Year 2017 is obviously a momentous year. It is a year that President Muhammadu Buhari himself described as a tough one for Nigeria and Nigerians.
The President may have come to this conclusion after taking a panoramic view of his administration’s performance and its impact on the people considering his yardsticks of fight against insecurity, crusade against corruption, and his avowed resolve to reposition the nation’s economy.
It is a year of kudos and knocks for the Buhari’s administration. It is a year that the nation is likely not to forget in a hurry as the binding cord holding it was stretched to the limit. Divisive and dangerous issues were thrown-up just as the government faced a determined insurgency in certain parts of the country.
The year began on a sinister note when in January the President suddenly fell ill and had to be flown to London, the United Kingdom, for treatment. The President had in a letter addressed to the Senate President applied for a 10-day medical vacation in line with Section 145(1) of the 19999 Constitution as amended. He specifically requested to be away from Monday January, 23 to February 6th mandating the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, to take charge of his duties in acting capacity.
Though the President requested for a 10-day medical vacation from the Senate, he did not return to the country until after 51 days sojourn in London indicating that the severity of the President’s illness must have been underestimated. Buhari was to leave again for a follow-up on his medical treatment when he stayed about 103 days in the London hospital before his health finally stabilized. So, with the early attack on the Buhari’s health, one could only imagine that the year was not going to be rosy as the President’s health could be linked directly with the well-being of the country.
Regardless of the president’s health status, the government fought relentlessly against the Boko Haram insurgents and declared that they have been ‘technically’ defeated. Truly so, the Buhari’s administration has been able to seclude the insurgents with the army pummeling their bases repeatedly. Already, the army has been able to secure relative peace in the north east, especially Borno state, which has been the hotbed of insurgency in the last ten years. Some of the displaced persons in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have begun to return to their original abodes without much ado.
But, with the Boko Haram insurgents degraded and ‘technically’ defeated, there comes another challenge of herdsmen/farmers’ clashes in almost all parts of the country leaving behind human casualties.
Though some state governments have begun to find a way around the problem with the passage of anti-grazing laws, the central government has yet to frontally address the challenge. The President has the onerous task of getting to the roots of the constant clashes between the herdsmen and farmers across the country. It is hoped that this would be done in the new year.
2017 witnessed the most vociferous debate on the political architecture of the country with some sections calling for adjustments. While some are advocating for restructuring (fiscal and political), others opted for the extreme by calling for outright secession. The outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by one Nnamdi Kanu heated up the polity by calling for a referendum to determine the sovereignty of a ‘Biafra Republic’.
The call for restructuring, in whatever form, became louder when the President was away on medical trip. On arrival, he quickly moved to douse the tension by halting the lawlessness of the frenetic IPOBians by deploying the army who launched Operation Python Dance to restore sanity to the already heated South-eastern part of the country.
But the President was criticized for using the hedge hammer to kill a fly by deploying soldiers to deal with the IPOBians. They argued that engaging them in a dialogue would have been a better option. Critics argue that clamping on people demanding justice and recognition in the country amounts only to gagging and limitation to their freedom of expression.
Buhari undoubtedly inherited a precarious economy which was further compounded with the slide in the price of crude at the international market. But the woes was exacerbated in 2017 when the economy officially plunged into recession. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in August disclosed that the country’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP, in real terms, declined by 2.06 per cent in the second quarter of 2017.
Growth in the first and second quarters of the year were in the negative.
Determined to change the tide, the government initiated policies which
ensured diversification of the economy and discouraged over-dependence
on importation, especially foodstuffs. This culminated in the ban on rice importation which ignited what is now called Rice Revolution in the country. The grow-what-you-eat mantra of the President paid off as people across the country took to the production of rice and other food items therefore saving billions of dollars hitherto meant for the importation of foodstuffs.
The policy aimed at diversification of the economy and the steady increase in the price of crude at the international market combined to help the nation exit the recession. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has however warned against complacency stressing that the economy must be jealously guarded to avoid a rebound into crisis.
But so many people have yet to feel that the country has really exited recession, almost three months after the NBS has certified the economy healthy. Cost of living is still intolerably high. There is hunger everywhere; many people are losing their means of livelihood on daily basis; states and local governments can no longer pay salaries and emoluments as at when due; workers welfare in both public and private sectors has become an anathema; there are wailings and gnashing of teeth everywhere. People are suffering.
With the increase in the price of crude at the international market comes the current fuel scarcity in the country. Though officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) have given assurances that there were enough supplies and that there was no plan to hike the price of the Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), otherwise known as petrol, the scarcity still persist across the country.
The attendant discomfort brought by the fuel scarcity, especially at the Yuletide, has made life miserable for the people. Cost of transportation has been quadrupled while that of food items have shot through the roof. These are indeed not the best of times for Nigerians.
Due to the gloom in the economy, the rate of unemployment has become inexplicable high with millions of able bodied young me n and women roaming the streets. This is notwithstanding government efforts to provide succor through its Special Intervention Program (SIP) through N-Power. The government through its N-Power program targeted 350,000 youths in 2017. It is however believed that consistency with program may help reduce unemployment and create the much desired prosperity in the country.
In the fight against corruption, the Buhari’s administration gained some milestones in 2017. The initiation of the Whistle-blower policy led to the discovery of looted funds stacked away in residences and recovery of property acquired with illicit funds.
Apart from this, the government has been able to take the frontiers of the battle against corruption beyond the shores of Nigeria by entering into bilateral agreements with foreign countries aimed at easing the repatriation of stolen loots hidden abroad.
Of note is the agreement entered into with the authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which has become the latest haven for Nigerian kleptomaniacs.
Apart from this, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has commenced prosecution of some suspected corrupt people especially those who served prominently in the last administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Although there have yet to be any outlandish conviction, the anti-graft agency had succeeded in recovering funds and properties from some people willing plea-bargain.
But the snag in the corruption fight was in the allegation that the government was only persecuting members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as all those currently facing charges on ground of corruption are members of the opposition.
They are quick to point out that the sacked Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), who is also a top-notch of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the President’s ally, has yet to be charged for corruption even when he had been indicted by a panel chaired by somebody not less than the Vice President.
Critics hold that until the President begins to probe and prosecute those members of his party perceived to be close to him, suspected to have committed one financial malfeasance or the other, his anti-corruption crusade would not be taken seriously. They believe that the EFCC must go the whole hog by investigating and prosecuting even those fair weather politicians who ditched the PDP for the APC with the hope to escape prosecution.
Like the President admitted, 2017 is a difficult year loaded with twists and turns but loaded with experiences needed to move the nation forward in 2018 and beyond. Mistakes if the last must not be repeated.
One can only hope that next year will be better. Happy new year in advance.