By KOLA KING
2023 is a critical juncture for Nigeria. The year will determine whether Nigeria will go forward or go in the reverse direction. It is a magic year for Nigerians because the year will mark 24 years of unbroken democracy. At the same time, the general elections are slated for February. This is the longest democratic experiment since the nation attained independence in 1960. The first democratic dispensation lasted from October 1960 to January 1966. Thereafter mutinous soldiers seized power in a bloody military coup in January 1966 during which Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was killed. Later on, the Supreme Commander of the armed forces Major General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi quelled the putschists and seized power emerging as the head of state. The Ironsi regime was short-lived and was overthrown in a bloody countercoup in July which led to the installation of Lt Col Yakubu Gowon as the new head of state. Prior to the military handover in 1999, there were several back-to-back coups and in between, there was a civilian interregnum led by President Shehu Shagari from 1979 to December 1983.
The past twenty-four years have seen power rotate between the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which held power for sixteen years, and the All Progressives Congress, APC which has been in the saddle for almost eight years. Nigerians have had a taste of both parties and the experience has been mostly bitter-sweet. As if by a revolving door, Nigerians have witnessed how politicians have gravitated from the opposition to the ruling party and vice versa, an indication that both parties are more of the same thing. At any rate, a new president is expected to be elected as Nigerians head to the polls on February 25. Many analysts believe this is going to be a three-horse race between the candidates of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Bola Tinubu, the standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Labour Party candidate Mr. Peter Obi. It’s like going to uncharted frontiers. Generally, political contest since the return of civil rule in 1999 has always been a two-horse race between the ruling party and the opposition. Also, this is an open election in the sense that the incumbent is not on the ballot. It is important to note that the entry of Peter Obi has galvanised the youth and led to an upsurge in the registration of new voters who are mostly youths and women and undecided voters. About 9.7 million new voters have registered to collect Permanent Voters Cards, PVCs. This segment of voters will play a decisive role in who emerges as president in the February presidential elections.
Without an iota of doubt, restructuring has become an article of faith. That’s why the restructuring of the polity has been on the front burner and there’s been unanimity of purpose on the part of the candidates of the mainstream parties since they have committed to restructuring the nation, arguing that the current structure militates against rapid development and hampers the smooth development of the constituent units of the federation. Broadly speaking, most of the candidates agreed that power has to devolve to the constituent units of the federation, especially in policing, power generation, etc. Decidedly, the candidates also agreed that the economy has to be rebooted, attracting foreign direct investment to boost the manufacturing sector, revive the solid minerals sector as well as expand the revenue base. Plus, labour has submitted a charter of demands, urging the candidates to tackle corruption frontally. The Labour union believes corruption has hobbled the nation and stunted growth and development. Moreover, the issue of oil theft is a monumental problem requiring all hands on deck to steam the theft which has seen the nation’s production figures at its lowest ebb translating to declining revenue receipts from the oil sector which is the main foreign exchange earner.
However, if there’s anything that is near certain it is the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari will leave office on May 29, 2023, bringing an end to his eight-year tenure. Buhari seems eager to make his exit despite the fact that he fought tooth and nail to seek the highest office in the land. Buhari has made a singsong of his desire to retire to his farm in Daura after May 29. He says he wants to be far away from Abuja to avoid any trouble. Besides Buhari says he has done his best for the nation, even though he thinks Nigerians are under the impression that his best is not good enough. In any case, a smooth transfer of power is envisaged between the current incumbent and his successor. Buhari will be leaving office at the age of 80 and will be the oldest serving head of state in Nigeria’s political history. Also, if all goes according to plan, a new president will be sworn into office on that date.
Despite, several polls projecting Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, and Peter Obi of the Labour Party as front runners, still, analysts and bookmakers have been reluctant to commit to either of the candidates, preferring instead to maintain that the election may not be won on the first ballot, considering the fact that the dynamics of the race has changed due to the entry of Mr. Peter Obi in the presidential elections which ordinarily should be a dual contest between the ruling APC and the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Even so, the main opposition party is entering the elections from a position of weakness since five governors commonly called the G5 have expressed their reservations about having both the candidate and party chairman from the same zone and have therefore withheld their support for Atiku Abubakar. Moreover, there are reports that the G-5 governors are in secret talks with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu with a view to throwing their weight behind him. Similar talks are believed to be ongoing with Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party. Already former President Olusegun Obasanjo has endorsed Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party, saying he has what it takes to lead the nation. Obasanjo’s endorsement has generated furore in the Tinubu and Atiku camps, with both parties saying Obasanjo has no electoral value. Also, Chief Edwin Clark, an elder statesman and leader of the Ijaw ethnic nationality has endorsed Obi, but General Ibrahim Babangida has denied endorsing the Labour candidate.
Still, the campaign has been characterized by a high degree of intolerance, mudslinging, scurrilous and venomous attacks as well as assassinations. What’s more, the crisis rocking the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has boiled over as Atiku Abubakar’s Rivers State campaign office has been sealed off. According to the State PDP presidential campaign council, the state government directed the seal off of the campaign office. Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike had a few weeks ago signed Executive Order 22 which prohibits the citing of campaign offices by political parties in residential areas without government approval. But the media team of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, PCC, Rivers State has cried foul, declaring that it had earlier applied for approval from the state government but has not received any feedback for several weeks. The group, therefore, condemned the “act because it rubs off on our fundamental right to free expression of interest.” It also said: “This egregious move by the Rivers State Government, seen in the prism of politics, tends to militarise our democracy and renders our dear state politically recessive when juxtaposed with other states in the country.”
Also, in Lagos State, the gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Abdul-Azeez Adediran aka Jandor has complained unceasingly that the party’s billboards have been pulled down by the agents of the Lagos State government. A similar trend has been observed in Benue State and several other states where the opposition is being muzzled and their billboards being pulled down.
In both large and small ways, the intemperate language employed by politicians has given birth to violence. That’s why the combustible politics being played by those seeking high office has begun to take its toll. Recall that last November, the women leader of the Labour Party in the Kaura Local Government Area of Kaduna State, Mrs. Victoria Chimtex, was gruesomely assassinated by gunmen who invaded her residence at night and shot her. Barely three weeks after, the Labour Party House of Assembly candidate for Onu Imo State Constituency, Mr. Christopher Elehu, was also assassinated by gunmen who shot at him repeatedly and burnt his house. In the same vein, a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) identified as Mudasiru Baraka was killed by suspected gunmen last Wednesday in Oyo town. Baraka, according to an eyewitness account was shot at close range and died on the spot at his family compound in Oyo East local government area.
Also, unknown gunmen killed five aides including security personnel during an attack on the convoy of a senator in Anambra state in September. Senator Ifeanyi Ubah’s convoy was attacked in Enugwu-Ukwu, a community in the Njikoka local government area of Anambra but he escaped without injuries because he was travelling in a bullet-proof vehicle, spokesman Kameh Ogbonna told Reuters. Ogbonna said he was in the same car with Ubah at the time of the attack, which he described as an assassination attempt. Also, barely a few days into the new year, the former governor of Imo State, Mr. Ikedi Ohakim escaped assassination by the whiskers when unknown gunmen attacked his convoy killing four security personnel attached to him. Ohakim’s convoy was attacked on Monday in Oriagu, Ehime Mbano LGA of Imo state. According to Ohakim, he survived the attack because he was in a bulletproof vehicle.
Alarmed by the upswing in violence, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) has condemned the assassination of two Labour Party candidates in Imo State and a women leader in Kaduna State within the space of four weeks. HURIWA’s National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, in a statement, said the truth is that the dominant and the so-called mainstream political parties are scared stiff of the different credible opinion polls conducted by independent pollsters indicating the invincibility of the Labour Party’s presidential candidate. The group called on security agencies to arrest the perpetrators of the heinous act and not sweep the political killings under the carpet as inaction may fuel more of this unpardonable and heinous act. The group also criticised the heads of the security agencies for allegedly acting like collaborators and co-conspirators with “these daredevil assassins and agents of blood-curdling political violence because these security forces pretend to be overwhelmed by the activities of these paid killers, especially in Imo State and other Southeast states of Nigeria.”
All this notwithstanding, President Buhari has assured that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has no excuse to deliver on its mandate by conducting free and fair elections in 2023. Still, the current attacks on the facilities of INEC present a clear and present danger to the conduct of the general elections. At the last count, INEC facilities have recorded several attacks across the nation. According to reports, the INEC has suffered 47 attacks on its facilities and offices since February 2019. Observers believe that the attacks are deliberate attempts to scuttle the 2023 general elections.
“These are attacks as a result of election-related violence, protests unrelated to elections and activities of thugs and unknown gunmen,” INEC chairman, Mahmud Yakubu, said. Furthermore, INEC reports that most of the attacks on its facilities were orchestrated by hoodlums and unknown gunmen, while some were the results of post-election violence and thuggery during elections.
It would appear as part of an orchestrated plan to destabilize INEC and possibly scuttle the forthcoming elections; the INEC Chairman Prof Mahmud Yakubu has been targeted by politicians eager to derail the elections. Frivolous suits have been instituted in the courts to impugn his name and cast his reputation in disrepute and opprobrium.
Already a federal capital territory (FCT) high court in Garki has dismissed allegations of false asset declaration against Mahmud Yakubu, chairperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The court also barred the Department of State Services (DSS), the police, and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) from investigating Yakubu over his asset declaration.
One Somadina Uzoamaka had filed a suit marked FCT/HC/GAR/CV/47/2022, against the attorney-general of the federation (AGF) and Yakubu, seeking among other things, an order of mandatory injunction directing and compelling the INEC chairman to step down pending the investigation and consideration of the various allegations against him by the various law enforcement agencies.
The plaintiff also prayed the court to issue a 10-year ban on the INEC chairperson, excluding him from holding or assuming any public office, and alleged that Mahmood purchased properties with illicit funds.
Nevertheless, Chief of Army Staff, Faruk Yahya has given assurance that security efforts were being ramped up and said that the military and other security agencies are not relenting in their efforts to sustain the feat.
“The marching order by Mr. President to improve the security situation so that he can hand over a secured nation is what we are carrying out in collaboration with the Nigerian Air Force, Navy, and other security agencies,” he said. The army chief stressed that “God willing, we shall continue to improve the situation and set the stage for the conduct of the 2023 elections.”
Still, the prognosis for 2023 looks dreary. From all indications, Nigerians should brace up for more economic hardship since the incoming administration is expected to remove the oil subsidy which has ballooned to about 2 trillion naira annually. However, the main frontrunners have expressed the need for a gradual phase-out of the subsidy. Whatever happens, this will translate to higher costs of petroleum products and the attendant spiraling of prices of foodstuff and other consumer items. Expectedly, inflation will continue to rise due to the drastic economic measures envisaged. This necessary but unavoidable step may lead to protests and social unrest.
Meantime, all eyes are on the $25 billion Dangote Refinery expected to come on stream in the second quarter of 2023, in which the Nigeria National Petroleum Company, NNPC has a stake of 20 percent in the company and the GMD of the NNPC Mele Kyari has expressed optimism that NNPC will have access to 20 percent of all production of the Dangote refinery, which is expected to ease supply and distribution of petroleum products across the country. When completed, it is expected to have the capacity to process about 650,000 barrels per day of crude oil, making it the largest single-train refinery in the world. By the same token, the Central Bank governor Godwin Emefiele has said the nation will be saving about 40 percent of forex spent on the importation of petroleum products and fertilisers once the Dangote Refinery comes on stream.
Having said all that, whoever emerges as president will be inheriting a sclerotic economy, high unemployment, runaway inflation, huge debt burden, troublous power sector, higher education in tatters, moribund health sector, and a political grenade in the form of the oil subsidy which the current administration has sidestepped and passed to the incoming administration since it has committed to removing subsidy by 2023. The Buhari administration has shied away from removing oil subsidies fearing major backlash from the public. Most importantly, the high-level insecurity still poses a big challenge for the incoming administration. The challenge ahead requires political sagacity and extraordinary courage and wisdom.