By Tessy Igomu
To many Nigerians, 2017 was a riveting year. It was a year that was laced with intrigues. Even now, many are still smarting from the spillover of past year’s events. These episodes at various times played out during the past year.
As Nigerians prepared for the Yuletide, they were given a bitter pill to swallow in the form of acute fuel scarcity that took the shine off the season. The severe fuel scarcity practically grounded economic activities and forced the prices of goods, services and transportation to go up by as much as 200 per cent.
At the start of the scarcity, which had become a perennial problem, the NNPC described it as panic buying and urged Nigerians not to worry, saying there was no scarcity.
However, by the second week, when it became apparent that there was indeed scarcity, Minister of Information, Arts and Culture, Lai Mohammed, blamed it on the weather. Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, attributed the scarcity to the fact that the NNPC was the country’s sole importer, just as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo blamed it on limited supply of petrol to depots across the country. But rumour was rife that the scarcity was because the price of petrol was about to go up. As the scarcity intensified, commuters daily became stranded and many people were unable to travel to their hometowns due to exorbitant bus fares and limited means of transportation.
Despite several assurances, promises and blame games from the federal government, the scarcity made its way into the new year.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s ill health
One of the defining incidents of 2017 in Nigeria was President Muhammadu Buhari’s ill health, which affected almost every aspect of governance in the country. Within the period of his absence, a vacuum seemed to have been created with questions as to who was actually in charge, unofficially, between the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and the so-called Aso Rock cabal.
The President had earlier in the year, travelled to London to treat an undisclosed illness for 50 days, only to return later to the United Kingdom to continue the treatment. That took a total of 103 days between May 7 and August 19.
His prolonged stay made him the butt of many jokes and ill comments. Following the nondisclosure of the type of ailment he was treating or how long he was staying, Nigerians were left to make whatever they liked out of his long absence. Till date, the secrecy surrounding his ill health still generates inaccurate conjectures.
But that only doused the agitation for a while, as more Nigerians soon began to clamour for his return. The dearth of information later triggered the resume-or-resign protest by the group Our Mumu Don Do, led by Charles Oputa (Charley Boy). This was followed by more protests in Abuja, Lagos and, later, London, under the hashtag #ResumeorResign.
Release of Chibok schoolgirls
Eighty-two of the 195 Chibok schoolgirls who remained in captivity after over 200 of them were kidnapped on April 24, 2014, by the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, regained freedom after what was described as intense negotiation. The deal had involved the federal government’s release of two senior Boko Haram commanders who had been detained by the Nigerian security services. It was disclosed that a combined team of military personnel and Red Cross negotiators flew the two detained Islamist commanders to Banki town in Borno State, where they were handed over to a team of Boko Haram representatives. The Boko Haram had also brought the girls to the outskirts of Banki, where a heavy contingent of Nigerian troops took custody of them.
While some people alleged that some ransom and prisoner exchange took place, the federal government insisted that no such thing happened. The whereabouts of the freed girls remains unclear, especially as they were initially not allowed to reunite with their parents and guardians shortly after they regained freedom.
Badoo cultists in Lagos
For many months last year, horror and bestiality was visited on residents of Ikorodu in Lagos as well as some parts of Ogun State by persons suspected to be members of a gang, Badoo. The notorious activities of the cult group sent many of its victims to their early graves. The cult members usually killed their victims by smashing the victims’ heads with stones, mortars or pestles. It was alleged that they would then collect the blood of their victims with a white handkerchief. They attacked the very old and young without any justifiable reason.
The ‘Badoo boys’, who did not cover their faces, reportedly went about their notorious operations in the night naked with black oil smeared all over their bodies to make them slippery so that no one would be able to grab them.
As their dastardly acts heightened, traditionalists were assembled to rain curses on them, just as residents constituted vigilance groups to protect themselves, when it seemed the security agents had failed to safeguard them. The Oodua People’s Congress, led by Gani Adams, and some other vigilance groups were also assembled to tackle the menace.
Some security operations later led to the restoration of relative peace and residents who had earlier fled the area started to return. The Lagos State Police Command also made headway in unravelling the cult by making a number of raids and arrests.
Fulani herdsmen and farmers’ clashes
All through last year, several communities were destroyed, thousands were killed or displaced from their ancestral homes and others inflicted with debilitating injuries by rampaging Fulani herdsmen. The lingering tension generated by the activities of some herdsmen, leading to clashes with farmers across the country, was a major issue in 2017. The farmers accused the herdsmen of trespassing on their farmland and destroying their crops.
The year saw the perennial conflict, which for long had been confined to the Middle Belt states, spreading around the country, with mass killings increasingly reported in southern states. Affected farmers felt the attacks were part of an effort to get them to leave their land, allowing the herdsmen to settle. More worrisome to many was the seeming silence and near inaction of the federal government and its agencies to rein in the perpetrators.
It was worse in Benue and Kaduna states, where farmlands and crops were ravaged, residents rendered homeless and many reported killed by well-armed herdsmen.
In Kaduna, this pitted the state government against people of Southern Kaduna, who were worse hit by the activities of herdsmen. The crises created a huge refugee situation in the affected states
Attempts by different state governments to enforce laws on grazing were met with severe resistance from the herdsmen, their backers and their associations, notably the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association. However, despite the many deaths and federal government statements, there was little or no sign of the crises coming to an end.
Arewa youth give Igbo in the North quit notice
In a move that many saw as fanning the embers of discord, a coalition of northern youth groups, loosely termed Arewa Youths, issued a quit notice to Nigerians of Igbo extraction living in the North, ordering them to leave the region before October 1, or face attacks. The group, which appeared angered by the secessionist agitations of the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, also accused the Igbo of amassing weapons in the North. They were more piqued by the sit-at-home protest by Kanu, which saw massive compliance in the South East.
This further heightened tension in the absence of the President and despite condemnation trailing their action, to which they maintained their stand, several regions equally responded with similar orders to those they perceived as unwanted. With the polity heating up and the quit notice date drawing nearer, well-meaning Nigerians and government officials had to intervene for the youths to rescind the order. The northern youths later withdrew the notice at a world press conference held at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.
Judges on trial
The judiciary in 2017 witnessed some integrity tests, with the trial of some judges following a “sting operation” by the Department of State Service (DSS) in October.
They included Justices Sylvester Ngwuta and Inyang Okoro of the Supreme Court, Justice Agbadu Fishim, Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court in Abuja, and his wife, Olabowale, as well as Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia.
Justice Ngwuta is facing a 13-count charge bordering on money laundering, age falsification and alleged possession of multiple international passports.
The charges against Justice Ademola, his wife and Joe Agi, SAN, were later quashed.
Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa of the Federal High Court, Bayelsa Division, was docked on June 23 before a Lagos High Court sitting in Igbosere on a 14-count charge of unlawful financial enrichment.
Operation Python Dance 2
The Nigerian Army embarked on a military exercise tagged Operation Python Dance 2 in the five states of the South East, Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo. The exercise, which began on September 15, was expected to end on October 14, 2017. It, however, met stiff opposition and generated tension and controversies, especially when what was tagged a show of undue force led into a clash between the Army and IPOB.
Although the Nigerian Army took time to reiterate that the exercise was aimed at fighting crime in the South East, reactions and allegations of human rights abuses filled the air.
Nnamdi Kanu’s trial
The leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, who had been on trial for secessionist agitation and incarcerated in Kuje Prison in the Federal Capital territory (FCT) since October 2015, was granted bail. Three people, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, a Jewish high priest, Emmanu El-Shalom Oka Benmadu, and an accountant, Tochukwu Uchendu, stood as sureties.
He was on several occasions accused of flouting his bail conditions by granting press interviews and attending rallies, among others. He also led his members to insist that the governorship election in Anambra State, scheduled for last November, would not hold.
But following his disappearance after the raid on his residence by the military during Operation Python Dance 2, he failed to appear before Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja on October 17 for continuation of his trial, prompting the judge to order his sureties to either produce him or risk jail, or forfeiture of the N100 million bail bond they entered with the court.
Kanu and four other pro-Biafra agitators, Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu, David Nwawuisi and Bright Chimezie, were to be re-arraigned on an amended five-count charge bordering on treasonable felony levelled against them by the federal government.
Kanu was granted bail on April 25 after spending a year and seven months in detention. His co-defendants have remained in prison.
Kanu disappeared after the alleged raid of his father’s residence in Abia State on September 14. Despite the allegation, the Nigerian Army denied the claim, saying Kanu was not in their custody.
Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Abdu-Kafarati, on September 20, proscribed the IPOB as an illegal organisation, following an ex parte motion filed on behalf of the government by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN.
Jonathan ordered to appear in court
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court issued a subpoena for former President Goodluck Jonathan and his former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) to appear as witnesses, based on an application from former national publicity secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh, in his on-going trial.
Metuh is facing a seven-count charge brought against him and his firm, Destra Investment Limited, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for receiving N400 million from the Office of the NSA without executing any contract.
In his reply, Jonathan asked the court to set aside the subpoena or, in the alternative, direct Metuh to deposit with the court, for and on behalf of himself, the sum of N1 billion, in line with provisions of Section 241(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, to cover travel expenses for himself and his security personnel from his hometown, Otuoke, Bayelsa State, to Abuja and also for the time that he might spend appearing before the court as President of Nigeria between 2010 and 2015.
Patience Jonathan’s accounts frozen, unfrozen
Several bank accounts connected to or linked to the former First Lady, Patience Jonathan, were frozen on May 30. Justice Binta Nyako, the presiding judge, granted the order to freeze 16 bank accounts and barred Mrs. Jonathan and 10 different organisations connected to her from having access to the accounts in a case brought against her by the EFCC. The anti-graft agency was given 90 days to carry out its investigation on the said accounts.
However, the court reversed the order on Tuesday, December 5, six months after they were frozen, on grounds of an application filed by Mike Ozekhome, SAN, counsel to Mrs. Jonathan, stating that the interim forfeiture had elapsed.
Arrest of Evans, the suspected kidnapper
Wanted kidnap kingpin, Chukwudumeme Onwuamadike, aka Evans, was in the year arrested at his Magodo, Lagos, residence after months of investigations and arraigned on August 30 before a Lagos High Court.
He appeared along with co-accused Ogechi Uchechukwu, Uche Amadi, Okwuchukwu Nwachukwu, Chilaka Ifeanyi and Victor Chukwunonso Aduba before a vacation judge, Justice Hakeem Oshodi, of the Lagos High Court, Ikeja, for allegedly kidnapping Dunu Donatus, Sylvanius Ahanonu Hafiia and attempted kidnap of the chairman of Young Shall Grow Motors, Chief Vincent Obianodo.
They were arraigned on a two-count charge of conspiracy and kidnapping by the Lagos State government.
Evans changed his plea from guilty to not guilty, on his second court appearance. The case is still on and has suffered several adjournments for sundry reasons.
According to the leader of the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Team that played a prominent role in his arrest, Abba Kyari, who tracked him down, Evans was nabbed after several attempts at tracking his location failed as the kidnap kingpin was always changing locations. Before his arrest, the IGP had announced a bounty of N30 million for information that could lead to the suspect’s arrest.
Evans was eventually picked up after three women, Amaka, Ijeoma and Ngozi, suspected to be his girlfriends, were rounded up.
Saraki freed by CCT, appeal court orders retrial
The case involving Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) witnessed twists and turns last year.
The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, on December 12, gave the federal government the go-ahead to re-open the case it entered against Saraki before the CCT.
The three-man panel of justices, led by Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson, said it was satisfied that Saraki has a case to answer before the CCT relating to allegations that he engaged in the sale of rice and sugar as a public officer.
Hausa-Yoruba clash in Osun
Forty-six people were reportedly killed and 96 wounded in a clash between Hausa and Yoruba communities in Ile-Ife, Osun State. There were several versions as to the cause of the clash, which took a dangerous dimension and saw property worth millions of naira destroyed. The situation was curtailed and prevented from escalating into a full-blown ethnic war.
Hundreds of Nigerian migrants stranded in Libya were brought back home by the federal government last year. Many of them had been in detention camps, while others willingly returned. According to Abike Dabiri, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora, nearly 5,000 Nigerians came back from Libya. The returnees were brought back in batches and were received by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Nigerian Immigration Service and the International Organisation for Migration. According to NEMA, a total of 1,295 returned between November 6 and 30.
On September 22, 2017, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control was alerted to a suspected case of monkey pox in an 11-year-old male patient at the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital (NDUTH) in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
Soon after, 11 other cases were discovered, though there were no deaths, as all the patients were under expedient medical care and improving, but close contacts of the patients were identified and medically monitored.
The Bayelsa State government and CDC team, therefore, went into intense public enlightenment to advise the public on the symptoms of the disease, how to manage the crisis on discovery, and prevention of further spread.
On October 11, the federal government confirmed that 33 suspected cases of the virus were recorded in seven states. In the end, 74 suspected cases were recorded in 11 states. But all the cases were contained.
In June 2017, the World Health Organisation (WHO) was notified of a cholera outbreak in Kwara State. A total of 1,558 cases were reported, including 11 deaths. By December 19, 2017, about 5,365 suspected cases had been reported, including 61 deaths. The government, however, announced the end of the outbreak on December 21, after two weeks of no new cases of cholera. A major oral cholera vaccine campaign contributed to the authorities’ efforts and successful containment, as new infections dropped significantly after vaccination.
Besides the various issues and events that defined the year, the demise of some prominent persons was also recorded.
Notable deaths in 2017
Second Republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme: On Sunday, November 19, former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme breathed his last at about 10pm in a London clinic, where he was flown for treatment by the federal government. The programme for his burial, slated for January was released in December.
Dr. Yusuf Maitama Sule: Fondly called the Golden Voice from the North by reason of his oratorial prowess with which he held audiences spellbound, Dr. Yusuf Maitama Sule, former Nigerian permanent representative to the United Nations, succumbed to the cold hands of death on July 2, 2017, in a Cairo, Egypt, hospital, where he had been flown for medical treatment. He died at the age of 87.
The elder statesman, who was the Dan Manasin Kano, was a respected nationalist, politician, intellectual and acclaimed orator.
Gen. Robert Adeyinka Adebaya: Described as the proverbial cat with nine lives, the former military governor of the old Western Region, between 1966 and 1971, and president of Yoruba Council of Elders, died on March 8, a day to his 89th birthday, in Ikeja, Lagos. He was also the Chief of Staff of the Nigerian Army and Commander of the Nigerian Defence Academy.
Senator Isiaka Adeleke: He was the first civilian governor of Osun State and a major contender for the Osun 2018 governorship election. He was also a two-time senator who represented the People’s Democratic Party from 2007 to 2011 and was later elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress in 2015. He died on April 23 last year at the age of 62, after suffering a heart attack.
Gen. Samuel Ogbemudia: The former military governor of defunct Bendel State (now Edo and Delta states) from 1967 to 1975, died on Friday, March 9, 2017, in Benin, the Edo State capital. The retired officer, politician and sports promoter was aged 85.
Dr. Olu Onagoruwa: Former attorney-general of Nigeria, minister of justice and human rights activist, Dr. Olu Onagoruwa, died on July 21 at the age of 80. He was appointed the attorney-general and minister of justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 1993 and later appointed the African representative to the body that drafted Ethiopia’s Constitution in that same year.
Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji: He was a Nigerian career diplomat and politician who was the special representative of the Secretary General with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone from November 19, 1999, to July 16, 2003. The elder statesman, who died at the age of 83 in London on November 24, was also a one-time minister of foreign affairs.
Pa Adebayo Faleti: He was Africa’s first newscaster, Africa’s first stage play director, Africa’s first film editor and librarian with the first television in Nigeria, Western Nigeria Television. He also famously translated Nigeria’s national anthem from English to Yoruba. In addition to his broadcasting work, Mr. Faleti was a poet, journalist and writer.
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin: The former minister of health and executive director of United Nations Population Fund died on June 4 in New York, United States, at the age of 68 from a cardiac arrest.