets in private hands in Nigeria, serving more than 40 million households and businesses. With the generating sets providing close to half of all electricity generated in Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria is the perfect poster child of patches of dynamism and innovation swimming against a tide of anomalies and inefficiencies. That creaky framework mostly held up until the present perfect storm of rising commodity prices and constrained trade flows hit everyone hard. In lean times, a fully market driven set up will see operators pass on extra costs to the end consumer. But this is Nigeria and things rarely work like that, creating a similar challenge to what obtains in the moribund power industry – the price of an input, diesel, is deregulated while the prices of the final output – call, SMS and data costs – are regulated and have now been viewed almost as a public good by the regulatory supervisor. Ordinarily, the telecom companies should be at liberty to raise their prices in response to rising energy costs, subject to adhering to competition laws. But the Nigerian regulatory obsession with price controls on output when input prices are not under government control strikes again. The irony is that were Nigeria’s telecoms industry is not so diesel dependent but piggybacked instead on reliable and publicly available power, complemented with investments in renewables, this present malaise would largely be forestalled. Put another way, this is simply not the way to build critical national infrastructure. The diesel price crisis highlights the need for steady power supply as the cornerstone for economic growth and value creation. Over the course of the year, the aviation sector has teetered on the brink due to a constrained supply of Jet A1 fuel and unrest among importers and marketers. mean that petrol queues are the norm, not the exception in parts of the country, particularly in the national capital. The government’s lazy answer to these issues has been to issue temporary subsidy guarantees which have reassured precisely no one – operators or consumers – not to talk of its balance sheet or bondholders. The game play, for power, energy and communications, is clear. The government needs to allow proper pricing mechanisms in its markets, make the investments in fixing power, especially to critical sectors and incentivise the move towards renewables using tax cuts to the telecoms industry which contributes the most in taxes, after the oil and gas players. Anything short of this smacks of regulatory and legislative irresponsibility.

Zamfara will start issuing licences to individuals to carry guns to defend themselves against armed gangs of kidnappers causing havoc in the country’s Northwest, the state’s Commissioner for Information, Magaji Dosara said on Sunday in Gusau. He said the state governor had directed the state police commissioner to issue 500 gun licenses in each of the 19 emirates in the state to those who wish to defend themselves. Dosara also said that Zamfara will recruit additional community protection guards across the state to help fight the bandits while the state will also set up a new paramilitary unit commanded by a retired police commissioner. Dosara added that the state also banned the use of motorcycles and the sales of petrol in three districts and one emirate, in areas which are the most affected by banditry. Next door in Kaduna, the Ansaru group has banned political activities in many communities in the eastern part of Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area, according to the Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressives’ Union (BEPU). Ishaq Kasai, the group’s chairman, told Daily Trust that the group regularly recruits young residents and marries off young girls in the area. According to him, the Ansaru group has camps in seven political wards in the local government area. He also said the militants beat up anybody found with posters of any political parties or symbols within the communities under their control. The Chairman said the Ansaru group continues to gain strength in the area whereby locals, particularly the youth, are being recruited.

This is the clearest indication yet that the (Nigerian) state has lost the battle in keeping its people safe. Zamfara’s actions are the third call for armed self-defence by the ruling or political elite after Katsina’s Governor Aminu Masari made a similar call last year.. The Benue State government had earlier advocated a similar approach but stopped short of implementation, leaving its residents out in the cold while setting them on a path which may bring them in conflict with the state itself. The biggest opposition yet to this plan has come from the military top brass, who still believe, delusionally, that it can still do the job of securing lives and homes. Gusau begs to differ, its argument being that it has afforded the armed services every support possible in their counterterrorism operations in the state. The Nigerian military is a conservative institution that jealously guards its “right” to bear and use arms but it is yet to wake up to the reality that it lost the monopoly of violence a while ago. Even worse, an alarming number of Nigerians do not trust it to keep them safe, as shown in the radicalisation and arming of separatists in the South East over what they see as the military’s complicity in killings by ethnic militias in the region. What Zamfara is proposing might be popular on paper, but the long-term effects may be dire. An SBM report on small arms and light weapons in 2020 estimated the number of small arms in the hands of Nigerian non-state actors at a little over six million, while the armed forces and law enforcement agencies collectively account for 586,600 firearms. Nigerian politicians are not known to be circumspect in their arms distribution, particularly during election season. Nearly all of these weapons are not retrieved and instead help fuel the already abysmal cycle of gang clashes, kidnapping and armed robbery. In a state battling with similar concerns, Zamfara has, for all intents and purposes, given carte blanche to its people to use the barrel of the gun to stay alive, and this is not something to entirely blame them for. All they need to do is look next door at places like Kaduna’s Birnin Gwari to see where complicity and inaction will lead them to.