Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days
In this week’s round-up: hundreds of boys and men freed from purported school in northern Nigeria, Nigeria can appeal against $9bn P&ID ruling, and Mercy Corps suspends work in conflict-hit northeast.
- The working week ended with a shocking discovery when more than 300 captives - most of them children and many in chains - were rescued by police from a building in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna. The captives in what was purported to be an Islamic school, mostly aged between five and their late teens (but some as old as 50), said they had been tortured, starved and sexually abused. Seven people were arrested, most of whom were teachers. Some had been chained to radiators, tyres or hub caps, and others bore visible signs of scars from whippings and beatings. More than a dozen, including 10 children, were hospitalized on Saturday. All the adults were in critical condition, with one vomiting blood. It quickly became clear that there were conflicting reports about the institution’s purported purpose. Some parents paid tuition fees to the men running the house believing it to be an Islamic school, while others viewed it as a correctional facility with no expectation of instruction. We reported on the aftermath of the police raid which saw the captives moved to a safe house and the process of reuniting them with their parents. And we spoke to some of the boys to hear their experiences of life at the institution. All the victims said beatings were regular and said children and men were frequently shackled. Days were dark, long and hungry: food was only served at 10 a.m. and 11 p.m. And, in that story about the experiences of victimes, we looked into the extent to which such schools are prevalent in northern Nigeria. A Reuters reporting team gained access to the labyrinthine two-storey building in the Rigasa district of Kaduna where we saw wheels and generators attached to metal chains, floors were strewn with litter, stained sponge mattresses and flies swarming in filthy rooms.
- In other news, a British judge gave Nigeria permission to seek to overturn a ruling that would have allowed a private firm to try to seize more than $9 billion in assets from the West African country. Process & Industrial Developments, a firm set up to carry out a gas project with Nigeria, won a $6.6 billion arbitration award after the deal collapsed. The award has been accruing interest since 2013 and is now worth more than $9 billion. P&ID, established by two Irish nationals with little experience in the oil and gas sector, said on Thursday that interest was accruing at rate of $1.2 million a day. The judge also granted Nigeria’s request for a stay on any asset seizures while its legal challenge is pending, but ordered it to pay $200 million to the court within 60 days to ensure the stay. It also must pay some court costs to P&ID within 14 days. The original decision on Aug. 16 converted an arbitration award held by P&ID to a legal judgment, which would allow the British Virgin Islands-based firm to try to seize international assets. Nigeria’s appeal of this decision, called a “eset-aside”, would need to prove there was an error in that ruling. During the proceedings, lawyers representing Nigeria said the judgment was flawed primarily due to its acceptance that England was the proper seat of the arbitration. If you’re, understandably, simply confused about the intricacies of this case, check out our updated explainer which does exactly what it says on the tin. It details the background to this case, explains why it matters and lays out the implications of the latest ruling.
- There were several developments in the northeast, where the country is battling the decade-long Islamist insurgency by Boko Haram and Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP). International aid agency Mercy Corps suspended its operations in Borno and Yobe, two of the northeastern states worst hit by the conflict. The step was taken after the army closed four of its offices in the region, the organisation said. The move came days after the army closed the office of another global aid agency, Action Against Hunger, in the region after accusing it of aiding terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and Islamic State. Edward Kallon, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, said he was “extremely concerned about the increasingly dangerous and restrictive operating environment for implementing humanitarian assistance in crisis-affected areas”. The U.N. estimates that around 7.1 million people in the northeast need some form of humanitarian assitance. In a separate development in the northeast, Action Against Hunger said a hostage had been executed by a group that was holding one of its employees, two drivers and three health ministry workers. ISWAP had said it was responsible for the July kidnapping. And the militant group, in what turned out to be a busy week for news from the region, said it killed 14 Nigerian soldiers in an attack.
- French energy major Total will make a final investment decision on a Nigeria liquefied natural gas (LNG) project by the end of the year and expects first LNG by 2023, the company’s head of production Arnaud Breuillac said. He said the expansion in Nigeria would add seven million tonnes per year to an existing 22 million tonnes per year plant. Speaking in New York during the company’s Investor Day, Breuillac said the group aimed to grow the share of gas output to 22% of its portfolio by 2025 from 14% in 2018.
- Nigeria is gripped by a crisis that has left Africa’s most populous country ill-equipped to properly house its inhabitants, said a United Nations rapporteur who also called for an end to the forced evictions of entire communities. The United Nations estimates that Nigeria’s population is set to double by 2050 to around 400 million people, which would make it the world’s third-largest nation, behind India and China. Against this backdrop, there was a lack of adequate housing, said Leilani Farha, special rapporteur on adequate housing. “Nigeria’s housing sector is in a complete crisis,” said Farha. “Existing programmes will hardly make even a small dent in addressing the ever-growing housing need.” Farha, who addressed journalists in the capital Abuja, noted that the last census was conducted in 2006 and said there was a lack of official data for the government to develop an effective housing policy. She also criticised the use of force by state government authorities and property developers to evict entire communities. Farha said hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, mostly women and children, had been evicted from their homes in the last few years by people using firearms, arson and arbitrary arrests.
- PZ Cussons Plc said it expects conditions in its key markets to remain challenging for the rest of the first-half, as the cosmetics and soap maker reported declining first-quarter revenue in Asia-Pacific and Africa. The maker of Imperial Leather soap and Carex handwash said its key markets continue to be affected by weak consumer confidence, with the Nigerian economy remaining depressed, uncertainty in the UK, and highly competitive markets in Australia. Company said it expects its full-year results to be in line with last year, but are “dependent on no further worsening in our key markets, specifically the UK and Nigeria”. Britons are cutting back on spending as the country’s impending exit from the European Union weighs on sentiment and the economy, while Nigeria’s annual inflation dipped to its lowest in almost four years in August. The company has been struggling to turn around its African business, which contributes over a third of its revenue, with margins being squeezed amid dwindling demand.
- And a court in Nigeria’s capital Abuja ordered the State Security Service to release activist and former presidential candidate Omoyele Sowore while charges of treason against him are pending. Security agents arrested Sowore in early August after he called for a revolution. He said it was needed because an election held in February, in which President Muhammadu Buhari won a second term, was not credible. Buhari, a former military ruler, faces criticism for his administration’s record on human rights, particularly a deadly crackdown on members of a now-banned Shi’ite group that a United Nations special rapporteur said involved the excessive use of lethal force. In his call for a revolution, Sowore — who ran in February’s election and is the founder of the news site Sahara Reporters — listed other issues ranging from alleged corruption to ineptitude.