The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu, has said the electoral umpire is prepared for a run-off in the 2023 presidential election. On Tuesday, 17 January, Yakubu presented at the Chatham House in London on the topic: ‘Nigeria’s 2023 Elections: Preparations and Priorities for Electoral Integrity and Inclusion’. He said INEC had provided all the materials needed for a run-off in the presidential poll. He stressed the need for elected presidential candidates to receive a majority vote and over 25 percent of the vote in at least 24 of the 36 states.

The permutations, by now, are clear to everyone. In summary, a candidate must get a simple majority of votes and 25% of votes in 24 states to become president. When this doesn’t happen, a runoff election will be conducted. The run-off will be between the candidate with the highest number of votes and the candidate with the highest spread across the 36 states and not necessarily the top two candidates with the highest number of votes. The leading presidential candidates are all openly confident of meeting all the constitutional prerequisites for sealing a ticket to Aso Rock while avoiding a run-off. In private, many political watchers are mystified by the tightness of this race, and many election situation room operators are splitting hairs over the regional and state dynamics shaping the ever-changing chances of the frontrunners. It does not help that this is virgin political territory – Nigeria has never had a presidential run-off. The big news here is not INEC alluding to the possibility of a run-off. They first mooted the possibility in November 2022. It is their claim of readiness. While that may be the case on paper, it remains to be seen if they are logistically ready – 186 million ballot papers will need to be printed for both elections and ad-hoc staff and equipment deployed to all 176,974 polling units. In essence, INEC will have to conduct Africa’s largest democratic exercise three times between the fourth week of February and the third week of March. Considering that INEC has not been the most efficient with its logistics in the last general elections, the commission needs to do a lot of convincing to show that they are up for it.

Nine #EndSARS protesters arrested and detained in Oyo’s Agodi Prison since 2020 regained their freedom on Tuesday. Adeshina Muyiwa, Ikechuckwu Eze, Ariyo Sodiq, Ikenna Amaechi, Oyewole Olumide, Ariyo Afeez, Taoreed Abiodun, Adekunle Moruf, and Rasheed Tiamiyu, were charged for offences ranging from murder to stealing of police rifles, setting the police station ablaze, among others, in connection with the 2020 protest against the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad unit of the Nigeria Police Force. The release came 24 hours after the Oyo State Chief Judge ordered the release of 58 detainees who had spent long periods in the state prisons.

The release of the detained protesters opens up discussions about Nigeria’s correctional facilities and the justice system and how the state can weaponise access to justice to achieve political ends. In June 2021, the Comptroller of Corrections (Lagos State Command) said there were 6,800 inmates awaiting trial in the state’s five correctional facilities. The Kirikiri Maximum Correctional Centre, which has a capacity for 1,076 inmates, at the time housed 1,830 inmates. Of the 1,830 inmates, 283 had been convicted, 1,075 were awaiting trial, 88 were serving life terms, 372 were on death row, and 12 inmates were lodgers (inmates in transit). The general national numbers are far from inspiring. According to a December 2021 report by Premium Times, about 73 percent of the 64,642 prison population as of December 2020 were awaiting trial. Correctional centres in Lagos accounted for the bulk of this population, with 6,703. Rivers had 4,224. The rest of the top 10 were Kano (2,368); Akwa Ibom (2,334); Imo (2,257); Ogun (2,015); Delta (1,792); Enugu (1,737); Anambra (1,579) and Oyo, the object of this story at 1,491. On the other hand, Borno had 185 persons in custody awaiting trial, the lowest in the country. It is in this category that the #EndSARS protesters fall. Speedy justice delivery has been hampered by many factors ranging from arbitrary arrests that overburden state prosecutors to a backlog of cases and adjournment on the side of the judiciary. However, despite these, we cannot rule out the possibility that the protesters were arrested as a deliberate policy to weaken the reform demands of the movement and failure to take them to court engenders that belief even further. When added to the poor records-keeping culture of government institutions aided by the deliberate failure to account for such illegal arrests, one wonders how many more protesters declared missing have simply been disappeared by state security agents. Nigeria’s legal system needs urgent reforms. It has become a tool for oppressing citizens, and the threat of arrest and prosecution is enough to terrorise citizens, simply because both law enforcement agents and citizens know that once a person enters the court system, they can be in legal limbo, deprived of their liberty while not being found guilty for many years. This is perhaps the most fundamental issue any government needs to fix. Nigeria’s democratic credentials are all the poorer for this.

The Christian Association of Nigeria in Niger State has condemned the killing of a Catholic Priest, who was burnt alive in the early hours of Sunday, in the Paikoro Local Government Area of the state. The CAN chairman, Most Rev. Bulus Yohanna called for investigations into the attack. According to a Premium Times report, they set it ablaze when the attackers could not gain access to the well-fortified building where Priest Isaac Achi was living. Until his death, Mr Achi was attached to St. Peters and Paul Catholic Church, Kafin-Koro, Paikoro. The state police spokesperson Wasiu Abiodun confirmed the incident.

The killing of Father Achi is another in a long line of gruesome attacks by disparate groups of non-state armed actors in Nigeria that are known by different monikers depending on where they are operating. This blanket attribution of attacks to the most dominant criminal groups in the area, in this case, bandits, unfortunately, provides cover for actors with different intentions to commit crimes. Fr Achi’s killing also joins a growing list of Catholic priests that have been attacked and/or killed in the past year, with other names such as John Mark Chietnum, Vitus Borogo and others in Kaduna. Niger and Kaduna States are not so far away from each other with terrorists taking advantage of the geographic contiguity to launch attacks in one and disappear into the other. This week, the Nigerian Air Force reportedly killed two Boko Haram commanders and 40 other group members in the Shiroro Local Government Area, also in Niger. In the past four years, Boko Haram has quietly made gains in the state, trying to establish footholds in Shiroro, Munya, Rafi and Suleja LGAs. There is a small possibility that the killing of Fr Isaac Achi was carried out by a faction of the group whose activities have largely been obscured by the general attention given to bandits and other non-fundamentalist groups operating in both North Central and West. It is also likely that the attack on the church is religiously motivated as Paikoro is a predominantly Christian local government area. However, the security forces’ lack of capacity to treat each case individually means that there is every likelihood that the perpetrators and their motivations might never be known. Overall, this speaks to perennial challenges with Nigeria’s security: the need for more and improved policing, especially in rural and semi-urban areas. For all of the government’s military operations, it has to understand that occasional air raids in forest areas straddling both geopolitical zones are not doing enough to stop territorial gains made by armed groups. It is only providing a lesson on adaptation for the terrorists.

MTN, Africa’s largest wireless carrier, said it received a $773 million back-tax bill, including penalties and interest charges, in Ghana that it plans to fight. The bill is for the period between 2014 and 2018 and implies that MTN under-declared its revenue in the country by 30%, the company said on Friday. MTN said it strongly disputes the accuracy and basis of the assessment, saying Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) used a third-party consultant and a new methodology in consulting the audit. MTN said the GRA had started looking into the “reliability and completeness” of the revenue it declared during the five-year period.

Ghana’s latest move to assess its revenue crunch smacks of the kind of creativity and desperation that underlie the scale of the country’s dire fiscal traits. According to media reports, MTN plans to start a dispute resolution process if talks with Ghanaian authorities over a surprise $773 million back-tax bill it received last week fail. At the heart of the company’s contention is that the GRA switched to a new methodology to track call data records based on the advice of a third-party consultant. The methodology was applied retroactively between 2014 and 2018, implying that MTN under-declared revenue by 30%. MTN Ghana is a beast. It currently commands about 75% of the 4G market in the country, for example. Within the period under review (2014-2018), MTN Ghana’s cumulative profit before tax stood at around 3.9 billion cedis with about 2.8 billion cedis in profit after tax. Some market watchers consider this as part of Accra’s wider suite of initiatives to raise much-needed revenues in the face of a current financial crisis that has seen the country default on its Eurobonds interest payments. In this narrow sense, it has decided to borrow a bad leaf from its neighbours, particularly Nigeria. Nigerian authorities fined MTN $5.2 billion in 2015 for failing to disconnect unregistered phone lines, although the parties later settled for less than the initial bill. In 2020, the operator successfully challenged a separate $2 billion claim for unpaid taxes. It also faced down authorities in Benin and Cameroon over the terms of its licences. Back in Ghana, if the $773 million back tax is accepted, it may have a significant impact on the company’s future costs. Already, MTN’s service revenue in the country for the first nine months of 2022 increased to 7.1 billion cedis ($37.9 million) but took a hit from a controversial electronic levy introduced in the first quarter of 2022. A 1.75% levy on mobile money (MoMo) and other electronic transactions compelled the firm to reduce its service tax on MoMo from 1% to 0.75%. MTN Ghana’s revenue from peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions declined by 13.3% year-on-year in the three quarters to the end of September 2022, with the contribution of MoMo to service revenue falling to 19.1% from 22.8%. This huge back tax will be a heavy blow to Ghana’s biggest telco and may have repercussions on its cost curve which may force the company into taking cost-cutting measures including laying off workers. This is in an economy with rising unemployment, inflation north of 50% and retail borrowing costs approaching 40%. Consumers were forced to accept an increase in data tariffs at the tail end of last year. Panning out, while a big company like MTN presents a big and, therefore, easy target, the longer-term impact of what appears to be an open attempt to extract from one of its biggest taxpayers will be similar to what Nigeria experienced – an overall drop in investor confidence and a flight of capital to less risky places. With interest rates in the West at significantly elevated levels, these alternatives will be more attractive to investors than risky bets in developing African economies. And Africa desperately needs foreign capital to drive growth, in a year the World Bank has warned of an impending global recession. The retroactive application of a new regulatory initiative is neither a good move nor one that communicates stability or certainty. Accra has a lot of lessons to glean from its current economic travails. It just added another course module to its bank.