The leaders of the military coup in Mali have told a delegation of West African mediators that they want to stay in power for a three-year transition period, Nigeria said on Wednesday.
Negotiators from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were sent to Mali at the weekend to discuss a return to civilian rule with the military officers who ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in the Aug. 18 coup.
But three days of meetings ended without a decision on the structure of a transitional government.
The junta leaders said after taking power that they acted because the country was sinking into chaos and insecurity which they said was largely the fault of poor government. They also promised to oversee a transition to elections within a “reasonable” amount of time.
The Nigerian presidency said the mutineers were now seeking to oversee a three-year transition before elections. Earlier, ECOWAS envoy Goodluck Jonathan had given an update on talks to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
“We also told them that what would be acceptable to ECOWAS was an Interim Government, headed by a civilian or retired military officer, to last for six or nine months, and maximum of 12 calendar months,” the presidency quoted Jonathan as saying in a statement.
The coup has raised the prospect of further political turmoil in Mali which, like other countries in the region, has faced an expanding threat from Islamist militants and civil unrest.
Coup leaders have held Keita since his overthrow, declining an ECOWAS request for him to be moved to his own residence.
“They said he could travel abroad, and not return to answer questions they may have for him,” Jonathan was quoted as saying.
The bloc has taken a hardline on the coup, shutting borders and halting some financial flows.
“The military leaders want ECOWAS to lift sanctions put in place, as it was already affecting the country,” it said.
Leaders of the 15-nation bloc are scheduled to hold a summit on Friday to discuss further steps.
In the past few days, the public space has been awash with comments and outrage on the hearings at the Federal House of Representatives concerning the Chinese loan agreements Nigeria entered into to the tune of $500 million for the part-financing of its rail projects said to be valued at about $849 million.
This is borne out of the fact that the House of Representatives Committee raised the alarm over the alleged waiver of Nigeria’s sovereignty. These hearings in which the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi was invited, laid bare some perceived inconsistencies in public debt procurement process in Nigeria with noticeable gaps. For the rail project loan in question, issues have arisen concerning the drafting of the agreement, the processing of the documents as well as the involvement of the Minister of Finance and the Attorney-General of the Federation respectively.
These gaping questions become very disturbing when the lender in question here is China, which has been associated with opaqueness in granting loans to countries in global context.
In investigating the processing of the $500 million Chinese loan from the Export-Import Bank of China, the Federal House of Representatives, as part of its oversight function, discovered that the loan agreement contained a clause in which Nigeria’s sovereignty was supposedly traded off. According to reports, this discovery was made because the agreement entered into, was written in Mandarin, the official form of the Chinese language with the Nigerian officials signing without understanding the full content of the loan document. If that is the case, it strengthens the narrative of the reported opaqueness of typical Chinese loan agreements.
The controversial clause in this loan case, states that, “the borrower hereby irrevocably waives any immunity on the grounds of sovereign or otherwise for itself or its property in connection with any arbitration proceeding pursuant to Article 8(5), thereof with the enforcement of any arbitral award pursuant thereto, except for the military assets and diplomatic assets.” The question that arises here is whether there is no law that requires that the terms and conditions of loan agreements be submitted to the National Assembly for approval. In response to this raging controversies, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied that China had any clause in the contract ceding Nigeria’s sovereignty and that it followed its “five-no” approach in loan agreements one of which is “no imposition of our will on African countries” and that it gives full consideration to debt sustainability.
The response of China on this issue notwithstanding, the history of China’s relations with different countries on loan agreements largely leaves a sour taste in the mouth. China has been severally accused of undertaking a global colonisation policy with its debt-trap diplomacy. For most of the countries that China has extended loan facilities to, there has been tales of woe and lamentations. Chinese loans to Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Maldives, Pakistan, Malaysia, Mongolia and Republic of Kazakhstan, among others have been followed with cases of default and takeover of these countries’ assets by China.
These loans are usually given out with very attractive conditions and without thorough due diligence for which these countries find it difficult to resist. What follows is a loan default and then the taking over of major assets in the borrowing countries with these takeovers not limited to the projects for which the loan is procured. By its “Belt and Road” Initiative, China targets countries that have some form of natural resources or something to offer which may not necessarily be cash. One commonality in these assets is that all the infrastructure of roads, ports, highways and airports, among others, financed with these loans all connect to China in what has been aptly described as the “new silk road.” Opaqueness has been one clear characteristic of Chinese loans across many jurisdictions globally. In Africa, the story is not different.
China appears to have taken a strategic position on the continent by willingly donating a mighty Secretariat to the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, probably as a good launching pad to gain easy access to virtually all African countries in pursuit of its global expansionist policy. China has extended irresistible loans to many African countries with Angola, an oil rich nation, having the largest Chinese loan exposure on the continent with a portfolio of about $25 billion. This is followed in that order by Ethiopia, Kenya, Republic of Congo, Sudan, Zambia, Cameroun, Nigeria, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo, (DRC).
Most of these loan transactions have run into some trouble with Zambia representing the worst case in Africa where China has taken over their National Power Corporation and the Broadcasting Corporation due to loan default. It is little wonder why these countries wouldn’t default given that the loans are largely concessionary with lots of suspected undercover dealings and perks in favour of African government officials in form of huge kickbacks, which largely do not go through the banking system. Many have dubbed this as China’s new colonial strategy, which it executes by first encouraging indebtedness on very concessionary terms; taking over strategic assets or the commanding heights of the economy on default. The focus is largely on very corrupt countries with very weak governance structures. Given these antecedents, there is a great need for these issues to be addressed in the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meetings.
The Debt Management Office (DMO)’s response on this raging issue has also left much to be desired. It addressed the pedestrian issue of how little China’s $3.121 billion loan exposure to Nigeria is, that it represents only 11.28% of the total external debt stock of $27.67 billion or 3.94% of overall total public debt burden of $79.303 billion. By this submission, the DMO stated that China is not a major source of funding for the Nigerian government. The DMO highlighted the fact that the loan is a concession of 20-year tenor with a seven-year moratorium. The DMO prided itself that its law, the Debt Management Office Establishment (ETC) Act 2003 as well as Section 41 (1a) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 were duly followed in the loan agreements in question.
However, the issue is really not in the quantum of these Chinese loans but on the commitments made by our government officials. The DMO response did not guarantee whether transparency was followed in the negotiating process –particularly with reported incidences of corruption in other jurisdictions. It also did not clearly state whether the unpalatable experiences of other countries in dealing with China on borrowing were factored in nor did it address the issue of sovereignty or whether the agreement was written in Mandarin or not nor how the repayment will be made from proceeds from the projects over the 20-year loan period. How come the National Assembly, which should have approved the loan in the first place is just getting to know about this sovereignty clause after the fact? The DMO needs to provide further explanations on these issues.
On the sovereignty issue, it needs to be noted that, the controversial clause would only come into effect when there is a case of default. It needs to be put in proper perspective that for an economic or commercial transaction, Nigeria would find it difficult to plead its sovereignty in the event of default and would thus need to go for arbitration. Hence the hue and cry on loss of sovereignty for a purely commercial transaction may have been misplaced. This, however, differs in the case of political relations where the ceding of sovereignty is not tolerable. It is proper to understand that for an economic or commercial transaction such as this, the key issue is to avoid a loan default else the case of arbitration cannot be avoided.
President Muhammadu Buhari has urged African leaders to ensure the immediate actualization of the Common African Position on Assets Recovery (CAPAR), as the continent celebrates Anti-Corruption Day, July 11, 2020.
In a letter to South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, Chairman of African Union, the Nigerian leader asked for a re-commitment to the anti-corruption war by leaders on the continent to engender an “integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena.”
The President laments that “the massive corruption being perpetrated across Africa’s national governments has created a huge governance deficit that has in turn created negative consequences that worsen the socioeconomic and political situation in Africa.”
The letter by President Buhari reads in part:
“As Your Excellency is aware, the continental fight against corruption has been premised on an irreducible minimum that can pave the way for Africa’s transformation. In this effort, the emphasis has been on the continent’s collective determination to forge resilient partnerships among our national governments, civil society organizations and other interest groups, such as women, youth and the physically challenged, to ensure improved socio-economic, political and security development and ultimately, the improvement of our continent.
“The concern of the African Union is that the massive corruption being perpetuated across our national governments has created a huge governance deficit that has in turn created negative consequences that have worsened the socio-economic and political situation in Africa.
“Your Excellency may recall that these continental concerns led our colleagues at the African Union, to appoint my humble self as the African Union Anti-Corruption Champion. I believe that the efforts and focus of the Nigerian Government at home, partly informed this decision as well as the need for Africa, as a continent, to recommit herself to the fight against corruption and the imperative to free resources for meaningful development.
“I am, therefore, in full support of the call for the issuance of a continental message to commemorate this day, on July 11, 2020, to re-commit the African Union to the continental fight against corruption, including through a robust approach to assets recovery, hence the need for a strategic framework on a Common African Position on Assets Recovery (CAPAR).
“Happily, in February 2020, at the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa, CAPAR was adopted. In my view, the African Union must go beyond the mere annual celebration of the Africa Anti-Corruption Day by moving swiftly to operationalize the African Common Position on Assets Recovery by all member states. This is an excellent way to drive Africa’s Agenda 2063, for an ‘integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena.’
“As current Chair of our Union, I sincerely commend to you, this suggestion that seeks to call our leaders in Africa to recommit ourselves to this very important task of reclaiming our continent from the vice of systemic corruption.
“Please accept, Your Excellency and Dear Brother, the assurances of my highest consideration.”]
Credit: Daily Post
Since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in Nigeria in 2015, anti-corruption has been at the heart of his administration. However, a lot of effort is focused on grand corruption at the higher levels of governance and politics. There is less emphasis on the less-talked-about but vulnerable areas such as the health sector.
We have been involved as researchers in an extensive study of health sector corruption in Nigeria. The study interacted with front-line health workers and health policy makers and managers. The aim was to systematically identify the different types of corruption occurring in the Nigerian health sector, and rank them based on how damaging they can be to the health sector.
The drivers and potential solutions to these health sector corruption problems were also identified, as well as recommendations on how to mitigate corruption in the sector. In the end we hope to explore and bring to the fore feasible grassroots solutions to the problem of health sector corruption in Nigeria.
In the war against COVID-19, health system resilience, accountability and integrity are more important than ever. The health systems of some high-income-countries have become overwhelmed by the rising number of infected persons and deaths from the disease. Weaker, corruption-prone and less resilient health systems of many low and middle income countries are even more vulnerable. Some may even collapse.
Research has underscored the vulnerability of Nigeria’s health system. A consistently solid and accountable health system has eluded the country. The requisite health resources are also in short supply.
The reality is that citizens, health workers and international development partners worry that Nigeria’s health system is very weak and may be unable to adequately combat COVID-19.
Money management issues
Contributing to the weakness of the system is the federal and state governments’ very low budgetary allocation to the health sector.
Nigeria’s health sector appropriation in the 2020 budget is 4.5% of the total federal budget, about N427.3 billion. This is far below the 15% agreed in the 2001 Abuja Declaration, when African Union member countries pledged to improve spending on their health sector and urged donor countries to scale up support.
Following recent collapse in the international price of crude oil, the budget has now been revised downward.
Concerns about budget are valid. But of equal weight is the issue of the optimal management of presently allocated funds. This continues to be an underlying problem.
In a paper published last year health workers and decision makers set out to explain the reasons that corruption persists in the healthcare sector.
They identified the top 49 corrupt practices in the Nigerian health system. These included absenteeism, procurement-related corruption, under-the-counter payments, health financing-related corruption, and employment-related corruption.
Discussions with health workers in an ongoing study on COVID-19 spanning different regions in Nigeria echo these findings. Health workers have indicated that there are structural and facility-level corruption and accountability issues that they have to work with routinely. These compromise their efforts to do their jobs as healthcare providers, including containing COVID-19 and its impacts.
We also found that there were high levels of distrust in the government, poor welfare conditions for health workers and health service users, and a lack of proper equipment.
What needs to be done
Patricia Garcia, a leading figure on global health issues, believes that for most developing countries, “with more money comes more corruption”.
Nigeria is certainly a case in point.
So what can be done about it?
The previous journal publication on Nigeria noted that front-line workers and policymakers agreed that tackling corrupt practices requires a range of approaches.
Garcia herself advocates an incremental approach to tackling the problem.
We could start from the bottom up, taking small steps. We need rigorous research methods to prove or disprove that a strategy works. Addressing and ending corruption will require the participation of researchers from several disciplines and multiple approaches, and the commitment of funders to supporting serious research. Corruption in global health should not continue as an open secret, it has to be confronted and brought to light.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria calls for sincerity on the parts of the authorities, the health workers and citizens. It also demands vigilance from civil society organisations and the mass media to foster accountability.
During the Ebola outbreak, Transparency International reported how systemic corruption in West Africa’s health sector undermined the response. Unfortunately, the lessons seem to have parted with the epidemic. We hope that lessons from dealing with COVID-19 will strengthen the health system in Nigeria and put in place stiff anti-corruption measures.
We will undertake further studies on health system corruption and accountability through a new project that is funded by the UK’s Joint Health System Research Initiative, entitled “Understanding and eliminating health sector corruption impeding UHC at district level in Nigeria and Malawi: institutions, individuals and incentives”.
Obinna Onwujekwe, Professor of Health Economics and Policy and Pharmaco-economics/pharmaco-epidemiology in the Departments of Health Administration & Management and Pharmacology and Therapeutics, College of Medicine, University of Nigeria; Charles Orjiakor, Lecturer , University of Nigeria, and Prince Agwu -, Researcher in the Department of Social Work, University of Nigeria
Muhammad Babandede, the comptroller general of the Nigeria Immigration Service said all Africans will be allowed to come to Nigeria without visa starting from January 2020.
The federal government has given the approval allowing all Africans to come to Nigeria without visa starting from January 2020, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Muhammad Babandede, the comptroller general of the NIS made this known at the inauguration of the Africa–Frontex Intelligence Community (AFIC) on Wednesday, December 11, in Abuja.
Legit.ng gathers that Babandede said President Muhammadu Buhari will soon make the official announcement.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ostensibly came to South Africa to boost business ties between the two countries. But he missed a golden opportunity to drum up business by skipping a forum with business leaders because he was worried about security.
President Cyril Ramaphosa attended the forum for several hours, addressing the business people and taking questions. Some of the business people who had been expecting Buhari were disappointed by his no-show, sources said.
He was billed to appear with Ramaphosa but his security people checked out the venue of the forum – the sprawling convention centre of Gallagher Estate in Midrand – and decided on the morning of the event that it was not secure enough for him to attend, according to diplomatic sources.
One said there were no hard feelings from the SA government side – who found Buhari warm and friendly – just a feeling that he had missed a good opportunity to boost commercial ties between the two countries.
These took a knock during the recent eruption of xenophobic violence in South Africa, some of it directed against Nigerians and their businesses. Nigerian mobs retaliated in Nigeria by attacking the premises of South African companies such as Shoprite and MTN.
Agreeing on measures to prevent a recurrence of this violence and building up the commercial relations between the two countries were the major focal points of Buhari’s state visit and the Binational Commission between the two countries which he and Ramaphosa co-chaired on Thursday.
Buhari’s anxiety about security appears to be related more to tensions within the Nigerian diaspora rather than any fear of attack by South Africans.
While he was meeting Ramaphosa at the Union Buildings on Thursday, Tshwane Metro Police reportedly used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a handful of Nigerians – calling themselves Biafran nationals – who were demonstrating in front of the building. Some carried placards calling Buhari an imposter and demanding that Ramaphosa send him home.
They claim the “real Buhari” died in 2017, when Buhari was very ill and spent most of the year receiving treatment in London.
Self-styled Biafrans are calling for a separate state in southern Nigeria, trying to revive the movement which lead to the secession of several states to form the Republic of Biafra in 1967 in a region mostly inhabited by Igbo people.
That prompted a long civil war in which between 500,000 and two million Biafran civilians died before Biafra surrendered to Nigeria.
Another grievance of some expatriate Nigerians is the arrest in August this year of Omoyele Sowore, a Nigerian journalist and human rights activist. He ran against Buhari in the February presidential elections and was arrested after rejecting the election as rigged and calling for a protest tagged RevolutionNow.
When Buhari addressed the Nigerian community at a Pretoria hotel on Friday, some of his compatriots refused entry to the meeting were calling for Sowore’s release.
Rather ironically, even some members of Buhari’s own ruling APC party could not gain entry, because they were considered too radical, they told journalists.
A few Nigerians who were allowed into the meeting said Buhari spoke to them for about 10 minutes.
“Let me also call on Nigerians to be law-abiding and respect constituted authorities while you live here,” Buhari said, according to remarks tweeted by his office.
“May I also enjoin the few that sometimes give us a bad name, to desist from such misdemeanours and be our good ambassadors.”
This echoed his reply at a joint press conference with Ramaphosa after their meeting on Thursday to a South African journalist who asked him if he did not think the recent xenophobic violence in South Africa against Nigerians, among other foreign Africans, was partly prompted by the perception that they were involved in so much crime.
He said Nigerians understood the maxim that, “When in Rome do as the Romans do” and therefore obeyed the laws of their host country.
At the Pretoria hotel meeting, Buhari also assured his compatriots that he and the South African government had agreed on measures to tackle the xenophobic violence to ensure it did not recur.
Ramaphosa had told a press conference after meeting Buhari that these measures included establishing an early warning mechanism to pick up any signals of imminent xenophobic violence so steps could be taken to pre-empt it. He and Buhari also said that police and intelligence agencies in both countries would cooperate with each other, share information and raise levels of alertness to forestall such violence.
According to official sources, the Nigerian government is also concerned that Nigerian citizens in South African jails are not prevented from using their cellphones. Many of them continue to mastermind criminal activities in Nigeria from their South African cells, the Nigerians complained.
The South African government promised to look into this. It is not clear if the Nigerian government was referring, among others, to Nigerian oil militant Henry Okah who is serving a 24-year jail sentence in a South African prison after the High Court convicted him in 2013 on 13 terrorism-related charges over twin car bombings in Nigeria during the country’s Independence Day celebrations in 2010.
Ironically, given Buhari’s no-show at the business forum, he and Ramaphosa “welcomed the important role of the Business Forum which took place on the margins of the State Visit,” in a joint communiqué after their Union Building meeting.
They also welcomed the decision of the two governments to establish a Joint Ministerial Advisory Council on Industry, Trade and Investment which is expected to be critical in boosting private sector participation in the economies of both countries.
Ramaphosa said business and investment relations between the two countries were already strong and Nigeria accounted for 64% of SA’s trade with West Africa. The two governments had agreed to further strengthen economic ties by deepening their reforms to ensure their economies were more open to business and encouraging more Nigerian investment in SA.
He and Buhari noted the “significant footprint” of SA companies in Nigeria in sectors such as telecommunications, mining, aviation, banking and finance, retail, property, entertainment and fast foods.
By contrast, they also welcomed Nigerian business in SA but noted that it was mostly “small, micro or medium sized – with the exception of the big investment of Dangote Sephaku Cement.
At the press conference after their meeting, Ramaphosa said he would like to see a better balance in the investment relationship and would seek to achieve this by improving the environment for big Nigerian companies to invest here.
“We want to welcome more and more Nigerian businesses to operate in our space,” Ramaphosa said.
He added growing relations between the two countries were evidenced by the 32 cooperation agreements signed between them, covering a wide field including trade and industry, science and technology, defence, agriculture, energy, transport, arts and culture and tourism.
The two governments identified key sectors to boost investment for economic growth and development, including roads, railways, mining, manufacturing and agro-processing.
Credit: Daily Maverick
The oilfield fires of the Niger Delta burn day and night. Metal pipes snake through the swampland, spewing flames so vast they cast the sky in apocalyptic orange. Southern Nigeria sits atop a bubbling stew of oil and gas. Companies want only the former, so they incinerate the latter. The industry calls it “flaring.”
For millions of Nigerians, flaring is a curse. It fills the air with toxic fumes that cause respiratory disease and cancer and later fall as acid rain, which damages homes and crops. It also wastes vast amounts of energy in a region where many villages lack electricity and cities suffer daily blackouts.
In 2008 the Nigerian government said it would end flaring by using oilfield gas to generate electricity. The minister of petroleum resources acknowledged that the challenge would be “enormous.” Converting gas requires it to be captured, transported, refined, and piped back to power plants and onto the grid.
Officials struggled to persuade big multinationals to invest in the required infrastructure, so concessions were granted to 13 smaller companies, some virtually unknown. One was Process and Industrial Developments Ltd., or P&ID, which was registered in the British Virgin Islands but had no website or track record. Its chairman was Michael “Mick” Quinn, a 68-year-old Irishman with a rakish mustache and decades of experience in Nigeria, mostly as a military contractor.
Quinn knew powerful people, including the petroleum minister, who guaranteed P&ID a 20-year supply of “wet,” or unrefined, gas for a plant the company would build. The raw material would be supplied for free, to be treated and returned at no cost. P&ID would instead profit from the byproducts, butane and propane. Everyone stood to benefit, not least the villagers whose homes would be lit by electricity rather than the wan glow of flaming methane.
Then the plan fell apart. The government failed to secure any waste gas from oil companies, let alone link up the necessary pipeline, and the plant was never built. In 2012, P&ID notified the oil ministry that it was suing for breach of contract in a London arbitration forum. After a set of closed legal proceedings, judges awarded P&ID $6.6 billion, one of the biggest amounts a company has won from a sovereign state. When Nigeria dragged its feet on payment, P&ID teamed up with a hedge fund and moved the case to public courts, where it could ask judges to seize state assets, including bank accounts and cargo ships.
In the summer of 2018, a man who’d worked for Quinn contacted Joseph Pizzurro, a veteran New York lawyer hired by Nigeria to lead its defense in the U.S. The caller wanted to talk about the P&ID case. “I don’t think it’s genuine,” the man said, according to an account he gave Bloomberg Businessweek on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety. He told Pizzurro that Quinn had conspired with officials to profit from government projects that were doomed from the start and that P&ID was one of at least three such lawsuits involving Quinn. The caller couldn’t provide enough evidence to substantiate his claims, though, and he didn’t contact Pizzurro again.
This August, P&ID won a ruling from a London judge allowing the firm to start seizing Nigerian assets. Hailed as a vindication by Quinn’s company, it caused an outcry in Nigeria. The country’s finance minister said at a press conference that the size of the award, which has risen above $9 billion with interest, meant all Nigerians would pay a price. The chair of the central bank said that the case has affected monetary policy. Toward the end of the month, the justice ministry opened a corruption investigation into how the gas plant deal was struck. “The contract was designed to fail right from inception,” attorney general Abubakar Malami told reporters. If the Nigerian government is right, P&ID was an audacious scheme that had made unwitting accomplices of legal professionals, financial institutions, and politicians around the world.
The company and its founders remain elusive. A Nigerian newspaper recently published a list of unanswered questions about the firm: Where are its offices? How many people does it employ? How did such a tiny company win such a large concession? Quinn isn’t around to answer them; he died of cancer in 2015. But a close examination of his career, drawn from public records, leaked documents, and interviews with friends and former associates, shows that P&ID wasn’t the only Quinn project to end in disappointment, lawsuits, and corruption allegations. It was just the largest—the one that was supposed to provide his biggest payday.
Man in Mohair
Quinn grew up in Drimnagh, a tough neighborhood in Dublin. After leaving school as a teenager in the 1950s, he trained as a mechanic. An ordinary blue-collar life might have beckoned had one of his neighbors not started a show band, the Royal Olympics. These groups were unique to ’60s and ’70s Ireland: shiny-suited young men playing rock ’n’ roll or jazz, perpetually touring church halls and farm sheds to earn shoeboxes full of cash.
The Olympics needed a manager, and soon Quinn had a new career as one of the natty, ruthless handlers a BBC documentary labeled “men in mohair suits.” He ran some top acts: Daddy Cool & the Lollipops, Twink, Dickie Rock. An old friend recalls that he’d approach a singer and say, “How much are you earning? One hundred pounds a gig? I can get you 1,000.”
Quinn stuck with the industry for a while after the show bands’ popularity declined—newspaper reports suggest he arranged an Irish tour by Diana Ross and the Supremes—but there was more money to be made elsewhere. At some point in the ’70s he started working in Nigeria, either as an oil trader or a financier of cement deals, depending on which of the scattered accounts of his life you believe. He began profiting from a construction boom taking place in Lagos, which was then expanding with such chaotic abandon that hundreds of cement-bearing cargo ships were lined up at port waiting to dock.
He kept working in Ireland, too. In 1979 he and a partner, Brendan Cahill, formed an umbrella company with the resolutely dull name Industrial Consultants (International) to oversee their interests. They began working with the government, for example getting a public grant worth $450,000 to start a videocassette factory near Dublin. The project went bust within two years.
Quinn’s business drew on some powerful allies dating to his show band days. One of the closest was Albert Reynolds, a former music hall impresario who was elected to Parliament in 1977 and became prime minister in 1992. Two years after being elected PM, Reynolds was promoting Kent Steel, one of Quinn’s companies, as a potential savior of Irish industry. Kent had recently won 3 million Irish pounds (about $4.3 million at the time) from the European Union to explore cleaner technology for making steel—potentially a huge boon. Instead, the project produced nothing but some sketches and a bunch of debris.
Joe McCartin, then a member of the European Parliament, says he raised concerns with an EU official that the deal was a scam and was told, “Don’t worry. Your prime minister, Albert Reynolds, knows all about the project.” The EU did eventually start a probe into the grant, and McCartin, who’s now retired, says its investigators showed him a letter from Irish prosecutors relaying that a fraud had been committed but that they couldn’t identify the perpetrators. The probe was eventually closed without penalty; the EU refused to fulfill a freedom of information request about the case, citing privacy rules. Reynolds passed away in 2014.
Quinn’s name came up again during a nationwide corruption inquiry in Ireland. The Mahon Tribunal, as it was eventually known, lasted for 14 years, compiling evidence of graft on an epic scale. Quinn was called as a witness in June 2007, one of the few times he ever spoke on the record. The tribunal wanted to know more about relationships Industrial Consultants had with Frank Dunlop, a shady lobbyist, and Liam Lawlor, a corrupt Republican MP who’d resigned in disgrace before being killed in a 2005 car crash outside Moscow.
Quinn denied knowledge of invoices that bore his company’s name—payments for golf fundraisers, he guessed—and said he thought his signature had been forged on checks. He had no recollection of many of his dealings with Dunlop. “You are a singularly unhelpful witness,” Alan Mahon, the presiding judge, told him. “What you are telling us is nothing, absolutely nothing.” The tribunal later found that tens of thousands of pounds had flowed from Quinn’s companies to Lawlor, but Quinn wasn’t recalled to the stand, and neither he nor Industrial Consultants faced any action.
By then, Quinn had developed a fearsome reputation. Several former associates told Businessweek they were scared to speak on the record about him, because they believed he had ties to Irish paramilitaries; one said Quinn told him his father had been in the original Irish Republican Army in the 1920s. Employees introduced him as “the chairman,” and he employed a man with a pugilist’s squashed nose to drive guests around Dublin, apparently without great regard for red lights. A former Quinn associate says that when Quinn’s daughter ended a brief marriage to David Boreanaz, an American actor best known for roles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Boreanaz called Quinn to make sure there was no bad blood between them. Boreanaz’s manager didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The Trouble With Nigeria
Throughout the 2000s, Quinn lived a kind of double life, divided between Nigeria and a comfortable suburban house near Dublin. At home he was Mick from Drimnagh, living with his wife, Anita, who’d been his childhood sweetheart, and their two Doberman pinschers. On Tuesday nights he’d drop Anita off at bingo, then pick up fish and chips for dinner.
Life in Nigeria was very different. The country’s freewheeling capitalism was fraught with risk and opportunity. The writer Chinua Achebe detailed the climate in his 1983 polemic The Trouble With Nigeria: Contracts with the military government were currency, doled out by senior politicians to allies and friends as the public bore the burden of hidden kickbacks, inflated prices, and stolen materials. Military rule ended in 1999, but democratic Nigeria was proving just as restive and complex. There were tribal uprisings in the Niger Delta and kidnappings and religious conflict elsewhere.
Quinn nevertheless thrived, befriending presidents and civil servants alike. He and Cahill used a company called Marshpearl to bid for lucrative military contracts, initially registering the name in Ireland, then in 1999 using the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca & Co. to create Marshpearl Ltd. in the British Virgin Islands. To the outside world, the BVI company was practically untraceable. Mossack Fonseca documents leaked to the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and made available to Businessweek by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists show that Marshpearl Ltd.’s directors were nominees, paper executives whose sole job was to sign documents. (Reached by phone, one of them, Nigel John Carter, a Geneva-based trusts specialist who was also a director of another Quinn BVI vehicle called Kristholm Ltd., said, “I’ve never heard of those two companies.”)
Marshpearl sponsored a local polo team, giving Quinn an excuse to mix with the Nigerian ruling classes. His sons attended elite private schools with the sons of politicians and generals, who asked Quinn to help them acquire helicopters, Japanese motorcycles, and more. On the golf course back in Ireland, friends recall, Quinn would pick up the phone to talk to various officials or military leaders. “Did you get them guns?” one friend remembers him asking in his distinctive Drimnagh drawl. His golf buddies were never sure if he was joking. His contacts included Theophilus Danjuma, who’d risen to prominence in the ’60s by leading a bloody coup against Nigeria’s military ruler. Danjuma went on to become a general, then entered business and eventually politics, ascending to defense minister in 1999. He later sold a stake in a Nigerian oil field to a Chinese state company, helping make him a billionaire.
One of the few people who would speak on the record about Quinn’s life in Nigeria is Neil Murray, a friend of 30 years who was involved in several Quinn projects there. Sitting one night at the Abuja Hilton piano bar, a favorite haunt, Murray wasn’t hard to spot: a gray-haired figure so hunched over he was bent almost double, puffing cigarettes and chatting with businessmen and prostitutes, who called him Papa. After initially accusing a Businessweek reporter of being a spy for the Nigerian government, he agreed to talk. “Mick knew Obasanjo. He knew Yar’Adua,” Murray said, referring to former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. “He knew everyone.”
Among the projects Murray was involved in was a contract to repair and upgrade 36 British-made Scorpion tanks at an abandoned plant at Bauchi, in the dusty heart of Nigeria. It had all the hallmarks of Quinn’s deals in the country: complexity, misdirection, and a substantial payday for the middleman. “There was a subsequent contract, and a subsequent contract, and a subsequent contract,” Murray said. “It was an ongoing process.” Quinn personally recruited military experts to manage the work and find replacement parts. At one point, Danjuma visited the site.
Several people involved in the venture described each vehicle as an opportunity for profit. Petrol engines were replaced with diesel engines. New radios were installed. When faulty valves needed replacing, one former employee said, he found a British supplier for a few pounds a unit. “Too cheap,” he remembered Quinn telling him. They found costlier valves elsewhere. The more expensive the new part, the bigger Marshpearl’s cut.
A memo viewed by Businessweek that circulated among Quinn’s team noted that Marshpearl had charged the Nigerian army for undelivered tank parts, making his organization “vulnerable.” But the company kept winning contracts, in spite of this hitch and others. It’s not clear how many millions of dollars Nigeria spent on the Bauchi project, but the relationship likely made Quinn a fortune.
For one contract, a spinoff from the main deal, his company sought to supply about 4,000 rounds of tank ammunition made by Belgian defense company Mecar SA. A January 2005 memo outlining Marshpearl’s plan says Quinn’s staff told Mecar they would handle bidding, contracts, and billing. Mecar’s managers “do not want to know the details as they would be embarrassed with Belgian authorities and U.S. owners,” the memo said.
The blueprint called for Marshpearl to establish a company called Mecar SA, register it in Cyprus, and open a bank account for the new offshore entity to avoid Nigerian taxes on the income. The original Mecar would write up a bid for the contract and send it to Marshpearl, where the document would be scanned and altered to increase its value by 20%—commission for Quinn and his friends. Payment to the original Mecar would be routed through the offshore one. All documentation was to be delivered by hand.
The “paper trail” was Marshpearl’s greatest area of concern, the memo’s author wrote, without explaining why. Broadly speaking, while offshore companies have legitimate purposes, they’re also favored by those trying to avoid tax or government scrutiny or hide illicit income. In some jurisdictions, secrecy laws make it virtually impossible to find out who owns them. Registering a company with a virtually identical name to a separate, legitimate business would have the effect of further obscuring the real beneficiaries.
To a watchdog or another outside observer, the Mecar arrangement would look like a simple transaction between a respected manufacturer and the army, with the middleman getting its cut. A tender bid document sent by the offshore Mecar to the Ministry of Defense a few months after the memo’s date placed the contract’s ultimate value at €4.9 million ($5.6 million), meaning Marshpearl would have made almost a million euros.
Shown the memo at the Hilton bar, Murray said, “Very clever.” He didn’t see anything improper in the deal’s structure but added, “I wasn’t directly involved.” A spokesman for Mecar’s current owner, Nexter Group, said the Marshpearl deal took place before it acquired the company in 2014 and that it complies with rules and regulations.
The Art of the Failed Deal
It’s said that in Nigeria you can go from pauper to millionaire overnight and back again just as quickly. Even old hands could be caught out by a sudden shift in the political climate, as Quinn was in October 2006. That month, he was charged with espionage and handling secret military materials, alongside his son Adam, a close associate from Ireland named James Nolan, three Nigerian officials, and three individuals from Israel, Romania, and Russia.
Details are sketchy, but one of the Nigerian officials submitted an affidavit saying the indictment was over a “large scale of contract scam which involves very senior officers of the Ministry.” Nolan and Adam Quinn didn’t respond to requests from Businessweek for comment, but they denied the charges at the time. The prosecution appears to have been dropped within a year. A defense lawyer involved with the case recalls that the government intervened.”
That same year, Quinn formed P&ID and began exploring opportunities in gas power. He also branched out into medical technology. In 2006, more people were living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria than in any country but South Africa or India. The Nigerian health ministry’s efforts to tackle the crisis included a multimillion-dollar partnership with Dublin-based Trinity Biotech Plc to supply HIV testing kits and help set up a factory at the Sheda Science & Technology Complex, which was being constructed outside Abuja. The contract for the factory went to an entity called Trinitron, which local media assumed was a subsidiary of the similarly named Irish company. In fact, it had no formal connection to Trinity Biotech of Dublin and was jointly owned by the health ministry and a group of Irish and Nigerian businessmen. Trinitron’s Irish directors included Adam Quinn and James Nolan, according to three people familiar with the deal. Quinn’s firm Industrial Consultants became a shareholder.
A few years into the contract, Trinity discovered that Trinitron had registered a company called Trinity Biotech Nigeria domestically and another called Trinity Biotech Joint Venture in the British Virgin Islands. Executives from the original Trinity were furious when they learned of the clones. In 2008 and 2009, they pulled out of the project entirely.
“Trinity Biotech had no ownership stake in Trinitron or the Sheda project or in any entity or assets within Nigeria,” the Dublin company said in a statement to Businessweek. “Our role in the project was the provision of HIV test kits, which we did, although we were left with a significant unpaid debt when the project ended.” Eventually, government funding dried up, and, according to two sources, Trinitron was reported to local police for allegedly misspending state funds, though no one was charged.
Gerry Nash, Trinitron’s former project director, said in a statement that test kit production at the factory in Nigeria hadn’t progressed because the health ministry wouldn’t buy the kits locally. “People in the Nigerian Ministries were more interested in picking up commissions on imported products,” he wrote. He said that Trinitron had succeeded in developing an IT system and in training HIV specialists, and he denied that the venture was a failure overall, even though the Sheda factory wound down after a few years.
Today, the Sheda site outside Abuja is overgrown with weeds. A pockmarked sign outside the front gate attests that Trinitron once operated there, but none of the buildings look functional. Gravel piles dot the parking lots. The handful of bored security guards and administrative staff on-site say only that Trinitron is no longer there.
When it wasn’t possible to squeeze profit directly from a floundering project, Quinn could enlist the law for the purpose. In 2010, Industrial Consultants brokered a $5 million deal with the Nigerian Air Force to repair ejector seats in six Alpha Jets, small fighter craft often used to train pilots. A British company called North Wales Military Aviation Services Ltd. would do the fixing.
A few months into the contract, the air force terminated it for no apparent reason. The ensuing dispute ended up before a Nigerian arbitration panel, which found that the military had pulled out for “flimsy, untenable, and unacceptable reasons.” It awarded NWMAS about $2.3 million for work allegedly done, plus interest, according to a copy of the private judgment seen by Businessweek.
The case was straightforward enough, apart from one detail: NWMAS didn’t know about any of it. In a statement, the company said its executives had hosted Nigerian officials but never got word it had won the job. Instead, a few months after the visit, it received a letter saying the air force was suing for nonperformance. NWMAS managers forwarded the letter to Quinn’s team and heard nothing further on the matter until being contacted by Businessweek earlier this year.
If NWMAS didn’t participate in the lawsuit, who did? Individuals from the Quinn organization. Long before the ejector seat contract was finalized, unbeknownst to the original company, Quinn’s team had registered a local entity called NWMAS Nigeria Ltd.—another clone.
Murray testified at the arbitration on behalf of NWMAS. “They never f---king paid,” he told Businessweek, referring to the Nigerian air force. He said the British NWMAS had been fully aware of the case and that NWMAS Nigeria had been created to comply with local regulations.
Quinn’s organization apparently had trouble collecting the award. In 2013, Cahill sent a message to colleagues about the struggle to enforce the judgment in Nigeria’s chaotic courts. “The moral of the story is that ideally the ‘seat’ of arbitration should be outside of Nigeria and preferably in London,” he wrote.
Quinn and Cahill already had a stake in at least two lawsuits against Nigeria before the British courts. One of the cases relates to IPCO (Nigeria) Ltd., formerly part of Singapore-based construction group IPCO International Ltd. The parent company sold most of its stake in 2003, leaving behind a shell company whose sole activity seems to have been to engage in lawsuits—notably a $150 million case against the Nigerian petroleum ministry over delays to the construction of an oil terminal.
There were familiar allegations of overcharging, and the suit went all the way to the U.K. Supreme Court before being settled on confidential terms last year. How much IPCO Nigeria’s owners received and who benefited remains a mystery. You won’t find Quinn’s or Cahill’s name in the countless claims, counterclaims, and rulings produced since the case began more than a decade ago, but according to three people familiar with Cahill’s role, he helped manage the U.K. lawsuit for IPCO Nigeria in return for a share of the proceeds. The company’s director, Olu Adewunmi, declined to comment on whether Cahill was involved in the lawsuit.
The Big One
The other case, of course, was P&ID. Nigeria’s desire to end flaring and provide power to the troubled Niger Delta had offered Quinn, almost 70 and in poor health, an opportunity to secure his legacy. “Mick was sick,” Murray said. “He wanted to go out on a big one.”
In 2012, once it had grown obvious the gas project wouldn’t come off, P&ID invoked its right to take Nigeria to arbitration in London. Three judges, two Brits and a Nigerian, oversaw the proceedings. From the start, Nigeria’s government seemed reluctant to participate. Its lawyers in Lagos didn’t provide a list of preliminary arguments until January 2014. Later that year, a few weeks before the first scheduled hearing, they told the tribunal they might not be able to set out the government’s case in writing or attend, “due to the inability of our client to provide us with complete instructions.”
P&ID’s submissions included a lengthy witness statement from Quinn, one of his last public declarations before he died. He described spending two years and an estimated $40 million on preparatory work for the gas plant, including a 3D digital model. “I cannot say with any certainty why the government failed to honour the GSPA,” Quinn wrote of the gas sale and purchase agreement.
He suspected pressure from international oil companies was to blame. “In any event, I very much regret that we were prevented from implementing the GSPA, which I firmly believe would have been of significant benefit to the nation.” In outlining his history in Nigeria, he didn’t mention any of his military deals, the espionage charge, or the two other lawsuits against the country.
On the basis of largely unchallenged evidence provided by P&ID, the judges dismissed Nigeria’s objections and proceeded to the next stage: damages. According to the Abuja-based Premium Times, Quinn’s company agreed to settle for $850 million, but the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, who’d taken office in May 2015, rejected the deal. When the tribunal convened a hearing on the matter, Nigeria called only one witness—a lawyer who, in the words of the judges, didn’t “claim firsthand knowledge of any of the relevant events.” In January 2017 they awarded P&ID the profits they calculated it had missed out on because the plant wasn’t built: $6.6 billion, more than three times its original estimate of losses.
A ruling in London didn’t guarantee payment, though. P&ID’s lawyers took the judgment to several hedge funds that specialize in wringing cash from bad debts, according to someone familiar with the conversations. Records show they found at least one taker: VR Capital Group Ltd., a fund manager with offices in London, New York, and Moscow.
VR acquired one quarter of P&ID—which really meant, because the only thing of value P&ID possesses is a favorable legal ruling, that it was buying a share of the suit’s proceeds, presumably in return for helping finance the legal action. (Reached by phone, VR Capital President Richard Deitz said, “No. Can’t talk. I’m busy,” then hung up. The company didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.) The remainder of P&ID is held by Cayman Islands-based Lismore Capital Ltd., whose ultimate owners are unknown. If the Nigerian government ever pays up, it will be impossible to know who benefits.
Last October law firm Kobre & Kim and public-relations specialist DCI Group registered with the U.S. Senate to lobby on behalf of P&ID. Op-eds critical of Nigeria soon appeared in Forbes and the Daily Telegraph, urging its government to honor the judgment; another, authored in London’s City A.M. newspaper by Priti Patel, a former British secretary of state for international development, accused the country of flouting international law. Journalists also began receiving messages from a group called P&ID Facts, whose emails list the same address as that of DCI Group. “The founders of P&ID have a track record of delivering in Nigeria and for Nigerians,” the organization’s website says. “The P&ID project was to be their swan song project after over three decades of public works projects in the country.”
Nigeria’s president thus far appears unmoved. A former general who styles himself as a simple cattle farmer and anticorruption crusader, Buhari has a relatively clean reputation. He responded angrily to Patel, issuing a statement through his spokesman that echoed what Pizzurro’s whistleblower had said: The P&ID lawsuit wasn’t what it appeared to be. “Before the coming of the Buhari administration, there existed in the country a racket encompassing elements in the three arms of government, the executive, legislature, and the judiciary through the activities of which artificial, engineered, and factored breaches of contract are made, judgments are obtained, appeals are delayed, and the penalty imposed is paid and shared,” the statement read. “Nigerians need to pity their own country for the way things were done in the past.”
A spokeswoman for P&ID said the panel of arbitrators had heard evidence from both sides and ruled unanimously that Nigeria failed to uphold its contractual commitments and was liable to P&ID. “It is unfortunate that instead of accepting the tribunal judgment and engaging in good-faith discussions to bring about a solution, President Buhari’s government has resorted to spreading unfounded allegations,” she said. She described the justice department’s corruption probe as a “sham” and said the government’s allegations were “entirely fictional,” adding, “The Nigerian people would be better served if the government made a serious offer to resolve this dispute rather than only blaming others, which will not make the legal obligation to pay go away.”
The list of Nigerians skeptical of P&ID’s position includes Danjuma, the 81-year-old billionaire and former general. In an interview with Businessweek, he said the gas flaring project was originally his idea, and that one of his companies, Tita-Kuru Petrochemicals Ltd., had spent the $40 million preparing it, not Quinn. The Irishman had been a consultant, using Danjuma’s funds and office space, the general said. When Quinn applied for the contract himself, Danjuma was upset.
The realization dawned, he said, that “my consultant was going to steal my project.” He recalled being promised a share of P&ID in return for his initial investment, but added that he hadn’t heard from the company in years and that Cahill hadn’t replied to letters about the lawsuit. At one point, Danjuma dusted off his hands to emphasize the relationship’s end. P&ID’s spokesperson declined to comment on Danjuma’s involvement or any other matters raised in this story. Cahill didn’t respond to attempts to contact him directly.
At Quinn’s funeral in February 2015, they played The Lonesome Boatman, a flute ballad by the Fureys, one of the bands he’d managed in his youth. His obituary in the Irish Independent traced his love of Nigeria to those days, saying he’d found doing business there much like running show bands in the ’60s. “He was a clever guy, an honorable guy,” Murray said of his longtime friend. “He was trusted. How much money he made I don’t know. His house is a hell of a lot bigger than mine.”
In spite of Buhari’s comments and the criminal probe, Nigeria hasn’t made any formal allegations of misconduct, and it isn’t clear whether the country will challenge the deal’s legitimacy in court. Meanwhile, the $9 billion debt is growing by more than $1 million a day, because of interest. P&ID is now owed enough to fund Nigeria’s school system for seven years.
Or perhaps enough to eliminate flaring for good. In May an Abuja TV news program aired a segment about villagers who were using flames from the Niger Delta’s gas pipes to dry their fish, seemingly unaware of the health risks. “Communities don’t know the difference between day and night because they go to bed with active gas flare sites,” said Faith Nwadishi, a local activist. The show’s host was just beginning a sermon about electricity’s importance for economic development when a power outage struck, plunging central Abuja into darkness.
—With Tope Alake, Matthew Campbell, Gavin Finch, Daryna Krasnolutska, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and Süddeutsche Zeitung
Read More: Bloomberg
It took President Muhammadu Buhari 54 days after his second term began to send a list of ministerial nominees to the Nigerian Senate for screening. This is a better record than his first term, which began in May 2015. Then Nigerians had to wait six months before the list of ministerial portfolios and offices was announced.
This time around the Senate took just a few days to approve the list, the vast majority of whom served in Buhari’s previous cabinet. Only 14 out of 43 were first-term cabinet members.
The big change was that Buhari elected to expand cabinet positions from 36 to 43. This is likely to mean an expansion of the ministries from the current 23 to accommodate all the appointees.
In Buhari’s first term there were 15 women. That number has more than halved to seven.
In 2015 the excuse for the lengthy delay was that the president needed time to make the selection. This was because he was seeking to appoint individuals untainted by the endemic corruption that has come to typify politics in Nigeria. Back then, Nigerians were open to giving the president a grace period. Several analysts agreed that the blatant corruption seen under Goodluck Jonathan’s administration played a major role in the goodwill towards Buhari.
But it soon became clear that Buhari’s administration would not be radically different. The first cabinet was made up of individuals who were known more for being the president’s political bedfellows than for their technocratic qualifications or achievements. That in itself is not out of the ordinary in almost any political dispensation across the globe. An easily agreeable cabinet makes for swifter and less contentious decision-making.
In Nigeria, however, it is viewed more like compensation for previous political support than selections made on merit.
Buhari’s new cabinet is just like the last. But his supporters are likely to argue that politics, especially in contemporary Nigeria, requires a heavy amount of pragmatism.
What, then, have we learned from Buhari’s appointments?
In my view, the second term cabinet make-up reflects the moribund state of political governance in Nigeria and the tone-deafness of Buhari’s government. Some of the names on the ministerial list are of politicians who have previously been charged with corruption. Others have been associated with corrupt practices while in political office .
And almost all the names on the list are politicians who have served in government in one form or another before – former governors, senators, and political office holders. This raises questions about the sincerity of the president’s pledge in 2015 to select incorruptible people as ministers.
Issues to be considered
There’s a lot that’s wrong with the cabinet.
Firstly, choosing a ministerial cabinet in Nigeria isn’t as simple as just selecting random individuals, even if they are the most qualified candidates. Nigeria has a complex political reality that has to be taken into consideration to fully appreciate the rationale that underlies the way governance looks within the country.
One factor that must be considered is Nigeria’s ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity. To ensure equal representation, the Nigerian Constitution stipulates that each of the country’s 36 states must be represented in the cabinet.
This was necessitated by the ethnic marginalisation that came about after the “forced” amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria by the British, the Biafran Civil War, and several other difficult historical episodes. So, in choosing prospective ministers from each of the 36 states in the country, it could be argued that Buhari is simply following standard political precedent.
It’s also clear that Buhari has again found it prudent to reward political allies with positions. In truth, this is normal practice in most countries. One must ask, then, why the expectations were different where Buhari’s cabinet was concerned. The answer is that he has been a self-declared anti-corruption reformer since his first term. Going against the political grain by choosing merit over kinship might have alienated some of his allies. But it would have gained him goodwill among the Nigerian people.
The gender imbalance of Buhari’s cabinet also serves to advance a common refrain that his government is tone-deaf. The president was criticised during his first term for not appointing enough women ministers. Buhari made a promise to address this during his second term. But the opposite has happened.
This gives the impression of a government that is resistant to progressive ideas and change and makes no pretence about it.
For cynical observers of the current administration, the adverse effect the drawn-out wait for the ministerial list has had on Nigeria’s economy has not been worth it. If anything, it is a reminder of the snailspeed approach that the current administration has adopted in managing the nation’s affairs.
The nation’s security sector is in poor shape; abductions and terror attacks are becoming commonplace. There seems to be no end in sight to the Fulani herdsmen crisis either. The economy is still being supported by foreign loans, and there have been grim prognostications from the likes of the International Monetary Fund. There is a very real risk of recession.
Adding to that, the early criticisms of Buhari’s government for its lack of a coherent fiscal policy still have currency.
In conclusion, if there is a recurring theme to be picked up from Buhari’s cabinet, it is that things are set to remain the same for the next four years in terms of the political governance, and the administration’s poor management of the Nigerian economy.
The Nigerian central bank held a treasury auction on Wednesday to try to lure foreign investors, traders said, hours after it was announced that the president told the bank to ban access to dollars for food imports to curb demand.
Pressure has been building on the naira currency as oil prices drop and foreign investors book profits on local bonds in response to falling yields. Crude sales account for 90% of foreign exchange earnings and two-thirds of government revenues in Nigeria, Africa's top oil producer.
Banking stocks fell 1.26% on Wednesday, to help drag the main share index to a more than two-year low as negative sentiment persisted on the stock market.
Traders said the central bank asked them to increase their rates at a bills auction on Wednesday compared with rates that the bank paid at the last sale in July.
The move led to a spike in yields on the one-year treasury bill which rose to 12% on Wednesday from around 10% on Friday after the bank told dealers to bid higher rates at its auction, traders said.
Traders said the central bank wanted to offer bills at higher rates to attract foreign investors to boost liquidity on the currency market, which would help support the naira.
On Friday, the naira eased to 364 per dollar, from a quote of 363.50 as falling oil prices tightened liquidity on the currency market.
A dollar shortage was initially caused by a slowdown of foreign inflows after local debt market yields declined.
"As the naira came under increasing pressure ... stepping up demand management policies in the foreign exchange market furthermore suggests that the central bank faces increasing problems propping up the currency through open market operations," said Malte Liewerscheidt, vice president of Teneo Intelligence.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday told the central bank to stop providing funding for food imports, his spokesman said, in a further sign of pressure on the currency.
A spokesman for the central bank, which is an independent body, has not responded to text messages and phone calls seeking a comment on whether or not the request will be heeded.
Traders said the market was waiting for more information on how such a ban would be implemented, especially for importers with existing lines of credit.
"This adds to the level of uncertainty in the market. How the central bank would implement this remains unclear," one trader said. "Some of the items may already be included in the earlier ban."
The central bank in 2015 banned access to foreign exchange for 43 items in a bid to curb dollar demand, though it continued to sell dollars to offshore investors to boost confidence.
Nigeria, which has Africa's biggest economy, operates a multiple exchange rate regime, which it has used to manage pressure on the currency.
The official rate of 306.90 is supported by the central bank but the traded rate of 364 is widely quoted by foreign investors and exporters.
Because WhatsApp is encrypted – and so offers users far greater protection from prosecution than Twitter or Facebook – it has become particularly notorious for spreading “fake news”.
This is a major concern in Africa, where WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in 40 countries. This is due to its low cost and the ability to easily share messages with both individuals and groups.
But is this really how WhatApp is used? And if it is, to what extent does this compromise the quality of elections?
A joint team from the Centre for Democracy and Development (Nigeria) and the University of Birmingham (UK) has spent the last few months researching the impact of WhatsApp on the 2019 Nigerian elections held in May.
Their report comes to conclusions that are both troubling, as well as encouraging.
The research reveals that the platform was used to mislead voters in increasingly sophisticated ways. But it also shows that Whatsapp strengthened democracy in other areas.
Misinformation and disinformation
The term “fake news has become widely used over the past few years. However, it is problematic because it lumps together very different kinds of information and behaviour. For example, we need to separate out deliberate attempts to mislead others by creating false stories (disinformation) from the innocent sharing of made up stories by people who believe it to be true (misinformation).
The 2019 Nigerian elections saw both disinformation and misinformation. We studied this by conducting 46 interviews in the states of Abuja, Oyo and Kano, as well as seven focus groups and a survey of 1,005 people.
During the course of conducting the research candidates consistently told us that they predominantly used WhatsApp to share information about their qualities and campaign pledges. But many WhatsApp users said that at a high proportion of the messages they received were designed to undermine a rival leader’s reputation – to "decampaign” them.
There were some high profile examples of disinformation. The most notorious story circulated on social media was that the president had died while undergoing medical treatment outside of the country, and had been replaced by a clone from Sudan.
Other fabricated communications were less outlandish but no less significant. Many ordinary citizens shared these messages, in some cases because they knew they were false and wanted to amplify their impact, but in many cases because they thought they were true.
The most effective decampaigning strategies were those that shared messages that resonated with individuals because they contained an element of the truth, or played on recent experiences.
WhatsApp takes over
The political influence of WhatsApp has expanded rapidly in line with its growing penetration. As a result, it has become part of the fabric of election campaigns and is now a key mechanism through which political leaders seek to communicate with their campaign teams and supporters.
Fully 91% of the people we interviewed were active WhatsApp users; as one person put it:
I use WhatsApp more than I use the toilet.
In Nigeria, election candidates were already using the platform to push messages in 2015. But the people we interviewed agreed that the 2019 elections saw a significant step up in terms of how the leading parties organised their social media strategy.
Politically, WhatsApp was used in an increasingly sophisticated way at the presidential level. In 2019, the two main presidential candidates – President Muhammadu Buhari and opposition leader Atiku Abubakar – both had dedicated teams pushing out messages over social media: the Buhari New Media Centre and Atikulated Youth Force. By forming hundreds of Whatsapp groups of 256 members, these organisations could send messages to tens of thousands of people at the touch of a button.
Buhari’s effort was better funded and particularly impressive. It established a network of local and regional representatives connected to a “central command” in Abuja. This enabled the campaign to rapidly send messages from the national to the local level, while also responding to hostile messages and rumours shared by its rivals.
While those in power typically had more money to invest in their campaigns, many opposition leaders pointed out that in important ways WhatsApp had created a more level political playing field. Those who had been involved in politics for some time explained that “fake news” was nothing new in Nigeria, but that in the past it was sometimes impossible to counteract these messages because there was no way to get airtime on government aligned radio.
WhatsApp had changed this situation. Opposition leaders now have a cheap way of fighting back. It has also been used to coordinate anti-corruption campaigns and election observation, strengthening democracy.
Evolution or revolution?
It’s also important not to overstate the significance of WhatsApp. Things look very different below the national level, for example, where campaign structures were less developed and a significant proportion of activity remained informal.
We found that while candidates for Governor and Member of Parliament did set up WhatsApp groups, they were much less organised. In many cases, candidates relied on existing networks and social influencers to get the message out.
Candidates were also keen to stress that while they used WhatsApp during their campaigns, they did not rely on it. Voters expect to see their leaders on the ground, and expected them to provide a range of services for the community. Advertising good deeds over WhatsApp could help a leader get credit, but only if they had fulfilled their responsibilities in the first place.
In other words, WhatsApp can amplify and complement a candidate’s ground campaign. But it cannot replace it.
Throwing out the water but keeping the baby
These findings suggest that solutions to the power of social media platforms like WhatsApp isn’t to ban them, or to allow governments to censor them. This would merely exaggerate the vast advantages of incumbency that ruling parties already enjoy.
A better solution would be to promote digital literacy, develop social media codes of conduct around elections, and empower WhatsApp uses to control which groups they are added to, and what information they receive.
The research was conducted, and publications authored by, Jamie Hitchen, Idayat Hassan, Jonathan Fisher and Nic Cheeseman.