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2021 IN REVIEW: Calls for Nigeria’s breakup, Buhari’s stubbornness and other crises

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2021 IN REVIEW: Buhari’s stubbornness, separatist tales and major controversies of the year

Nigeria must have appeared like an unbelievable book due to the number of controversies that got the populace talking in 2021; amidst the dreary economy wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic with the country eventually recovering from a recession in the previous year.

From the Twitter Ban to the disavowal of bandits by a renowned Islamic cleric, there was a lot of happenings that made headlines with differing perspectives amongst Nigerians, and here are ten of such news that triggered controversies in 2021:

1. Aisha Buhari’s ‘Pregnancy”

The First Lady, Aisha Buhari, was reported as being pregnant when a picture surfaced that depicted Aisha cradling her stomach like an expectant mother; this sent the rumour mills on overdrive with tongues wagging on the probability of Aisha being pregnant despite having adult children.

In order to dispel these reports, Aisha ordered all her staff to proceed on indefinite leave as confirmed in a statement issued by the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Health and Development Partners in the First Lady’s office, Mohammed Kamal.

In the statement, Kamal noted that the First Lady ordered the members of staff in her office to proceed on indefinite leave and continue work virtually.

“This serves to inform all members of staff that the office of the First Lady will be closed for the upcoming festive period of Christmas and New Year.

“To this end, all staff members are requested to proceed on leave, until further notice.

“Please note that official engagements and work can also continue virtually as it was done previously.

“Her Excellency appreciates and thanks to all staff members for their commitment and hard work and wishes all a happy festive period ahead,” the statement, posted on the verified Instagram handle of the President’s wife, read.

Never has an official statement come across as so laughable in a bid to stem rumours on what was a biological function of a woman’s body and the alacrity with which the staff of the First Lady were sent on an indefinite leave suggested something was afoot.

Only time would unveil the secrets beneath the hallowed chambers of Aso Rock.

2. Buhari’s refusal to assent to Electoral Amendment

The year reached a contentious crescendo with the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 in line with the provisions of Section 58(1) & (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

The president in a letter to the leadership of the National Assembly clearly highlighted his reasons for refusing to sign the bill into law.

He argued that direct primaries as envisaged by the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021 would significantly raise the cost of conducting primary elections by political parties and could have negative implications on the outcome of elections.

According to Buhari, it was worthy to note that the conduct of elections for the nomination of party candidates solely via direct primaries as envisaged by the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021, “has serious adverse legal, financial, economic and security consequences, which cannot be accommodated at the moment considering our nation’s peculiarities.”

Any neutral analyst would understand the arguments of the President with respect to the nuances and complexities of the country’s political system, but a lot of critics have lampooned the decision due to politicking without advancing any opposite convincing explanations on why the current indirect primaries system was bad for the country.

3. Gumi’s disavowal of bandits

The disavowal of bandits’ murderous activities by a controversial Islamic cleric, Ahmad Gumi, came as a surprise to many political commentators who had repeatedly pilloried him for his vehement defence of the terrorists.

Gumi, in earlier interviews, had identified “extrajudicial killings of Fulani” as the main factor fueling banditry in Nigeria while noting that the call to declare bandits as terrorists was driven by prejudice and bigotry.

“That is unfortunately driven by prejudice and bigotry. IPOB is an organization, it does not mean Igbo. Boko Haram is an organization and it does not mean Kanuri.

“So you can declare Boko Haram terrorists, you can declare IPOB terrorists. In this case what are you going to declare terrorists?,” he said.

However, in a surprising volte-face, Gumi said he had quit mediating for armed bandits following their declaration as terrorists by the court

Gumi had said his efforts in that campaign were for the sake of peace and economic prosperity of Nigeria but lamented that the efforts were sabotaged.

And now with the declaration of the bandits as terrorists, Mr Gumi said it would be dangerous for him to continue to engage the bandits.

He said that “since the federal government has declared them terrorists, I don’t have anything to do with them anymore.

“I will not like to expose myself to danger again and to put a spotlight on myself unnecessarily,” the cleric said.

Whether Gumi actually believed the bandits deserve forgiveness has also been a thorny source of discourse amongst political commentators but equally disturbing was his appeasement policy and amnesty advocacy for criminal herders engaging in banditry and kidnapping.

This attempted rationalisation and justification of criminality betrayed the genuine intent of the revered scholar. Blurring the line between good and evil.

4. Bullied to death: Oromoni’s tragic death

No other incident triggered incendiary reactions amongst Nigerians as the tragic case of Sylvester Oromoni, a student of Dowen College, who was allegedly bullied to death by some senior students who tried to initiate him into cultism.

But the school had dismissed the claim, stating that he only sustained injuries while playing football with his colleagues which led to the indefinite closure of the school by the Lagos State Government.

Consequently, the Lagos State Police Command arrested five students, who were eventually granted a bail of N1million each, on the matter while investigations were ongoing.

There were similar cases of bullying in elite boarding schools allegedly swept under the rug due to the influence of the culprits involved. But in order to forestall future occurrences, all the stakeholders involved must ensure all hands are on deck to eliminate bullying and its attendant consequences in secondary schools across the country.

5. #EndSARS Lagos White Paper: No closure in sight

#ENDSARS: Nigerian Army unhappy with Gov Sanwo-Olu, General tells Lagos Panel

Even before the unfortunate events during the #EndSARS protests which culminated in the Lekki incident, Nigerians raised serious questions about the antics and tactics of Police and security forces in their management of public protests, and treatment of government critics.

As a result, the Lagos State Government instituted a judicial panel to unravel the events that led to the alleged killings of protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate on October 20, 2020, but the end result of the year-long panel hearings further muddied the situation with a lot of youth nursing a sense of injustice on how the panel spectacularly botched the hearing with the release of a report they claim riddled with gross inconsistencies regarding what transpired on the night.

To further put a nail on the coffin, the White Paper issued by the state government in the aftermath of the report differed radically from the contents of the report. The serious, egregious violation of rights identified in the report was whitewashed by the government’s White Paper.

Read also: 2021 IN REVIEW: Return of Talibans, rise of Trumpism, other events that shook the world

On account of the inconsistencies, the white paper released by the LASG endorsed only 11 out of the 32 recommendations and separated those statutorily under the federal government’s control. It also rejected the list of nine dead persons purportedly killed at Lekki tollgate except one which was witnessed during the uproar as no details supported others.

6. Shut in the dark: Nigeria’s Twitter Ban

FACT CHECK: Do Nigerians now have partial access to Twitter?

The decision of the Federal Government to suspend the activities of Twitter within Nigeria’s cyberspace was met with widespread opprobrium with a lot of citizens accusing the leadership of being draconian regarding an incident that could be resolved amicably.

On the first day of June, the popular social media network deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari in which he threatened to punish pro-Biafra groups blamed for escalating attacks on government and security authorities.

Twitter said Buhari’s tweet violated its “abusive behaviour” policy, leading to a 12-hour suspension of his account.

The tweet promised a response to waves of attacks blamed on the Eastern Security Network (ESN), an armed group that emerged from the main pro-Biafran secessionist movement, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

In what commentators tagged a retaliatory move, the Federal Government announced its decision to suspend the operations of Twitter in the country.

The Minister of Information, Mohammed heavily criticised the “double standards” of the platform, complaining that Twitter did not delete tweets from IPOB.

In another statement about the Twitter ban, the government claimed that one of the reasons was because “there has been a litany of problems with the social media platform in Nigeria, where misinformation and fake news spread through it have had real-world violent consequences.”

For many Nigerian users of the platform, Twitter had become more than just another social media platform. It had become the voice to criticise the actions and inactions of the government, and also a place where many earn their daily living yet it seemed unlikely the ban was going to be lifted as the world approached 2022.

7. Kanu and Igboho: The tale of the secessionists

Southern governors sponsoring, arming Kanu, Igboho —Northern Groups

The travails of Nnamdi Kanu, the embattled leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Sunday Igboho, the Yoruba Nation leader, read like a historical movie script especially considering Nigeria’s history with secessionist agitations.

Kanu has been at the forefront of the actualisation of the creation of a Biafran State which eventually culminated in his arrest in Kenya after months of evading arrest ensconced in the United Kingdom.

To Kanu’s many followers he is the most vocal and defiant advocate for Biafran independence. Secessionist protests have been brutally shut down in Nigeria. Yet broadcasts calling for mass uprisings, taunting the president, Muhammadu Buhari, and targeting ethnic groups in Nigeria have drawn the ire of Nigerian authorities.

On his part, Sunday “Igboho” Adeyemo, the Yoruba Nation agitator, is being detained in the Benin Republic and the Nigerian government is working towards his extradition in order to face charges bordering from weapon-running to incitement of violence.

8. Ikoyi Building Collapse

Incidents of collapsed structures are commonplace in Nigeria but the timing and those linked to the Ikoyi building that collapsed on November 1 elicited widespread criticism over the refusal of the owner, Femi Osibona — who also perished in the incident — to adhere to strict building codes and protocols.

This clearly reinforced the laissez-faire attitude public officials towards building regulations; coupled with compromise and sharp practices on the part of the regulators which have given room for developers to cut corners with resultant frequent building collapse disasters wrecking the society.

9. E-Naira and Crypto Ban

The launch of the e-Naira — the first digital currency in Africa — was not without critics and detractors who accused the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, of dishonesty due to his previous stance regarding the ban on cryptocurrency transactions in the nation’s financial institutions.

In an effort to curb the growing popularity of crypto, in February 2021, the CBN ordered local banking institutions to stop dealing in cryptocurrencies and stop facilitating payments for crypto exchanges. Four months later, plans were announced to introduce the e-Naira.

The CBN had said the e-Naira’s launch “marks a major step forward in the evolution of money and the CBN was committed to ensuring that the eNaira, like the physical Naira, is accessible to everyone.”

Nigeria has been one of the leading markets for digital currencies, ranking sixth in terms of cryptocurrency adoption in the world.

However, while some people have questioned the rationale for the introduction of e-Naira and its value to the economy, others have simply concluded that it was a project that would fill the void of inaction, giving the government a sense of psychological satisfaction.

Many people have become rich through the speculative and volatile nature of cryptocurrencies. The e-Naira does not have this attribute ergo, the Federal Government must ensure that the issues topical to the average Nigerian are considered in the process

10. Hisbah, Miss Nigeria 2021, other issues

In the aftermath of Shatu Garko’s emergence as the new Miss Nigeria, the Islamic Police, Hisbah in a now-disavowed statement stated that the beauty queen and her parents would be reprimanded for participating in the beauty contest.

“The Holy Qur’an said we should tell our families especially females to cover their bodies entirely because it’s the best thing for their spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing,” he said.

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