A Week in Nigeria: 22 December

Reuters journalists reported on massive changes in land use across the Middle Belt states of Nigeria which have contributed to violence in the region that has claimed thousands of lives this year

In this week’s round-up: President Buhari presents his 2019 budget, unemployment figures are released, the inside story of power sector debts and Reuters analysis of land use in the violent Middle Belt region.

  • President Buhari presented an 8.83 trillion naira ($28.80 billion) budget for 2019 to a raucous parliament that highlighted divisions two months before an election. The spending plan assumes crude production of 2.3 million barrels a day, an oil price of $60 per barrel and an exchange rate of 305 naira to the dollar.
  • Buhari’s handling of the economy — which emerged from its first recession in 25 years this year but remains sluggish — has become a campaign issue. Coming months after dozens of lawmakers defected to the opposition, Buhari received a rowdy reception with many of his statements greeted by jeers and chants of “lies”, while supporters at times stood to applaud. Buhari’s main opposition in February’s election, businessman and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, has criticised policies implemented by Buhari since taking office in 2015 and vowed to double the size of the economy to $900 billion by 2025 if elected. Critics of the main opposition candidate have said he hasn’t done enough to explain how such growth could be achieved.
  • The National Bureau of Statistics released employment data. The unemployment rate stood at 23.1 percent of the workforce in the third quarter, up from 18.1 percent a year earlier, the head of the statistics office Yemi Kale said. “As of Q3 2018, the calculated unemployment rate was 23.1 percent, the underemployment rate was 20.1 percent, and the combined unemployment and underemployment rate was 43.3 percent,” the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said in its report.
  • We exclusively reported that the Nigerian power sector’s crippling debts had delayed the financial close of the $1.1bn Qua Iboe power plant, to be located in the southern Akwa Ibom state. It isn’t clear when the deal will close, if at all. It’s the inside story of the financial mess holding back mass electricity provision in Nigeria drawing on interviews with senior figures across the sector.
  • A Reuters analysis of land use satellite data and nearly a year of reporting from the Middle Belt, dating back to attacks that killed 73 people in the first week of 2018, was published. It shows how a massive expansion of farming in the country’s central states cut access to grazing land for nomadic herders and fuelled persistent violence over land use in the region. Amnesty International, in a report also published this week, said the clashes have killed more than 3,600 people since 2016. Along with a TV report, I created a Twitter thread the laid out the main findings and the process of reporting the story over several months.
  • Nigeria’s Access Bank agreed to takeover mid-tier rival Diamond Bank, the lenders said, in a deal both said would create Africa’s largest bank by customers. Nigerian banks have been trying to raise fresh capital after huge loan losses worsened by an economy that is recovering from its first recession in 25 years. U.S. private equity firm Carlyle owns a 17.75 percent stake in Diamond Bank which it bought for $147 million in 2014 when the bank was trading at 0.6 times book value as against 0.15 times now. The takeover follows weeks of speculation about Diamond Bank in the wake of the unexpected resignations of its chairman and three other directors in October.
  • Nigeria’s first gold refinery is expected to more than triple its capacity within five years after operations begin next June, the vice chairman of the company developing it told Reuters in an interview. Nere Teriba, of local commodities firm Kian Smith, said the refinery expects to more than triple capacity within 5 years after operations begin in June 2019. She said the refinery would initially be able to produce three tonnes per month of gold and one tonne of silver, rising to 10 tonnes a month of gold and three tonnes of silver in five years. Teriba also said the gold would be sourced from various locations in Nigeria, including Zamfara, Kwara, Kaduna, as well as Ghana, Sierra Leone and Tanzania.

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