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The Week Ahead – Rumbling Giants

SBM Intelligence 

Rare is the case where the most consequential topic covered by this editorial is not from Nigeria. With the conflict in Africa’s second-most populous country reaching crisis proportions, a deep examination of the geopolitical fractures that continue to define Ethiopian politics is necessary. Back home, Abuja remains on a security alert of a different but equally worrying kind, Borno is on code red, Zamfara remains in denial, Delta celebrates a big (and legally mandated) payday, most states throw dust at pension reform, and the Supreme Court takes centre stage in another political saga.

Uneasy lies the little flower
Authorities in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Tuesday urged residents to prepare to defend their neighbourhoods after forces from Tigray, who have been fighting the central government for a year, indicated they could advance on the city. People should register their weapons and gather in their neighbourhoods, the city administration said in a statement carried by the Ethiopian News Agency. House-to-house searches were being conducted and troublemakers arrested, the statement said. “Residents can gather in their locality and safeguard their surroundings,” the statement added. “Those who have weapons but can’t take part in safeguarding their surroundings are advised to hand over the weapon to the government or their close relatives or friends.” The appeal came after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) claimed to have captured several towns in recent days and said it was considering marching on Addis Ababa, about 380 km (235 miles) to the south of their forward positions. Federal government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not respond to a request for comment. People moved around the capital as normal on Tuesday, with one woman saying she had not heard of the latest directive. “I will try to buy food commodities in advance. But so far I haven’t yet purchased anything,” said the woman, who asked not to be named. Another resident, a Tigrayan, said he was frightened because of a rise in ethnic slurs and incitement to violence against Tigrayans on social media. “They may come up with stories that could create violence against Tigrayans,” he said. There have previously been several police round-ups of Tigrayans in Addis Ababa. Authorities denied it was due to their ethnicity. The governments of four of the country’s 10 regions also called upon Ethiopians to mobilize to fight against the Tigrayan forces, state-affiliated Fana TV said. Last week, an Ethiopian government jet bombed the Tigrayan regional capital with one doctor reporting 10 deaths. Federal forces have hit Mekelle from the skies at least eight times in the last two weeks, residents told Reuters. The conflict started over the night of 3 November 2020, when forces loyal to the TPLF – including some soldiers – seized military bases in Tigray. In response, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent more troops there. The TPLF had dominated national politics for nearly three decades but lost much influence when Abiy took office in 2018 following years of anti-government protests. Relations with the TPLF soured after they accused him of centralising power at the expense of Ethiopia’s regional states – an accusation Abiy denies.

The six-month state of emergency imposed by the Ethiopian federal government is evidence of how the tide has suddenly turned against Addis Ababa in a war that was almost declared over in its favour a few months ago. At this time, there are real fears that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) could march towards Addis Ababa, given several indicators such as the Prime Minister’s call to arms, the evacuation of diplomats from the country’s capital and the growing influence of the Tigrayan forces. To give some context to the ongoing crisis, it is perhaps important to recount the regional conundrum Ethiopia finds itself.  The northern Tigray region was the predominant power in Ethiopia before the rise of Abiy Ahmed, and have defied him since he came to office. Tigray had been the driving force behind devolution in Ethiopia under an Ahmed administration that has been trying to centralise power at lightning pace. As crisis ensued in the Tigray and the Ethiopian army an estimated 70,000 Tigrayan refugees have fled the war-torn region to Sudan. As the TPLF pushed back, they dislodged federal forces to expand their hold beyond their regional capital Mekelle towards neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions. Since then, the TPLF has become a formidable force for the government, taking over military bases and weakening the hold of the central government. This forced the Ethiopian government to enlist paramilitary forces from other regions and the call to have eligible civilians join the war effort highlights both the desperation of Addis Ababa. The last three weeks have exposed how in reality, Addis Ababa had had the TPLF on the back foot due to the support it had from the Eritrean military, which seems to have exited the war. In the absence of the Eritrean military, the TPLF has been emboldened to go beyond its home region; its alliance with the Oromo Liberation Front makes them a more potent force that has the capacity of taking on Addis Ababa. It is evident that in going to war with the TPLF which controlled the country for three decades in every facet, Abiy Ahmed overplayed his hand. What he had previously assumed would be a quick, crushing defeat of the TPLF is now threatening to topple his government. Any attempts at negotiation now will come from a position of weakness rather than strength. The mandate to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table will likely come from neighbouring countries. Though Sudan has made attempts to resolve the conflict, the recent coup and change of government in Khartoum means that the conflict is currently low on its priority list. This means that the only other country well-positioned to step in is Kenya. Nairobi has so far taken a neutral stance, and this was further buttressed by recent talks between President Uhuru Kenyatta and US President Joe Biden on the Tigray conflict. Ethiopia’s lingering internal crisis, in the end, represents a cautionary tale for countries with political systems built around semi-autonomous ethno-regional blocs. The central government will always be inherently weaker than its constituent units. Leaders in such environments are destined to walk a never-ending tightrope of stakeholder management. Away from the sun and glare of international stardom, Mr Ahmed is learning this lesson the brutal and bloody way.

Supreme mess
Security operatives, wielding a search warrant, invaded the Abuja home of Supreme Court justice Mary Odili on 29 October. Initial media reports said the operatives, who were made up of soldiers and officers of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), identified themselves as members of a joint task force. The security operatives, who came with a search warrant, said they received information on “illegal activities” going on in the house, located in the Maitama district of the federal capital. The supreme court justice is the wife of Peter Odili, a former governor of Rivers state, who is currently on the watchlist of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). According to the legal blog Nigeria Lawyer, the security agents showed up at the residence around 5pm but were prevented from accessing the property by a team of security officials stationed in the house. The home’s security team, comprising men of the State Security Service (SSS) and the police, turned back the visiting security agents, having not been convinced by the reason given as to why they were in the house. It was also not clear who, between Peter Odili or Justice Mary Odili, was the target of the security agents suspect. Although it was initially thought to be a joint operation by men of the SSS and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the latter agency, in a statement, distanced itself from the incident. Condemnation of the incident has been swift and extensive. The Supreme Court, in a statement, said the invasion had uncomfortable parallels with a coordinated late-night invasion of several Supreme Court justices in October 2016. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) described it as “a part of an orchestrated affront on the judiciary, designed to intimidate and ridicule the judiciary” and convened an emergency meeting. Senior lawyers have asked the NBA to find out the lawyers who approached an Abuja chief magistrate to obtain the search warrant and subject them to disciplinary proceedings. Chief Magistrate Emmanuel Iyanna revoked the search warrant – which multiple media outlets said was requested by Lawrence Ajodo, a Chief Superintendent of Police attached to the Assets Recovery Investigation Team under the Ministry of Justice – saying the applicants “deceived the court” to obtain it. The House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary slammed the raid and called for an investigation. Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers, the home state of the Odilis, gave the Federal Government 48 hours to “expose those that invaded” their home. Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami has denied accusations that the Federal Government was behind the incident. The Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Usman Baba has ordered the Force Intelligence Bureau (FIB) to open “detailed investigations.” According to a statement, the police leadership said it never approved the “unfortunate and unacceptable” assignment.

The first thing to understand about the latest intrusion on the independence of the Supreme Court is that Aso Rock is very interested and vested in what happens at the bench; almost to the point of distraction. The second thing to note is that when precedents – legal or extralegal – are set in Nigeria, they are hard to break. In 2017, while trying to justify the DSS raid of the houses of serving senior judges, President Buhari addressed a general conference of the country’s preeminent body of lawyers, the NBA, and declared that the law and Constitution must take the back seat when issues of urgent national security arise. Senior lawyers, lawyers in government and the leadership of the judiciary who were all present at the event failed to challenge him, and with that, a precedent was set. There might also be another political dimension to the incident. Justice Mary Odili is the second most senior justice at the country’s highest court and the first in line to succeed Chief Justice of Nigeria Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, CJN. She, however, is 69 years with a dwindling window to ascend to the highest judicial position in the land (all judicial officials are subject to mandatory retirement when they turn 70) that is measured in mere months. This Supreme Court class could potentially be faced with important questions on the devolution of powers, fiscal federalism, election conduct and management and constitutional reform. Whoever is in the Chief Justice’s chair will constitute the bench that will sit on and listen to arguments on those issues, Setting aside the well documented corruption allegations against her husband, a former governor of one of Nigeria’s most powerful states, the aggressive move against one of the country’s most senior justices suggests that either a section of the ruling elite is apprehensive about both the health of the current CJN (he is due to retire in two years) or that Ms Odili’s ascension to the top judicial job in the land may, if only for a few months, set the senior bench on a path that is not amenable to Northern interests. It is, however, a lost battle – of the next six senior justices after Mary Odili JSC, four are from the South. The next in line after Odili JSC, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, has age advantages (He is 63) and is from Oyo. In the end, last Friday’s developments are very much in line with the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach that has come to be this administration’s default approach. There is a sense that Attorney-General of the Federation Abubakar Malami only denied responsibility because of scathing condemnation from every important quarter, including southern governors, the NBA and the Supreme Court itself – circles he operates in and cannot ignore. That is very telling about how much support Aso Rock is losing. While the Executive, at the moment appears to be firmly in control of the judiciary, this is yet another action that would further damage relations between both arms of the federal government. There is no winner in this contest, only losers all round.

FG takes another body blow
The Federal High Court in Abuja on Monday ordered the Federal Government to pay $1.638 billion to the Delta State government being a 13 percent derivative sum due as arrears of revenue payable to the oil-rich state. Justice Donatus Okorowo, while delivering the judgment, held that being a suit instituted to recover revenue accruing to the state government, it qualified for the undefended list. Okorowo ruled that the development made the court declare the plaintiff’s case as “unchallenged.” While the Attorney-General of Delta is the plaintiff, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) is the sole defendant in the suit. The plaintiff, in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/660/2012 and filed on July 12 by his counsel, Ken Njemanze, urged the court to compel the AGF to pay five per cent of $50 billion recovered as additional revenue accrued to the Nigerian government. Justice Okorowo dismissed the AGF’s preliminary objections challenging the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the suit as well as the mode in which the case was instituted as ‘undefended list.’ Okorowo had, in an ex-parte application on 22 July, ruled that the “plaintiff’s writ of summons be marked and placed on the undefended list.” The judge, therefore, granted all the reliefs of the Delta State government. “The suit succeeds on its merit and all the reliefs sought by plaintiff are granted,” he ruled. Delta, through its Attorney-General, had in an affidavit setting forth the grounds upon which its claim was based, urged the court to “direct the defendant (AGF) to pay the sum of $1,638,396,277.00 being the 13 per cent derivative sum due as arrears of revenue payable to Delta as assessed. “A consequential order of this court compelling the defendant to net off and pay five per cent of the said sum as per clause 3.0(v) of the defendant’s letter of engagement dated 12 April 2018 and clause 3.0(v) the defendant’s further letter of engagement dated November 19, 2018, pursuant to clause lll(d) of the terms of settlement made the (consent) judgment by the Supreme Court. “Ten per cent post-judgment interest at court rate on the said $1,638,396,277.00 to the plaintiff until final liquidation thereof.” While urging the court to discountenance the AGF’s claim that it was not a party to the suit lodged by the Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, and Rivers against the FG, the plaintiff said: “The suit described above was instituted in the Supreme Court for the enforcement of the general of the littoral states (of which Delta is one.). “The plaintiff has a pecuniary interest in the said suit and its outcome affects her rights and or liabilities.” In its defence, the AGF’s office had argued that Delta State was not a party in the terms of settlement in the suit between the Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa and Rivers State governments delivered by the Supreme Court. According to its affidavit “it will not serve the interest of justice to grant the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant without a full hearing. That the terms of settlement in question have been entered as a judgement of the court between the parties before the court.”

In June 2021, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja had ordered the FG to pay $951 million to the Bayelsa State Government as the 13 percent derivative sum due as arrears of revenue payable to the state government. While delivering judgement, the Court had held that the Attorney-General’s office failed to enter his defence in the case, prompting the court to declare the plaintiff’s claim as unchallenged.  The judgment was in respect of a suit filed in February 2021, which itself was based on the judgement given on a previous suit delivered in October 2018, in which the Federal High Court ordered Abuja to embark on an upward adjustment of the shares of revenues accruing to the government whenever the price of crude oil exceeds $20 per barrel. The same court in June 2021 also awarded Akwa Ibom and Rivers $2.258 billion and $1.114 billion respectively as derivation paychecks that ought to accrue to them from $62 billion in oil sales recovered from oil companies. What these legal merry go rounds illustrate is that the FG under the Buhari administration continues to practice selective amnesia to court rulings and in many cases, they do come back to bite the FG where it will feel it hardest – its pocket. A case in point is the 2019 ruling given by a UK court to a foreign contractor clearing it to seize Nigerian assets following a dispute over an oil and gas contract. Within the context of the current debate over fiscal federalism, It is interesting that the South-South states – of which Delta has now joined and is positioning itself to lead – are at the forefront of utilising the court systems to continue to assert the rights of states within the existing fiscal framework, while also pushing the seams of the current structure. This is another in a line of victories that Asaba has won in court against Abuja and it is a good thing in our view. Nigeria needs more states to continue to test the system until some form of de facto restructuring is achieved. It is important to note that, having realised the possible domino effect of these litigations, Abuja will likely appeal the case and request a stay of execution, and the Supreme Court might ultimately have the final say in this and other revenue-driven cases. It, however, is also important to interrogate what these states will do with these windfalls, and whatever new powers the pursuit of this course of action will accrue to them. Already, many of the areas of subnational legal responsibility suffer from some of the greatest amounts of neglect and decay in the country. To whom more is given, more must be demanded.

Elections hold in Anambra State tomorrow. Yesterday, a faction of IPOB cancelled the sit-at-home order that has caused a lot of hardship in the state, and urged people to go out and vote tomorrow. We think it is too littel too late, and IPOB has unleashed forces that is has no control over. A report published earlier this week, based on a survey we conducted in the state indicates that this election would see the worst turnout in Nigeria’s electoral history.

Bringing down the house
At least 20 states have yet to commence the payment of pensions to retirees after opting to join Nigeria’s Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS), a Punch investigation has found. The CPS was established by the Pension Reform Act, 2004 to provide a sustainable system of pension payment and correct abnormalities in the pay-as-you-go Defined Pension Scheme under which retirees suffered awaiting their stipends, while many died without getting their entitlements. Industry stakeholders are worried that the non-payment of pensions, which characterised the old scheme, has begun to affect the CPS. A new report by the National Pension Commission (PenCom) showed that 25 states – Abia, Adamawa, Anambra, Bayelsa, Benue, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Kaduna, Kebbi, Kogi, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba and the Federal Capital Territory – had enacted laws to join the scheme as of June 2021. The report, however, showed that only five states – Delta, Lagos, Kaduna, Osun and the Federal Capital Territory (whose affairs are managed by the central government) – were paying pensions to retirees under the CPS and funding the accrued rights (benefits under the old pension scheme that the retirees are also entitled to). Despite enacting their CPS laws, Abia, Adamawa, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Nasarawa, Oyo, Sokoto and Taraba have yet to establish pension bureaux to commence the scheme. According to PenCom, seven states – Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Borno, Cross River, Katsina, Kwara and Plateau – are at the bill formation stage to enable them to migrate from the old scheme to the CPS. Five states  – Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Yobe and Zamfara – have opted for other pension schemes. This comes as 18,524 disengaged workers withdrew ₦9.45 billion from their Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) with the Pension Fund Administrators between January and June this year, according to a new PenCom report. In the quarterly report on ‘withdrawals due to temporary loss of employment,’  during the first quarter of 2021, “the commission granted approval for the payment of ₦5.02 billion to 10,619 RSA holders under the age of 50 years, who were disengaged from work and unable to secure jobs within four months.” It added that in the second quarter of the year, “the commission approved the payment of ₦4.43 billion to 7,906 RSA holders under the age of 50 years, who were disengaged from work and unable to secure jobs within four months.” According to the Pension Reform Act 2014, employees who either leave or lose their jobs and can’t secure paid employment after four months can access 25 percent of the balance in their RSAs. 

The Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS) was set up in 2004 by the Obasanjo administration to replace the Defined Benefit Scheme (DPS) which had totally collapsed, especially for government workers. This was because the DPS relied on the discretion of employers to set money aside and invest on a regular basis, something which various tiers of government failed to do and had instead depended on revenue collections (which was often paltry and lost to political largesse and patronage) to pay pensions. With the passage of the Pension Reform Act (PRA) in 2004, it was hoped that the long queues of retirees seeking their monthly pension benefits would be gone for good. Fast-forward a decade and a half later, the queues are not so widespread for private-sector workers, but for many sub-national public sector workers, it persists. Years ago, many state administrations promised action in the near future, but today many are adamant that there is no plan to sign up to the CPS, simply because they cannot set aside the funds required. Sound familiar? At the same time, there is troubling rhetoric from the federal government and state legislatures that accumulated pension funds should be used to invest in infrastructure and other areas in the economy without any serious discussion around designing a durable infrastructural framework to minimise the risk of capital flight. For many of them, the ₦11 trillion-plus in pension assets are ‘lying idle’ while, in fact, these assets form the single largest investor pool in government debt securities. The CPS is a classical example of how a programme that is very well designed, has full buy-in and involvement from the private sector and is mostly well implemented can fail woefully when governments operate with impunity and opacity. Considering the remarkable growth of the CPS over the years and how it is structured to ensure that the funds are managed independently, it is equally remarkable that states have managed to fail such a solidly designed framework. The fact that this non-payment cuts across states in all the zones, political parties and first/second term governors is instructive of the fact that the issue is more fundamental than if the funding is available or not. It is that governments across all corners of this country simply do not consider pension payments a priority as almost no effective legal or political consequences attach to not doing so. We think that it has a lot to do with character – governments that are comfortable owing salaries and owing pensions within the old system will find a way to do so within the new system. 

The noose tightens
Gunmen abducted four members of staff and their children from the University of Abuja on Tuesday, the university said, in a rare kidnapping at such a large institution in the Nigerian capital. Gangs of armed men, known locally as bandits, late last year launched a series of abductions from schools and attacks on villages, mostly in the northwest of the country, in return for ransom. There have been kidnappings of individuals on the outskirts of Abuja, but attacks on universities are rare. “Suspected bandits attacked the staff quarters of the university in the early hours of today. We have reported that four of our staff and their children were, nevertheless, abducted,” the university said on its Facebook page. One staff member was taken together with his son and daughter, Reuters reported. Nigeria’s security forces are stretched on several fronts, including growing lawlessness in the north and northwest and a 12-year Islamist insurgency in the northeast that has killed thousands.

While the group responsible for this abduction has not been identified, it is important to state that this has quite been a long time coming. The communities on the Federal Capital Territory’s outlying flanks which share state lines with Niger and Nasarawa to its west, portions of its north as well as its east respectively, have been steadily attacked by kidnappers for some time, and sometimes these attacks spill over. Kuje, a district within the FCT has seen 15 kidnap incidents since October 2019, and two attacks on security personnel (police and the NSCDC). Currently, the spate of attacks has moved away from the outlying towns and inward as the attack on the university, located less than an hour from the airport shows. The Nigerian Customs Service reported, about a year ago, that Boko Haram had cells in, and was planning to attack Abuja – a claim which the government took seriously for all of three weeks as it deployed security forces in five strategic locations where the insurgents were said to be targeting. As soon as the security forces were withdrawn, attacks resumed and nothing has been done. Earlier this year, a journalist with The Punch was kidnapped in his home in Kubwa. The sleepy Abuja suburb is about an hour’s drive from Suleja in Niger State, and without any traffic interruptions, about 25 minutes from the Presidential Villa. In other words, the security outlook in the heart of the federal capital is worsening. Resources must be invested in preempting these attacks before they happen as they are fast becoming a dent on the capital’s image as an idyll of stability in a region that is anything but.

Zamfara’s bad bet
The Zamfara State Government has approved the re-opening of seven weekly markets that were closed earlier this year to address rising cases of banditry and terrorism in the state. While announcing the development in a statement, Governor Bello Matawalle on Monday said livestock trading remains banned in the state. The reopening was necessitated by the return of normalcy in some parts of the state, the governor added. In his words, “This is to inform the general public that following reports of sanity in parts of the state, and series of requests by members of the public, the government has considered and approved the reopening of the following weekly markets, beginning from Monday, Nov. 1, 2021.” The markets, he said, include Nasarawar Burkullu Market in Bukkuyum local government area (LGA); Talata Mafara Market in Talata Mafara LGA, and Gusau Market in the state capital. Others are, Shinkafi Market in Shinkafi LGA; Kasuwar Daji Market in Kaura Namoda LGA; Nasarawar Godel Market in Birnin-Magaji LGA and Danjibga Market in Tsafe LGA. The governor urged residents to desist from carrying weapons into the markets and no person should be seen attacking or threatening anybody in the name of any group or organisation. He directed all security agencies to ensure that people carry out their lawful businesses within and around the markets, without harassment or intimidation. Zamfara, one of the most severely affected states by banditry, has implemented methods that restrict the movement of trade and people in a bid to stave off support for the bandit groups. The Nigerian Communications Commission in September announced the shutdown of all telecom operations sites in Zamfara to deal with the rising insecurity. The FG earlier this year announced a ban on mining in the state and disclosed that the mining ban in Zamfara would only be lifted if the security situation in the state improved.

The shutdown of telecoms operations in Zamfara has made it difficult to obtain independent reports on the security situation in the state. An online newspaper had on 29 October reported that gunmen killed at least 20 operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in Shinkafi Local Government Area. Security operatives had been sent to a village that the terrorists had been ravaging for quite a while without any security intervention. The “bandits” ambushed the security personnel, killing a number of them before setting the corpses on fire. This report has been denied by both the NSCDC and the police, although both admitted to the killing of at least two policemen and NSCDC personnel, both their versions of events contradict one another. This is hardly a good advertisement that government measures in the state have worked. Aside from the fact that the market ban was ill-advised and subjected residents to economic hardship, its reversal on grounds of improved security is not reflective of the current state of things. An SBM survey conducted in Zamfara two weeks after the communications shutdown showed that while all respondents had lost mobile communications services, 57% of them believed that security had not improved at all despite 53% of them being heavily impacted economically. This statewide perception of security is despite reports of the killing of some terror kingpins. Military detachments in the state have also suffered terror attacks in recent days. Reopening without achieving the aims of the shutdowns (which were a bad idea, to begin with), only places huge question marks on the government’s strategy to end this menace.

Zulum gets made (again)
A convoy carrying Borno state governor, Babagana Zulum, came under fire from militants last week, forcing him to cut short a trip to the northern town of Malam Fatori, Reuters reported citing unnamed military and security sources. The attack, which raises questions about the governor’s pledge to close displaced person camps and send those in them back to their villages, took place on Thursday, the sources said. “Troops battled for nearly an hour,” one military source said, adding that all those in the convoy laid on the ground during the fighting. Malam Fatori sits near the border with neighbouring Niger. Spokespeople for Zulum and for the military did not respond to requests for comment. Zulum said earlier this month that he would shut the camps that hold thousands of internally displaced persons in the state capital, Maiduguri, by the end of the year, citing improved security. Borno is the centre of Nigeria’s 12-year battle against Islamist insurgents, including Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province. The fighting has killed nearly 350,000 people and displaced millions more, according to United Nations Development Programme estimates.

Two months ago, the Islamic State West Africa Province declared a new Wali (loosely translated as Emir or Governor) for Borno, as they consider the region under the effective control of the Islamic State. Governor Zulum swiftly rejected that announcement by saying that he is still governor. This latest attack, however, seriously tests Mr Zulum’s assertion. While the government has consistently claimed that no territory is under the control of the insurgents, the inability of the state governor to move about without getting attacked seriously contests that claim. At least 57 people, most of them security agents, have been killed in attacks on Mr Zulum’s convoys since 2019, a testament to the firepower that the insurgents possess. This cannot be wished away, and it is through this prism that Mr Zulum’s proposed resettlement of IDPs must be examined. Borno is in effect functioning only as a series of garrison towns with vast ungoverned spaces and has been so for at least three years with the military’s adoption of its supercamp strategy, one that we have consistently criticised. While the nomenclature of the camps has changed – they are called forward operating bases in press statements – the reality has remained the same. The military walls themselves inside these fortified camps and makes occasional convoy deployments which are routinely targeted by insurgent elements. In this maelstrom of camp and ambush, Mr Zulum wants to toss helpless and undefended internally displaced persons (IDPs) with his triumphalist declaration that IDP camps will be closed in the state by December 2021. It is a reckless and unconscionable move. Resettling IDPs in areas where government officials and the military cannot visit without heavy security may lead the refugees back to the camps in Maiduguri, or worse still put them under the sovereignty of ISWAP, in what will certainly be a boon for the terrorist group. This was further buttressed by an ambush of a joint security team conducting clearance operations in the area in preparation for the return and resettlement of the IDPs at Malam Fatori just two days after the governor’s convoy was attacked. This is besides the numerous other attacks by ISWAP recently, including the kidnapping of travellers on Tuesday on the Maiduguri-Damaturu Highway about 7km from a Nigerian Army super camp at Ngamdu, Kaga Local Government Area. Mr Zulum and other state and national policymakers need to walk back on their fantasies and bury their heads firmly in reality. The ISWAP threat is far from over.

Credit: SBM Intelligence



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