By Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
When a child receives a haircut, the shape of his head becomes obvious —African proverb
IT speaks to the essence of the circumstances in which we live today that not even a new year allows us to hope for changes or improvements. On the eve of a year that defies comprehension by standards that are known by the most advanced generations of mankind, humanity faces the rare occurrence of having an outgoing year roll over into a new one and making it not worse.
There will be tiny islands of mankind that will see slight improvements in the disaster that was 2020, but a globalised world has no place for islands. Nigeria will not be such an island. We do not have the luxury of expecting dramatic changes in the quality of our lives or livelihoods in 2021. I thought I should attempt a hazardous venture of projecting major issues that will be central to the character of the year 2021.
COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be the most decisive influence on mankind. Its impact on developed economies and global economic relations will affect all economies, and developing economies such as ours will suffer from a combination of limited options and restrictions on the global economy. In the case of Nigeria, the most profound impact of the pandemic is likely to be on the costs of staying alive.
The second wave of the pandemic will most likely cause greater damage in a country like Nigeria which has dealt poorly with the first wave and will now have to deal with its residue and newer threats. Across the nation, the number of infected people is likely to rise owing to poor compliance with basic protection protocols and weak state responses in enforcing compliance.
Cost of testing and treatment will rise as governments become increasingly unable to provide them to large numbers of citizens. Vaccines being developed elsewhere will find their ways into Nigeria in little quantities and at great cost sometime in the year, but they will be largely available only to the wealthy and the privileged. This pandemic will take many lives, worsen class relations, deepen poverty and raise the spectre of citizen revolt as the poor feels left behind to deal with disease and poverty.
Governance and economy: Performance of President Buhari’s administration is unlikely to improve in the areas of managing security and the economy. Organised crimes such as Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, piracy and cultism and political violence will rise as the Federal Government continues to resist introducing major changes in leadership of defence, security, public safety institutions, and their capacities and strategies of dealing with citizen and state security.
Pressures will increase on President Buhari to improve security of citizens, including devolving responsibility for policing to states or regions. It is unlikely that he will yield to these pressures, given his record of resisting major changes.
The federal legislature will also come under pressure to exercise greater influence over the executive arm in security management. Its resistance against taking up the executive arm is likely to collapse under pressure from citizens and political ambitions of legislators. In spite of the national clamour to affect major changes in key appointees of the president to improve quality of governance, President Buhari is unlikely to accept to change his key ministers and advisers.
State governors are unlikely to plug holes left by an inept and weak federal administration. Their exasperation over security management in states and frustrations over weak management of the national economy are likely to pitch them against the President, with a major split among them being a possibility. The economy is unlikely to perform better due to worsening global environment, unpredictable crude prices, depressed production and consumption capacities and crumbling infrastructure.
Management of the national economy is unlikely to improve under an administration that is resistant to changing basic policies or key managers. Poverty levels and cost of living will rise as the economy goes through another major depression. Food production will show a decline as insecurity affects agricultural output. The relationship between social order and stability and the state of the economy will be made worse in the year, and restiveness against a combination of poverty and insecurity are likely to be major issues.
Politics: Current low-key maneouvres towards 2023 elections are likely to blossom into major political issues in 2021.The campaign to get major parties to zone their presidential tickets to the south will gather momentum in the year, and would highlight potential challenges to this campaign.
Some of these challenges will include whether northern politicians and voters will accept zoning; whether the south east gets exclusive consideration to field a candidate or whether it competes with the south west and south south to produce candidates for major parties as well as the fate of the big parties and personal ambitions as they go through major crises around these issues, among others.
Another challenge will be how the campaign to affect some basic changes in the structure, system and processes of the Nigerian state develops. In 2021, this campaign will be tested by the degree to which it represents an agenda for regional ambitions for the presidency, or whether it survives as an issue that enjoys sufficient autonomy and credibility to be acted upon in spite of massive resistance. In 2021, issues of zoning and restructuring will point to the nature of the impact which the political process will have on the 2023 elections.
President Buhari: By May, 2021, President Buhari would have spent six years in power. His record in managing conflict, national security and the economy have progressively worsened. Nothing suggests that he will overhaul his basic approach to governance, which is defined by pronounced personal distance from serious national problems, resistance to changes in style and substance and failure to accept responsibility for running an ineffective administration.
Conspiracy theorists have a field day speculating on the state of his health and strangleholds of human and spiritual forces on him. These speculations will increase in the coming year which is unlikely to see the president undertake major changes in his personal disposition to national challenges, leadership of key government structures and security institutions and policies. He may affect a few changes early in the year to relieve pressure to change service chiefs, but he is likely to retain most of the people who run a lacklustre administration and then revert to his usual style of sitting on power rather that undertaking the difficult task of governing.
USA and the global community: On January 20, one of Nigeria’s models, the USA would start a chapter in its history after a very damaging rapture with a recent past under President Trump. Its new leadership will retain a very close watch on Nigeria, but the moral clout of the US will require urgent and major rehabilitation to enable it maintain its traditional loud voice in political affairs of nations such as Nigeria.
In 2021, the global community will be largely engaged in managing the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on national populations. This is the worst time for Nigeria to have the types of problems that will require external influences to have a major say in resolution. It is in everyone’s interest, therefore, that the nation commences a major turnaround in 2021.
Happy New year. Be safe.