Militant leaders in the Niger-Delta are currently at war over a ₦4.5 billion monthly pipeline surveillance contract awarded to the former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger-Delta (MEND) Government Ekpemupolo, popularly known as Tompolo by Aso Rock. On 14 September, Alhaji Asari Dokubo alleged that Tompolo bluntly refused to involve him and other ex-militant leaders in a $144 million coastal protection contract ex-President Goodluck Jonathan offered to all of them. Dokubo, the leader of the Niger-Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF) has launched a series of verbal attacks on Tompolo since the federal government, through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, awarded the pipeline surveillance contract to Tompolo and other leaders in the region. A former commander in the now-defunct MEND, Victor-Ben Ebikabowei, aka Boyloaf, and other ex-militant leaders and regional political stakeholders lashed out at Dokubo in response. The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), the South-South regional group as well as the Ijaw National Congress (INC), an umbrella socio-cultural body of one of the main ethnic nationalities in the Delta have also intervened in the simmering feud. A political leader of one of the other ethnicities, Itsekiri chief Rita-Lori Ogbebor warned the government as “a matter of urgency” to withdraw the pipeline contract awarded to Tompolo, describing it as an “invitation to anarchy.” In reaction, the Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative (IPDI), a rights group urged FG to disregard Lori-Ogbebor’s call. In related news, Portugal could face supply problems this winter if Nigeria does not deliver all the liquefied natural gas (LNG) it is due to, the European Union country’s environment and energy minister said on Monday. Asked whether with many countries now looking for alternatives to Russian gas, there was a chance that Nigeria might not meet its LNG supply volumes, Duarte Cordeiro said that while the government had given Lisbon assurances that it would do so, “there is a risk of it not complying”. Cordeiro did not say what would prevent Nigeria from supplying the LNG it was contracted to. Oil and gas output in Nigeria has been throttled by theft and pipeline vandalism, leaving gas producer Nigeria LNG Ltd’s terminal at Bonny Island operating at 60% capacity. Although Portugal has its gas reserves at 100% of storage capacity, Cordeiro said that if fewer Nigerian LNG deliveries materialised, it would have to look for alternative supplies.
Portugal is one of Nigeria’s key gas customers. In 2021, 49.5% of its total gas imports were from Nigeria. This gas supply shortfall highlights Nigeria’s inability to play efficiently in the international gas market and meet the increasing demand of European countries looking to end their dependence on Russian gas. Failure to meet the supply agreement will see Nigeria lose another critical opportunity to shore up its fiscal position and strategically position itself in the gas market. All this is the result of the lack of effective control of production areas by the Nigerian state, as exemplified by the issue of oil theft. Crude oil theft in Nigeria continues to gain momentum in discussions in the international oil market because of the country’s perceived role as a critical producer. The ongoing Russia/Ukraine war has caused a supply gap and rising oil theft in Nigeria, leading to declining oil production has further widened this gap. All told, investors and customers are beginning to lose interest in the Nigerian oil industry as it fails to manage this critical issue. In August 2022, oil production dropped below a million barrels per day and this affects gas production as most crude produced in the Gulf of Guinea is associated with gas. Set within that backdrop, awarding the contract to Tompolo is a short-sighted act of desperation. To begin with, the NNPC’s offer to Tompolo is an admission of defeat. The government has effectively surrendered its security obligations to an armed non-state actor, sending the message that it cannot trust its own law enforcement and security agencies to do their job–a growing crisis of confidence borne out of several indictments and arrests of officers involved in the lucrative oil theft business. Secondly, awarding that contract to Tompolo is its own divide and rule strategy which is likely to have counterproductive outcomes. Basically, in an attempt to achieve peace, the government’s peace deal was designed to cause more chaos as more claimants to the largesse turned up to claim their share of the “national cake”. Part of the shortsightedness here is that the government has overestimated Mr Tompolo’s reach beyond his native Delta State, and may have been fooled by the 2009 amnesty deal that saw the militants lay down their arms, choosing not to acknowledge the rivalries that still exist between the many active groups in the Delta’s creeks. The age-old rivalries between various Ijaw clans east and west of Patani have played a part in how the militants in the region organise themselves and giving someone from the Western Ijaw will not play well with the Eastern Ijaw as has been seen in the breathless outbursts by some of Mr Tompolo’s rivals. Perhaps that is what the government was banking on as such a divide and rule strategy is hardly original. It is an old trick in the playbook that culminated in the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa in November 1995. While nobody is getting hanged by the state on account of this poisoned chalice, pan-Niger Delta groups losing their heads and breaking ranks in this matter is a sight to behold, which, if anything, indicates that the agitation over a better future for the Niger’s Delta may not be what it really seems. For the people of the region, and Nigeria in general, this will not end well.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Olamilekan Adeola, said on Wednesday that more than 400 out of 541 Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies are to be scrapped as recommended by Stephen Orosanye-led Presidential Committee on agencies’ rationalisation. Olamilekan, who made the declaration on the second day of the ongoing interface between the committee and heads of MDAs on revenue drive for the implementation of the proposed ₦19.76 trillion 2023 budget, said the Orosanye panel recommended the retention of 106 MDAs. According to him, revenue generation was the most critical factor being considered by the Federal Government before retaining 106 MDAs or scrapping 400. In a related development, Nigeria’s 36 state governors on Monday commenced a brainstorming session on how to improve their internally generated revenue (IGR) and block tax leakages. On the same day, a new report showed that states’ internally generated finances grew by 35 percent from ₦1.31 trillion in 2019 to ₦1.67 trillion in 2021. The governors also announced a new finance database that would enable them to share information on tax reforms in order to improve their internally generated finances. Addressing governors at a workshop yesterday, at “the 8th IGR Peer Learning Event and Launch of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) Public Finance Database,” the chairman of the NGF and Ekiti Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi said the essence of the workshop was to find ways to improve tax collection and subsequently improve states’ revenue.
In the famous movie – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – a popular character said if you want to shoot, shoot and stop talking. There has been a lot of talking about implementing the Oronsaye Report from many quarters of the current government recently. There is no need for consistent talking at this point. The report has been available for many decades and its recommendations are well known. Cost of governance remains one of Nigeria’s primary structural challenges, despite the fact that the minimum wage remains a meagre ₦30,000 ($42.19) per month. A few weeks ago, Senate President Ahmad Lawan threw his weight behind the adoption of the Oronsaye Report and now the Senate Committee on Finance has released more details on the move. Perhaps, more importantly, is the order that President Buhari gave to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to review the report to enable the FG to take the most appropriate decision on its general recommendation. It is unfortunate that President Buhari is according this priority the seriousness it deserves at the twilight of his two-term reign, leading us to wonder if the recommendations will be implemented before he leaves office in May 2023, or if he opts to kick the can to the next government just as he has done the issue of petrol subsidies. Additionally, in mid-August, the Senate, through its Standing Committee on Public Accounts, began a probe of more than ₦1.7 trillion ($2.39 billion) in service-wide votes allocated to federal agencies from the 2017 to 2021 budgets, with the beneficiary government agencies being asked to explain how they used the funds. Then the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts summoned the Acting Accountant General of the Federation, Mr Okolieaboh Sylva, over his office’s failure to report the 2020 financial records of Ministries, Department and Agencies, of the federal government before the National Assembly in line with the Constitution. Only last week, we highlighted how the government has foregone tens of trillion of Naira in revenue to questionable tax reliefs and concessions (₦16.76 trillion according to a new analysis by The Punch) given to various individuals and entities, even as oil theft has significantly reduced the country’s capacity to earn foreign exchange from its single biggest income source. If the government will implement the Oronsaye Report, there is no better time than now. President Buhari is not on the ballot so he has no political backlash to deal with. He will be doing his successor and Nigeria a huge favour if he does it. He will also stem some of the bleeding that Nigeria is undergoing from the fiscal cliff he has helped drive the country to. Can someone get to work already?
The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has made the highest cocaine seizure in Nigeria’s history. On 19 September, the anti-narcotics agency announced the bust of a major warehouse in an estate in the Ikorodu area of Lagos. About 1.8 tons (1,855 kilograms) of the illicit drug, worth more than $278,250,000, according to spokesman Femi Babafemi were recovered. Four suspected barons, including a Jamaican and the warehouse manager, were arrested in an intelligence-led operation that lasted two days across different locations in Lagos. Babafemi noted that they are all members of an international drug syndicate that the NDLEA has been trailing since 2018. They were picked from hotels and their hideouts in different parts of Lagos on Sunday and Monday. Located inside Solebo Estate in Ikorodu, the warehouse was raided on 18 September. The drugs kept in the residence were meant for buyers in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, the agency said. They were stored in 10 travel bags and 13 drums.
Nigeria’s age-old status as a transit hub makes it a prime location for illegal drug shipments between East and West. Most drug busts by the NDLEA are done at transit locations–airports, sea ports and border points–with Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia serving as destination points among several others, while Western Hemisphere countries such as Brazil serve as origin points. Sadly, anti-drug smuggling efforts have sometimes been undermined by state officials. In June 2021, the NDLEA filed fresh court charges against disgraced former policeman Abba Kyari. The exhibits which included the sum of $61,400 and 24 packs of cocaine were admitted as evidence in proof of the allegations. Mr Kyari is standing trial on charges over his alleged involvement in facilitating hard drug deals. While the cash tendered was said to be money used to bribe the NDLEA’s officials who arrested him, the packs of cocaine were the ones at the heart of the trial. Kyari’s actions, when considered in a wider context, explain how, despite stringent checks at entry points, illegal drugs still make it into the country. In August 2021, the NDLEA chief of narcotics said that 40 percent of young people in Nigeria between 18 and 35 years are ‘deeply involved’ in the abuse of drugs and illegal substances. However, the NDLEA can only go after drug dealers, leaving abusers on their own in a country which lacks a wealth of support programmes to combat drug addiction. This means that demand for illicit drugs, in the domestic and overseas markets, will continue to exist, motivating suppliers to find a way, no matter how risky.
Bashir Bulabuduwaye, a senior Boko Haram member has reportedly surrendered to the Nigerian army alongside his family members in Banki, Bama Local Government Area (LGA) of Borno State. According to Zagazola Makama, a publication focused on the Lake Chad region, Bulabuduwaye was Boko Haram’s chief executioner who “killed at least 1,000 people who were captured and sentenced to death by the group.” Bulabuduwaye reportedly formed a camp in Kote village of Banki, where he was hiding with other fighters. He was said to have surrendered due to sustained offensives launched by troops of operation Hadin Kai and the difficulty to access food and other logistics. “He also feared battlefield elimination by ISWAP,“ a source was quoted. Earlier in an interview with The Cable, Christopher Musa, Commander of Operation Hadin Kai, had said Boko Haram leaders are surrendering because they want to live a normal life. In the Northwest, the Zamfara Police Command arrested a notorious bandit, Umar Namaro, during a surveillance patrol. Also arrested was a notorious six-man syndicate of informants who collaborate with bandits to terrorise the people of Gusau, Kaura-Namoda, Tsafe and Bungudu LGAs. Command spokesperson Mohammed Shehu said this while parading the suspects at the police headquarters in Gusau on Saturday. He said they were arrested by the police Tactical Operatives during intelligence-led operations conducted in some criminal hideouts in Gusau and Tsafe LGAs respectively.
While the war is by no means over, the military’s present victory lap is somewhat justified. However, there is a risk of sensationalism in the reportage of surrendered Boko Haram fighters. Most of the narrative so far has centred around how most, if not all of the surrendered terrorists are commanders. This is understandable given how much the military’s ability has been questioned following its failure to decisively end the insurgency in more than a decade of war. However, the spate of surrenders is possible for two reasons: the success of Operation Safe Corridor, an army operation aimed at fighters encouraging the original Boko Haram faction to defect; as well as the death of Abubakar Shekau and the rise of the Islamic State-backed faction. Both factions have been locked in a bitter civil war the past year which has left close to a thousand fighters dead. ISWAP’s killing of Shekau in May 2021 left his followers the option of either bending the knee to the ascendant faction or facing persecution. There was a third option of surrendering to the Nigerian state which already had a controversial programme of rehabilitating repentant terrorists. A third factor is sustained air raids by the air force. In the past, the air force’s contribution was limited to a few raids during the rainy season to avoid the consequences of carrying out operations during bad weather. This year has been different as the bombardment has continued nearly all year round, driving the terrorists away from the fringes of Lake Chad to areas occupied by other factions, sparking intra-insurgent conflict and turf wars. But, we must warn that within the context of the wider national security picture, particularly in areas where the military has active operations such as the North West, the story is quite different. This is hardly party time.