This year has been a fascinating one for Nigeria. From turning 50 in october to a surprise regime change during the summer, the country has been tested. These are the top news stories that made headlines in 2010 leaving many conversations in their wake. 2011 will bring even more issues in perspective, along with the hopes that the eternal optimism and “can-do” spirit of the nation will triumph over the challenges that they will bring.
- Terror List: January 4th 2010. In response to the terror attempt by the 23 year old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, (also known as the panty bomber), Nigeria was placed on the enhanced terror list as a country of interest with a significant case of state sponsored terrorism. All Nigerians were to be groped and double checked whenever they attempted to travel to the United States. Fortunately, after a few months of diplomacy and change in government business, the ban was lifted and Nigerians could now fly back to the United States without extra security intrusions. Many felt that it was unfair to put all Nigerians on the list since the case was an isolated event and not representative of the whole country.
- Yardie Gate: November 23, 2009, President Yar’adua travelled to Saudi Arabia to be treated for an undisclosed illness suspected to be related to the functionality of his kidney. Before he became president, many suspected that he had a life-threatening illness but no one knew what it was. However, after a month of being away from the country, rumors began circulating that the president was brain dead. It was obvious that there was no one in charge of the country, and there were no clear rule of succession, since the president was not “officially” dead. The absence of leadership created a vacuum, and many feared that it could result in the country’s loss of her hard won democracy. Fortunately, after months of deliberation, and with support from the Nigerian judiciary, the Senate made the vice president into an Acting president. Yar Adua died on May 5th 2010, after a long illness.
- GEJ Administration: Goodluck Jonathan was elected to only two positions: the deputy governor of Bayelsa state, and the Vice President of Nigeria. He was elected as the Vice President in April 2007. After Yar Adua’s illness and subsequent sojourn out of the country, Goodluck Jonathan was given the power to lead and he became Acting President on February 9th 2010. After Yar Adua’s death, on May 6th, he was sworn in as the 13th President of Nigeria. His Presidency is still too young to be judged and systematically evaluated. He has presided over 2 major crises in Jos, a terrorist attack on Nigerian soil, a selection of a credible election tsar, and minor economic growth in the country. Often referred to as “the Facebook President”, Mr. Jonathan has used the power and connection of social networking to interact with the country. He declared his intention to run for election in 2011 via Facebook and Twitter and just last week, he launched “My friends and I”, a collection of his Facebook interactions with the citizenry ostensibly in order to encourage the reading culture in Nigeria. He is the second University graduate we’re having as president (after President Yar adua) and the first president from the Niger Delta. He is one of the ones to watch in 2011.
- Red Kick: Summer 2010 was an exciting time in the world, and particularly in Africa. We had an African nation hosting the World Cup and the prospect was promising for a spectacular performance by the Nigerian Super Eagles. We expected to soar, however, with the kick that rumbled around the World, the glorious hope of a nation was dashed and back home we came, ashamed but still defiant. On the afternoon of June 17th 2010, at the Free State stadium in Bloemfontein, the sound of the vuvuzela’s roared like a colony of drunken bees, the Nigerian Super Eagles was set to defeat the Grecian army on the rolling greens of the stadium. Our players were ready, and the indomitable spirits of the Nigerians were higher than ever. We sang the national anthem, with hands shaking and hearts pounding, the next hours were going to decide our fate of moving forward to the next stage in our group. Our National pride was at stake, we needed a win and we needed it badly. The game was progressing nicely; we had the ball and a goal already, but then in the 33rd minute, the Nigerian player Sani Kaita and the Grecian Torosidis collided in a weird clash that earned Kaita a red card and he was kicked out of the world match. It was a bitter pill, and Greece soon scored 2 more goals after that. That was the end.
- IBB: IBB presidential aspiration: On September 14th 2010, after much speculation the former military dictator, IBB, formally declared his ambition to run as a presidential candidate of the PDP for 2011. Rumors of his ambition began circulating in early May, and many people were surprised and amused by the development. Months later, at the Eagle Square in Abuja, he formally declared that he did wish to contest in 2011. “With blood stained hands, an evil body and soul and a legendary and notoriously corrupt personality, the self styled “evil genius” told Nigerians on Wednesday that he is back again”, reported Jackson Ude of the Sahara Reporters, and many shared this sentiment. The irony was obvious. The man who single handedly ruined a nation’s hope for democracy in 1993 was now attempting to take part in her democratic process. It was too much. Thankfully, more than a month after his declaration, his campaign folded up for the consensus candidate Atiku Abubakar and he is no longer running as a PDP candidate. His candidature is also tied to the now notorious “Zoning Agreement” in which the Northern politicians insist that it is their turn to produce the next president of the country.
- The Jos crisis: Jos is the capital city of Plateau state, where the Northern Muslims meet the largely Christian southerners. The middle belt of Nigeria has historically been prone to violence, however, it seems the region has been subjected to bigger and more frequent clashes in 2010. From January 17th – 20th of January, around 460 Nigerians died in a clash between Muslim and Christian gangs. Children were not spared and terrifying pictures of burnt children scattered on the bare streets of Jos circulated around the world to our collective horror. Two months later, in the early morning of March 7th, more than 300 people died in a Muslim counter offensive, a reported revenge for the January killings apparently carried out by Christians. On Saturday July 17th, 10 more people died in Maza, a little village North of Plateau. The most recent clash occurred on Christmas Eve, a couple of days ago, with 3 bomb blasts resulting in 80 deaths and left many more wounded. The anecdotal reports of these clashes are truly horrific. Women hacked to death, and babies burnt on the backs of their mothers. The constant security failure in this region puts the country’s stability at a great risk.
- The 50th anniversary bomb blast: It is the afternoon of October 1st 2010, about ten minutes away from the Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigerians were celebrating the 50th anniversary of independence, it was an occasion filled with our customary pomp and circumstance. However, the celebration was interrupted when suddenly a series of Car bombs went off, killing 8 and injuring many others. MEND (Movement to Emancipate the Niger Delta) was reported to have sent warning of the upcoming attack hours before to several news sources. In a statement that both surprised and confused the populace and caused controversy, the president immediately claimed that MEND did not do it. It was “some Northern elements,” he said, to the Nation’s surprise. After many days of speculation, arrests (including that of Raymond Dokpesi, the director of Ibrahim Babangida’s campaign organization), and accusations, Henry Okah, a former MEND militant leader, was finally charged with the terrorist attacks in a South African Court. He is yet to be indicted in a Nigerian court and he is still in a South African prison.
- Welcome to Lagos and the controversy: April 15th 2010, BBC released a 3 parts documentary series about life in Nigeria’s most populated city, sharply titled “Welcome to Lagos”. The documentary focused on the lives of the very poor, showcasing them in all their humanity, in the part of the city they lived in. Their triumphs and their vices were on display as they attempted to eek out productive lives in and on the refuse dumps of Lagos. Many people felt that the BBC unfairly showed Lagos in a negative light, and that the dumps were not truly representative of the lives of Lagosians. However, anyone who watched the documentary for the purpose of seeing human spirit battle and win against tough odds would have been delighted. I was.
- Wikileaks vs Shell/Pfizer: 1996, in the northern city of Kano, Pfizer Manufacturers carried out a controversial clinical trial project that still affects the reputation of the company and the health outcomes of Nigeria today. It was alleged that the company illegally used Trovan (Trovafloxaxin), to treat people during a Meningitis outbreak, which broke global ethical guidelines in using a drug that had not been approved to treat Meningitis, resulting in the adverse effects on some children. The federal government of Nigeria brought a suit against the company. The case was settled out of court, with the details of the settlement covered by a confidentiality agreement in October 2009. Recently, uncovered through Wikileaks was a report by the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Robin Sanders alleging that Pfizer had blackmailed the then Attorney General of the Federation, Mike Aondoakaa, into dropping the federal charges. The company denies the charges.
- Election tribunals and PDP fraud: The Nigerian general elections of 2007 were held on 14 April and 21 April 2007 and the Peoples Democratic Party won 26 of the 32 states governorship contests. However, recently a series of court rulings have overturned the results of the fraudulent elections in Osun, Ondo, and Edo states. The judicial reasoning were based on obvious irregularities by the then INEC concerning votes in many districts within the southwest. The findings of the court that PDP engaged in over-voting, ballot stuffing and other electoral malpractices led to the ousting of 3 PDP governors in the southwest.
I hope 2011 will prove peaceful and prosperous.