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Remarkable events that shaped polity in 2020

By Eno-Abasi Sunday
27 December 2020   |   4:26 am
Humanity has never had it so gruel with Mother Nature as it did in the outgoing year 2020. Indeed, the world writhed in pains as humans, in many climes, when they were not waging a war against one of nature’s vagaries, including the novel Coronavirus.....

Humanity has never had it so gruel with Mother Nature as it did in the outgoing year 2020. Indeed, the world writhed in pains as humans, in many climes, when they were not waging a war against one of nature’s vagaries, including the novel Coronavirus pandemic, were contending with diverse sheds of catastrophe, or being battered by natural and unnatural disasters.

Apart from the pandemic, which shattered plans and projections by individuals and governments, the country accelerated its descent into a failed state, while leaders were at their wits’ end, and the government’s spokespersons became more propagandist in nature, and even telling barefaced lies.

However, contrary to what was promised by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, nothing has threatened the corporate existence of the country than worsening insecurity with mass killings, kidnappings, banditry, and sundry violent crimes now taking place almost daily.

Insecurity, Harvest Of Deaths As Biggest Talking Point
NOTHING mirrors the worsening state of insecurity that has enveloped the country in the last five years than the massacres and routine abductions that have become the norm.

State governors last Tuesday amplified the fears that nowhere is no longer safe in the country when their leader and the Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi said that governors were tired and frustrated because of rising insecurity.

The governors under the auspices of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), last week expressed worries over the deteriorating security challenges rocking the country, especially the North West.

Fayemi, while speaking to newsmen last Tuesday in Katsina, confirmed killings, kidnappings, and other nefarious activities were now daily occurrences in the country. He said: “We as governors, we are still very concerned about the security situation in the North West and the entire country. This is almost a daily occurrence and the governors are spending the resources; material and human on this priority issue, which pervades the whole of our country.

“We are all tired and frustrated that these issues are happening but we know that with concerted efforts on our part as governors and the commitment of the Federal Government and the professional conducts of our security services, and our social investment programmes intensified, we shall see the end of this criminality, this brigandage in our states.”

While the governors and other stakeholders in the country hope for the best, the situation on the ground suggests the contrary.
For instance, three weeks ago, over 300 Nigerian schoolboys were abducted from their dormitory in Katsina State, by Boko Haram. A day after they were reunited with their families, another set of students were again kidnapped, but speedily retrieved by security agents. Six Ukrainian sailors also fell into the hands of sea pirates in the country’s waters, only hours after the release of Kankara schoolboys.

Indeed, the sheer quantum and intensity of killings, abductions, brigandage has eroded the capacity of the government to stem the tide.

The statistics is simply mind boggling: On March 4, four police officers and two militiamen were killed by Boko Haram militants during a raid on an army base in Damboa, Borno State. Twenty days later, about 70 soldiers were ambushed and killed by Boko Haram in Goneri village, Borno State, while on April 18, armed bandits killed 47 people in attacks on villages in Katsina State.

On May 18, Boko Haram again attacked a village as Muslims were preparing to break their Ramadan fast after sunset, killing at least 20 people in the first attack of its kind in the North East.

Gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members on June 9, killed 81 villagers in Borno State, while another 20 people were killed in an attack in Katsina State, and on July 23, militants from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), claimed responsibility for the killing of five aid workers.

A mass shooting in Kogi State, on July 29, took the life of 14 people, while on August 25, 18 people were killed after ISWAP militants planted an improvised explosive device on the road between Monguno and Baga, in Borno State.

These deaths, an infinitesimal percentage of what is happening across the country, and the government’s apparent lack of capacity to frontally address the situation, perhaps, forced the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to, on Saturday, December 19, asked Buhari to resign over his comment on the failure of the service chiefs to tame the deteriorating security situation in the country.

A day after President Buhari admitted that the efforts of Nigeria’s security chiefs were not enough to tackle the myriads of security situation across the country, the National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, in a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media, Ike Abonyi, urged the president that rather than the “belated lamentation on deteriorating security situation in the country, he should resign and give way to competent hand to govern the country.”

The PDP boss recalled the advice of President Buhari while in opposition in 2013 to the then President Goodluck Jonathan saying “Jonathan should vacate and give way to a competent hand to govern the country.”

“I find it extremely unacceptable that after the President disregarded all wise counsels to rejig the nation’s security architecture for effectiveness, he is now turning round to admit their failure and blame operatives whom he kept even in their apparent inefficiency,” Secondus said.

Slump In Oil Prices
ONE of the first signs that there would be trouble in paradise for the country’s economy was the slump in oil price, which began quite early in the year.

The slump, which resulted from the end of the OPEC+ agreement and the COVID-19 pandemic, made matters worse for a country that was particularly vulnerable and still recovering from the 2014 oil price crash.

The 2020 fiscal spending was based on an anticipated oil price of $57/bl, but the dip in Brent crude price forced the government to effect a downward review to $30/bl while maintaining proposed production volumes at 2.18mn bl/d.

As predicted by Goldman Sachs, Nigeria lost about $9bn as a result of the fall in oil prices, as the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia raged, a development that successfully railroaded the country into its second recession in six years and its third under a Muhammadu Buhari presidency.

Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, had earlier pointed out that oil prices slump would affect the country’s revenue by as much as 50 per cent, thereby leading to a 20 per cent cut to the country’s capital budget, and an additional 25 per cent cut in her annual expenditure.

“With the reduction of the crude oil price from the $57/bl, we budgeted for to $30/bl means that we are going to get so much less revenue, almost 45pc less than we planned, and because of that we have to amend a lot of projections in the budget to reflect our current realities,” she stated.

Be that as it may, the oil price crash also had its somewhat “positive” impact on the country, that is, the removal of petroleum subsidy regime, which even Buhari thought was a hoax before he took office.

Coronavirus Lockdowns
AFTER an Italian contractor, who flew into the country from Milan, Italy became Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa’s first confirmed coronavirus patient on February 28, there were dire concerns about an outbreak of such a lethal disease that could overwhelm the country and the continent’s already fragile healthcare structures.

Even though the country’s health authorities shocked the world by confirming the index case within 48 hours of the suspicion, a development, which spoke well of the country’s disease surveillance and laboratory capacity, millions feared that the worst would befall the country.

Since the first COVID-19 death in Nigeria (a 67-year-old man who returned to the country following medical treatment in the United Kingdom) was recorded,” the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as at December 23, 2020 confirmed a total of 1, 236 deaths from the dreaded disease.

After the initial lockdown declared by Buhari to curb the spread of the pandemic on March 30, the lockdown was extended barely 14 days after, with restrictions on businesses and extended hours of regulated movements for the public, except for essential service workers. Most state governors had curfews in place for several weeks. Expectedly, the country’s anaemic economy bleeds profusely eventually contributing to pushing her into yet another round of recession.

#EndSARS Protests
FOR far too long, rogue elements in the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) relished in despicable conducts that sullied the image of the force while the Federal Government paid a blind eye to all the atrocities. With the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) an arm of the NPF particularly notorious for these heinous crimes, matters first got to a head in 2016, and a human rights activist, Segun Awosanya popularly known as Segalink started the maiden campaign on Twitter with the hashtag #EndSARS.

Some of the crimes, which these criminally-minded police officers committed against young Nigerians include profiling young males based on fashion choices, tattoos, and hairstyles. They also extorted money from them, illegally detained, and even killed some of them extra-judicially largely on trumped-up charges. These corrupt policemen also mounted illegal roadblocks, arrest and detain without warrant or trial, conducted unwarranted checks and searches, raped women, and maimed young male Nigerians for driving exotic vehicles, using laptops and exotic mobile phones.

So, the #EndSARS protest prompted the police authorities to announce a reform of the troubled unit. That and subsequent efforts of the police ended up being a ruse. But after hundreds of abuses against Nigerians had been committed, an incident in Delta State sparked a national outrage, which dovetailed into a nationwide protest.

With tempers reaching boiling points, the federal and state governments were at a loss on how to calm the volcanic youths. Even the acceptance of the youths’ five-point demand, which included the scrapping of the rogue unit failed to have the required effect on the protesting youths, as they kept on lengthening their demands to include an end to bad governance.

After curfews were imposed in most of the cities, where nerves were already frayed, including Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, Osogbo, Ibadan, and the rest, law enforcement were drafted in to restore sanity. They failed woefully, while thugs and hoodlums took advantage of the bedlam to loot everything they could lay hands.

The shooting of unarmed #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Tollgate did not only become an anti-climax but attracted opprobrium to the Federal Government from world leaders, foreign governments and international civil society groups.

In the wake of the violent clampdown on youths, the vice-president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo apologised to Nigerians, especially the youths saying: “Dear Nigerians, I know that many of you are angry, and understandably so. We could’ve moved faster and for this we are sorry. I fully understand how many young people feel. Many feel that we have been too silent and have simply not done enough. These feelings of frustration are justified.”

He continued: “There are far too many people who have been brutalised at the hands of the police and this is unacceptable. We must take responsibility for protecting young people, even sometimes from those who are paid to protect them.

“Over the past week, we have been following the protests, and I have had several discussions with key people in the administration that you deserve to be informed about. Transparency, after all, is a key tenet of government.

“We understand that you want to see action from us and I’m here to tell you that work is ongoing. I chaired a meeting of 36 state governors and the Minister of the FCT (NEC), where we resolved to set up judicial panels of inquiry so we can see justice served, and fast,” he concluded.

However, at the end of the protests, six soldiers and 37 policemen were killed all over the country during the crisis. Also, 196 policemen were injured; 64 police vehicles were destroyed and 134 police stations burnt down.

In addition, the violence left 57 civilians dead, 269 private/corporate facilities burnt/looted/vandalised, 243 government facilities burnt/vandalized and 81 government warehouses looted.

More than one month after the judicial panels were set up across the country, the Federal Government is still displaying the same lack of capacity to contain the excesses of policemen as they are still molesting, brutalising, extorting and maiming innocent members of the public in different locations across the country.

ASUU Conditionally Suspends Nine-month Old Strike
NINE months after they shutdown university education in the country, university teachers under the aegis of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), last Wednesday “conditionally” suspended the strike action that they embarked on in March, over the backlog of unmet agreements between them and the Federal Government.

The suspension, which took effect from 12:01 a.m. last Thursday, effectively brought to an end, the longest strike action by the university teachers in the country’s history since 1999. In suspending the strike action, the union said it would monitor the Federal Government’s compliance level to the concessions it made.

Since the strike commenced in March, the Federal Government, parents, students, and a legion of civil society groups appealed to ASUU and university-based union leaders to be more sensitive in the pursuit of their demands.

They also condemned incessant strikes by the union saying it was not only detrimental to the progress of the country’s university system, but a truncation of the life journey of young Nigerians as strikes and threats of strikes by the academic staff unions usually delayed their graduation.

But ASUU President, Biodun Ogunyemi, while breaking the news of the strike’s suspension said the decision was reached after its national executive council met on Tuesday.

Ogunyemi, who noted that the suspension followed an understanding, which the union had with the Federal Government, to which ASUU NEC agreed upon, added that the agreements reached must be met within January and March 2021, failure of which fresh industrial actions would be triggered.

In explaining how the latest suspension is different from previous ones, Ogunyemi explained that the deadline for the agreement’s implementation is fixed for February next year.

“The time frame is a bit elastic. Some items are supposed to be addressed in January. Some others will drag till March or thereabouts…This time around, we have agreed to review the status of the implementation by February. That is our mechanism for monitoring. This was not there in some of our previous agreements.”

Mr. Ogunyemi also said the union would ensure that no ASUU member suffers any loss of deserved benefits as a result of participation in the strike.

On IPPIS, which was one of the thorny issues that defined the strike, he said it has also been resolved as “we are the last stage of the integrity test of University Transparency and Accountability Solution (UTAS).” UTAS is the alternative salary payment portal that the union designed after it questioned IPPIS’ capacity to effectively capture its members.

Opening Of Four Land Borders
IN August 2019, the country closed its land borders citing concerns over illegal exports of petroleum products, influx of substandard goods, smuggling of weapons/ammunition, and illegal importation of staples, including rice, and poultry products, which the government claimed were harming local producers.

All through the period that the country attempted to crack down on smuggling activities, inflation rose steadily and prices of foodstuffs soared hitting a two-year high in October.

Outside of the country, the closure had devastating effects on neighbouring countries including Niger, Benin, and Cameroun, whose traders counted serious losses while truckloads of produce were quarantined at the borders.

In November this year, while the borders were still closed, the country ratified the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, which comes into effect on January 1, 2021. The ratification was a strong pointer to the fact that the world’s largest free trade area since the World Trade Organisation had taken a step closer to becoming a reality, especially given the fact that Nigeria, apart from being the most populous nation on the continent, was also the largest economy.

Earlier on, the country had expressed initial reluctance in ratifying its membership of the free-trade zone for fear of exposing local industries to dumping by countries outside the continent.

Several individuals, groups, and sundry stakeholders condemned in very strong terms, the border closure. One of the earliest groups to kick against the border closure was the ECOWAS Parliament, which called on the Federal Government to reopen the land border, stressing that its closure ran contrary to ECOWAS Protocols.

Also, the Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) condemned the closure saying the initiative had taken a negative toll on its members doing business at the borders.

It advised the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to acquire drones and other sophisticated gadgets to help the service monitor activities at the border posts.

A Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, equally condemned the government’s action saying the closure was inconsistent with (ECOWAS) Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment as well as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA).

In a paper on “Rule of Law, Good Governance and Economic Development” delivered at the yearly conference of the ECOWAS Court of Justice in Accra, Ghana, Falana said: “Instead of resorting to the unilateral closure of borders, the Federal Government should drag the Benin Republic and Niger to the ECOWAS Court of Justice for breaching the ECOWAS Protocol by allegedly encouraging the smuggling of petrol, rice and other products.

“In the alternative, smuggling should be addressed like terrorism, which is being jointly combated by Nigeria and her neighbours. Nigeria should stop punishing law-abiding corporate bodies and citizens because of the criminal activities of a few trans-border smugglers.

The strongest hint regarding the then imminent reopening was dropped by the Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, shortly after the AfCFTA ratification when she said that those involved had learned from the closure and worked together on joint border patrols.“We will be expecting that the borders will be reopened very soon,” Ahmed told journalists, adding that the president would determine the exact date.

Barely one month after she dropped the hint, Buhari on December 15, approved the recommendation of a committee for the reopening of four land borders with immediate effect, while others would be reopened in due course.The borders opened for now include Seme in the South West, Mfum in the South South, Ilela and Maigatari borders in the North West.

Obaseki, Umahi’s Decampments
AFTER a lengthy face-off, which eventually led to unpleasant consequences on both sides, Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, formally dumped the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), for the PDP in his bid to get re-elected.

At the peak of his feud with his erstwhile godfather, Adams Oshiomhole, Obaseki got dumped out of the race after he was disqualified from contesting the party’s governorship primary election, which held on June 22. He declined appealing the disqualification, but rather announced that he was changing platform after meeting with Buhari. Obaseki ended up thrashing Oshiomhole’s anointed candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, thereby watering down Oshiomhole’s vice-like grip on Edo politics.

Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State equally jumped ship with his defection to the ruling All Progressive Congress(APC) from PDP.
Insisting that he had no regrets leaving the PDP, Umahi claimed that he moved to the APC because of “injustice” meted out to the South East by the PDP.

He said: “I want to clear the air that I never sought (for) PDP presidential ticket and I will not. So, whoever that said that I moved to APC because they refused to zone the ticket to me is being very mischievous.

“Even if PDP promises somebody presidential ticket how does it work where over 8, 000 delegates will be voting. And such promise cannot happen with more than 10 or 20 people so people are being very mischievous about that.

“There are a lot of qualified persons from the South East. Some people say I was promised lots of things by the APC, there was no such discussion. APC never promised me any position, they never promised South East any position.

“It is absurd that since 1999 going to 2023, the South East will never be considered to run for presidency under the PDP. And this is my position and will continue to be my position. It had nothing to do with me or my ambition,” Umahi said.

But his counterpart from Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike cautioned Umahi to stop blackmailing the PDP just because he wants to become Nigeria’s President.

Wike said: “You have a right to be president. Nobody can stop you. You are educated. You have been a governor for two terms, so you are qualified to say I want to be president of Nigeria.

“But that does not mean that you should blackmail your party, and tell lies to the people that you are leaving the party because of the injustice meted against the South East; that is not correct.”