by Ayobami Olopade
No calendar year is devoid of controversies in Nigeria. Definitely not 2014.
The Scoop presents our pick of the 10 most controversial events in the year 2014.
1. Sanusi Lamido’s changed fortune
One major subject of controversy for most of 2014 was the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (now the Emir of Kano). Sanusi has always been a man of controversies ever since he stepped in as CBN governor and initiated reforms which led to the ouster of some super bankers. His frontal attack against the FG in 2013, meant that he began to be looked at as a dangerous distraction to the Jonathan administration. He became the whistle-blower who appeared bent on bad-mouthing the efforts of the administration. From that moment, his days at the CBN became numbered. His tenure was expected to lapse in June 2014 having expressed his desire not to seek another term. Just before 2014 began, efforts were made to make him proceed on retirement leave but Sanusi allegedly refused to step down. Pres. Jonathan then took the audacious step of firing Sanusi in February on the ground that his tenure as CBN governor had been characterised by acts of financial recklessness and misconduct. His international passport was seized and efforts were made to prosecute him. Sanusi also went to court seeking reprieve. Not a few considered the sack of Sanusi months before the end of his tenure politically-motivated. Even after his sack, a document which had the imprints of a current presidential aide was released linking Sanusi with Boko Haram.
Things took a dramatic turn a few months later when the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, suddenly died. Being a member of the royal family, Sanusi’s name popped up among the probable successors to the throne. But the son of the late emir, Sanusi Ado Bayero, was seen as the runaway favourite. However, fate had other plans – when the kingmakers met and made their recommendations and the Kano government made its choice, it was Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the embattled former CBN governor who was appointed as the 57th Emir of Kano. Sanusi’s appointment was said to be the mastermind of the All Progressives Congress, the party of the Kano governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.
Aso Rock did not quickly accept the appointment. For a while the palace of the emir was placed under lock and key while the new emir received guests and well wishers at the Kano government house. Pres. Jonathan and Emir Sanusi have however now reconciled and the emir has made two visits to Aso Rock since his appointment.
2. The NIS recruitment death scam
This was one of the great tragedies of 2014. The Nigerian Immigration Service wanted to recruit less than 5,000 people and young Nigerians applied for the jobs in hundreds of thousands. The exercise which was conducted under the leadership of Abba Moro, the minister of interior, turned out to be a disaster. Despite collecting N1000 from each of the applicants, proper arrangements were not made to ensure a hitch free exercise. In several states across the country, stampedes occurred and at least 19 people died as a result with several others injured.
Moro, instead of owning up to his failure, blamed the victims for the tragedy, saying they were impatient and that most of those who sat for the exam already had jobs. He refused to resign and Aso Rock did not see it fit to fire him. The probes by the two houses of the national assembly over the incident came to naught ostensibly because Moro is a favoured political son of the senate president, David Mark, who is a key ally of Pres. Jonathan. In fact even the promise to refund the N1000 collected from the job seekers has not been kept and neither has the job offers promised families of the deceased victims been awarded.
3. #BringBackOurGirls NOW and ALIVE
This is not the first time people (even children) would be kidnapped by terrorists in Nigeria but the story of the Chibok girls brought the world’s attention to Nigeria because for that one incident, some women (and some men) refused to be silent.
On April 14, over 200 girls writing their final exams were abducted from a secondary school in Chibok in Borno state. Terrorist sect, Boko Haram, later claimed responsibility and disclosed that some of the girls had been married off while some others have converted to Islam. Some of the abducted girls were lucky, as they reportedly escaped from captivity but the majority remain in the kidnappers’ den. The furore the kidnap generated culminated in one of the most significant movements anywhere in the world in 2014 – the BringBackOurGirls campaign – which attracted the sympathy of world leaders and celebrities including the American First Lady, Michelle Obama.
At various points, the Nigerian military tried to pacify Nigerians, first with ‘false’ news by Director of Defence Information, Major-General Chris Olukolade that “all 129 girls except eight” had been rescued and later by Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshall Alex Badeh, that location of the girls had been found. All of these have not resulted in the rescue of the girls over 250 days after their capture, and thanks to the amazing #BringBackOurGirls movement, the girls have still not been forgotten.
4. Ebola and Nigeria’s success story
On July 20, 2014, Nigerians woke up to receive the news that a deadly virus called the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) had been imported into the country through a Liberian named Patrick Sawyer. This news sent shivers down the spine of every Nigerian as Ebola was considered a death sentence, and considering the population of Lagos, the worst was feared. From Lagos the disease spread to Port Harcourt. All sorts of healing solutions were bandied, from salt water solution to the bitter kola experiment to the ewedu formulation and even to the dubious Nano Silver.
Thankfully, the Lagos and Rivers governments, as well as the FG and organisations like Doctors without Borders and not forgetting our brilliant health workers, were up to the task. After 93 days of panic, 19 cases of Ebola were recorded in Nigeria, with seven deaths and 12 survivors. 42 days after the last known record of a victim, Nigeria was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation on October 20th.
5. Boko Haram’s occupation and reign of terror
Certainly, 2014 was the year Boko Haram effectively hugged and maintained its hold on the headlines in Nigeria. The kidnap of the Chibok girls; the massacre of students in various schools, the capture of towns in Yobe; Adamawa and Borno as well as the declaration of its own caliphate; the duels with Nigerian military plus the failed ceasefire deal all helped to make sure the Boko Haram sect was a major talking point in 2014. The sect grew bolder and bolder as Nigerian military struggled to cope, leading to some “tactical maneuverings” at certain points. Despite claims that the leader of the sect had been killed, it seemed he kept reincarnating and causing more havoc. Our soldiers recorded several victories as well with the help of the civilian JTF, but some times it felt like too little in the face of the murderous rampage of the terrorists.
6. The defection of Mr. Speaker
In retrospect, not even Atiku Abubakar’s defection to the Action Congress while he was vice president felt as momentous as the decision of the current speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal to leave the ruling PDP for the APC. Tambuwal had always courted the APC whose leadership played a role in his emergence as speaker, and when the governor of his home state, Sokoto, joined the party last year, many assumed it was only a matter of time. But Tambuwal dragged his feet for so long that many began to doubt whether he had the guts to make the move.
On October 28, Tambuwal’s defection was formally announced and controversies ensued; including the infamous withdrawal of his security aides by the then Acting Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba who opined that Tambuwal’s defection automatically deprived him of the privilege of police protection. The PDP started making moves to declare his seat vacant as well as remove him as speaker but could not obtain the needed majority. Thereafter, the police also attempted to stop Tambuwal from gaining access to the chambers after legislators were summoned from recess to consider President Jonathan’s request for the extension of emergency rule in the North-east. Lawmakers had to resort to fence-jumping in what turned out to be one of the most incredible scenes of the year.7. Pastor Oritsejafor’s jet and the arms deal fiascoHardly are clergymen involved in national controversies in Nigeria, but 2014 proved to be one of the exceptions when President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, was named in a controversy regarding the purchase of arms.
In September, a private jet belonging to the pastor was apprehended by the South Africa Revenue Service with two Nigerians and an Israeli on board for being in possession of $9.3 million reportedly for the purchase of arms. The SARS claimed it was smuggled funds which was not declared and it was far beyond the ‘prescribed legal limit’ permitted by the laws of the country. Pastor Oritsejafor admitted ownership of the jet but distanced himself from the arms deal by claiming he leased it out to a company which eventually leased it out to the Nigerian government for the transfer of the funds. Although the defence ministry claimed it was normal procedure to procure arms that way, Nigerians were not satisfied as to the reason for the use of a borrowed aircraft when both the military and the presidency had fleets at their disposal.
8. On Olusegun Obasanjo’s Watch
Every now and then, famous people are disposed to writing autobiographies detailing significant accounts of their lives and usually with lots of controversies. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s autobiography, “My Watch” is no exception. After its publication, and the content of the book became public knowledge, a court order was obtained to prevent its launch but Obasanjo defied the order to launch the book.Obasanjo had harsh words for almost everyone apart from himself. According to Obasanjo, President Jonathan lacks the capacity for the post of presidency and did not surround himself with people that can help him. He posited that Jonathan lacks vision, knowledge, confidence, understanding, sense of security, amongst others, and did not care about anything beyond just staying in power for which he will sacrifice anything. Obasanjo also had words for former VP Abubakar Atiku (who he describes as a blatant liar), former Lagos governor and APC leader, Bola Tinubu (who he paints as being corrupt) and former minister of the FCT, Nasir El-Rufai (who he accuses of being economical with the truth).
9. The presidential gaffes
The controversies of 2014 cannot be talked about without the mention of the numerous controversies that trailed the number one citizen, President Jonathan, throughout the year. While time and space would be constraints, mention would be made of some of the words and actions of the presidency that were talking points throughout the year.It was in 2014 that President Jonathan lectured Nigerians on the difference between stealing and corruption when he famously stated during his 7th Media chat back in May that “What many Nigerians refer to as corruption is actually common stealing. Stealing is not the same thing as corruption.” This statement confounded many Nigerians as to what the President was thinking.
After the Chibok girls were kidnapped, Nigerians expected a show of solidarity (even if insincere) from their president. Nigerians were upset when the President embarked on a political rally in Kano state instead. He also did not acknowledge the kidnap till two weeks later when the world had picked up on it. Not to mention the recruitment of an American PR firm, Levick, which made statement branding the #BBOG group as sympathisers of Boko Haram.
There was also the gaffe from the wife of the president who did not show much sympathy after the kidnap of the girls but argued that the kidnap was a lie planted in other to bring down her husband. Her weeping over the incident became one of the most watched videos of the year. “There is God ooo in everything you are doing,” she said.
10. 66 soldiers to die
First in September, when 12 soldiers were sentenced to death for taking part in a mutiny at the Maimalari barracks in Borno state, and then in December when another 54 soldiers were sentenced to death, it’s been a period of upheaval in the Nigerian military and the army in particular as they battle terrorists in the North East.The accounts differ, but it seems soldiers are displeased that they are being sent into harm’s way by the military high command with inadequate weapons. The argument in support of the sentences is that the soldiers knew what they were signing up for and mutiny of any kind is harmful and detrimental to morale in the military. But the counter argument which is being pushed by the counsel to the convicted soldiers, Femi Falana, is that sending soldiers to fight Boko Haram without the needed tools is a suicide mission an so it is within the rights of the soldiers to protest it. The sentencing will be appealed.