A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, has described as a “disastrous error” the choice of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress in the 2023 election, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, of Kashim Shettima as his running mate. According to Mr Babachir, although Mr Tinubu remained “a very good man”, great listener, humble and “very generous in both cash and kind, especially where it could advance his political interests”, he had realised that it had been in the nature of power that “sycophants and lapdogs have the most influence on leaders with such character traits.” Mr Babachir bared his mind in a lengthy essay published by various media outlets on Tuesday night. His essay came as the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) has seen a rash of resignations as people protest its decision to settle for a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket in 2023. A chieftain of the APC in Delta State and national caucus member, Air Vice Marshal Frank Ajobena (retd.) quit the party in protest. The retired Air Force chief described the Muslim-Muslim ticket as “the highest level of insensitivity to the Christian faith in the country.” Other high-profile resignations include former Governorship Candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in Rivers State, Prince Tonye Princewill, veteran Nigerian actor Kenneth Okonkwo, legal practitioner and politician, Daniel Bwala and Senator Ishaku Abbo representing Adamawa North senatorial district.
The strongly-worded essay by Babachir Lawal is a stinging rebuke from someone seen as close to Mr Tinubu – Babachir was part of the team that picked up the APC presidential nomination forms for Tinubu in April; and back in 2015 when he was appointed as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, he credited Tinubu with contributing to the decision. Mr Babachir’s rebuke of Mr Shettima’s choice as the APC running mate as well as the raft of resignations and protests within the party heighten the odds of an implosion or split within the party. While one had been predicted after the primaries depending on who won, it was not expected that the choice of a running mate could precipitate an intra-party crisis. An all Muslim ticket is a gamble by the ruling party which shows as much disregard for half of Nigeria’s population as it also alienates the two geopolitical zones–the South East and the South South–with an overwhelming Christian majority as well as the sizeable Christian minority in the north. It is also a continuation of President Buhari’s ‘97/5%’ majoritarian democracy which is a subset of the zero sum politics that the party is now known for. The wave of defections indicates that key party stakeholders were not carried along in the consultations. On another hand, the lack of coordination represents an impunity that claws away at existing gentlemen’s agreements on representation which have been ironclad since the era of military rule. The alienation of an entire faith on the ticket of a major party is not without precedent. A Muslim-Muslim ticket happened in 1993 with Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe, however, Nigeria is a far cry from those halcyon days with deepening ethnic and religious divisions. Already, Christian groups are ringing loud about insinuations of an “Islamisation agenda,” which this ticket does very little to dispel. Overall, the decision by Mr Tinubu and the APC have grave implications for Nigeria’s politics and unity. No matter how Tinubu and his supporters try to spin the choice of Mr Shettima as largely based on competence, it is evident that the move was a clear play at ensuring a Northern Muslim is on the ticket as a way of securing Northern Muslim votes. It is identity politics at its purest while relegating the need for balance and inclusivity to the background. It might prove a tipping point in this race filled with never ending twists and turns.
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) has lamented that the subsidy on petroleum products, especially petrol, has placed a huge financial burden on the states. The NGF said this in a memo it forwarded to the House of Representatives. The memo is a response to the call for memoranda made by the The House’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Volume of Fuel Consumed Daily in Nigeria, which is investigating the actual amount of petrol the country consumes daily. The memo was signed by the Head, Legislative Liaison, Peace and Security, NGF, Fatima Usman Katsina, for the Chairman of the Forum and addressed to the committee’s Chairman, Abdulkadir Abdullahi. The memo titled, ‘Findings on the Volume of Fuel Consumed Daily in Nigeria,’ dated 1 July 2022, partly read that, “Rising prices are pushing millions of Nigerians into poverty”. Rising inflation between 2020 and 2021 is expected to have pushed an additional 5-6 million Nigerians into poverty with some adults skipping meals. “35 out of 36 states are likely to see transfers from the federation fall (in nominal terms) between 2021 and 2022, with the average decline projected to be about 11 percent. Most states are already experiencing fiscal stress, with 30 out of 36 states recording fiscal deficits in 2020, including Lagos and every oil-producing state except Akwa Ibom.” The NGF stated that greater accountability and transparency around oil and gas revenues “are the only immediate options for easing the pressure on government finances and maximising socially responsible profit gain”.
It is important to set the wider context within which the political conversation around petrol subsidies is occurring. The last two years have been trying to say the least. In early 2020, the world was plunged into a great lockdown following an outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as normality was being restored across the world, the Russia-Ukraine crisis began in early 2022 and has resulted in yet another massive disruption of global trade. Since then, inflation has been raging across developed and developing countries alike. In the US, inflation has hit a new four-decade high of 9.1% while the UK is not far behind at 9%. In Sri Lanka, inflation hit 54.6% and this led to massive unrest, forcing the President to flee into exile. Nigeria’s inflation has been rising steadily and hit 17.7% in May, although the real situation on ground suggests the true figures may be much higher. In addition, embargoes on Russia and the disruption to crude oil supplies have caused prices to consistently top $110 per barrel. This is positive for major oil exporting countries, except Nigeria which is yet to reap the positive benefits due to production shortfalls. Rather, the country is facing rising costs of importing refined petrol. This also means that the cost of subsidising this petrol keeps rising and as a the end of May, Nigeria had spent ₦4 trillion on the subsidy, a figure which is 66% of the total tax revenues generated by the Federal Inland Revenue Service in the whole of last year. With the government’s revenues tied up to this wasteful venture, there is little money to spend on infrastructure and other economically productive activities. This is the background to the issue the governors are saddled with. We would expect that the NGF ditch the political horse trading and follow the example of the Rivers State government with regards to the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) and take this matter to court for a clear judicial pronouncement instead of complaining about an issue that sits within their power to act upon. The fact that petrol subsidies are currently structured as an administrative cost by the state oil company without legislative appropriation is another aspect of this travesty. However, the fundamental issue raised by the NGF holds true – fuel subsidies are a burden the Nigerian state cannot afford. Ultimately, Nigeria will have to choose between surviving or continuing this kind of rancid consumption that will drive its own collapse.
₦800 million ($1.3 million) was paid to the terrorists holding captives abducted from the AK9 train service attacked on the Abuja–Kaduna route before seven victims were released on Saturday, Daily Trust reported. The victims were among the dozens abducted in the March 28 train attack by gunmen. While no group has formally claimed responsibility for the attack, the paper’s reporting said some “security sources and researchers” attribute it to remnants of Boko Haram working in cahoots with members of the Darul Salam, another group mostly populated by Fulani youths dislodged from Niger and Nasarawa states while others hold the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) responsible. The release of the seven victims came amid heightened fears that the terrorists would kill all those in their custody over the federal government’s alleged failure to respond to their demands. Daily Trust reported that the captors had sent an audio clip to victims’ families threatening to kill the captives if the families were unwilling to strike a deal with them. The families of each of the six Nigerian victims paid ₦100 million, the paper said, while the captors pegged the ransom for a Pakistan national at ₦200 million which was also paid. An unnamed source of the paper said, “Only ₦200 million was collected in naira, the remaining ₦600 million was paid in the equivalent of US dollars.” Those released were identified as Muhammad Daiyabu Paki, Bosede Olurotimi, Abubakar Zubairu, Alhassan Sule, Sadiq Ango Abdullahi, Aliyu Usman and Muhammad Abuzar Afzal.
This development illustrates the growth and expansion of the Islamic State that had hitherto been locked in a stalemate with the Nigerian military in the North East. The train attack was initially thought to be carried out by Ansaru, the first faction to break away from Boko Haram Central. The collaboration of ISWAP with Darul Al Salam is even more damning of the security services capabilities. In August 2020, the military dislodged the group from their base in Toto LGA, Nasarawa, arrested some of its members, destroyed bomb making equipment and rescued their captives. That the group was able to resurface less than two years later, now fully allied with its bigger benefactor Boko Haram, is not only troubling, it illustrates in frightening detail the increasing proliferation of armed groups. More troublingly, the amount paid as ransom presents a picture of the state of Nigeria’s shadow economy. At the minimum reported amount of ₦100 million ($162,500), this means that the abductors might be able to raise up to ₦5 billion; significant funding that will strengthen the group to carry out more attacks either in support of ideological causes or stage more mass abductions to raise more funds. The state of security is creating an impoverished populace who eke out a living in order to stay free. Additionally, it enables a massive wealth transfer–not in the conventional sense, but from victims to a new (and virulently ideological) bourgeoisie, and the inability of the state to trace the money sources transforms these new elites into a class of comprador bourgeoisie which is being subsidised by a helpful dose of state complicity. In this sense, it massively calls into question the activities of organisations like the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) among several others charged with the responsibility of cutting illegal finance flows. The refusal of these agencies among others to step up to the challenge is indicative of two things: first, their dormancy is as a result of the “on-your-own” policy the federal government as well as some state governments, especially Kaduna, have taken in response to the kidnap epidemi; seeking to push the burden of responsibility to the average citizen by outlawing ransom payments. More seriously, a near nonexistent appetite by the authorities to investigate and prosecute such transactions is further exacerbated by the silofication of what tepid efforts the responsible organisation makes. As a result, such responsibilities have been outsourced to the international community, with countries and international organisations such as the United Arab Emirates and ECOWAS leading the way in investigating and prosecuting Nigerians accused of terror financing. It does seem that the government has given up efforts to get a handle on the situation.
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), last week, said Interior Minister Rauf Aregbesola must be sacked with immediate effect over his consistent failure to stop attacks on prisons in the country. HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko , in a statement, said it is distasteful and condemnable that over 15 jailbreaks have occurred under Aregbesola in the last five years while over 3,000 inmates have escaped. The group also urged the President, Muhammadu Buhari, to stop asking rhetorical questions on social media on how the intelligence system of the country failed to detect Tuesday’s attack at Kuje prison in Abuja. HURIWA said the President should immediately set up a judicial panel of inquiry on prison breaks in Nigeria and ensure that such assaults on the entire security apparatus of Nigeria do not recur. A terrorist attack on the Kuje Correctional Centre last Tuesday led to the death of some security agents and inmates and the breakout of at least 600 prisoners, including 64 Boko Haram suspects. Some media reports said soldiers deployed to the vicinity of the correctional centre were redeployed 24 hours before the attack.
The reaction of the Federal Government led by President Buhari to the Kuje prison attack is informed by one thing: the proximity of the attack to Abuja. This is because while there have been jailbreaks and even attacks on other prisons in the past, equally heinous as the one in Kuje (such as one on Owerri prisons in April 2021), none elicited the sort of response the Kuje prison attack has. Past attacks and jailbreaks represented opportunities to hold the prison authorities and the supervising minister accountable but nothing has been done. Even more, these incidents, as well as other attacks on military personnel, bases and installations, are more than enough to warrant a wholesale reform of Nigeria’s security architecture. Nothing of the sort happened. A major problem that fuels existing governance challenges in Nigeria is the existence of a monolith of impunity. There is little or no incentive to punish poor performance or mediocrity among public officials and this could be attributed to the adverse reverse of the social contract. In the social contract, the government has a responsibility to protect lives and properties while the citizens have the right to pay taxes. If the government fails to perform its duty, in ideal circumstances it makes way for another. Nigeria is far from an ideal society and as such, public officials who fail at their duty understand that there will be no form of repercussion–not by their principals and certainly not at the polls. Muhammadu Buhari is not a president that is known to sack give his ministers the sack and likewise takes an inordinately long time to bring the axe down on underperforming or compromised public officials. Ideally, the Kuje attack would have led to the dismissal of everyone involved, including the interior minister, the comptroller of the correction services as well as heads of intelligence agencies who failed to forestall the attack before it happened. This would not happen and as a result, it would continue to swell allegations of complicity by state officials who have made a show of the lack of resistance by security elements deployed to the prison, as well as the alleged redeployment of soldiers in the area hours before the attack. Like with many other things with the Buhari administration, the can will be kicked down the road for the next administration to pick up.