A Week in Nigeria: 18 July

Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days

Tech entrepreneur Fahim Saleh, seen here during a Reuters interview last year, set up ride-hailing firm Gokada whose motorcycle taxis became ubiquitous on the streets of Lagos

In this week’s round-up: tech entrepreneur behind Nigeria’s Gokada ride-hailing firm murdered in New York, court hears new evidence as government fights $10bn P&ID arbitration bill, and contact tracers face tough race against coronavirus as restrictions ease.

  • The most eye-catching Nigeria-related story of the week was a gruesome murder in the United States. A technology entrepreneur who founded Nigeria’s Gokada ride-hailing app was found decapitated and dismembered in a luxury New York apartment with a power saw plugged in nearby, New York media reported. Police confirmed the death of Fahim Saleh in a statement and deemed it a homicide but offered none of the grisly details reported in New York media. Detectives found Saleh’s torso near a power saw and later discovered his head and limbs sorted into plastic bags, police told New York crime reporters. Saleh’s sister discovered the body Tuesday afternoon, and the fact the saw was still connected led detectives to suspect her arrival may have startled the perpetrator, who would have fled through another exit, the New York Times reported. Saleh, 33, founded the Gokada motorbike hailing app. It was popular in the Nigerian megacity of Lagos until state officials in February banned all motorcycle taxis, known locally as ‘okada’ and able to weave through traffic. Gokada, funded by U.S and Gulf investment and venture capital funds, has one of the largest fleets of motorcycle hailing taxis in Nigeria. But the company, along with its competitors, fell foul of regulators in Lagos state. Saleh, interviewed last year by Reuters in Nigeria’s commercial capital, had said he intended to move into deliveries in the wake of the okada ban. He also floated the idea of providing a transport service on the city’s waterways. Security camera video footage showed Saleh in the apartment building’s elevator with a man in a dark suit, mask and gloves, the media reports said. The footage showed the masked man following Saleh into the apartment, where a struggle began. His personal assistant was later arrested in connection with the murder. The suspect, identified as Tyrese Devon Haspil, 21, is expected to be charged in the murder, several media outlets reported.
  • The Nigerian government has uncovered previously unknown payments to the daughter of a Nigerian official, its lawyer told a court, in its latest attempt to overturn an arbitration award against it worth close to $10 billion. Process & Industrial Developments (P&ID), a firm set up to carry out a gas project in Nigeria, won a $6.6 billion arbitration award after the 2010 deal collapsed. The award has been accruing interest since 2013 and is now worth nearly $10 billion. Nigeria is seeking permission in the English courts to appeal the award, granted in 2017, despite having missed the 28-day appeal deadline. It says new information came to light only in late 2019. Following this week’s two-day hearing, the judge will make a ruling at a later date that will determine whether the government can continue its appeal and present its full case of alleged fraud in the English courts.
  • We reported on the role of contact tracers in Nigeria who, as in countries across Africa, are among the few safeguards standing between the country’s fragile public health systems and a pandemic that could quickly overwhelm them. Infections are rising, but many governments have been easing lockdowns to save their economies. In Nigeria, medics who do tracing say they are near breaking point. Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have increased tenfold to over 32,000 since the government began easing restrictions in May, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says. At least 740 have died. Lagos, Nigeria’s largest state and epicentre of its outbreak, has 200 tracers for a population of 25 million. That is fewer than one per 100,000 people, compared to around 14 per 100,000 in Turkey. The state’s health commissioner, Akin Abayomi, dismissed concerns about the scale of its tracing efforts. “We recruit contact tracers as necessary. We have a large pool of primary health care staff and volunteers to select from,” he said in a text message, adding there were 1,000 people in the pool. Nigeria’s experience with infectious diseases meant it could quickly mobilize veteran epidemiologists like Fadare along with hundreds of medics and community volunteers already embedded in remote communities to fight polio. But nothing prepared them for this epidemic, Fadare said. More than 12,400 cases have been confirmed in Lagos state alone – any one potentially infecting scores of others, she said. Members of her team say they are overwhelmed, receiving updates about infected people as late as midnight. Unlike South Korea and Singapore, which used contact tracing apps, Nigeria has had to resort to more labour-intensive methods. Only a quarter of the population uses smartphones.
  • Annual inflation in Nigeria rose for a 10th straight month in June, lifted by food and healthcare costs, the statistics office said on Friday, after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted logistics and the central bank weakened the currency. Inflation climbed to 12.56%, its highest level in more than two years, from 12.4% in May, the National Bureau of Statistics said. The central bank is due to meet on Monday to set interest rates after it last week depreciated the naira by 5.5% against the dollar on the official market, its second adjustment in six months. Rising inflation has caused yields on Treasury bills and bonds to turn negative, a major stumbling block for the central bank’s push to attract foreign inflows to support the naira and boost the economy. The statistics office said prices of medical services, pharmaceutical products, transport and associated services, rose the most on the non-food index. A separate index for food, which accounts for the bulk of the inflation basket, showed a price increase of 15.18% from 15.04% in May. Food inflation has been in double digits for more than three years. The rise in the food index was caused by increases in bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and meat, fish and vegetables. Africa’s top oil exporter faces economic hardship from the coronavirus outbreak and sharp falls in crude prices, which have caused a steep decline in growth. The government expects the economy to contract by as much as 8.9% this year.
  • Nigeria hopes changes it has made to gold mining regulation will earn the government $500 million a year in royalties and taxes and create 250,000 jobs, President Muhammadu Buhari said. The reforms have made artisanal mining legal and will create gold buying centres and tax trade of the precious metal, Buhari said in a statement. “These operations will help in diversifying our revenue base,” said Buhari. Nigerian authorities have said illegal mining, prominent in the northwest, has fuelled widespread violence they attribute to “bandits”. Thousands of people have been killed in the region in recent years and swathes of the region are inaccessible. The military is deployed to tackle the insecurity but the conflict shows little sign of ending. The extra revenues from gold could be a lifeline as the coronavirus pandemic and resulting global oil price crash cut off much of the state’s income. Buhari said the country has lost a total of $3 billion from 2012 to 2018 because of illegal gold mining. In February, Nigeria licensed two gold refineries mainly to produce gold for the central bank to hold in its reserves but also for export. The bank received its first locally-produced gold bar on Thursday. Nigeria has largely untapped deposits of 44 minerals including gold, iron ore, coal, tin and zinc, in more than 500 locations, but mining makes up just 0.3% of the economy.
  • And we reported on a boom in internet dating tailored for Nigerian professionals. In Lagos, pre-outbreak courtship often revolved around social functions, as well as couples meeting through church or their mosque’s social networks. “The dating thing during this restriction works perfectly for me because I’m really an indoors person,” said a 25-year-old digital marketer. Vybe, an app which went live in April 2019, has seen user numbers grow by almost a third to roughly 8,000 as movement restrictions push people to seek intimacy online, the company said. “Coronavirus has been weirdly good for us,” said co-founder Adetolani Eko. “People are becoming more aware of the need to connect through other means,” he said. Vybe and LagosMatchMaker, the moniker of dating coach Didi Edet, have moved activities online to keep offering premium services that other apps do not. “People cannot meet for first dates, unless they meet at people’s homes and locations which people did not feel was really safe,” said Edet, whose “Dating in Quarantine” programme has more than 500 people.