The Year That Changed Everything

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha embark on an appraisal of some of the landmark events that shaped the year 2020

Before the Pandemic

At the beginning of the year, there were no signs that 2020 would take an unexpected turn. Forecast for the year shed little restoration in the political space. Insecurity was still a nagging problem, impunity of corrupt leaders was still conspicuous, economic hardship was still looming, political gladiators were still pursuing selfish interests than governance and the people still clamouring for restructuring.

On January 19, Boko Haram insurgents killed 17 men of the Nigerian Army two attacks. The next day, Rev. Lawan Andimi, a Christian leader from Adamawa State who was held in captivity was executed by the violent Islamic group.

The economic projection, for many, was based on a national budget of N10.6 Trillion.

However, some changes were imminent. The prevalence of insecurity warranted states to devise new strategies for the safety of the people. The South-west states began talks to launch a security outfit last year and on New Year Day, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State disclosed in his New Year message that the new security outfit ‘Amotekun’ by six states in the region would commence work on January 9. He added that it would complement the efforts of the regular security agencies.

Following the inconsistencies that marked the 2019 election in some states, the Supreme Court in a move that befuddled the Peoples Democratic Party in Imo state sacked Emeka Ihedioha, the proclaimed winner of the election in the state and pronounced Hope Uzodinma, candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the duly elected governor of the state on January 14.

The judgment sparked ire and not a few advocacy groups weighed in on the controversial verdict. They argued that since none of the candidates attained the requirements of Section 179 (2), which stipulates that the winner in a governorship contest should have the highest number of valid votes and a spread of 25 per cent of the votes in two-thirds of the local governments in a state, that a rerun will be apt. That never happened.

Shortly after that came the suspension of Adams Oshiomhole as the National Chairman of APC. A Federal High Court in Abuja on March 4 upheld the suspension of Oshiomhole, who had earlier been suspended by his Etsako Ward 10 in Edo State. His suspension was jubilated by many who saw Oshiomhole as a thorn in their flesh. His suspension would later play out in different colours as the year progressed.

Then the Pandemic Happened

Nigerians are used to disease outbreak within the continent in recent times, but not on a global scale. The outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic caught everyone unprepared. The projected outlook for the continent was gloomy. The Coronavirus pandemic was an unwanted phenomenon that tested the leadership strength of politicians as well as the patience of citizens. Clouded in uncertainty and dread, the pandemic exerted pressure on the President, Muhammadu Buhari, ministers and state governors. Before its arrival, there were calls to close the borders and stop international flights but these measures were not implemented. Even after the first case of the novel virus from the family of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was recorded in the country, international flights were still allowed. The pandemic became an open pandora box that set off a chain of events.

For the first few days of the virus unwelcome arrival, Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu rose to the occasion with an admirable swiftness. His first step was to activate the State Emergency Operations Centre while working closely with the Federal Ministry of Health and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). He also ensured that the bio-security facilities in the state were well equipped with the personnel to treat infected persons after an outcry that the health centres were not conducive enough. As health officials advised social distancing, Sanwo-Olu implemented it in the state, barring social gatherings from clubs to religious centres, that exceeded 50 attendees and the number was whittled down to 20 before the eventual national lockdown.

More infections required the governor to shut down schools and issue a stay-at-home order.

However, the restricted movement required the government to provide a stimulus package for individuals and companies. As the state with the highest number of infections, the Federal Government approved the sum of N10 billion to the state. Financial institutions like GTB and UBA made significant contributions to the state as well. The state also planned stimulus packages for 200,000 householders whose distribution was questionable as there was no data to determine who gets what. For instance, in the Amukoko area of Lagos state, a paltry sum of N120 was distributed to residents. Some state lawmakers’ attempt to provide food packages for their constituents was ridiculed, notably that of the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa whose constituents in Agege made a caricature of his relief materials. Notwithstanding, some eminent politicians extended their largesse to the people. Chief among them was former military and democratic president, Olusegun Obasanjo who donated his former residence at the Presidential Hilltop, Abeokuta, Ogun State, a 32-room facility for use as an Isolation Centre.

With Lagos state getting all the attention from the Federal Government, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State criticised the FG for the preferential treatment to the state. He alleged that the Federal Government was politicising the fight against COVID-19. He argued that he was constantly inundated with letters to allow expatriate oil and gas workers into the state who may or may not be carriers of the virus. He complained that his state should be considered too for special status.

To prevent the spread of the virus in his state, Wike took some drastic measures that were condemned by the public. One of such was the demolishing of Edemete Hotel and Prodest Home. The hotels were said to have flouted the shutdown order in the state but the owners reportedly said the buildings were brought down because they refused to pay a bribe to the officials. The government, however, denied the accusation. The governor made news for authorising the arrest of two pilots from Caverton Helicopters, whom he claimed illegally entered the state.

Still on palliatives, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disasters Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouk came under fire for the perceived fraudulent activities surrounding the cash disbursement of the palliative sum of N20,000 to some Nigerians. The opposition party Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) argued that FG must provide accurate details on how the proposed fund will be spent.

In Akwa Ibom, the situation was no less dramatic. In a move that surprised many, Akwa Ibom State government complained loudly and expressed disapproval over the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s (NCDC) announcement that five cases of Coronavirus were identified in the state. The state consistently denied the presence of the virus in the state, despite early warnings from the World Health Organisation that some states were at high risk of Coronavirus outbreak.

Although state governors were mostly attacked for their response to COVID-19, the president, Buhari was not spared. His attitude of not speaking with citizens angered many Nigerians who interpreted it as a lack of empathy. On numerous occasions, Sanwo-Olu who made it a habit to communicate with Lagosians on the latest update on the fight against COVID-19 was commended and recommended to the President for lessons on how to show empathy.

A worrisome trend during the lockdown period of the pandemic was the spread of misinformation. Conspiracy theories were copious and not a few respectable persons acted like purveyors of such falsehood. One of them is the founder of Believers Loveworld Pastor Chris Oyakhilome who raised an alarm that the lockdown was a ploy by the government to install a 5G network in Nigeria.

Such deliberate distortion of information would take an unwanted form in subsequent days.

As infection cases spiked, so did the number of deaths, and Aso Rock was not immune to it. The virus claimed the life of one of the President’s right-hand men, Abba Kyari. In his lifetime, the late Chief of Staff was a popular gambit in the national discourse. This was due to his influence in the Presidential Villa. His godlike influence was always whispered, even to the extent that many saw him as the de facto president. Kyari who died on April 17 after contracting the virus was still a mystery in death, drawing sympathy and apathy from friends and foes.

Nearly two months later, Nigeria lost another politician to Coronavirus. The beloved Senator representing Lagos East Senatorial District, Adebayo Osinowo was said to have died on June 15 from COVID-19 complications. Fondly called ‘Pepper’, the senator was greatly mourned by his constituents. Within the same constituency, the lawmaker representing Kosofe Constituency 1 at the Lagos State House of Assembly, Tunde Braimoh, also died.

Another victim of COVID-19 was the former two-term governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi. The governor was said to have died from complications of the disease on June 25. Like Kyari, his death met mixed reactions.

The unfortunate passing of the Commissioner for Health in Ondo state, Wahab Adegbenro on July 2 did not only shock the public but was a wicked reminder that the virus was no fearer of persons or age. The commissioner was said to contract the disease from patients he was attending to in his private hospital. Due to his underlying health problem, he couldn’t survive the virus.

Buruji Kashamu, the long-time foe of former President Olusegun Obasanjo bowed to COVID-19 on August 8, at a time when Nigerians were adjusting to the new normalcy instituted by the pandemic. Senator Ben Murray-Bruce announced his death on Twitter. Condolences poured from many politicians but the one that ruffled a few feathers was from Obasanjo. The former President in a letter that was leaked on social media suggested that the late Ogun state senator deployed the manoeuvre of law and politics to escape justice on an alleged criminal offence but couldn’t escape the cold hands of death. His letter was deemed insensitive by some, while others hailed the elder statesman for his bluntness.

While COVID-19 claimed some lives, some political elites were infected with the virus, but managed to recover. They include the Governor of Abia state, Okezie Ikpeazu; Governor and deputy governor of Bauchi state, Bala Mohammed and Baba Tela; Ekiti state governor, Kayode Fayemi; Governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai; Governor of Ondo state, Rotimi Akeredolu; and Governor of Oyo state Seyi Makinde.

Apart from COVID-19 related deaths, Nigeria lost quite a few politicians this year. They include Rose Oko, a female Senator from Cross River State who died on March 23 in a hospital in the United Kingdom from an undisclosed ailment; Senator representing Plateau South in the National Assembly, Ignatius Longjan, who died in a Turkish hospital in Abuja on February 9; and former governor of Kaduna state in the Second Republic, Balarabe Musa who died from a heart attack on November 11. Businessman and former Chieftain of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP), Chief Harry Akande passed away on Saturday, December 5.

Revised Budgets

Due to the pressure on the economy occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis in the oil market, The Federal Government had to cut down the 2020 budget by over N320 billion and proposed a new budget of N10.27 trillion against the N10.59 trillion passed by the National Assembly.

All the states in the country took a cue from the FG and also revised their budgets in the light of prevailing economic realities. Some states like Ebonyi State embarked on an elaborate public inclusion of CSOs and other interest groups, to make a show of carrying every one along. Other states like Bayelsa barely kept within the confines of the law by enlisting the cooperation of the state lawmakers only.

Edo and Ondo Elections

Away from COVID-19, there was intriguing power play in the political arena. Chief among them was the power tussle between Oshiomhole and his erstwhile political godson Godwin Obaseki. While battling his chairmanship position in the party, Oshiomhole worked against Obaseki’s effort to get the party’s blessing to run for a second term. The party’s refusal to grant him a ticket made Obaseki switch parties to the delight of the opposition party, PDP. They welcomed the new member with open arms and saw his defection as a sign of victory over the ruling party. His defection coincided with the Appeal Court sack of Oshiomhole as the chairman of the party and a few days after, President Buhari dissolved Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee of APC, bringing to an end the confrontational leadership style of the trade unionist turned politician.

Nonetheless, Oshiomhole alongside Senator Ahmed Tinubu backed Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu whose ambition to occupy the executive seat of Edo state was yet to be realised. The Edo election thus became a battle between persons and not parties. It was a battle between Oshiomhole and Obaseki. If Oshiomhole had any chance of maintaining relevance in the state, it was ruined by Tinubu’s last campaign for Ize-Iyamu where he told indigenes to vote out Obaseki. The corresponding response was not what he anticipated. Supporters of Obaseki kicked at the Senator, reminding him that Edo state was not Lagos. His outburst would later secure a win for Obaseki which inadvertently diminished Oshiomhole’s persona as well as foil Ize-Iyamu’s political dream.

In Ondo state, the theatrics were less dramatic as Akeredolu won his second term bid.

APC Crises and Buhari’s Successor, Umahi’s Defection to APC

With a few weeks to the end of the year, it is becoming clear that the six-month mandate given to the Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni-led APC Caretaker Committee may be prolonged. A NEC of the party is expected to hold tomorrow, Tuesday, December 8, but a convention at which new national officers will be elected may not be possible this year.

Meanwhile, the battle over who will carry the presidential flag of the APC is heating up the polity and is largely responsible for the multiple crises in the party. Not a few chieftains of the party have declared that there is a gentleman’s agreement to rotate the presidential slot between the north and the south. However, a strong campaign has emerged to zone the 2023 APC presidential ticket to an Igbo candidate.

It is in this light that many see the defection of Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State to the APC. Multiple attacks have been hurled at Umahi over his recent defection to APC from the PDP. The antagonists claim that he has been promised the presidential ticket of the APC.

INEC’s Mahmood Yakubu Sets Record

Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu has become the first in that office to get a second tenure

The years 2015 to 2020 have recorded some of the most history-making and calamitous events in Nigerian electoral history. And this is the period Yakubu took charge. His reappointment by President Buhari for another five years has been confirmed by the Senate.

‘Off the Mic Drama’ and NDDC Probe

Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio turned the heat on federal legislators when he told a House of Representatives panel probing alleged N40 billion irregular expenditure at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) that most of the contracts were given to National Assembly members. Embarrassed by this revelation on national television, “It’s ok Hon. Minister, off your mic,” a member of the panel told him.

ASUU’s Strike Without End

Students of government owned universities have been at home since March 9 when their lecturers embarked on a strike to press home multiple demands and also formce the Federal Government to honour previous agreements reached their union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

Many meetings habe since been held between the negotiating teams of ASUU and the FG, but there seems to be no solution to be one of the primary concerns-which is whether ASUU should be on the payment platform for federal government workers. Already, the FG may have broken the resistance of the union by registering a rival body, Congress of University Academics (CONUA).

Between the Nigeria Police and the Police Service Commission

A planned increase in the number of policemen ran into a stalemate as the leadership of the Nigeria Police engages the Police Service Commission over who has the right to personnel into the force. The matter has become a subject of litigation.

EndSARS Campaigns

The wave of protests that spread across the world this year did not elude Nigeria. In a protest that nearly turned to a revolution, the Nigerian government felt threatened by the power of the youths.

It all started with a protest to end the unjust harassment and brutality of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a special unit of the Police. The protest was sparked by the killing of a Nigerian youth in Delta state. The movement gained traction both online and offline with protesters crowding the streets of different parts of the country to demand the scrapping of the unit. However, the protest resulted in killings and lootings after the protesters refused to end the campaign following the scrapping of SARS. Some politicians fell victim to the assault by hoodlums, including the Minister of Youths and Sports Sunday Dare who was attacked in Ogbomoso, Ibadan state. Police stations and police officers were targeted. The height of the protest was the alleged shooting of protesters at Lekki tollgate by the Nigerian army on October 20. A disc jockey DJ Switch who streamed the event live claimed that the army shot at unarmed protesters and carted away their corpse. That allegation is being investigated by a judiciary panel. Although reports from international media CNN corroborated Switch’s claim. The Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed dismissed the report of CNN, terming it unprofessional.

The aftermath of the alleged shooting was a series of looting and arson that turned Lagos state to a dystopian nightmare. Government parastatals, state commercial buses, judiciary courts and even the revered Oba of Lagos Rilwan Akiolu’s palace were vandalised. Sanwo-Olu was not spared as both his family and mother’s homes were torched. He was accused of calling the army on the protesters. Tinubu too was not spared. Businesses related to him were torched as he, like Sanwo-Olu was accused of masterminding the alleged massacre at the Lekki tollgate. Protesters reportedly gathered at his house in Bourdillon street in Ikoyi to air their anger. With chaos in the state, hoodlums used the opportunity to attack businesses and shopping malls, a notable one was the looting of shops at Bode Thomas Street in Surulere.

The looting spree led to the discovery of warehouses where piles of palliatives were stored. The supplies were contributions from the private sector to government to help citizens during the peak of the pandemic. That discovery incensed Nigerians who saw the hoarding as an act of cruelty by politicians. News of looting of Covid-19 palliatives warehouses became rampant before a degree of orderliness was restored.

Meanwhile, the government incensed by the damage caused by the End SARS protests ordered the CBN to freeze the accounts of some identified champions of the protest, a move that again fetched the government vitriols.

A critic of the government, Seun Kuti, youngest son of late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti revived his father’s Movement of the People to the chagrin of the Lagos state government.

Again, social media was used to spread fake news during the heat of the protest and as such calls to effect the social media bill was whispered for fear of the wrath of the people.

In Rivers state, Wike signed an executive order banning any activity of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) in the state after members of the group were alleged to have carried out some looting in the state.

The resulting outcome of that order was a retort from IPOB leader who asked his followers to ignore the governor’s threat. Killings were reported in Oyigbo where persons thought to have allegiance with IPOB were affected. Kanu in a scathing statement said that the governor will not go free.

Insecurity

One of the campaign promises of Buhari was to put an end to the terrorist group Boko Haram. But in his five years in office, that promise is yet to be fulfilled. The latest killing of over 40 farmers in the northeastern state Borno has sparked an outcry. Nigerians mourn the death of the farmers while interrogating Buhari’s intervention in the insecurity crisis. A statement by one of the media aides to the president Garba Shehu regarding the killings was taken out of context leading to an outpour of anger on social media. The media aide while addressing the sad incident said that the farmers didn’t get clearance from the military before resuming activity. He said that though the areas have been liberated from the insurgents, it needs to be cleared by the military before farming or habitation can take place. People saw his statement as insensitive and indirect blame on the dead farmers.

This led to an invitation to President Buhari by the House of Representatives to explain the wanton loss of lives of Nigerians. The President has accepted to visit the federal legislature.

Kidnappings and banditry were also rampant in 2020, particularly in the northeast.

Corruption Untamed

The arrest of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Ibrahim Magu on July 6 in Abuja was greeted with befuddlement. Magu who headed the anti-graft agency was accused of insubordination and re-looting of recovered funds by Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami. He was also accused of violating the code of conduct by allegedly failing to declare his assets when he assumed office in 2015. The series of allegations led to his suspense.

In August, however, the presidential panel led by Justice Ayo Salami probing Magu recommended his sack. Buhari recently appointed a four-man committee to review the report of the panel.

The latest theatrics performed by former chairperson of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abulrasheed Maina, is worthy of an Oscar. Maina, who is being prosecuted by the EFCC on N2 billion money laundering, had jumped bail after missing several court appearances and fled to Niger Republic. His escape landed his surety Ali Ndume in prison. However, Interpol extradited the fugitive to Nigeria where he is remanded following a court order.

QUOTE 1

With a few weeks to the end of the year, it is becoming clear that the six-month mandate given to the Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni-led APC Caretaker Committee may be prolonged. A NEC of the party is expected to hold tomorrow, Tuesday, December 8, but a convention at which new national officers will be elected may not be possible this year. Meanwhile, the battle over who will carry the presidential flag of the APC is heating up the polity and is largely responsible for the multiple crises in the party. Not a few chieftains of the party have declared that there is a gentleman’s agreement to rotate the presidential slot between the north and the south. However, a strong campaign has emerged to zone the 2023 APC presidential ticket to an Igbo candidate

QUOTE 2

Due to the pressure on the economy occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis in the oil market, The Federal Government had to cut down the 2020 budget by over N320 billion and proposed a new budget of N10.27 trillion against the N10.59 trillion passed by the National Assembly. All the states in the country took a cue from the FG and also revised their budgets in the light of prevailing economic realities. Some states like Ebonyi State embarked on an elaborate public inclusion of CSOs and other interest groups, to make a show of carrying every one along. Other states like Bayelsa barely kept within the confines of the law by enlisting the cooperation of the state lawmakers only