A Week in Nigeria: 10 October

Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days

In this week’s round-up: Nigerian police fire teargas at people protesting at alleged brutality, president presents 2021 budget to parliament, and ex-finance minister in running to become WTO chief.

  • Nigerian police used teargas on Friday to disperse dozens of people in the capital Abuja who had gathered to protest at alleged brutality by members of a special police unit, witnesses said. Protesters, some holding placards, ran as clouds of teargas hung in the air. Multiple people at the incident said on Twitter that police had fired the canisters. A spokesman for the police did not immediately respond to a message and call requesting comment. “They poured teargas on each and every one of us, it’s so hot I had to put water on my face. This is what Nigeria has turned into,” protester Anita Izato said. Sporadic protests have broken out across Nigeria in recent days after a video circulated last week alleging to show members of the Special Anti-Robbery squad, known as SARS, shooting dead a man in Delta state. The police pledged to reform the unit soon after the alleged incident, including by banning SARS agents from carrying out routine patrols and requiring them to wear uniforms when on duty. But protesters have called for the unit to be abolished. Nigerians and international rights groups for years have accused SARS of brutality, harassment and extortion, and there have been multiple pledges in the past, including from the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, to reform the unit. #EndSARS has been trending on Twitter in Nigeria for several days, popular singer Naira Marley held an Instagram chat with a police spokesman over the issue watched live by more than 30,000 people and even the deputy governor of Lagos state said he had been harassed by SARS agents. “Every citizen of Nigeria should be upset,” Lagos state government spokesman Gboyega Akosile said in a Tweet, sharing a video of Lagos state Deputy Governor Obafemi Hamzat addressing protesters and sharing his own story of harassment.
  • President Muhammadu Buhari presented a record 13.08 trillion naira ($34.4 billion) budget for 2021 to lawmakers, an increase from last year as the country tackles the crisis brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. The budget is a 21% rise from the revised 2020 spending plan of 10.8 trillion naira, though economists say budget implementation may differ from the figures unveiled. The plan for Africa’s top oil exporter assumes crude production of 1.86 million barrels a day and an oil price of $40 per barrel, Buhari said. Nigeria’s economy has been hobbled by the pandemic that triggered a crash in the price of oil, its main export, and an exodus of foreign investors leading to higher inflation, contracting growth and larger funding gap. The West African nation now faces a possible recession in the third quarter after its economy contracted 6.1% in the second quarter. The government expects the economy to shrink by as much as 8.9% this year. Buhari told lawmakers at a joint session of the upper and lower chambers of parliament that the economy could relapse into a second recession in four years unless it acts quickly. He said he wanted to finish old projects rather than start new ones. Nigeria revised its 2020 budget in June, as the government made plans to respond to the virus amid lower oil prices. But it has struggled to fund the spending plan due to low revenues. The government decided to shelve a eurobond issue this year as the impact of the pandemic rattled markets. It has approached concessionary lenders for a budget support loan, but the World Bank has asked for reforms as part of its requirement. Government spending plans provide direction for the local debt markets. However, treasury yields are at historic lows due to excess liquidity on the money markets after foreign investors dumped local assets as oil prices crashed. Amaka Anku, Africa director at Eurasia Group, said in a note that the government had made incremental fiscal and regulatory reforms over the past year, including removing petrol and electricity subsidies. But she added: “…Without visionary leadership at the top, the administration will struggle to make progress addressing more difficult challenges such as export diversification, productivity growth, and expansion of the revenue base.” Nigeria expects a deficit of 3.64% of GDP in 2021, breaching its statutory limit of 3%, Buhari said as the country battles increased costs brought about by the virus. The government aims to fund the gap through new borrowings and privatisation. Buhari said the government was targeting a return to growth in 2021 with inflation moderating. He expects the currency to be stable at 379 per dollar after the naira was devalued twice this year to adjust to the lower oil price environment.
  • The pandemic is expected to drive a 3.3% contraction in sub-Saharan African economies in 2020 and could push 40 million people into extreme poverty, the World Bank said. The Washington-based lender said growth in the region would recover in 2021, with economies growing by 2.1%, below 2019’s growth of 2.4%. “The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a large toll on economic activity in sub-Saharan Africa, putting a decade of hard-won economic progress at risk,” the bank said. Apart from South Africa, the region appears to have so far escaped the worst of the health crisis, accounting for 3.4% of global infections and 2.5% of deaths, but the World Bank warned of potential risks from the virus. “Great uncertainty surrounds the scale and trajectory of the pandemic in the region,” it said, citing the experience of European nations and the United States, which are going through a second wave of infections. The pandemic is expected to regress the economic output per person to 2007 levels by the end of next year, the bank said, and disrupt learning for 235 million students. This year’s economic growth is expected to be hit by the lockdowns put in place by governments to curb the spread of the virus, and the impact of the global slowdown. “Disruptions in the tourism industry and lockdowns will cause substantial slow-downs in Ethiopia, Kenya, and the island nations,” the World Bank said. Economies which are not overly reliant on commodities, like Ivory Coast, Ghana and Senegal, will be spared from steep contractions, thanks to fairly robust outputs in their farming sectors, the bank said. Governments in the region should take steps to boost their capacity to recover from the impact of the crisis, the World Bank said. “Countries need to reconstitute their fiscal space to finance programs that can stimulate recovery, improve debt management, and fight corruption,” the lender said.
  • Former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and South Korean trade minister Yoo Myung-hee are the final candidates to head the World Trade Organization, ensuring the watchdog will have the first female leader in its 25-year history. The WTO said on Thursday the two women were the remaining candidates for director-general after the field was cut from five to two, confirming what Reuters reported a day earlier. The winner will replace Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who stepped down a year earlier than expected at the end of August. The WTO, under fire by the U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration which froze its appeals body by blocking its appointment of judges, aims to find a successor for Azevedo by early November. It is also trying to navigate worsening U.S.-China trade relations. “Both of the women that are in the final round are remarkably well-qualified. This is something on which everyone has agreed,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters, making the announcement at its Geneva headquarters. Okonjo-Iweala, 66, a former Nigerian finance and foreign minister, is an economist and development specialist now serving as board chair of global vaccine alliance Gavi. She has said the WTO should play a role in helping poorer countries access COVID-19 drugs and vaccines. Yoo, 53, South Korea’s trade minister, is pitching herself as a seasoned operator on trade in increasingly protectionist times after clinching deals with the United States, China and others, while supporting global trading rules. The WTO will hold a third and final selection round on Oct. 19–27, with a view to having a director-general in place by early November, when the U.S. presidential election also takes place.
  • We reported on an artist who creates portraits using discarded pieces of ankara, a brightly coloured African fabric. She says the meaning of the cloth helped fuel her work. “I was so inspired by those materials,” she said. “In this part of the world we use them to celebrate all kinds of festivity: burial, naming ceremony, wedding,” said the artist, 31-year-old Marcellina Akpojotor, whose work combines art and fashion on canvas, complemented with acrylic paint.
  • And we looked at how informal traders are turning to online markets to connect with suppliers after the pandemic disrupted supply chains. Demand was particularly high during the month-long lockdown in Lagos that ended in early May, said one shopkeeper who used a Lagos-based logistics firm to source her stock. The company, Trade Depot, said it had seen a 300% increase in gross revenue in the year to September, compared with the same period in 2019. Ikenna Nwosu, a logistics consultant, said the pandemic had prompted a broader process of “digitization” that forced people to shop online. This has opened new supply chain networks and created employment opportunities as companies hire more workers to distribute goods.

Nigeria bureau chief for Reuters. Ghanaian family, British accent. Ex-BBC, before that newspapers.