Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days
In this week’s round-up: central bank devalues the naira, corruption boss suspended over investigation, domestic flights restart, and revised budget signed into law.
- The central bank devalued the naira currency by 5.5%. It sold dollars to lenders at a lower rate on Tuesday, bowing to pressure from international lenders to unify its multiple exchange rates. The currency weakened to 380.50 per dollar in off-market trades, from its previous 360.50 close on Monday, traders said. No quotes for the naira were available on the official market during regular trading for the second straight session, Refinitiv Eikon data showed, after the central bank last week depreciated the currency at an auction. On Thursday, Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed held talks with senior parliamentarians during which she provided details of a framework for the government’s 2021-2023 spending plan, which she said she plans to submit to parliament later this month. The plan stated that the exchange rate was set to remain at 360 naira per dollar. The following day, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the 10.8 trillion naira ($28.38 billion) revised 2020 budget passed by lawmakers last month. The spending plan was revised in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and low global oil prices.
- The head of the anti-corruption chief was suspended pending the conclusion of investigations, the attorney general’s office said without elaborating. Ibrahim Magu has been appearing before a presidential panel reviewing activities of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the agency said. “President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the immediate suspension of Ibrahim Magu as Ag. Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),” the attorney general’s office said in a statement. The president put EFCC operations director Mohammed Umar in charge pending the outcome of Magu’s case. Buhari has made tackling corruption a priority since taking office in 2015. Endemic graft among the political elite dating back decades has left most Nigerians mired in poverty, despite the country being Africa’s biggest economy and energy producer.
- Domestic flights resumed on Wednesday after a hiatus of around three months. The airports for the capital, Abuja, and commercial hub Lagos reopened for flights. A handful of other airports will open on 11 July and the remainder of airports will resume flights on 15 July. The resumption of flights is the latest step by the government to reopen Africa’s biggest economy, which has also been hit hard by low oil prices. In recent weeks it has lifted a ban on interstate travel, allowed some pupils to return to school and permitted places of worship to open. Passengers waiting to enter the airport in the capital, Abuja, used markings on the floor to observe social distancing and some used newly installed handwashing facilities outside the building. Only a relatively small number of people were waiting to travel. Other safety measures in place included airport workers taking the temperature of passengers and spraying bags with decontamination fluids. No date has been given for the resumption of international flights.
- Nigeria’s confirmed coronavirus cases passed 30,000 on Wednesday, the country’s disease control centre said, as the virus continued to spread despite an easing of restrictions put in place to curb the disease. The outbreak has resulted in around 700 deaths. The country of 200 million inhabitants has, like many other African nations, so far avoided the high death rates of the United States, Brazil and parts of Europe. Fearing the economic toll of the pandemic, Nigerian authorities have in recent weeks relaxed restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the virus. But health experts fear a lack of reliable data means the virus could be spreading unchecked in Africa, as a team of Reuters journalists showed in an in-depth story published this week. A regional disease control body this week said African countries must carry out more testing and make people use masks as cases topped half a million in the continent.
- And the government dropped a plan to allow some pupils to return to school because of a continued increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, the education minister said. Last week the presidential taskforce on the new coronavirus had said pupils due to graduate this year would be able to go back to school to prepare for exams, though other children would remain barred from attending. “We will not open soon for examinations, or for any reason, unless it is safe for our children,” Education Minister Adamu Adamu told reporters in the capital, Abuja, after a cabinet meeting. “Our schools will only open when we believe it’s safe for our children and that is when the situation is right, not when the incidence of the infection is going up in the nation.” Adamu did not specify the reason for the policy shift.