September 27, 2022

Punch Newspapers © 1971-2020 The Punch newspaper
Jide Ojo
There are many issues that will shape Nigeria’s future in 2022. They include constitutional alteration, electoral reform, National Population and Housing Census, COVID-19, politics, economy, sports and governance. In no particular order, I will try to dissect these issues.
For a long time, indeed, from the beginning of this Fourth Republic in 1999, many Nigerian civil society organisations, coming together under the auspices of Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform then headquartered at the Centre for Democracy and Development national office in Abuja, ceaselessly demanded autochthonous and process-led constitutional reform. Several memoranda were written and submitted to the presidency and National Assembly but to no avail. Over the years, rather than convoke a sovereign national conference that will lead to the birth of a new constitution, the Federal Government chose the path of cosmetic alterations of the highly flawed 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended. This was a military decree converted into a grundnorm for the country.
Thus far, there have been four alterations to the country’s constitution, the last being in 2018. The 9th National Assembly has embarked on another jamboree of constitutional amendment again and received tonnes of memorandum last year and actually held public hearings. However, the exercise has been stalled since then. It is hoped that this new year, the fifth constitutional alteration will be concluded in good time to impact positively on governance in the country. What is doubtful, however, is if this multibillion naira effort will assuage the fears and feelings of marginalisation and discrimination in the country. I do not see this exercise as laying to rest the demand for restructuring of the country as it is very elitist and tokenistic. Nonetheless, it is best for the constitutional alteration to be concluded before the middle of the year before high wire politicking takes over from the third quarter.
It was largely expected that electoral reform would have been concluded in 2021 but that was not to be as the President vetoed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 sent to him in November last year. He advanced copious reasons for withholding assent ranging from cost to security concern if political parties are coerced to adopt only direct primary for their candidate nomination process. Curiously, beyond the issue of direct primary raised by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, as well as the President in his letter to the NASS on the bill, none of them flagged the drafting errors that civil society organisations raised in their December 29, 2021 Memo to the National Assembly. The eight CSOs among whom are YIAGA Africa and CLEEN Foundation, who jointly wrote the memo, spotted 10 drafting errors and cross-referencing gaps in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021.

Well, the two chambers of the National Assembly — the Senate and House of Representatives — are expected back from their Christmas recess on January 18 and this is expected to top the to-do list of the federal lawmakers. It will be heartwarming if the needed overhaul and amendment to the bill is concluded before the end of this month and the legislation is sent to the President for assent the second time.
In May this year, it is expected that the National Population Commission will conduct the National Population and Housing Census, which has fallen due since 2016 given the fact that the last exercise was done in 2006 and it is recommended that censuses be done every 10 years. N400bn has been earmarked for this exercise. There is no gainsaying that population data will assist in national planning. It is shameful that Nigeria relies on estimates of foreign agencies, such as the World Bank, UNICEF and the likes, in order to plan for the country.
It will be ideal to have this census but I have two concerns. The first is the issue of prevailing insecurity and this year being the eve of the 2023 general elections.

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I hope we can rely on the defence of the chairman of NPC, Alhaji Nasir Isa Kwarra, when he went for budget defence at the Senate last December. He said, “Every Nigerian is worried about insecurity but it should not stop us from conducting census because we need to produce accurate data for policymakers to make policies that would enable the country to address many challenges including insecurity. Holidays would be declared when we want to conduct a census. The security agents would take care of anyone found on the streets of Nigeria.” It is hoped that this year’s census when held will be credible and acceptable to all.
COVID-19 is still a force to reckon with as Nigeria undergoes the fourth wave of the global pandemic. While it is true that several vaccines have been developed and Nigeria has joined leagues of countries forcing their citizens to be inoculated, no country is yet to attain herd immunity. While about 60 per cent of Americans have been fully vaccinated with many others even receiving booster shots, Nigeria has less than five per cent of her population fully vaccinated. This is a huge challenge and the Federal Government will need to stop waiting on free vaccines from other countries and make arrangements to procure sufficient vaccines for her population. Ideally, Nigeria, nay Africa, should by now have developed her own COVID-19 vaccines. The real challenge is that there is vaccine hesitancy and most Nigerians do not also adhere to non-pharmaceutical procedures of wearing face masks in public, maintaining physical distance, regular handwashing and use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers. The spike in the number of infections may lead to lockdown and travel restrictions which will impact negatively on productivity and the economy.
This 2022 is believed to be a year of politicking as most of the political cum electoral activities leading to the February 2023 General Election will take place this year. The Independent National Electoral Commission requested and got approval for N305bn for the preparations of next year’s general election. Not only that, INEC has scheduled Federal Capital Territory Area Council elections for February 12, 2022, and has similarly planned two off-cycle governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states for June 18  and July 16, 2022, respectively. These are apart from bye-elections that will take place in the course of the year. Thus, the election management body has a busy year ahead of it as most of the sensitive and non-sensitive election materials for 2023 will have to be procured this year.

Some of the political activities that will take place this year include the national convention of the All Progressives Congress, party primaries and nomination of candidates as well as campaigns. It is hoped that politicians will follow due process and allow internal party democracy in their politicking agenda this year. Issue-based politics and violence-free nominations and campaigns are envisaged.
Unless the controversies that have ensued over the Federal Government 2022 budget signed last Friday by the President are quickly resolved, the economy will be negatively impacted. Recall that the National Assembly not only padded the budget with over 6,000 new projects, but it also reduced the budget of some of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies without justification and jerked up the budget estimate by over N700bn.  The President reluctantly signed the bill but promised to send an amendment to the law this new year. It is noteworthy that Nigeria has continually run a deficit budget and had to go a-borrowing yearly to fund the appropriation law. Already, the country’s debt burden is a great worry to many Nigerians, who have asked the government to reduce substantially the cost of governance.
On a lighter note, Nigeria’s Super Eagles will be among the 24 countries that will participate in the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, which will hold in Cameroon from January 9 to February 6, 2022. This tournament which has suffered multiple postponements will be a positive distraction for Nigerians, given our love for soccer. Newly-appointed head coach of the Super Eagles, Augustine Eguavon will lead the Nigerian lads in search of a fourth continental glory.
Being a pre-election year, it is expected that governance will suffer this year, especially from June. Most federal and state lawmakers will be seeking re-election since there is no term limit for parliamentarians. Therefore, forming a quorum during plenary sessions at both national and State Houses of Assembly will be difficult right from the time of party primaries to the actual election as most contestants will be in their various constituencies canvassing for votes.

Similar development will happen in the states as many governors who may be serving out their second and final term in office will either be busy marketing their successor or even trying to contest to come to the Senate. Truth be told, governance in Nigeria in 2022 will be sub-optimal.
Overall, what will impact Nigeria most is the handling of the festering and perennial insecurity. Unless this is tamed, there may not be a census this year or general elections next year. In 2022, let’s all strive for peace!
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