By Fred Itua, Abuja
In Nigeria, it’s one day, one trouble. In the political spectrum, there is always the reoccurring decimal of squabbles, betrayal and failed promises. For Nigerians, these are regular occurrences that attract no serious attention. However, that changed in 2020.
For many Nigerians who have survived the turbulent year, it may go down as one of the worst and in another sense, one of the most daring. From the politics of COVID-19 pandemic to APC crisis and Edo election; #EndSARS protests to President Muhammadu Buhari’s summon by the National Assembly; Governor David Umahi’s defection and crack in PDP to the reappointment of the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu; National Assembly probe of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to banditry and governors’ cry for help; 2020 could be summed up as a year of long knives.
APC crisis and Edo election
In June, 2018, former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole stepped in as national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). For many political pundits, they had predicted a peaceful reign, following his antecedents as a labour leader. The first litmus test for Oshiomhole was the 2019 general elections, where APC lost more than five states.
While the party was yet to recover from the 2019 political tsunami, Oshiomhole and his erstwhile godson and governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, were locked in a supremacy battle. In the end, Oshiomhole’s candidate in the September 19 election in Edo State, Osagie Ize-Iyamu lost. Oshiomhole also lost his seat as national chairman of APC.
His exit opened another chapter in the APC, leading to the eventual capturing of the structure of the party by governors. With the nod of President Buhari, a caretaker committee was set up, headed by governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni. Again, pundits believe that governors elected on the platform of the party will decide who will succeed President Buhari in 2023.
Director-general of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), Dr Salihu Lukman, recently alleged plots by a section of the leaders of the APC to hijack the party structure.
“In which case, the new leadership of the party to emerge out of such a process can only be surrogate leaders whose mission may simply be to ‘crown’ candidates for future elections,” Lukman said.
With 2021 beckoning, more crises are expected in the party. The upcoming election of substantive members of the National Working Committee, zoning and interplay over who succeeds Buhari in 2023, will resurface.
Buhari’s summon by the National Assembly
The National Assembly has been in the news of late for the wrong reasons. Though it is an independent arm of Government, repeated utterances by the President of the Senate and chairman of the National Assembly, Ahmad Lawan that they’re always on the same page with the Executive, has cast doubts on its ability to checkmate the excesses of others.
Earlier in December, the House of Representatives, worried over the tiring insecurity in the country, summoned President Buhari to address lawmakers. While a cross section of Nigerians hailed the move, the political class, including the Senate frowned at the summon.
At the peak of the debate of the debacle, Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, openly chastised the National Assembly and reminded it that it lacked the powers to summon the president, even though he’s a public officer who enjoys financial approvals given by the Parliament.
APC leaders, legal experts and interest groups, expressed divergent views on the summon. At the last minute, Buhari turned down the offer. Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in his intervention, maintained that the National Assembly had the right to summon the president.
“On his own part, the honourable attorney-general of the federation has questioned the constitutional power of the national assembly to invite the President on the grounds that as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces he cannot be compelled to disclose operational details of the defence of the country.
“With respect, the president is under a moral and legal obligation to honour the invitation. Having accepted the invitation the president should not allow himself to be embarrassed by turning round to turn down the invitation.
“By the combined effect of sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution the National Assembly is empowered to summon any public officer including the President in the course of conducting investigation into any matter with respect to which it has power to make laws and the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly,” he said.
There are still ongoing arguments on a purported apology by the leadership of the House to Buhari. The claim has however been denied. For now, Nigerians May have to wait longer and see how the drama will unfold. For many stakeholders, the action of the National Assembly will determine if Nigerians will take it seriously going forward.
Governor Umahi’s defection and crack in PDP
Since the 2019 general elections, defections from one party to another has remained low. That changed earlier in November when the governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi abandoned his party, the PDP and defected to the APC. The defection, though a surprise to many Nigerians, didn’t come to the political class as a shock.
For them, it was only a matter of time. The defection means different things to different people. While Umahi attributed it to the refusal of the PDP to zone the party’s presidency to the South East, others believe that the governor was only shopping for excuses to justify his defection.
The defection has also raised other pertinent issues on zoning by the two main political parties- the APC and the PDP. For now, both parties have maintained a loud silence on whether or not power will be ceded to the South since Buhari, a northerner, was also serving out a second term.
An Asaba-based legal practitioner, Socrates Ehigiator, said Umahi was a PDP member during the day and amen APC at night. He said he’s surprised that the leadership of the PDP was oblivious of this fact.
He said: “It is quite disheartening that the national leadership of the PDP, over the past one year, was oblivious of the fact that David Umahi was a PDP by day and APC person by night. Umahi’s defection from PDP to APC is unjustifiable, because it happened at a time the PDP hadn’t any obvious crack or factions or perceived irreconcilable differences, which is the only ground upon which a person elected on a political platform can defect to another party.
“This is provided for by the extant laws, party constitution and above all the Electoral Act as well as Judicial Precedents/Case Law, where similar issues have been adjudicated upon in the past.
“Basically the PDP, if it weren’t such a weak opposition at the centre, ought to approach the Court, on the justifiability of Umahi’s defection. The Freedom of Right of Association, does not avail Umahi and his co-travelers.”
A governorship aspirant in a Anambra State, Obunike Ohaegbu, said it was obvious that Umahi worked for the APC in the 2019 presidential election. He said he was glad that Umahi has openly identified with his real friends.
He said: “Gov Umahi deserves my commendation for taking the bold step of joing his acclaimed ‘father’ in APC. From the recent disclosures, in 2019, he allegedly worked for the reelection of Buhari as the candidate of APC. So, he did well by making the move officially.
“However, it is most unfortunate that he made futile attempts at painting PDP in bad light by using the 2023 zoning of the presidential slot as his justification even when the APC has not made any commitment to such. I encourage others within the PDP who are sympathetic to APC to also take the bold step of leaving the party. They cannot continue to live in deceit.”
INEC chairman’s reappointment
Professor Yakubu, chairman of INEC, made history when he was reappointed in October by President Buhari. Prior to his confirmation by the Senate, some forces within the APC and the PDP, tried without success to frustrate the move. Their argument was hinged on the fact that his reappointment could scuttle plans by some elements to determine where the pendulum will swing to in 2023.
A confirmation that ordinarily should have taken less than a week, dragged on for several weeks. Monies allegedly exchanged hands and key actors worked tirelessly. In the end, he was confirmed, making him the first electoral umpire to be reappointed in Nigeria.
With his reappointment, attention he been shifted to the 2023 general elections, where Professor Yakubu is expected to play a vital role. Pundits are also optimistic that Yakubu maybe become bolder and resist any attempt to compel to compromise in 2023 when Nigerians will return to the polls.
The country director, ActionAid Nigeria, Ene Obi, said: “Prof Mahmud is a good person and I wish he is given the free hand to do his job. He has tried despite all the challenges. The Electoral Amendment should be approved to give INEC more liberty to conduct elections free and fair.
“Political will is important, Prof. Mahmud needs the support. He has a lot of openness towards CSOs and we can mobilise more like minds to achieve free and fair elections. I congratulate Prof, on his re-election.”
The convener, Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju, said: “I welcome the reappointment with hope, calling on him to do the right thing, leave a lasting legacy because now he is not looking for anything and has gotten tenure extension.
“So there is no reason of pleasing anybody, and I am appealing to him and his conscience to do what is right so that he can be remembered for something.
“We all remember Prof Atahiru Jega, for one or two things he did; he gave us the card reader. So Prof Yakubu should give us at least electronic voting and this should include E-Collation of results as we saw in Edo which made rigging almost impossible and also he should push for this reform should be amended in the new Electoral Reform.”
“Is ok Hon. Minister. Is ok, Is ok. Is ok Hon. Minister. Is ok, don’t talk again, off your mic.” Beside Soro Soke, the above sentence was the most popular in 2020. The utterance was made in July, when the House of Representatives adhoc committee investigated alleged stealing of N81.5 billion.
The interim management of the commission admitted to have spent N1.32 billion on themselves as ‘’COVID-19 palliative.”
The Commission also owned up to spending N81.5 billion in just eight months. The outcome of the probe which has now been kept in the waste bin, gulped millions of naira. The probes were aired live on major news stations across the country.
The probe was a culmination of months of exchange of banters between the minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio and members of the National Assembly. Akpabio had repeatedly accused members of the National Assembly of collecting contracts from the NDDC without executing them.
The probe also dovetailed into war of words between the APC and the PDP. The party in a statement by the national publicity secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, noted that APC’s attack against PDP’s insistence on the prosecution of APC leaders indicted in the NDDC probe further betrayed the ruling party’s desperation to shield its corrupt leaders and office holders who have been implicated in the probe.
The caretaker committee of the ruling party in a statement, said the PDP institutionalised a culture of corruption in the country’s national life, adding that the least the party can do is to allow the current administration right the PDP’s wrongs and restore the institutions to a culture of probity.
Like the proverbial Goddot, Nigerians are waiting for the outcome of the probe by the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Banditry and National Assembly challenges
In 2020, banditry and insecurity, were the most used cliches on the floor of the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly. There was seldom any week that a minute silence was not observed in honour of Nigerians killed by bandits of Boko Haram terrorists. Senators. Especially those from the North, raised points of order every week to draw the attention of the president to the daily killings.
Frustrated that its resolutions were never implemented by President Buhari, the Senate mandated its president, Lawan to lead a delegation to Aso Villa. Like a pack of cards, their suggestions were dumped. Twice, it held summits on insecurity and send the recommendations to Buhari for implementation. Twice, Buhari damned the recommendations. Twice it asked Buhari to sack arrive chiefs. Twice, Buhari called their bluff.
In the House of Representatives, it was the same songs of sorrow and lamentations. Buhari’s invitation by members, was necessitated by his purported refusal to implement their resolutions on insecurity.
Governors too we’re not excepted from the wailing in 2020. Governors of the 36 states under the auspices of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), joined one expressing worries over the deteriorating security challenges bedeviling the country, particularly the North West region.
Chairman of the Forum and governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, said: “We as governors, we are still very concern about the security situation in the North-West and the entire country. This is almost a daily occurrence and the governors are spending the resources; material and human on this priority issue which pervades the whole of our country.
“We are all tired and frustrated that these issues are happening but we know that with concerted efforts on our part as governors and the commitment of the federal government and the professional conducts of our security services. And our social investment programmes intensified, we shall see the end of this criminality, this brigandage in our states.”
Lawan too, while expressing frustration of lawmakers, said: “There is nothing more important than securing the lives of its citizens. That’s one major responsibility. We are handicapped. The Constitution restricts us. We can only do what the Constitution provides. We will keep talking.”
In all, 2020 was a year that symbolises the good, the bad and the ugly in the political landscape of the country. In 2021, more drama beckons.