Politics 2016: Echoes of 2015 versus whispers of 2019
In saying goodbye to 2016, it is evident that Nigerians wish that nothing like it comes back again in the polity. Given that general negative impression about the year 2016, it becomes very necessary to x-ray the outgone year and see how its politics panned out, believing that such could give a faint idea of what 2017 holds in store.
However, that introspection would follow, not the sequence of various political actions and activities, but within such subheads as politics, policies, executive-legislature relationship at the federal level, sporadic developments in the polity as well as political parties.
As the year unfolded on January 1, 2016, there was the unmistakable backlash and stubborn protrusion of the awful mix of the bitter-sweet surprises of 2015. Yet as the year matured, citizens began to witness how projections into and about the magic election year 2019, were influencing political motions and movements.
With those considerations, year 2016 could be said to be an eventful year, albeit with its strings of strange activities and impulsive economic outlook. It was the aspect of the economy and its management that inspired many Nigerians to view their governments, both at the state and federal levels, with an admixture of dubious expectations and prodigious reservations.
DESPITE the anticlimactic ending of the 2015 presidential election, the two major political parties, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the hurriedly assembled All Progressives Congress (APC) continued to carry on as if there was going to be a second ballot.
The unfinished supremacy battle continued, partly because, while PDP believed that APC achieved the electoral victory with the help of its former allies, APC found itself in a quandary as to how to grapple with the challenges of delivering on its mandate.
Amid the squabbling, which trailed the outcome of the 2015 election, APC faced too many challenges. Within its fold, the party experienced hiccups due to the internal contradictions of its merger arrangement. The lack of cohesion in the party started manifesting from various angles.
In the National Assembly where it netted a slight majority, the politics of who gets what position exposed APC. The intrigues that surrounded the attempt to ensure that the party had the last word on the caliber of candidates to emerge as floor functionaries, showed in clear light the absence of a well-defined leadership organogram in the party.
It was obvious that despite its electoral marvel of dethroning an incumbent president, APC lacked a definite leadership. The fuzzy position of President Muhammadu Buhari on the internal workings or internal politics of the party, betrayed the passion that underscored the electioneering momentum.
In the absence of apical leadership, the party leaders were left to second guess and vacillate unduly in taking crucial decisions. The confused approach to its internal politics, notably the obvious desire by the President to display a winner-takes-it-all attitude rubbed off negatively on the post-election standing of the ruling party.
That anomalous position of APC came to the fore during the Kogi governorship election, which was coming barely six months into the life of the new government at the centre. Most Nigerians, with eyes on the undulating scheme of things, including the delay in assembling a federal cabinet, looked at the Kogi governorship election as a referendum on the ruling party.
But knowing this, in addition to the suspect performance of the incumbent governor in Lokoja that was seeking a second term in office, APC went back in time to nominate a former governor of the state, whose tenure showed some glimpses of good project conception and implementation outlook.
The nomination of the late Prince Abubakar Audu (Sarkin Power), as the first governorship flag-bearer of APC after the 2015 election, was received with mixed feelings in the state. Even within the party, his emergence was viewed with suspicion, due to a nebulous corruption allegation and investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
There were some in the party that felt that given the party’s stand against corruption and declaration to usher in a change in the way things were done in public office in Nigeria, having Audu as APC’s flag-bearer raised moral questions. But the pragmatists argued that since also the party prides itself as a beacon of internal democracy, Audu, having won the governorship primary, should be allowed to “lead the battle for us.”
However, Audu, instead of being a saving grace and blessing in disguise for the APC, ended up as the definition of the absurdities in the party’s politics and political governance schemes. In the first place, in Audu, President Buhari’s contrived political aloofness was allowed full expression. The President did not utter a word for or against Audu’s selection, or go to Lokoja to lead the party in mobilizing support for the APC candidate.
When Audu died, midway into the election, the party vacillated before coming up with a position on the inconclusive, but tragicomic election. While the party searched for ideas, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), positioned itself for suspicion and allegation of bias, when it echoed the opinion of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, that APC should substitute the dead flag-bearer howsoever it wanted.
By the time that the Kogi governorship election was won and lost, it was obvious to most Nigerians that APC has nothing new or exciting to offer the country’s electoral system. The election did much to reveal the climate of distrust, interest protection and influence peddling in the ruling party.
But while APC was groping in the dark of political intrigues, PDP, which was still smarting from its woeful loss at the general election failed to put itself together and offer plausible opposition. As the party’s spokesman continued to offer lone-ranger attacks on the ruling party, it was evident to the people that electoral defeat must have robbed the PDP of the much-needed psychological stability or political cohesion to pick holes in the trial-and-error approach of the party that vanquished it at the polls.
Instead of pooling ideas to use the Kogi governorship as a pointer to the possibility that the party’s loss to the APC in the 2015 election did not amount to rejection by Nigerians, PDP continued in the recriminations that defined its sixteen years at the echelon of political power in the country.
Relying on the evanescent power of incumbency that failed it at the presidential level, PDP retained Capt Idris Wada despite obvious signs of the governor’s detachment from the masses. Instead of critically weighing the incumbent governor’s capacity to win the election, some chieftain one or more, of the party at the national headquarters, decided to trade the party’s ticket for other considerations.
Somehow, at the grassroots, party faithful seemed to interpret the antics of the party leaders as an attempt to scoop up whatever they can get to make up for the loss of the presidency. The ease with which Audu and the APC trounced PDP in its otherwise stronghold in Kogi showed that either the party did not do its homework or learn any useful lessons from its fall from power.
On top of the loss of navigational direction by the PDP, were the surreptitious designs by some of its stalwarts, including governors elected on the platform to defect to the ruling APC. But those clandestine moves were halted, when it became a subject of national knowledge that the ruling party has not what it takes to stand up together for long. The Bayelsa governorship did much to support that inclination.
Matters came to a head, when the President selected his cabinet team. Instead of being a galaxy, the federal executive council members did not impress Nigerians or imbue the political class with confidence that the APC administration at the centre was meeting its expectations. Apart from dulling the appetite of those that were struggling to defect to it, APC’s poor management of its electoral success expanded the fault lines of the party.
The situation deteriorated to the level of accusations and counter-accusations of electoral infidelity in the Ondo governorship primary. In the end, both the ruling party and its sparring partner it defeated in 2015 engaged in a tangle and transaction that made it quite hard for watchers of Nigeria politics to note the difference between the two.
NASS Versus Presidency
In the review of the politics of the outgone year, the sour relationship between the National Assembly and the Presidency, commands a prodigious mention. Instead of building a synergy with the two chambers of the National Assembly for quick mandate delivery, the Presidency isolated itself.
Amid the ensuing ancient and modern contestation for supremacy, the President seemed to forget that the basic ingredients he needs to drive his government of change were to come from the NASS. Yet, being recent political actors, the lawmakers craved some kind of independence, which they expressed during the selection of the floor functionaries.
Although the upper legislative chamber, the Senate, cleared the cabinet nominees without much ado, the other weightier matter of the budget did not enjoy such nicety. From accusations of padding the budget was declared missing as the NASS and Presidency engaged in a game of hide and seek.
Six months later, when the budget was found, identified and harmonised, the next drama was the refusal by the President to sign the 2016 appropriation bill into law. Consultations were held with erstwhile leaders of the federal legislature, before the president came to the realisation that the lawmakers had the right to ‘situate figures and provisions’.
Within the sphere of the ego battles between the legislature and the executive arm, were other small fights, including the issue of whether the President has the constitutional mandate to offer bailout to state governors from the Federation Account or consolidated revenue of the federal government, without recourse to the legislature.
Further question as to the powers and functions of the legislature was raised at the height of fuel scarcity. Irked by the shortage and suffering by the citizens to procure petroleum products, especially the premium motor spirit, the Senate decided to summon the minister of petroleum. There was a snag. The same person serving as the President occupied the office of Minister of Petroleum.
But sanctioning the conspiracy in the appointment of an absentee minister, the Senate settled for the minister of state. Mr. Ibe Kachikwu, did not disappoint the Senators, he dazzled them with his presentation, noting that the attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta region were depriving the country of enough quantity of petroleum.
However, outside the precincts of the National Assembly, Kachikwu’s attempt to explain his dilemma to journalists earned him the ire of a chieftain of the ruling APC. A former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, took umbrage at the junior petroleum minister’s utterance that he was not a magician that could guarantee a quick return to steady supply of petroleum products.
In a well-publicized letter, Tinubu descended on the minister of state, describing his conclusions as intemperate and unfeeling. The Minister of Petroleum felt that the barbs were actually targeted at him, sulking silently why the APC party leader should go public with such a damaging attack on the administration. The exchange over the petroleum situation further exposed the simmering disaffection among the chieftain of the ruling party.
Judiciary, Corruption Fights And History’s Encore
THE politics of 2016 shaped up with the sting operation on judges. Prior to the midnight invasion of the residences of some Federal and State High Court Judges, the judiciary was being accused of delivering contradictory rulings, sometimes on similar cases. Also the federal government was also accused of refusing to obey court orders.
All these culminated in the unprecedented invasion of the private residences of some judges who were believed to have engaged in corrupt practices. The dingdong between the judiciary and the Presidency could be traced to the President’s public regret that the judicial arm constitutes a stumbling block to his fight against graft.
On its part, the judiciary maintained that it was guided by the rule of law and the constitution. While the judiciary insisted on doing things according o the law, the Presidency wanted to show immediate evidence or results of its hard work in office.
The disagreement came to a head when the National Judicial Council (NJC), refused to sack or hand over judges to the government for prosecution, stressing that the power to discipline judges was given to it by the constitution. The government decided to use its coercive powers to go get the judges by stealth and force, thus fouling the polity further.
Torn between forced prosecution and the fact that it was the same judiciary that had the facility for trial, the federal government found itself in another quagmire. From the battle with the NASS and then the judiciary, the executive decided to try rapprochement. But while engaged in the fence mending with other arms, some of the appointees of the executive, including ambassadors and other appointees to agencies, could not get the legislative certificate to function. That oddity raised national umbrage when the captain of the fight against corruption was rejected.
The refusal by the Senate to confirm the nomination of Mr. Ibrahim Magu, as the substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was one of the sour developments in the anti-corruption battle declared by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Going by similar odd occurrences during his stint as the country’s military head of state, it is just as if history was out to play some tricks on the President.
On December 31, 1983, some coupists in the Nigeria Army sacked the civilian administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. When the martial music slowed, General Buhari was selected to head the junta and within the following 20 months, Buhari in partnership with his unsmiling deputy, Tunde Idiagbon, pursued a programme of social sanitation prosecuted as War Against Indiscipline (WAI).
WAI was programmed as an extension of the campaign against corruption that prompted the sacking of the civilian politicians. Part of the strategies of nullifying the acts of corruption perpetrated by the sacked politicians, was a review of the currency designs and denominations.
Citizens were expected to exchange their old naira notes for the new ones. To make the measure effective, the country’s land borders, sea and airports were barricaded to ensure strict screening of cargoes or luggage coming into the country.
While that strict regimen was being enforced, there was a case of an influential northerner arriving in the country from Saudi Arabia with 53 or more suitcases. As the customs officials at the Lagos Airport sought to extend their examination into the contents of the bags, a military officer came around and whisked the man and his bags away. That matter not only made newspaper headlines, it left a permanent dark patch on the fight against nepotism and indiscipline.
Just like Magu, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, David Babachir Lawal, the Chief of Staff to the President, Malam Abba Kyari and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, all appointees of the President are in the eyes of reputation storm for the government.
As Nigerians come into year 2017 with gratitude to God for surviving their unsteady journey through 2016, there is no doubt that they do so with reservations. Many people have expressed such reservations about the possibility of the country coming out of the recession, having bitten hard on the nation’s socio-economic life. And because economics dictate the dynamics of politics, 2017 would witness a separation of forces for and against the establishment.
Opposition politics therefore would define the year, such that the drums for 2019 could beat faster and thereby serve as a diversionary therapy against the vagaries of Nigeria’s inclement economic weather. Automobile consultant and franchisee, Dr. Cosmas Maduka holds the view that Nigeria may never witness an exchange rate of N350 to a dollar. If Maduka’s insight holds true, the possibility of the dollar wrestling the naira at around N500 would no doubt put more pressures on not only the federal government, but also Nigerians. That would be the defining point of 2017 politics as citizens may further lose confidence in the administration, which promised much and achieved little in making naira stand head to head with the dollar at N1 to $1
It is just as if 2016 was stacked with trouble unlimited for the Buhari administration; even as Nigerians grapple with harsh economic downturn that mirrors an impending depression. All these make the 2016 a year to forget in a hurry and 2017 one to expect with trepidation. How far would the Federal Government go in its bid to borrow and spend the country’s economy out of depression? The answer to that question holds the key to 2017, and therefore, 2019 politics.