Retro: Major landmarks and Issues that defined 2019 

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As the curtains are drawn on 2019, Nigerians take a rear view of the events that marked 2019 and one unmistakable conclusion is that it was undoubtedly a monumental year that was fraught with risks and uncertainties over the future of the nation; not the least of which was the general elections that saw the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) winning the presidency and commanding majorities in both houses of parliament and consolidating power in the states winning a majority of the governorship elections and State Houses of Assembly. As expected, the elections were marred by massive irregularities, fraud and widespread violence that underscored the democratic backsliding that has become the official currency of governance of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Herewith a look back at the major events that marked 2019, and how they will shape 2020. 

 

Elections: Buhari wins re-election

The sudden postponement of the Presidential and National Assembly elections a few hours to polling for unconvincing reasons almost scuttled the exercise. The decision by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the election in the wee hours of February 16 to February 23; was an ominous sign of what was to come. And it was not surprising to the opposition, who had accused INEC of sinister motives, when President Buhari defeated his closet rival, former vice president, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by over three million votes, and was sworn in on May 29 for a second term. It was a blood-stained election that dehumanized Nigerians and tarnished the nation’s image in the comity of civilized nations. Atiku lost his legal challenges at all levels.

 

The dramatic outcome of the elections featured a team of political defectors losing their reelection in shocking upsets, prominent among which was the defeat of all the senators that defected from the ruling APC back to the PDP, including former Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who inherited the political dynasty founded by his late father, Dr. Olusola Saraki. The former strongman and godfather of Kwara politics and governor of the state for eight years, who connived with some PDP senators in the 8th National Assembly to emerge senate president, against his party’s choice and his successor, Ahmad Lawan, finally met his political waterloo in 2019.

 

Saraki’s actions led to crisis within the APC throughout his tenure and his defection triggered the Oo to’o Oge (“Enough is Enough” in Yoruba) revolution that ended his dominance of Kwara politics. Other prominent politicians who lost their elections include Niger Delta Minister, Senator Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), former Benue State governor, George Akume, Shehu Sani (Kaduna), Dino Melaye (Kogi) and former Oyo governor, Abiola Ajimobi.

 

The 2019 general elections also produced electoral monstrosities wherein the ruling APC lost the governorship, State and National Assemblies elections to the PDP in Zamfara and Rivers States owing to its mismanagement of its primaries, as confirmed by the courts, which ruled that it did not have candidates, as it did not conduct credible primaries following intra-party crisis between the camps of Senator Kabiru Marafa and then governor, Abdul’aziz Yari in Zamfara. This led to the emergence of PDP’s Bello Matawalle, being the candidate with the second highest number of votes casted. The same scenario played out in Rivers State, as INEC insisted that the party had no candidates in the elections in the state, a position affirmed by the Supreme Court. It was caused by the division between Senator Magnus Abe and Minister of Transportation and a former governor of the state, Rotimi Amaechi.

 

Shocker as APC upsets PDP in Bayelsa, Kogi

If the general elections were unpredictable, more dramatic were the midterm elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states. In Kogi, there were fears that Governor Yahaya Bello might not make it back to the Lugard House seat of government over non-regular payment of workers’ salaries and what the opposition considered poor performance. But despite all the permutations, and amidst widespread violence and irregularities, Bello silenced his opponents by winning the heavily fraudulent election.

 

Perhaps more surprising was the APC’s victory in an unusual turf, Bayelsa, which observers attributed to the mismanagement of the PDP’s primary election by Governor Seriake Dickson, who tried to undermine former president Jonathan. For the first time since 1999, PDP lost Bayelsa to the opposition on account of bad politics. On November 16, 2019, APC’s David Lyon polled 352,552 votes to defeat PDP’s Senator Duoye Diri of the PDP, who polled 143,172 votes. Until then, the South-South was considered a PDP stronghold, but with APC’s victory, albeit, with the tacit support of former President Goodluck Jonathan, and with Edo already in its fold, the APC believes it is making inroads into the zone.

 

Obaseki-Oshiomhole feud tears Edo APC

The lingering internal crises in the Edo State chapter of the APC, orchestrated by the feud between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his predecessor and National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, is taking a huge toll and might affect its fortunes in next year’s governorship poll if not defused. Obaseki has repeatedly stated that he places a premium on the interest of Edo people and loathes godfatherism, noting that the phenomenon deprives the citizens of their democratic rights. Maintaining that this remains his pact with the people, he regretted that his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole, who initiated the fight that he was furthering, had “reneged on the mandate. We believed Oshiomhole and followed him to fight godfatherism. He said godfatherism is not good, but today he is saying godfatherism is good. Oshiomhole said let the people lead, but today he wants to lead the people against their interest.”

 

Onnoghen muzzled out as CJN

But the suspension, trial and ouster of then Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, in February, just before the general elections, on charges of not declaring his assets, did little in addressing suspicions over the real or perceived motive. Onnoghen never returned to office as he was subsequently tried by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and convicted for failure to declare his assets. He later resigned while on suspension and was replaced by Justice Tanko Ibrahim. Onnoghen’s removal was alleged by the opposition to be a hatched plot by Buhari to ensure he did not preside over the presidential election petition tribunal.

 

Royal rumble in Kano between Ganduje and Emir Sanusi

 In Kano State, the royal rumble between Emir Sanusi Muhammad 11 and Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, which started shortly before the elections, continued. The creation of more emirates out of the hitherto monolithic Kano Emirate by the state government has watered down the power and influence of Sanusi, who was almost dethroned but for the intervention of some prominent Nigerians. Although there appears to be a thaw in the frosty relationship, it is uncertain how far the governor can go in further humiliating the first-class traditional ruler.

 

Orji Kalu goes to jail with his salary

The long arm of the law finally caught up with former Abia State governor and a serving senator, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption and fraud. But Kalu is currently serving prison term with his full salary and emoluments being paid to him in detention. Kalu had been standing trial for fraud to the tune of over N7.1b since 2007 and the case dragged on until recently. His dumping the PDP for the ruling APC, and taking a chieftaincy title in Daura, Buhari’s hometown, could not save him, as on December 5, Justice Mohammed Idris sentenced him to 12 years in jail, while his Slok Nigeria Limited was ordered to wind down and its assets forfeited to the government.

 

Aisha Buhari stirs the hornet’s nest from the “other room”

Unlike in the recent past, when first ladies kept quiet even when things were going wrong, the wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, has been very vocal and her outbursts sometimes made many question the unity and relationship in the Presidency. From opportunists hijacking her husband’s government to the detriment of those who worked hard for his election, some governors not assisting Buhari, at their own levels, in the governance of the country, she and her family members denied access to certain parts of the Presidential Villa, she recently accused presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, of destroying her family by “presenting himself to these people (the cabal) as a willing tool and executioner of their antics from the corridors of power, even to the level of interfering with the family affairs of the President.”

 

Indeed, she admitted that she did not have the opportunity of having ‘pillow talk’ with her husband again. Aisha’s first outburst attracted the response from Buhari during a question and answer session while on a visit to Germany that she belongs to “the other room.” Earlier in the year, Mrs. Buhari had to cut short her stay in the United Kingdom (UK) following rumors in the social media that her husband was about to take a second wife, in the person of Sadiya Umar Farouq, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, reportedly being organized by Mamman Daura, a member of Buhari’s kitchen cabinet, aka the Cabal.  Though the rumors died down after a frenzy, its veracity and intention remain questionable. This coincided with the release of a video on social media showing a raging Mrs. Buhari in the Presidential Villa, having a disagreement with Fatima, Daura’s daughter. These are aside her open criticisms of some of the administration’s policies. 

 

Osinbajo’s wings clipped, Aides offloaded

The seeming, but constantly denied cold war within the Presidency between loyalists of Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo saw the sacking or redeployment from the Presidential Villa of 35 aides of the latter. Going further, former executive chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Babatunde Fowler, an associate of the vice president, was on December 9 sent parking as his term in office was not renewed, just as Muiz Banire was removed as chairman of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON).

 

Controversial Hate Speech and Social Media Bills

Deputy Senate Whip, Senator Abdullahi Sabi sponsored the National Commission for Prohibition of Hate Speech bill before the senate, which provides for investigation and punishment of those found guilty of hate speech or spreading of falsehood that leads to death of another person. He said, “It is designed to address issues of discrimination, hostility and violence in Nigeria.” While justifying the proposed death penalty, He added that there is no going back on the Bill.

 

There was outcry against the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, better known as Social Media Bill, whose sponsor, Senator Mohammed Sani Musa, said is aimed at guiding Internet users and curbing fake news and ensuring sanity on the social media. The Bill also provides for arrest and prosecution of anyone or group inciting hate or making hate speeches online. This is just as the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhadji Lai Mohammed, stated that the federal government planned to regulate the social media through the Anti-social Media Bill.

 

After repeatedly flaunting court orders, FG releases Dasuki, Sowore 

A sore and one of the lowest points in the Buhari administration was the arrest and continued detention of journalist and convener of the #RevolutionNow movement, Omoyele Sowore. The refusal of the Department of State Service (DSS) to release him despite a court order, added to the growing number of cases of federal government’s disobedience of court orders. On August 3, operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) stormed Sowore’s hotel apartment on the allegation of trying to overthrow the government of Buhari. On December 4, he was released, but re-arrested the following day in court. The drama that played out was a sad reminder of the cases of Shiites leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki, among others. But after ignoring several court orders, the federal government finally ordered the release of Dasuki and Sowore from detention.