In this report, JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH captures the unforgettable moments in the seat of power that defined outgoing year 2017.
From the political landscape to the country’s economic terrain, the year 2017 will leave an indelible mark in the memory of Nigerians. It is a year most Nigerians will not forget in a jiffy; a year in which the country tethered on the edge, while the presidency attempted some deft political moves to calm frayed nerves.
In fact, it was 2017 which literally made it instructive of how Nigerians may likely decide on the Buhari presidency come 2019. It was quite eventful and action packed, that if soothsayers were to be allowed within the precinct of Aso Rock the way it was in the days of Julius Caeser of the Roman Empire, one of the ‘Mallams’ or ‘Babalawos’ in the country would have urged President Muhammadu Buhari to as well “beware the Ides” of 2017.
Globally, it was a year United States president, Donald Trump, turned governance into a comedy of errors and the world his theatre of the absurd. Under Trump’s watch, America, a country that prides herself as the world power, turned her back on the international community at a time the countries of the world united to fight climate change.
Back to Nigeria, those who laboured under a delusion of an imminent cabinet reshuffle are certainly disappointed by now, as it is apparent within this last week of the year that President Buhari started and ended the year with the same ministers save for the minister of environment, Amina Mohammed, who was appointed the deputy secretary general of the United Nations; Stephen Ocheni who replaced the late James Ocholi and Mohammed who replaced Amina Mohammed.
The year 2017 is a period the Buhari presidency got to a climx; denouement moment- a moment of highest tension- you may say. As the year rounds off, it is obvious that certain remarkable events in Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power, cannot be erased from the country’s bookmarks. Below are some defining moments at the presidential villa in 2017.
Buhari’s Medical Sojourn
President Buhari’s health was a major topic of discussion this year. On January 19, the president embarked on a medical vacation to the United Kingdom, but he did not do so without transferring power to his deputy, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in line with the constitution. No sooner had the president left the shores of the country than the rumours mills went on the overdrive with reports surfacing that Buhari was dead. Mongers of fake news took over Nigeria’s public space, with some media misfits cloning the website of the BBC and some Foreign news media to announce the death of the president.
It got to the extent that political observers likened the Buhari’s case to that of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua whose health was shrouded in mystery until he eventually passed on. At the presidency, the Buhari’s men ran from pilar to post in a bid to paint a picture of a president that was as fit as a fiddle and was just on a medical vacation. On March 10, President Buhari staged a triumphant entry back to the country. In his first address to the nation, he confessed that he had never been this sick; not when it got to the extent of him undergoing blood transfusion.
Indeed, the president looked frail on arrival. Within the first few days of his arrival, he was missing from public functions. Out apprehension some Nigerians even suggested the president should go back to the United Kingdom to tend to his health.
On May 7, the presidency issued a statement, announcing that Buhari was travelling again to London for what it described as “medical follow-up”. Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, on his twitter handle, said the length of the president’s absence from the country was to be determined by his doctors, while government would function normally under the vice president.
Adesina said the president had already written to the leadership of the National Assembly, intimating them of the trip. He said the president had planned to leave Sunday afternoon, but decided to tarry a while due to the arrival of 82 Chibok girls who arrived Abuja earlier in the day. The girls who were kidnapped in April 2014 were released by Boko Haram in a swap deal that also saw the release of some terror suspects.
“The President wishes to assure all Nigerians that there is no cause for worry. He is very grateful for the prayers and good wishes of the people, and hopes they would continue to pray for the peace and unity of the nation”, Adesina said.
This time around, President Buhari spent 104 days in London, prompting a group called #ourmumudondo led by Charly Boy to call on the president to resume duty or resign. Although Osinbajo was steering the ship of governance, keen observers of the polity aver that the absence of the president slowed down governance, as there seemed to be motion but no movement in the absence of Buhari. On August 20, the president returned looking healthier and fit. Also, recent events show that the president has recovered fully and his Ill health has become a thing of the past.
Osinbajo’s Rapid Fire Aproach To Douse Secessionists Agitation
In the absence of President Buhari, tension over the clamour for secession saturated the ambience of the country’s political firmament. Weeks after leader of the indigenous people of biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, was released on bail, his utterances and activities pushed the temperature of the country to a boiling point. Kanu demanded for the Republic of biafra, an agitation that made him a celebrity overnight. To checkmate his excesses, a Coalition of Northern youth groups issued an ultimatum to Igbos leaving in the North to vacate the region before October 1. That singular action further hieghtened tension in the country.
The then acting president, Osinbajo, was left with no choice than to act fast to save Nigeria from disintegration. Quickly, he summoned a meeting comprising leaders of thought in the North and the South East, governors and traditional rulers. At the meeting, he cautioned against hate speech, which had trailed the agitation for secession and the quit notice issued by the Arewa youths. Osinbajo noted that violence and war will not do anyone good, just as he called for caution. Government, he assured, will deal with the grievances.
The acting president said, “You are all aware that there have been loud and sometimes hostile agitations by young people in the Southeast calling for secession from Nigeria. And then there was the recent ultimatum issued by a group of young people also from the North, asking all persons of Southeast origin living in the North to leave by October 1 this year.
“Both of these expressions and agitations from both sides, have been attended with some controversial and very hateful approach including patently illegal and violence-inducing remarks. I firmly believe that we ought to address these agitations and proclamations urgently and decisively. Burying our heads in the sand and expecting the storm to blow over of their own accord is not an option.
“But equally not reasonable is falling for the temptation for any kind of tit-for-tat whether it is in the language used or it is in the kinds of gestures that have been expressed. This has never worked or moved anyone closer to a peaceful or sensible resolution.
“And so it’s in our bid, as government, to deal with these pressing issues and grievances, that we’ve convened these series of consultations, with various groups. It’s the right and responsible thing I think for us as leaders not to shy away from the responsibility to ensure and uphold peace and security in our country.
“And it’s my view that the responsible role of those of us who are privileged to be leaders in our society is to chart progressive and lofty courses for our people, for the ordinary people. As leaders, we carry the burden to secure the peace, progress and prosperity of our people. And that is why our voices ought to be heard and heard loud and clear at moments like this in the defense and articulation of what is truly beneficial to the nation and the people, and what is right and patriotic.
“Our dear nation has gone through very m any difficult times. We’ve survived bloody coups, several rounds of ethno-religious violence, we’ve emerged even from a long and bloody Civil War. All of us here have seen close-up what violence can do to a country. I believe I speak for us all when I say that no one here is keen to see Nigeria embroiled in violence or bloodshed of any kind, especially not when we are only just emerging from a brutal insurgency that has consumed more than 20,000 of our brothers, sisters and children, as well as the better part of a decade in the Northeast of Nigeria.
“One thing is clear – violence and war are not going to do anyone any good. They are terrible and they mean no good. They are easy to start but near impossible to end”.
Political observers commended the acting president for his peace moves as it went a long way in calming frayed nerves in the country.
Suspension Of SGF, NIA DG
The suspension of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal and erstwhile director general of the National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ayo Oke, was another major event that tested the political will of the presidency. Lawal was accused of using N200 million to cut grass in one of the IDPs camps. The Senate committee that carried out the probe found him wanting and demanded for his sack and prosecution. Curiously, President Buhari absolved the SGF of any wrongdoing through the Attorney General of the Federation. But after much outcry and uproar, Buhari suspended the SGF alongside the DG of NIA. On the day of his suspension, Lawal made one of the famous quotes of the year when responding to questions on his suspension when he sought to know from State House correspondents who the presidency was.
A three-man committee was set up by the president to probe allegations of sleaze against the two men. It was headed by Osinbajo, with Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami and National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno as members. On the day they were supposed to submit the committee report, Buhari travelled to the UK for medical vacation, a situation which sparked controversy as to who should act on the report. The president received the report some days after he came back from his medical vacation but failed to act on the report . Two months later, Buhari sacked Lawal and Oke, and appointed Boss Mustapha as the new SGF.
Presidency-Senate Rift Over Magu
This was another issue that almost overheat the polity. The Senate resumed its rivalry with the executive over the confirmation of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu. Within a period of three months, the Senate rejected the confirmation of Magu twice, citing a damning report from the DSS on against him. However, Magu is still the acting chairman of the EFCC till date, with the executive refusing to bulge.
The presidency also alleged that the confirmation of Magu needed not to go through the Senate, a move which angered the Red Chamber. Osinbajo had said the Senate’s powers to confirm nominees were limited.
“I fully agree with Mr. (Femi) Falana that there was no need in the first place to have presented Mr. Magu for confirmation,” the then acting president said, citing Section 171 of the Constitution as his authority.
The statement infuriated the Senate the more, making the Senators to also refuse to confirm some nominees of the executive on the grounds that Magu should be removed as EFCC Chairman before they could act on any presidential request. Senate President Bukola Saraki said Osinbajo must respect the laws of the country and the powers of the parliament as enumerated in the Constitution.
The senators backed series of resolutions against the executive, including the one that demanded an immediate retraction of Mr. Osinbajo’s comment, which some of them said was antithetical to a democratic system. The acting president had sent a request for confirmation of Lanre Gbajabiamila as the Director-General of National Lottery Commission. But the Senators stopped all confirmation hearings for nominees forwarded by Osinbajo until all contentious issues surrounding their powers to confirm appointees are resolved.
PMB’s Foreclosure Of 2014 Confab Report Implementation
President Buhari has never hidden his intention not to implement the 2014 report of the National Conference organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan. According to Buhari, it is a report meant for the archives. His stance is that the last administration didn’t get its priorities right. He said instead of addressing the demands of the Academic Staff Union Of Universities (ASUU) who were on strike then, that government was busy spending billions to organise the conference.
His words: “I advised against the issue of National Conference. You would recall that ASUU was on strike then for almost nine months. The teachers in the tertiary institutions were on strike for more than a year, yet that government had about N9billion to organise that meeting (National Conference), and some (members) were complaining that they hadn’t even been paid.
“I never liked the priority of that government on that particular issue, because it meant that what the National Assembly could have handled was handed to the Conference, while the more important job of keeping our children in schools was abandoned. That is why I haven’t even bothered to read it or ask for a briefing on it, and I want it to go into the so-called archives”.
The president’s remarks elicited reactions from some of the delegates who advised him to implement the key recommendations of the conference. This was moreso when the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal, described the conference as job for the boys.
Towing President Buhari’s line of thought, some keen observers of the polity argued that former President Jonathan had no intention of implementing the report of the conference in the first place. They wondered why he kept the report of the conference almost a year without doing anything about it. Some went as far as alleging that Jonathan was keeping the report as a campaign tool for his second term.
President Buhari, in his independence address to Nigerians, put a final nail on the coffin of the 2014 national conference. He faulted the national conference organised by Jonathan and others, saying national debates should be handled by the federal legislature and not some lopsided, undemocratic body with pre-determined set of objectives.
He said, “At all events, proper dialogue and any desired constitutional changes should take place in a rational manner, at the National and State Assemblies. These are the proper and legal fora for National debate, not some lop-sided, un-democratic body with pre-determined set of objectives”.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, also echoed the same sentiments. Shehu reiterated the president’s line that the Parliament as a key institution in democratic governance is the proper venue for the ventilation of and resolution of all contentious issues.
He said, “It beats our imagination that men claiming to be democrats or having democratic credentials are asking the government to ignore an elected parliament in preference to a committee made up of presidential appointees to debate and resolve constitutional issues.
“You are either for democracy or for its opposite. For us in this government, democracy is the country’s chosen system of government and we are determined to deepen and uphold it. Democracy may be slow and chaotic, but it remains the best system of government the world has got so far”.
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