Key political events that defined Nigeria in 2017
The year that ends today has been one of the most challenging years in the history of Nigeria. From the social, economic and political points of view, 2017 has been very traumatic and will no doubts leaves a sour taste in the mouth of many Nigerians as it folds its wings today.
Looking critically at the political events that made headline news this year, President Muhammadu Buhari’s longest absence from the country and from his duty post, cannot be glossed over as it was a prime event that overheated Nigeria’s political firmament like no other.
His long absence resulted in the emergence of a pressure group (Our Mumu Don Do) led by Charles Oputa, an entertainment maestro and son of the late Nigeria’s most distinguished legal icons, Justice Chukwudifu Oputa. The group led a protest asking the President to resume of resign.
To many Nigerians, the movement was very effective, as the President returned home exactly 4:48 pm on August 19, being the week the protest was launched in Abuja, after spending 104 days on medical vacation in the United Kingdom (UK). Buhari had left Nigeria on May 7 for the second round of his medical treatment in London after receiving 82 rescued Chibok school girls who were abducted by the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, in April 2014.
The President’s ill-health, his long absence from home and the wrong handling of the matter by his aides divided Nigerians along ethnic, religious, political and ideological lines. While he tarried in London with so much secrecy over his health, insinuations became the order of the day. Several online reports suggested that the President was on a life support; some others declared he was dead. These necessitated the visits of some party chieftains and few politicians from other parties, particularly those considered innocuous.
As the controversy over the actual health status of the President festered, the business of governance suffered as some cabals hijacked the machinery of government, thus creating confusion in the corridors of power.
While the President’s seat remained vacant, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo did his best trying to cover the mess. At a point, it was alleged by some mischief makers that his being industrious was a ploy to undermine his boss and to create an air of “I-can-do-it-without-him” or “I-am-better-than-my-boss.”
IPOB activities stole headlines
The activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) were taken to a dangerous level this year. The group led by Nnamdi Kanu effectively took control of the South East geo-political zone, insisting that it was secession or nothing. The release of Kanu on bail sometime this year, seemingly provided the group more petrol for their fury of agitation. Although Kanu, according to the conditions for his release, was not expected to address a rally or crowd, among others, he apparently flouted the conditions to the chagrin of a Federal Government, many have accused of being nepotistic in its handling of issues since 2015.
In his first broadcast to Nigerians after he returned from his medical trip, Buhari read a riot act to the group, warning them not to cross the “red line”.
“In the course of my stay in the United Kingdom, I have been kept in daily touch with events at home. Nigerians are robust and lively in discussing their affairs, but I was distressed to notice that some of the comments, especially on social media, have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation. This is a step too far.
“In 2003 after I joined partisan politics, the late Chief EmekaOjukwu came and stayed as my guest in my hometown Daura. Over two days we discussed in great depth till late into the night and analysed the problems of Nigeria. We both came to the conclusion that the country must remain one and united. Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable. We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble and when things get bad they run away and saddle others with the responsibility of bringing back order, if necessary with their blood,” Buhari stated in the broadcast.
Following the threat, the President dispatched the military to Abia, the home state of the IPOB leader, for an Operation Python Dance (Egwu Eke). The show of force resulted in the alleged massacre of many youths, which some groups, including international organisations, have continued to condemn.
Fayose versus EFCC
The legal battle between Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State and the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) also generated overwhelming public interest during the second month of the year, after the governor raised fresh alarm about the frozen of his Zenith Bank account by the anti-graft agency.
“This is the impunity we are condemning. The bank and the EFCC got all the judgments of the court, but the agency still harassed the bank to act against the law. If I sent somebody with a cheque, they could give excuse but I was there myself and acts of impunity such as this cannot continue. We will challenge them,” he said.
The Appeal Court sitting in Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital had dismissed an interlocutory application brought before it by the EFCC against Governor Fayose. The EFCC, in the application, sought to restrain Zenith Bank Plc from allowing the governor to gain access to his accounts domiciled in the bank.
However, the Appeal Court panel comprising Justices Ahmed Belgore, Fatima Akinbami and Paul Elechi, in a unanimous verdict dismissed the application, which sparked wide jubilations across Ekiti State and parts of Nigeria.
Grass-cutting scandal and Orbornegate
The fraudulent award of N200 million grass-cutting contract by the recently sacked Babachir Lawal, as Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and that of Ayo Oke, sacked National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Director General (DG) following a discovery of $43.4 million in an apartment on Osborne, Ikoyi area of Lagos, which were alleged to be for ‘covert operations’ were major events that also made headlines. The sacked SGF did not go down without adding a comic angle to an otherwise serious matter.
While being besieged by cameramen on the day he was suspended over the matter, he responded with an air pomposity, which confirmed the allegation of existence of a cabal in Aso Rock.
Asked if he was aware that the Presidency had suspended him, he snapped: “Who is the Presidency; who is the Presidency.”
Kachikwu Vs Baru: The $25 billion NNPC scandal
Perhaps, the biggest corruption allegation to have rocked the boat of the Buhari administration was the October allegation of fraudulent contract awards leveled against Maikanti Baru, Group managing director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), by Ibe Kachikwu, minister of State for Petroleum.
In a letter dated August 30 addressed to Buhari, Kachukwu stated that the Crude Term contracts- valued at over $10b; DSDP contracts- valued at over $5b; AKK pipeline contract- valued approximately at $3b; various financing allocation funding contracts with the NOCs – valued at over $3b; various NPDC production service contracts – valued at over $3b–$4b, were never reviewed by or discussed with him or the Board of NNPC.
“I know that bravado management style runs contrary to the cleansing operations you engaged me to carry out at the inception of your administration. This is also not in consonance with your renowned standards of integrity,” the letter read in part.
Messy as the scandal appeared, everything has since been swept under the carpet, as usual.
Scarcely had the dust raised by the NNPC scandal settled than the secret reinstatement of Abdulrasheed Maina, a former head of Presidential Task Force on Pension Reform (PTFPR) into the Nigerian Civil Service and his subsequent promotion to director in charge of Human Resources Department of the Ministry of Interior, came to the open.
Maina is allegedly complicit in the over N2 billion Pensions Biometric scam in the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation. He was in 2013 declared wanted by the EFCC.
Maina, who was on July 21, 2015 mentioned by the EFCC as a major accomplice in a 24-count charge filed against Stephen Oronsaye, former head of service, and two others before a Federal High Court bordering on procurement fraud and obtaining by false pretense, told a television channel last month that powerful people are after his life for the role he played in helping government to recover looted pension funds. His family also told journalists that Maina was reinstated by the Buhari administration.
Winifred Oyo-Ita, current Head of Civil Service of the Federation; Abubakar Malami, attorney-general of the Federation; Ibrahim Magu, acting EFCC chairman; Kemi Adeosun, minister of Finance; Ahmed Idris, accountant-general of the Federation; Mohammed Babangede, comptroller-general of the Nigerian Immigration Services; and Abubakar Magaji, the permanent secretary, Ministry of Interior, were some of those quizzed at the ongoing House of Representatives probe on the Maina saga.
The scandal is yet to be settled and heads are yet to roll as the year winds down.
The legal smoke that nearly chocked PDP
The trouble in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which started in a bid to determine the party’s future, was a major issue in 2017. The impasse saw a prolonged legal tussle until Ali Modu Sheriff was finally sacked as PDP chairman by the Supreme Court.
The torturous legal distress began for the PDP when it became obvious that Sheriff planned to extend his tenure beyond his three-month mandate ahead of the convention which was slated to hold on May 21, 2016, in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, resulting in two Federal High Courts- one in Abuja and the other in Port Harcourt giving conflicting rulings on the legality or otherwise of the convention.
On August 15, 2016 Justice Okon Abang ordered the suspension of the planned national convention initially scheduled to hold on August 17, after the Port Harcourt branch of the same Court gave an order compelling the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the police to ensure the conduct of the convention.
Sheriff then went further to entertain Nigerian political observers by dramatising the whole matter, as he went with a copy of a ruling by a Federal High Court, Lagos, which affirmed the legality of his position as chairman, and sealed up the PDP national secretariat, Abuja.
As the drama continued, and hope to revive the PDP appeared lost, the Port-Harcourt Division of the Appeal Court upturned the decision of the lower court and affirmed Sheriff as the authentic leader of the party.
After months of traversing in lower courts, Sheriff approached the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt to contest a decision which affirmed the emergence of Makarfi as the authentic leader of the PDP.
But the show came to an end for Sheriff when on July 12, a three-member panel of the Supreme Court presided over by Walter Onnoghen, Chief Justice of Nigerian (CJN), sacked and reprimanded him for what it calls “infantile desperation to lead the party,” and declared Makarfi as the authentic chairman.
APC’s own share of internal wrangling
One insinuation that the ruling party has not done much to discountenance is that the APC has not managed its success very well. Internal wrangling has continued to manifest despite efforts by the party national leadership to deny it. Bola Tinubu’s outburst over the outcome of Ondo State APC’s primary election that produced Rotimi Akeredolu as flag bearer only confirmed the fear that the party is just sitting on a keg of gunpowder that may explode in no time.
On several occasions, aggrieved party members, including Tinubu have called for John Odigie-Oyegun to resign as party chairman, just as the PDP members asked Ali Modu Sheriff to throw in the towel.
The former Lagos State governor who enjoyed the loyalty of Rauf Aregbesola, Abiola Ajumobi, Akinwunmi Ambode and Bisi Akande, was absent with his men as Buhari-led other bigwigs to the Akeredolu’s rally. He alleged manipulation of election primary against Olusegun Abraham, his preferred candidate.
Odigie-Oyegun, who got the party’s number one spot on Tinubu’s politicking, soon found himself in a dilemma of loyalty between Buhari, the constitutional head of the party, and Bola Tinubu, a national leaders, to whom he holds his current political relevance.
Even now that both Buhari and Tinubu are working on their perceived strain relationship ahead 2019 general election, indications are still emerging that Tinubu’s loyalists are fed up with the manner their godfather is fast losing relevance in South West politics on one hand, and losing political sons on the other hand to Buhari, who is now in charge of the men he laboured to raise.
Yemi Osinbajo, now Vice President, was Attorney General of Lagos State under Tinubu as governor; Babatunde Raji Fashola, current Minister of Power, Works and Housing, came into political limelight when he served as Tinubu’s Chief of Staff and later succeeded him as governor of the state, but Fashola was said to have fallen out with Tinubu when he opposed the emergence of Ambode as his successor; Kayode Fayemi, now Minister of Mine and Steel Development, became Ekiti State governor with Tinubu’s support; and Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, was spokesperson for Tinubu’s defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
Debate on restructuring/call for implementation of 2014 National Confab Report
This year has witnessed serious and furious debate on Nigeria’s restructuring. While those from the south believe that the country may not move forward without restructuring, the North has continued to kick against it. The proponents of restructuring say that it such an arrangement would address the entrenched marginalisation in the system. The APC and the Muhammadu Buhari administration vehemently opposed the call for restructuring, insisting that debate on the subject matter was unnecessary as the unity of the country, according to them, was sacrosanct. Curiously too, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State said restructuring could mean bye-bye to monthly allocation from the centre, saying that his state may not be able to survive on its own without such handout. However, Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, who recently returned to the PDP after a stint with the APC, has this year taken the debate to many parts of the country and even offshore. Atiku argues that it is wrong for the ruling party to claim that the unity of Nigeria was non-negotiable when indeed the country has remained a bundle of confusion. Moreover, calls for implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference has been rife, but some Northern elements and the current administration have seen no need for it.
Trial of ‘corrupt’ politicians, yet none is convicted
Many politicians are under trial in different law courts by the EFCC over allegation of corrupt enrichment of selves. A large sum of money has been recovered from many of them, yet without conviction. APC has been accused selective persecution as most of those being tried are members of the major opposition party in the country. As if to put paid to the allegation of selective trial, a number of politicians, even those with moral baggage, who left the PDP for APC are either being forgiven or are never being invited let alone prosecuted.
Off season gubernatorial election in Anambra
A gubernatorial election was held in Anambra State. It was a battle furiously fought, lost and won also. Willie Obiano was returned as the governor. The election brought to the fore the card reader challenge as many of the machines malfunctioned on the Election Day. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been urged to get its act together for the general election in 2019. The commission also registered additional 21 political parties toward the end of this year.
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