President Muhammadu Buhari has reversed his authorisation of Seplat Energy’s takeover of ExxonMobil’s shallow water business in Nigeria, throwing his weight instead behind the regulator’s decline of the $1.3 billion transaction. A spokesperson said the President decided to support the position of the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), and the earlier confusion was because “various agencies involved in (the) decision had not coordinated well among themselves.” The NUPRC had on Monday said the proposed takeover of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited by Seplat, an indigenous oil firm, was a regulatory matter and it had notified ExxonMobil the transaction could not go through. The statement came a few hours after presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, said Mr Buhari had approved the transfer as the Minister of Petroleum Resources and the approval aligned with the country’s drive for FDI in the energy sector. “The President’s contradictory decisions suggest that he may not be in full control of critical state matters,” officials said. ExxonMobil entered into a landmark Sale and Purchase Agreement with Seplat Energy to acquire the entire share capital of Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited from Exxon Mobil Corporation, Mobil Development Nigeria, and Mobil Exploration Nigeria earlier this year. However, the transaction suffered a setback after the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation asserted a right of first refusal on the deal. As a joint venture partner, NNPC argued it retained the right to be allowed to buy oil blocks sold by ExxonMobil ahead of any competitor or private firm.

This is another display of the lack of coordination in the Buhari government, where different parts of the government publicly oppose each other. We saw this when different statements emanated from the presidency that precipitated the now famous “who is the presidency?” quip from then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal. It is further complicated with the President coming out to reverse the initial statement and backing the NURPC, in spite of the original statement being posted on official media handles. The NUPRC is an organ of the federal government, thus one would expect that any pronouncements by President Buhari, who also acts as petroleum minister, would have the input of the agency which oversees that space. We also wonder whether statements made by the presidential spokesmen are actually at the behest of Mr President or whether they are moderated by overzealous officials who know that their principal has little interest in the day-to-day running of the government. What is most important to the investment community is dependability and predictability, and this type of behaviour shatters this for the Nigerian economy, from the highest levels. In any of these cases, it again reiterates the significant problem of the Buhari administration – the President does not have a firm hand on things that he should. What is clear is that this current administration is dysfunctional and a risk to the going concern of the country.

Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, at the unveiling of its security outfit, said the state government would legally procure Ak-47 rifles for the security outfit, Community Volunteer Guards. Other states including Ondo, Ekiti, Osun and Zamfara also indicated that they would arm their security agencies as insecurity worsens in the country. Also, representatives of security agencies, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, the diplomatic corps and select government ministries, held a summit in Abuja, to ensure that schools are secure and re-opened. On its part, the Ondo State Government said it was working towards acquiring a licence for Amotekun Corps operatives to enable them to face bandits. Also in Osun State, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security, Abiodun Ige, said Governor Oyetola was of the strong opinion that Amotekun should bear arms. In Zamfara State, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Bello Matawalle, Jamilu Iliyasu said, the governor would follow due process regarding the purchase of firearms for self-defence in the state. Also reacting to the rising insecurity, the Special Adviser on Security Matters to Ekiti State Governor, Brig. Gen. Ebenezer Ogundana (retd.), said that the state was working towards empowering operatives of its security outfit, Amotekun Corps. Meanwhile, residents of Ogbomoso zone in Oyo State, yesterday, trooped out en-mass to protest the incessant kidnapping and killing in the area, vowing to take up arms to defend themselves if the federal government and relevant agencies, saddled with the responsibilities of securing their lives and property, fail to curb the menace.

Prior to now, only a few states have dared to arm their security outfits–a process which is as tenuous as it is strenuous. As a result, state governments were content with the non-problematic option of supporting the federal police by donating vehicles among others. What is happening now is a revolt framed by the conversations about structural federalism which has been suppressed by the federal government’s refusal to entertain the idea of state policing, which is an integral part of federalism. Nigeria’s federal structure is changing as states, sensing an administrative weakness at the centre, are out for blood (the VAT debate, Paris Club Payments etc), chipping away at powers exclusively granted to the federal government. Although this idea has been mooted by numerous states, most notably, as part of the resolutions adopted by the 17 southern governors after their meeting in Asaba, Delta State in May 2021, there has been no action on it in terms of influencing the 51 senators and 170 federal representatives from the region to present a bill before the National Assembly that will seek to amend the Constitution so as to empower states to have their own police outfits. If not done properly, the establishment of the various security outfits in different states as well as the desire to arm them is a recipe for disaster and will worsen security and human rights outcomes. Although vigilantism has become commonplace in Nigerian society today, this emerging trend seeks to entrench it even more. Not only that, these security agencies are set up seemingly without any clear doctrines or operating procedures, with recruitment haphazardly done, and no visible, standard training given to their officers. Poorly trained as the Nigerian Police is, the state-owned vigilante outfits are even worse. There is a need for Nigeria’s policing system to be overhauled so that states can take more direct responsibility for their security. And while this is accepted in numerous quarters, there is a need for political office holders to go beyond rhetorical support for state policing and begin to work on the legal instruments that will make this a reality in terms of giving states the legal power, defining how the different state police outfits will work with each other, as well as interface with federal security agencies, and design a new security architecture for the country. In sticking with the main point about arms for state government-created security outfits, on one hand, perhaps there is truly a desire for more responsibility by states seeing how much the federal government has struggled in its fundamental duty of law and order. Having said all of this, the well-documented history of tyranny by state governors makes the use of arms by their own agencies a possibly dangerous exercise. Right now, the states are much too obsessed with seeking ways to get arms for their agencies (which may make the 2023 elections quite toxic if they decide to deploy such armed personnel for political gains). Finally and quite tellingly, not a word has been said about civilian oversight, the command and control structures of these organisations, among others. If Ebube Agu’s recent exploits in Imo are anything to go by, the impunity that has characterised law enforcement in Nigeria is not going away anytime soon.

Nigerian governors have advised the federal government to offer federal civil servants who are older than 50 years a one-off retirement package to exit the service, as part of coordinated efforts to instil fiscal discipline and prevent the country from imminent economic collapse. PREMIUM TIMES gathered from sources privy to details of the meeting that the governors made the proposal at a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in July. The proposal also urged the government to begin implementation of the updated Stephen Oronsaye Report, which suggested the merger and shutdown of agencies and parastatals with duplicated or contested functions as a way to address bureaucratic inefficiency and reduce the cost of governance. According to the officials familiar with details of the meeting, the governors were concerned about the deteriorating state of the economy and a proposal to restore fiscal discipline was presented to the federal government. The suggestion comes as indications emerged that the country may be teetering toward the cliff of economic collapse.

The governors were right to point out that the country faces imminent economic collapse. Some of the measures proposed are also appropriate, such as implementing the Oronsaye report, which in 2011 recommended the following: 263 statutory agencies coalesced into 161; the abolishment of 38 agencies; the merger of 52 agencies and the conversion of 14 others to departments in ministries. However, the governors are not without fault. Suggesting that civil servants older than 50 years be let go at the age when many political elites actively vie for political positions speaks to the manner in which the political elite address problems in a way that shields them from the problems they have created. As always, Nigeria’s political class has failed to identify the problem: the problem is not a numbers problem, but a productivity problem. The total number of federal civil servants in Nigeria is 89,000, to serve a population of at least 140 million people. In the United Kingdom, there are 484,880 civil servants serving 67.2 million people. Therefore, simply reducing the number of civil servants in Nigeria is not a solution. The probable solution is to begin to redesign the system to make the existing civil servants more productive and facilitate efficient delivery of government services to the Nigerian people. A bit of historical perspective: the suggested measure will be in a similar mould to the mass retrenchments that were carried out under the Murtala Mohammed military regime in 1975, an event with long-lasting negative consequences to the capacity and professionalism of the civil service that Nigeria still deals with to this day. In speaking to the modern issue, first, most of Nigeria’s states always look to Abuja for handouts rather than looking within to develop ideas that would ensure the growth of internally generated revenues. Second, the civil services in the various states are over-bloated because successive governors have viewed the employment of their cohorts in the civil service as the fulfilment of promises of job creation, thus, asking for the federal civil service to be trimmed is simply hypocritical. There are frameworks for rationalising the civil service, most recently from the Oronsaye report that has gathered dust since its submission. These frameworks are more structured, and will not create chaos and another cycle of long-lasting negative impacts on the civil service. A sweeping measure such as this will cost the civil service valuable experience, as well as cause civil servants to dig into their decision to enrich themselves while in office while also manipulating their ages, as they are unable to predict what is to come.

Ondo Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, on Tuesday, said five suspected terrorists who attacked St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo on 5 June 2022, have been arrested. Akeredolu confirmed the arrest shortly after the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Lucky Irabor, announced the arrest of two of the masterminds of the attack in Abuja. Akeredolu was speaking while receiving the chairman of the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Ondo State, Prince Leke Adegbite, and his executive members. The governor also disclosed that the person who allegedly housed the suspected terrorists before they carried out the attack had been arrested. He said, ”Now that the military has announced it, I can tell you that five of them have been arrested now. They are still on the trail of the rest. The home where they lodged in Owo and the person who lodged them before the attack, has also been arrested. “We did not spare a moment. I am happy that the Chief of Defence Staff has announced it. “We have known for a while but we needed not to come out with it because more work is still ongoing. I can confirm that this arrest has been made. And they are still on the trail of some of them.” The governor also confirmed that some Ebira indigenes are now involved in some acts of kidnapping recently in the state.

It is important to begin by stating that neither the Islamic State nor its local affiliate, the Islamic State West Africa Province has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Catholic Church in Owo. The Chief of Defence Staff, who announced the arrests on Tuesday, said that the suspects were members of the group, a sentiment first put forward by the interior minister in June when he blamed the attack on ISWAP. This set of suspects arrested by the military is the second group arrested after the South West region’s security outfit, Amotekun, claimed to have arrested the killers less than three weeks after the attack. The said killers were never identified or charged to court, casting doubts on the credibility of Amotekun’s claims. It is unusual that ISWAP, a group that loves the spotlight for daring attacks such as this, has not claimed responsibility. Nonetheless, its apparent involvement casts dark shadows on the security agencies’ efforts at confining Islamist terror to its traditional strongholds in the North East. The ability of the armed group to strike well-coordinated attacks hundreds of miles away from Lake Chad into the South West is probably the biggest counterfoil to the government’s efforts which have now been shown to be simply not enough. It is evident that ISWAP has built its capacity to strike outside the North-East where it was hitherto confined; in this case, in faraway Ondo State, Owo being just over 1,200km from Maiduguri. This is down to the fact that ISWAP has active cells in Kogi State, especially in the Ebira-speaking areas, where it absorbed defunct Ansaru cells. This is evident in the spate of attacks in that part of the state recently, including an attack near Ajaokuta that killed two policemen and an Indian expatriate. The involvement of ISWAP seems confirmed by the fact that all five persons arrested are of Ebira ethnicity and Governor Akeredolu confirming the involvement of Ebira persons in a spike of kidnappings in the state. This further buttresses our previous position considering that Owo is only 112 kilometres away from Okene, the centre of Ebiraland. Even in the absence of ISWAP claiming responsibility for the attack, it illustrates how large parts of the North-Central, the South-West, South-South and the South-East are vulnerable to guerilla-style attacks by ISWAP cells given the centrality of Kogi State – it has the highest number of boundaries, sharing its boundaries with nine other states and the Federal Capital Territory. This is a call to action for security agencies to ensure that they eliminate the existence of ISWAP cells in Kogi and surrounding states.