Politics: Issues That’ll Grab the Headlines

30 Dec 2012

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Constitutional log

Vincent Obia, Onwuka Nzeshi, and Jaiyeola Andrews look at issues that are set to grab headlines next year 2012 has been a jam packed year for politics, what with the various fuel battles, terrorism, constitution review, and bickering towards 2015. It looks like 2013 will be no different. It is set to be yet another great year for politics. There are many events and issues to look forward to in 2013.

Constitution Review
With the unprecedented nationwide open sessions held by the National Assembly at the constituency level in commencement of the constitution review exercise, 2013 will be an important year for the constitution amendment process.

The House of Representatives held its public sessions on November 10 in the 360 federal constituencies across the country, while the public hearings by the Senate held at six zonal centres nationwide on November 15 and 16 as follows: North-central, Makurdi; North-east, Gombe; North-west, Sokoto; South-east Enugu; South-south, Calabar; and South-west, Lagos.

The public sessions focused on 43 priority areas, though, the National Assembly said that did not foreclose the canvassing of other issues. Issues at the top of the agenda included state creation, state police, local government autonomy (possible abolition of the state/local government joint account), devolution of powers, constitutional recognition for the six geopolitical zones, independence of the states Houses of Assembly, and power of the traditional institutions.

Stakeholders raised other issues, including campaign donations, internal democracy in political parties, how to develop lobbying in the country, provision for referendum in constitution amendment, constitutional recognition for the Freedom of Information Act, autonomy for the public media, residence and indigeneship, women’s rights, elimination of discrimination against women, creation of the office of First Lady, and removal of age criteria for elections.

According to Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, the Senate received 241 memoranda – apart from the ones it inherited from the sixth senate – including 56 requests for state creation.
Ekweremadu promised that the constitution review exercise would be concluded by July next year, “So it doesn’t get choked with the politics of 2015.”

Analysts say the legislators will need to take advantage of the constitution review exercise to examine the fundamental questions that have been tearing the country apart and killing incentive for productivity. Already, key thematic areas have been established to guide the amendment debate.

But the fear in many quarters is that the legislators have a notorious reputation for shying away from fundamental national questions, making any sort of hope for real change from the constitution review exercise very dim.

2015 Presidency
With 2012 behind them, key players in the 2015 presidential election politics will look to the challenges of 2013. The main challenge for them will be to keep the momentum or possibly raise their game.

The man who is the centre of attention in the 2015 presidency issue, President Goodluck Jonathan, has said that he will not declare his intention to contest or not until 2014. He disclosed this during a media chat on November 18.

Such suspense appears to be the hallmark of Jonathan’s presidential politics. A similar dilly-dallying had preceded his declaration via Facebook on September 15, 2010 to contest the 2011 presidential election.

Jonathan was sworn in as Acting President on February 9, 2010 through an unprecedented act of the Senate, the Doctrine of Necessity, which followed the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s long absence from duty owing to ill health. He became substantive president on May 6, 2010 following Yar’Adua’s death the day before.

A section of the elite in northern Nigeria had opposed Jonathan’s intentions to contest the 2011 presidential election. The Northern Political Leaders Forum had argued that the north was yet to exhaust its presidential turn of two terms of eight years under a North-South political arrangement in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party.

NPLF vehemently opposed Jonathan’s presidency, but to no avail. Some experts have attributed the intensified insurgency of the Islamic terror group, Boko Haram, since after the 2011 presidential election, which Jonathan won, to the continued opposition to his presidency.
Some individuals and groups have already objected to Jonathan’s yet-undeclared second term bid. Such opposition is likely to deepen among sections of the elite in 2013.

However, within the north this time, it seems unlikely that opposition to Jonathan’s presidential ambition would be anchored by any clear-cut organisation.
On their part, governors are likely to be more assertive in terms of speaking their minds on the 2015 presidency. Such assertiveness would be more from governors that are doing their last constitutional tenures. Twenty three of the 36 states’ governors are doing their last governorship terms and, thus, will not be contesting the governorship election in their states in 2015. They may feel less beholden to the Presidency and more inclined to find their tongues.

FG/Governors Faceoff
A step up in standoffs between the federal and state governments is also expected on the economic front. Already, governors of the 36 states, under the aegis of the Nigerian Governors Forum, are in court with the federal government over deductions by the later to fund the fuel subsidy scheme. About the second week of this month, the governors had dragged the federal government to the Supreme Court to protest what they termed the central government’s unilateral deductions from the Federation Account to fund the fuel subsidy regime from 2007 to 2012. The suit was filed on behalf of the Attorneys-General of Abia State and his counterparts from the other 35 states by a team of six lawyers, including Joseph Bodunrin Daudu (SAN) and Lateef Fagbemi (SAN). Citing the Attorney-General of Federation and the National Assembly as first and second defendants, respectively, the states accused the federal government of usurping the powers of the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency by giving the agency illegal directives to honour unverified vouchers from petroleum products importers to the detriment of the federating units. They said such porous procedure had created room for the huge fuel subsidy scams that the federal government is still battling to resolve. 

The states are seeking a restitutory order of the Supreme Court directing the federal government to repay the states their 24 per cent share of the deducted funds. Decision on the matter is expected next year.

There is also the unresolved disagreement between the federal government and the states over the sovereign wealth fund, which the later officially set up in May last year and established the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority to manage. The federal government made an initial cash injection of $1 billion to the fund in October last year. But the governors of the 36 states have challenged the legality of the federal government’s decision to transfer money from the (now defunct) Excess Crude Account to the newly-established NSIA’s three sub-funds, insisting that the federal government is acting outside agreements mutually reached by the two tiers of government. At the request of the federal government, there have been attempts to resolve the issue out of court, but a final agreement has yet to be reached. These efforts would continue in the New Year with possible negative consequences for relations between the two levels of government.

The country has witnessed a build up of insecurity in various forms since 2009, when the Islamic group, Boko Haram, first clashed publicly with the security agencies, leading to the controversial death of its founder, Mohammed Yusuf. This was followed by the 2010 Independence Day bombing in Abuja by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta and series of bombings by Boko Haram. They include the June 16, 2011 bombing of the police headquarters in Abuja, which was Nigeria’s first experience of suicide bombing, the August 26, 2011 bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja that killed about 24 persons, and the December 25, 2011 bombing of Saint Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, in Niger State.

Major attacks by Boko Haram in 2012 include the July 30 bombing of the Nigeria Police zonal headquarters in Sokoto and two other police stations in the town, which killed about five persons, and the November 25 twin-car bomb attack on Saint Andrew’s Military Protestant Church located at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Kaduna, in which about 17 persons died.
There was an escalation in kidnapping for ransom, especially in the southern parts of the country.

But experts predict that there may be a reduction in the rate of insecurity across the country in the New Year, as the security agencies try to build on their recent successes, which seem obvious from the marked reduction in high profile bombings and attacks.

Opposition Merger
The major opposition parties have engaged in series of discussions aimed at forming a merger ahead of the next general elections in 2015. Former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu, who is the national leader of Action Congress of Nigeria, and Congress for Progressive Change leader and presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari, had pioneered the coalition effort before the 2011 general election, but the alliance did not materialise.

However, indications are that the opposition alliance may be consummated next year. Former Yobe State Governor Bukar Abba Ibrahim told newsmen in Abuja recently that CPC, ACN, All Nigeria Peoples Party and other opposition parties would fuse into a new party by March next year.

“Before March 2013, we are going to reach an accord on this merger, that is the deadline for the merger materialising.
“From all indications, the parties are looking forward to forming a totally new party where all the opposition parties will come together as one entity,” Ibrahim, a member of the ANPP National Rebuilding and Interparty Contact Committee, said.

Presidential Hopefuls
A number of politicians are suspected to nurse presidential ambitions ahead of 2015, but the picture remains unclear. 2013 will, thus, present a clearer picture, with heightened activities by aspirants to announce their intentions.
Those that may throw their hats into the ring on the platform of the PDP, besides Jonathan, include former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Senate President David Mark, House of Representatives Speaker Aminu Tambuwal, Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido, and Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu. 

On the opposition camp, Buhari and Shekarau are among those expected to vie for the presidency.
Former Abia State Governor Orji Kalu and Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha, a member of All Progressives Grand Alliance, may contest if the presidency is zoned to the South-east by the ruling party. Ekweremadu, a member of PDP, may also contest if the party zones the ticket to South-east.

Though, his party, FRESH Democratic Party, has been de-registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission, Reverend Chris Okotie may still contest on a different platform. Journalist Dele Momodou, who was presidential candidate of National Conscience Party in 2011, is also expected to run again. 

Party De-registration
INEC de-registered 28 political parties on December 6, in the most far-reaching of such exercises since 2003, when the opposition groups, then led by the late legal luminary, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, won a legal battle against the commission’s restrictions on party formation. It had earlier de-registered about eight parties. And on December 21, INEC decertified another three parties, bringing the total number de-registered so far by the commission to nearly 40.

The reasons for the de-registrations are almost similar: failure to meet the requirements of the law in the composition of the parties’ national executive committees, lack of verifiable head offices, and failure to win any seat in the national or state assemblies.
The de-registration exercise is set to continue in the New Year. Many more parties will go as the country marches towards the 2015 general election. But the decertification would encourage the political parties to look to alliances and grassroots mobilisation efforts. These could help the opposition gain their spurs in a political field that PDP has bestridden like a colossus since the inception of the Fourth Republic.

Helicopter Crash Probe
The Navy helicopter crash on December 15 in Bayelsa State, which killed all six occupants of the aircraft, including the Kaduna State governor, Patrick Yakowa, and former National Security Adviser, General Andrew Azazi, really shook the whole country. The military authorities have commissioned a probe into the accident.

The New Year would witness a lot of pressure from different quarters for the authorities to get to the root of the accident. Already, the governors, under the aegis of the NGF, are demanding to be part of the investigation of the crash that killed one of their own.
But the crash also looks set to stir interest in similar probes that had seemed to be swept under the carpet. They include the March 14 helicopter crash in Plateau State that killed then recently promoted Deputy Inspector General of Police John Haruna along with three others: the pilot, Assistant Commissioner of Police Garba Yalwa; co-pilot, Chief Superintendent of Police Alexander Pwol-Ja; and orderly to the DIG, Sergeant Sonatian Shirunam. The police authorities have yet to conclude their investigation into the accident. The September 17, 2006 crash of an Air Force transport plane in Benue State in which about 15 senior military officers died is also yet to be resolved.

Between the Villa and the National Assembly
For the most part of the outgoing year, the relationship between the Presidency and the National Assembly was anything but cordial. Some political analysts have described the relationship as persistently turbulent and usually stormy. It was akin to a cat and mouse relationship, though, this was more pronounced in the relationship between the Villa and the House of Representatives.
The two institutions often approached each other with lots of ego, show of power and much suspicion.

SUBSIDY: At the beginning of the year, the Presidency and the National Assembly got entangled in a fuel subsidy imbroglio. The Presidency announced the scrapping of the subsidy on petroleum products. In response, the House condemned the policy review and instituted an investigation into the management of the Petroleum Support Fund. It agreed with the Presidency that the subsidy scheme was dogged by corruption but did not believe scrapping the entire scheme was the way out. The lawmakers took the rather populist position of insisting that subsidy must remain and government must confront headlong the hydra-headed monster called corruption and its agents, the oil cabal. The Senate also commissioned a similar probe.

The House Adhoc Committee commenced its probe of the subsidy scheme on the presumption that much of the corruption associated with the scheme was the handiwork of some highly placed persons in the executive arm of government. It worked relentlessly on that theory until Hon.  Farouk Lawan ran into the N620, 000 bribery scandal, and the hunter became the hunted. Even this occurrence generated more suspicion and fuelled the conspiracy theory that the Villa was at war with the Green Chamber.

HEMBE-GATE: It appeared that whenever there was a misfortune on one side, it was considered a fortune on the other side.
The House soon embarked on another investigation. This time, it was to unravel the collapse of the capital market. It was not long before the investigators of the capital market became those to be investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over another bribery scandal. This has remained a sore point in the relationship between the House and the Villa even till this day.

BUDGET: By June, when the House was preparing to embark on its annual vacation, the lawmakers took the fight straight to the Villa. The lawmakers conducted a mid-year audit of the 2012 budget and released a preliminary report that painted the executive in very dark colours. This was accompanied by a subtle threat of impeachment, which also kept the executive on its toes. The relationship was further complicated by the insistence by the legislators that budget 2012 must be fully implemented and the 2013 budget presented to the parliament early to enhance early passage.
It is, however, heart warming to know that though the House may appear troublesome, it is essentially doing its job and right on track in the eyes of the constitution.

But Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi, disagrees that the relationship between the legislature and the executive was ever stormy. She insists it has been cordial. According to Emodi, the relationship is a special case and cannot be different from what it has been going by the democratic principle of checks and balances between the legislature and the executive.

Emodi describes the swift passage of the 2013 budget as a product of the growing understanding and mutual respect between the Presidency and the National Assembly.
The quick  passage of the  2013 Appropriation Bill, Emodi  says, has demonstrated  that  the  lawmakers have begun to understand and  reciprocate  the democratic  disposition and mature  gestures  of President Goodluck Jonathan on the issue of the budget.

“This is a pivotal moment in our nation’s history, as it is the first time since 1999 that the budget of a succeeding year has been passed in the preceding year. This is traceable to the leadership shown by Mr President through dialogue, early presentation as well as the hard work, commitment and team spirit shown by the leadership and entire members of the National Assembly,” she says.
In the coming year, the issues that dominated the scene in 2012 are likely to remain on the front burner.

The Petroleum Industry Bill, budget 2013, and the constitution review are likely issues that may pit the National Assembly and the Presidency against each other.  The consolation, however, is that just like they have resolved similar issues in the past, there is hope that tomorrow could be better.

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