Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days
In this week’s round-up: Nigeria seeks 70 million Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines amid AstraZeneca delay fears, why the central bank won’t ease its grip on the naira, and a 50-year-old school student.
- Nigeria hopes to receive up to 70 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this year through the African Union (AU), its primary healthcare chief told Reuters, amid concerns about delayed deliveries of AstraZeneca shots. Rolling out vaccines in developing nations such as Nigeria, whose 200 million-strong population is Africa’s biggest, is seen as key to stemming the global spread of the new coronavirus. Nigeria, which has recorded around 2,000 deaths from COVID-19 and began vaccinations this month, plans to inoculate 40% of its people this year and another 30% in 2022. Last week, India — the world’s biggest vaccine maker — said it would prioritise domestic inoculations, prompting fears of delays in the export of AstraZeneca doses under the World Health Organization (WHO)-backed COVAX scheme to supply vaccines to poorer countries. In a separate development, Johnson & Johnson on Monday said it will supply the AU with up to 400 million doses of its single-dose vaccine beginning in the third quarter. Faisal Shuaib, who heads Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency, told Reuters that Nigeria expects to initially receive 30 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in July through the AU. “We’re hoping that we’ll be able to get up to 70 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson this year. This is yet to be finalised but these are some of the advanced conversations that are going on between Nigeria and the African Union,” he said during an interview in the capital, Abuja. Nigeria previously said it had applied for 41 million doses of vaccines through the AU, comprising of Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson shots. But Shuaib said the proportion of AstraZenca doses was likely to be reduced by the delays. “Some of the allocations that we were supposed to get for the AstraZeneca will be replaced by the Johnson and Johnson,” he said, adding that this was yet to be finalised. Germany from Wednesday restricted the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to those aged 60 and above as it investigates a small number of reports of rare blood clotting in people who got the vaccine. And Canada on Monday said it would not offer the shots to people under 55. Global regulators have said the shot is safe and effective. Shuaib said there was no evidence of adverse side effects in Nigeria and the AstraZeneca vaccine would continue to be used for eligible people aged 18 and above. Nigeria’s finance minister has said the country will draw up a supplementary budget to cover the cost of COVID-19 vaccinations, for which no provision was made in the 2021 finance bill adopted in December. Shuaib said he expected the supplementary budget to be presented to lawmakers within the next two weeks.
- India’s temporary hold on major exports of AstraZeneca’s shot will undermine Africa’s vaccination plans, and could have a “catastrophic” impact if extended, the head of the continent’s disease control body said. The hold “will definitely impact our ability to continuously vaccinate people,” the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told a news conference in Addis Ababa. The African Union had planned to vaccinate 30–35% of the continent’s population by the end of the year he said, adding that delays could cause the target to be missed. “To be so reliant on one manufacturer is a massive concern,” a U.N. health official involved in the rollout in Africa told Reuters. “If the delay continues, I hope it’s a delay and not a ban, that would be catastrophic for meeting our vaccinations schedule,” Nkengasong said.
- Still on the global supply of vaccines, India’s drug regulator has allowed the AstraZeneca vaccine to be used for up to nine months from its manufacture date, as opposed to the prescribed six months, according to a document reviewed by Reuters and a source. The approval, given to a licensed version of the drug made by the Serum Institute of India and exported to dozens of countries, could help health authorities minimise vaccine wastage and better plan their inoculation programmes. Some African countries have only until the middle of next month to use up more than a million doses of the vaccine — branded Covishield by SII — if the shelf life is not extended. India itself has received more than a third of the nearly 28 million Indian-made AstraZeneca doses delivered so far by the global programme for poor countries, according to data from UNICEF and vaccine alliance Gavi. The revelation that the largest allocation of doses India has supplied to the COVAX programme never actually left the country could add to criticism of India and COVAX, after New Delhi decided this month to delay big exports of vaccines that poor countries around the world had been counting on. Data on UNICEF’s website shows that India had received 10 million doses of vaccine from COVAX, the most of any country. Nigeria is second with about 4 million doses, though that is more per capita than India. Many poor nations entirely reliant on the programme have so far received little or no vaccine. Hundreds of millions of AstraZeneca doses made under licence by the Serum Institute of India form the vast bulk of the initial order for COVAX, the global system set up to vaccinate people mainly in poor countries. Fifty million doses were meant to be delivered in April, but much of that order is likely to be delayed by India’s new export restrictions.
- Away from vaccines, we published an explainer on the reasons behind Nigerian authorities keeping tight control of its naira currency despite demands for deeper reforms from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and complaints from businesses. The multilateral institutions say a free-floating naira would help the economy withstand future shocks. But Nigerian authorities fear inflation stemming from a sharp devaluation could throw millions into poverty. Central bank governor Godwin Emefiele recently denied the country was adopting a new foreign exchange management policy, while vice president Yemi Osinbajo said the government would use a more flexible rate. So, we asked: what is happening to the naira, and why?
- Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to post economic growth of 2.3%-3.4% this year, the World Bank said in a new report, bouncing back from a pandemic-induced 2.0% contraction last year. Like other economies around the world, the region was forced to adopt strict lockdown measures in the first quarter of last year to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus, hitting key economic activities like tourism and trade. “For most countries in the region, activity will remain well below the pre-COVID-19 projections at the end of 2021, increasing the risk of long-lasting damage from the pandemic on people’s living standards,” the bank said. The recovery, which will also be aided by ongoing efforts to vaccinate people against the disease, is expected to vary among individual nations, the World Bank said. Diversified economies like Kenya and Ivory Coast, as well as mining-dependent ones like Botswana and Guinea, will grow robustly as rising confidence attracts investments, it said. Significant risks, however, still remain, the bank warned. “The resurgence of the pandemic in late 2020 and limited additional fiscal support will pose an uphill battle for policy makers,” the bank said. Governments should support the projected economic recovery by strengthening their policy interventions, the Word Bank said, adding that a new continental free trade bloc inaugurated at the start of this year could be key. “The next twelve months will be a critical period for leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Area in order to deepen African countries’ integration,” it said. Meanwhile, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said the International Monetary Fund will raise its forecast for global economic growth in 2021 and 2022 after last year’s 3.5% contraction, but financial conditions remain highly uncertain. Georgieva said the global economy was on firmer footing after governments spent some $16 trillion on fiscal measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate its economic impact. However, developments are diverging dangerously across regions and countries, and even within nations. In sub-Saharan Africa, the IMF’s financing surged to 13 times its average annual level in the previous decade, she said.
- We reported the heartwarming story of 50-year-old Shade Ajayi, a 50-year-old businesswoman who is attending a secondary school in the city of Ilorin in western Kwara state. She had never set foot in a classroom until middle age. Now she’s learning to read and write alongside pupils young enough to be her grandchildren. It’s a lovely story about the power of determination that features images by our Lagos-based photographer Temi Adelaja.
- Nigeria’s biggest lender, Access Bank, has invested around $60 million to acquire a stake in South Africa’s Grobank, its chief executive said, to become the first Nigerian lender to venture into South Africa. Access invested both equity and debt in the South African bank, part of a regional expansion to tap into correspondent and trade banking deals on the continent, Herbert Wigwe told CNBC Africa Television. Wigwe said Access will expand trade finance capability within Grobank which is currently focusing on the agricultural sector in South Africa. The bank previously said it had received regulatory approvals for the acquisition which is expected to close in the second quarter of 2021. In August, Access Bank agreed to buy loss-making Cavmont Bank from the Zambian arm of Namibian financial services group Capricorn, for a nominal fee of 1 kwacha ($0.0014). Access is restructuring itself into a holding company and has received approval from Nigeria’s central bank.
- Global payment processor Mastercard will invest $100 million in Airtel Africa’s mobile money operations, valuing the business at $2.65 billion, the London-listed company said. Airtel Africa is targeting a public listing of Airtel Mobile Commerce BV (AMC BV) within the next four years. Earlier this month, private equity firm TPG’s The Rise Fund invested $200 million in AMC BV. Mastercard will hold a minority stake in AMC BV, in line with Airtel Africa’s plan to monetise the mobile money business by selling up to a 25% stake in the unit, the company said. The unit, operating under the Airtel Money brand in Africa, includes mobile wallets, merchant and commercial payments, virtual credit card and international money transfers available across 14 countries in the region. Airtel Africa, which offers Airtel Money in Nigeria in partnership with a local bank, said it aims to have all mobile money operations to be owned and operated by AMC BV.
- And, finally, Islamist insurgents Boko Haram claimed the shooting down of a Nigerian Air Force fighter jet in a video seen by Reuters on Friday, two days after a military plane went missing in the country’s northeast. Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the video. The loss of Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Alpha Jet 475 dealt a blow to Nigeria’s efforts to combat jihadist insurgencies in the northeast, where air power has been crucial in attempts to stem the spread of Boko Haram and its more powerful offshoot, Islamic State West Africa Province. Soldiers have for years relied on jet bombardments to turn the tide of battles against the insurgents, while the air force often claims successful strikes on the militants. An air force spokesman said a statement would be issued soon. In a statement earlier on Friday, the air force had said: “the Alpha Jet aircraft (NAF475) that went off the radar with 2 crew members on board on 31 March 2021 might have crashed. The cause of the crash as well as the whereabouts of the 2 pilots remain unknown.”