The week ahead – Catch your sub

18th August 2023

The Niger military junta has said it will prosecute ousted President Mohamed Bazoum for high treason over his exchanges with foreign heads of state and international organisations. The United States, United Nations and West African leaders condemned the move, calling it a further sign that the junta is unwilling to seek a peaceful route out of the crisis. Earlier, a group of senior Nigerian Islamic scholars said the Niger coupists were ready to resolve a standoff with the ECOWAS. In a sign that the ECOWAS bloc is still pushing for a peaceful resolution, President Bola Tinubu approved the delegation’s mission.

The junta’s focus on Mr Bazoum’s alleged high treason provides a new avenue for future negotiations with ECOWAS and the international community. The charges against him appear to lack substantial grounds, particularly considering that the junta allowed and even facilitated his alleged actions, such as contacting foreign leaders for assistance. The regime even approved the meeting with Chad’s Mahamat Deby, which took place shortly after the coup. This might be seen as the junta inadvertently aiding Bazoum in self-incrimination. However, the possibility of a more dire outcome cannot be dismissed, especially given the junta’s potential inclination to follow the principles of Niccolò Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” On the other hand, these charges could serve as a strategic move by the junta to expand potential concessions for negotiations with ECOWAS. Successfully trying and convicting Bazoum could shift international conversations towards seeking a pardon, as the junta’s actions would make the return of a convicted former head of state to office morally indefensible. A state pardon, however, might be a more palatable outcome for the junta, offering a safe retirement option for Bazoum and his allies. Recent events, including a meeting with Nigeria’s Izala sect leaders and the appointment of a new prime minister sent for talks in N’Djamena, indicate the junta’s attempt to normalise the situation and explore diplomatic resolutions. The threat to prosecute the ousted Nigerien president could be a tactical move by the isolated military regime, made while signalling openness to negotiations with ECOWAS. International condemnation of the junta’s actions could increase pressure for negotiations. The involvement of Nigerian Islamic scholars in diplomacy could help foster an environment conducive to fruitful discussions, leading to concessions necessary to restore democratic rule and avoid violence stemming from resistance to an ECOWAS military intervention. However, the challenges in diplomatic efforts arise from the inherent nature of coups: failure leads to death; success leads to power. Demands for relinquishing power and releasing the ousted president become complex, unless the junta’s leverage diminishes or negotiators possess substantial influence. To achieve a peaceful resolution in Niger, the necessary leverage must involve a clear exit strategy for the junta, preventing trials, imprisonment or execution for treason, and thus avoiding potential civil or regional conflicts.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in the year, ended 31 December 2022, advanced a ₦23.18 trillion loan to the federal government under its “Ways and Means” policy, exceeding the statutory limit by ₦22.9 trillion. Section 38 of the CBN Act limits the advance that the Bank can grant in any year to five percent of the actual government’s revenue in the preceding year. The 2022 financials also reported borrowing $7.5 billion from US banks JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. The CBN also entered into 30-day forward contracts totalling ₦3.15 trillion in 2022 with undisclosed counterparties.

The departure of Mr Emefiele from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s leadership has seen the recent release of the bank’s Consolidated Financial Statements for the past seven years, making it the first time since 2015. Within these statements lie several disheartening revelations. Notably, the CBN’s balance sheet expanded significantly, from ₦35.5 trillion in 2018 to approximately ₦57.9 trillion in 2022. Whilst the regulatory bank experienced an 80% surge in net interest income to ₦1.8 trillion in 2022, the major source of that income was from loans and advances (about ₦23.18 trillion) given to the federal government. The CBN exceeded its statutory limit on lending to the federal government by ₦22.9 trillion in 2022. The amount of this loan breached the provisions of the CBN Act, which strictly permits the regulatory bank to lend a maximum of 5% of the preceding year’s federal government revenues to the government. This is a serious breach of the CBN Act and could have far-reaching consequences for the Nigerian economy, causing increased inflation, depreciation of the Naira, escalating debt burden and higher taxes or cuts in public spending. Another worrisome matter is the ₦875.2 billion in credit losses (impairment from non-performing loans) suffered in 2022 from a loan portfolio of about ₦31.4 trillion. It is clear that initiatives like the Anchor Borrowers Loan Programme have been largely unsuccessful, strengthening the notion that the CBN should stick to its core role of monetary policy implementation. The lack of transparency exhibited by the CBN in not disclosing its financial statements during the Emefiele era was clearly an effort to conceal discrepancies like these. While most stakeholders had strong suspicions regarding the Ways and Means numbers, seeing it explicitly stated in the CBN’s own audited financials puts concrete evidence behind the illegal behaviour. The law is clear on the limits of the Ways and Means. The CBN flouted this law, introducing excess liquidity directly to the government while starving the financial sector of much-needed money to lend to the economy through elevated Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) rates. These type of contradictions represent the epitome of the monetary policy during the Emefiele years, and its contribution to pushing Nigeria’s economy towards the cliff cannot be understated.

A Nigerian Air Force (NAF) aircraft, a MI-171 helicopter, crashed in Niger State while on a casualty evacuation mission. The aircraft had departed Zungeru Primary School en route to Kaduna, but was later discovered to have crashed near Chukuba Village in Shiroro Local Government Area (LGA) of Niger State, according to a statement by Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet. According to Reuters, sources said the aircraft had come under fire from armed bandits, who fired at the helicopter which had been sent to evacuate victims of an attack that killed at least 10 ambushed soldiers.

Belatedly acknowledged by official sources, at least 26 soldiers and vigilantes were killed in that incident. How many people died in that helicopter medevac has not been stated. In a video showing the dead soldiers, they alleged that the helicopter was shot down by AK-47 guns, a departure from the customary anti-aircraft weapons such as general-purpose machine guns and mortars which bandits are now known to possess. Given the effective range of a bullet fired from an AK-47, that would suggest that the assailants were at close quarters with the helicopter’s take-off point, a worrying possibility. What is also not officially acknowledged is the nature of the conflict. The fighting was between Nigeria’s security forces and bandits in Shiroro LGA and environs in Niger State. Insecurity in Nigeria’s largest state has gone from basic banditry to an unrecognised Islamist insurgency that now has competing interests from both Al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates. When the Nigeria Army packed up and left its minimally-equipped but recently instituted, Munya outpost in April 2021, it became obvious it was no longer just dealing with rag-tag bandits who were kidnapping to stay alive but well-armed and equipped armed groups who were either affiliated with Boko Haram or ISWAP. These militants have also grown in strength, acquiring territories and appropriate resources, demonstrated in the attack on a mine at Ajata-Aboki community, Shiroro, where 37 Nigerian security personnel were killed. The terrorists are believed to be non-Nigerian Boko Haram/ISWAP militants who were not initially domiciled in the area. Their long hair, pierced noses, and mode of operation pointed to that fact. Again, this has still not been acknowledged by the government or military. The recurrent theme is the Nigerian government’s and military failure to learn from past mistakes. First, ambushes have been a regular way in which soldiers have been taken out. The army has still not improved its ambush-resistance measures despite changing commanders at TRADOC. Furthermore, the government has not made any effort to maintain air superiority in conflict areas despite the numerous attacks on jets in the Northeast and the Northwest. The air force has largely glossed over this by increasing air strikes against bandits. Lastly, and of utmost significance, the government has not been transparent, resulting in a lack of openness to the public. Everything from how they conveyed the news of the helicopter crash to revealing the identities of those on the opposing side falls short of expectations. In the previously mentioned video, the militants were heard asserting that they were followers of the bandit warlord Dogo Gide, who was reportedly killed by his second-in-command in 2021 in the Kuyanbana Forest, which connects Zamfara, Birnin Gwari, and Dogon Dawa towns. The gunmen in the video allege he is still alive. To make matters worse, despite evidence and statements associating him with Al Qaeda, the government has not officially acknowledged this connection, opting to treat him as a regular bandit. What this means, in effect, is that the interplay of banditry and jihadism in Niger State, especially in Shiroro, is heavily blurred. And with less acknowledgement of the problem by the government, it is increasingly likely that if the current pace of efforts to regain control of Niger State persists, the government’s control over Nigeria’s largest state will eventually be confined to just Minna in a few years. The development of anti-aircraft weaponry and expertise capacity by armed bandits poses a grave security threat to Nigeria’s stability. This capacity could lead to attacks on civilians and military targets and cause economic disruptions and regional instability. The possibility that civilian aircraft could be targeted must be considered. Bandits could launch attacks on airports and air bases, making operating civilian aircraft more difficult and dangerous. Combatting this threat requires cracking down on the financial channels used by these terrorists. Moreover, it is essential to urge ECOWAS to address the Sahelian problem seriously. The Sahel has become a river channelling poverty, strife and unrest into other West African countries, and it has become pertinent to commit to developing the area for the sake of the entire region.

No fewer than 14 villagers have been abducted in three different villages in Sabuwa Local Government Area (LGA) of Katsina State. In Plateau, 21 people were confirmed killed by gunmen in two communities, Batin and Rayogot, in the Heipang district, Barkin Ladi LGA. Meanwhile, the Nigerian troops attached to Operation Hadin Kai in the North East have killed five members of Boko Haram and Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) terrorists attempting to cross the Nigerian territory from the Cameroon border in the Bama LGA of Borno State.

The uptick in kidnap incidents in Katsina has largely become a product of the times. With kidnappers becoming more desperate, targets are expected to be more haphazard. However, that has not been the case for various reasons. Before now, highway abductions were the most dominant attack methods for kidnappers in the North West, with travellers in Kaduna and Zamfara suffering the worst attacks. However, that has now changed. In Katsina, especially during the rainy season, farmers are compelled to go to their fields as the planting season commences. Bandits have realised that it is easier to carry out mass abductions in the farms than on highways, which are now heavily guarded and often deserted. Farmers in the region are also burdened by harvest tolls and levies imposed by bandits, making their produce rot as they cannot afford the high financial costs. This contributes to the country’s general food insecurity. The Food and Agricultural Organisation warned that 25 million Nigerians faced acute food insecurity in March. The glimpses of what this could mean for stability and national security were witnessed when mobs raided food warehouses in Yola a few weeks ago, seizing supplies. As insecurity persists and desperation grows, more individuals will assume state responsibilities. State abdication of responsibility can also be observed in the annual Plateau crisis, which 2023 has prolonged far beyond necessary. Though Katsina and Plateau are geographically distant, they share a commonality: a security void conceded to armed non-state actors by the country’s security forces. In Plateau, the conventional inter-faith dialogue, typically employed to activate ceasefires, is diminishing from the options. As the Fulanis escalate attacks on Berom communities, spreading from Mangum to relatively safer areas like Barkin Ladi and Riyom, the ominous potential of a statewide killing field in the heart of Nigeria remains a persistent reality. The attacks in Katsina and Plateau remind of the ongoing security challenges posed by armed groups like Boko Haram and ISWAP, aiming to destabilise the country. While the increasing deaths are deeply troubling, it’s equally disconcerting how these attacks no longer evoke significant emotional responses from most Nigerians beyond the affected areas. The government’s level of concern appears limited. Despite the transnational nature of these attacks, major ECOWAS military intervention seems elusive, as regime security takes precedence over regional collaboration. Although the Nigerian troops’ success in eliminating five terrorists is positive, it’s crucial to recognise that this is just a small victory in the broader fight against terrorism. The military must remain vigilant and proactive to forestall future attacks.