A Week in Nigeria: 21 September

Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days

Nigeria’s army shut the office of an NGO after accusing it of helping insurgents in the war-torn northeast of the country

In this week’s round-up: Nigerian army accuses international aid agency of helping militants, inflation hits near four-year low and Nigerian court orders P&ID to give up local assets.

  • The army in northeastern Nigeria forced Action Against Hunger, an international aid agency, to close its office in the conflict-ridden region, accusing it of aiding militant groups such as Boko Haram and Islamic State. The international aid agency said it was ordered by soldiers to close its main office in Maiduguri, Borno state, on Wednesday. Colonel Ado Isa, the deputy director of army public relations, said Action Against Hunger was warned several times that it was “aiding and abetting terrorists” by supplying food and drugs. “Consequently, the AAH has been declared persona (non) grata,” Isa said. The humanitarian group, which focuses on providing water, food and healthcare, particularly in areas plagued by conflict and famine, called on “competent authorities” to let it continue its work.
  • Still on the subject of the military and its handling of the conflict in the northeast, we reported on s strategy announced by President Muhammadu Buhari in July to concentrate soldiers in big bases. The approach is designed to give troops a secure platform, in larger bases referred to as “super camps”, from which they can respond quickly to threats in the region and raid militant camps. Some people familiar with the military’s thinking and security officials say the new tactic for fighting Islamic State’s West Africa branch and Boko Haram is mainly an attempt to stem military casualties. The withdrawal into large bases has coincided with a string of insurgent raids on newly unprotected towns and has left the militants free to set up checkpoints on roads as they roam more freely across the countryside, according to three briefing notes from an international aid and development organisation, two security officials and residents. That has left thousands of civilians without access to aid, according to the briefing notes seen by Reuters. Soldiers are no longer protecting some key roads, cutting off access for humanitarians workers as more of the region falls under the sway of the insurgents, aid and security sources said. The military departures so far have cut off more than 100,000 people from aid and if more soldiers go, as many as 121,000 other civilians could flee their towns, one aid agency briefing note said. “It’s a mess, militarily, and a disaster for humanitarian actors,” one foreign security official said.
  • A company awarded more than $9 billion in an arbitration case against Nigeria was ordered by a court in the capital Abuja to forfeit its local assets to the government. It came after two men linked to the company, Process & Industrial Developments (P&ID), pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and tax evasion on its behalf, the court said on Thursday. Nigeria’s attorney general and justice minister, Abubakar Malami, said Thursday’s ruling gave Nigeria “a judicial proof of fraud and corruption” in P&ID’s founding. “A liability that is rooted in fraud and corruption cannot stand judicial enforceability,” he said. “Nigeria now has a cogent ground for setting aside the liability.” He said officials would travel to London next week to prepare for a court date related to the case on Sept. 26. The development earlier this week came after Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) brought 11 individual charges against P&ID and its local subsidiary. The two men, Muhammad Kuchazi and Adamu Usman, pleaded guilty to all the charges on behalf of the company. “None of the individuals involved are current employees or representatives of P&ID,” said the company. “P&ID itself has received no communication from any Nigerian authority about the investigation or today’s hearing. There has been no evidence produced, no defence allowed, no charges laid, no due process followed,” it said. The ruling in Abuja would not necessarily impact P&ID’s efforts to seize assets. A Lagos court ordered in 2016 that the entire arbitration be set aside, but the arbitration tribunal rejected the court’s jurisdiction to rule on the matter — a decision affirmed by last month’s London ruling.
  • It was a week in which inflation statistics were released and the central bank announced its decision on the benchmark interest rate. Annual inflation in Nigeria stood at 11.02% in August, its lowest in almost four years, down from 11.08% in July, the National Bureau of Statistics said. The level of inflation was last seen in February 2016. Food prices, which make up the bulk of the inflation basket, dropped to 13.17% in August from 13.39% a month earlier. And the central bank held its main interest rate at 13.5% for the third monetary policy committee meeting in a row. The MPC met on Thursday and Friday, which meant they convened a few days earlier than previously planned. A source at the central bank said the meeting was moved forward because the governor, Godwin Emefiele, was due to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York next week.
  • We reported that diesel costs could spike globally from early next year and many Nigerian businesses, which typically rely heavily on diesel-powered generators, are not prepared. Diesel prices are expected to surge as United Nations rules aimed at cleaning up international shipping come into effect on Jan. 1, with many ships expected to burn distillates instead of dirtier fuel oil. Estimates vary widely, but observers warn that prices could surge by nearly 20%. Higher costs for operating generators that power the machinery, computer servers and mobile phone towers that run Nigeria’s economy could impair growth in gross domestic product. While many Nigerian household and small business generators are powered by price-capped gasoline, the big generators for larger firms, apartment complexes and more substantial homes can only run on diesel. “Businesses may struggle to survive, or in the best case scenario, would at least downsize,” said Tunde Leye, a Lagos-based analyst with SBM Intelligence. Diesel is the second or third biggest cost for many Nigerian firms, he said.
  • And, finally, we reported that Nigeria is now the main hub for gangs sending African pangolins to Asia, according to law enforcement officials, non-governmental organisations and wildlife experts. They say porous borders, lax law enforcement, corruption and one of the continent’s biggest ports have helped criminal networks in Nigeria corner most of the African trade in pangolins, considered to be the world’s most trafficked mammal. This year alone, Hong Kong and Singapore have intercepted three huge shipments of pangolin scales weighing a combined 33.9 tonnes and worth more than $100 million, based on estimates of their value in Singapore. Each shipment was bigger than any that had come from Africa before this year — and they all came from Nigeria. According to wildlife trade watchdog TRAFFIC, less than a quarter of major pangolin seizures from Africa came via Nigeria in 2016. By 2018, that had jumped to almost two-thirds and three-quarters of the total weight seized was linked to Nigeria.

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