Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days

In this week’s round-up: President Buhari announces gradual easing of lockdowns from Monday, IMF approves $3.4 billion in emergency financial assistance, and pioneering Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen dies.

  • Nigeria will begin a “phased and gradual” easing of more than four weeks of lockdowns in the national capital and the largest city on May 4, President Muhammadu Buhari said in an address to the nation. Lagos and Ogun states and the federal capital territory of Abuja entered lockdowns to tame the spread of the new coronavirus on March 30. Confirmed cases of the new virus have roughly quadrupled since a lockdown extension was announced on April 13, with most concentrated in Lagos and Abuja. But Buhari said the lockdowns had come at a “very heavy economic cost,” stripping many citizens of their livelihoods. “No country can afford the full impact of a sustained lockdown while awaiting the development of vaccines,” Buhari said. Millions of Nigeria’s 200 million citizens, more than 20 million of whom live in Lagos, live on daily wages, and the lockdown left many without money to buy food. Authorities will enforce an overnight curfew, from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., and also will require all those who are out during the day to wear face masks. The federal government will also enforce a ban on non-essential movement between Nigeria’s 36 states, a measure the governors’ forum had requested. The easing of restrictions in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun states will take place over a six-week period, said Boss Mustapha, the chairman of Nigeria’s presidential task force for COVID-19, said in order to provide further details a few days after the president’s speech. News of eased restrictions prompted a mixed response on Twitter.
  • Despite easing of restrictions in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun state, President Buhari announced a new two-week lockdown in Kano. The move came after a sharp rise in deaths in the northern city, which bears the same name as the state. The president’s announcement came shortly after the state government said in its initial assessment that the deaths were related to complications from other health conditions and not the new coronavirus.
  • The International Monetary Fund said its executive board approved $3.4 billion in emergency financial assistance for Nigeria to support the oil exporter’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The global lender said it remained closely engaged with Nigerian authorities and was ready to provide policy advice and further support as needed. The outbreak and sharp fall in oil prices have magnified headwinds in the Nigerian economy, triggering a historic decline in growth and large financing needs, the IMF said. The funds will help Nigeria limit its decline in international reserves and finance temporary spending hikes to contain the pandemic and mitigate its economic impact as well that of falling oil prices. IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said she expected the fund to provide Nigeria with significant emergency financing by the end of April. Nigeria told the IMF in a letter requesting emergency financial assistance that the drop in oil prices and the economic shocks related to the new coronavirus left it with an external financing gap of $14 billion. The Fund this week also said Nigeria’s oil and gas exports are expected to decline by at least $26.5 billion as the novel coronavirus batters international prices and cuts fuel demand.
  • On Wednesday, the day after the IMF’s announcement, Nigeria’s central bank said it had resumed dollar sales to commercial banks in view of the gradual easing of the coronavirus lockdown. The bank said in a statement it would sell $100 million per week to help individuals with dollar expenses abroad such as payment for foreign schools fees and small businesses wishing to make essential imports needed to revamp economic activities. Dollar demand has been swelling and piling up pressure on the naira, traders said. Importers with past due obligations are scrambling for hard currency while providers of foreign exchange such as offshore investors have exited.
  • The implementation of a mammoth African free trade agreement will not begin on July 1 as planned due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak, a senior official said. “It is obviously not possible to commence trade as we had intended on 1 July under the current circumstances,” Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area, said during a conference call. He provided further details in a separate interview with Reuters. The 55-nation continental free-trade zone would, if successful, create a $3.4 trillion economic bloc with 1.3 billion people across Africa and constitute the largest new trading bloc since the World Trade Organization formed in 1994. Mene said he was confident the deal would still go forward. “The political commitment remains, the political will remains to integrate Africa’s market and to implement the agreement as was intended,” he said. Mene said that as African governments do not have the firepower to launch the same type of economic stimulus packages that the United States and Europe are putting forward to mitigate the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic, intra-African trade could serve the same purpose. “That’s our stimulus package. That’s how we’re going to get back on track as Africa.”
  • Nigeria’s state oil company has delayed publishing its future oil export plans as it negotiates with local companies and international majors about how to cut output in line with a global deal on production curbs, trading sources said. Official selling prices (OSPs) for Nigerian oil, usually issued in the second or third week of each month, had still not been issued on Monday. The global supply deal, agreed by the OPEC+ group of oil producers, is due to go into effect on May 1. Traders expect the May OSPs to fall below April’s record lows published by Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Traders of Nigerian oil told Reuters that Nigeria, an OPEC member, had revised its May programmes for oil cargoes and would also have to lower its output in June, based on the OPEC+ deal. “May cargoes will get delayed and new June cargoes may be relatively few,” one of the sources said. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other allied producers agreed to cut their combined output by 9.7 million barrels per day, or each reducing its production by more than 20%. The first round of cuts will run in May and June. Reductions will be less severe after that. “The NNPC is working out the cuts for the international oil companies. That’s why the programme for June and OSP for May is yet to come out,” another trading source said.
  • The pandemic, and the global shutdown of schools, is deepening educational disparities between rich and poor, both between countries and within them, west Africa’s regional director of UN education agency UNESCO told Reuters. Like much of the world, Nigeria ordered schools to shut in late March to curb the spread of the coronavirus. We spoke to a parent whose six-year-old daughter was taking lessons online, and a 13-year-old based in a small fishing community who is being taught three times a week by a volunteer along with around 20 children. Children unable to attend in person can copy out note posted on a blackboard mounted in a communal veranda.
  • And, finally, Nigerian drummer and composer Tony Allen, who worked closely with musician Fela Kuti as a pioneer of the Afrobeat genre, died in Paris aged 79, his manager said. The Afrobeat sound, which rose to prominence in Nigeria in the 1970s, combined organ riffs with West African drum patterns and brass instruments. Allen’s drumming was a key part of the rhythmic structure that underpinned the fusion of jazz, funk and West African melodies. Allen died on Wednesday evening in Paris of a heart attack, National Public Radio (NPR) cited his manager Eric Trosset as saying on Thursday. “Farewell Tony! Your eyes saw what most couldn’t see. You are the coolest person on Earth! As you used to say, “There is no end,” Trosset said in a tribute posted on Facebook. Allen recorded more than 30 albums with Kuti and his group, Africa ’70, which fused jazz, funk and African traditional singing. The songs were usually over 10 minutes long and Kuti’s lyrics were often angry diatribes against corruption, African dictators and Nigeria’s military regimes. Kuti, who died in 1997, once said that “without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat”. In later years Allen worked with a broad range of artists including producer and musician Brian Eno who referred to Allen as “perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived”.

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