A Week in Nigeria: 8 December
Highlights from Reuters coverage of Nigeria over the last seven days
In this week’s round-up: President Buhari addresses imposter rumour, lawyers discuss MTN row settlement progress and Bonga oilfield decision nears.
- President Muhammadu Buhari did not die last year while out of the country receiving treatment for an unspecified illness. He also has not been replaced by a clone from Sudan. The president sought to provide clarity on these points in comments made this week. He made the remarks, delivered in a lighthearted tone, to deny a theory that has grown in popularity among some social media users.
- But his media team didn’t stop there. To avoid any ambiguity, the presidency also tweeted his comments, posted them on Facebook and issued a statement titled “It’s Real Me, President Buhari Responds to Cloning Allegation”. The efforts made to address a niche theory attracted interest from around the world while also highlighting the extent of suspicion engendered by the death of president Yar’Adua while in office and secrecy surrounding an illness that caused Buhari to spend five months out of Nigeria last year. It also raised questions over whether it was wise to comment on the issue, particularly since his utterances were exactly what an imposter would say anyway.
….. and, cementing its position as one of the most talked about Nigerian stories of the year, Buhari’s comments were even picked up by a U.S. late night talk show host.
- In other news, lawyers for MTN and Nigeria’s central bank said in court that their clients are in talks to settle an $8.1 billion dispute. A lawyer representing Nigeria’s central bank said the parties were in advanced stages towards the settlement. “We just want to cross T’s and dot I’s,” he told the court. And a lawyer representing MTN confirmed that the two parties were in talks. A court hearing was set for 12 December at which details of progress on the settlement will be disclosed. The dispute is over the transfer of $8.1 billion of funds which Nigeria’s central bank said the company had sent abroad in breach of foreign-exchange regulations. MTN has denied any wrongdoing.
- Nigeria’s oil minister, speaking on the sidelines of an OPEC meeting, said he expects a final investment decision on the Bonga Southwest offshore oilfield by February next year. The project, one of the country’s largest with an expected production of 180,000 barrels per day, will generate profit at below $50 a barrel, according to Royal Dutch Shell which operates the field. Nigeria currently produces around 1.8 million barrels of crude oil, excluding extremely light oil known as condensates. Emmanuel Kachikwu, the oil minister, said that with production cuts agreed by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that number would be around 1.74 million.
- And, given the extent to which Nigeria’s economic well-being is tied to global oil prices, it’s worth looking at the outcome of this week’s OPEC meeting. Saudi Arabia and other producers in OPEC, as well as allies like Russia, agreed to reduce output to drain global fuel inventories and support the market agreed to slash production by a combined 1.2 million barrels per day from 2019. This was larger than the minimum 1 million bpd that the market had expected, despite pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to reduce the price of crude. OPEC will curb output by 800,000 bpd from January while non-OPEC allies contribute an additional 400,000 bpd of cuts.
- Staying on the subject of oil, Russia has asked Italy to drop charges against a former ambassador caught up in a Nigerian corruption case, legal documents showed. Ednan Tofik ogly Agaev, a former Russian ambassador in Colombia, is charged with international corruption in a case revolving around the 2011 purchase by oil majors Eni and Shell of Nigeria’s OPL 245 oilfield. Milan prosecutors allege bribes totalling around $1.1 billion were paid to win the licence to explore the field. Agaev and all the parties involved in the case have denied any wrongdoing.
- Finally, Nigeria’s cabinet has agreed to send the 2019 budget to parliament, the budget minister said after a specially convened cabinet meeting.