By Richard Mammah
The outgoing year 2021 has been a mixed bag for Nigeria. But given the avalanche of what the average Nigerian has had to put up with, it is safe to say that indeed, it has been a year of continuing to live on the edge.
Here indeed is a good place to begin given that the first promise of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency was that it would guarantee that Nigerians sleep with their eyes closed.
The evidence from the field however is that, on the security flank, the activities of insurgents, bandits and criminals of all hues and sizes continued to make headline news all through the year even as pressure continued to mount of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency to deal even more frontally with the challenge.
Though some respite seems to have come with the arrival of the Super Tucano aircraft that had been ordered from the United States during the Donald Trump presidency, alongside other heavy grade military equipment, the soft underbelly of the nation’s security infrastructure has however continued to rest on inadequate intelligence to pre-empt the activities of these bands of insurgents as well as their continuing to take advantage of both the religious and geo-political faultlines in the country and the parlous economic situation that continues to provide them fertile recruitment ground to restock their ranks.
Within the year also, a spate of deliberately orchestrated prison attacks, pointed to the fact that insurgents may have also continued to focus on that sector as a critical recruitment centre for some of their elite actors.
And in what was to look as a capitulation of sorts to months and years of advocacy on the subject, the Buhari administration finally went to seek the .leave of court and two bandit groups were formally designated as terrorist organizations.
However, in what the administration may have reckoned to be a victory of sorts but which some others saw as an expression of poor strategic security and political management, there was also the abduction in faraway Kenya of the leader of the proscribed Independent People of Biafra, IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and his repatriation to Nigeria for the continuation of his trial which had stalled at a Federal High Court in Abuja, following his forced flight out of the country.
While the trial process continues in fits and starts, it has become quite clear that at the end of the day, the issues would still have to be resolved at the political tables. Meanwhile, the phenomenon of the ubiquitous ‘unknown gunmen’ continues even as complaints continue to trickle in as to the allegedly untoward conduct of some of the security forces deployed to the South East region.
Says Ikem Enendu:
‘I don’t know what exactly the thinking was in moving to abduct and bring back Nnamdi Kanu to the country. But that has not solved the challenge of the unknown gunmen or ensured the much needed peace and civility in the region.’
On the economic front, after years of clearly underwhelming performance, there was some reprieve of sorts as the country formally exited its second recession in the Muhammadu Buhari years. This was seemingly corroborated by data from the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, signaling that there has also lately been declining inflation though the continuing spike in notably food, and several other associated consumer prices makes many to scoff at the numbers from the Bureau.
This has also not been helped by vagaries in the exchange rate position where the value of the Naira to the dollar has risen above N500 to a dollar and the Central Bank of Nigeria is burdened with having to continue to throw in tons of cash to help defend the Naira.
Politics is high up on the antenna of many in Nigeria and with the 2023 polls fast approaching, it expectedly got a lot of attention in the outgoing year.
In the South Eastern state of Anambra, after concerns over whether the scheduled off season gubernatorial polls would hold, the Independent National Electoral Commission was able to pull off the conduct of the contest, leading to the emergence of former Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN Governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA as Governor-Elect in the business-savvy state. Notably also, INEC also had the opportunity to test run its Biometric Verification Authentication System, BVAS which it has recently deployed to improve the integrity of the polls process. Ahead of the 2023 polls, INEC still has off-season gubernatorial polls to conduct in Ekiti and Osun and the hope is that it would further strengthen its processes on those occasions.
But there are other issues, one of which is the statutory revision of the Electoral Bill. Already passed by both chambers of the National Assembly, frenetic lobbying is going on now to get the president to assent to it or decline assent. There is also side talk about whether the lawmakers would be able to find the muscle to override his veto should he decide to decline giving his assent. The evidence from the field says that on present score, they cannot.
One of the contention points in the revised Electoral Bill has to do with the issue of open electronic transmission of results from the polling centres to INEC’s national online public grid, a reform that the commission also favours but which some political players are hiding behind their claim of inadequate national telecommunications backbone coverage to help guarantee its seamless working and effectiveness, to scuttle. A second point of dissension has to do with an amendment to ensure that parties pick their candidates for elections only through the Direct Primaries process, a move that its proponents say would boost internal democracy within the parties but which opponents say would be too expensive to handle.
Beyond these, there is however also the more substantial challenge of completing the long-running constitutional amendment process to introduce far reaching adjustments that have to do with issues such as the introduction of state police, devolution of powers and resource control. While the National Assembly Committee superintending over the process has literally moved into limbo position, a judicial intervention by the courts in favour of a motion brought before it by the Rivers State Government, challenging the legality of the Federal Government to continue to collect Value Added Tax, VAT within its territory has re-echoed the fact that the debate is not over.
To paraphrase the late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, aka MKO, Nigeria’s democratic martyr, after whom the annual Democracy Day celebrations is now marked, the country is evidently ‘on the march again.’
And 2022 already promises to be a year of even more heightened fireworks, across all fronts.