From the contemptible to the commendable, here are events which shaped 2019

The year 2019 has gone as one of the most eventful in the last decade, given the undulating fortunes which clothe its existence. In this piece, KEHINDE OYETIMI writes that in Nigeria, 2019 announced its murkily dark intent with the travails of the nation’s Chief Justice; the death of one of the nation’s brightest, Professor Pius Adesanmi; a general election characterised by the improbable; a xenophobic undoing which befell Nigerians in South Africa and the patriotic response of Air Peace Airlines in rescuing many trapped within such miasma, among other various realities.

Onnoghen’s fall

Onnoghen’s trial started when a petition was filed by a civil rights group at the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) alleging that he owns sundry accounts primarily funded through cash deposits made by himself up to as recently as August 10, 2016, which appeared to have been run in a manner inconsistent with financial transparency and the code of conduct for public officials.

The trial commenced January 14, 2019 at the Code of Conduct Tribunal but Onnoghen was absent. It was then adjourned to the following week because Onnoghen faulted the summons procedure. The next hearing was slated for January 22, 2019 but he failed to show up in court again. Following his absence again, President Muhammadu Buhari suspended him January 26 and appointed Tanko Ibrahim as acting Chief Justice of Nigeria.

His suspension caused a lot of uproar within and outside political circles, and even gained international prominence. On January 28, 2019, the Code of Conduct Tribunal adjourned his trial indefinitely. Walter Onnoghen was convicted by the Code of Conduct Tribunal on April 18, 2019 for false assets declaration.

With the accounts undeclared, CCT ruled that he is banned from holding public office for 10 years. President Buhari received Onoghen’s voluntary resignation letter which became effective May 28, 2019. After an initial opposition to Buhari’s acceptance of Onoghen’s retirement, the National Judicial Commission stated that Onnoghen’s retirement was in Nigeria’s best interest.

 

Buhari’s reelection

President Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected for a second four-year term. He defeated his main rival, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar by a margin of nearly four million votes. Atiku Abubakar’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rejected the result. However, voter turnout was a record low at just 35.6 per cent. Interestingly, the election was postponed barely hours before it was initially scheduled to begin and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) claiming that it was not fully prepared. However, despite the postponement, delays and violence marred the run-up to the polls. Overall, Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) got 15.2 million votes, while the PDP received 11.3 million votes.

 

Violence mars Bayelsa, Kogi elections

Sporadic violence marred polls in two key Nigerian states in November 2019, despite heavy security presence after a bloody run-up to the elections. Bayelsa and Kogi are among the seven states where governorship elections are held at different times from the general election due to court rulings. Late arrival and distribution of voting materials, cancellations in some polling units, violent clashes that turned fatal in certain cases, were some of the issues that plagued the elections held in both states. Displacing the PDP, David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress was declared winner of the election in Bayelsa, while incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello of APC won in Kogi State.

 

Zamfara, Katsina under bandits’ attacks

Although the attacks were manifest in other states across the country, Zamfara and Katsina states were at the receiving end of a major percentage of attacks by bandits, which resulted in abductions and killings.

 

Ekweremadu attacked in Germany

In August, Nigeria’s former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, was physically attacked by a mob while attending a cultural event in Germany. Ekweremadu, who confirmed the attack in a statement, said the attackers were members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), a South-East secessionist group. In the one-minute video, the mob chanted ‘go back’ while trying to deny Mr Ekweremadu entry. The lawmaker had initially retreated, but later turned back towards the entrance of the venue. In reaction, the men furiously dragged Ekweremadu out of the venue, ripping his clothes.

 

Border closure

In October, Nigeria closed its borders to the movement of goods. The move, aimed at curbing smuggling, led to rise in the prices of goods, while critics claimed that it threatened free trade across the region. The unexpected nature of the announcement gave traders and communities little time to prepare for the economic shock that followed. By December 2019, the reports were bitter-sweet, while certain sections of the local trading communities in Nigeria recoded huge sales, while traders with goods stuck at the border complained of their goods getting spoilt.

 

Hate Speech bill

The Senate reintroduced a bill that seeks to penalise persons found guilty of hate speech. The National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech Bill was sponsored by the deputy chief whip, Aliyu Abdullahi. It prescribes death penalty for anyone found guilty of spreading falsehood that leads to the death of another person. The bill also seeks the establishment of a National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech to help investigate and prosecute offenders. A similar bill was introduced to the Senate in March 2018 for consideration and passage. It however, did not make it through to third reading. The reintroduction of the bill has generated controversies among Nigerians. Some rights groups have kicked against the bill, because of its narrow and unclear definition of what constitutes hate speech.

 

The P&I.D. imbroglio

A commercial court in the UK ruled that Nigeria must pay a UK firm, Process and Industrial Development Limited (P & ID) a sum of $9.6 billion or have its assets in the UK to the tune of that amount forfeited. The report on the UK court ruling sparked some debate, especially considering the country’s debt profile.

 

Governor Ganduje and Emir Sanusi’s feud

From the reports on the happenings concerning the individuals involved, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State and the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, seem to have fallen apart. The feud extended when it seemed apparent that Sanusi backed Abba Kabir-Yusuf of the PDP ahead of the governorship election in Kano. Interestingly, APC’s Ganduje lost the election after the first ballot. Yusuf polled 1,014,353 votes against Ganduje, who secured 953,522 votes. The election was declared ‘inconclusive’ by INEC and after a supplementary election was conducted, Ganduje was declared winner with a margin of 8,982 votes. Muhammadu Sanusi II, the Emir of Kano, has also been accused of misuse of royal finances. There was also the matter of the bill aimed at the establishment of five emirates – Kano, Rano, Gaya, Karaye and Bichi – just as the size of the emirate under Muhammadu Sanusi II has been reduced to 10 local governments from the 44 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Kano.

 

Oshiomhole and Obaseki’s impasse

All does not seem well between Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole. There were the issues that came to the fore during the party primaries to elect candidates for the 2019 general election. Among other events, there have also been attacks and counter attacks on both sides, as well as the botched mega rally which was expected to have featured the defection of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the PDP governorship candidate in the 2016 election in the state to the APC.

 

Sex-for-marks BBC documentary

In October, the BBC Africa Eye released a year-long investigation documenting the sexual harassment behaviour of some lecturers at the University of Lagos and the University of Ghana. In the video released by the media house, Dr Boniface Igbenuhue, a lecturer of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Lagos, was heard in one of the discreetly-recorded videos telling an undercover reporter who had disguised as a 17-year-old admission seeker to switch off the light so he could kiss her. According to the documentary, before the BBC Africa Eye team commenced investigation on Boniface, scores of students had alleged that Boniface harassed them. One of the students, who was featured in the documentary, said Boniface harassed her while she was his student. The lecturer also revealed, while being discreetly filmed, that lecturers at the University of Lagos had a ‘room’ at the senior staff club where students were harassed by lecturers. Unlike Boniface, an undercover journalist approached Dr Paul Kweme Butakor of Ghana, as a final-year student seeking internship placement. Butakor wasted no time in asking the supposed student to be his girlfriend. University rules forbid such a relationship between students and lecturers.

 

Death of Pa Reuben Fasoranti’s daughter

Mrs. Funke Olakunrin, daughter of Afenifere chairman, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, was killed by persons suspected to be herdsmen. The 58-year-old woman was reportedly heading to Ore junction from Akure, Ondo State, when she was attacked and shot by the herdsmen. Eyewitness accounts stated that she died of gunshots from suspected herdsmen, who shot her at Ore junction in Ondo State. Her domestic staff, who was also in the car with her, sustained gunshots. Olufunke is the second child of 94-year-old Fasoranti to die. The elder statesman had also lost a daughter, Bunmi, some years ago.

 

Pius Adesanmi dies in plane crash

Pius Adebola Adesanmi was a Nigerian-born Canadian professor, writer, literary critic, satirist, and columnist. He was the author of Naija No Dey Carry Last, a 2015 collection of satirical essays. Adesanmi died on March 10, 2019, when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed shortly after take-off.

 

Xenophobic attacks in South Africa

Riots occurred in the South African city of Johannesburg from September 1 to 5, 2019, leading to the deaths of several people. The riots targeted foreign nationals from other African countries, which led to retaliations in other African nations against South African brands. The riot resumed in Johannesburg on September 8, 2019 when rioters marched on the central business district and looted shops, just as they called for the exit of foreigners.

In Nigeria, stores and service centres operated by South African telecommunications company MTN were temporarily shut following retaliatory attacks on the company for the riots in South Africa. Other South African companies also temporarily suspended trading as Multichoice and Shoprite also stopped operations. Celebrities spoke against the riots in South Africa, and there were calls for tolerance and embracing a united Africa. Nigerian artiste, Tiwa Savage, stated on Twitter that she would cancel appearances in South Africa in protest of the riots.

President Muhammadu Buhari summoned the South African High Commissioner to convey his concerns about the incident to President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa. The Nigerian government also cancelled its participation at the African Economic Forum which was scheduled to be held in Cape Town in retaliation to the riots and closed its embassy in South Africa citing security concerns. South African diplomatic missions in Abuja and Lagos were closed due to threats of retaliatory violence. After investigations, it was revealed that no Nigerian died during the riots, but shops owned by Nigerians in South Africa were targeted. Furthermore, in a move sponsored by Air Peace, Nigerians living in South Africa who indicated interest to leave the country had to be evacuated. In September 2019, a special envoy from South Africa apologised to Nigeria during a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari for the purpose.

 

The revolution that never held

Towards the latter part of 2019, calls for #RevolutionNow, championed by the Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria became popular, with Omoyele Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters and presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), at the forefront of the movement. Between pockets of protests here and there, the arrest, re-arrest and the refusal of the Department State Services (DSS) to release Sowore, despite repeated calls for major protests, the revolution never held in 2019.

 

Dasuki, Sowore regain freedom

The campaign against impunity and intolerance by the media, civil society, the general populace and the international community recorded a modest, but significant victory as the Federal Government bowed to sustained public pressure to release detainees in wrongful custody.

The Federal Government, which had rejected entreaties to release the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore, and an ex-National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) after both men were granted bail by the courts, made a U-turn and ordered the release of the two men.

 

Orji Kalu bags 12-year imprisonment

In December, a Lagos Division of the Federal High Court convicted a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, of N7.1bn fraud and sentenced him to 12 years’ imprisonment. The judgment, delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris, came 12 years after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed fraud charges against Kalu in 2007. Kalu was convicted alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Jones Udeogu, who served under him as the Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House in Umuahia. While Udeogu was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, the judge ordered the winding up of Slok Nigeria Limited, holding that his assets and properties be forfeited to government. Out of the 39 counts filed against the trio, the judge convicted Kalu of the entire 28 counts in which his name featured. On each of counts 1-11 and 39, he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment; on each of counts 23-33, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment; and on each of counts 34-38, he was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. Justice Idris said the sentences would run concurrently, meaning that Kalu will spend 12 years in jail.

 

Fire guts Kara cattle market on New Year’s eve

The year ended on a very sad note as the popular Kara market along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was engulfed by fire on Tuesday, the last day of the year. The extent of damage could only be imagined as goods, properties worth lots of money got burnt in the inferno.

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