A Week in Nigeria: 7 November
Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days
In this week’s round-up: Fallout from police protest shooting continues as bank accounts frozen and minister says can’t rule out “hoodlums” being responsible, ex-finance minister continues to wait for WTO chief go-ahead and Nigerians express love for President Trump.
- As with the previous week, the last seven days were dominated by the fallout from the shooting of protesters campaigning against police brutality. The shooting at a protest site in the affluent Lekki district of Lagos on 20 October prompted global shock and condemnation. Witnesses said soldiers carried out the shooting. The army denied being at the site. Rights group Amnesty International accused the army and police of killing 12 people that night in two Lagos districts — Lekki and Alausa. You may recall that, last week, the military said Lagos state government asked the army to intervene to restore order amid anti-police brutality protests, but soldiers did not shoot civilians. That claim was disputed by Amnesty. This week a number of government officials - including the ministers for defence, finance and petroleum- gathered for a press conference in Abuja to discuss the incident, subsequent unrest and police reforms. The attorney general, on the shooting, said we couldn’t yet rule out the possibility that “hoodlums” wearing military uniforms may have shot the protesters, and it was too soon to tell if soldiers were involved.
- While questions continued to swirl over who carried out the shooting, we reported on a number of restrictions that were imposed on members of the protest movement. The central bank froze the accounts of 20 people linked with the protest movement after receiving a court order, the regulator said. A federal high court judge ordered the bank accounts to be frozen “for a period of 90 days pending the outcome of investigation and inquiry currently being conducted by the Central Bank of Nigeria,” the central bank said in a statement late on Friday. It did not say why the account holders were being investigated but added that the 90-day order may be renewed. A central bank spokesman told Reuters the judge had granted the order without any of those affected or their legal representatives present. Among those whose accounts were frozen is Rachael Oduala Bolatito, who is representing protesters on a judicial panel investigating the shootings. The panel had been due to convene in Lagos on Saturday but was adjourned to 14 November after she and another representative for the demonstrators boycotted the meeting due to the central bank’s action, according to Adesina Ogunlana, the lawyer for the protesters.
- Nigerian immigration officials have also blocked another activist, whose name was not on the list of accounts frozen, from leaving the country and confiscated her passport, Ogunlana told Reuters. Earlier this week, we reported the claims by the prominent activist. There was no immediate response from immigration authorities to requests for comment on the assertion by Modupe Odele, a lawyer who has helped arrange legal defence for protesters campaigning against police violence. Odele said that when she tried to board an international flight at Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos on 1 November, immigration authorities told her that she was under military investigation and thus barred from leaving Nigeria. When she met immigration authorities on 3 November, they declined to return her passport, but did not tell her why the military is investigating her or outline any charges. Odele said the military has not contacted her.
- The World Trade Organization has cancelled a meeting on 9 November to decide on the appointment of Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the body’s next director general after the United States rejected her as a candidate. has been postponed until further notice. Trade sources said they thought a factor in the delay was that there had been no indication the Trump administration — which will continue to govern trade policy in the weeks ahead irrespective of any U.S. election result — had switched its support to Okonjo-Iweala. A WTO document seen by Reuters said: “For reasons including the health situation and current events, delegations will not be in a position to take a formal decision on 9 November.” It said it had been postponed until further notice. As well as the impasse over the leadership, Geneva, home to the WTO, implemented COVID restrictions this week including a five-person cap on in-person meetings, although the organisation has held many meetings virtually. The WTO later confirmed the decision on its website, saying consultations would continue. The body usually chooses its new leader by consensus, with trade sources saying they would be reluctant to resort to a vote. A high-powered WTO panel last month recommended Okonjo-Iweala, a former finance minister, to lead the global trade watchdog, setting her up to become its first African and first woman head. However, the U.S.-backed South Korean candidate Yoo Myung-hee, has not withdrawn from the race, despite mounting diplomatic pressure. There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. U.S. President Donald Trump has frequently criticised the WTO, calling it “horrible” and biased towards China. His administration has already blocked judge appointments, disabling its top appeals panel last year.
- The WTO story was one of many U.S.-related stories in the last few days. U.S. special forces rescued an American citizen who had been kidnapped by armed men in an operation in northern Nigeria that is believed to have killed several of his captors, U.S. officials said. Forces including Navy SEALs rescued 27-year-old Philip Walton, who had been abducted on Tuesday from his home in neighboring southern Niger, two U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity, adding that no U.S. troops were hurt. A diplomat source in Niger said Walton is now at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Niamey. “Big win for our very elite U.S. Special Forces today,” U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter.
- In the week of the election in the U.S., President Trump featured prominently in stories this week. Trump has disparaged African nations, calling them “shithole countries” and saying Africans would never leave the United States if allowed in. This year, he added Nigeria and five other countries when he expanded visa curbs. But a Pew Research Center poll in January found that 58% of Nigerians had confidence in Trump, behind only Israel, the Philippines and Kenya. A 2020 Gallup poll showed 56% of Nigerians approved of U.S. leadership, versus 24% for Europeans. In an upmarket Lagos eatery, a portrait of Trump in a gold-trimmed red agbada, a flowing robe worn by Yoruba men, hangs on the wall. The traditional clothing is a “mark of respect”, said artist Peter Udoakang. “I made this painting to bring him closer to us,” said the 23-year-old, adding that Trump’s “radical” approach to governing appealed to Nigerians, who are used to hustling in a tough economy to survive. On a busy Lagos road, driver Michael Onyeonoro said if Nigeria found a similar leader, the U.S. visa troubles might not matter. “If we have a person like Trump…Nigeria will be a better place to stay,” Onyeonoro said. “There will be no need of going outside the country.” We also reported on the hundreds of men and women who marched, clad in T-shirts supporting Trump in Onitsha, a city in eastern Nigeria.
- Elsewhere in Africa, Trump’s actions in the aftermath of the U.S. election have been a cause for dark humour, while others reacted with dismay or disbelief. In countries whose own recent elections were marred by accusations of cheating and violence, some expressed concern about what signal Trump’s premature declaration of victory, allegations of fraud and flurry of lawsuits might send to their own leaders. “Trump is setting a bad example for Africa and a country like ours. You cannot proclaim yourself in an election where you are a candidate when justice exists,” said Mory Keïta, a car parts dealer in Guinea. Dozens of people were killed in protests before and after the West African country’s president won a contested third term last month. “It’s a total disgrace,” said Bachir Diallo, a Guinean mining executive. “Such a mess is worthy of a banana republic.” As Democrat Joe Biden edged closer to victory over President Donald Trump, others felt a sharp sense of irony seeing events play out in a developed nation whose authorities regularly admonish African leaders for not respecting democratic norms. Trump, who during the long and rancorous campaign attacked the integrity of the American voting system, has alleged fraud without providing evidence, filed lawsuits and called for at least one recount. “It is terrifying to see this in America,” said Tito Kisiya, a sales executive in Tanzania, whose presidential election last week drew criticism from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In Nigeria, despite Trump having many admirers, some were critical of his actions. “A soothsayer does not need to tell us that the America we are looking at as a model in everything is not even a model when it comes to electioneering,” said Agbor Elemi, a consultant in Lagos.
- And, finally, Nigerian workers demonstrated over pay issues outside the site of what will be Africa’s largest oil refinery, the owner Dangote Industries Ltd said, at a time of heightened tensions in the country over police brutality. In its statement, Dangote said the protesters were not company employees but subcontractors locked in a pay dispute with their employers. “The situation is under control as we are mediating with the parties involved,” said the statement, which gave no further information. Twitter posts showed several dozen people gathered at what appeared to be the site of the planned refinery and said the protesters were “fighting for their rights”. The Tweets said police had been at the scene. A national police spokesman did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the situation at the site. The 650,000 barrel per day (bpd) refinery, about 70 km (40 miles) east of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, could transform Africa’s largest oil producer from a nation reliant on imported fuels to a fuels exporter. It is expected to begin production within two years.