By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor
A host of recession-ravaged Nigerians are in a hurry to bid year 2016, which ends today, good bye. Arguably, 2016 has been a year of high-wire political intrigues, bickering and economic misfortune for many of them. It was a year that inflation rate hit over 18 per cent as the Naira had a free fall against the Dollar with prices of basic goods and essential commodities spiralling out of the reach of most Nigerians with the attendant hunger and gnashing of the teeth.
Major features of 2016 include: Hike in fuel price from N98 to N145; unending and controversial trial of Mr Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB and former National Security Adviser Dasuki: full implementation of the Treasury Single Account, TSA;
leadership crisis in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; division in the presidency over the anti-corruption war and disagreement over the confirmation of Alhaji Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; rumbles in the leadership cadre of the All Progressives Congress, APC with President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife, Aisha saying that Buhari’s government had been hijacked by those who did not work for his election.
There were also the crackdown on Supreme Court, Appeal Court and High Court justices and judges by the Department of State Service, DSS for alleged corruption; prosecution of Senate President Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT over false assets declaration; botched trial of Senate President Saraki, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and others over alleged forgery of Senate Standing Rules; disappearance and later heated controversy over padding of the 2016 budget.
The fast expiring year also witnessed upsurge in kidnappings; incessant attacks by Fulani herdsmen across many parts of the country, especially in North-Central, South-East, South-South and South-West with thousands of people killed; and massive bombing of oil facilities in the Niger-Delta worsening the country’s dwindling oil revenue.
2016 will also be remembered for the bloody Federal and state legislative re-run elections in Rivers State; release of 21 Chibok schoolgirls; clearing of Sambisa forest of Boko Haram insurgents; the Ondo governorship election where Mr Rotimi Akeredolu won on the platform of APC without the backing of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu; the defection of Dr Orji Uzor Kalu to the APC as well as the the arrest and detention of PDP leaders and former ministers for alleged graft. Those arrested included Chief Olisa Metu, Femi Fani-Kayode, Dr. Reuben Abati, Uche Secondus and Senator Musiliu Obanikoro among others.
Given the bad blood, tension and problems that some of these issues generated and wrought in the lives of the citizenry, it is not surprising that many are waiting to welcome year 2017 with outstretched hands, tomorrow. They are hoping for a better polity, governance and economic fortunes.
Will Nigerians meet their expectations in 2017?
Indeed, 2017 appears promising even though key issues that will shape the year have panned out. Some of them are carry-overs from 2016.
The issues that will shape 2017 include passage and implementation of the 2017 budget; Buhari’s handling of the Niger-Delta issue, militancy and dialogue with the leaders; concluding the war against Boko Haram insurgency; Buhari’s response to critical national issues; taking definite measures to take Nigeria out of recession; crystallisation of the new mega party, ADP from aggrieved APC and PDP leaders and clearer opposition to the APC-led Federal Government of President Buhari ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Others include the war against corruption; the Anambra governorship election; battle for minimum wage by organised labour; prosecution of justices; ongoing prosecution of IPOB’s Nnamdi Kanu; and ongoing constitutional amendment embarked upon by the National Assembly following strident agitation and counter-agitation for the restructuring of the polity into fiscal federalism.
In 2017, the government must take definite steps to improve on the economic fortunes of the citizenry and take Nigeria out of recession.
It is noteworthy that President Buhari acknowledged the need to tackle recession with all the power he could muster, during his presentation of the proposed N7.298 trillion budget for 2017 at the National Assembly.
He said: ‘’We propose that the implementation of the Budget will be based on our Economic Recovery and Growth Strategy. The Plan, which builds on our 2016 Budget, provides a clear road map of policy actions and steps designed to bring the economy out of recession and to a path of steady growth and prosperity…
‘’In 2017, we will focus on the rapid development of infrastructure, especially rail, roads and power. Efforts to fast-track the modernization of our railway system is a priority in the 2017 Budget. In 2016, we made a lot of progress getting the necessary studies updated and financing arrangements completed. We also addressed some of the legacy contractor liabilities inherited to enable us to move forward on a clean slate. Many of these tasks are not visible but are very necessary for sustainability of projects. Nigerians will soon begin to see the tangible benefits in 2017.’’
War against corruption
The seriousness of the war against corruption will also be tested next year. First, it is to be seen if the Presidency can form a common front on who should lead the war as chairman of the EFCC following the Senate’s refusal to confirm Magu as EFCC chairman on the strength of a security report written by the DSS, which is directly under the presidency that nominated him. The report indicted Magu of a litany of corruption deals and actions that are counter-productive to the anti-graft war.
Although, President Buhari appointed Magu, he did not send his name to the Senate for confirmation. Rather, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo did when Buhari went to London on medical vacation.
However, the Senate delayed Magu’s screening till few weeks ago at a time President Buhari was in the country and when it had become clear that the presidency was divided on the issue with the Chief of Staff to the President, DSS Director General and Attorney General of the Federation being against Magu; and the embattled EFCC czar enjoying the backing of the National Security Adviser.
With the Senate saying there is no going back on its decision not to confirm Magu, the polity is awaiting Buhari’s decision on the issue. Will he re-appoint Magu in an acting capacity? Will he try to get the Senate to go back on its decision? Will he nominate another person and who will that be? How soon will these questions be answered? Nigerians can’t wait to get the answers in 2017 because they will go a long way in shaping the anti-corruption war and how far we can go.
Mega party, opposition to Buhari’s re-election
Another issue that will shape 2017 is the expected emergence of the new mega party, Action Democratic Party, ADP, a party that is being formed with the intention of stopping President Buhari from being re-elected in 2019.
In hushed tones, some prominent but aggrieved leaders of the APC, PDP and politicians from the Social Democratic Party, SDP and Accord among others are said to be behind ADP. Some of these leaders are still operating from the background because ‘’it is too early to go full blown’’ and they don’t want to face Buhari’s hammer now.
Following the perceived bad treatment meted to him during the Ondo APC governorship primaries when President Buhari and APC Chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun backed Akeredolu against his preferred candidate, Asiwaju Tinubu as well as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar were considered to be among leading political stakeholders oiling the formation of the mega party.
However, Tinubu denied the move, saying he would not engage in ‘’destructive pettiness’’ adding that he would remain true to the progressive ideals that fuelled the creation of the APC.
Indications that many APC leaders are favourably disposed to the mega party emerged when wife of the president, Aisha Buhari, decried the hijacking of Buhari’s government by outsiders, lamenting that APC leaders who worked for Buhari’s victory had been side-stepped and abandoned. She added that she would not work for Buhari’s re-election, if the problem was not addressed.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who appears dissatisfied with the way Buhari has handled the economy, said recently, that he would support the mega party, if Atiku Abubakar is not the presidential candidate.
Currently, the likelihood of ADP becoming a registered party is bright. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on December 20 gave the political association the nod to go ahead with the procedures for full registration after receiving ADP’s application for registration as a political party because its proposed name complied with the requirement for registration as a political party under Section 222 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Leaders of ADP held a maiden national meeting in Abuja, early December with the Convener, Alhaji Yabagi Sani, boasting that the party would take Nigerians out of despair in 2019.
How serious the ADP promoters will be seen in 2017 depending on if they can meet the requirements for registration and what they will do consequently as preparations for the 2019 election gain traction.
Winning the Boko Haram war, tackling militancy in Niger-Delta
Last week, the Nigerian Military said it had cleared the dreaded Sambisa forest of Boko Haram insurgents after capturing Camp Zairo, the insurgent’s headquarters.
President Buhari was to commend the military for the ‘final crushing’ of Boko Haram as reported by the media. He charged the armed forces to intensify effort to locate and free our remaining Chibok girls who are still in captivity.
However, Boko Haram’s elusive leader, Abubakar Shekau appeared in a new video on Thursday to dispute the claim that the jihadist group had been routed from its Sambisa Forest stronghold. “We are safe. We have not been flushed out of anywhere. And tactics and strategies cannot reveal our location except if Allah wills by his decree,” Shekau said in the 25-minute video, flanked by masked armed fighters.
With Shekau’s claim, the government, in 2017, has to go the extra mile to really show that the sect has been crushed.
The government has to also diffuse the tension in the Niger-Delta this year to gain maximally from oil production. The year 2016 witnessed an avalanche of bombing of oil facilities by militants, which adversely affected oil production. President Buhari held a meeting with the Pan Niger-Delta Forum, PANDEF, the umbrella body of traditional rulers, leaders and stakeholders of the region. After the meeting, the bombings subsided as the region waited for a follow-up on the issues discussed at the parley.
On December 28, the presidency said it is in search of genuine Niger-Delta leaders to dialogue with because two days after the last meeting between Buhari and the Niger-Delta leaders, a pipeline was destroyed.
Responding to insinuations of a disconnect between the President and Niger-Delta, Special Adviser to the President on Media, Mr. Femi Adesina, in an interview with AIT, said Buhari told the Niger-Delta leaders that it was important to get all the militants under one umbrella because ‘’after you might have talked to this group, another group will come up. With this kind of arrangement, you won’t get to know the real people.’’
Reacting to the development, Niger-Delta groups, on Thursday faulted the presidency on its stand on the dialogue, adding that Niger Delta Avengers, MEND and Reformed Egbesu among others gave PANDEF their mandate to negotiate with President Buhari.
Thus, the stage is being set for more restiveness in Niger-Delta in 2017 where the military is still carrying out ‘’operation Crocodile Smile.’’ It is to be seen how President will respond to the issue. Next year.
Nnamdi Kanu, Justices’ trial
The prosecution of justices arrested for alleged graft and Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB will also take the front seat in 2017.
Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court, who is facing 16-count charge bordering on money laundering, age falsification and alleged illegal possession of multiple international passports, on December 7, told a Federal High Court in Abuja that he was not ready for trial. Ngwuta who was docked before the high court on November 21 and subsequently granted bail to the tune of N100million, pleaded for an adjournment to enable him to adequately prepare his defence to allegations the Federal Government levelled against him.
The embattled jurist made the application on a day the prosecution, led by a former attorney at the International Criminal Court of Justice, ICC, Mr. Charles Adeogun-Philips, disclosed that three witnesses were in court to enter evidence against him. “My lord we are ready to open our case today. Our witnesses are in court and we have all our arsenals ready”, the prosecution told the court. However, Ngwuta’s lawyer, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, who was formerly an Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, insisted that his client would need more time and facilities to prepare for his defence.
The matter was eventually adjourned till January 18 and 23, 2017, for trial.
An Abuja High Court will also, on January 18, commence full blown hearing on the case of Justice Ademola Adeniyi and his wife, Olabowale, who docked on an 11-count criminal charge.