The Week Ahead – The Mace Returns to its Roots

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Long before parliamentarians in England decided to use it as a symbol of authority, the humble mace was a weapon of war. In contemporary Nigeria, it might be finding its way back to those beginnings as legislators fight over it. Another brawl occurred in Abuja this week as a slow boiling anger bubbled to the surface, while the military admitted that it had waltzed away from Benue. In other news, the minister of finance has become an activist, which may come in handy in the Lagos waste management brouhaha, or in simply helping ‘lazy’ Nigerian youth with jobs.

The Shiite crisis escalates to worrying heights

Nigerian police fired bullets and tear gas to disperse Shiite Muslim protesters marching for their leader’s freedom in the capital on 16 April, and organizers said at least one demonstrator was killed and several were wounded by gunfire. Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) leader Ibrahim El Zakzaky has been jailed since December 2015, when security forces killed hundreds of members in a crackdown on a group estimated to have 3 million followers. The violent repression of the group and the detention of its leader have drawn accusations that President Muhammadu Buhari’s government is abusing human rights. The IMN, which has held regular peaceful protests in Abuja in recent months, says Zakzaky must be freed after a court ruled his detention without charge illegal. The crackdown has sparked fears that IMN could become radicalized, in much the same way the Sunni Muslim militant group Boko Haram turned into a violent insurgency in 2009 after police killed its leader.

In our 2017 outlook, we predicted that the Shiites will be forced into the early stages of an open conflict with the government. We were wrong with the timing but we still believe if things continue along this path, that confrontation will happen. Increasing repression of the Shiites will eventually lead them underground and unlock more violence. They are a well-organized group and are very determined. There is the possibility of foreign actors providing support – Iran summoned the Nigerian ambassador in Tehran in 2015 to explain why Sheikh El Zakzaky and his followers were attacked. There is also some historical evidence of Hezbollah activity in Nigeria: in May 2013, a cell was smashed with three Lebanese arrested and the discovery of a weapons cache. It is possible that these actors get involved in what they see as a fight against a Nigerian government dominated by Sunni Muslims intent on suppressing them. It is a matter of national security that the FG obeys the numerous court orders compelling it to release the IMN leader as this will go a long way to ending these agitations, or at least reducing them.

FG’s pastoral conflict push fails

The Defence Headquarters said on 18 April that troops deployed in Benue, Taraba and other troubled states across central Nigeria have been withdrawn due to an acute shortage of financial and logistical resources. President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the military to embark on Exercise Ayem Akpatuma in February, following a string of killings of villagers in states along the Benue River, as well as Kaduna and Niger states. It was billed as a measure to degrade the capacity of the attackers. It requires logistics for the military to take part in an operation, which is different from their normal day-to-day, Defence spokesperson John Agim said at a press briefing at the Defence Headquarters Wednesday morning. It also costs money. Agim, a brigadier-general, acknowledged that residents are distraught about the withdrawal, but warned that for troops to return to the troubled states, additional provisions must be made.

Operation Ayam Akapatuma in Benue state appears to have failed. Residents had on multiple occasions complained that soldiers had been quietly withdrawn, and despite initial denials, on April 18, 2018, a Nigerian Army spokesman, Brig. Gen. John Agim, admitted that the army had scaled down over funding constraints. This in a region with high incidents of violence, and armed gangs moving freely wreaking havoc. The police have been emasculated. The de facto outsourcing of internal security to armed gangs has implications on law and order, and will eventually have implications for the entire country.

Its not just a stolen mace, it’s about a wider law and order problem

Three men burst into the Senate on 18 April and snatched the legislature’s ceremonial mace, in an incident the body’s spokesman blamed on a lawmaker who had been suspended. The men entered the chamber, picked up the mace and left with it in a swoop that lasted less than two minutes. The upper house of parliament resumed 15 minutes later after replacing the mace with a spare, the spokesman said. Decisions taken in the Senate cannot be approved without the mace, an ornamental staff symbolizing the authority of the legislature. A giant statue of a fist holding a golden mace stands outside parliament, making it one of Nigeria’s most potent government symbols. Today, some hoodlums led by suspended senator Ovie Omo-Agege walked into the Senate plenary and seized the symbol of authority of the upper legislative chamber, the mace, Senator Aliyu Abdullahi, the Senate’s spokesman said in a statement. Witnesses said the mace-snatchers drove into the Senate premises in the company of Omo-Agege and passed through security unchecked. The senator, who was suspended last week following a disagreement with other lawmakers, later appeared flanked by police at the parliament building.

When the law is not respected, order eventually breaks down. This is the reason why the terms Law & Order often used jointly. The breakdown in the Senate is the result of multiple acts of lawlessness and disorder. Ovie Omo-Agege was suspended allegedly for dissenting on a piece of legislation currently being debated in the Senate. On this point, the implications of debate and dissent being eliminated by the threat of suspension are best imagined. However, this is hardly the interesting development about Senator Omo-Agege. Elected on the platform of the Labour Party before decamping to the All Progressives Congress, he should not even be in the Senate, openly defying a Supreme Court judgment that deals on matters of political defection by lawmakers. Once the precedent of disobeying the law and common sense had been set, it was but a small leap to take for order to break down as it did when Omo-Agege allegedly led thugs to invade the Senate chamber. It is curious that he was able to do this in the heavily secured National Assembly complex, situated within the militarised Three Arms Zone district of Abuja. The real fundamental issue to address here is our proclivity as a country to disobey the law and magically expect order. It remains to be seen if this will jolt all involved to take a step back and act appropriately. We are not holding our breath.

Lagos lawmakers butt heads with the Constitution

Two members of the Lagos State Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria have sued the state government over the Environmental Management Protection Law 2017. Private Sector Operators (PSP) Oladipo Egbeyemi and David Oriyomi filed the suit at a Lagos High Court on 17 April challenging the legality of the law. The applicants, through their counsel, David Fadile, claimed that they were among the 360 PSP operators licensed by the state Ministry of Environment between 1999 and 2003. The operators listed the state government, the state Attorney-General, the state House of Assembly, the state Environment Commissioner, the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), and Visionscape Sanitation Solutions as respondents. They argue that Part 3 of the environmental law was inconsistent with the 1999 Constitution as amended and cite sections 42, 53, 54, 55, 56, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63 and 64, which seeks to empower the Ministry of Environment and LAWMA to control, regulate, and administer refuse, sewage and waste disposal in the state as offensive sections of the law.

At the heart of this legal challenge is the core principle of federalism. The 2017 law was an ambitious (and mostly opaque) attempt to harmonise and merge eight separate environmental legislation in the state which among other things, creates a Public Utilities Monitoring and Assurance Unit to coordinate the modalities of billing, revenue, and enforcement of levies, as well as an Environmental Trust Fund which will be capable of acquiring, holding, purchasing and disposing of properties movable or immovable for the purpose of discharging its functions. The 239-page law is divided into Parts which are dedicated to a specific environmental regulator. Part 3, the subject of the suit deals with the Lagos Waste Management Authority and the plaintiffs will argue that the law conflicts with Clause 1(h) of the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution which says that the main functions of a local government council shall include the provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal. When squared with the poor performance of the law’s key beneficiary, the flamboyant Visionscape Solutions, whose state backing and alleged unwillingness to work with existing PSPs has elicited a popular backlash, many Lagosians will have little sympathy with this attempt to consign the unpopular law in the legal dustbin of history. Nigeria’s biggest economy (and dirtiest city by some measures) had hitherto laboured under a litany of laws and regulations which gave rise to at least 11 agencies and many practices which were often at cross purposes. While streamlining the unwieldy system was obviously necessary, someone at Alausa should have taken the time to read the Constitution.

Some jobs are out there but the skill pool is weak

A new Skills Gap Assessment report released by the Industrial Training Fund in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation shows that despite high unemployment, there are 925 “difficult and very difficult-to-fill vacancies in the country’s labor market. The survey, which relied on responses from industries polled, disclosed that 19.7 percent of vacancies in housing are difficult to fill along with 13.9 percent in petrochemicals, 14.7 percent in ‘other goods, 11.4 percent in auto industry, 10.3 percent in textiles, 10.1 percent in steel, 8.9 percent in services and 3.3 percent in leather. The report found that 15.7 percent of all hard-to-fill vacancies were due to lack of technical skills, 11.8 percent due to lack of basic IT skills and 9.2 percent due to a lack of advanced IT skills. Soft skills such as planning and organizing skills, customer handling skills or team working skills were mentioned with regards to between 9.7 percent and 7.5 percent of hard-to-fill vacancies.

The ITF report reinforces what is becoming common knowledge that Nigeria’s educational system is not effective at producing workers with the necessary skills to thrive in the wider economy. As a result, there is a mismatch between what employers require, and what has potential employees have to offer. This forces employers to either settle for a lower quality of employees that they desire or ramp up spending unnecessary sums in improving the skills set of their employees.

Adeosun’s new (and worrying) hat as activist investor

Oando shareholders have called for the sack of finance minister, Kemi Adeosun for allegedly interfering with the stock market. In a statement by the Trusted Shareholders Association of Nigeria and the Proactive Shareholders Association, the stakeholders accused the minister of shielding the oil company from an SEC probe. They insist Adeosun was stalling a joint Nigerian-South African forensic audit, an action they say is detrimental to them as well as the Nigerian capital market. Last week, the NSE lifted a technical suspension on the company’s shares but suspended it after three hours of trading, leaving investors and shareholders confused but the suspension was lifted the following day, the NSE blaming the SEC for the development. Oando shares rose 9.4 percent on Monday to an eight-month high.

SEC appears to be in disarray, caused by uncertainty with its management. A few months ago Kemi Adeosun suspended Mounir Gwarzo the erstwhile DG for a breach of privilege. Abdul Zubair who replaced Gwarzo in acting capacity was removed because of conflicting directives issued to by SEC to the NSE on shares of Oando SEC initially directed the NSE to lift the suspension on Oando shares, reversed the directive, then reversed itself again. Mrs. Adeosun has since requested for a formal explanation from SEC of the recent communications mismatch between the commission and the NSE. While we believe that it is within the minister’s right to make such a request, we think that she has interfered in a manner that could be harmful. There is no one informed in investment matters that has not come to this conclusion and it remains to be seen what the long term impact on the stock market and wider business confidence will be.

 

Credit: SBM Intelligence

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