A difficult year!

A difficult year!

By Levi Obijiofor

By all calculations, this has been a very difficult year that has tested Nigeria's fragile unity. On 5 May 2010 Nigeria lost President Umaru Yar'Adua who died after a long battle with ill health. Before that, Yar'Adua's poor health and his failure to hand over authority to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan exposed a huge hole in the nation's constitution. For the period that Yar'Adua lay in bed in Saudi Arabia, there was a clear leadership vacuum. It was an odd situation, something the nation had never experienced. Nigeria had a president and a vice president but no one knew for sure who was administratively in charge.

While all segments of civil society argued endlessly about the constitutional provision or lack of constitutional clarity about how to end the leadership void when a president incapacitated by ill health fails to hand over authority to his/her deputy, the situation remained dire. The state of affairs was made worse by doubtful claims by members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) that there was no empty space in Aso Rock, even as Jonathan refused to step into Yar'Adua's position while the man was still in Saudi Arabia.

The lack of clarity tested the nation's patience. It was a dangerous situation that could have been exploited by political opportunists. It took the Senate and the House of Representatives 78 days of prevarication before they finally acted, in a carefully choreographed manner, on Tuesday, 9 February 2010 to authorise Goodluck Jonathan to step in as acting president in the absence of ailing Yar'Adua.

Inundated with a barrage of criticisms, Senate President David Mark took shelter – would you believe it -- under the ambiguous "doctrine of necessity" legal jargon, as he struggled to explain why the senate delayed action for so long before it empowered Jonathan to serve as acting president. "The doctrine of necessity requires that we do what is necessary when faced with a situation that was not contemplated by the constitution. And that is precisely what we have done today... In doing so, we have as well maintained the sanctity of our constitution as the ultimate law of the land."

David Mark's explanations did not quite jell with public sentiments and frustration over the way Nigerian leaders turned the nation into a subject of caricature. Yar'Adua travelled to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment on 23 November 2009. Between that time and the date that Jonathan was authorised to become acting president in February 2010, there was no clear and consistent statement about how to address the leadership vacuum created by Yar'Adua's ill health.

The departure of Yar'Adua meant that Jonathan, who had up till that time looked timid and unsure of himself, had to be upgraded to the post of president on 5 May. However, Jonathan's elevation to the presidential seat in Aso Rock brought to him a problem of a different kind. People asked questions not so much about how Jonathan would tackle national problems but whether he would contest the presidential election in 2011. Rather than focus on Jonathan's immediate job of solving the nation's problems, we all wanted to divine the man's political future. Everyone wanted to know whether Jonathan would contest next year's presidential election, as if that was the nation's number one priority. There were more important issues that needed to be resolved such as electoral reforms, the unresolved power project, as well as law and order problems across the nation.

Jonathan proved to be a wily politician. He declined to clarify (until very late) whether or not he would contest the presidential election next year. But the longer the questions persisted, the more the People's Democratic Party (PDP) began to tear itself apart. Huge cracks began to appear within the PDP as some members tried in vain to prise information from Jonathan's mouth. The bone of contention was the PDP zoning arrangement and whether Jonathan was qualified to contest the presidential election.

The zoning arrangement within the PDP is all about politics of regionalism. So, it did not take long before a number of politicians began to announce their readiness to seek the PDP's endorsement to represent the party at the 2011 presidential election. The four candidates were Atiku Abubakar (a man who had demonstrated his indestructibility throughout the eight years he served as Olusegun Obasanjo's vice president), Ibrahim Babangida (a former military president who wanted to return to power as an elected president first in 2007 and now in 2011 before he quit), and Aliyu Gusau (a former intelligence chief). The fourth candidate – Bukola Saraki – is completing his second term as governor of Kwara State.

Direct intervention by the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) headed by irrepressible Adamu Ciroma reduced to one the number of northern candidates in the PDP. A few weeks ago, the NPLF announced that it had selected Atiku Abubakar as the anointed northern "consensus candidate". The other three northern candidates have either endorsed that choice or remained silent.

The northern candidates have always argued that Yar'Adua's death which occurred midway in his term should not embolden a southerner such as Jonathan to step in and take away from the north what they perceive as their right to produce a president, following the completion of two terms by Olusegun Obasanjo (a southerner). The PDP zoning deal is heating up tempers in the party and there are fears that the party's primaries in early January 2011 could lead to the final disintegration of the PDP if Jonathan is endorsed as the presidential candidate. In the past couple of weeks, Atiku and Babangida made sensitive comments which Jonathan and his supporters described as provocative and capable of igniting regional conflagration. Jonathan even said the comments could be deemed to be treasonable.

As some commentators have noted, the danger in playing politics of regionalism is that it could possibly mark the death of the PDP as we know it during the forthcoming party primaries. When a political party is locked in a debate over its presidential candidates not on the basis of the quality of the candidates but on their regions of origin, the way could be paved for voters to either desert the party or to vote along ethnic and regional lines. The first few weeks of January 2011 will be interesting to watch.

Away from politics, 2010 was also remarkable for Nigeria's achievements and failures in sports. At the World Cup in South Africa (June-July), the Nigerian soccer team did not win a match and was bundled out after the group stages. But Nigeria did a little bit better at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi (India, 3-14 October 2010). Our athletes came ninth on the medals' table, having won a total of 35 medals (11 gold, 10 silver and 14 bronze). Sadly, Nigeria's image was tarnished following news that three of the athletes tested positive for the banned stimulant -- methylhexaneamine -- an energy boosting drug. The three athletes were disqualified and/or stripped of the medals they won.

One month later, news emerged that Nigeria's Amos Adamu, an executive committee member of the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) who was also a member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) had been banned from voting or participating in the selection of the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 world cup. Adamu was also hit with a fine and a three-year ban from all football-related activities. The representative of Oceania region, Reynald Temarii, was also punished by FIFA although his punishment was lighter compared to Adamu's. Adamu's punishments were based on allegations by the FIFA Ethics Committee that he was involved in "a bribery scandal to the tune of $800,000, allegedly demanded by him to influence a vote in favour of the United States of America, USA, in its bid to host the 2022 World Cup".

Within the year, hostilities between militant organisations and the federal government's Joint Task Force on the Niger Delta resumed, no thanks to increasing cases of abductions, bombing of oil facilities and killings. Nigeria suffered a major humiliation on the 50th anniversary of its independence when bombs exploded near the venue of the celebrations. No fewer than 11 lives were lost. Not only did the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claim responsibility for the independence day car bombs, it also warned that more bombs would be exploded. The resumption of hostilities between the government and the militants signalled the end of the amnesty deal that was offered to the militants in 2009.

These are by no means the major challenges that confronted Nigeria in 2010. Some of the problems still persist and will be carried over into the new year but how they will be dealt with remains anyone's guess.