A Week in Nigeria: 2 November

Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days

Business mogul and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, seen here in happier times with his election manifesto, hoped Nigeria’s top court would back his bid to contest Muhammadu Buhari’s election victory

In this week’s round-up: Nigeria’s top court dismisses election appeal by main opposition candidate, suspension of two international aid agencies is lifted, oil investment law is fast-tracked, and Booker Prize winner reaches out from Lagos to readers in Africa and UK.

  • Nigeria’s Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the main opposition candidate to overturn the result of February’s presidential election in which Muhammadu Buhari was returned to office. Atiku Abubakar — a businessman and former vice president best known simply as “Atiku” — lodged his initial complaint with the election tribunal, which ruled against him last month. The decision is likely to end the former vice president’s ambition to govern Africa’s most populous country. The Supreme Court unanimously threw out Atiku’s appeal as “lacking merit”, saying in a short statement it would issue a more detailed reasoning for its decision later. “Now, following this final legal bid before the highest court, it is time the country is afforded the right to move on — in the interest of all Nigerians — regardless of how they voted,” Buhari said in a statement. He took 56% of the vote against 41% for Atiku, according to electoral commission data. A Buhari victory had been widely anticipated. Every election result has been contested since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, with the exception of the 2015 vote in which Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat to Buhari. Atiku responded to the decision in a series of tweets that included a nod to Sophocles, an ancient Greek playwright who specialised in tragedies.
  • A suspension of the operations of two aid groups operating in northeast Nigeria was temporarily lifted. Mercy Corps and Action Against Hunger were both forced by the army to close some of their offices in September. Action Against Hunger was accused of aiding terrorist groups and it was alleged that a large amount of money in a car found in northeastern Borno state belonged to Mercy Corps. Both organisations, which had denied any wrongdoing, welcomed the move. Humanitarian Affairs Minister Sadiya Umar Farouq told a news conference in the capital Abuja that the concerns raised by the army would “continue to receive attention and scrutiny”, and that the government would take new steps to vet and monitor all humanitarian groups working in the region. The measures will include requiring non-governmental organisations to register and be vetted by the government before they can start work, and to submit monthly reports that include the amount and source of their fund-raising and the number of people they assist. New rules will also dictate where NGOs purchase fuel and other “sensitive” items and how they can transfer cash.
  • Africa’s largest oil refinery will deliver its fuel to Nigerian consumers via roads and sea ports, and will effectively replace all of Nigeria’s fuel imports once fully operational, according to a company executive. The 650,000 barrel-per-day Dangote oil refinery is under construction in Lagos, the biggest city in the most fuel-consuming nation in the region, which absorbed 266,000 barrels of petroleum products per day as of 2015. Congested ports and dilapidated roads led some to expect that the company would build a pipeline or other method of getting its fuel to consumers. But Dangote Group Executive Director Devakumar Edwin told an OTL (Oil Trading and Logistics) Expo in Lagos that fuels would go via “shuttle” boats to Nigerian cities Warri and Calabar, and that other deliveries would go in trucks. The company is itself fixing and expanding one of the current roads to Lekki — an area adjacent to Lagos’s financial and business district — Edwin said, while the Lagos state government will build another toll road to aid shipments. “That’s going to reduce a lot of congestion,” Edwin said of their plans. He said the refinery would virtually eliminate fuel imports from other regions, adding “those who are importing today… can buy from our refinery”. Dangote had previously told Reuters that the refinery’s mechanical completion was delayed until 2020, though industry sources told Reuters last year that fuel output was unlikely before 2022.
  • The Nigerian government has fast-tracked a law that would render billions in planned offshore oil investments unprofitable and cut nearly 30% from potential offshore output, an industry group said. The measure, which aims to add some $1.5 billion to government coffers in just two years, is the latest to target additional cash from offshore oil and comes as the government pursues a record $34 billion 2020 budget. Oil company representatives fought aggressively to soften the changes; but after an hours-long closed-door meeting with Nigerian lawmakers, they added an extra royalty, an industry source told Reuters, making it even more damaging for companies. The measure passed through the legislature in a matter of weeks, an unusually quick pace for a country that has had a petroleum industry bill pending for more than a decade. The House of Representatives this week signed off on the bill the Senate sent, and it is now on its way to President Muhammadu Buhari for signature. The president’s office declined to comment. A bill signing could be delayed as Buhari is out of the country for the next several weeks. Majors are already fighting a surprise $62 billion bill for offshore oil projects that the government delivered early this year. Industry group Oil Producers Trade Section (OPTS), which represents oil companies that produce 90% of Nigeria’s oil and gas, said this proposed law change, and the regulatory uncertainty it will create, could significantly undermine profitability for the projects, including behemoth fields such as Shell-operated Bonga and Total’s Egina. It expects the changes to the law to slash future offshore production by 27% to 2023, cut $55.5 billion from investment over the lifetime of deepwater projects and remove some $10.4 billion in potential government revenue by 2030.
  • And, still on oil, Chevron is seeking to sell several Nigerian oilfields as part of a global drive to reshape its portfolio as it focuses on growing its U.S. shale output, banking and industry sources said. Chevron joins rivals including Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell in a drive by foreign oil companies to reduce their footprint in Africa’s largest oil producer which has been mired in political and security instability in recent years. The San Ramon, California-based company, Nigeria’s third largest oil producer, is looking for buyers for a number of its the onshore and shallow offshore fields, where local producers have expanded their presence. Chevron did not respond to a request for comment. Chevron’s Nigerian subsidiary operates and holds a 40% interest in 8 blocks in the onshore and near-onshore regions of the Niger Delta under a joint venture with Nigeria’s National Petroleum Company (NNPC), according to its website. The discussions are being held directly with potential buyers and Chevron is not planning to launch a tender process for the assets at this stage, two of the sources said.
  • Author Bernardine Evaristo said she hopes her Booker Prize-winning novel will help to alter perceptions of black British people among African readers and Britons she sees as grappling with heightened racial tension. In an interview with Reuters at the Ake literary festival in Lagos, she also said she was in talks over the rights for film and theatre adaptations of “Girl, Woman, Other”. The 60-year-old author, who described winning the Booker Prize for her eighth work of fiction as “life-changing”, split the 50,000 pounds ($62,800) annual prize with Margaret Atwood, author of “The Testaments”, in a surprise double award earlier this month by the judging panel. Of Nigerian and British parentage, Evaristo was the first black woman to win the prize, which honours “the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK and Ireland”. The book tells the stories of 12 characters living in Britain who are mainly female and black, aged between 19 and 93, and with a variety of sexual orientations. “For people on the continent who don’t necessarily have access to British society I would think a book like ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ would give them insights into the multiplicity of experiences that we have in the UK,” said Evaristo. The author, who lives in Britain and whose father was raised in Lagos and left Nigeria for Britain in 1949, said she participated in the annual Ake festival because it was important to “bridge the gap” between people in Africa and its diaspora. The author — on her fourth visit to Nigeria — said she hoped her work would do the same in Britain, where she said she felt the debate surrounding Britain’s exit from the European Union had led to an increase in “street-level bigotry”. “Literature speaks to our humanity and hopefully that’s what this book is doing, so hopefully it is helping people understand and create empathy about people they aren’t necessarily coming into contact with,” she said.
  • And a federal judge in Lagos has set 30 and 31 January for the hearing of a $2 billion tax dispute between South Africa’s MTN Group and the Nigerian government. The attorney general has demanded the telecoms firm pay the tax bill relating to the import of equipment and payments to foreign suppliers from 2007 to 2017, but MTN argues the claim is without merit and that the attorney general exceeded his powers in making the request. This week lawyers for the government submitted their case against MTN, insisting the attorney general has the power to levy the charge and requesting a court date in late January to continue the proceedings. Government lawyers had in June asked that the case be adjourned until October to give time to prepare their case, the latest dispute between MTN and the Nigerian government. Nigeria is the South African firm’s biggest market, with roughly 58 million users accounting for a third of its core profit.