In this piece, OLALEKAN ADETAYO and Oladimeji Ramon examine some of the issues that will shape the polity in Nigeria in 2019, starting from the general elections slated for February and March
The much expected 2019 is here. Many individuals and groups have ahead of time made plans to be executed in the new year. Nigeria is not an exception. A lot of activities that will shape the country will take place in 2019. These issues will no doubt define the polity. Prominent among such issues are:
2019 general elections
2019, as far as Nigeria is concerned, is synonymous with general elections. Nigerians go to the polls every four years to elect their leaders. Apart from some staggered elections that saw some states electing their governors or lawmakers through by-elections to fill vacant seats, the last time general elections were held in Nigeria was in 2015. At that election, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress defeated the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party. It is time for Nigerians to return to the polls to either renew Buhari’s mandate for another four years as allowed by the Constitution or elect a new leader.
In the build up to the election, the PDP picked former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar as its presidential candidate. Although many other political parties are fielding candidates for the election, many observers believe that the contest is a straight fight between Buhari and Atiku. The contest is expected to be intense judging from the fact that Buhari and Atiku are from both Muslims and from the Northern part of the country. Religion and ethnicity play significant roles in elections in Nigeria.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, the body saddled with the responsibility of conducting national elections, has slated the presidential and National Assembly elections for February 16 while those of governorship and state Houses of Assembly have been fixed for March 2. Ahead of the elections however, some issues will still dominate discussions. Presidential debate: One of such issues is the debate being organised for candidates by the Nigeria Election Debate Group and the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria.
The organisers has restricted participation at the debate scheduled for January 19 to five candidates. They are those of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, Oby Ezekwesili; Alliance for New Nigeria, Fela Durotoye; APC, Buhari; PDP, Atiku; and Young Progressives Party, Kingsley Moghalu.
Those slated for the debate, except Buhari, have expressed their readiness to participate. The President’s managers cannot say categorically for now if he would participate. Their response to enquiries on the matter has remained that a decision would be taken at the appropriate time. Buhari did not participate in the debate organised ahead of the 2015 election, which he won. There are rumours that he may also boycott this year’s edition, in spite of the fact that his running mate, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, participated in the debate organised for running mates in December. Whether Buhari attends the debate or not, the issue will be on the lips of many for long.
Another area that will elicit interest ahead of the elections are the campaigns. Presidential candidates are expected to campaign in all the states apart from zonal rallies that will hold on geopolitical zones basis. There are however fears that Buhari, who survived major health crisis in 2017, may not be strong enough to undergo the rigours of such nationwide exercise. It will surely be an issue of interest for political observers if the President, who clocked 76 in December, can weather the storm and put up a good showing during electioneering. Expected, opposition members will feast on it, in case the President misses any of the campaign rallies.
Like any other human endeavours that ignite strife, the primary elections organised by political parties, especially the major ones, for the purposes of electing candidates led to internal crisis with some aggrieved persons defecting to other parties. There are however instances of those who remained in the parties but approached the court for redress. Some of the cases have been decided by the Court of Appeal, leaving the Supreme Court for the final decisions. This year, Nigerians are waiting on the judiciary to make final pronouncements on such cases. Prominent among such cases that are expected to be laid to rest before the general elections are who contests the presidential election on the platform of the Social Democratic Party between Jerry Gana and Donald Duke; and who contests the governorship election on the platform of the PDP in Ogun State between Buruji Kashamu and Ladi Adebutu. The decision on whether the APC candidates can contest the governorship elections in Zamfara and Rivers states will also be taken by the court.
The stake is high ahead of the elections. Ruling parties, both at the state and federal levels, are beating war drums by warning opposition parties that there are no vacancies. The opposition parties too are saying power must change hands. In all, the signals being sent to their supporters are that the elections will be do or die. At the federal level, the National Peace Committee led by Gen Abdusalami Abubakar (retd.) had initiated a peace agreement signed by presidential candidates and national chairmen of some political parties to commit them to peaceful electioneering. 2019 will decide how far the pact can go in ensuring peaceful campaigns and elections.
The bloody clashes between herdsmen and farmers spread to many parts of the country in 2018 and there are already signs that such may continue in the new year. Benue State, for instance, had it so rough last year to the point that the anti-open grazing law enacted by the state government was met with resistance. The governor, Samuel Ortom, attributed his return to the PDP from where he joined the APC ahead of the 2015 elections to the resistance that the agents of the APC at the federal level displayed towards the law. The issue of herdsmen killings dominated campaigns in 2018 and it is expected to continue this year. Another issue similar to that is the killings by bandits in Zamfara State.
Boko Haram attacks
Terrorists’ attacks by Boko Haram have been dominating issues in Nigeria over the years. Although the present administration has repeatedly claimed to have technically defeated the sect, recent developments, the insurgents’ attacks on military posts are pointing to the contrary. The sect’s renewed onslaught will definitely be one of the issues that will define 2019. There are already fears that the onslaught may lead to the postponement of the elections. The same factor led to the postponement of elections in 2015.
President Muhammadu Buhari on December 19 presented the 2019 Appropriation Bill of N8.83trn to the joint session of the National Assembly. The President presented the budget a day before the federal lawmakers embarked on break for Christmas and New Year. Although they are expected to resume later this month, nobody is expecting the lawmakers to attend to any serious national issue because they will be resuming at a time campaigns for the coming elections will be at their peak. It will be a period when National Assembly may not be able to form a quorum as members will be busy campaigning in their constituencies. Nigerians should therefore be bracing for late consideration, passage and signing of the 2019 budget.
Minimum wage: 2019 may be heralded by a protest by organised labour over the issue of minimum wage. The Nigeria Labour Congress has notified the government of its plan to embark on a nationwide protest on January 8, should its demand not be met. In 2018, the nation witnessed a renewed agitation by organised labour for an increase in minimum wage. From its earlier proposition of N65,000, organised labour is now willing to settle for N30,000, which many governors have expressed their inability to pay. This is at a time when South Africa announced an increase in the minimum wage of its workforce to about N126,480.
Anti-corruption fight: This year, the 11-year-old trial of a former governor of Oyo State, Chief Rashidi Ladoja, for an alleged fraud of N4.7bn will come to an end. The trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, on November 27, 2018 fixed January 18, 2019 for the prosecution and the defence to adopt their final written addresses, after which a date will be fixed for judgment. Will Ladoja be vindicated and freed or will be found guilty and sent to jail like his Plateau and Taraba states counterparts, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, who were convicted last year and sent to jail? Obviously, this year is critical to Ladoja.
In 2019, a former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, who is facing N7.65bn fraud charges may also discover his fate in the 12-year-old criminal case. The prosecution has closed its case and the floor is now for Kalu to open his defence. If there is no delay, Kalu’s trial may be concluded this year.
On October 22, 2018, the immediate past governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, was arraigned for an alleged fraud of N2.2bn before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The judge is billed to retire this year at the age of 65. Will Fayose’s trial be concluded before the judge’s retirement or will it start afresh before another judge, and all the time spent wasted?
ASUU strike: 2019 comes with uncertainty hovering about the academic calendar in Nigeria’s public universities. It is uncertain, when the university students will go back to classes in the new year. The Academic Staff Union of Universities has been on a nationwide strike since November 5, 2018. There is no truce in view between the striking ASUU and the Federal Government. The imbroglio is being carried into the new year. It remains to be seen when the Federal Government and the union will reach an agreement and university students in the country will return to classes.
Considering all these issues that will dominate the polity in the new year, 2019 is no doubt going to be tough for the nation. But with concerted efforts by both leaders and followers, there may be a silver lining in the nation’s sky.