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Saturday, April 13, 2024

2023 Year In Review (Part I)  – By Matthew Ma

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“As the year comes to an end, it is essential to take stock of the significant events that marked the year. Looking back at the year’s landscape, we can gather valuable insights and learnings that can help us better understand the direction of politics, both locally and globally. By reviewing the critical political events of the year, we can gain a deeper understanding of how these events impacted society, the landscape, and our collective future. It is through this reflection that we can identify patterns, trends, and lessons that can inform our decision-making and guide us toward a more informed and enlightened future.”

As the clock ushered us into 2024, the memory of a tumultuous 2023 lingers. It was a year that witnessed political upheaval, economic hardship, and an alarming rise in violence and insecurity. The Nigerian landscape was marred by the loss of 6,645 lives to terrorism, banditry, and kidnapping, coupled with natural disasters and accidents that claimed more lives, including the tragic accidental bombing in Kaduna, a landslide in Abuja, a fire at an illegal oil refining site in Rivers State, a disastrous boat mishap in Kwara State, and the Plateau State Christmas killing. A lot of remarkable things happened in the outgoing year. The year began on a hopeful note. With the 2023 general elections scheduled for the first quarter, many young Nigerians were optimistic about a government change that would mean a long-overdue improvement in the economy and other sectors. The elections ended with one of the most contested results in Nigeria’s history. Therefore, as the year comes to an end, it is essential to take stock of the significant events that marked the year. Looking back at the year’s landscape, we can gather valuable insights and learnings that can help us better understand the direction of politics, both locally and globally. By reviewing the critical political events of the year, we can gain a deeper understanding of how these events impacted society, the political landscape, and our collective future. It is through this reflection that we can identify patterns, trends, and lessons that can inform our decision-making and guide us toward a more informed and enlightened future.

 

Death of Catholic Priest

On January 15, 2023, tragedy struck Nigeria, where two Catholic priests became victims of senseless violence. It occurred in Niger State, where a group of bandits attacked the parish house of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Kafin-Koro. The attack caused the death of Father Isaac Achi, who was serving as the parish priest. Upon arrival at the house, the bandits set Rev. Achi’s house ablaze, burning him to death. The unknown assailants also shot and wounded Father Collins Omeh as he was trying to escape from the house. Confirming the violent and tragic attack, which took place around 3 am, the State’s Police Public Relations Officer, Wasiu Abiodun, said that the bandits attempted to enter the house but failed and set fire to the house while the Reverend Father died charred. Police tactical teams from Kafin-Koro were immediately dispatched to the scene, but the perpetrators fled before they arrived. The lifeless body of Father Achi was recovered, while Father Collins was taken to the hospital for treatment. Sadly, until today, none of those responsible for these atrocities have been arrested or prosecuted, which further emboldens and encourages them to carry out fresh attacks. A group that spoke on the condition of anonymity observed that security forces hardly intervene when vulnerable Christians are in danger but only emerge after such attacks to arrest and frame up the same population threatened or attacked.

 

Naira Redesign

In a press release on October 26, 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced the redesign of banknotes including N200, N500, and N1000. The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, cited the need for new designs due to various challenges faced by Nigeria’s financial, monetary, and security systems. The redesigned currency aims to tackle the circulation of counterfeit notes and large sums of money outside of banks, often used by kidnappers and terrorists. The new banknotes are set to enter circulation on December 15, 2022, with the existing notes no longer accepted as legal tender after January 31, 2023. President Muhammadu Buhari gave his approval for the currency redesign, supporting the CBN’s efforts to stabilize the value of the country’s official tender, which has lost more than 35 percent of its value over the past year. The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria expressed concern about the security of the Naira, stating that the circulation of the currency has more than doubled since 2015. He disclosed that approximately 85% of the total money in circulation, which amounts to about N2.73 trillion out of N3.23 trillion, is outside the bank vaults. In response, the CBN has introduced new banknotes that are expected to be more secure and difficult to counterfeit, particularly the N500 and N1000 denominations. This initiative is part of the CBN’s efforts to enhance financial inclusion and safeguard the integrity of the Nigerian currency. The CBN has assured citizens that the new banknotes will be widely accessible, even in rural areas, and has urged them to embrace the change for a seamless transition.

 

During a National Assembly session, a disagreement arose among Senators regarding the CBN Naira redesign policy. While several Senators, including Ali Ndume, Abiodun Olujimi, Betty Apiafi, Barau Jibrin, Chukwuka Utazi, and Orji Uzor Kalu, supported the policy, others opposed the policy and called for an extension. Kalu specifically proposed inviting Emefiele to clarify the policy and extend the deadline to April 30, 2023. However, Senator Gabriel Suswan opposed the policy and urged his colleagues to disregard it. Senator Bassey Akpan stressed the importance of supporting the CBN Governor instead of discussing the matter. Unfortunately, Suswan and Akpan’s opinions were not well-received by those seeking an extension of the deadline, leading to a rowdy argument in the chamber. It took the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, ten minutes of persistent appeals to restore order. Eventually, the Senate decided to offer legislative assistance to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in its effort to redesign the N1,000, N500, and N200 naira notes. Most Senators, regardless of their political affiliation, showed support for the redesign of the naira. However, a few concerns were raised about the deadline set by the central bank for the deposit of old notes into commercial banks. While some lawmakers called for an extension of the deadline from January 31, 2023, to April 2023, many politicians who had hoarded cash for the 2023 general election were speculated to be against the reintroduction and redesign of Nigeria’s currency. During the discussion, lawmakers also questioned the economic implications of the naira redesign and whether it would help in reducing inflation and the declining value of the naira. Senator Sani, in his motion, requested that the Senate provide legal support for the policy and direct his Committee to engage in rigorous oversight on the matter. Furthermore, Sani urged the Senate to back the CBN’s naira redesign policy, including the deadline set by the banking industry regulator for compliance.

 

Emi Lokan Becomes The President

The 2023 was a year of political turbulence. The general election held in February was fractious, divisive, and contentious. The journey began with the presidential elections, where Bola Tinubu emerged victorious as the President amid controversies and accusations of irregularities. The election witnessed the lowest voter turnout in Nigeria’s history, and subsequent legal challenges by opponents Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi were dismissed by the courts, solidifying Tinubu’s victory. The political landscape was further shaped by the movements and slogans ‘Emilokan,’ ‘Atikulate,’ and ‘Obedients,’ each representing different political factions and ideologies. Opinions were divided on the credibility and integrity of this year’s elections. While the young voters and opposition candidates claimed the election lacked credibility, many other experienced voters and political analysts believed that the polls, though not flawless, were conducted in substantial compliance with the country’s electoral laws. The 2023 Nigerian elections were, therefore, a watershed moment in the country’s democratic history, opening up competition for federal and state legislative positions to a wide array of candidates without a designated incumbent for those roles. The electoral contest, however, took place against the backdrop of fierce tensions between political parties and a series of overlapping security crises that affect all regions across Nigeria and the regular conduct of elections. Political rivalry violently targeted candidates, election officials, and politicians in the run-up to the elections. Party militias, criminal gangs, and other armed groups brought violence to suppress opponents, deter rival candidates from running, and influence the electoral process. The electoral campaign also further polarized the political and media environment, with numerous allegations against partisan outlets and political candidates refusing to attend media engagements and debates. Some candidates were accused of inciting hate speech, stoking inter-communal tensions, and escalating violence in a country with a long history of electoral violence since its independence in 1960.

 

Adamawa Governorship Poll

The Adamawa state governorship election held on March 18, 2023, was one of the most talked-about events of the year. The election was between incumbent governor and PDP candidate Ahmadu Fintiri and Aisha ‘Binani’ Dahiru of the APC. The early results showed that Fintiri had established a clear lead of 31,249 votes above his primary challenger, Binani, after the collation of results from 10 local government areas. However, during the collation of results from the supplementary polls, the Adamawa state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Hudu Yunusa-Ari, appeared at the collation center and announced Binani as the winner of the election, despite Fintiri’s lead. This declaration was false and misleading, as it was not Yunusa-Ari’s duty to declare the winner of the election. Instead, that duty fell on Mele Lamido, the returning officer. Following the announcement, there was widespread condemnation and outrage from observers, political parties, and the general public. The disgraced Adamawa REC went into hiding but was subsequently arrested and is currently facing prosecution for his actions. The events surrounding the Adamawa state governorship election in 2023 highlighted the importance of impartiality, transparency, and adherence to electoral guidelines in ensuring free and fair elections. It also underlined the need for electoral officials to carry out their duties with integrity and professionalism.

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Fuel Subsidy Removal

In his inaugural speech on May 29, 2023, President Bola Tinubu uttered the famous words that sparked yet another fuel scarcity in Nigeria. The president announced that the decades-long subsidy on petroleum products has been scrapped. The moment the president made the announcement, fuel stations immediately began hoarding fuel, leading to panic and transportation hikes across the nation. Even before the new prices were announced, a few fuel stations sold their fuel at inflated prices ranging from ₦500 to ₦700 per liter. The official prices eventually reached ₦557 per liter, and by July 2023, it had climbed to ₦617 per liter. Long queues ensued, causing a nationwide decline in fuel consumption and fewer cars on the streets as people resorted to trekking. This, in turn, led to a hike in the cost of goods and services, which led to high cost of transportation and general hardship for many Nigerians. The Nigerian Labor Congress, which is the largest labor union in Nigeria, issued a warning to the government, stating that they will go on strike if the government goes ahead with its plan to remove fuel subsidies. The labor union expressed significant concerns that the removal of fuel subsidies would lead to an increase in the prices of essential commodities such as transportation and food, among other things. The labor union also urged the government to reconsider its decision and find alternative solutions to the issue. President Tinubu defended the fuel subsidy removal, claiming it will save Nigeria over ₦1 trillion in two months, which will be used more directly and more beneficially for Nigerians. Consequently, fuel subsidy removal became a national buzzword, triggering anger among Nigerians. According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, the average price of petrol in Nigeria increased by over 210%, ranging from N550 – N750 depending on the region. This massive increase significantly impacted low-income citizens, who faced even more significant financial strain to meet their basic food needs and increased transportation costs.

 

Cash Scarcity Saga

On October 26, 2022, Godwin Emefiele announced the redesign of the ₦200, ₦500, and ₦1000 notes, with a deadline of January 31, 2023, to phase out the old notes. However, what followed could have been a plot straight out of a drama. Zainab Ahmed, the Minister of Finance, stated that she had not been informed. This led to a sharp decline in the value of the naira on the foreign exchange market, where it was being sold for ₦1,000 to £1 and ₦800 to $1. Despite the passing of the deadline, the new notes were still not in circulation by January 2023. The CBN extended the deadline to February 10, but the Supreme Court issued a temporary order halting the expiration of the old notes just two days before the new deadline. In response, President Muhammadu declared that only the ₦200 notes could remain in circulation beyond February 10. As legal experts debated the president’s ability to overturn a Supreme Court ruling, Nigerians experienced widespread cash scarcity and bank transaction failures. ATMs were often empty or restricted to daily withdrawals of ₦5, causing bank queues. This dire situation led to protests across the country, with some customers going naked in the banking halls. Unfortunately, most hospitals were unprepared to accept cashless payments, leaving patients untreated as their families searched for physical currency. Supermarkets also faced problems as botched POS or bank transfer transactions left customers stranded without their purchases. Tragically, a pregnant woman in Kaduna reportedly died because her husband couldn’t obtain the necessary funds in time to admit her to a hospital. The scarcity, which lasted from January to March 2023, had devastating consequences for small and medium businesses, as well as households, that were pushed into extreme poverty due to the destruction of their livelihoods. The shortage of banknotes occurred just before the February/March 2023 national elections, as the Central Bank of Nigeria began to replace old Naira notes with newly designed ones. This led to a significant shortfall in banknotes across the country, resulting in zero cash payments from bank ATMs, excessive charges from POS agents, and failed mobile bank transactions. Some state governors, such as Kogi state Governor Yahaya Bello, took the Federal Government to court. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration should ease the scarcity by allowing the old notes to circulate until April 2023. Despite the judgment, both old and new Naira notes remained scarce after the elections.

 

POS Operators

During the period when both old and new naira notes were scarce throughout Nigeria, Point of Sale (POS) operators emerged as crucial players in the nation’s financial landscape. With urgent cash needs on the rise, Nigerians increasingly turned to POS agents to meet their financial demands. Prior to the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) redesign of N200, N500, and the N1,000 banknotes, POS operators charged a standard fee for cash disbursements of varying amounts to their customers. For every N10,000 disbursed, the cost was typically N100, with charges increasing proportionally for more significant sums. As a result, any withdrawal exceeding N10,000 incurred a 10 percent fee. In the past, customers who needed to withdraw or deposit large sums of money were often able to receive discounts. For instance, canceling or paying N100,000 could result in a reduced charge of only N700 or N800, depending on the specific POS operator. However, during the cash scarcity, things changed, and there was no longer a standard charge for using POS. Customers were compelled to agree to commission charges set by operators based on the amount of money available. Some operators even charge as much as N4,000 for every N10,000 requested, making it a challenging environment for all parties involved.

 

Niger’s Coup

Shortly after assuming office, President Tinubu encountered a crisis when the military seized power in Niger and ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. As the newly appointed Chairman of ECOWAS, Tinubu vowed to take action to restore democratic governance in the country, including the possibility of military intervention. However, this stance was met with criticism from political analysts and foreign affairs commentators who saw it as a misplaced priority. Ultimately, the National Assembly rejected the request for parliamentary support for military intervention in Niger and instead opted for sanctions and a military buildup to enforce compliance from the junta. In other words, the NASS opted to take a realistic approach by implementing economic, diplomatic, and cultural sanctions while firmly rejecting the idea of military action. However, the Niger coup d’état followed the trend of military overthrows of democratically elected governments in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. Despite these countries being subjected to economic and diplomatic sanctions, they were ineffective in preventing the coup. To prevent the threat to democratic governance in the sub-region, Niger was promptly sanctioned. This included closing land borders, severing communications, suspending trade, and cutting off electricity supply. This was a significant blow to the landlocked country, as 70 percent of its energy supply comes from Nigeria. Seven Northern states that share borders with Niger Republic – Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Jigawa, Katsina, Yobe, and Borno – reminded Tinubu that any conflict with the country would impact Nigerian communities.

 

History On The Menu

Nigeria has a history of breaking Guinness World Records, but Hilda Baci’s recent attempt has generated the most commotion to date. From May 11 to May 15, she embarked on a 100-hour cooking session after six years of preparation. It’s safe to say that Guinness World Records didn’t anticipate a Nigerian chef shaking up the record books in such a significant way. Hilda Baci’s record-breaking cook-a-thon took place at Amore Gardens on May 11, 2023, and drew a large and enthusiastic crowd of supporters. Not only did Hilda set a new record for the longest cooking marathon by an individual, but she also inspired countless other Nigerians to pursue their own record-breaking feats. In a momentous achievement for the culinary world, the Nigerian chef was officially recognized by Guinness World Records for her exceptional skills in the kitchen. After thoroughly scrutinizing the evidence, Guinness World Records announced that Bassey had broken the record for the longest cooking marathon by an individual. This recognition was a significant milestone for the 26-year-old chef and has propelled her name onto the global stage. A thorough examination by Guinness World Records confirms Bassey’s outstanding accomplishments. With a total time of 93 hours and 11 minutes, she has earned her place in history, surpassing the previous record set by India-based chef Lata Tondon in 2019. Bassey’s remarkable feat has captured the attention of millions across Nigeria and beyond, who eagerly followed her progress through an Instagram live stream.

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Davido vs Anita Brown

In June 2023, a U.S. entrepreneur and model named Anita Brown claimed she was pregnant with Davido. She went viral on social media for her hateful comments against Chioma, Davido’s wife. Ms. Brown claimed to have met Davido in Dubai in 2017, and their relationship continued on and off until the onset of the pandemic in 2020. In June, she accused the singer of impregnating her and pressuring her to terminate the pregnancy. She shared screenshots of their purported love messages and even conducted a pregnancy test with positive results. As the drama continued to unfold, fans began to wonder if Ms. Brown was telling the truth or lying to get Davido’s attention. However, just when we thought the drama surrounding Davido’s alleged pregnancy saga with US-based entrepreneur was dying down, another lady came forward, claiming to be pregnant with the singer’s child. A French lady identified as Ivanna Bay took to social media to reveal that she was pregnant with Davido’s child. This came hours after Anita Brown shared screenshots accusing Davido of impregnating her. The new development went viral on social media, sparking a fire in an already scandalous situation. Ivanna Bay shared screenshots of her alleged correspondence about her pregnancy with Davido on Instagram and WhatsApp. In one of her posts, Ivanna questioned how many baby mamas Davido has and wondered if he was up for a soccer team. This latest development left many fans shocked and wondering what the truth in the allegation. In the midst of a controversial saga, Anita Brown issued an apology to Chioma Rowland, the singer’s wife, for defamatory comments and accusations. The U.S.-based businesswoman and model expressed regret for her past actions, attributing them to heartbreak and anger, which led her to go to extremes in venting her emotions. On her official Instagram page, the American model shared her sole regrets regarding the entire pregnancy ordeal with Davido. She regretted that her pain and feelings of betrayal allowed her to turn herself against another woman. She apologized to Chioma and explained that her previous comments about Chioma and her late son were made in anger and were never her initial intentions. She emphasized the distress of losing someone you love and care about and shared that she was currently going through a traumatic and tragic time. However, she made it clear that she did not wish to discuss the matter further. However, she will prefer to be known for the light she bring into the world.

 

The Super Falcons’ World Cup debut

The Super Falcons of Nigeria gave their fans reason to believe once again. They emerged from the FIFA Women’s World Cup group stage without suffering a single loss, only to be eliminated by England in a penalty shoot-out in August. Although they fell short of making it to the finals, they did secure a spot in the FIFA Top 10 rankings as the tenth-best team at the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Unfortunately, the team faced challenges beyond the pitch, including a pay dispute with the national federation and a need for more resources and support during their preparation for the tournament. Coach Randy Waldrum faced criticism for speaking out about these issues. Despite these obstacles, the team drew with Olympic champion Canada and defeated co-host Australia, leaving their fans with much to celebrate. In the midst of a contentious situation, Ian Wright, an esteemed Arsenal icon, spoke out in support of the victorious team and called on the NFF to take appropriate action. Taking to Twitter, he unequivocally expressed his backing for the Super Falcons, leaving no room for doubt with a passionate message simply stating, “Pay them.” His words had a resounding impact across social media, capturing the attention of many and garnering support for the Nigerian women’s team. The call for justice and equity in women’s football has transcended borders and resonated with enthusiasts worldwide. As more individuals join the chorus for fairness, attention remains fixed on the NFF to see if they will rise to the occasion and acknowledge the remarkable accomplishments of the Nigeria women’s team through appropriate remuneration and respect. Time will tell if the federation grants them the recognition they deserve.

 

African Football King/Queen

In a historic moment for the Giants of Africa, Victor Osimhen and Asisat Oshoala were crowned the Men’s and Women’s African Player of the Year at the CAF Awards 2023 in Marrakech, Morocco. Osimhen, a key player in Napoli’s Serie A title win after 33 long years, faced tough competition from Achraf Hakimi of Morocco and Mohamed Salah of Egypt, who won his first coveted prize. This accomplishment marks the first time that one country has produced both winners in the same Year. Osimhen’s win also made him the first Nigerian player to receive the CAF Player of the Year Award since Nwankwo Kanu in 1999. Meanwhile, Oshoala secured her record-extending sixth Women’s Player of the Year title, cementing her status as the most successful female player in Africa. This incredible night for Nigeria was further highlighted by Chiamaka Nnadozie’s win as the women’s Goalkeeper of the Year and the Super Falcons’ recognition as the Women’s Team of the Year. At the recent event, a beaming Osimhen acknowledged the impact of his former coach, Nigerian legend Emmanuel Amuneke, as well as the unwavering support of his fans from the country and beyond. The award he received serves as a testament to Osimhen’s impressive performances for both his Napoli club side and his national team, where he plays a vital role. His exceptional form led Napoli to their first Serie A title in 33 years, with the striker’s 26 league goals setting a new record for the highest-scoring African player in the Italian top flight. Osimhen’s remarkable achievements saw him earn a place in the Serie A Team of the Year and secure the Best Striker prize for the 2022/23 campaign. His exceptional ninth-place ranking in the 2023 Ballon d’Or further highlights his pivotal role in Napoli’s outstanding season. He also became the first African to receive the Italian Footballers’ Association Player of the Year award, a remarkable feat. Despite Nigeria’s disappointment in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, where they lost out to arch-rivals Ghana, Osimhen’s performances for the Super Eagles were nothing short of exceptional. He emerged as the top scorer in the qualification race for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), with ten goals to his name. Although injuries have hindered his progress this season, Osimhen’s recognition by CAF is undoubtedly the crowning achievement of a highly successful year for the Nigerian striker.

 

Black Christmas

Every year in Nigeria, there is always a tragedy that occurs on Christmas Eve or Day. This year was not an exception. There were at least 140 people that were killed and others missing after a series of attacks by gunmen on remote villages in north-central Plateau state. Officials and survivors confirmed the Christmas Eve attacks and blamed the killings on the farmer-herder crisis in the State. They said “bandits” launched “well-coordinated” attacks in “not fewer than 20 different communities.” Amnesty International’s Nigeria office told The Associated Press that it has so far confirmed 140 deaths in the Christian-majority Bokkos and Barkin-Ladi areas of Plateau, based on data compiled by its workers on the ground and from local officials. The Nigerian army said it has begun “clearance operations” in search of suspects, with the help of other security agencies, although arrests are rare in such attacks. Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, elected this year after promising to tackle security challenges his predecessor had failed to address, instructed security agencies to scour every stretch of the zone and arrest the culprits. He also ordered the “immediate mobilization of relief resources” for the survivors and prompt medical treatment for the wounded. Amnesty International’s branch in Nigeria, however, called for an independent investigation, stating that Tinubu’s promises to combat insecurity have so far proved empty. Such brazen failures are gradually becoming the norm.

 

Conclusion

As the year comes to an end and we eagerly anticipate the resumption of schools, families all over the country are taking a momentary pause from their busy lives to reflect on the past year and hope for a positive turn in the economy. Many are left wondering if the situation is indeed hopeless. However, despite the challenges faced, it is important to remain optimistic and acknowledge the possibility of change. It is likely that the coming year could bring about positive developments that can help boost the economy and improve the lives of everyday citizens. Be sure to stay tuned for part II of the year in review, where we’ll take a closer look at other events that shaped the past year.

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.

 

 

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