A Week in Nigeria: 15 December
Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days
In this week’s round-up: The state of Nigeria’s economy comes into focus, a government lawsuit against two oil majors and the military suspends UNICEF (before doing a U-turn hours later).
- Nigeria’s economy, which depending on the exchange rate used is the biggest in Africa, came under the spotlight in a number of stories. Nigeria’s economy grew 1.81 percent in the third quarter of 2018 from a year earlier, pushed higher by the non-oil sector, the statistics office said. The figures were a slight improvement from the previous quarter, when a slowdown in growth sparked fears that Africa’s biggest oil producer might enter recession for the second time in three years. However, the statistics showed that growth remains sluggish in the wake of the country’s emergence from recession in early 2017.
- The statistics office also said Nigeria’s inflation rate rose slightly in November over the previous year, with price increases across a broad range of products - particularly food items. November consumer inflation was up 11.28 percent from a year ago, compared with 11.26 percent in October. Food inflation was at 13.30 percent over the previous year, another slight bump from the 13.28 percent yearly increase recorded in October.
- With only two months until February’s election, President Buhari said the country’s economy was in “bad shape”, the governor of a northwestern Zamfara state told reporters after closed-door meetings with him and other governors from across the country. “Mr President, as usual, responded by telling us that the economy is in a bad shape and we have to come together and think and rethink on way forward,” Abdulaziz Yari, who chairs the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, told reporters when asked how Buhari answered requests for a bailout to some states. “Mr President talked to us in the manner that we have a task ahead of us. So, we should tighten our belts and see how we can put the Nigerian economy in the right direction,” said Yari.
- The state of the economy had an impact on soap and cosmetics maker PZ Cussons Plc which warned that it was facing weaker consumer demand across its main markets, with its dominant African business hampered by a weakened economy and currency in Nigeria. The owner of the Imperial Leather brand faced major disruptions in getting goods into Nigeria, and first-half contribution to profits from the west African country, its single largest market, would be lower than a year earlier. The company, which also houses the Carex, Five:am and Morning Fresh brands, said it would continue to review its Nigerian business and look to further “optimise” prices and pack sizes of its products as profit margins remain under pressure.
- In an interesting move, Nigeria’s military suspended UNICEF’s activities in the northeast and accused its staff of spying for Islamist militants, only to lift the suspension a few hours later. It had accused UNICEF staff of training people to sabotage troops’ counter-insurgency efforts by uncovering alleged human rights abuses by the military. It also said staff managed to “train and deploy spies who support the insurgents and their sympathisers”. But the military, a few hours later, said it decided to lift the suspension following talks. The northeast has been torn apart by a decade-long insurgency by Boko Haram and its splinter group Islamic State West Africa, in which more than 30,000 people have been killed and many more driven from their homes. With millions displaced, the northeast is largely dependent on international aid.
Reactions on social media were largely critical of the army’s approach.
- Nigeria’s main opponent in the upcoming election, Atiku Abubakar, did not attend an event to sign an election agreement stating a commitment to hold a peaceful election early next year due to what his party called a “communication lapse”. At first the PDP said he was not invited, but it was later attributed to the alleged lapse. He finally signed the following day. The ceremony was an attempt to mirror the signing of an acclaimed deal ahead of voting in 2015, when Buhari came to power. The agreement was credited with helping prevent a repeat of violence in the wake of the 2011 election which Human Rights Watch said killed 800 people and displaced 65,000. The peace accord ceremony was held days after the PDP said authorities had frozen the bank accounts of its vice presidential candidate, Peter Obi.
- The Nigerian government said it had filed a $1.1 billion lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell and Eni in a commercial court in London in relation to the controversial 2011 OPL 245 deal. The oilfield is also at the heart of an ongoing corruption trial in Milan in which former and current Shell and Eni officials are on the bench. Milan prosecutors allege bribes totalling around $1.1 billion were paid to win the licence to explore the field which, because of disputes, has never entered into production. The new London case also relates to payments made by the companies to get the OPL 245 oilfield licence in 2011.
- In the obligatory update on the $8.1 billion MTN v central bank repatriation row, a judge at the federal high court in Lagos adjourned a hearing over an until 22 January. The main development in court was that the attorney general - listed as co-defendant alongside the central bank - has agreed on the move to reach a settlement, a lawyer representing his office said. It’s a crucial development because a settlement would require the agreement of both defendants in order to go ahead. In case you’ve forgotten, the disagreement is over the transfer of $8.1 billion of funds which Nigeria’s central bank said the company had sent abroad in breach of foreign-exchange regulations. MTN has denied any wrongdoing.
- And the Nigeria Reuters bureau showed its support for our colleagues behind bars in Myanmar for doing their job on the first anniversary of their incarceration.