by Osho Samuel
There’s never a dull moment in Nigeria. And 2013 did not disappoint. It has been a year of interesting controversies – some tragic, others comic. Here’s our pick of the Top 10 controversies that defined the public scene in 2013.
1. Lagos deportation saga: The assiduous efforts of Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola to have a presentable and serene environment in Lagos made him overreach himself when he deported 67 destitute persons back to Anambra state, dumping them at the Upper Iweka Bridge in Onitsha on July 24, 2013. The deportation led to criticisms from the Igbo leaders, and became the major cudgel used by the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) to bludgeon the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Anambra guber election.
Another key player during the saga was former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode who made matters worse with his tribalistic articles about the Igbos and why they should all leave Lagos. He made a further mess when he tried to clarify afterwards and subsequently made insinuations about having an affair with Bianca Ojukwu, Nigeria’s ambassador to Spain and wife of former Biafran warlord, Odumegwu Ojukwu. He was pilloried on every side for his gaffe – not that it deterred him though.
On September 27, 2013, Fashola apologized to the Igbos for his actions in a bid to get their forgiveness and blessings for the future. On October 16, 2013, the saga reached its climax when the deportees sued Lagos government for 1billion dollars and asked for a written apology to be tendered and published in three national dailies continuously for 30 days.
2. Child not bride: In July, word spread very rapidly in Nigeria through news websites, blogs and social networking sites that the Nigerian Senate had voted to legitimize child marriage. As part of its review of some sections of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Senate took a vote on July 16, 2013 concerning the removal of clause 29 (4)(b). The clause states that “any woman who is married shall be deemed to be of full age”, thus seemingly legitimizing child marriages because if a person married is deemed to be full age, and people younger than 18 are married off, they are automatically established to be of full age. Although the majority of the Senate for the removal of the clause (60 voting for removal and 35 voting for retention), the total fell short of the 73 votes required to change the Constitution.
The charge for the clause to be retained was led by Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima of Zamfara State. In fact the removal had gotten the required number of votes initially before a point of order raised by Yerima forced the senate to vote again, leading to its retention. Yerima argued that under Islamic law a woman is of age once she is married, and that Nigeria cannot legislate on marriages under Islamic rites. This action by the Senate raised a lot of vociferous criticisms which led to the creation of different groups with the sole goal of protesting against the move of the Senate. The public voices however petered out as quickly as they rose.
3. Pardon of Alamieyeseigha Diepreye: On March 13, 2013, Nigerians heard about the pardon granted to Ex-Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha with shock. During his tenure as the governor of oil-producing Southern State, Bayelsa, he was arrested in London after more than $1 million in cash was found in his home there. He escaped British authorities as he reportedly disguised himself as a woman and fled to Nigeria. He was then impeached and charged in Nigeria with illegally operating foreign accounts. Investigators said he acquired property in Britain and Nigeria worth more than $10 million. He was eventually found guilty. The pardon granted him by Pres. Jonathan (his former deputy) implies that Alamieyeseigha is now free to run for any political post in Nigeria. The pardon sparked off reactions from different parts of the country as many were disgusted by the message Alamieyeseigha’s pardon was sending. However, men like Doyin Okupe and Reuben Abati, known to have been staunch critics of the former governor defended his pardon. Okupe said, “He was tried, jailed and dispossessed of his property. He has been remorseful,” while Abati said that critics of the pardon are displaying “sophisticated ignorance.”
4. Chime’s incarceration of his wife: On November 5, 2013, the news about the wife of Enugu State governor, Clara Chime went viral in a rather melodramatic manner: Sullivan Chime incarcerates his wife by locking her up in her bedroom, without access to anybody for close to four months. Clara Chime appealed to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and lawyer Femi Falana to fight for her freedom from “illegal house arrest.” In a letter to the NHRC, Mrs. Chime described an abusive relationship which has led her to depression and her being suicidal. She lamented about the lack of sexual relationship with her husband for four years, deprived of responsibilities as a wife, prevented from bonding with her four-year-old son and barred from receiving visitors, whether family or friends. The case saw lots and lots of drama and denial. Eventually, Clara Chime left the Enugu Government House.
5. #Stellagate: Nigeria’s Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah got herself in a mess she might regret for a long time. The House of Reps has recommended her sack over the issue of the two bullet-proof cars bought for her by an agency under her supervision, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), for N255 million, especially because there was no budgetary approval for the purchase. However, it appears Oduah would go scot-free as Pres. Jonathan’s body language since the news broke out doesn’t portray that of someone willing to make a statement on corruption with that incident.
6. Nigeria Governors Forum elections: The Nigerian political scene experienced a dramatic session on Friday, May 24, 2013 when thirty-five governors converged in Abuja for the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) elections. The incumbent Chairman of the Forum, Hon. Chibuike Amaechi polled 19 votes while Chief Jonah Jang of Plateau State garnered 16. Due to the clash between President Jonathan and Amaechi, majority of the other PDP governors were against the results as Akwa Ibom State governor, Obong Godswill Akpabio had come out of the meeting to declare Jonah Jang was their Chairman. And the questions on the lips of many Nigerians was: is 16 greater than 19? In the past, the governors have always chosen their chairmen by consensus and they served just one term. This was the first time they had to poll before they could get a leader because of the disunity among them. The NGF has since then been divided into the Jang faction and the Amaechi faction.
7. OBJ letter, response and Iyabo’s supposed letter: No one was prepared for the December shock of an eighteen-page letter written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Goodluck Jonathan. The letter dated December 2, 2013 was made a public document on December 11, 2013. It went viral and generated lots of reactions from Nigerians. The letter was titled “Before it is too late” and Obasanjo accused President Jonathan of ruling as a dictator, training a killer gang, driving the country to the brink by allowing corruption and clannishness, among others. Few days after Obasanjo’s letter rocked the media, a supposed letter by Obasanjo’s daughter, Iyabo Obasanjo written to her father made it into the national dailies. The letter contained insults catapulted against the former President. Up till now, Iyabo has neither openly accepted or rejected being the author. After several insinuations and suggestions of impeachment from opposition parties, President Goodluck Jonathan was forced to respond to Obasanjo’s letter. In a letter dated December 20, 2013 and addressed to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Jonathan denied the allegations leveled against him with strong points, although he sidestepped some other queries raised.
8. The release of Al Mustapha: Few months after the pardon of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Nigerians were once again shocked by the verdict of the Lagos Court of Appeal panel headed by Justice Rita Pemu which discharged and acquitted Hamza Al-Mustapha over the murder of Late Kudirat Abiola. Immediately after Abacha’s death, he was arrested and tried for murder and attempted murder of Kudirat Abiola. A Lagos High Court sitting at Igbosere convicted Major Hamza Al-Mustapha over the murder of Kudirat Abiola and he was sentenced to death by hanging. On July 12, 2013, the appellate court (Court of Appeal) said there was not enough evidence to incriminate Al-Mustapha in the murder of Kudirat Abiola. Al-Mustapha’s release was greeted by divergent and contrast reactions; the North was happy to get their son back while the South got irritated at the emancipation of an alleged criminal.
9. The controversy over rights to the acronym ‘APC’: As opposition parties plan to pull down the 15 year strongholds of PDP, the three prominent ones in the country decided to merge in a bid to have a common front against the ruling PDP. The merging parties were: Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). The proposed name submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was All Progressives Congress (APC). In March 2013, they ran into chaos when it was discovered that other opposition parties; African People’s Congress (APC) and All Patriotic Citizens (APC) also applied for INEC registration adopting APC as an acronym. There were speculations that those other parties were being sponsored by the PDP to discomfit the opposition, and going by how quiet those other parties have become since APC was registered, it seems there was some truth to the allegation. The case was resolved on July 31, 2013 as the party received approval from INEC and the operating licenses of the three previous merging parties; ACN, CPC and ANPP were withdrawn. The party has since then given the PDP a cause for serious headache through their different political reactions to key issues in Nigeria.
10. The splitting of PDP: It was shocking and unprecedented and it played live as the country watched on TV. On September 1, 2013, seven governors and a former vice president walked out on the president and the PDP at the party’s special convention held at the Eagles Square. The lingering crisis rocking the PDP resulted in the formation of a ‘new PDP ‘ faction. The governors who made up the new PDP were Sule Lamido of Jigawa, Musa Kwankwaso of Kano, Aliyu Wammako of Sokoto, Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers, Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara and Babaginda Aliyu of Niger. The new PDP members stormed out of the venue of the convention and converged at the Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja where they unfolded the agenda and the names of the national officers of their faction. On November 26, 2013, after months of political play of power, five of the G7 governors defected to All Progressives Congress (APC) with the exception of Lamido of Jigawa and Aliyu of Niger State who remained in the PDP.
PS: You can also read up on the other pieces in our #2013inReview special below;