Like every businessman would take stock after the end of the year, so also will Nigerians be interested in recalling major political events that shaped the fast receding year 2019.
Of course, the outgoing year is a mix bag of sweet-bitter experience with certain events which threatened the very foundation of our national cohesion. But President Muhammadu Buhari was able to pull the country through tumultuous economic and political upheavals within the year.
Conduct of free, fair and peaceful election has always been a major challenge in the country. So, 2019 being an election year was decisive. Before the conduct of the February general election, there have been scary permutations, predictions and prophesies indicating that the outcome of the polls may signal the beginning of the end.
Reports, both social and orthodox, ahead of the February elections were ambivalent with what has come to be referred to as hate speech dominating the space. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and major opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) were at each other’s throat with belligerent campaigns ahead of the polls.
However, incumbent President gave the opposition candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a bloodied nose even as the later challenged Buhari’s victory at the tribunal and pursued the matter to the highest court of the land. At the end, the ruling at the lower courts was upheld and the political fog cleared for the continuation of purposeful governance at the Next Level.
At the state level, shifts indicating sophistication in the nation’s political environment were recorded when the ruling APC lost grounds in five states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Zamfara, Imo, and Oyo. These states used to be the strongholds of the ruling party but were lost to the opposition PDP.
Conversely, Ekiti, Bayelsa and Gombe states hitherto under the vice-grip of the opposition PDP were overrun by the ruling party. So, the electorates utilized their voting power to either reward or punish their leaders in 2019.
But the year also witnessed the conduct of the most controversial polls roundly condemned by both local and international observers. Recent governorship elections held in both Kogi and Bayelsa states have been adjudged to be anything but peaceful, free and fair.
The polls in both states were marred by violence with scores dispatched to their untimely graves, especially in Kogi. The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, in one of his briefings after the Kogi governorship election acknowledged the deployment of fake policemen by politicians for the election. In fact, Bayelsa and Kogi governorship polls were probably the bloodiest in the nation’s electoral history.
This has cast a dark shadow on the sanctity of the nation’s leadership selection process. But the President, in an interaction with newsmen recently at his 77th birthday, vowed to bequeath the legacy of free and fair polls by the time he signs out in 2023. This promise raises the hope that Nigerians may eventually get their choice of leaders.
In the outgoing year, there were insinuations that the robust relationship between the President and his Vice, Yemi Osinbajo, may have been ruptured. Pundits monitoring developments in the seat of power were of the opinion that the bond between Buhari and his Vice may have been weakened by the activities of a ‘cabal’ engaging in power game in the Villa.
The sudden sack of some aides in the office of the Vice President; disbandment of the Economic Management Team being chaired by Osinbajo; removal of the Social Investment Fund (SIP), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and others from the office of the Vice President as well as the directive that he obtains presidential approvals before taking actions in some agencies and others only go to justify the perception that Osinbajo’s power may have been drastically curtailed.
Notwithstanding that this had been severally denied by the authorities, rumours had it that a ‘cabal’ within the corridor of power interested in who succeeds Buhari is resolute in cutting Osinbajo, whom is being seen as exhibiting flashes of ambition, to size. Some actions taken by the Vice President when his boss was away for medical leave abroad during his first tenure were being allegedly held against him by the cabal.
Aside the perception of decimated amity between the President and his vice, signs of cracks within the first family got messier in the year under review. Even when the existence of a cabal in the Presidency has been variously denied, the First Lady, Hajia Aisha Buhari, on several occasions confirmed it.
In two separate statements made available to newsmen, the Wife of the President attacked persons she suspected to be standing against the realization of her ambition as the First Lady. Mrs. Buhari in those vitriolic statements made public painted an image of someone struggling for space in the Presidency. It is only hoped that this kind of development would be effective checkmated as the nation progresses into the new year.
Development in the social media in the year under review brought to the fore its other side. Rumour of the President getting married to one of his aides, the Minister of Humanitarian Service and Disaster Management, Hajia Sadia Umar which started subtly in the social media eventually assumed a life of its own with people looking forward to a date for a wedding that never was.
Perhaps the rumour about the President phantom wedding to Hajia Umar was all the government needed to begin moves to criminalize fake news. The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, began a campaign for the regulation of the social media while a bill for the criminalization of fake news got traction in the Senate. As at now, the propriety of enacting a law against fake news or otherwise has become a subject of hot debates as the year grinds slowly to an end.
There are also good developments in the year. The long time determination of the government to reset the nation’s fiscal year to January-December was realized. The timely passage of the Appropriation Bill presented to the parliament within two months goes to show an improvement between the legislature and the executive. Such institutional amity was lacking between the Presidency and the leadership of the Eighth Assembly led by Senator Bukola Saraki.
The passage of the 2020 budget by December and its assent to law by the President was the fourth in the last twenty years since the return to civil rule. This development is expected to have positive effects on the nation’s economy as business people can now plan with some measures of prescision.
Also, the new found cooperation between the legislature and the executive has become a source of cheers but pundits hold that such could be counter productive if not well managed. Citing the concept of separation of powers, observers warn against the dangers of a compliant parliament raising the risk of having a rubber stamp legislature that may fail in its traditional role of checks on the excesses of the executive.
In any case, the leadership of both arms of government are experienced enough to know where exactly to apply the brakes in their relationship especially when their traditional roles are being imperiled.
Records of the Buhari’s administration in the areas of insecurity, economy and fight against corruption are encouraging going by the reality on ground as the year grinds to a halt.
In the area of security, the country is stable as the government has recorded outstanding successes against the insurgents troubling the peace of the North-east. Investments into the Nigerian Army and other security agencies have begun to yield results. Only recently the Nigerian Army commissioned Armoured vehicles conceived and built locally by the soldiers.
The economy too has shown visible indices of growth indicating further improvements should the government progress in the current trajectory. The government decision to close the borders against her neighbours has encouraged diversification of the economy. The country is currently on the pathway of self sufficiency in food production especially rice.
The government is equally ending the year well in its efforts to fight sleaze and corrupt practices by ensuring conclusive prosecution of those suspected to have been involved in looting the commonwealth. Some past governors are cooling their feet in jail having been found culpable in helping themselves with public funds. This is commendable.
Ministers are being held to account. In fact, the last Federal Executive Council (FEC) held on Wednesday was specifically for the ministers to render accounts of their stewardship to the President for evaluation.
The financial status of the nation was rendered by the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed as the year winds down in two weeks. Excess Crude Account, as at yesterday, 19th November, was $324,967,933.72. In the Stabilisation Account, as at 17th of December, 2019, we have a balance of N30, 479, 704,808. In the Natural Resource Fund, still at the same date, 17th of December, 2019, we have the balance of N88,283,218,114.40. Of course, with this information, Nigerians have a fair idea of what their opening balance will be by January, 2020.
As government events slow down ahead of the Yuletide, I seize this opportunity to thank readers of this column just as I stand down till January. I wish you all merry Christmas and prosperous new year ahead.