by Jubril Shittu
1. Nigeria-South Africa arms purchase scandal:
In September 2014, the seizure of $9.3m cash meant for arms purchase was a sad episode in the deteriorating relationship between Nigeria and South Africa, Africa’s two largest economies. The seizures came almost during the same period as the collapse of the building at the Synagogue church in Lagos which claimed the lives of no less than 80 South Africans. The further seizure of about $5.3m in October showed the determination of the South African government to embarrass the Nigerian government in what was described as the shoddy execution of a national mandate on the part of security operatives in securing hardware needed to turn the tide against a ravaging insurgency in the Northern part of Nigeria. The opposition saw an opportunity to clench their jaws in raising a conspiracy against the Federal government when it was further discovered that the supposed plane which conveyed the cash also belonged to a cleric and also had a militants as one of its passengers. The major question now became what the arms were really meant for especially as the 2015 elections were fast approaching.
The situation was eventually resolved following the presenting of evidence that the deal was indeed sanctioned by the National Security Adviser. Further justification for the clandestine purchase was that Nigeria had exhausted available remedies. The United States had rejected the request of the Nigerian government to provide the needed military equipment.
2. Malaysian flight MH370:
Nigerians followed this news story very closely as well. It was just surprising that despite all the surveillance technology available in the world today, the Malaysian flight MH370 which went missing in March while en route to Beijing from Kuala Lampur could just disappear with all 239 passengers and crew without any. Despite the coordinated efforts at recovering the plane or even discovering its location by the various countries involved in its search, no one could locate its whereabout.
The event taught lessons about the true nature of responsibility in leadership. The resignation of the transport minister over his inability to recover the plane would be confusing in Nigeria where erring officials never resign.
2014 was indeed a sorrowful year for Nigerians with the abduction of over 200 girls from Chibok in northeast Nigeria by the Boko Haram sect. Every move and attempt (or lack of attempt) by the Federal government over the incident resulted in a blowback and embarrassment to the federal government. From the dramatic albeit passionate appearances by the First lady on state television, to extreme displays of insensitivity on the part of President Jonathan’s aides who punned the campaign and converted it to #BringBackGoodluck, the entire world was shocked to learn that Nigeria could not deliver its promise.
The #BringBackOurGirls movement has been adjudged as one of the most powerful movements of 2014 and it still lives on, over 250 days after the abduction.
The year also witnessed the spread of the deadly Ebola virus. The virus spread to several West African countries, America and some countries in Europe, the most recent being Scotland. The panic caused by the virus and ignorance resulted in its further spread. However, despite paucity of funds, the virus was successfully contained in Senegal and Nigeria which have been declared Ebola free. The virus however continues to ravage in certain countries especially Liberia and Guinea. Although the predictions of the experts from World Health Organisation (WHO) and Imperial College London in which the number of casualties is expected to increase to 20,000 by November 2014 did not come true, the new cases still being discovered reveals that much is to be done if we are to see the end of the virus in 2015.
The standoff between Russia and Western powers over the situation in Ukraine was an event watched closely by political analysts and commentators. The overdependence of Ukraine on Russian energy supplies revealed its vulnerabilities to the dictates of the Kremlin and the consequences of falling out of favour with the oligarchs. The major bone of contention is Russia’s refusal to allow Ukraine join the European Union and sign a free trade agreement which may prove detrimental to the economy of Russia. The pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine have been waging war against the Ukrainian government with the alleged backing of Russia. (Russia denies this).
Quite unfortunately another Malaysian national carrier flight MH17 was caught in the conflict when it was brought down by a missile over Ukrainian airspace, resulting in the death of all 193 passengers in board. The West in response to the situation has barraged Russia with a wide range of sanctions which has crippled the Russian economy and resulted in loss of wealth of so many Russian billionaires. Russia remains adamant and would not give in easily to the threats of the West. It has also sanctioned Western interests in its territory though this has not had same effects as the Western sanctions. It has also systematically caused blackouts in Europe, thus provoking the search for alternatives by European countries. In addition, it has secured the confidence of China through engagement in a billion dollar investment deal in which it is to supply gas to the latter country, a development welcomed by Chinese authorities as they struggle to deal with pollution, a growing concern in the world’s largest economy.
The rise of the Islamic state was another event that took the world by surprise, and was watched closely in Nigeria, especially because of our own battle with insurgents. Led by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the Islamic state declared a caliphate which borders extended into both Iraq and Syria and the campaign began resulting in the capture of cities including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and the routing of the Iraqi army, and execution of hostages. However, their advances have been slowed down by the intervention of an international coalition of states who figure it is in their best interests that the wings of the caliphate are clipped at this stage of its early flight. Such a consideration is based on both the deadly nature and the ambitions of the group.
The group has attracted a large number Jihadists from Europe and America thus making threats of attacks on foreign soils more real. In addition, its finances are reportedly close to $1m daily, easily making it the richest terrorist group on the globe. With this, ISIS is able to provide social services to the population within its territory, pay its fighters and acquire military hardware. The response of Western and Gulf States to the threat has been mostly in the form of arms supplies and airstrikes against ISIS targets.
7. Oil downfall:
The Global dip in oil prices is one of the important events which also happened in 2014. From prices as high as $115 per barrel, the price consistently dipped to just a little over $40 per barrel. The cause of the dip has been attributed to the excess supply of oil thus causing volatility in the market, and the refusal of Saudi Arabia to cut oil production in stabilising prices. The increased output from shale oil production is also a factor, as even the U.S. producing 9 million barrels per day has overtaken Saudi Arabia as the largest producer of oil.
However, while the dip continues, consumers are more likely to benefit as The Economist has estimated about $1.3 trillion returning to consumers. However, the shale oil companies are not as badly hit as countries which depend on oil as their primary export commodity. Nigeria and Venezuela are among the worst hit. It has affected the Nigerian 2015 budget provisions as oil benchmark has been reduced. If anything, the oil price dip renews the urgency of calls to diversify the Nigerian economy.
8. #Oscar Pistorius Trial:
This case, closely followed in Nigeria, of the South African athlete, Oscar Pistorius, spotlighted the issue of sexual violence in the world. Pistorius is serving a five year jail sentence for culpable homicide but could be out in just 10 months. The sentence is being appealed by the prosecutors who described it as “shockingly light”.
The case brought into focus the issue of sexual violence especially against women. For instance, stats reveal that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. Also, of all 53 African countries, only 21 countries have laws relating to sexual violence. Most of the countries which have laws do not have specific laws relating to sexual violence and a lot of those which do, do not provide for certain kinds of offences common to women such as marital rape and violence against women during wartime.
9. #Scottish referendum:
Another major event which dominated global headlines was the Scottish referendum in which majority of the Scots voted against the break-up of a union which had lasted over 200 years, regarded by some as the envy of the world. The failure of the referendum led to the resignation of the First minister Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party, and also the preservation of the Union. While the referendum is over, promises have been made by the British government to devolve more powers to Scotland which hopefully will be fulfilled starting from 2015.
In other developments, new information has surfaced that some Scottish nationals tried to tip history in their favour through attempts to rig the elections. Despite their efforts, the relationship is still strong and grows stronger. But what would have been the possible outcomes of the break-up? It was revealed that the breakaway of Scotland from the United Kingdom would have had serious security implications for England as most of the nuclear submarines were docked at the naval base in Faslane in the Firth of Clyde, Scotland.
In addition Scotland would have left the pound with the economic fortunes looking quite bleak, especially in consideration of the strength of the pound. The response of the international community generally appeared to be neutral, showing respect for the decision of the people who voted to have a #BetterTogether future with the United Kingdom.
10. #Ferguson and #OccupyCentral:
The year also witnessed major protests for the promotion of human rights, police reforms and suffrage. The #Ferguson and #OccupyCentral protests are two civil rights actions that one will not be quick to forget in years to come. The #OccupyCentral protests in Hong Kong which brought together no less than 100,000 people to protest Beijing’s denial of suffrage rights through the institution of a system in which candidates were endorsed by China before being presented to the Hong Kong electorate to vote. Jim Wong and his fellow #OccupyCentral movement started a protest which lasted for more three months, from September 26 to December 2014 when they saw that the purpose of the protests have been defeated.
The #Ferguson protests were over the killing of Mike Brown, a black teenager, by a police officer Darren Wilson. Reports conflict as to the true reason behind his being killed. While this has been attributed to racism by members of the Black community in America, others have tried to pin it to a larger struggle against discrimination and the nature of America’s justice system. According to Ayatollah Khamenei, what happened in Ferguson is quite similar to what takes place in Gaza.