Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days
In this week’s round-up: deaths on the streets of Abuja after Shi’ite Muslims clash with police, Buhari selects his cabinet, central bank bans FX access for milk imports, and Google adopts a Nigerian accent.
- At least 20 members of a Nigerian Shi’ite group have been killed this week, the organisation said, during a series of protests that show little sign of ending despite the increasing death toll and authorities saying they have boosted security. Members of the Shi’ite Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) have been marching in the capital Abuja calling for the release of their leader, Ibrahim Zakzaky, who has been in detention since 2015 despite a court order to release him. Nigerian police met the protests with gunfire and tear gas. A journalist and a senior police officer also died after Monday’s march. Most of the people killed after security forces opened fire on the group on Monday, with four others having since died in police custody from their bullet wounds, the spokesmen said. Police said they had bolstered security across the country in the face of the ongoing protests, which they say are violent and unruly. President Muhammadu Buhari, a Sunni like the vast majority of Nigeria’s Muslim community, warned in a statement: “Let nobody or group doubt or test our will to act in the higher interest of the majority of our citizens. Perpetrators of the mayhem will not go unpunished (and) no government can tolerate unceasing affront to constituted authority.”
- Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari submitted his list of cabinet nominees to the upper house of parliament, the Senate, giving lawmakers a chance to vote on them. The submission comes almost two months after Buhari began his second term, and some five months after he was re-elected, a delay that caused jitters amongst investors and threatened growth prospects for Africa’s largest economy. Parliament’s break is due to begin at the end of the week, although it could delay this to confirm the nominees. The list contains 43 names, though it did not specify which positions they would hold in cabinet. A number of senior figures from Buhari’s first term will return, including Zainab Ahmed, Babatunde Fashola, Geoffrey Onyeama, Rotimi Amaechi and Lai Mohammed, who held the finance, works and power, foreign, transport and information portfolios. One figure who will not return is Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, a former junior oil minister who played a key role in building a tentative peace with militants in the oil-rich Delta. Buhari himself was oil minister during his first term, though he took a largely hands-off approach, leaving much of the ministry’s running to Kachikwu.
- Nigeria’s central bank is to begin monthly reviews of bank loan-to-deposit ratios as part of a bid to increase lending and stimulate growth in Africa’s biggest economy, its governor said. Godwin Emefiele announced the move at a news conference in the capital, Abuja, after telling reporters rate-setters voted unanimously to hold the main interest rate at 13.5% because key macroeconomic indicators were “trending in the right direction”. Emefiele, who earlier this year became the first Nigerian central bank governor to be given a second term since a return to democracy in 1999, has worked to force banks to boost lending. Emefiele outlined plans for regular reviews aimed at ensuring more money is lent to Nigeria’s private sector. “After 30 September we are going to begin a month-by-month monitoring and then prescription of loan deposit ratio for the banks,” Emefiele told journalists. In the last few weeks, the central bank has capped interest-bearing deposits at the central bank. It has also told banks they must lend more or face higher cash reserve requirements and barred banks from buying bills for their own accounts at an open market auction.
Emefiele also said the bank would ban access to foreign exchange to import milk, though he did not say when that restriction would come into force. In his first term, he presided over a raft of policies aimed at stimulating growth in the agricultural sector to boost non-oil growth. Those policies included the 2015 banning of access to foreign exchange for 41 items that the bank felt could be produced in Nigeria. “Today the import of milk annually stands at $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion dollars. That is a very high import product into the country,” he said. The milk move prompted widespread interest on social media.
…such was the outcry that the central bank sought to clarify its position.
- Nigeria and German company Siemens agreed a “roadmap” to nearly triple the country’s “reliable” power supply by 2023, President Buhari said. Nigeria’s ailing power infrastructure, which forces businesses and households to run costly fuel generators, is often blamed for hobbling growth in Africa’s largest economy. Buhari, who held talks with Siemens CEO and president Joe Kaeser in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, said that currently only an average of 4,000 megawatts reliably reaches consumers despite there being over 13,000 megawatts of power generation capacity. “My challenge to Siemens, our partner investors in the Distribution Companies, the Transmission Company of Nigeria and the Electricity Regulator, is to work hard to achieve 7,000 megawatts of reliable power supply by 2021 and 11,000 megawatts by 2023,” said Buhari. The president , who said the ultimate goal was to drive generation capacity and overall grid capacity to 25,000 megawatts, did not disclose the monetary value of Siemens’ involvement in the plan.
- The U.S. State Department said it had imposed visa restrictions on Nigerians it said were involved in trying to undermine democracy in presidential and parliamentary elections this year. The department did not name the individuals or say how many were affected by the visa restrictions. President Buhari won a second term in February in an election marred by delays, logistical glitches and violence. “These individuals have operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and undermined democratic principles and human rights,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. “The Department of State emphasises that the actions announced today are specific to certain individuals and not directed at the Nigerian people or the newly elected government,” Ortagus added.
- And commuters making their way through Nigeria can now hear travel advice in a local voice on Google Maps under new features aimed at attracting more users in Africa that were unveiled by the company at an event in Lagos. The local accents feature, also available on Google Assistant, is the first move by the U.S. technology giant to offer such a service in Africa. Rapidly expanding populations, increased mobile phone penetration and crowded cities that are often poorly signposted have led technology firms to identify African countries as potential growth areas. They are now offering transport features from detailed maps to motorcycle ride-hailing services. Google’s motorcycle directions will also now be available in Benin Republic, Ghana, Rwanda, Togo and Uganda, the company said. And in the coming months the maps feature will also allow users in Lagos to seek directions on what it calls “informal transit” — such as the yellow danfo minibuses that are ubiquitous in Lagos, but about which it is difficult for outsiders or even Lagosians travelling to a new neighbourhood to find information.