Without doubt, the year 2018 tested the endurance of Nigerians. It began with a massacre by herdsmen in Benue State and ended with the killing of a former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall Alex Badeh, and the killings in Zamfara State.
In between were all manners of tribulations, an economy that grudgingly came out of recession but refused to fly, a scary youth unemployment number, a self-defeating monetary policy that keeps interest rate at over 25 percent, the unbreakable siege of the Apapa district in Lagos by articulated trucks and the impotence of everyone to lift that siege. Add these to flood disasters, traffic disasters, flaming petrol tankers and conflagrations ignited by pipeline vandals, plus daily kidnappings for ransom and the depredations of Boko Haram, these left behind a cocktail Nigerians would rather not taste again.
Nigerians, therefore, welcome the New Year with great expectations. The year 2019 is like a blank slate permitting Nigerians and their leaders to write on it as they choose. It could be a positively momentous year. It could also be a year of great setbacks. It could be the year we make giant economic strides, or a year we plunge deeper into poverty as a nation. It could be a year we make a dash for true economic diversification or a year we remain stuck with crude oil as our principal income earner to the detriment of other sources. It could be the year that would cement the nation’s unity or the year that tears it asunder.
That the year is an election year is constitutionally determined. It also marks two decades of our democratic experiment. The world is, therefore, watching Nigeria to see what we can make of it. Expectations are that our election this year must be qualitatively better than that of 2015. This means that it must be devoid of violence; it must be seen to be free and fair; it must not be tainted by cash-for-votes deals of any sort. The administration of the vote must be transparent, devoid of hitches, equipment malfunctions, late arrival of materials and officials. Above all, there must be peace and orderliness at the collation centres and results must be promptly disseminated. Absolute impartiality is expected of all security agents during the election. Their principal duty is to maintain law and order and secure the liberty of all voters so they can cast their votes without fear or favour.
The failure of the legislative and executive branches of government to pass new laws designed to facilitate the election and make it more transparent is regrettable and leaves the country no choice than to fall back on old tools. Yet this must not be seen as an excuse. The widespread suspicion that the executive branch deliberately frustrated the legislation to secure partisan electoral advantages puts added pressure on the Federal Government to act like ‘Caesar’s wife’ and rise above suspicion.
The 2019 election is Nigeria’s most important task for the year and all Nigerians must appreciate its sensitivity and rise to the occasion. If it succeeds, everything else succeeds. Security challenges must be fully reviewed. Without security, there can be no functional economy, no progress and no development. Part of the lacklustre performance of the economy in 2018 was due to security uncertainties. We hope that the nation has learnt its lessons. One can imagine the bounteous harvests and produce of a Nigeria without herdsmen’s carnage and depredations.
The manufacturing sector would remain in its present hideous stage as long as power remains unavailable and credit so expensive. A nation without a dependable rail transport system cannot avoid the scandalous fate that has befallen Apapa ports and their environs. The alarm over our steady pauperization is in order. But we still miss the point because of our emphasis on resources as different from human development.
Most governments all over the world have come to realise that the most important investment they can make is in the education of their citizens. Our continued parsimonious investment in the education sector has led to endless strikes, sub-standard education and the flight of good teachers. Our byzantine budget system and its chaotic implementation are not encouraging. It is our hope that the 2019 budget would be passed by the end of February to realign with the financial year. Every Nigerian has a stake in making 2019 a successful year for the nation. Happy New Year!