Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My fears and aspirations for Nigeria in 2014

Happy New Year and a joyful centennial anniversary of Nigeria, Dear compatriots! It’s the first day of 2014 and congratulatory messages are in order as we usher in a brand new year. Even though I do not have a prior knowledge of President Goodluck Jonathan’s New Year speech, some things are discernible and worth discussing. I am not Nostradamus, the man credited to have a prescient knowledge of tomorrow, yet, I can hazard some guesses on the issues that will define 2014.They are largely carry over issues from last year.

Such issues include  this year’s budget which was laid before the National Assembly on December 19 by the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi  Okonjo-Iweala; the centennial celebration of Nigeria’s amalgamation; the corruption scourge; the insecurity challenge; the “rofo-rofo” fight within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and between the party and its main nemesis, the All Progressives Congress; the proposed national dialogue; the inclement business environment; and the pitch darkness that still envelopes Nigeria  in spite of the conclusion of the sales of generating and distribution companies last year.

Others include the  forthcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil; the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games; the recurring industrial actions in the health and education sectors; the unacceptable unemployment and poverty rates in the country; the frosty relationship between the Presidency and the National Assembly, especially the “rebellious” House of Representatives; the lingering Nigerian Governors’ Forum crisis; the mutual suspicion between the states and Federal Government; the protracted constitution amendment exercise; the preparation for the 2015 General Elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission; the infrastructure deficit beleaguering the country, and many others.

Let me first discuss some of my nagging fears about these issues and then conclude with my hope for the year.     The first major issue I see beyond the euphoria of celebrating 100 years of Nigeria’s amalgamation is that of this year’s appropriation bill. The N4.6tn budget estimate is likely to generate a lot of ruckus when the Senate and House of Representatives begin the debate on it, especially during the Ministries, Departments and Agencies budget defence. The inkling that the passage of the budget might not be smooth sailing lies in the fact that there was a bitter argument between the executive and the legislature about the poor capital budget performance last year; the oil benchmark controversy as well as the late presentation of the estimate compared to that of 2013 that was presented in October 2012.

It will be recalled that it was not until two days to the budget presentation that the two chambers of the National Assembly agreed to $77.5 oil benchmark from their initial differing positions. While the executive proposed $74, the Senate chose $76.5 while the House of Reps pegged its benchmark at $79. The slight edge that the All Progressives Congress now has in the lower chamber on the aftermath of the cross-carpeting of 37 Peoples Democratic Party members into the party in December will also make things difficult for the Federal Government to get its programmes and policies through.    Lastly, on this particular issue, the snippets published by the media on the 2014 budget estimates have shown our leaders as insensitive to the plight of average Nigerians. The humongous amounts that the Federal Government has earmarked for its upkeep and fantasies including travels, pets, and acquisition of additional aircraft for the President’s use as well as maintenance of the Presidential Air Fleet attest to this.

Another contentious issue that will dominate headlines in 2014 is the proposed national dialogue whose advisory committee’s report was submitted to the President in December after it was inaugurated in October.  Many, including this writer, had observed that it was a needless distraction and a right thing being done at the wrong time. Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State on Friday, December 27 referred to the conference as ”a big joke and a waste of time”, even though he reportedly recanted his stance.   Many political watchers are waiting to see if this conference will not impact negatively on the preparations for the 2015 General Elections.

And talking about elections, 2014 will give Nigerians a foretaste of what to expect from the Independent National Electoral Commission during the 2015 general elections. There will be two governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states. INEC also hopes to conduct a Continuous Voter Registration exercise and distribute permanent voter cards among sundry other groundwork for the 2015 polls.   It had requested a sum of about N93bn to enable it prepare for the next general elections which it planned to hold either January or February of 2015.  If it is true that only N45bn has been earmarked for INEC in 2014 budget, it then means that the electoral body will only get less than half the amount it needed to conduct the 2015 polls. Invariably, this will affect the effort to hold elections early 2015.

Another major fear I have for this year is the overheating of the polity as the power-game between the APC and the PDP becomes intense. Already, the newly registered APC has successfully poached five governors and 37 House of Representatives members from its arch-rival, the PDP. News reports have it that about 22 senators are also set to dump the party in January 2014 or thereabout. Top members of the APC have also boasted that more PDP governors would soon defect to the party. Should this come true, the import on the polity may be both salutary and ominous. The emergence of the APC has brought about balance of power which then means that the ruling party, the PDP can no longer treat the electorate and the general public with levity.  However, inflammatory statements are already being bandied by the two main parties with the APC calling for the impeachment of President Goodluck Jonathan.  There will be worse spat as we get close to the elections and my fear is that if the leaders of these parties do not desist from hate speeches as well as inciting statements, the country’s security situation may take a turn for the worse.

Concerning my aspirations for the New Year, I wish the Super Eagles will get to the final of the World Cup in Brazil (this is not impossible if we prepare well) and that our contingent to the Commonwealth Games   at Glasgow 2014 (23 July – 3 August) will do the country proud. I also hope that we will start to reap the benefits of privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria and that there will be more light than darkness this year. I wish that government will genuinely surmount the nagging security challenges  currently facing this country and that we would have better road networks, no aircrash, better investment climate, no more strike in the health and education sectors and that our economic growth will result in palpable development particularly in terms of better employment opportunities and poverty reduction.

As we celebrate today, may we as a nation, family and individual never experience a better last year. Cheers!