Last year, the agitation for restructuring and the threat of secession dominated public discourse. The NATION’s Assistant Editor, LEKE SALAUDEEN examines the issues and events that will shape Nigeria’s politics this year.
The political events of last year will linger in the memories of Nigerians. It was a year that economic recession, the agitation for restructuring and President Muhammadu Buhari’s health took the centre stage in public debate. Against the background of the secessionist move by some elements in the Southeast, many had thought that the country will disintegrate. But, the country has remained intact. Despite the economic recession caused by the fall in oil price in the international market and the mismanagement of the oil wind fall in the past, Nigeria was able to get out from the quagmire.
Given the number of events lined up, this year promises to be full of political activities. Being the year that precedes the 2019 general elections, full electioneering campaigns will start and they may overshadow governance. Some of the events are: Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, the All Progressives Congress (APC) convention, conclusion of the constitution amendment bid, restructuring, post-convention litigation in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), federal cabinet reshuffle, presidential primaries, budget passage, new parties, Anambra Central senatorial election, the anti-corruption fight, anti terrorist battle and Saraki’s Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) re-trial.
The governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states will hold this year. Already, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has fixed July 14 for the election in Ekiti State. The Ekiti people will elect a new governor to replace Mr Ayo Fayose, whose tenure will expire in October.
The election will be a straight fight between the ruling PDP and the APC. In 2014, Fayose defeated Governor Kayode Fayemi of the APC. He won in all the local governments.
The 2018 poll will provide Fayose the opportunity to prove that his landslide victory of 2014 was not a fluke; that his popularity among the people won the election for him. Can Fayose who rode to power on the crest of federal might under former President Goodluck Jonathan win the election for his anointed candidate? Can he count on the support of the civil servants, especially the teachers that are owed arrears of salaries?
INEC has fixed April 5 for the commencement of the Ekiti governorship election campaign. Fayose believes his performance, especially the provision of infrastructural facilities like roads and bridges across the state and stomach infrastructure, would endear the PDP to Ekiti people and that they will not hesitate to return the party back to power. Contrary to the time table released by INEC, which stipulates that primaries for the election will hold between April 15 and May 14, Fayose had anointed his deputy, Prof. Kolapo Olusola, as the PDP candidate; a decision that has been challenged by other PDP leaders, including Senator Abiodun Olujimi and Prince Dayo Adeyeye, who are also eyeing the PDP ticket. However, the PDP national secretariat has overruled Fayose’s choice, saying the party’s governorship candidate will emerge from the primary.
But, a stalwart of the APC, Chief Babatunde Fagbemi, has ruled out PDP’s victory in the poll. He said it is wishful thinking for Fayose and the PDP to expect victory in the July election. He said Fayose is a dictator who he does not believe in the separation of powers as he combines the functions of the legislature with that of the executive. Fagbemi added: “The people of Ekiti have not forgotten how the PDP controlled Federal Government in 2014 deployed huge sum of money and military personnel to rig election for Fayose. If Fayose and his co-travellers in the PDP are planning of another short cut to victory this time around, they will meet their waterloo at the poll.
“Fayose’s tenure in Ekiti is a monumental disaster; the PDP administration in the state personified by Fayose is the worst thing that has happened to Ekiti State. How many developmental projects did he execute? It has been contract inflation and shoddy jobs paid for by government. The state internally generated revenue (IGR) had dropped drastically from what Fayose inherited from Fayemi. All this will work against PDP in Ekiti State.
Analysts believe that the APC stands a better chance of winning, only if it is able to manage its primary in a transparent manner, given the number of aspirants jostling for the party’s ticket. Besides, they advise the party to handle post-primary complaints with care such that there would be no last minute defection by aggrieved aspirants.
On September 22, the people of Osun State will go to poll to elect a new governor that will succeed Governor Rauf Aregbesola, who is about to complete his second term in office. Analysts said Osun would have been a walk-over for the APC but for the problems it had in the selection of the senatorial candidate for Osun West. A public affairs commentator, Comrade Jimi Afolabi, said the failure of APC leaders to pander to the yearnings of the people by presenting a popular candidate robbed it of the senatorial seat.
Afolabi cautioned the leadership of the party to learn a lesson from the Osun West mistake. He said: “Now that many aspirants have sprung off from the APC, Aregbesola should create a level-playing field for them to test their popularity. Fielding a preferred candidate will be too costly for the party. There is no doubt that Aregbesola’s performance has made APC the party to beat in the state, but a popular candidate should emerge through due process.”
The APC has failed to hold its biennial convention as stipulated in its constitution. The last time it held convention was in 2015 from where President Muhammadu Buhari emerged as APC presidential candidate for the last general elections. Party chieftains have advanced different reasons for this. Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State said that the party was broke. The party’s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, attributed it to the absence of President Buhari, who spent three months in the United Kingdom for medical treatment. The President returned four months ago and his health has improved tremendously. There is no excuse for the APC not to hold its convention this year. As a ruling party, the APC should comply with the provision of its constitution.
The stage is set for the Houses of Assembly to exercise their powers on constitution amendment. The National Assembly have transmitted the adopted proposals to the various Houses of Assembly for consideration and concurrence. Any proposal that meets the approval of at least 24 Houses of Assembly will be processed and transmitted to the President for assent.
It is hoped that the constitution amendment will be on the priority list of Houses of Assembly, because there are many proposals which are critical to restructuring and reforms and the strengthening of critical institutions of democracy to promote efficacy, transparency, accountability, and checks and balances. The proposed amendments that are related to the powers and functions of the INEC, especially the proposal that empowers the electoral commission to de-register any political party that fails to meet some criteria, including failure to win at least one elected seat from councillorship to presidential after a general election and the issue independent candidates for election, must be decided this year, because the general elections have been fixed for February and March next year.
Agitations for restructuring have remained on the front burner of the national conversation, amid cries of marginalisation by some ethnic groups. The controversy often pitches the South against the North, with southerners seeing the current structure as highly problematic and therefore, unworkable. The deadlock has been blamed for the secessionist campaign by the Igbo dominated Southeast.
Restructuring means different things to different geo-political zones. To the Southsouth region, restructuring is all about resource control. To the Southwest, restructuring is synonymous with regionalism, devolution of power and true federalism. The Igbos believe that restructuring will guarantee their age-long secession bid.
Analysts are of the opinion that there is tension and agitation in the country, because it is not operating true federalism. They say federalism is an arrangement whereby powers within a multi-national country are shared between a federal or central authority and a number of regional or state governments in such a way that each unit, including the central authority, exists as a government separately and independently from the others.
One of such analysts said: “In a federation, each government enjoys autonomy, a separate existence and independence of the control of any other government. Each government exists, not as an appendage of another government, but as an autonomous entity in the sense of being able to exercise its own will on the conduct of its affairs free from direction by any government.”
Going by the above definition, it is crystal clear that Nigeria is not a federation, but unitary state. A heterogeneous society like Nigeria should not and cannot be administered in a highly over centralised unitary manner. The local people must have a degree of control and autonomy over the basic things that affect their lives. There is need to decentralise economic, security, political and otherwise federal powers to the various localities of Nigeria.
Now that President Buhari has passed the buck to the National Assembly to form the modalities for the restructuring debate, but rejected any break-up of the country, it is expected that the National Assembly will come up with a template on restructuring in the course of the year.
But, the Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Hon. Michael Adeyemo, blamed members of the National Assembly for voting against devolution of power bill during the constitution amendment exercise. He argued that true federalism would not be achieved in Nigeria without the devolution of power. He said: “Power must devolve. We should decentralise if all agitations must stop.”
Similarly, the Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr Ali Ahmed, said the decision of the federal legislators on devolution of power was surprising. He said when the Association of Speakers met with members of the National Assembly Committee on Constitution Amendment in Lagos, they struck an agreement that some powers must be ceded to the states. But, unfortunately, during voting, they did otherwise. He said: “Although majority of them voted in favour, their number was not up to two-thirds required to pass the bill. It is not the end of the day, as we at the state level will re-strategise on how to build consensus and mobilise support for devolution of power”.
INEC has fixed the presidential election for February 19, 2019. Presidential primaries are likely to be held during the last six months of the year. Parties planning to field candidates for next year’s presidential election must organise primaries that would be monitored by INEC officials. The registered parties must conduct primaries from which their presidential candidates would emerge, at least three months before the election.
In the APC, the President is yet to make a formal declaration that he will seek re-election. But, the APC governors under the aegis of “progressive governors” have endorsed him for a second term. But, party stalwarts, including Senator Bola Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande, have said there is no automatic ticket for Buhari.
Tinubu explained that Buhari will not accept automatic ticket, but will subject himself to the due process. He said Buhari is a democrat and would prefer to emerge through democratic process. The APC, he said, would not imbibe the culture of imposition. All aspirants would go through normal process that will be open and transparent; there will be level playing field for all aspirants just as it was done in 2015.
The PDP is still battling to restore order within its fold after the national convention. The parties has set up a committee to brainstorm on the choice of its presidential candidate. The question is whether the PDP will just present a candidate without primary, as it did in 2015 when it printed only one form for former President Jonathan. Observers said the imposition of Dr. Jonathan contributed to the party’s defeat in 2015, because aggrieved members, particularly from the North worked against the party.
As for the smaller parties, they hardly, conduct primaries. Members would just converge on an event place and raise up the hand of a member as party’s flag bearer. Nigerians are not keen on the process through which their presidential candidates emerge because they play inconsequential role in politics and stand no chance of winning election. A political analyst, Dr Friday Ibok, said INEC should monitor the smaller parties especially the convention through which they pick their candidates. The electoral commission, he said, should put all political parties on the same scale to avoid double standard.
It seems the last has not been heard about the PDP convention. A former chairmanship aspirant, Professor Taoheed Adedoja, has filed a suit before a Federal High Court, Abuja seeking for the sack of the winner, Prince Uche Secondus, and the nullification of the convention.
Adedoja, who scored zero, said he was not contesting the result of the convention, but the error in his name on the ballot paper. He stated that the declaration of a zero credited to him embarrassed and maligned him and brought great ridicule to his political career built over the years.
Political observers are worried about the suit coming after the leadership of the party has set up a committee headed by Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State to reconcile aggrieved party members. One of them interpreted the court action as failure of the reconciliation mechanism or that the litigation is a ploy to distract the new executive from planning for the 2019 general elections.
However, it is hoped that the court will give the suit accelerated hearing because it may drag on to the Supreme Court.
While presenting the 2018 budget to the joint sitting of the National Assembly, President Buhari pleaded with the lawmakers to ensure early passage, so that the implementation would start from January. From all indications, the National Assembly may not meet this deadline as various committees are still busy scrutinising the budget.
An economist, Dr Isiah Danbaba, pleaded with members of the National Assembly not to waste time on the passage of the budget. He said the late passage of the Appropriation Bill have tremendous effects on the economy. He said the 2017 budget, which was passed in July, was responsible for its slow implementation and cash crunch in the economic system. Government could neither release funds for the existing projects nor award new contracts.
Danbaba urged the lawmakers to always put the interest of the people they represent above personal gains. He said it is the common people that feel the heat most when the budget is not given prompt attention.
President Buhari has announced plans to expand the Federal Executive Council (FEC) by appointing more ministers. He disclosed this in his address to the National Executive Council of the APC when he explained that the compressed FEC will be expanded to bring in more supporters at federal level, with fresh ideas to be injected into the government.
A reliable source said President Buhari is considering a tentative proposal to restructure some of the ministries, appoint eight new ministers to his cabinet and reshuffle the cabinet in the New Year. He said: “The plan is to appoint eight new ministers who will all be politicians, to accommodate the yearnings of his party members and at the same time position APC for the 2019 general elections.
“To accommodate the eight new ministers into the cabinet, the president plans to split the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing into three ministries that will be manned by substantive ministers, and separate the aviation and marine transport units from the Ministry of Aviation. What this will translate to is that a minister will man Aviation while another will head Marine Transportation.
“In the proposal being considered by the president for the appointment of eight new ministers, one will represent each of the six geo-political zones in the country one each from Lagos and Kano States. The preferential treatment for Lagos and Kano is to ensure the two most populous states are delivered to APC in 2019.”
New political parties
With the registration of 21 new parties by the INEC, the number of registered parties is 67. Despite the number, 80 new associations had applied to the commission seeking to be registered as political parties ahead of the 2019 general elections.
INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu said the commission would continue to register new political parties, pending the deadline stipulated in the Electoral Act for closure of the registration process.
He said: “As it stands today, 80 more groups are seeking registration as political parties. We will continue to register them until the time scheduled by the Electoral Act for us to stop. The issue of independence candidacy is there too. Right now, we are thinking of how to design our ballot papers for the 2019 polls to accommodate all the registered political parties.”
Anambra Central rerun
Following the Court of Appeal judgment, INEC has fixed January 13 for the Anambra Central senatorial district re-run. The seat became vacant, following the nullification of the 2015 election is by an election tribunal.
The Court of Appeal had ordered INEC to conduct the re-run within 90 days of the judgment.. As the commission was preparing for the election, a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the commission to issue certificate of return to the PDP candidate, Obiora Okonkwo, who the court declared as the authentic candidate of the party for Anambra Central District.
Okonkwo had instituted a court action against the PDP, its former National Chairman, Adamu Mu’azu, INEC and Mrs Uche Ekwunife, challenging the emergence of Ekwunife as the PDP candidate for the 2015 election. The commission said it is studying the judgement and promised to make its position known very soon.
President Buhari has assured Nigerians that he would not disappoint them in the fight against corruption; that the anti-graft agencies would be given adequate support in waging war against corruption and prosecuting the suspects. The anti-graft war had ushered in a new era of accountability and responsibility. This policy has paid off. Corrupt practices in high places that have been exposed by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and the looted public funds recovered by the agency.
The trial of high profile corruption cases will resume this year. This includes the trial of the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, and former Sokoto State Governor Attahiru Baffarawa, former Minister of State for Finance, Ambassador Bashir Yuguda, former Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Aminu Baba Kusa, over the misappropriation of $2.1 billion meant for the procurement of arms for the troops fighting Boko Haram insurgents.
Others before the court are former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, former Petroleum Minister, Mrs Deziani Allison-Madueke, former Senate President, Senator David Mark, former Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswan, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Pius Anyim Pius.
All eyes are on the judiciary in ensuring quick dispensation of justice. It is expected that the cases will not suffer similar fate like those before them. Cases involving big men have always dragged for long as a result of frequent adjournments and frivolous injunctions to frustrate speedy trials. Also, cases struck out on technical grounds. The Chief Justice of the Federation should make good his promise to set up special courts to handle corruption cases when he expressed the judiciary support for the fight against corruption of President Buhari.
Fight against terrorism
President Buhari’s commitment to the anti-terror war is not in doubt. He has taken the campaign against terrorism beyond the Nigerian shores. At a summit attended by world leaders in Jordan on counter-terrorism, Buhari told his colleagues that Nigeria is ready to lead the battle against terrorism in the West African sub-region.
He reiterated the commitment of Nigeria playing a leading role in bringing together countries of the West African sub-region in a collective security arrarngement. He said with what Nigeria had gone through, it was ready to share the experience with a view to fashioning out comprehensive action plans in tackling the sourge of violent extremism in the region.
The President lamented that insurgents were able to attract members in their fold because of the insidious preaching of extremist clerics and called for an action plan to halt the trend. He added that all nations irrespective of religion should partner effectively in implementing national, regional and global action plans to counter violent extremism.
At the end of the summit, participants resolved to come up with concrete action plans that would change the narrative of violent extremism in the West African sub-region at a follow up meeting to be hosted by Nigeria.
The Nigerian Governors Forum has approved the withdrawal of one billion dollars from the Excess Crude Account by the Federal Government to be used in the on-ging fight against Boko Haram insurgents.
Although the government had proclaimed victory in the eight-year long battle against insurgency, the Federal Government said a substantial amount of budge was still required to tackle pockets of terrorists in the northeast. Besides, the government explained that the money is not intended for anti Boko Haram efforts alone but will also be spent on security issues in the state including policing in the state, community policing and all security challenges in the country.
Saraki’s CCT re-trial
The re-trial of the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, will start this year. The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, has sent Saraki back to the CCT to face charges of false declaration of asset. The Federal Government had appealed the acquittal of Saraki by the tribunal in early 2017.
The CCT had dismissed the 18-count allegations of false and anticipatory declaration of asset by the Senate President. However, the Court of Appeal ruled that Saraki did not sufficiently answer three of the charges.