Which way Nigeria in the New Year?

President Goodluck Jonathan may have wished his fellow citizens a rough time in the beginning of the year. He showed it without any equivocation. As Nigerians woke up on the first day of the year, hoping for a brighter year ahead of them, they were greeted with the disgusting news of the removal of subsidy on petrol. The consequence of the President’s action was the rise in the prices of goods and services. The cost of transportation skyrocketed. Some Nigerians who had travelled to their villages for the Christmas and New Year celebrations were trapped. They could not afford the exorbitant fares being charged by motorists. Some, therefore, depended on their aged parents to bail them out before they could return to their various stations. Before the subsidy removal, a litre of petrol was selling for N65, but the new price went as high as N144 per litre in some states. That action brought out the fire in the hitherto docile Nigerians.

The workers, led by the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress, met. Their meeting yielded result as they jointly issued a statement, asking the Federal Government to reverse the decision or risk a nationwide strike. The government ignored them. Days rolled by before the FG drafted the Minister of Labour, Chief Emeka Wogu, to have a dialogue with the aggrieved labour unions. While the government was pretending to be discussing with the pained workers, it, at the same time, resorted to propaganda by dishing out tissues of lies on why the subsidy must go. Such propaganda included nations where there was no subsidy and how much their citizens were paying for a litre of petrol. But the propaganda was silent on the lifestyle of presidents of such countries and the number of aircraft in their fleet. Nigerians, however, reminded their President to also learn to live moderate like his counterparts in such countries.

But when it dawned on them that the President was not ready to listen to them, labour, backed by a coalition of civil societies, embarked on a strike to press home their demand. It was not until the President and the governors realised the security implication of a grounded nation that the price of petrol was later pegged at N97 per litre.

On Oct. 29, in far away Sierra Leone, President Jonathan admitted the gravity of the strike, saying it could have led to his removal from office. Before then, he had boasted that the protesters were hired. “Look at the demonstrations. Look at the areas these demonstrations are coming from. You begin to ask, are these the ordinary citizens that are demonstrating, or are people pushing them to demonstrate?” Jonathan had said this while delivering his 52nd independence anniversary lecture. He was reacting to the remark made by a previous speaker, Mr. Jibril Ibrahim, who is the Director of Nigeria’s Centre for Democracy and Development, who had touched upon the subject of subsidy of petroleum products and the reaction it generated in the country.

Jonathan said the protests were not as spontaneous as widely believed. To him, it was a case of a certain class of people in the country, who were opposed to what he called the liberalisation of the petroleum sector.

He had said, “Take the case of Lagos; Lagos is the critical state in the nation’s economy, it controls about 53 per cent of the economy and all tribes are there. The demonstration in Lagos, people were given bottled water that people in my village don’t have access to, people were given expensive food that the ordinary people in Lagos cannot eat. So, even going to eat free alone attracts the people. They go and hire the best musicians to come and play and the best comedians to come and entertain; is that demonstration? Are you telling me that that is a demonstration from ordinary masses in Nigeria who want to communicate something to the government?”

Renewed mandates for Oshiomhole, Mimiko

For Governor Adams Oshiomhole and Olusegun Mimiko of Edo and Ondo states respectively, 2012 was a victorious year. They went for the election with formidable opponents, fought and won. It was a battle royale in Edo as the Peoples Democratic Party was led by a man popularly called Mr. Fix It, Chief Tony Anenih. The former chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees had vowed to root the governor, who is a member of the rival Action Congress of Nigeria, out of office. The campaigns were full of acrimony and innuendos. The PDP, which had a retired army general, Charles Airhiarvbere, as its governorship candidate, said Oshiomhole’s government was full of deceit. Even a member of the Board of Trustees of the party from Osun State, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, was in the state to lend a support to his party. He said the days of Oshiomhole in government were over. In a brisk reply to Babatope’s outburst, Oshiomhole said the former minister’s case was like that of a herbalist, who could not heal himself. He was probably making a veiled reference to the inability of Babatope to influence the success of his political party in his home state, where ACN is ruling. At the end of the tension-soaked campaigns and election, the Independent National Electoral Commission declared Oshiomhole the winner. He polled 477,478 votes, representing 73.72 per cent of 647,698 total votes cast, to defeat his closest rival, Airhiarvbere of the PDP.

But the ACN was not that lucky in Ondo State where the governor, Mimiko, who is popularly called Iroko, was too solid for the ACN’s broom to sweep away. Like Edo, the campaigns in Ondo were fraught with hatred, accusations and allegations against candidates and even political parties. The ACN leaders accused Mimiko of betraying them with his refusal to defect to the party after his judicial victory about four years ago against Governor Olusegun Agagu of the PDP. In his reply, Mimiko said he never made such guarantee and that he would not allow foreigners to take over the economy of his state. People thought that the battle was going to be between the ACN, which fielded Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), and Labour Party’s Mimiko. But when the result of the election, which was held on Oct. 20, was announced, it was clear that even the PDP could do better in the election, which was won by the LP.

The Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Prof. Adebiyi Daramola, while declaring Mimiko as the winner of the election, said the governor polled 260,199 votes; Olusola Oke of the PDP came second with 155,961 votes; and ACN’s Akeredolu got a total of 143,512 votes. Mimiko won a landslide victory in 12 of the 18 local government areas of the state including his hometown; Oke of the PDP won in two local government areas which are Okitipupa and Ilaje, while Akeredolu won in three local government areas, including his hometown, Owo.

Tukur’s PDP on trial

The results of the two governorship elections put the leadership of the PDP, under its National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, on trial. Since the election of the present members of the NWC, they have lost the two governorship elections in which they have put forward candidates. The PDP has three other rounds of opportunities to prove its relevance in the political landscape of the country with governorship elections coming up in three states – Anambra, Ekiti and Osun. The outcomes of these elections will show how strong the party’s umbrella is and if the citizens are still comfortable taking shade under it.

…As party begs defectors to return

Though it says it is the biggest party in Africa, the PDP is already on its knees, begging those who defected from it to return. On Sept. 20, Tukur personally issued a statement directing those who had worked against the party in the past to return to its fold within 30 days. He, however, said these defectors could only return to the party through their wards. He advised anyone not allowed to go through this process to report such hindrance to higher authorities, up to the national secretariat. When a former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Kalu, approached the national leadership of the party to return, Tukur, however, sang a new song, saying the PDP would not foist anyone on itself. He had used this measure to bring a former governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, back to the party.

Constitution review: Deriving power from the people

As the debate rages on the desire of the members of the National Assembly to amend the 1999 Constitution, the lawmakers were at their different constituencies where they had dialogues with the people. There were clamours by the people for state police, regionalism, fiscal federalism, immunity clause, local government autonomy, Land Use Act, devolution of powers, status of the FCT, constitutional status for traditional rulers and state creation. At a public hearing on the matter, certain individuals held that it was time for states to begin to have their own security outfits besides the Nigeria Police Force; others felt otherwise. For example, legal luminaries like Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) canvassed the view that there should be a total devolution of powers, especially with regard to the police, whereas the Ministry of Justice and the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, opposed this.

The Chairman, House Committee on Public Affairs, Mr. Zakari Muhammed, said the debate on the constitution review was quite rich and that the National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives, believes that “we must bring the amendment of the constitution to our people so that we feel their pulse rather than sit in the confines of our offices there in Abuja.” But with the revelation by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory, Smart Adeyemi, that governors were not favourably disposed to most of the desires of the people like autonomy for LGs and state creation, the outcome of the exercise may not meet the yearnings of the people.

The plot against PDP

Three major opposition political parties consider the PDP as a behemoth too strong for them to face individually in a contest. They have therefore set up different committees on their plan to merge in 2013. The committees are to prepare the position of their parties before an enlarged meeting of all the three committees. The three political parties are the Action Congress of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party and the Congress for Progressive Change. Already, the three parties have vowed to forge ahead with the planned merger, which they said would be used to send the ruling PDP out of office in 2015. The National Publicity Secretary of the ACN, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said his party and its leaders would not renege on their promises concerning the merger plan, adding that talks aimed at achieving this were ongoing. Also, the National Chairman of the ANPP, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, stated that the merger talks were at a critical stage and would definitely solve Nigeria’s political problems when concluded. Onu said in an email to our correspondent, “The merger talks are ongoing right now. By the grace of God, the merger will be successful. We want to give Nigeria an effective political competition in the political arena. We believe that competition, which is good in the social and economic arena, is also good in the political arena. We are convinced that when we have this in the country, we will be better off.” In his contribution, the National Publicity Secretary of the CPC, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, told our correspondent that the three political parties had realised that it would be difficult to unseat the PDP if they refused to team up. He said this reality dawned on them with the way the PDP had been bulldozing its ways into power since 1999 despite its dwindling popularity among Nigerians.

Such thinking does not, however, seem to move the PDP going by the words of its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, who advised the leadership of the three opposition parties to shed their personal interests as well as sectional agenda so as to realise their wish of forming an alliance that could challenge the PDP in the 2015 general elections.

APGA’s turn of crisis

The crisis in the All Progressive Grand Alliance came to many as a surprise. This was because many thought the party had stabilised following its ability to recover from the removal of its first national chairman, Chief Chekwas Okorie. Okorie, after many unsuccessful legal battles to return to office, has formed a new political party, the United Progressive Party, leaving APGA to Chief Victor Umeh. However, the party, which, against all odds, produced two serving governors, is currently enmeshed in internal friction. One faction of the party led by Alhaji Sadiq Masala and Dr. Ifedi Okwenna said Umeh and the National Secretary, Alhaji Sani Shinkafi, had been suspended over sundry allegations. The suspension took place at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja.

But Umeh said the decision of the twosome was null and void. He said, “The people who broke into our party secretariat were only five out of 29 members of the NWC. You and I know that in a democracy, for you to do anything successfully, you must have the required number.”

Political watchers are of the opinion that the crisis in the party may be connected with the governorship election coming up in Anambra early 2014. Whereas Umeh is said to be favouring an unnamed oil magnate for the party’s ticket, the governor, Mr. Peter Obi, though said not to have openly endorsed anyone for the ticket, is believed to be against the oil magnate. The coming year may bring further crisis into the party as the battle for the party’s ticket heightens. The crisis has however shown that no political party is immune to crisis irrespective of size.

Cutting political parties to marginable size

In a move that caught the political parties off guard, the Independent National Electoral Commission announced the deregistration of 31 political parties. Some of these political parties are Fresh Democratic Party, National Reformation Party, National Advance Party as well as the Democratic Peoples Alliance. Also on the list INEC are African Liberation Party, Action Party of Nigeria, African Political System, Better Nigeria Progressive Party, Congress for Democratic Change, Community Party of Nigeria, Freedom Party of Nigeria, Hope Democratic Party, Justice Party, Liberal Democratic Party of Nigeria, Movement for Democracy and Justice, and the Movement for the Restoration and Defence of Democracy. Others are New Democrats, National Majority Democratic Party, National Movement of Progressive Party, National Solidarity Democratic Party, Progressive Action Congress, Peoples Mandate Party, Peoples Progressive Party, People’s Salvation Party, Republican Party of Nigeria, United National Party for Development and the United Nigeria Peoples Party. The founders of these parties have, however, vowed to continue to operate, an action the commission said was impossible.

Jonathan undecided on 2015

Just as there were insinuations that Jonathan was nursing a second term ambition, the President has come out to say he has not made up his mind. He asked Nigerians to wait for a year before the election to know whether he would contest or not. He has his reasons: “Four years is a very short time for someone to make an impact, immediately you start talking about elections, you will actually be heating up the polity. Before you ask whether Mr. President will re-contest for a second term or not, wait till 2014. Give me some time to make sure that myself and my cabinet work to satisfy Nigerians. This is not the time to talk about whether the President will re-contest or not. I do not want that to distract my government. If I say that I will not be contesting, some members of my cabinet might resign to go and contest. Of course most of them are qualified to vie for the position,” he said.

Patience’s sudden disappearance

Nigerians won’t forget in a hurry the sudden disappearance of the wife of President Jonathan, Patience, from the country. For about two days, her whereabouts were kept under wraps by the Presidency. Her husband did not volunteer any word concerning his wife’s whereabouts. The lid of the secret was, however, blown open by an online medium, which reported that the top civil servant in the Bayelsa State had been evacuated to a German hospital to treat an undisclosed ailment. Upon her return to the country after about two months in an undisclosed hospital, she said, “I do not have terminal illness, neither did I do any cosmetic surgery, talk more or less of tummy tuck. My husband loves me as I am and I am pleased with how God created me. I cannot add anything.”

Absentee ailing governors

The bug of disappearance left the Presidential Villa and resurfaced in Cross River and Enugu states, where their governors have abandoned their offices without any convincing official justification. The governors – Liyel Imoke (Cross River) and Sullivan Chime (Enugu) – have refused to tell the people they govern why they suddenly left their duty posts without handing over to their deputies. There are rumours that the governors are in poor state of health. The nation in general and Taraba State in particular are also eagerly awaiting the return of the governor of the state, Mr. Dambaba Suntai, from Germany, where he is undergoing treatment. Suntai was involved in a helicopter crash in Yola, Adamawa State.

Death, where is thy sting?

The cold hands of death swept away some notable politicians. Among them were a former Minister of Labour, Chief Mathew Mbu; a former Governor of Oyo State and leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Alhaji Lam Adesina; and a former Senate Leader and strongman of Kwara politics, Dr. Olusola Saraki. The nation also witnessed the death, through air accident, of the Governor of Kaduna State, Mr. Patrick Yakowa; the former National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Azazi and four others.

Jonathan vows to do better in 2013

Having probably realised the rate of rot in the polity, the insecurity in the nation, high rate of corruption in his government and the frustration of the unemployed youths, President Jonathan has vowed to do better in the coming year. Since he made the promise at a religious gathering, Nigerians are hoping that the President will not renege on his promise.

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