Nigeria, Chapter ‘19: Counting Our Blessings…

We are here again at the end of another year. With just a few days to go, the chapter of another year and decade is closing and uniquely so with the holidays. Beyond the usual fanfare that accompanies the Christmas holiday, the period is unique for many other reasons. For some, it is a moment of thanksgiving, spiritual reflection and refreshment. For some others, it is a time to take stock of the plans or targets set at the beginning of the year and the accomplishments so far. Some Nigerians of goodwill also use the opportunity to pursue charitable causes.

It is generally, a time to be merry, be thankful for the ‘reason for the season,’ express gratitude for the year and more so to count their blessings. In this, there are lessons for us to reflect on as a country. What did we set out to achieve at the beginning of the year, how realistic were the targets in view of our current socio-economic stance, which global trends were going to aid the actualization, what challenges did we foresee as impediments to our success, what failures/successes did we experience and what blessings are there to count?

Whenever the history of this decade is chronicled, 2019, in my opinion, would certainly enjoy a pride of place as the most eventful for some good and many not-so-good reasons. It would detail the political histrionics around and the eventual conduct of the general elections, the outcomes at the election tribunal at state and federal levels, the issue of INEC’s server-or-no-server, overtaking India as the ‘world’s poverty capital’, the President’s 5-month delay in appointment of cabinet ministers after victory at the polls, and also the fight against insurgency. There was also the case with P & ID where a British court ruled for a forfeiture of government assets to the tune of $9.6 billion.

Other issues that would be prominent mention in the account include communal clashes between farmers and herders predominantly in the Middle Belt, perceived relegation of the Vice President by the cabal, the conduct of off-season elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states and the violence that marred the process. 2019 has come with its unforgettable ups and downs. These last few months, public attention shifted to the drama in the Aso Villa and the First Lady’s frustrations. Nigerians must be celebrated for enduring what has been one of the toughest in recent times. We have been ‘hard pressed on every side but remain uncrushed’.

Perhaps the most defining moment in 2019 and unfortunately so, would be the handling of Omoyele Sowore – Publisher of Sahara Reporters, Convener of #RevolutionNow group and candidate in the 2019 presidential elections. The handling of the issue capped the government’s flagrant disregard for the rule of law by its brazen disobedience to court orders to release detained persons. The issue sparked outrage locally and internationally. Just a few days ago, on December 24, both Sowore and Sambo Dasuki - Ex-National Security Adviser who had been detained since 2015 were released. Up till this moment, there are still a number of journalists whose whereabouts remain unknown.

There was also the unfortunate episode where some rogue agents of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (F-SARS) serially assaulted young Nigerians who were perceived to be ‘yahoo-yahoo’ boys by their dress style, haircut, tattoos, and even make of their cars. Some reported cases on social media had it that the F-SARS agents seize the ‘opportunity’ of unlawful arrests to extort money from these young Nigerians. In extreme cases, the agents would escort their ‘victims’ to ATMs to empty their accounts in order to ‘bail’ themselves out. At the peak of the crisis, there was an #EndSARS campaign calling for the dissolution of that unit of the Police.

The legislature also gave their fair share of their ‘representation of the people’. In the midst of the raging political issues and economic challenges, there was time to flesh out the ideas of ‘Hate Speech’ and ‘Anti-social media’ bills which were proposals for the establishment of a ‘National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech’ and a bill for ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations’ respectively. A good development, however, is that 2020 Appropriation Bill was approved in good time for the president’s assent to return the country to the January-December budget cycle. It is in that budget that N37billion was ridiculously voted to renovate the National Assembly Complex.

We had the new minimum wage signed into law by the president earlier in the year. The development was laudable even in the midst of concerns over the value of N30,000 which is still less than $100. Another concern in this regard was the seemingly unending back-and-forth between the Nigerian Labour Congress and state governors with the latter insisting that they couldn’t afford to pay the new minimum wage together with the consequential adjustments. As of today, more than 50% of the states haven’t commenced payment of the new minimum wage.

It is also noteworthy that progress is being made on the rail revolution as the Lagos-Ibadan rail line is its completion phase. Progress is also being made on the ‘fight against corruption’ as a number of high-level convictions were secured. Most recently was the conviction of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor. Looted funds in excess of billions have also been recovered. The leadership of the anti-graft agencies must be duly commended for the untiring efforts. In the matter of ‘fighting corruption’, I have also maintained that progress must be acknowledged, the current conviction-loot recovery model needs to reassessed and systemic issues addressed.

There is a lot to write about the year 2019. If all Nigerians were given the opportunity to pen down their experiences, there is the possibility that most of the submissions might indicate that not much has changed between the previous and current year. In the midst of the losses and gains, there is still a lot to be grateful for. Despite the challenges on all fronts, Nigerians have weathered the storm and remain boisterous in their optimism that ‘one day e go better’. Many will be taking the time to ‘count their blessings and name them one by one’.

Marking the beginning of another decade, 2020 is a unique year with immense opportunities. About ten years ago, we had resolved that “by 2020, Nigeria will be one of the 20 largest economies in the world, able to consolidate its leadership role in Africa and establish itself as a significant player in the global and political arena”. The strategy for achieving these ends were detailed in the ‘Vision 2020’. While the targets are still far from being achieved for obvious reasons, the vision still remains very desirable. It is one that we must strive to achieve at the earliest possible time.

As we look forward to a new year, it is important to note that until we change our way of doing things, nothing in our country will change. We must remain resolute in the pursuit of a Nigeria that works for all. We must never acquiesce to anything short of what is required to take us to the next level. We must never fail to protest against injustice and oppression wherever it might occur. We must remain unwavering in our commitment to a Nigeria where the rule of law is upheld.

I wish every Nigerian at home and in diaspora a rewarding 2020.

God bless Nigeria.

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© 2020 Samuel Akinnuga.