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Looking Ahead With Trepidation
Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha write that many of the issues that headlined 2020 may still gain a good ground in 2021
At long last, the year 2020 is coming to an end. The year that ultimately changed everything, questioned our humanity, taxed our ingenuity, and exposed systemic cracks in political and social affairs is gradually winding down. With the uncertainties it presented, 2021 seems precarious. Will there be normalcy? Will there be hope of vaccinations in Nigeria? Will COVID-19 still be a threat? Will the Buhari administration restore hope tolĺl millions of Nigerians who feel disenfranchised? Will insecurity be nipped in the bud? Will the will of the people be respected?
One thing is certain, COVID-19 will still be present in 2021, at least, throughout the first quarter of the new year. The festive season has seen a startling spike on recorded cases. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) over the past few days rolled out high numbers of infections and deaths, including the reported new variant spotted in Osun state according to Africa Centre for Disease Control. Any sign of abatement is still inconspicuous.
The Pfizer vaccine which offered a ray of hope to the West is still miles away from Nigeria, although the Minister of Health Dr Osagie Ehanire, recently disclosed the possibility of getting a vaccine in Nigeria by January. Yet, the vaccines will cost the Federal Government about N400 billion to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigeria’s 211 million population. A breakdown shows that N156 billion will be needed in 2021 and N200 billion in 2022. The cost will no doubt overwhelm both the national and states budget.
In a pre-pandemic era, the money would be channelled into other sectors of the economy in critical condition. The 2020 budget had a lesser impact on the economy due to the unprecedented outbreak of Coronavirus. Last October, President Muhammadu Buhari presented an N13.08 trillion proposed 2021 budget to the National Assembly, out of which N132 billion is allocated to health projects. The budget figure was raised by N505 billion when it was recently passed by the National Assembly as a way of ensuring that the lined up objectives: accelerating the pace of Nigerian economic recovery, promoting diversification, enhancing competitiveness, and ensuring social inclusion are achieved.
Although Senate President Ahmed Lawan expressed willingness to acquire the vaccines, he is yet to be convinced that Nigeria is ready to have the vaccines. He raised doubts about the availability of manpower and storage facilities for the vaccines. The vaccines are expected to be kept in very low temperatures.
Passage of Petroleum Industry Bill
Still on the National Assembly, the year 2021 will see the signing or non-signing of proposed bills and acts such as the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). The long-delayed bill seeks reform in the oil and gas industry and provides clarity on its fiscal regime. Calling the bill a sensitive document, Lawan said that the senate is waiting to attend for the PIB to be attended to. The Senate completed the second reading of the bill. There’s been a long wait for the bill to be passed as it will replace the existing petroleum profit tax (PTT), which is applied in place of corporate income tax, with the Nigerian hydrocarbon tax (NHT). NHT proposes a 50pc profit tax for petroleum operations onshore and in shallow-water fields, but reduced to 25pc for operations in deepwater, bituminous and frontier acreages.
The existing PTT levies 50pc for operations under PSCs; for non-PSC operations, including joint ventures, the levy is 65.75pc in the first five years and 85pc thereafter.
Under the proposed PIB, oil companies operating onshore or in shallow waters would be required to set up a trust fund of c.2.5pc of operating costs. At least 75pc would be allocated to community projects, with the remainder saved.
Perhaps, the major gain of the PIB is that it would allow the selling of shares in state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) which the government hopes would help tackle corruption and opacity in the sector.
It’s important that the National Assembly pass the bill in the new year to avoid being perceived as an enemy of the people.
Revised Electoral Act
A key decision that will be made by the lawmakers next year is the passing of the revised Electoral Act. Lawan recently hinted that the proposed bills to repeal the Electoral Act No 6 2010 for a more comprehensive one and enact the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Act 2020, would be passed before the end of the first quarter of 2021, March precisely. The revised electoral act will aid a credible electoral process.
Besides, the lawmakers are expected to affect the proposed alteration on the 1999 constitution which have in recent times been screened with a critical lens and found to be lacking true federalism. Civil society groups, ethnic groups have long called for an overhaul of the constitution. The delay in implementing the necessary changes by the ad-hoc committee is further incendiary to some leaders from the middle belt and the south who reportedly gave the lawmakers a 90-day ultimatum to set up a committee to review the 1999 constitution.
In the lower chamber, the legislative agenda of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila will be tested. The pandemic-riddled 2020 served as a test run for the speaker. The impact of his rulership will be felt in 2021.
Continuing Challenge of Insecurity, NDDC, PAP
While the unwanted presence of COVID-19 will continue to linger, a critical challenge of the economy that cannot be overlooked is insecurity. The year 2020 witnessed a significant rise in insecurity in the country. In the northeast, the insurgents Boko Haram continued their kidnapping and killing spree. The northwest became a frayed tapestry in the hands of bandits who continue to tear down farms and homes with impunity. Now, in the south-south, the Niger Delta militants, a revered set of individuals who have long dusted and laid down their arms are threatening a comeback over the federal government’s poor handling of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) corruption allegations and the politics in the region generally.
The former interim management of the commission was embroiled in a corruption scandal that led to their sack. However, the president appointed the acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration of the Commission, Effiong Okon Akwa to assume headship till completion of the forensic audit. The militants who were a bane to the former president, late Musa Yar’Adua are dissatisfied with the transition of leadership in the company. The new group under the name Continuous Emancipation of Niger Delta (CEND) are calling for a repositioning of NDDC, as well as the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP), in line with its core mandate and community participation.
PAP was the olive branch Yar’Adua extended to the group during his tenure.
Other demands of the group included the relocation of the headquarters of all oil and gas companies operating in the Niger Delta; Federal Government should pay 13 per cent derivation directly to oil and gas producing communities; demilitarization of the entire Niger Delta and fiscal and true federalism. The region will likely be problematic in the coming year.
The presidency will have to pass the insecurity litmus test as they have appeared to be clueless on how to appropriately and adequately deal with the multi-pronged conundrum. There’s been a rising clamour for the president to change the service chiefs. Will the president heed the call in the new year? Again, the litmus test will provide an answer. If it turns blue, then Nigerians can go to bed peacefully, but if red pops up, then they should gear up for more unpleasant surprises.
The Southwestern states may not be too alarmed since Amotekun, a security unit that got the backing of many southwest governors gained popularity in 2020. More states are likely to throw their weight behind them in 2021 as they vie to keep the region free from insecurity shackles.
Railway and Second Niger Bridge, Ibom Deep Seaport
Apart from insecurity, two critical projects of the Federal Government that will boost the economy is the railway project and the building of the second Niger Bridge. The latter which is gulping N414 billion is expected to be completed by 2022, according to the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola. However, there are calls for the project to be hastened due to the gridlock experienced by motorists on the first Niger Bridge. If completed, the Bridge will spur an increase in trade, agriculture and investments.
Although the federal government began operations on the Lagos-Ibadan railway transport system, they didn’t get the desired cheer. Rather, the public lambasts them for the costly fares (N3,000-N6,000), which alienates the poor from accessing the transportation medium.
In 2017, the federal government secured a $6.1 billion loan from China Exim Bank for the construction of Calabar-Port Harcourt, Lagos-Ibadan, Lagos-Kano rail, and Lagos to Kaduna railway and another $1.5 billion counterpart funding for the Lagos-Ibadan project.
If the government is keen on alleviating the sufferings of the poor, reducing the fares of the train will be a good starting point in the coming year.
In Akwa-Ibom, the actualisation of the Ibom Deep Seaport will be on the spotlight in 2021. The federal government already approved the $2.016 billion budget for the first phase of the project. The project which is in partnership with the federal government will create 300,000 jobs in the state upon completion.
Fast Forward 2023 Presidential Race
The race to 2023 presidency will gather full steam in 2021. The pandemic in a way halted the ambitions of the various candidates who have shown interest in the presidential seat. They include the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Bola Tinubu whose real presidential ambition is still clouded in ambiguity, Atiku Abubakar who is still resilient in his pursuit to occupy the Number One Citizen position in the country. He has begun to build support units in all the states of the country known as ‘Atiku Support Group’, to project his vision of sustainable national development. Governor of Ekiti state, Kayode Fayemi is also in the race. He was recently endorsed by ruling party APC in Ekiti state including the open adoption by the Sultan of Sokoto Ahmadu Bello. These are pointers that the governor and former minister is likely to be the party’s flagbearer in the next election. Governor of Sokoto state Tambuwal who reportedly is carrying out underground campaign.
In the southeast, the call for Igbo presidency is getting louder each day. However, the right candidate to represent the Igbos is yet to be ascertained even with popular politicians like former governors of Abia state and Imo state, Orji Uzor Kalu and Rochas Okorocha, as well as the governor of Ebonyi State Dave Umahi. There is also the Justice Peter Umeadi who is currently seeking the presidential ticket of the All Grand Progressives Alliance (APGA). More candidates will emerge in 2021.
But the Igbo’s presidency is likely to be threatened by the seemingly crack in the Ohaneze Ndigbo leadership. The apex Igbo socio-cultural body has been in the news lately over the legitimacy of the mainstream group as well as leadership tussle.
For the governors of Edo state and Ondo states, Godwin Obaseki and Rotimi Akeredolu, their electoral fate will be known in 2021. Both governors have been petitioned by their contenders at the tribunal, challenging the election results that crowned them winners at the last elections. How they fare at the tribunal will be a talking point in 2021.
The vaccines will cost the Federal Government about N400 billion to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigeria’s 211 million population. A breakdown shows that N156 billion will be needed in 2021 and N200 billion in 2022. The cost will no doubt overwhelm both the national and states budget. In a pre-pandemic era, the money would be channelled into other sectors of the economy in critical condition. The 2020 budget had a lesser impact on the economy due to the unprecedented outbreak of Coronavirus
The race to 2023 presidency will gather full steam in 2021. The pandemic in a way halted the ambitions of the various candidates who have shown interest in the presidential seat. They include the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Bola Tinubu whose real presidential ambition is still clouded in ambiguity, Atiku Abubakar who is still resilient in his pursuit to occupy the Number One Citizen position in the country. He has begun to build support units in all the states of the country known as ‘Atiku Support Group’, to project his vision of sustainable national development