A Week in Nigeria: 22 June
Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days
In this week’s round-up: Triple suicide bomb attack in northeast kills more than 30, Buhari appoints new head of the state oil company, and inflation holds steady.
- At least 30 people were killed and 42 injured in a triple suicide attack in northeast Nigerian state of Borno, state emergency officials said — the biggest mass killing this year by Islamist militants. Three suicide bombers targeted an area in Konduga where villagers had gathered to watch a football match on a large screen. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, which prompted President Muhammadu Buhari to call for security to be stepped up in areas where large groups gather. Boko Haram and splinter group Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) often carry out attacks in Borno state. Boko Haram’s attacks during a decade-long insurgency have killed more than 30,000 people and displaced millions of civilians. Boko Haram has tended to deploy suicide bombers to attack civilians in crowded public spaces whereas ISWAP focuses on military targets.
- The differing approaches taken by the insurgents was on display this week when ISWAP said its fighters killed 12 Nigerian soldiers during an attack on a Nigerian army base in northeastern Borno state. A military source put the toll higher, saying up to 25 soldiers were killed after insurgents travelling on trucks mounted with guns attacked the base in the town of Gajiram, in which the insurgents said the barracks were burned. And Nigeria’s security woes extend beyond the northeast’s Islamist insurgency. The last few months have seen a spike in banditry in the northwest. In the latest flashpoint, earlier this week, an armed gang killed at least 34 people in attacks on villages in the northwestern state of Zamfara.
- The president appointed a new group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), one of his first appointments since starting a second term in office last month. Mele Kyari - a geologist who was previously group general manager of NNPC’s crude oil marketing division and since last year doubled as Nigeria’s representative to OPEC — was appointed alongside seven chief operating officers. The statement said the newly appointed officials will take up their new positions on 8th July. The government quickly sought to quash rumours that the new state oil chief was related to Buhari’s chief of staff, Abba Kyari.
- Nigeria will consider the interests of its industries in deciding whether to sign up to a $3 trillion Africa free-trade agreement, President Buhari said in a meeting with local manufacturers . The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)encompasses 1.2 billion people. Fifty-two of the 55 countries that make up the African Union (AU) have now signed. Aside from Nigeria, only Benin and Eritrea have opted not to sign up to the agreement. Buhari has so far refused to join the trade zone, which came into force last month and is meant to eliminate most tariffs to create a single market with free movement of goods and services. He fears that by joining the zone other countries would dump cheap goods in the huge market in Africa’s most populous country — a nation of some 190 million people — and therefore undercut efforts to stimulate the manufacturing sector, which is currently limited. Buhari told leaders of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria trade body that he was awaiting the findings of a committee set up in October to assess the potential cost and impact if Nigeria signed up to the agreement. “Nigeria will be guided by national interest in taking any decision on the agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area,” Buhari said in a statement. He did not say when a decision would be taken.
- The debt office said Nigeria plans to access cheaper foreign loans to help part fund its 2019 budget and tap Eurobonds if necessary to cover any shortfall. The statement marked an apparent U-turn, coming the day after the head of the debt office said Nigeria has no plans to return to the Eurobond market this year, after a sixth outing in November raised $2.86 billion. She made the comments at a conference in Lagos. Nigeria approved a three-year plan in 2016 to borrow more from abroad. It wants 40 percent of its loans to come from offshore sources to lower borrowing costs and help to fund record-high budgets. Asked whether the government would consider a U.S. dollar-denominated Eurobond, Patience Oniha said, “For 2019, given the process, I would say no.” For more details on her stance, check out the video from the conference. Her key comments are at 8 minutes and 45 seconds in a video of the event.
- Our colleagues at the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported that Nigeria and Niger have improved their efforts to fight human trafficking, but still do not meet the minimum standards required. That was the assessment of the U.S. government in its closely watched annual assessment of how countries are performing. The U.S. State Department upgraded both west African nations in its 2019 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which sorts countries into three tiers based on their efforts to fight trafficking. Their move from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2 means they are no longer under special scrutiny and at less risk of falling to Tier 3, which can trigger United States sanctions. The report credited Nigeria with ending the use of child soldiers by a government-supported armed group and initiating prosecutions against seven government officials allegedly complicit in trafficking.
- This week we had a bumper crop for cocoa enthusiasts. We reported comments by the vice president of the World Cocoa Producers Organization who said a cocoa price floor of $2,600 per tonne agreed by Ivory Coast and Ghana with buyers for the 2020/21 season lacks the support of other producing nations. Buyers of Ghana and Ivory Coast cocoa last week agreed to the minimum price proposed by the two governments to address a perceived imbalance between farmers’ incomes and money made by big commodities traders. The two West African nations account for nearly two-thirds of global output, yet they exert limited influence over international cocoa prices, which have stayed low in recent years due to overproduction. Sayina Riman, who doubles as president of the Cocoa Association of Nigeria, said the decision by the two countries was taken without consulting other growers. Nigeria is the world’s fourth-biggest cocoa producer. Riman said in a statement $2,600 per tonne was better than price swings which could sometimes go below $1,500 but that the agreed floor was still lower than where the benchmark should be based on production cost.
- Still on cocoa, we also reported that heavy rainfall and poor sunshine across Nigeria’s cocoa-growing regions has raised the likelihood of black pod disease which would hurt the main crop this season. Farmers in Nigeria are growing increasingly worried about bean quality and black pod disease in the wake of heavier rains. Besides preventing mould, sunny weather is also needed for a bigger bean size.
- Annual inflation stood at 11.4% in May, compared with 11.37% in April, the National Bureau of Statistics said. A separate food price index showed inflation at 13.79% in May, compared with 13.70% the previous month.
- And an investigation into the disappearance of 6.8 million naira (around $20,000) from a zoo in the northern state of Kano found it had been taken by armed robbers — not eaten by a gorilla as widely reported in local newspapers. Abdullahi Ganduje, the governor of Kano, had ordered the state’s anti-corruption commission to look into the disappearance of gate fees at the Kano Zoological Gardens. “Preliminary reports indicate that there was armed robbery at the zoo,” Ganduje told reporters after meeting Buhari at the presidential villa in the capital, Abuja. “The issue of (a) gorilla is junk journalism,” he said. “This is because there is … no gorilla in that zoo.”