The Week Ahead -The Fundamentals need to be looked at

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This week was a mixed bag of progress, clarifications, and setbacks. Politically, a court ruling brightened President Buhari’s prospects for another term, but prospects for peaceable elections in the future dimmed as it became clear that identity management is not a priority in Nigeria. On the subject of counting, the bodies keep piling up in the Pastoral Conflict as the killings slowly begin to assume a religious dimension. In another setback, Nigeria is mulling setting tariffs on certain food imports, but on a positive note, a contentious step in registering a business has been taken away. Meanwhile, things just got worse next door.

Benue killings take religious hue

The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, has called for a national day of protest against unending killings and bloodshed in the country. The call was made after two priests and 17 worshippers were killed by gunmen at St. Ignatius Catholic church, Ayar Mbalom, Gwer East LGA of Benue State, on Tuesday morning. After attacking the church, the gunmen proceeded to sack the entire village. Another attack on Wednesday morning hit three villages Mbakpase, Tse-Ali, and Tse-Umenge, with the resultant deaths of 39 people. These new attacks came three days after six other communities were attacked, and just over a week after soldiers had carried out a reprisal attack on Naka, 60 km away. Following this latest round of killings, the House of Representatives passed a vote of no confidence on the service chiefs and summoned President Buhari to appear before it to explain the killings.

The Ayar Mbalom attack deviated from the normal pattern as it specifically targeted a church during mass. This is the path that such conflicts take when the government which is meant to prevent, stem the tide, and punish perpetrators, refuses to carry out their responsibilities. The conflict metastasizes and begins to take on other elements, making untangling such conflicts an even more complex undertaking. Unfortunately, the door has now been opened for the Pastoral Conflict to take on a religious coloration, and another attack on a church and two reprisals on mosques are foreboding. The other three attacks prior to Thursday morning happened in villages that are less than 20 km from major water bodies, the Benue and Katsina-Ala rivers. The killings have escalated in 2018 significantly because the perpetrators are emboldened. Nothing in their actions suggests that the government or security agencies are truly serious about stopping these killings. This inaction will increase the likelihood of reprisal attacks and communities organizing for self-defense, especially when juxtaposed against the recent statement by a former Minister of Defence and Army Chief, General T.Y. Danjuma, in which he accused the military of bias, and then called for communities to defend themselves.

Advantage Buhari as High Court backs election chain

The Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, has nullified the amendment of Section 25 of the Electoral Act, which was passed in February by the National Assembly. On Wednesday, the court ruled that only the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had the powers to create an election template for the country. Justice Ahmed Mohammed also ruled that any attempt by the National Assembly to amend the Section 25, as done by the legislature, would first require an amendment of the constitution. This judgment came after the Accord Party asked the court to determine if INEC was not solely empowered to carry out its function of overseeing the election timetable in Nigeria. The application by Accord Party was part of events that trailed the decision of the National Assembly to reorder the sequence of the 2019 general elections, putting the presidential election last.

The political implications of this court ruling are significant – the odds have just swung back in favor of President Buhari’s reelection prospects as he would have been the biggest loser from an amended timetable. This will be a big boost to his supporters within the APC, and many who have not made of their minds may now coalesce behind him. Our advice to his opponents within the APC is simple – a court of competent jurisdiction has passed judgment on the matter. The only route open to parties who do not agree with this now is to appeal to a higher court. This is a much better option than resorting to high stakes political games. We urge the Senate as well as the Presidency and INEC to abide by the rulings of the court and follow only legal means to pursue their positions.

Identifying Nigerians remains a bridge too far

The National Identity Management Commission has said that it cannot produce national identity cards for everyone who enrolled for it despite the huge public clamor for it. According to the commission, national identity cards that are ready for people who enrolled in 2012 and 2013, noting that it was adopting a first-come, first-served approach. NIMC Director-General, Aliyu Aziz told the 4th International Annual Meeting of the ID4Africa 2018 Movement that the focus of the agency for the next three years would be on issuing National Identification Numbers, not on the card. “Right now, we are focused on enrolling people and harmonizing their identities, which is why the number grew from five million to 30 million in our record. But on the ID cards, we have not done much, Aziz said. NIMC GM for Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Services, Hadiza Ali-Dagabana said once the commission begins the full implementation of the national identity card program, it would penalize an organization that refuses to acknowledge it as a valid form of identification in the country.

Statements such as that made by Mr. Aziz show that Nigeria is not yet serious about solving fundamental problems. The NIMC already has classic symptoms of a failed project. Nigeria has failed several times, starting in 1981 during the Shagari administration, to successfully launch its National ID programme. Another attempt was made by President Obasanjo, whilst the current project was initiated by the Jonathan administration with a plan to link the cards to several government databases including those for driving licenses, voter registration, health insurance, taxes, and pensions. Identity management is fundamental to the country, and the stated inability to produce cards after Nigerians went through the rigor of registration is yet another such demonstration of unseriousness. Over the years similar delays have been experienced with passport and drivers’ license issuance (which are paid for by those requesting). Whilst the latter two are essential in every country, national ID cards are not. Perversely, agencies such as the Nigerian Immigration Service are already making public statements about refusing to renew passports for Nigerians without the NIN. Whilst it may be argued that it is possible to possess the number without the card, should a government agency not wait until NIMC fulfills its own obligations to Nigerians before making such pronouncements? If the government does decide to move forward with the project, it may be useful to consider issuing only electronic copies since the important feature is actually the ID number and not the plastic material. Finally, we urge the executive as well as the legislature to prioritize funding for NIMC to ensure that this identity problem is solved once and for all.

Doing business gets easier

The Corporate Affairs Commission says it has removed proficiency certificate from its list of requirements for business registration. The commission said the removal is part of its reform initiatives and review of its checklist and guidelines. “Under the new arrangement, members of the public do not have to submit proficiency certificate to the commission for registration of companies, business names and incorporated trustees,” the CAC said in a statement. The proficiency certificate is requested when an entity is to offer professional services such as estate survey and valuation, security services, legal services, financial management, media consulting and medical services, among others. Under the new arrangement, members of the public do not have to submit proficiency certificate to the commission for registration of companies and business names. The new arrangement also means submission of the names of incorporated trustees will no longer be required.

Proficiency certificates were not required for all types of businesses, but for specialized businesses such as legal and engineering firms. The requirement for proficiency certificates just created another unnecessary bottleneck for example, in registering a consultancy which could have a broad range of services to offer. For such a business, it will be almost meaningless to request for such a certificate. We believe this is a positive development and is another milestone in the ease of doing business push. With the scrapping of the requirement for proficiency certificates, the only documentation required of directors in registering a company will be valid identification. This can only be a good thing.

Nigeria still has reservations about the free market

The FG may impose levies on imported starch, sweeteners, flour and ethanol in a bid to check a rising food import bill and encourage investment in cassava processing. Despite being the world largest producer of cassava, Nigeria still imports most of its industrial starch, a cassava by-product, a trend the FG hopes to reverse under an industrial cassava policy which would see the country saving about $700 million or ₦252 billion spent yearly on importing these products. According to a memo obtained by The Guardian, Nigeria currently imports 96 percent of starch as the local demand of 600,000 tonnes could not be met, while 200,00 tonnes or 100 percent of sweeteners used in the country are currently being imported. For high-quality cassava flour, 88 percent of the 504,000 tonnes of local demand is imported.

The Nigerian government does this too often, while conveniently forgetting that the importation bill is not borne by the government, but by Nigerians. The demand for food won’t go away, and such levies make food more expensive, especially when there is no replacement to cater for demand. Take the case of rice which the government has been touting as a success of its policies. Rice exports from Thailand to Nigeria dropped from 1.23 million MT in 2014 to just 23,192 MT as at November 2017. However, Benin Republic (a country which does not consume Thai parboiled rice in significant quantities) recorded an increase in rice imports from Thailand, from 805,765 MT in 2015 to 1.65 million MT as at November 2017 – clearly indicating that this rice ends up in the Nigerian market, without the government earning revenues from import levies, and with Nigerians paying more for rice. In the context of already high food inflation, increasing the food bill of the Nigerian public is not the best course of action for the government.

The temperature is rising next door

Tensions continue to rise in Cameroon over the Anglophone crisis. A series of attacks were carried out over the weekend in the English speaking Southwest region by suspected separatists. Last Friday there was an attack which targeted the region’s governor, Bernard Okalia Bilai, and his entourage on his way to the Lebialem division. In March, Bilai had signed a thirty-day order restricting the movement of vehicles between 7 pm and 6 am in five divisions of the region. Then another attack on Sunday targeted soldiers in the area.

There is no doubt going to be a reaction from Yaounde, raising tensions and putting more pressure on all parties. This is likely to create a flood of refugees streaming over the border with Nigeria. As things stand, states like Cross River are playing host to refugee camps and are beginning to feel the strain. This net effect of this could be increased insecurity in the region, especially as young and able-bodied, but poverty-stricken refugees get drawn into gangs and begin to participate in militancy and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

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