By Owei Lakemfa
The year 2020 which commenced yesterday, holds a lot of promise for Nigeria despite the dark clouds cast on it by its leaders in the departed year. The year 2019 had a lot of trying moments for the country. Even when might terrorized the basic rights of Nigerians, there were still quite a number of hands clapping on the sidelines. The 2019 elections that were expected to build on the significant gains of 2015, rather, dug the grave for those gains to be buried. Murder became an acceptable electoral tool especially as we moved into the Kogi State elections where people composed lyrics in praise of the centrality of the gun in electoral contests.
The violence was so intoxicating that thugs marked the election victory with the roasting of Mrs. Salome Abuh, the Women Leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) right inside her home at Ochadamu, in the Ofo Local Government. Where else can a person be safe but in the home?
More than a rubber stamp National Assembly
There was the story told about the cock and the lion. The lion was ferocious and killed animals and birds at will. However, he avoided the cock because of the widely held belief in the animal kingdom that the cock’s comb was fire which would burn any animal that attacks it. The cock noticed that the lion avoided him, so he asked why. The lion explained it was afraid of the cock’s comb as he does not want to be burnt. The cock laughed and revealed that its comb was merely a fleshy growth or crown-like crest which is not harmful. It encouraged the frightened lion to touch its comb. The lion did, was not scalded as he feared, so it added the cock to its normal meal.
This is the story of the National Assembly (NASS) and President Muhammadu Buhari who before May 2019 was complaining about the latter. He could not impose his will on the NASS under Senate President Bukola Saraki, and Speaker, Nuhu Dogara. But the new NASS leadership went out of their way to let President Buhari know that the NASS is not even a toothless bulldog, but a mere rubber-stamp assembly; so he has nothing to fear.
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, having seemingly failed through body language and continuous genuflecting to let President Buhari know that while he is the de jure leader of the NASS, President Buhari is the de facto leader of the country’s parliament. In November, when a delegation of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption paid him a courtesy visit, Lawan told the executive body:
“I want to assure you that any request that comes from Mr. President is a request that will make Nigeria a better place either in terms of appointments or legislation and the Senate will act expeditiously to ensure that we play our part in the confirmation or passing of legislation appropriately.”
Not to be outdone, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, at his end-of-year party also assured President Buhari of his loyalty: “People, naysayers, critics and people from other parties have said the 9th National Assembly is a rubber-stamp to the executive. You know my reply when they say that to you? Tell them that you would rather have a rubber-stamp National Assembly that will bring progress than the one that is fighting the executive without progress… The people of Surulere Federal Constituency 1 did not elect me to go and be fighting the executive….”
The year 2020 will be defined by such groveling from the NASS, provided the Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members are not deprived of their stupendous allowances, ‘constituency projects’ and ‘over sight functions’
Judiciary on its knees
The judiciary was so battered in 2019 that foreign countries had to intervene, insisting that the executive respects the rule of law. Former Chief Justice of the country, Walter Nkanu Onnoghen was repeatedly harassed and intimidated. When he refused to surrender to the forces from the Presidential Palace, he was removed unconstitutionally and the National Judicial Council made to ratify both the unconstitutional removal and a handpicked replacement, Justice Tanko Muhammad.
Justice Muhammad who should be contributing to the country’s jurisprudence, rule of law and guarding the independence of the judiciary, spends valuable time trying to portray himself as the champion of Sharia after swearing to uphold the secular constitution of the country.
When he spoke at the 20th Annual Judges Conference at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, he was advocating that Muslims impose their will on the rest of the country. He said: “As we all know, there are sections of the constitution that allow the implementation of Sharia personal law and apart from that, we cannot do more. However, we have the number to emend the constitution to suit our own position as Muslims.”
Given his predisposition, it is not surprising that despite the judiciary being battered ceaselessly by the executive, and even when the courts are invaded by armed agents of the executive, not even a whimper is heard from Justice Muhammad.
The Executive shows every sign that it intends to continue stifling the judiciary. Even when on Christmas eve, it eventually released two political prisoners; Sambo Dasuki and Omoyele Sowore whom various courts had granted bail (in the case of Dasuki, since 2015) the executive announced that it did so on compassionate grounds.
Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, said the government has various options when a court ruling is made, implying that the executive can sit on appeal over any court judgement; a sane country would have sacked him immediately. Tragically, it is such recklessness, impunity and arrogance that is driving the Buhari administration.
In 2020, there are likely to be more Nigerians who will lose faith in the ability of the judiciary to dispense justice.
Suffocating taxes and loans
In 2019, so much tax was uploaded on Nigerians including through the banks, that they seemed to be wading through a maze. Nigerians were buffeted with unreasonable, unsustainable, suffocating, provocative and uncollectable taxes. While Babatunde Fowler of the Federal Inland Revenue Service whose infamous legacy was to father many of these taxes has been booted out; the seeds he planted are still germinating and being watered by his successors. In 2010, Nigerians will grapple with more taxes and little governance.
In the first quarter of the year, the country’s debt rose to $81.27 billion with the government embarking on more borrowing, culminating in its November 26, request to the National Assembly for a $23 billion external borrowing. But for the Chinese railway projects which the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) administration commenced, the ruling party, despite unsustainable borrowings, appropriating our oil income and imposing or increasing taxes like the VAT, would have had little to show in terms of development in the country.
Basic freedom in 2020
A government with no answer to the basic needs of the people has to fall back on repression. So, strenuous efforts will be made in 2020 to pass additional instruments of repression such as the Hate Speech and Social Media bills. Also, the hiring of thugs, touts and the lumpen proletariat to violently break up lawful and peaceful assemblies, or attack conscientious Nigerians, will be intensified in 2020. So street enforcers and conscienceless people who can organize violent people for hire, will be in good business. This outsourcing of terror is designed to deodorize the Buhari government as it carries out its programme of repressing the populace and bringing all institutions under its control. This is what Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka would characterize as the ‘Season Of Anomie” a season, to quote Professor Niyi Osundare when “Reason is Treason”
The state of politics
Politics is the largest, most lucrative business in Nigeria. It is what overnight, transforms a pauper into a billionaire and a mediocre into “His Excellency.” It is also the highest paying job; where the practical minimum wage is N18,000 but a politician because he finds himself a Senator, can gross N14 Million monthly aside legitimate or illegitimate income from ‘oversight’ functions, ‘Constituency Projects’ and other perks his status as a distinguished lawmaker may attract.
The political arena also has no standards with performance based more on how much propaganda machinery is deplored, the largesse distributed, the opponents pacified and the part of the state or country you come from, rather than on tangible or verifiable achievements, To crown it all, the qualification to run for office can be substituted by unverified claims into which the courts have ruled, the citizens cannot enquire.
As for winning elections, in many places, it is not dependent on the voter or actual votes cast, but on a combination of other factors including the war chest available, on whose side the security forces lean, a compromised electoral system and of course, the firepower the contestant can deploy in the electoral battle field before, during and even after the elections.
The ruling APC could not manage victory when it came its way in 2015. Things became so bad within the party that it had no candidates in the Zamfara and Rivers State 2019 elections. Its internal battles continue with the possibility of it re-enacting the Zamfara and Rivers Scenario in this year’s elections in Edo State
Such internal battles are not confined to the APC. The open feud between two PDP governors, Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State is befuddling and bewildering. Wike says he rejects any peace moves by the party. This makes a lot of sense because besides over-size ego, there seems to be no issue in the so-called clash of the oil-rich governors; so what will the party’s intervention be based on? The tragedy is that both states produce the bulk of our oil which is being frittered away by an idle ruling class belching from both ears while the people suffer from neglect and unimaginable environmental degradation.
The shape of politics to come
The first point to be made is lack of principles in the leading political parties. Even when they present manifestoes and programmes to the electorate, they do not implement them. So, those documents might not be worth the paper on which they are printed.
Secondly, almost all the leading politicians in the country are former coup plotters, beneficiaries of coups or genetic offspring of former military rulers. So, with them, there is no hope of a New Nigeria.
Thirdly, while politics, not governance will dominate 2020 towards the 2023 Presidential elections, it is promising not to be the old politics of just excluding the masses, but one of narrower exclusivity in which a faction of the ruling class, wants to exclude the other faction.
Permit me to explain. The political class had since the Second Republic (1979-1983) evolved a system of inclusiveness in which it ensured that the ruling elites from major sections of the country are accommodated. There has also been an unwritten rule amongst them that major offices like those of the President and Governor, will be rotated across the country or state. While the mass of Nigerians do not benefit from such arrangement as they are alienated from governance, this serves to ensure peace amongst the ruling class and gives sections of the country a sense of belonging.
The approaching implosion, is that leading members of the Northern ruling class which produced President Buhari for two terms, want another term or two, at the first instance.
How this will play out is not certain, but the first option for this faction, was to work for an unconstitutional Third Term, which President Buhari emphatically disowned in his New Year message. Since that has bottomed out, they will go for the ruling party producing another presidential candidate from amongst them. If they succeed in doing so, they are unlikely to pick the running mate from the East which seems to have been ostracized. Their pick is likely to be from the West, but it is unlikely such a candidate will come from the powerful Bola Tinubu political family that produced incumbent Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
With such scenario, there is likely to be an implosion within the APC; those who will remain, those who will leave to align with other groups or parties, and those who will form a new party.
The opposition PDP may also run its 2019 presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who is likely to pick a running mate from the East assuring that region that he would spend a term and handover to a politician from that part of the country. The calculation is likely to be that Atiku from the North East, will win most of the votes from that region, garner votes from the North West that has produced Buhari, from the angry Middle Belt, marginalized South East and the rump of the APC in the South West. It is also not unlikely, that the desperate Northern faction which wants to retain power by any means necessary, will try to woo Atiku to return to the APC and be its presidential candidate.
If the scenario of the Northern faction of the ruling class retaining the presidency were to play out, it is likely that the agitation for restructuring will largely transform to an agitation for separation. This will compound the inability of the ruling class to check Boko Haram in the North East, banditry in the North West and kidnapping in other parts of the country.
The desperation to retain power in the North (excluding the North Central) is likely to dislocate the country; what the British colonialists put together; myopic politicians will try to put asunder. Unfortunately, patriotic voices are getting fainter, and those of centrifugal forces are getting louder. But the forces that want a united country based on social justice and the basic needs of the people including the right to food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and education, have no choice than to unite and fight on.
They must realize that Nigeria is the hope of Africa; it is the only country on the continent that can help checkmate the recolonization of the continent by former colonial masters or colonization by advancing Arab land grabbers who are the Islamic State already fighting to take over Mali and are controlling the Boko Haram in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroun and Niger Republic.
Immediate challenge of survival
The immediate challenge of Nigeria is not development, mass unemployment, hunger or poverty, it is survival; how does a country that holds the best hope for the Blackman survive the insidious politics of 2023 and beyond?
For this, we must fight for genuine change, for social justice; the right of Nigerians to security and decent life. The enthronement of the rule of law, the release of all political hostages including the El-Zakzaky couple and the journalists Jones Abiri and Agba Jalingo. We must fight for the democratization of governance not its capture by a clique.
Let me remind all those who play god, that they are nothing but actors because nobody can be God. As William Shakespeare said: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players: they have their exits and their entrances.” John Pepper Clark in his poem, Streamside exchange was more philosophical when he wrote that: “ Tide and market come and go” so shall all regimes and human beings.