Looked from every angle that matters, 2018 was an outrageous year, a kind of year that makes you hunger for good news in 2019.
Bliss it is to be alive. That,I believe, will be the reaction of a lot of Nigerians as the much awaited 2019 has finally dawned. It has arrived with so much eagerness and nervy feelings. It’s not for nothing. It’s an election year with so much uncertainties, insecurity and divisions in the country like never before. Each is fraught with danger politically. Make no mistake about it. We have entered 2019 under unique circumstances of 2018. If we may ask in retrospect: What really made 2018 awful? And, is there anything good we can truly say? Yes, of course! We are alive. 2018 got us out of 2017, the year we were told we exited recession. But there are stormy clouds ahead, financial experts have warned. It is so because no nation, governed by responsible leaders can escape responsibilities. Responsibilities abandoned today will return as more acute crises tomorrow. That is one of the lessons of 2018.
Sometimes, recalling key events that shaped a particular year can give some physical vertigo. Looked from every angle that matters, 2018 was an outrageous year, a kind of year that makes you hunger for good news in 2019. Looking back, 2018 was a tough one when our worries came in torrents. They rattled down everyone’s nerve paths. It was a year we were told the grim truth that Nigeria has become ‘home’ to the highest number of world’s very poor people. Indeed, it was a cold and forbidden picture of who we truly are, a nation stratified by huge economic inequality.
If that message was not enough bad news, Nigeria in 2018 was rated the ‘extreme poverty capital of the world’. We beat India to carry the inglorious prize. We collectively lived dangerously in 2018, as insecurity reached a frightening level. Insurgency squeezed us into a corner as Boko Haram gave our military its most crippling blow with scores of our soldiers massacred in Melete Barracks, Borno State. In 2018, the Nigeria Police and the Directorate of State Service (DSS) became collaborators and agents of oppression rather than protection as the officials laid siege to the National Assembly, the legislative arm of government. The police did not spare the residences of some opposition lawmakers.Even as this column with to press, the police are still barricading the residence of Senator Dino Melaye. This has heightened concerns about what the police could do during the elections which begin next month.
Worse still, government was unable to leverage on the good economic outlook of 2018 when key economic indicators as early as January 2018 suggested that the Nigerian economy was off to its best start since 2015. Higher oil prices in the international market, rising external reserves and lower interest rates were all in bullish territory to boost our economic outlook in the year just gone by. But the present administration could not take the advantage that came with the bright beginning. And now, the economic outlook for 2019 look bleak. Oil prices have tumbled, with Nigeria’s Brent crude selling at below $54 per barrel. The 2019 budget seems already doomed even before the year began. Our external reserves have also declined while the stock market has been in a steady bearish territory since the last quarter of 2018. As 2018 ended yesterday, investors reportedly lost over N3 trillion, about 18 percent higher than they did in 2017. By the President’s admission, our economy is now in bad shape. Pause and think.
Moving forward, make no mistake about it: 2019 will be a nervy year, perhaps like no other in recent times. It is not unkind to say that even as much as it’s good to be optimistic, the reality is that the state of the country right now is scary.
I guess we have already started to feel the tizzy political temperature. It’s election year. With the presidential election few weeks away, 2019 will provide real test for our democracy, the integrity of our election, the ability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct a free, fair, credible and transparent elections in the country and our collective resolve to support our democracy. Perhaps most importantly, this year will prove whether President Muhammadu Buhari should be trusted with his repeated promise to ensure free and fair election by not meddling in the election process in whatever form. No doubt, politics will dominate everything other else. It’s therefore fair to say that 2019 will make or mar our democracy.
In other words, in 2019, we must have to confront challenges of a more immediate sort. This is because of the very difficult and formidable obstacles ahead. All of them are interconnected to the other,and have the potential to determine either a positive or negative outcome of the direction Nigeria is headed this year. Take, for example, insecurity and insurgencies in the NorthEast and the killings in Zamfara, North-West of the country. More than ever before, our security today has come under intense pressure from this jihadist insurgency in the North East. The killings in Zamfara has taken a new,dangerous dimension.
The crescent of instability in the North East and the unending killings in Zamfara have consumed the energies of the military, even though the government and the military high command would not admit that winning the war against Boko Haram is improving hopeless and harder than they had imagined. It has already claimed a much bigger toll the lives of the soldiers and civilian populace than had been officially admitted. As the New Year dawns, residents in the North East and Zamfara are no more sure of their safety. The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps are not safe either. This is a thorough disappointment.
In such atmosphere of instability and no visible peace in sight in the Nort-East and elsewhere in the country, it raises concerns whether indeed the elections will hold in these hotspots or not. INEC has on many occasions admitted that ongoing security challenges in the country, especially in the North-East, pose threat to the conduct of the elections. Just last week, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, stated that military report in these trouble spots would determine if elections would hold in those places. Still, President Buhari claims he has achieved his promise to return peace in the North-East. Easy to say. The facts don’t support his claim. What is clear is that the President hopes for too much in the North-East and demanded too little from the military until just recently when the war against insurgency started to look unwinnable.
All of that may have left INEC with little breathing room and other unpleasant choices, less than forty-five days to the elections. Besides these security challenges, INEC has other firestorms in its plate. A few days ago, the commission raised alarm that desperate politicians were mounting pressure on its officials to sell to them unclaimed Permanent Voters cards (PVCs). Such pressure will likely intensify as the elections draw nearer. And, that is how election rigging begins. Our politicians are the wolves at the door of INEC. They will stop at nothing to cast doubts on the integrity of our elections. And that raises the question on how long INEC officials can withstand such pressure?
Also, of more immediate worry is the report that few weeks to the elections, INEC is said to have run into a hitch with the award of contract for ballot papers that will be used to conduct the elections. According to SATURDAY SUN of December 29, 2018, even if the ballot paper printing is contracted out today, the firm to handle it will need about six weeks to print the required number of ballot papers which would not be less than 80 million. This has raised fears about the preparedness of INEC. The paper also reported that a management team from the commission recently visited one of the preferred firms selected to handle the printing job in Europe. But there is no clear sign that the contract will be awarded within the time frame that will allow the foreign-based company to deliver on schedule.