A Week in Nigeria: 29 February

Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days

The coronavirus case in Nigeria is the first to be recorded in sub-Saharan Africa

In this week’s round-up: Italian man is Nigeria’s first confirmed coronavirus case, country records highest quarterly GDP growth since recession, and our report on the broken lives of gay crime suspects.

  • Nigeria confirmed its first case of coronavirus, the epidemic that started in China late last year and has now spread to four continents. The latest World Health Organization figures indicate over 82,000 people have been infected, with over 2,700 deaths in China and 57 deaths in 46 other countries. The case of an Italian man who has the virus in Nigeria marks the first confirmed case in sub-Saharan Africa. It emerged that the man flew in to the country from Milan and was in Nigeria for almost two full days, during which he travelled through Lagos to neighbouring Ogun state, before being isolated. Since the spread of coronavirus began, health experts have feared it could spread quickly in sub-Saharan Africa where health systems are already overburdened with cases of malaria, measles, Ebola and other infectious diseases. The Italian man works for cement company Lafarge Africa Plc in the southwestern state of Ogun, the company said in a statement. It said it had identified people who had “direct contact” with him before carrying out “isolation, quarantine and disinfection protocol.” The Ogun state governor, in a separate media briefing, said 28 people had been placed in quarantine by the company the man worked for, although he did not mention it by name. The case has prompted a scramble by Nigerian authorities to try to “meet and observe” all passengers who arrived on the same flight as the man and to identify the places he visited before being hospitalised. “We have started working to identify all the contacts of the person since he entered Nigeria and even those who were with him on the aircraft,” Health Minister Osagie Ehanire told reporters on Friday in the capital, Abuja. In Lagos, the shortages of masks and hand sanitizer gel was recorded. The price of hand sanitizer in particular skyrocketed. The spread of the new coronavirus from China has hit global financial markets, and Nigeria’s economy is at risk from the tumbling price of oil, which accounts for 90% of its foreign exchange earnings. Nigerian stocks fell 1.63% to their lowest level in two months on Friday following the announcement of the coronavirus case. The case was greeted by a variety of responses on social media. #coronavirusinlagos was trending on Twitter where posts covered a range of reactions.
  • Nigeria’s economic growth rose to an annual rate of 2.55% in the three months to the end of December, its highest quarterly growth since a 2016 recession, the statistics office said. Africa’s largest economy grew 2.27% in 2019 from 1.91% the previous year. The country has struggled to shake off the effects of a 2016 recession that ended the following year, and has been grappling with low growth since. Growth in 2019 was supported by a favourable oil price and higher crude production. The oil sector, which accounts for around two-thirds of government revenue and 90% of foreign exchange, grew 6.36% in Q4. Crude production hovered at around 2 million barrels per day throughout the year, the statistics office said. The non-oil sector, which the government is trying to make the main growth sector, rose 2.26% in Q4. John Ashbourne, Africa economist at Capital Economics, said the figures “still doesn’t show any sign that President Buhari is succeeding in rebalancing Nigeria’s economy”. He added that “the pickup in growth was caused by an easing in the contraction of wholesale and retail trade and a boom in the banking sector”. Last week the IMF cut its 2020 growth forecast for Nigeria to 2% from 2.5%, citing lower demand for oil due to fears that the coronavirus outbreak in China will cause a slowdown. The Fund said Nigeria was still recovering, but inflation was rising which, along with external shocks, would weaken its foreign exchange reserves due to its deteriorating terms of trade and capital outflows. Annual inflation in Nigeria rose for the fifth straight month to 12.13% in January, its highest in nearly two years.
  • The Reuters bureau in Lagos has for the last six months followed suspects accused of breaking Nigeria’s laws on relationships between people of the same sex. In the resulting in-depth story, we focused on some of 57 men accused of displays of amorous affection between people of the same sex. The offence carries a charge of 10 years behind bars. We joined the dots between a police raid on a party in August 2018, the videos that went viral on social media after one of the suspects uttered the phrase “they didn’t caught me” and the devastating impact on the lives of those accused as the case against them progresses through Nigeria’s court system. For those interested in the basic details of our reporting, check out the Twitter thread I created, which also links to some of the content referred to in the full story, such as a video and a report by Human Rights Watch.
  • Islamist militant groups in Nigeria have begun targeting Christians in an attempt to provoke a religious war, according to the information minister. Lai Mohammed said jihadist groups in the northeast of the country have now adopted a “deliberate policy” of attacking Christians. “They have started targeting Christians and Christian villages for a specific reason, which is to trigger a religious war and throw the nation into chaos,” he told reporters. Nigeria’s 200 million inhabitants are roughly split between Islam and Christianity. Mohammed cited a number of flashpoints. In December, ISWAP beheaded 10 Christian men, and shot dead an 11th. And in January, Boko Haram executed the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). He also pointed to raids on Christian villages in the north. Mohammed said Nigeria was serious about tackling violent extremism and committed to protecting Christians and Muslims. “We want to therefore appeal to our religious leaders … not to fall for this desperate move by the insurgents, not to allow them to divide us as a people and weaken our resolve,” he said.
  • Dangote Cement said it planned to start exports from its Congo Republic plants to neighbouring states after its Nigerian exports fell 41% in 2019 when Nigeria’s government closed its borders. Nigeria shut its land border in August to curb the smuggling of rice to neighbouring states where it sells for more and an illegal arms trade. The closure has also hurt other Nigerian businesses, including cement exports, and stoked inflation. Joseph Makoju, Dangote’s outgoing chief executive, said the border closure led exports to drop to 0.5 million tonnes in 2019 from 0.7 million tonnes in both 2018 and 2017. He said the company had exported to West and Central Africa from Nigeria. The company said it planned to commence a share buy-back programme this year once it obtained regulatory approval and said it was actively considering a London listing with its long-delayed London IPO still “under review”. Share price for Lagos-listed Dangote Cement, Nigeria’s biggest listed company, was quoted at 170 naira on Wednesday, a 41% drop from its peak of 286 naira two years ago.
  • Nigeria has selected a consortium including Egypt Air to set up an aviation leasing company as part of a government plan to overhaul the country’s aviation sector. Decades of neglect and a lack of investment have left Nigeria with low-quality infrastructure seen as a hurdle to economic development. The government has said upgrading infrastructure will require private investment. It has been seeking private partners to set up an aircraft leasing company to help domestic and African carriers obtain new planes. The Ministry of Aviation said on Monday it has picked the Egypt Air consortium for the aviation leasing company, which the government aims to set up as a private/public partnership.
  • Nigeria’s government has licensed two gold refineries to produce the metal for export and for the central bank to hold in its reserves, the mines minister said. Minister of Mines and Steel Development Olamilekan Adegbite told reporters in the capital, Abuja, that licences had been issued and the central bank would be the main off-taker, holding some of the gold in its reserves. The announcement is part of a pattern in Africa where until 2012 there were only a handful of gold refineries, but as many as 26 are now either operating or under construction across 14 countries to process metal produced by informal diggers, according to a Reuters survey of public reports.Earlier this month, Adegbite said Nigeria expects its mining sector to grow to 3% of GDP within the next five years from just 0.3% currently as the government seeks to diversify Africa’s largest economy away from its reliance on crude oil sales. Gold, lead, zinc, limestone and coal are among seven strategic minerals Nigeria has identified for investment.
  • Zenith Bank will slow its loan growth this year after extending credit aggressively to businesses last year to comply with a central bank minimum loan-to-deposit ratio, the top-tier lender said. Zenith Bank said loans will grow 2% in 2020 after a 22% expansion last year. It said gross loans increased to 2.46 trillion naira in 2019 from 2.02 trillion naira a year earlier.
  • And we reported on efforts by a sculptor to raise environmental awareness among the fashion-conscious. In November, Adeyemi Emmanuel launched a line of bags, wallets and gift boxes made of 20% leather and around 80% plastic waste, called ECO. He collects chips of used plastic by hand, such as leftovers from picture frames, primarily from craft workshops. He then shapes them to fit his designs, spraypaints them and incorporates them into basic leather bags that he finds in second hand markets or gets from specialist leather shops. “I just keyed myself into creating something out of that waste,” said the 23-year-old.