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Nigeria: A Look Back At 2021 – OpEd

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By all accounts, 2021 has turned out to be an annus horribils. It will be remembered as a year of disaster or misfortune. Even President Muhammadu Buhari alluded to this in his Christmas message. It was a year of unprecedented security challenge.

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The year was ushered in with buntings and fireworks, not knowing what it held in its womb. There were pious hopes and cautious optimism since many had survived the general lockdown and the toxic effect of coronavirus the previous year. With hindsight, it is a year many would wish to erase from their memories. Generally, life became Hobessian, that is, nasty, brutish and short. From east to west and north to south, Nigerians lived in the mouth of grief, sorrow, tears and blood.

Bandits, kidnappers, insurgents and sundry criminals held sway, spreading fear and terror in the land. It appears as if the security challenge seem to have overwhelmed the government. And this has further overshadowed whatever gains the administration had achieved in the area of infrastructural development.

Specifically, 3,125 were killed, 2703 abducted in the past eleven months, according to Punch reports quoting Nigeria Security Tracker, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank as well as quarterly reports from Kaduna State government from January to September.

Further, spokesman of the Coalition of Northern Groups, Abdulazzez Suleiman captured in graphic details the situation in the north as one of ‘hunger, anger, despair and terror.’ This imagery is applicable to most parts of the nation. He spoke at a press conference in Abuja to register the groups’ protest over the growing insecurity in most parts of the north west and north central.

Without a doubt, the year witnessed so much bloodshed as bandits and terrorists swooped on many communities, especially in the northwest and north central, killing and maiming as if for sport. In short, Nigeria was turned to a killing field by bandits, terrorists and kidnappers. In fact, government’s stock response to the killings in several communities became predictable.

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Still yet, thousands were displaced from their ancestral homelands and became refugees in their own country. Kidnappers also gained ascendancy, turning highways and byways into expressways of death or the devil’s highway.

What’s more, bandits had a free rein in towns and villages in the northwest region where they ransacked several communities in search of game, so to speak. Schools also became the soft targets of kidnappers. It’s important to note that kidnapping was not confined to the north alone. Most parts of the country experienced varying degrees of kidnapping.

More fundamentally, demands for ransom became the attendant consequences of kidnapping with varying sums in the range of multimillion naira paid by many families as ransom to secure the release of hostages in the lair of kidnappers. Despite all this, government restated its avowed policy of not kotowing to the demands of the kidnappers. Thus individual Nigerians were left to their own devices to secure the freedom of their loved ones.

Though there were initial attempts by some governors in the northwest to appease the bandits. But appeasement failed, and instead of improving, the situation further deteriorated as bandits engaged in a free rein of terror. Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna States became the epicenters of banditry. Also, bandits have since spread their tentacles to parts of Sokoto and Kebbi states. In the north central region, Niger State also faces grave challenge of banditry. In Benue, Nasarawa and Plateau states, clashes between farmers and herdsmen have turned those states into turmoil, leading to thousands of refugees seeking safety and shelter in Internally Displaced Persons(IDP) Camps.

Consequently, a no fly zone was imposed in Zamfara State in March. Again in September base stations were shut down, affecting telecommunications in some local governments to curb criminal activities. Thereafter Kaduna, Sokoto and Katsina states followed suit shutting borders, markets and transportation in some local government areas.

As a corollary to this, some governors in the South have promulgated laws against open grazing in a bid to stem the incessant bloody conflicts between herdsmen and farmers. However, this has pitted them against the federal government that insists on maintaining grazing routes for herdsmen.

The grave security situation also help stoke several jailbreaks by suspected gunmen and prison inmates in Kogi, Oyo, Imo, Ondo, Edo and Plateau states. In all a total of 5238 prisoners have escaped due to the jailbreaks. To arrest this ugly trend, the Nigerian Correctional Service has set up a special security team to check the increasing regularity of jailbreaks. Generally, observers attribute these frequent jailbreaks to corruption, poor funding and poor prison facilities. As measures to improve the prison system, government has announced plans to build six modern prison facilities.

However, to get a handle on the security situation, President Muhammadu Buhari finally caved in to pressure and later dropped his service chiefs. He appointed a new corp of service chiefs with the aim of ramping up whatever gains had been made in the battle against terrorism. Shortly thereafter, the newly appointed Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru died in an aircrash that claimed the lives of ten other military officers and the crew.

Lt General Farouk Yahaya who replaced him has brought a new vision and vigour to the war on terror, with counterinsurgency stepped up. Little wonder about 8000 Boko Haram fighters and their families have repented and surrendered, according to the military. Again, the Air Force took delivery of the first batch of 12 Tucano fighter jets that had been touted as a game changer in the war against insurgents and bandits. During the year, the airforce had lost four of its aircrafts and twenty officers. Also, several military officers and soldiers had paid the supreme price in the battle against insurgents.

Despite the onslaught on bandits and insurgents, it cannot be said with an air of certainty that the military has had a decisive victory over the terrorists. Though a semblance of normalcy seems to have returned to the northeast. Above all, this is an ongoing war that needs fresh and strategic thinking and a new perspective on what needs to be done to rein in the terrorists.

In the Gulf of Guinea, the navy has stepped up patrol in our territorial waters to ensure the safety of ships and crew, as well as goods. Piracy is being checkmated vigorously by the navy. The Navy has deployed 13 warships, two helicopters and 1500 troops in a special military exercise against pirates in the Gulf of Guinea. To add fillip to this battle, the navy unveiled $195 million worth of boats, vehicles and aircrafts to spearhead goverments’s fight against piracy.

Apart from general insecurity in the land, Nigerians continue to groan under the pain of runaway inflation and soaring prices of goods. Inflation has dropped from an average of 18.15 percent between March and April to 15.40 percent in November, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Still, prices of foodstuffs have skyrocketed as a result of general insecurity, which had also driven farmers away from their farmlands. On a positive note, Nigeria became the largest producer of rice in the continent, overtaking Egypt.

On the downside, the year saw many families further pushed into the poverty belt as a result of the twin factors of rising prices of foodstuffs, which is also a consequence of insecurity, as well as rising unemployment, especially among the youth. This is in clear dissonance with government’s avowed plan to lift millions out of poverty. Instead of being bailed out of the poverty trap, from all accounts, millions are still marooned in the poverty boat.

In some ways, the fight against corruption seems to have lost steam with the sudden removal of Mr Ibrahim Magu, erstwhile Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Observers maintain that Magu was kicked out because he stepped on the toes of some sacred cows. Ibrahim Magu was the arrowhead of the anti-corruption war. His exit left many in doubt as to the sincerity of government. Uptill now, the outcome of goverments’s investigation into allegations against Magu is yet to see the light of day.

The new helmsman, Abdulrasheed Bawa has recorded some initial success with the conviction of Abdulrasheed Maina, a former government official who ran a defunct pension department. He was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Federal High Court for stealing two billion naira belonging to Pensioners. Sundry scammers and fraudsters have also been convicted for financial crimes.

To a large extent, the National Drug Law and Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has become a reference point of excellence, commitment and patriotism in the public service. The agency is a source of pride and chest-beating for the administration in its renewed war against drug trafficking. The appointment of Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa (Ret.) as the drug czar has led to many breakthroughs in the battle against drug trafficking. Gen Marwa has revived and revitalized the moribund agency, giving it a kiss of life. Many drug traffickers and their sponsors have been arrested and are facing prosecution by the agency. So far, the NDLEA has recorded 11,340 arrests, and convicted 1,111 in eleven months. According to Gen Marwa, there’s a nexus between the epidemic of drug taking and the upsurge in wanton criminality.

In the same vein, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) continues to perfect its game with the success of the off season gubernatorial elections held in Anambra State on November 6. INEC had deployed the Bimodal Voter Accreditation Systems (BVAS) that recorded a huge success. Former Central Bank Governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) won the election, fair and square.

Talking politics, the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who had been convalescing in London after undergoing surgery became the hot-button issue in politics. His home in London became a Mecca of sorts as the high and mighty, including President Buhari and some state governors, were falling over themselves to pay him get-well visits. Of course, this gave the impression that the centre of gravity of politics had shifted to London. However, Tinubu has since returned home. For now, he’s like a masquerade dancing to the drumbeats of his supporters who want him to run for president in 2023. Yet winning the party’s ticket for the presidential race goes beyond his fabled street-smarts and dogged resilience.

More, political fireworks are expected following President Buhari’s decision to withold assent to the Electoral Act amendment bill. Senators have threatened to veto the president. The president witheld assent because it stipulates mandatory direct primaries. He stated eight disadvantages which include legal, financial and security concerns, among others.

To test the powers of the states vis-a-vis the federal government, the Rivers State government headed for the courts to determine which tier of government should collect and retain Value Added Tax (VAT) receipts and personal income tax. To this end, the Federal High Court in Port-Harcout ruled that it was unconstitutional for the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to collect VAT. Of course, FIRS has appealed the judgement. However, the Appeal Court has issued orders that all parties maintain the status quo. Again, Rivers State has headed to the Supreme Court to challenge the order of the Appeal Court. Meanwhile, the federal government is considering an out-of-court settlement, Minster of Finance, Zainab Ahmed declared during an interview programme on Channels Television.

On the economy, the economic headwinds have been a mixed bag. The World Bank reports that the economy exited its second recession in five years in February, earlier than expected. Yet government’s unbridled borrowing to fund the budget and for critical national infrastructure has further ballooned the debt profile to about 33.1 trillion naira ($87.24 billion). Also, the sum of 3.3 trillion naira was set aside for debt servicing, about a quarter of the entire 13.6 trillion naira total expenditure.

Due to the prevailing peace in the Niger Delta, crude oil output has averaged a production of about 1.5 million barrels per day. Foreign reserve had increased to $40 billion due to inflows from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Eurobond proceeds, and complemented by Central Bank’s management of the foreign exchange market, according to CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele. The CBN also pulled a first in Africa with the introduction of eNaira. In the meantime, the National Assembly has passed the 2022 Appropriation bill, while raising the budget from 16.39 trillion Naira to 17.1 trillion Naira. The oil bench mark was raised from proposed $57 to $62 per barrel.

Despite the fact that coronavirus pandemic remains a grave public health issue, government has handled it with a sense of urgency and duty. Kudos goes to National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Little wonder its Director General, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu was poached by the World Health Organization (WHO). President Buhari and members of the cabinet have since been vaccinated. To keep covid-19 in check, the government has directed all civil servants to get the vaccination. Still, less than five percent of the population has been vaccinated. Though government has assured that efforts are on to get enough vaccines for the populace.

Meanwhile, the housing industry which is strategic to the economy has been riven with poor and haphazard governance structures. The deleterious effect of this has been death and destruction. Due to lax oversight functions by appropriate building authorities, the nation continued to record several cases of building collapse with several lives lost in the process. The Ikoyi highrise building collapse in November further underscores the laxity, gross negligence and corruption that dogs the building industry.

All the same, government’s efforts to revamp national infrastructure is ongoing. Rails, roads and bridges are being constructed apiece. The high water mark of the administration was the commissioning of the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge railway. Also the Warri-Itakpe rail line has become operational. Again the Niger Bridge at Onitsha which is a legacy project of the Buhari administration is billed to be completed in 2022.

On the whole, despite its modest achievement in infrastructure delivery, high level insecurity has conspired to hobble the Buhari administration. For this reason, the government needs to step up efforts on the security challenge so as to give meaning to its much vaunted revival and revitalization of national infrastructure and assets.

That said, as 2021 rolls away, there’s the need to keep hope alive and to look forward to a more secure, robust and prosperous Nigeria in 2022.

Finally, President Muhammadu Buhari owes Nigerians the duty to checkmate terrorists and secure the nation from a generation of mindless vandals so that the vast majority of people can live in peace, and also enjoy the liberty to pursue their dreams and happiness, without let or hindrance.

*Kola King is a Nigerian journalist and novelist, and currently the Managing Editor of Nigeria Now, a news magazine based in Abuja, Nigeria.

Kola King

Kola King is a Nigerian journalist and novelist. He worked for more than two decades as a reporter, correspondent and editor in major national newspapers in Nigeria. He's the founder of Metro newsletter published on Substack. His debut novel A Place in the Sun and was published and released in 2016 by Verity Publishers, Pretoria, South Africa. His writing has appeared in Kalahari Review, The Missing Slate Literary Journal, The New Black Magazine and Litro magazine. He earned a Bachelors degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos.

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