Issues That May Shape 2021

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AfCFTA Ushers New Trade Regime

After initial delays, the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCTA) finally took off on January 1, 2021 to user a new era in Intra-African trade with 54 participating countries.

The $3.4 trillion economic bloc, which experts believed Nigeria must play a leading role, offers fresh opportunities for the country to boost industrial growth and development.
According to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Niyi Adebayo, “Nigeria cannot afford to be left out of the emerging African economic block”.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) presents a major opportunity for African countries to bring 30 million people out of extreme poverty and to raise the incomes of 68 million others who live on less than $5.50 per day.

With the implementation of AfCFTA, trade facilitation measures that cut red tape and simplify customs procedures would drive $292 billion of the $450 billion in potential income gains.
The formal take-off of the trade agreement is a very significant development even though issues bordering on implementation remain unresolved. Those issues will surely pose a challenge this year.

Restructuring: To Be or Not to Be?
Shortly after the Muhammadu Buhari administration won second term in office, the call for the country to be restructured gained momentum. And this was not without reason or that the calls were not justifiable. Either by design or accident, the lop-sidedness in appointments into key positions was just too glaring to be ignored.

The lop-sidedness was not even limited to geographical reality alone, but also in religion. It was this lop-sidedness that revered Catholic priest, Matthew Kukah, referred to recently, when he said if a Southern president had done half of what President Buhari has done in the area of appointments, there would have been a coup.

Beyond the issue of lop-sidedness in appointment is issue of fiscal federalism. What is currently obtainable right now is that there’s a string centre controlling a lion share of the nation’s resources, while the federating units could barely survive. The federal government still takes almost 50% of federal inflows while the 36 states are left to share the rest and out of this ecological funds and derivation for oil production states still have to be made provision for.

This debate, which has dominated public discourse for some time now, is not likely to fizzle out in 2021. Nigerians especially, those in the southern part of the country, will not stop asking for restructuring.

2023 Elections: The Schemers Are Out
Immediately the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), clinched victory in 2019, focus of political gladiators shifted to the 2023 general election and that has not changed since then and it will continue in this 2021. There have been permutations going on across the country as each zone and presidential hopefuls are trying to position themselves against 2023. For instance, when Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to the APC, many political watchers knew it had nothing to do with ideology but part of the 2023 game.

The question of whether power would shift to the South is also present amid indications that those northerners, who supported Buhari in 2015 and 2019 might move their support to candidate from another party should the APC decide to zone the Presidency to the South and PDP does to the north.

The Southwest is also pushing its own case, stating that it is logical that power returns to the zone. And leading this charge is a former governor of Lagos State and self-acclaimed national leader of the ruling APC, Senator Bola Tinubu. Different groups are already springing up across the country in his support.

However, the greatest moral crusade for power shift is that, which calling for the Southeast to be given a chance to produce the next President if only to give the zone a sense of belonging. The zone has not produced the number one citizen in the country since the short-lived military regime of the late General Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi. No matter what, the debate about 2023 will continue this year.

Youth Restiveness/Unemployment: A Time Bomb?
The End SARS protests that rocked the nation to its foundations in October last year was a sad reminder to those at the helms of affairs in the country that the nation was sitting on a keg of gun powder if something was not done regarding youth restiveness and unemployment in the country.

While the protests were triggered by the alleged shooting of a lady by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad in Delta State, the protest quickly snowballed into one national issue that some even claimed was a threat to national security.

The protesters said in addition to ending SARS’ highhandedness and police brutality, was a need to end bad governance. On October 20, men of the Nigerian Army, ostensibly brought in to enforce a curfew order allegedly shot at protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate. While organisers claimed it was a massacre, the authorities kept saying there was nothing of such.

Many young Nigerians are unemployed or those employed are doing what they are doing because they don’t want to stay at home. This is a generation of Nigerians, who have never enjoyed life as citizens. All they need to take on the society is a little provocation; the kind the End SARS protests provided. This New Year may also provide such. It’s just a matter of time.

Terrorism and General Insecurity
In terms of security, Nigerians have never had it as bad as they did in 2020. And while hoping that 2021 fares better, the need to rejig the nation’s security architecture will dominate national discourse in 2021. In 2020, terrorism, banditry and kidnappings that were initially restricted to the northeastern part of the country, have now spread to virtually every part of the country, with ritual killings and cult clashes on the rise.

Right under the nose of the President, when he was holidaying in his native Katsina, over three hundred students of the Government College, Kankara, Katsina State, were abducted. They were later released, but a powerful yet disturbing message had been sent.
In Zamfara State, bandits had taken so many parts of the state. They come on motorbikes across the border and attack villages. They steal and kill. All these are apart from kidnapping and gruesome killings. In December, 49 farmers working on a rice field in a village in Borno State were abducted and killed by Boko Haram insurgents and all a presidential spokesperson could say was that they did not get clearance before going to work in their farms.

Down south, kidnappings became order of the day in 2020. In Ibadan, on three different occasions, some Asians, who were operating farms and factories were kidnapped and their security details killed. In fact, there was a case when one of the security agents sent to rescue one of the kidnapped expatriates was killed. There have been strident calls that the service chiefs, including the Inspector-General of police, be sacked. These calls would continue in 2021 and Nigerians can only hope things improve.

Battling COVID-19
It is no longer news that the second wave of the deadly virus is ravaging the world with many advanced countries striving to cope. Britain has activated Tier Three lockdown while Germany, Italy, Spain and other countries like that have been calling on their countrymen and women to stay at home unless it is absolutely necessary to go out.

In Nigeria, the Presidential Task Force has been telling Nigerians that the second wave is upon the world and part of the moves made to curb the spread, they banned the crossover nights in many states of the federation. Also, federal workers were asked to stay at home with stern warning issued to any superior officer, who asked staff to come to work.

The only cheering news is vaccines are now ready and are being administered to people around the world. In Nigeria, this has not started with the federal government weighing the financial implications of administering the vaccines on the people.
From all indications, COVID-19 dominated 2020. It will seemingly take a large chunk of 2021 as well. It is a sad reality.

The Anambra Governorship Election
Towards the end of the year, the gubernatorial election in Anambra State will take place. The questionable conduct of the 2007 elections and the Supreme Court declaration that the tenure of a governor starts counting from the day he takes the oath of office and not the date of the election that brought about litigation in the first place, have ensured that the nation now has key off-season elections virtually every year.

Ondo and Edo governorship elections were conducted last year while that of Ekiti and Osun will take place next year and Kogi late 2023.
The significance of the election in Anambra that will usher in the successor to Governor Willie Obiano is about 2023 and if the ruling APC would be able to make inroad into the Southeast, which has stubbornly refused to embrace the party.

Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, defected to the APC towards the end of last year. Should APC win Anambra, it means the party has two governors in the zone and that might strengthen the hands of the party leaders on the zone to make a strong case for the Presidency in 2023. It promises to be interesting.

APC Convention: An Unfinished Business
Either the ruling party, APC, likes it or not, it has to conduct a national convention this year to elect new national officers especially, the National Chairman. Since the forced exit of the former National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, in July last year, the party is being run by a caretaker committee led by the Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala-Buni.

On August 22 last year, the caretaker committee set up a five-member reconciliation committee led by the governor of Jigawa State, Abubakar Badaru. It is not known if the committee has been able to achieve any breakthrough in reconciling various warring factions within the party.

But it is fair to say the party might have boxed itself into a corner, because the election of a National Chairman has assumed a more critical dimension going by the fact that where the new head of the party comes from will invariably affect the zone or region that will produce the party’s presidential candidate in 2023.

Beyond this, it is a known fact that various tendencies within the party will also want to influence the choice of the new National Chairman for selfish reasons. Many are of the opinion that whoever controls the party machinery will have a say in whoever emerges the party’s presidential standard-bearer in 2023. Therefore, for APC, 2021 is a strategic year.

Police Reforms: Beyond End SARS
One of the demands of the End SARS protesters was the need to reform the police, make it more professional and ensure that the Force is made to be people-inclined and not just there to protect the high and powerful and also any government or party that is in power. Many have said the take-home pay of an average police officer is poor and not good enough to take care of his or her basic needs.

While this argument is tenable, there is the school of thought that whatever an average police officer is being paid, there is an endemic corruption within the system that has made any efforts at reforming the police futile.
From police barracks to their uniforms, arms and ammunition and other operational equipment, the argument is that the rank and file of the police force are always short-changed and most governments of the day have not been able to do much, because police are also needed for regime protection.

That is why police commissioners, especially those in charge of state commands, are silent millionaires. But the rank and file, are working with tattered uniforms and torn boots. Incentives are not there as many are complaining that they have not been promoted for years. Closely related to this is lopsided promotions and postings, which are based on ethnicity and religion.

These are issues that have bedeviled the Nigerian Police for decades and many are of the opinion – rightly or wrongly – that these have made officers of the force to take their frustrations out on the people they are meant to protect. In 2021, police reforms are an issue that will be sustained.

Recession May Tarry Awhile
It is a known fact that the economy is shrinking. But more disturbing is the fact that apart from COVID-19 ravaging most of 2020 and rendering many Nigerians inertia in terms of pursuing economic activities that would have fetched them income, the government of the day does not seem to have any clue as to what to do to prevent another recession.

Only last week, the government said it would be “borrowing” from funds in redundant and idle accounts in the nation’s commercial banks. That is obviously a desperate move from a government that is on its wit’s end.
With soaring interest rates and commercial banks not ready to advance long-term loans, Nigerians should brace for a not too economically friendly 2021.