The week ahead – Dibs

21st July 2023

The Nigerian Army intercepted an international smuggling syndicate transporting smuggled ammunition to Anambra State. Army spokesperson, Onyema Nwachukwu, said the troops, acting on a tip-off, conducted a rigorous stop-and-search operation along Ajilete-Owode Road in Ogun State. In a related incident in Delta State, two Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) fighters were killed during a joint operation by the Nigerian Army, Police and Department of State Services. The IPOB members had attacked a community in Asaba, leading to a fierce gun battle with security operatives. The criminals eventually withdrew due to the superior power of the security agents.

According to the Nigerian Customs Service, 21,548,608 arms and ammunition were shipped into Nigeria illegally between 2010 and 2017. The largest cache of 21,407,933 live ammunition was intercepted at the Apapa port in November 2010, while 1,100 pump action guns were seized at Tin-Can port in September 2017. Although security agencies regularly announce arms interception and seizure, the arms that slip away from interception could be more. There are at least 1499 illegal entry points into the country, adding to the problem of poorly manned official entry points. This latest cache was intercepted at Yewa North, a border local government in Nigeria’s South West which is among the most policed in the Western border area. Yewa North is one of the several local government areas in Nigeria’s West where insecurity is rife following poor security and unprofessional conduct of the Nigerian Customs Service and Immigration officials. Although a large majority of the seized arms are mostly imported, given the location of the seizures, domestic production of components and shipments by local gunrunners remain a headache. It is a whole industry that the government has ignored for years, looking away as some of its security agents were indicted in such practices. When the police elite’s operatives arrested prominent gunrunner Hamisu Bala Wadume in August 2019, army captain Tijjani Balarabe freed him from police custody, killing three police officers and two civilians in the process. For crimes ranging from armed robbery to gang clashes, Wadume’s expertise has proven instrumental, and his seven-year jail term, beginning in August 2022, only took one player away from the industry. The government finally realised that it had been sleeping on a goldmine of insecurity drivers last week when the South-West zonal coordinator of the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons, Sola Akinlade, announced that the centre (created in 2021) would soon move against local manufacturers. Nigeria’s fragile security has shown that the state is bleeding on all sides. Coupled with the ammunition proliferation issues is the presence of IPOB, a group that has intensified attacks in the South East and aims to expand beyond it, posing a serious national security threat. To stall its spread and dominance, the Nigerian government must apprehend IPOB leaders, disrupt their operations, dismantle their infrastructure by deploying forces, and engage the communities to build trust with ethnic Igbos to make landmark progress. Curbing Nigeria’s multifaceted security issues requires a comprehensive approach, and mopping up locally-manufactured arms and tackling IPOB’s menace are two parts of a much bigger problem, and the commitment to attending to it is yet to be seen.

The Nigerian Army has ruled out amnesty again for bandits terrorising the North West zone of the country, asking governors instead for a free hand to eliminate terrorists. The Army warned the criminals to flee the country immediately, saying they would be monitored closely and blocked from entering other parts of the country if they attempted to flee North West. Chief of Army Staff, Maj.-Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja stated this at Army Headquarters, Abuja, while hosting the Zamfara State governor, Dauda Lawal, in response to the recent calls made by the state’s former governor, Sani Yerima, that bandits should be given amnesty.

On 3 July, armed terrorists abducted 15 farmers after they invaded the Gwaram village, Zamfara State. The information at the time indicates that the attackers laid siege on the community in protest of the new government’s refusal to negotiate with the terrorists. They furiously killed three farmers and abducted 15 others. During the attack, they chanted in the Hausa language that the government must negotiate with them immediately. It is challenging to measure Governor Dauda Lawal’s position on dealing with bandits after the Gwaram incident following his meeting with the army chief. However, the military’s public statements opposing amnesty for terrorists have not stopped state or federal governments from doing the same. Neither have state governments in the North West held firmly against negotiating with bandits. Amnesty for terrorists in Northern Nigeria is a popular, overflogged solution to the region’s insecurity. Northern politicians’ most credible claim to the success of amnesty for terrorists in the North is the disputable successes of Operations Sulhu and Safe Corridors run by the State Security Services and the military, respectively, both programmes aimed at getting Boko Haram commanders to defect to the Nigerian state. The problem with amnesty for non Jihadists especially in the North West is that it is an enterprise that has been tested, tried and has failed, so much so that the then-governor of Katsina, Aminu Masari, publicly regretted it, stating that the terrorists’ Quran oath deceived him. Masari’s dishonesty embodies the Nigerian approach to governance, which involves doubling down on incredibly bad ideas., and what makes the idea of amnesty alluring to its proponents, such as chief terrorist negotiator Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, is that Nigeria’s security services have collectively failed to rein in insecurity. The military is currently planning another offensive against bandits in the North West and select states in the North Central, but there is little indication that this new offensive will achieve better success compared to the last major offensive in September 2021, which cut off telecommunications access to residents in the North West and chopped off a significant amount of the economy. It all comes down to the overarching concept of doing the same thing repeatedly and hoping for a better outcome due to the lack of innovation and the patent inability to create a suitable environment for youths disproportionately tempted by the life of crime. Terrorist groups in the Sahel are loosely organised, making it hard for individual countries to combat them effectively. These groups exploit local grievances like poverty and inequality to recruit new members. They gain support from local communities by providing services the government cannot, so winning hearts and minds is crucial to isolating these groups and reducing terrorism’s appeal. To tackle terrorism in the Sahel, Nigeria has to work with neighbouring countries by sharing intelligence and resources to track and apprehend terrorists because joint military coordination will make it tougher for terrorists to operate across borders. Arab countries can also play a role by using soft power to promote peace and tolerance through their religious and cultural influence, thereby countering extremist ideologies. They can offer financial support to organisations promoting peace and development in the Sahel and use their diplomatic influence to encourage cooperation among countries. Strong words from military chiefs are good, but well-thought-out and layered approaches are what the country needs to solve the problem of insecurity.

The Department of State Security (DSS) has announced that it has charged the suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, to court. DSS spokesperson Peter Afunanya said Mr Emefiele was charged in compliance with a court order. Premium Times reported how the Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the SSS to charge Mr Emefiele to court or release him from his detention which has lasted several weeks.

For the average Nigerian elite, the concept of precedents, especially arbitrary precedents, is alien until they are at the receiving end of such actions. Godwin Emefiele’s seven-year tenure at the Central Bank was spotted with destructive and impulsive behaviour, which, severally, was found to be arbitrary and dangerous to the economy, with his personal clash with the rate publishing agency AbokiFX highlighting an individual and institutional autocracy that can be rivalled only by Rome’s Emperor Nero. As Nero fiddled while Rome burnt, Emefiele’s abundant time to fiddle while the Nigerian economy careened off its rails allowed him to take on personal and organisational projects that often contradicted his mandate as the country’s chief central banker. Now he is at the receiving end of such behaviour. The DSS, like Emefiele before it, has crossed the borders of its responsibilities. The Nigerian Police has departments equipped explicitly for the investigation and prosecution of financial crimes, and it is telling that the DSS has abandoned its role in national security while violent terrorist groups run rampant in different Nigerian regions. The DSS serves as Nigeria’s principal domestic intelligence agency, charged with upholding Nigerian laws and protecting citizens’ rights. However, over the years, the DSS’ actions have shown that it has lost its sense of true purpose, and subsequent administrations have used it to chase down political adversaries. Last week, a court ruled that the DSS must charge or release the former CBN governor. Previously, ruling against Mr Emefiele’s family’s appeal for his release, the court referenced an order from an Abuja Chief Magistrate Court permitting the secret police to detain Emefiele for 14 days to conclude its investigations. With this, the judge held that Mr Emefiele could not prove that his arrest, detention and investigation was unlawful since it was based on a valid court order. Given its antecedents, it is unlikely that he would have been let go if he were not charged. During President Buhari’s first term, former spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party, Olisa Metuh, ex-national security adviser Col. Sambo Dasuki, and leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzakky, were held in DSS custody despite court orders mandating their release. Then, the DSS was renowned for ignoring court rulings. Among the many projects the DSS could pick from, it is head-scratching that the agency is charging Emefiele for illegally possessing a firearm. After all the DSS’ dramatics, it is disappointing that it could not charge Emefiele for any of Nigerians’ big-ticket issues against him. The DSS’ failure to prosecute him despite having him in custody for over a month continues the impunity with which the security agencies treat the writ of Habeas Corpus. However, the absurdity of the charge fuels speculation that the former Central Bank governor’s travail could be politically motivated, given the bad blood between him and the current president, Bola Tinubu, who once accused the Central Bank Governor of scuttling the APC’s chances at the polls with the naira redesign policy.

Ghana’s year-on-year inflation in June 2023 was 42.5%, with a 0.3 percentage point difference from May 2023. The monthly inflation rate for June was 3.2%, compared to May’s 4.8%. Food inflation was 54.2%, with a month-on-month increase of 3.9%, and non-food inflation stood at 33.4%, with a 2.6% month-on-month rise. 24.2% of young persons aged 15 to 24 were not engaged in education, employment or training in Q3 2022, totalling 1.5 million individuals, Ghana Statistical Service said. More than half of these youths reside in Greater Accra, Ashanti, Eastern and Central regions.

Ghana’s food inflation has surged almost sixfold over the past decade, and despite receiving fresh funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the country continues to grapple with persistently high food prices, ranking among the highest in Africa. This situation raises concerns about the effectiveness of implemented measures and highlights underlying challenges within the agricultural sector, including limited access to credit, inadequate infrastructure and outdated farming practices. Inconsistent government policies have hindered the sector’s productivity and ability to meet growing food demands. Despite the government’s Planting for Food and Jobs flagship programme, which has been running since 2017 with an average annual expenditure of $70 million, food inflation has worsened considerably – moving from 7.2% in April 2017 to the current rate of 42.5%. Currency depreciation, though somewhat stabilised against the US dollar, has historically exacerbated inflation by increasing the costs of imports. Ghana’s dependence on imported goods, including essential commodities like food, makes it highly susceptible to currency fluctuations. As a result, a slight depreciation of the Ghanaian cedi can significantly drive up the prices of essential goods, burdening consumers. Experts argue that Ghana’s economic challenges, including the continuous depreciation of the cedi and high inflation rates, could be alleviated by shifting focus from imported products and services to locally produced ones. The Finance Minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, highlighted in the 2023 budget statement that Ghana’s annual import bill exceeds US$10 billion, comprising various items such as sugar, rice, fish, poultry, palm oil, cement, fertilisers, pharmaceuticals, toilet roll, toothpick and fruit juices, among others. Major staples in Ghana are out of season, playing a significant role in the market price buildup. For example, cassava, yam, plantain and maize, among others, have seen upward price adjustments. On top of this, Ghana has a double whammy to deal with: the prolonged war between Russia and Ukraine, plus the military coup in Burkina Faso, have all compounded Ghana’s food inflation crisis. Frankly, addressing these challenges will require comprehensive solutions, comprising agricultural reforms, reducing import dependency and enhancing domestic production as indicated in the IMF’s three-year Extended Credit Facility Programme. Strengthening local supply chains and encouraging the consumption of locally-made products could promote food security and stabilise inflation. Proper implementation of economic policies such as the Planting for Food and Jobs programme and prioritising social safety nets will be crucial in mitigating the impact of external factors on Ghana’s economy.