By Kola King
2022 was a rollercoaster and quite rough and turbulent across the world and Nigeria was no exception. On the international scene, war broke out in February in Europe between Russia and Ukraine, while Queen Elizabeth 11, who reigned for 70 years as the longest-serving British monarch died on September 8 aged 96. Also, the UK witnessed three prime ministers within the year and the emergence of Rishi Sunak of Indian ancestry as the new prime minister after the resignation of Prime Minister Liz Truss who had earlier succeeded Boris Johnson.
Back home insecurity and economic challenges persist. The economic headwinds were of tsunami proportions making short shrift of earnings and further eroding the standard of living for millions. Indeed, Nigerians were buffeted both on the economic front and by forces of nature that unleashed unprecedented rainfall which led to catastrophic flooding in 32 states of the federation. Besides more than 600 people were killed by the floods and over 3 million people were displaced from their homes by the floods.
2022 will go down as a period of great economic challenge for millions of Nigerians. The year marked a period in which 133 million Nigerians further sunk into economic misery and poverty, according to reports by the National Bureau of Statistics. The sagging economy is best illustrated by the rising cost of rice with a 50 kg bag being sold between 31,000 to 35,000 naira, which is above the minimum wage of 30,000 naira. Plus, spiraling inflation hit 21.47 percent, and prices of foodstuffs and goods have skyrocketed. According to the World Bank Nigeria’s growing inflation rate has reduced the existing minimum wage by 55 percent and raised the number of poor by 5 million in 2022. Also, the unemployment figure hovers at 33.3 percent. At the moment, many compatriots struggle to put food on the table for their families.
In all this, in light of dwindling economic fortunes, Nigerian professionals especially doctors and other health care workers as well as various professionals including those in fintech, mostly from the banking sector and tech companies voted with their feet emigrating to greener pastures in Europe, Australia, and North America in search of better living conditions. It is estimated that about 10,000 doctors and health workers have emigrated in the past two years.
Still, insecurity looms large and continues to worsen with banditry, kidnappings, and terrorism spreading to several parts of the country. The attack on the Abuja-Kaduna bound train in March in which eight people were killed and over 100 people abducted by terrorists during the attack points to the security challenges confronting the nation. However, the remaining abductees have since regained their freedom. In the same vein, the attack on St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State last June in which forty congregants were killed by unknown gunmen further demonstrates high-level insecurity in the land. As insecurity spreads across the country, last October kidnappers had a field day along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway where a former deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Professor Adigun Agbaje, and three others were kidnapped near the Ibadan toll gate. Agbaje has since regained his freedom and there are speculations that ransom was paid to secure his release. However, in recent times the security forces have ramped up their battle against terrorists and this has witnessed the surrender of hundreds of Boko Haram fighters and their commanders.
Also, the naira crashed to an unprecedented low-level exchanging at 820 naira to the US dollar between October and November. As of December, the naira was exchanged for 730 to the dollar. Perhaps in a move to get a grip on the economy, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced the redesign of the naira, claiming that about 60 percent of the currency was outside the banking sector. The CBN said about 2.84 trillion naira was outside the banking sector. Already about a trillion naira has found its way back to the banking vaults since the announcement of this new measure. Aside from the attacks on the naira, the CBN said it was compelled to redesign the naira because of the prevailing level of the security situation in the country, especially cases of terrorism and kidnapping with perpetrators holding on to what Emefiele described as “large volume of money outside the banking system used as a source of funds for ransom.”
The government’s efforts to boost exports yielded results as the Central Bank of Nigeria announced that non-oil exporters repatriated the sum of $4.99 billion into Nigeria in 2022. The Governor of the CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, disclosed this while delivering a keynote address at the second edition of the RT-200 Bi-annual Export Summit in Lagos. Emefiele said that the 2022 figure was higher when compared with $3.19 billion repatriated in 2021. He added that “This is a testament to the resolve of the CBN to ensure quick acceleration of the export value chain in the country. It’s important to state that diaspora remittance hit $20.09 billion in 2022 and it’s the highest recorded in Africa with a total of $49 billion. Also, foreign exchange reserves decreased to 37.12 USD billion in November from 37.49 USD billion in October 2022.
Also, the CBN announced a new policy on cash withdrawals saying only 200 naira would be available at the ATMs and restricting individuals’ withdrawals to 100,000 naira per week, while corporate organizations and businesses were limited to a ceiling of 500,000 naira. Though criticisms have trailed the new CBN policy with human rights groups describing it as an attempt to deprive Nigerians of their legitimate earnings. The new policy is being challenged in court by human rights activists and POS operators. However, an Abuja High Court on Thursday dismissed a motion to stop the CBN from redesigning the naira and from placing a ceiling on daily withdrawals.
Moreover, government debts continue to spiral out of control with about 80 percent of revenues committed to debt servicing. The Debt Management Office (DMO) reported that Nigeria’s public debt reached N44.6 trillion in the third quarter of this year (Q3 in 2022). And this represents a 2.9 percent quarter-on-quarter decrease from the N42.84 trillion recorded in the second quarter of 2022. Overall, total external debt stood at $27.16 billion, while total domestic debt stood at $56.72 billion, according to DMO data.
Nonetheless, the oil subsidy remains a contentious issue. At the current N500 billion monthly, Nigeria could pay out as much as N6 trillion in oil subsidies in 2022 if oil prices continue to rise and urgent actions are not taken to reverse the trend, the International Monetary Fund had warned. The World Bank has further warned that the government’s spending on petroleum subsidy which has quadrupled was no longer sustainable, and that government spending on debt servicing may outstrip its revenue receipts in 2023. Already the government has promised a phased withdrawal of oil subsidies in 2023.
On the other hand, the oil sector continues to bleed as oil theft has reached an alarming proportion with about 1.5 billion US dollars lost to oil thieves in the first three quarters of 2022, even as other oil producers are having a petrodollar windfall as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war. Because of this oil production sunk to its lowest level with about 1 million barrels produced in August, well below the OPEC quota of 1.8 million barrels per day. However, with the enlistment of former Niger Delta militants led by Government Ekpemupolo to provide security for oil facilities in the region, the situation has improved with production reaching 1.5 million per day.
All the same, the Oil sector received a major boost with the commencement of oil production in Kolomari in the Gombe/Bauchi axis of the Northeast region. Performing the groundbreaking ceremony last November, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that over 3 billion barrels of crude oil were found in that region. Search for crude oil in the north began more than forty years ago with renewed commitment by the federal government and other stakeholders.
On the political front, the year marked a period of political ferment and activities. Party primaries were held to elect the standard bearers of the respective parties. For the major parties, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu emerged as the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Party, APC, while Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was elected standard flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. On the other hand, Mr Peter Obi and Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso emerged as the presidential candidates of the Labour Party and the New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP respectively. A total of 18 political parties are fielding candidates for the 2023 presidential elections scheduled for February 25. Political campaigns were flagged off on September 28.
Even as the campaigns have been flagged off the PDP presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar is enmeshed in a war of attrition with the G-5 governors led by Nyesom Wike governor of Rivers State. The G-5 group has insisted that the party chairman Iyorchia Ayu must be dropped in the interest of justice, equity, and fair play since he is from the same region as Atiku Abubakar. On his part, the APC candidate has been criticized by the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN for picking Senator Kashim Shettima, a fellow Muslim as his running mate. Tinubu’s choice of Shettima is viewed as being insensitive to the religious diversity of the nation. The presidential election is expected to be a three-horse race and no clear winner may emerge on the first ballot, for this reason, INEC has prepared for a runoff election.
Meantime, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC has continued to perfect its game as it successfully pulled off three off-season elections in Anambra, Ekiti, and Osun States. All the elections were adjudged to be free and fair, and the outcomes reflected the will of the people. INEC had deployed the BVAS system for the four elections and the deployment of technology was proof positive that the election management body was on top of its game. The BVAS system has made it difficult for politicians to compromise election outcomes.
On 25th February 2022, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the 2022 Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law. The 2022 Electoral Act repeals Electoral Act No. 6, 2010, and is intended to bring innovations to the regulation of Federal, State, and Area Council elections in Nigeria. The new Electoral Act has approved the deployment of technology in elections. Also, the Electoral Act bars political appointees from participating in party primaries.
Government-owned universities remain in deplorable condition. This is why the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on a long-drawn strike action to press for improved funding and revitalization of universities. The ASUU strike which lasted for eight months was partly to prevail on the government to meet up with its commitment and agreement signed with the union in 2009. However, the matter was resolved with the government providing the necessary funding for universities in the 2023 budget provisions. Lecturers at Nigeria’s public universities have been on strike 16 times since 1999. On 14 February 2022, they went back on strike to make it the 17th. The bottom line is underfunding of the system and the failure of the government to implement an agreement it reached with ASUU in 2009. Generally, infrastructural, teaching, learning, and research facilities are grossly inadequate in our universities.
Some few weeks ago President Muhammadu Buhari created a firestorm when he accused governors of trousering funds meant for the local government councils and remitting pittance to the chairmen of the Local Government Councils which in turn is diverted to personal ends for the chairmen, and not for the development of grassroots administration. Of course, the governors fired back at the president for failing to tame insecurity, which they claimed had driven farmers from their farmlands and further impoverished the people. The governors stopped short of describing Buhari as a monumental failure. Earlier the presidency had chided the governors of the Niger Delta region for diverting money meant for development into white elephant projects. The Federal Government released details of the oil derivation refunds from 1999 amidst a growing controversy that the funds had been misused by some governments in the Niger Delta region. The federal government disclosed in a statement that the 9 oil-producing states received a total of N625.43 billion 13 percent oil derivation, subsidy, and SURE-P refunds from the Federation Account between 2021 and 2022. The refunds date from 1999 to 2021.
The war on corruption a major plank of the Buhari administration remains intractable and has proven to be more difficult to fight than envisaged, rather it has grown in leaps and bounds. Fighting corruption requires a comprehensive and holistic approach starting with a review of the criminal justice system. Already the federal government has prepared a draft bill on the Whistleblower policy. Still, large-scale corruption continues to rear its ugly head with the arrest of the former Accountant General of the Federation Ahmed Idris for allegedly embezzling over 109 billion naira. He has since been suspended from office and charged to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Chairman of EFCC Abulrasheed Bawa announced on Thursday that 30 billion naira has been recovered from the former Accountant General.
In the midst of the general malaise, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency NDLEA remains one of the brightest stars of the Buhari administration. NDLEA under the leadership of retired Brigadier General Buba Marwa has demonstrated rare efficiency and effectiveness in bursting many drug-related cases. The high-water mark of the agency’s achievement was the arrest of the supercop and well-decorated police officer Abba Kyari, a Deputy Commissioner of Police and Commander of the Intelligence Response Team, IRT for his involvement in a 25kg cocaine deal. He was alleged to be one of the ring leaders of a drug cartel operating the Brazil-Ethiopia and Nigeria network. Also, the agency received a presidential commendation for bursting one of the largest drug crimes when it uncovered a warehouse laden with cocaine estimated at $273 million in a suburb in Ikorodu, Lagos State. The culprits have since been charged in court.
Besides, Ramon Abbas commonly known as Hushpuppi a Nigerian former Instagram influencer was convicted of cybercrimes. Known for business email compromise, scam, and money laundering, the celebrated fraudster and Internet scammer was arrested in June 2020 in the United Arab Emirates for defrauding several people of millions of dollars. He’s currently serving an eleven-year jail term in the United States of America. He was convicted by a US District Court after he was found guilty of laundering proceeds of a school financing scam, business email compromise, and other fraudulent cyber schemes. The court also ordered him to pay $1.1.7 million in restitution to two fraud victims.
Also, former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu has been charged with conspiring to transport a boy to the United Kingdom in order to harvest organs. Ike Ekweremadu, 60, and his wife Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu, 55, had earlier appeared at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court in west London. Both are accused of conspiracy to arrange and/or facilitate the travel of another person with a view to exploitation. The Ekweremadus have been remanded in custody. However, Mrs Ekweremadu has been granted bail while her husband will remain in custody until the next hearing of the case in January 2023. It will be recalled that the EFCC had obtained an interim order granted in favour of the Federal Government for forfeiture of 40 of his properties in the country and outside the country.
That aside, the temple of justice quaked when brother justices on the Supreme Court wrote a joint petition to Chief Justice Tanko Muhammad complaining about inadequacies in the court which had hampered the performance of their duties, while on the other hand, they lamented that the CJ had continued to enjoy some benefits denied to them. The petition which was unprecedented in the annals of the judiciary was viewed as an indictment of Justice Tanko Muhammad. Having lost the confidence of his brother justices, the CJN later tendered his letter of resignation. He was succeeded by Justice Kayode Ariwoola.
Also, Senate President Ahmed Lawan lost his bid to return to the green chamber after a placeholder refused to step down for him. Bashir Sherrif Machina, served as the placeholder while Ahmed Lawan contested in the APC presidential primaries. Lawan had been in the National Assembly since the return of civil rule in 1999 starting as a member of the House of Representatives before being elected as senator representing the Yobe north constituency. The Federal High Court sitting in Damaturu, Yobe State capital had declared Bashir Sheriff Machina as the All Progressives Congress, APC’s authentic senatorial candidate for Yobe North in the coming 2023 National Assembly elections and directed INEC to accept and publish his name accordingly.
Almost eight years down the line, there’s been no single drop of oil from the four local refineries despite the fact that billions have been spent on the repairs and refurbishment of the refineries. Nigeria remains the only oil producer importing PMS and other petroleum products. That’s why fuel queues continue to rear their heads in most parts of the country which is a ringing indictment of the Buhari administration over its failure to fix the four refineries. “Sustenance of the petrol subsidy regime is one of the reasons that killed the refineries,” Minister of State Petroleum Timipre Sylva said recently. Sylva also announced that the old Port Harcourt Refinery would become functional by December 2022.
Meanwhile, after slipping to the third position in the league of oil producers in Africa after Angola and Libya, now Nigeria has overtaken both countries and reclaimed its position as the largest producer of crude oil in Africa, due largely to measures taken by the government to arrest the growing oil thefts in the Niger Delta region.
On a positive note, the Buhari administration has made good its promise to open the 2nd Niger Bridge by year’s end. Already the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing has announced that the bridge will be opened to the public on December 15. Also, work on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and Abuja-Kaduna-Kano expressway are at different stages of completion. Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said on Wednesday Nigerians will be able to use the N200 billion Bodo/Bonny Road in Rivers State by December 2023. Fashola, who was on an inspection tour of the project, said funding has been made available to ensure the completion of the project on schedule and enable the people to use the road for the first time. The road project with nine bridges has reached a 70 percent level of work. Also, the $1.2 billion Zungeru 700 MW hydropower project is expected to come on stream second quarter of 2023.
The year also ended on a controversial note with members of the APC presidential campaign council launching a blistering attack on the publisher of ThisDay newspaper and proprietor of Arise TV, Nduka Obiagbena, and his team over what it described as his unscrupulous methods, unprofessionalism, and rank opportunism, following Arise TV journalists’ insistence that the APC candidate, Bola Tinubu should honour a town hall meeting which will be organised by the TV station or any other organisation. But Obiagbena has replied to debunk the claims raised against him and has insisted that the issue is not about journalists but about the candidate seeking the highest office in the land to make himself available to enable citizens to scrutinize his plans and policies for the nation. On the whole, observers have described the action of the APC presidential campaign council as an attempt to shield the APC standard bearer from public scrutiny, while attacks on Obiagbena and his crew amount to efforts to muzzle the press.
All said President Muhammadu Buhari is now a lame duck since his tenure expires next May. He asserted that he has done his best for the nation. Buhari said this in Washington while welcoming the Secretary-General of the Abu Dhabi Forum, Sheikh Al-Mahfoudh Bin Bayyah and his deputy, Pastor Bob Roberts of the US during his visit to the US. He said, “We are big in size and population, facing many challenges, but in many areas, we are trying. In seven-and-a-half years, I have done my best.” In the statement released by his spokesperson, Garba Shehu, the President stated that solving the problems affecting youths is the priority of his government as they are its promise for a better future. Buhari also outlined the need to raise generations of youths devoid of religious extremism and bigotry.
However, both the Afenifere and Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo, socio-cultural organisations have taken the president up on his claim. Both organisations say the president best is not good enough and that he has left Nigeria worse than he met it. Still, Buhari has given assurances that he would ensure free, fair, and credible elections in 2023. Apart from provision of basic infrastructure, that may well be Buhari’s best legacy so far.