Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days
In this week’s round-up: Russia and Nigeria sign helicopter and oil agreements, officials say no plans for return to international debt market this year, and autobiographical black skinhead film premieres in Lagos.
- Dozens of African heads of state attended a two-day summit in the southern Russian city of Sochi. Russia and Nigeria took the opportunity to broker at least two deals. The two countries signed a deal for Moscow to supply 12 Mi-35 attack helicopters to Nigeria. Reuters foreshadowed the move earlier this month when we reported comments by Nigeria’s ambassador in Moscow who said the West African country hoped to sign a military technical cooperation deal with Russia to help in the fight against Boko Haram militants. Back at the summit in Sochi, Nigeria’s state oil firm signed a memorandum of understanding with Russian oil company Lukoil for potential cooperation in oil production, trading and refining. Mele Kyari, head of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), signed the memorandum during in Sochi. The first Russia-Africa summit is part of a Kremlin drive to win business and restore influence that faded after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which backed leftist governments and movements across the continent throughout the Cold War. President Putin called for trade with African countries to double over the next four to five years and said Moscow had written off African debts to the tune of over $20 billion. Nigeria’s presidency, through social media posts, provided details of other discussions that took place at the summit.
- But this week’s news wasn’t all Russia-related. Police said they had freed dozens more people held at purported Islamic schools and rehabilitation facilities in northern Nigeria that claimed to teach the Quran but instead subjected attendees to abuse. Last Saturday, nearly 150 students were released from one such institution in the northwestern city of Kaduna. That raid brought the total released from institutions in northern Nigeria to more than 1,000 over the last month. Unlike the other schools, at least 22 of the 147 released captives were female, Kaduna’s commissioner for human services told Reuters.
- In happier news from the region, global health officials welcomed a partial victory in the decades-long fight to end polio, with a second of three strains of the crippling virus certified as eradicated worldwide. The ending of wild polio virus type 3 — also known as WPV3 — will be the third human disease-causing pathogen to be eradicated in history, after smallpox was declared wiped out in 1980 and wild polio virus type 2 (WPV2) in 2015. Polio spreads in vulnerable populations in areas where there is no immunity and sanitation is poor. It invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours. It cannot be cured, but infection can be prevented by vaccination — and a dramatic reduction in case numbers worldwide in recent decades has been largely due to intense national and regional immunisation campaigns in babies and children. The last case of polio type 3 was detected in northern Nigeria in 2012, and global health officials have since been conducting intense surveillance to ensure it has gone.
- The head of Nigeria’s debt office said there were no plans to tap the international debt market this year due to the time constraints before the end of its budget cycle. Nigeria had its last eurobond sale in November, its sixth outing where it raised $2.86 billion. Foreign borrowing had been set at 824.82 billion naira ($2.7 billion) for the government’s 2019 budget. “We will only raise the new domestic borrowing of 802.82 billion naira as provided in the 2019 appropriation act. We won’t be in the international capital market in 2019,” said Patience Oniha, director-general of the Debt Management Office (DMO). Oniha said the country’s 2019 budget had only six months for implementation, due to the late passage of the bill. The government aimed to start its budget implementation for 2020 in January, she told Reuters in an email. The DMO had said in June that the government wanted to first access cheap funding from multilateral and bilateral lenders and then raise any balance from commercial sources, possibly including security issuance such as eurobonds.
- The central bank attempted to attract more foreign inflows after it barred local investors from participating at its open market Treasury auctions, traders said. The central bank restricted local investors from participating in its Treasury bill auction in a bid to draw more foreign interest to boost dollar liquidity and prop up the naira. Domestic investors can buy bills on the secondary market. The naira touched a low of 362.24 on Thursday on the over-the-counter market where it trades. It has been quoted at a range of 361.50–362 this week, one trader said. The currency was quoted at 307 on the official market, supported by the central bank.
- We reported on the Nigerian premiere of an autobiographical film based on the life of British-born actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in which he stars and makes his directorial debut. His story is proof that truth is often stranger than fiction. He was taken into foster care by a white family near London as a baby in 1967. As a youth, the unthinkable happened: he joined a gang of violent white supremacists. Speaking to Reuters at the screening, he said he hopes his directorial debut will be part of a “healing” process for people who sought foster care to give their children a better life. Farming, the film’s title, takes its name from a term used to describe the practice of Nigerian immigrants fostering their children to white families in Britain so they could work, study and save money. It refers to the idea that the children were “farmed” out. The aim of the practice, mainly prevalent from the 1960s to 1980s, was for the immigrants to eventually return to Nigeria. “Perhaps this can provide a healing in some sense but ultimately a re-evaluation of our child-rearing processes,” said Akinnuoye-Agbaje. “I’m hoping that it will create a dialogue and a collective therapy for those that are still suffering, and a healing because many of the Nigerian farmers don’t actually go back for the children that were fostered,” he said.
- OPEC and its allies will consider whether to deepen cuts to crude supply when they next meet in December due to worries about weak demand growth in 2020, sources from the oil-producing club said. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, wants to focus first on boosting adherence to the group’s production-reduction pact with Russia and other non-members, an alliance known as OPEC+, before committing to more cuts, the sources said. Nigeria, along with fellow OPE member Iraq, is among the countries that have failed to comply properly with pledged output reductions. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf producers in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have been delivering more than their share of promised cuts to stabilise the market and prevent prices from falling. Riyadh has been pumping some 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) below its output target, taking the lion’s share of the curbs. “The Saudis want to prevent oil prices from falling. But now they want to make sure that countries like Nigeria and Iraq reach 100% compliance first as they have promised,” one OPEC source said.
- And the anti-fraud office charged two Britons in the capital, Abuja, for alleged money laundering in connection with an ill-fated gas deal that has left the government facing a disputed bill of more than $9 billion. James Richard Nolan and Adam Quinn pleaded not guilty in an Abuja court to 16 counts of money laundering put forward by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The judge remanded Nolan in prison until his application for bail is considered. Quinn is at large and Nolan’s defence lawyer entered a plea on his behalf. The EFCC said in a statement that the two men were directors of two companies that the agency alleged failed to report to the anti-graft agency a single deposit of $125,000 into a local account and also failed to comply with local requirements to declare their activities to the trade and investment ministry. The charges relate to a 2010 contract with British Virgin Islands-based firm Process and Industrial Developments (P&ID) to build and operate a gas-processing plant in the southeastern port city of Calabar. P&ID took Nigeria’s government to international arbitration after the deal’s collapse, eventually winning a $6.6 billion award. It has been accruing interest since 2013 and is now worth more than $9 billion. The government has said the deal was designed to fail and called the award “an assault on every Nigerian and unfair.” P&ID said the EFCC had harassed, intimidated and denied due process to individuals associated with the company and the contract.