In a week where busting a smuggling ring was not as cheery as it should be, the EFCC reaffirmed long-held partisan notions, Nigeria committed cardinal sins while hosting a sports competition, rode oil prices the wrong way and elections in two African countries raised familiar concerns, the number three man surprised nobody by making a move that was a poignant reminder of the hit British classic.
Smuggling interceptions are good, but not enough
The Federal Operations Unit (FOU) Zone C of the Nigeria Customs Service intercepted a truckload of military camouflage, combat boots and other kits with a Duty Paid Value (DPV) of ₦61,411,384.00 on 31 July. The 1×40 feet container which also held other contraband goods used as a decoy to conceal the bales of the military camouflage was arrested along the Aba-Eleme axis by Customs Officers. Three suspects, Emeka Omaliko, Udokachi Igba and Godwin Kalu were arrested in connection with the importation and clearing of the contraband items. While parading the suspects and the impounded items at Imo/Abia Command Headquarters in Owerri, the Comptroller General of Customs, Hammed Ali, represented by the Zone C Zonal Coordinator, Assistant Comptroller General Sanusi Umar, said “the arrest was another milestone recorded in our efforts to stem smuggling activities and to protect our national security”.
While these interceptions are commendable successes on the part of the Nigeria Customs Service, they must be qualified. Nigeria’s notoriously poorly policed borders raise concerns as to how much contraband slips through the cracks. The proliferation of small and light weapons as well as of armed groups (some of which have been reported to be dressed in camouflage) make these concerns even acuter. The NCS has previously recorded interceptions of illicit consignments of weapons evidently bound for non-state actors. What has been lacking is sufficient follow-through in terms of investigations to unearth and prosecute the key figures bankrolling such imports. While smugglers are often apprehended, those further up the chain, and who should be of real interest typically remain shrouded in mystery. Until there is sufficient institutional and political will to track down and prosecute the kingpins, not merely arresting their mules, these occasional headline-grabbing interceptions will remain wholly inadequate victories, insufficient to dent the plague of non-state violence and insecurity.
Saraki’s inevitable gambit
A raft of defections saw senior politicians including the Senate President, the APC spokesman, and the governor of Sokoto state leave the ruling party, dealing a new blow to President Muhammadu Buhari ahead of elections next year. Bukola Saraki, Nigeria’s third most senior politician, defected to rejoin the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), becoming the highest-profile figure to leave the All Progressives Congress (APC). Last week, 16 lawmakers in the upper house left the APC, as did 32 in the lower House of Representatives and earlier this month an APC faction said it no longer backed Buhari. The APC in a statement queried Saraki, alleging that he facilitated the defection of some lawmakers thereby violating the party’s constitution. The ruling party asked him to respond within 48 hours or face sanctions. The PDP welcomed Saraki from the APC alongside Ahmed Abdulfatah, governor of Saraki’s central Nigerian home state of Kwara. The country’s ambassador to South Africa, Ahmed Ibeto, also defected to the PDP after resigning his post, the PDP said. Sokoto Governor, Aminu Tambuwal joined a day later.
The defection of the Senate President not only places the third most powerful political office-holder in the country in the ranks of the opposition, it also in a sense makes him the symbolic arrowhead of the opposition to the All Progressives Congress. Senator Saraki’s defection is also the culmination of a long drawn out cold war that began from the moment that he emerged as the leader of the upper house against the wishes of the party hierarchy in June 2015. Recent efforts to facilitate a détente between Saraki and the presidency collapsed. The gale of defections also represents the failure of the administration not only to keep the coalition that won it power three years ago but the President’s continuing loss of political capital. The election of a new APC national chairman has proved insufficient in defusing the discontent within the party. The PDP has grown in confidence in recent weeks and the reinfusion of heavyweight political actors from the ruling party has increased optimism within its ranks about its chances of returning to power in 2019. The presidency’s attempt to use strong-arm tactics to forestall the defections of legislators has failed. That failure reflects the lack of prudence and finesse that has characterised the president’s approach to managing dissent. Regardless, we believe that the presidency will double down on its strong-arm tactics – an approach that would have the effect of increasing public sympathy for the opposition and raising public anxiety levels regarding next year’s crucial elections. For now, though, momentum is with the PDP.
EFCC, certified political tool
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has linked Benue Governor Samuel Ortom to an alleged ₦22 billion fraud. The EFCC further alleges that 21 members of the Benue State House of Assembly are under investigation for allegedly diverting ₦375 million meant for the procurement of vehicles that were earmarked for oversight functions. The allegations are contained in a report of an investigation which began in 2016 but was only made available to the Nigerian press this week. According to the report, Ortom had, between 30 June 2015 and March 2018, ordered the withdrawal of ₦21.3 billion from four government bank accounts in Guaranty Trust Bank, First Bank of Nigeria and the United Bank for Africa. On paper, about ₦19 billion out of the sum was said to be meant for the payment of six security agencies that had been deployed in the state to address rising clashes between herdsmen and farmers. However, the EFCC stated that less than ₦3 billion of the money was paid to the security agencies while the rest could not be accounted for.
There are two separate issues here. One is the magnitude of the fraud allegation against the Benue Governor. This definitely merits an investigation and should he be found guilty, he must face repercussions. The second issue, however, is the timing of the announcement of these EFCC allegations. It is no coincidence that the EFCC made the announcement just after Ortom defected from the ruling APC to the PDP; which brings a reality to stunning clarity. Clearly, the EFCC has been constituted into a tool to bring any politician who steps out of line with the ruling party to heel. It is a sad commentary on the current state of Nigeria’s politics, and on the much-touted anti-corruption fight of this administration.
An athletic championship illustrates uncomfortable Nigerian realities
Hundreds of athletes scheduled to participate at the African Senior Athletics Championships are crying foul after being stranded at Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed airport. Usher Komugisha, a veteran Ugandan sports journalist tweeted pictures of a stranded Ugandan team and a video of a Moroccan high jumper who was lamenting that they have been stranded in at Terminal 2 for at least two days without being put on a connecting domestic flight. The championship, hosted in the southern Delta State was billed to officially kick off on 1 August with the men’s and women’s decathlons. This year’s edition features athletes from 52 countries including global icons like South Africa’s Caster Semenya. South Africa are the defending champions of the African Senior Athletics having hosted and won the last edition on home soil in Durban.
Such logistical nightmares have sadly become commonplace with events organised in Nigeria. We would have expected that the organisers would have put in place an adequate arrangement for flights to the venue of the championship. This is yet another illustration of a complete lack of communication between various arms of governments, and various ministries, departments and agencies, and this are indicative of how these MDAs operate in the wider economy. It also reveals in stark detail, the lopsided reality of the Nigerian air travel market, where according to the statistics agency, five airports – Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Owerri and Kano accounted for 92 percent of total passengers traffic in Q4 2017 (the last period where data is available) with the bulk being on the Lagos to Abuja route and other routes having very few, and on some days, no flights because of low demand. Sporting talent might be the victims in this instance, but investors and foreign travellers looking at exploring other parts of the country away from the Abuja-Lagos corridor will certainly be observing this with understandable trepidation.
Mali and Zimbabwe votes show the fire and fury of participatory governance in Africa
It was a consequential week of elections across Africa. In Zimbabwe, the ruling Zanu-PF party appeared set to win a majority in parliament after winning 109 seats so far in national elections, the country’s electoral commission announced Wednesday. The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party has won only 41 seats so far. A total of 210 seats were contested. The main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, 40, had earlier said on Twitter that election results from more than 10,000 polling stations showed his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had done “exceedingly well”. Monday’s election was the first since long-ruling Robert Mugabe was removed in a bloodless coup in November. In Mali, the main opposition candidate in the presidential election Soumaila Cisse said Monday that the poll would go to a run-off. Cisse’s campaign director, Tiebele Drame told a news conference that ‘‘despite a vote defined by irregularities, the incumbent president can’t win in the first round.” Earlier, Malian incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s spokesman had said the president was substantially in the lead according to a provisional count, hinting that he could win the election on the first round.
The fallout for the elections in Mali and Zimbabwe will serve as yet another opportunity to underscore the growth track of democratic exercises on the continent, not to say much about the overall security picture in two states which are dealing with more than their fair share of security challenges. One person was shot dead by Zimbabwean soldiers in the capital Harare on 1 August after troops were deployed to quell opposition protests amid Mr Chamisa insisting on social media that he “won the popular vote”. In Mali, while the vote was mostly peaceful and relatively well-organised, Ministry of Territorial Administration figures showed that, of the roughly 23,000 polling stations that were meant to open, 4,632 were disrupted by “armed attacks or other violence,” of which 644, most in the restive north and central regions, were unable to operate at all, while in the lead up to the vote, inter-ethnic clashes between Tuaregs and Fulanis that left several people displaced. There are some indicators that should inspire confidence – in Zimbabwe, the electoral commission said 70 percent of registered voters cast their ballot, a near record. Mali, despite the 2012 military coup, is coming off its eighth presidential vote, the same with Ghana and more than Nigeria, who have been independent for a broadly similar length of time. The threat of post-election instability will remain an important consideration in these two countries, separated by thousands of miles in addition to the winning candidates being saddled with driving structural reform and economic growth in two economies desperate for a better growth track.
Record OPEC compliance might aid Nigerian fiscal limbo
The oil output from the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries bloc has risen this month to 2018 high as Gulf members pumped more after a deal to ease supply curbs and the Congo Republic joined the group, a new Thomson Reuters survey says, although losses from Iran and Libya limited the increase. The cartel has pumped 32.64 million barrels per day in July, the survey on 30 July found, up 70,000 bpd from June’s revised level. In June, OPEC, Russia and other non-members agreed to return to 100 percent compliance with oil output cuts that began in January 2017, after months of Venezuelan underproduction and elsewhere pushed adherence above 160 per cent. Supply in Nigeria, often curbed by unplanned outages, rose by 50,000 bpd. OPEC’s collective adherence with supply targets has slipped to 111 per cent in July from a revised 116 per cent in June, the survey found, meaning it is still cutting more than agreed.
In a remarkably uncharacteristic manner, OPEC has been able to cooperate on raising the price of oil for a long time by their standards. However, as was bound to happen, critical geopolitical factors such as the American withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal have come into play. On another hand, it is only a matter of time before new players oversupply the market. Middle Eastern countries are already preparing for this eventuality. But perhaps because Nigeria and Libya were exempt from the original supply-cutting deal, Nigerian policymakers are still implementing the fiscal policy that seems to assume that this reality is still afar. It is the unwise choice to make.