A Week in Nigeria: 15 December
Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days
In this week’s round-up: Islamists kill four aid workers held in northeast since July, Nigeria LNG signs deals, and rights group urges release of activist Sowore after controversial re-arrest.
- An armed group that kidnapped humanitarian workers in northeastern Nigeria five months ago claimed it had killed four hostages, international aid agency Action Against Hunger said. Six people were abducted in July near the town of Damasak, in the state of Borno, where Islamist insurgents operate. Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), which split from the militant group Boko Haram that began its insurgency in 2009, has become the dominant jihadist group in the region. The decade-long Islamist insurgency has caused the deaths of some 30,000 people and driven 2 million to flee their homes. Action Against Hunger said one of its employees, two drivers and three health ministry workers were abducted. In September it said one of the hostages had been killed. On Friday, the humanitarian agency said the group claimed to have killed four of the remaining five hostages. “Action Against Hunger condemns these latest killings in the strongest terms and deeply regrets that its calls for the release of the hostages have not been acted upon,” it said. The organisation called for the “immediate release” of its staff member, Grace, who remains in captivity. The killings raise further concerns about the targeting of humanitarian staff in the insurgency, coming just over a year after Islamic State’s West Africa branch executed a Red Cross aid worker who was kidnapped from another town in northeastern Nigeria in March 2018. The U.N. says 7.1 million people still need humanitarian assistance as a result of the insurgency. “Violence against humanitarian actors jeopardizes access to much needed assistance for people affected by the armed conflict,” said the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon. The U.N. said seven aid workers have been killed since the beginning of the year, among a total of 26 U.N. and aid workers who have lost their lives in the conflict since 2011.
- Nigeria LNG (NLNG) said it had signed a 20-year gas supply agreement with joint venture partners for the long-awaited Train 7 project to expand its liquefied natural gas plant on Bonny Island. Earlier in the week, commodities trader Vitol signed a 10-year deal with NLNG to buy 500,000 tonnes of LNG per year, ramping up its long-term presence on the market. Commodity houses, including Vitol rivals Trafigura and Gunvor, are increasingly expanding their traded spot cargo volumes with multi-year LNG deals as a global push for cleaner energy helps the market grow and mature. The deal also helps NLNG remarket volumes from existing production lines at its Bonny Island plant with a number of contracts due to expire. Vitol said it would purchase volumes from Trains 1, 2 and 3 of a six-train NLNG production facility on Bonny Island under the sales and purchase agreement, which was signed on Dec. 11 and will start in October 2021. NLNG, which produces liquefied natural gas (LNG) for export, is owned by state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and foreign energy firms Royal Dutch Shell, Total and ENI, said it had signed a feed gas agreement for Train 7. NLNG operates six LNG processing units, known as trains, on Bonny Island. The Train 7 project, which is expected to increase Nigeria’s LNG production by 35% to 30 million tonnes per annum (mtpa), has been delayed for several years. A previous deadline for a Train 7 FID in the fourth quarter of 2018 was not met. Nigeria was fifth-largest LNG producer in the world last year, with its production declining. It lost its fourth place to the United States in 2018, according to the International Group of Liquefied Natural Gas Importers.
- Human rights groups held a joint press conference during which they called for the release of a former presidential candidate facing treason charges who was re-arrested a day after being freed from detention on bail. Omoyele Sowore, who ran against President Muhammadu Buhari in an election in February, was first arrested in August and has pleaded not guilty to charges of treason, money laundering and harassing the president. He was granted bail in October but remained in detention until last week because security agents said he had not met the bail conditions. Sowore was released on bail earlier this month in line with a court order but re-arrested by state security officials the following day. He was seen screaming and shouting while being dragged out of court. The scuffle prompted new criticism of Buhari, who was Nigeria’s military ruler from December 1983 to August 1985 and was elected president in 2015. The presidency has rejected the criticism. A group of rights organisations, including Amnesty International, called in a statement for “the unconditional release of Omoyele Sowore per his bail terms” and an investigation into his re-arrest. The activist’s continued detention continued to yield strident views on social media.
- British cosmetics and soap maker PZ Cussons Plc reported lower half-yearly profits due to weak consumer spending in its major markets, and said its chief executive officer was retiring. The maker of Imperial Leather soap and Carex handwash said Alex Kanellis, a company veteran who has been at the helm for 13 years, will retire on Jan. 31. The company is facing a host of challenges both at home as well as in its African business that makes up more than a third of revenue, as Britons cut back on spending and demand for personal care brands dwindles in key African markets. Nigeria is the company’s largest market. PZ also reported lower revenue for the first half, but expressed optimism for the second half. “A stronger second half is expected subject to no further worsening of the economic and trading environments across our key geographies,” the company said in a statement.
- Nigerian stocks fell to their lowest level in a month on Tuesday after shedding 1.11% as shares of the two most capitalised companies Dangote Cement and MTN Nigeria declined. The index, which is down 15% this year, fell for the seventh straight session to a level last seen in November 2019, as consumer goods firms lost 2%. The bourse’s losing streak worsened after ratings agency Moody’s just four days earlier changed the outlook of some Nigeria’s top lenders and corporates, including Dangote Cement, to negative from stable. The ratings agency said the action was triggered by a downgrade of Nigeria’s sovereign outlook from stable to negative as the country was yet to fully recover from a 2015 oil price shock and a subsequent recession in 2016.
- And, looking ahead, the naira is seen stable over the next week supported by the central bank after it weakened on the over-the-counter market as investors repatriated dividends and profits from the bond market, traders said. The naira eased as low as 364 to the dollar this week before firming to trade at a range of between 363 and 363.50. The currency had been quoted at a range of 362–362.50 last week. The currency was quoted at 306.95 on the official market, supported by the central bank. Nigeria operates a multiple currency regime.