Every year an increasing number of Nigerians flee poverty and unrest at home. Now, rich Nigerians are planning their escape too. And they’re taking their money with them.
Dapo has spent too long at home in Lagos, Nigeria. Back in October, protests against the SARS police unit kept him from going to his office. “First, we were told to stay at home because of the coronavirus. Then this,” he says.
A wealthy Nigerian, Dapo, who is in his late 30s, does not want to make himself identifiable by giving his surname and age, lest it draw unwanted attention.
He has had a “backup plan” for getting out of Nigeria for some time, he says. “I have Maltese citizenship. I can leave for there any time.” With one small obstacle – a 14-day quarantine upon arrival – Dapo could be permanently in Malta any time he pleases. He is not planning to go imminently, but describes it as his “plan b’’.
Dapo is one of a rapidly growing number of Nigerians who have bought so-called “golden visas” or foreign citizenships-by-investment this year. In his case it was Malta, the Mediterranean island where citizenship can be acquired for a minimum investment of 800,000 euros ($947,180) through the Malta Citizenship by Investment Programme.
Not that he has any special love for Malta. A record 92 countries around the world now allow wealthy individuals to become residents or citizens in return for a fee, sometimes as low as $100,000 but often several million dollars. It is billed as a “win-win”: The country gets much-needed foreign investment and, in return, the new citizens have new passports that open up more of the world to travel or live in.
Golden visas are the lesser-reported side of the Nigerian migration story. Every year thousands of Nigerians make their way to Europe via perilous crossings over the Sahara and Mediterranean. Now their wealthier counterparts are also making their way to Europe but via a different route.
A record year for golden visas
Whether rich or poor, the reasons for leaving one’s home country are often the same. Fear of political uncertainty at home and hope for better opportunities elsewhere. But 2020 has been exceptional.
Like Dapo, Folajimi Kuti, 50, was watching the #EndSARS protests from his home in Lagos in October. “I have children, they’re teenagers, and they’re asking me questions like, ‘How did we get here?’” he says, referring to the violence that accompanied demonstrations against the controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Kuti says he has believed for some time that social unrest would boil over in Nigeria, because of issues of poverty and police brutality. “It had been clear for the past two or three years that something was going to happen. It’s happened now in 2020 but, frankly, we’ve been expecting this outburst for a while so it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’. It was a matter of ‘when’.”Citizenship or residency abroad has become appealing, he adds. As a financial adviser to the wealthy, Kuti knows the process of applying for one having walked clients through it before. Most of his work involves advising Nigeria’s growing number of millionaires about investments and wealth planning. But now they are asking about foreign citizenships and Kuti himself is tempted by the idea. “Just knowing that if you need to go you certainly could and move without any restriction.”
The rush for golden visas among rich Nigerians started before October’s SARS protests. At London-based Henley & Partners, one of the world’s largest citizenship advisory firms, applications by Nigerians increased by 185 percent during the eight months to September 2020, making them the second-largest nationality to apply for such schemes after Indians.
More than 1,000 Nigerians have enquired about the citizenship of another country through Henley & Partners this year alone, which Paddy Blewer, head of marketing, says “is unheard of. We’ve never had this many people contacting us”.
Many, like Kuti, saw political problems ahead and wanted an escape plan. Others were focused on coronavirus: What if the pandemic overwhelms Nigeria?
“There is a lack of primary healthcare capacity that would be able to manage with either a second wave or whatever happens in, say, 2025,” says Blewer. “Let’s say there is COVID-21 still going on in 2025 that is of an order or magnitude worse. It’s, ‘Do I want to be based here and only based here, or do I want an alternative base of operations where I believe I will be safer and I will be able to run my global businesses’.
“And, I think, that’s what COVID has driven.”It was in July, when the number of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria escalated, that wealthy Nigerians started looking more seriously at citizenship abroad, experts say. “Those with medical conditions that could not fly out – a lot of them are buying passports just because if there is any problem they can fly out,” says Olusegun Paul Andrew, 56, a Nigerian entrepreneur and investor who spends much of the year in the Netherlands.
“Flying out” of Nigeria is hard and not just because of the coronavirus pandemic. Just 26 countries allow Nigerian passport holders visa-free entry, many of them part of West Africa’s ECOWAS arrangement. Both the United Kingdom and Europe’s Schengen zone require Nigerians to obtain visas ahead of travelling.
For the wealthy, this is too much hassle. “They don’t want to be queueing for visas for any EU country or whatever,” says Andrew. Instead, why not purchase the citizenship of a country with visa-free access to Europe?
To Europe, via the Caribbean
Bimpe, a wealthy Nigerian who also does not wish to give her full name, has three passports. One Nigerian, which she says she never uses, and two from Caribbean nations: St Kitts and Nevis; and Grenada.
The St Kitts and Nevis passport, which cost her $400,000 via a real estate investment programme, was useful when she travelled between London and New York on business as it allows for visa-free travel to the UK and Europe. But now that she has retired in Abuja, Bimpe, whose husband has passed away, wants her three adult sons to have the same opportunities to travel and live abroad.
“My kids were interested in visa-free travel. They are young graduates, wanting to explore the world. So that was the reason for my investment,” she explains.
Her investment to gain a Grenada passport for herself and her sons took the form of a $300,000 stake in the Six Senses La Sagesse hotel on the Caribbean island, which she bought in 2015 through a property development group called Range Developments. Like most countries offering their citizenship for sale, Grenada allows real estate investments to qualify for a passport.
Bimpe’s family has lived overseas before – spending nine years in the UK between 2006 and 2015. Of her three sons, she says: “One, for sure now, is never going to leave Nigeria. He loves it here. The second one lives in England. He’s been in England long enough to get British residency. My youngest – for him, living abroad is a very, very attractive option. He’s not very happy [in Nigeria]. He went to England very young – at age 12 – and he’s had a problem adjusting since. He’s been back in Nigeria five years and he’s still not settled.”
Now aged 26, Bimpe’s youngest son is looking at settling in the UK or in the US where, thanks to his Grenada citizenship, he qualifies for an E-2 visa, something not available to his fellow Nigerians since President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrant visa applications in February. Bimpe believes his career opportunities in acting – he studied Drama in the UK – are better abroad, and therefore considers the Grenada citizenship to be a worthwhile investment.
Neither Bimpe nor her sons have ever been to Grenada even though their investment allows them to stay on the Caribbean island, once known as The Spice Island. “I intend to go. I would like to go,” she says. “Just when I did [the investment], it was soon after my husband died and I wasn’t in the mood for travel and then I got my passport but there was no good reason for travel due to the pandemic.”
The Six Senses La Sagesse is being constructed by Range Developments, whose founder and managing director, Mohammed Asaria, says it is not unusual for investors never to visit. In fact, since there is no obligation for citizenship investors to visit Grenada, interest in the scheme has ballooned among Nigerians.
“We have between high single figures and low double-digit sales of hotel units on a monthly basis to Nigerians. The average investment is just under $300,000,” says Asaria. “It’s a big market for us. And it’s going to get bigger. There are 300 million people [in Nigeria].” Of these, more than 40,000 are millionaires and, therefore, potential customers for golden visas, according to the Knight Frank Wealth Report.
It is a similar story across the Caribbean. Arton Capital, a citizenship advisory group, says demand from Nigerian families for Antigua and Barbuda citizenship is up 15 percent this year compared with the last.
St Lucia has also seen a record number of Nigerians applying in 2020. “It’s more than it’s ever been over the past four years,” says Nestor Alfred, CEO of the St Lucia Citizenship-by-Investment Unit.
The citizenship market is not exclusive to the Caribbean, but these are the cheapest and they maintain that all-important visa-free access to Europe that their clients are hankering after.
“I’m rich but I’m not a Donald Trump. I wasn’t looking for a tax escape,” says Bimpe.
Investing in a foreign citizenship is not illegal for Nigerians, but the issue of wealthy citizens moving their assets overseas is a thorny one in Nigeria, where about $15bn is lost to tax evasion every year, according to the country’s Federal Inland Revenue Service. Much of that money finds its way to the Caribbean, as was highlighted in the leaked documents that formed part of the Panama Papers in 2016.
The tax benefits of an overseas citizenship are undoubtedly attractive. Citizens can become tax residents of countries like Dominica, where there is no wealth or inheritance tax, or Grenada which offers “corporate tax incentives”. In Europe, Malta has long been courting hedge funds with its light-touch regulations.
Being a citizen of a country with a more stable currency is also appealing to the wealthy. “Second citizenship helps with capital mobility. Pull up a graph of the Naira. If you look at the Naira for the last 10 years it’s been a horrible journey,” says Asaria. Better, therefore, in the minds of the wealthy, to own assets in euros or even East Caribbean dollars which are pegged to the US dollar.
“Businesses are struggling, inflation on the rise, insecurity, and a host of other issues. These issues have prompted an increase in citizenship or residency-by-investment from wealthy Nigerians in a bid to secure a better future for their families in developed countries,” says Evans Ahanaonu, a Lagos-based representative for High Net Worth Immigration, a citizenship advisory firm. Grenada and Turkey are popular for clients wanting quick access to Europe, he adds, while some go straight for the UK Innovator Visa which means setting up a business in the UK.
Given the number of applications processed by the citizenship advisory firms interviewed just for this article, a conservative estimate would put the amount invested by Nigerians into citizenship schemes at more than $1bn this year alone.
Where rich and poor migrants meet
The loss of wealth from Nigeria has severe implications for levels of employment in the country. With wealthy businesspeople investing their capital outside Nigeria rather than in it, there is less funding for local businesses or government projects which might otherwise generate employment. This, in turn is causing more poorer Nigerians to want to move overseas as well, in search of better work opportunities, a trend backed up by the findings of a 2018 survey by Afrobarometer, the data analysis group.
Just before the pandemic struck, Kingsley Aneoklloude, 35, was able to make his way to Europe, but via a very different route.
He was working as a mechanic in his village in Edo State, one of the country’s poorer provinces which have been untouched by oil wealth, where he earned 1,500 naira ($3.95) a week.
The salary was poor but the final straw was police brutality. Aneoklloude was briefly employed as a local election monitor during the 2015 presidential elections. He says he was pressured by representatives of a political party to manipulate ballot papers, but refused, after which he became afraid for his safety. “I left because they were chasing me. Honestly, they come and chase me,” he says.
First, he went to Kano State in the north of Nigeria. Then, in December 2019, Aneoklloude made the dangerous journey to Europe via Niger, then Libya, “where there was a heavy war in Tripoli”, before crossing the Mediterranean.
While adrift on the Mediterranean Sea, his small boat was rescued by Open Arms, an NGO which helps refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Their ship docked in Lampedusa, one of the Italian Pelagie Islands, where Aneoklloude’s asylum application for Germany was processed.
Now in Potsdam, Germany, he is waiting to hear the outcome of his application for new citizenship and a job. “I have a nine-month contract for work, but they need the immigration officer to sign the contract before I start,” he explains.
At 35, Aneoklloude is just a few years younger than Dapo. Both have witnessed police brutality from different angles, and both saw the Mediterranean as their way out.
But now, with Nigeria’s economy officially in another recession, more will likely follow. It is a dangerous spiral: The more wealth taken out of Nigeria, the fewer jobs available to its poorest.
Protests in Nigeria against police brutality and specifically the Special Anti Robbery Squad, a police unit accused of human rights abuses, have mostly been by young Nigerians, aged 30 and below.
This age group, which forms close to 70 percent of the country’s population, have bore the most impact of bad governance. For instance, unemployment figures stood at 21.7 million in the second quarter of 2020. The youth account for 13.9 million of this. So, beyond the campaign to end police brutality, current protests have other underlining factors. To better understand these factors and what Nigeria can do to fully benefit from the strength of its young population, Adejuwon Soyinka asked Uche Isiugo-Abanihe, Professor of Demography and Dr. Funke Fayehun, senior lecturer and population scientist, both at the University of Ibadan, to unpack the issues.
How would you characterise the demographic profile of Nigeria?
Nigeria, with an estimated population of about 206 million, is the seventh most populous country in the world. The high growth rate of Nigeria’s population, about 2.6 percent, is a product of persistent high fertility over time and consistently declining mortality. Nigeria’s total fertility rate is 5.3 with crude birth rate of 38 per 1000 population. With the high growth and fertility rates, the population is projected to increase to 263 million in 2030 and 401 million in 2050 when Nigeria would become the third most populous country in the world. That would be a jump of about 49% in 20 years
According to population projections by the United Nations for 2020, about 43 percent of the Nigerian population comprised children 0-14 years, 19 percent age 15-24 years and about 62 percent are below age 25 years. By contrast, less than 5 percent is aged 60 years and above. This makes Nigeria a youthful population with a median age of about 18 years, which is lower than African and world estimates of 20 and 29 respectively. Children and adolescents make up a large segment of the population, a product of many couples having too many children.
What role would you say the fact that 70% per cent of Nigeria’s population is under age 30, played in the ongoing #EndSARS protests?
The protests that are being held in major cities in Nigeria are led by youths. Young Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 30 years are the major victims of extortion and police brutality in the country. They are often framed as lazy and fraudulent and are constantly harassed by the police. This, coupled with the fact that 34.9 percent of Nigerian youths are unemployed, has led to outcries about the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Unemployment stood at 21.7 million in the second quarter of 2020. The youth account for 13.9 million of this.
The alleged brutality of the SARS unit of the Nigeria Police Force include ill-treatment of young Nigerians, torture and extra-judicial execution and have made earning a living difficult for young entrepreneurs. The protests have, to a large extent, influenced government to dissolve SARS, replacing it with the Special Weapons and Tactics unit almost immediately.
Why do you think the ongoing protest has been largely driven by young Nigerians?
Nigeria has been unable to maintain a trajectory of improving economic development (currently about 2 percent to match its population growth of close to 3 percent). Hence, the country’s inability to provide the education needs, create more jobs for the expanding workforce, and provide basic infrastructure and services such as roads, electricity, and stable food supplies.
A possible result of remaining trapped in this state is that the government may reach a state of “demographic fatigue”. This is a condition where the state lacks the financial resources to stabilise its population growth and the capacity to manage available resources. It becomes unable to deal effectively with threats from diseases and population-induced crises such as communal clashes, banditry, insurgency and insecurity. The recent protests suggest that Nigeria may have reached this state because there is a huge backlog of youths whose capacity was not developed over the years and high rates of unemployment. These are compounded by lack of political will by the government to address the needs of the youth. This has led to discontent and frustration which are expressed through this protest.
How do you think Nigeria should handle its youthful population?
Large numbers of young people in Nigeria can represent great economic potential, known as demographic dividends. However, this can happen if families and governments can adequately invest in their health and education, and stimulate new economic opportunities for them.
The government should, as a matter of urgency, prioritise pro-poor policies. It should invest massively in education and youth empowerment, as well as health programmes for children and women that include an efficient family planning initiative. And it should implement sound economic and governance policies to create new business and economic opportunities. It goes without saying that carrying out these policies can be challenging for Nigeria’s social and government structures, making it difficult for Nigeria to take advantage of a demographic dividend in the next few decades.
In fact, simulation models constructed by Scott R. Moreland suggest that Nigeria can enter the ranks of lower middle income economies and obtain a demographic dividend only by 2050, if it adopts appropriate family planning, education and economic strategies. Meanwhile, the total population would have almost doubled to 401 million on the same total land mass of 910,770 sq. km (or 351,650 sq. miles). Only decades of purposeful, proactive and well-informed statesmanship can avert the impending catastrophe that will befall Nigeria.
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has said he is determined to end police brutality, introduce reforms and bring "erring personnel... to justice".
His comments came after two days of protests sparked by a video of a man allegedly being killed by police.
The protest movement initially targeted the federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (Sars), widely accused of unlawful arrests, torture and murder.
The protesters say they want the unit disbanded rather than reformed.
Previous commitments to change the behaviour of the police have not had an effect, critics say.
In a series of tweets, the president said that his government's "determination to reform the police should never be in doubt".
He added that he was being "briefed... on the reform efforts ongoing to end police brutality and unethical conduct".
But he called for calm and emphasised that most police officers were committed to protecting Nigerians.
On Friday, in the capital, Abuja, police fired tear gas at protesters who were highlighting police harassment and brutality.
On Friday, protesters could be seen running from tear gas in the capital, Abuja (Reuters)
A police spokesman said minimum force had been used but demonstrators told the BBC that some people had been beaten and one said she had heard gunshots.
The hashtag #EndSARS was trending worldwide on Twitter on Friday with celebrities including the Nigerian superstars Wizkid and Davido tweeting their support for protesters.
British-Nigerian Star Wars actor John Boyega has also expressed his backing on social media.
'Targeted for being flashy'
The #EndSARS hashtag was first thought to have been used in 2018, but it emerged once again a week ago following the alleged killing of a young man by officers from the Sars unit.
Many people were using the opportunity to share stories of brutality attributed to the police unit, which has developed notoriety for unduly profiling young people, reports the BBC's Nduka Orjinmo from Abuja.
Those considered "flashy" often attract the Sars officers' attention and very few walk away without having to hand over money, while others are arrested or jailed on trumped-up charges and some have been killed, our correspondent adds.
On Sunday, Nigeria's inspector general of police Mohammed Adamu banned the Sars unit from carrying out stop and search duties and setting up roadblocks.
He also said members of Sars must always wear uniforms and promised the unit would be investigated.
But protesters want the unit disbanded completely.
Two years ago, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo tweeted that he had directed that the "management and activities of Sars" should be overhauled "with immediate effect".
Then last year, a specially formed Presidential Panel on the Reform of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad recommended reforms along with the dismissal and prosecution of named officers accused of abusing Nigerians.
At the time, President Buhari gave the head of police three months to work out how to implement the recommendations, but critics say little appears to have changed.
Nigeria’s long-awaited oil reform bill would privatise the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), amend changes to deepwater royalties made late last year and scrap key regulatory agencies in favour of new bodies, a copy of the bill seen by Reuters showed.
President Muhammadu Buhari has sent the bill to the Senate, two sources told Reuters. It, along with the House of Representatives must sign off on it before it can become law. Nigeria is Africa’s largest crude exporter.
The legislation has been in the works for the past 20 years and looks to revise laws governing Nigeria’s oil and gas exploration not fully updated since the 1960s because of the contentious nature of any change to oil taxes, terms and revenue-sharing.
The bill proposes turning the NNPC into a limited liability corporation into which the ministers of finance and petroleum would transfer NNPC assets.
The government would then pay cash for shares of the company and it would operate as a commercial entity without access to state funds.
The changes would in theory make it easier for the struggling company to raise funds.
The legislation would also amend controversial changes to deep offshore royalties made late last year by cutting the royalty for offshore fields producing less than 15,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 7.5% from 10%.
It would also change a price-based royalty so that it kicked in when oil prices climbed above $50 per barrel, rather than $35.
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