It’s five days to the end of 2018. In my estimation, though there are scores of issues that made news this year, there are three of them that got higher mention. They are politics, economy, and security. There is no gainsaying that it has been a topsy-turvy year for the country.
Being the eve of our sixth general election in this Fourth Republic, politics dominated the airwaves and cyberspace. The Independent National Electoral Commission on January 9, 2018 released the official timetable and schedule of activities for the forthcoming general election which is down to some 52 days. In the outgoing year, as part of preparations for the polls, INEC has registered a total of 91 political parties and through its Continuous Voter Registration which was suspended on August 31, 2018, had been able to register 84.2 million registered voters.
The commission in the outgoing year conducted two off-cycle governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states as well as several bye-elections and court-ordered re-runs. The polls were largely adjudged credible. The most controversial election held this year by INEC was the September 22 Osun governorship election which was declared inconclusive thereby necessitating a supplementary election in five polling units in the state on September 27. Many political watchers believe that the supplementary election was not free and fair.
Unlike the 2015 constitution amendment that was aborted, this year, President Muhammadu Buhari was able to sign five out of 12 constitution amendment bills presented to him. The constitutional alterations have a bearing on our elections. For instance, the Not-Too-Young-To-Run bill signed to law by President Muhammadu Buhari lowers the qualification age for the office of the President from 40 to 35 and that of House of Representatives from 30 to 25 years. It is instructive to note that in Ghana, the qualification age for parliament is 21 years.
Unfortunately, while the President signed some of the constitution amendments, in an unprecedented manner, he withdrew assent on four different occasions on the 2018 Electoral Act amendment bill. This is very disheartening! The funding for the 2019 elections also came late as the President either forgot or chose not to include the N189bn required by INEC for the conduct of the polls in the 2018 budget. It was not until July that the President deemed it fit to ask for virement for the sum of N242bn meant for INEC and security agencies involved in the conduct of the election. The National Assembly approval for the fund eventually came in November and it is believed that the funds are being released to relevant agencies by now.
The party primaries conducted between August 18 and October 7, 2018 in many of the political parties cannot stand the test of electoral integrity. They were defined by imposition of candidates, violence and inducement of party delegates. Some deaths were also recorded. This shows that internal party democracy has yet to be rooted in our politics. The campaigns have been on since the November 18 peace accord, spearheaded by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar-led National Peace Committee, was signed by most of the presidential candidates on December 11 and 12.
In a deft political move, President Buhari decided to recognise June 12 as Nigeria’s new Democracy Day while also affirming Chief MKO Abiola as the winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election. He also conferred the highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic posthumously on Abiola.
In the area of the economy, it has been a mixed fortune. The year birthed amidst lingering fuel scarcity which had started from November 2017. The situation was so acute that many could not travel for the Christmas and New Year celebrations with their loved ones. Thankfully, a repeat of that unsavoury experience was averted when oil marketers recently threatened to go on strike to press home their demand for the payment of their outstanding fuel subsidy. Regrettably, Nigeria is still importing refined petroleum products. While the 2018 budget was presented to the National Assembly on November 7, 2017 and was signed into law by President Buhari on June 20, 2018, the N8.83tn 2019 budget was just presented to the National Assembly last Wednesday, December 19, 2018. This is rather unfortunate.
However, it stands to the credit of this administration that it has been able to complete some of the projects initiated by previous administrations. Some of them include the Abuja Light Rail Project, the new Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport Terminal as well as that of Port Harcourt International Airport. Many road projects are also receiving attention. On December 14, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, on behalf of the Federal Government, launched another economic blueprint aimed at accelerating human capital development by 2030. Truth be told, Nigeria’s economy is still in the doldrums with worsening poverty and unemployment. Nigeria is now the headquarters of the country with the highest number of poor people while unemployment has moved from about 18 per cent to 23 per cent.
The outgoing year has witnessed a lot of labour unrest thereby leading to a drop in productivity. As I write this, the Academic Staff Union of Universities is on strike likewise their polytechnic counterpart. Though the Federal Government has grudgingly acceded to N30,000 new minimum wage for workers, the President has yet to sponsor an executive bill that will give the proposal any legal backing. While it is true that power generation has hit about 7,000 megawatts, transmission is still at about 5,000MW. This is grossly inadequate as the country’s economy is still being largely run on private generators. The government’s anti-corruption war is on course with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission claiming to have secured over 600 convictions and recovered over N500bn in the last three years of this administration. However, as someone said, there is a perception that while the President uses “insecticides” on his corrupt political enemies, he uses “deodorants” on his corrupt cronies.
The government still faces a Herculean task of making the country secure. In February this year, about 110 Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi in Yobe State were abducted by suspected Boko Haram insurgents. Though about five of them died, all others except Leah Sharibu were returned by their abductors. There has also been a spike in the attacks by the insurgents in recent times with the Nigerian military suffering heavy casualties. By far, the most worrying security challenge of 2018 is the herders-farmers clashes which led to loss of lives and displacements of hundreds of thousands of people. According to a report made public on December 17, 2018, Amnesty International said more than 3,600 people had been killed in clashes between farmers and herders in Nigeria since 2016, Over 2,000 of those deaths occurred this year alone! There has also been exponential increase in banditry especially in Zamfara State, Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State as well as many states of the federation. Just last week, unknown gunmen assassinated a former Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh, on his way to Abuja from Keffi in Nasarawa State.
It is heart-rending that Nigeria, for the fourth consecutive year, occupies the third position among the countries worst hit by terrorism globally. Apart from 2014 when it was ranked fourth, Nigeria has remained in the unenviable third position in the Global Terrorism Index ranking since 2015. There have been several calls for President Buhari to sack the military chiefs, all to no avail. It is quite disconcerting that despite the huge budgetary and extra-budgetary allocations to the defence ministry including the December 14, 2017 $1bn approved by National Economic Council for the fight against insurgency, the country is still largely unsafe. This has had adverse effect on farming and foreign direct investment thereby posing great danger to food security and economic prosperity.
As we go to the polls on February 16 and March 2, 2019, it is left to Nigerians to vote wisely. This is not the time to be aloof; it is time to be involved. Those yet to collect their PVCs should go and get them while those who have collected theirs must come out to vote for the candidate of their choice. Despite these daunting challenges, I believe that next year holds better prospects for this suffering motherland.
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