In the midst of an excruciating economic recession in which majority of Nigerians couldn’t afford the bare necessities to celebrate the Yuletide, 2016 though ended with some very cheering news for 2017, and beyond.
They include: The Military takeover of the Sambisa Forest, reported resumption of construction of the Second Niger Bridge, inauguration of new naval ships, launching of a monorail by the Cross River State Government, flag-off of sale of ‘Lake Rice’ by the Lagos and Kebbi State Governments.
Others are: rise in prices of crude oil in the international market, appointment of a Nigerian as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, commencement of Digital Broadcasting in the country, President Muhammadu Buhari’s renewed call for dialogue with the peoples of the Niger Delta and Southeast.
Opinions are divided on the relevance or desirability of some of the above-listed items, especially those that will not directly impact on the people in these hard times. But briefly, let’s tick them off one by one, to gauge their importance.
Capture of remaining stronghold of Boko Haram in Sambisa Forest: The forest, which has come to symbolise the bloody insurgency launched against the Nigerian people, straddles several states of the Northeast. It served as the insurgents’ operational base, from which they launched armed raids and suicide bombings on the zone, leaving behind thousands dead and millions displaced. Its final capture would encourage Internally Displaced Persons (IPDs) to return to their homes, and also enable the government to possess and develop the area, for ease of policing against possible future occupation by extremists.
Second Niger Bridge: The Bridge will complement and reduce the heavy traffic on the decades-old first bridge. Yet, its construction has been a recurrent decimal, and a source of great concern to and alleged marginalisation of particularly the people of the Southeast zone. Politicians and governments have used the bridge as a campaign tool only to renege on the promise to construct it after gaining power. Now, government’s commitment to resume work on the bridge is a welcome development.
Acquisition of naval ships: Increasing maritime criminality in the Gulf of Guinea and pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta makes it imperative for the Navy to beef up its platforms with modern equipment. And it’s salutary that in doing so, the Navy did not rely entirely on acquiring ships abroad but it had recourse to local production of vessels. This is a plus in the nation’s quest for self-sufficiency in most sectors of the economy.
Inauguration of Monorail: This feat by the Cross River State Government, the first in the country, which came to fruition without much publicity, will enhance the tourism potential of the state already blossoming in the Obudu Cattle Ranch and Tinapa Free Trade Zone.
Introduction of ‘Lake Rice’ to the market: An acronym derived from ‘La’ for Lagos, and ‘Ke’ for Kebbi, the joint venture between the Lagos and Kebbi State Governments is the most eloquent testimony that Nigeria can achieve food sufficiency and security in a very short time. It’s also proof that individual States (or States in a zone) can cooperate in areas where they have comparative advantage, for the benefit of their people. In the instant case, tens of thousands of Lagosians, who couldn’t afford a 50kg bag of rice of between N17,500 and N22,000, got the ‘Lake Rice’ for N12,000 only, thus saving N5,500 or N10,000 per bag.
Rise in prices of crude oil: Gambling on a $42.5 per barrel benchmark for its 2017 Budget, recent spike in prices of crude is a windfall for Nigeria, which has the added advantage of an OPEC exemption from production cuts. If the prices hold steady, the Federal and State Governments, which have been operating shoe-string budgets, will have the funds to execute projects in the New Year.
Appointment of a Nigerian as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations: Perhaps, what we missed in former President Olusegun Obasanjo failing to clinch the post of Secretary-General he aspired to may be got through Ms Amina Mohammed, especially now that gender parity is sweeping global institutions. Likewise, she can draw strings on behalf of Nigeria whenever the issue of expanding the permanent membership of the UN – a position Nigeria has longed for – is tabled.
Commencement of Digital Broadcasting: With the full roll-out deadline set for June 2017 by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the launch was a long time coming, Nigeria having pioneered television broadcasting in black Africa, when the then Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) debuted in October 1959 under the premiership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Besides offering crisp and clear signals, the Abuja switchover from analogue to digital on December 22 will afford subscribers 15 free-to-air channels to the bargain. Interestingly, indigenous companies are manufacturing the Set-Top-Boxes for the switchover, thereby generating needed employment.
President Buhari’s call for dialogue: Government’s attention has been divided between finding solutions to the nation’s economic difficulties and the myriad of agitation by sections of the country for not just the control of their resources, but also self-determination. The schism has caused government huge earnings from oil, due to incessant attacks on pipelines by militants in the Niger Delta; and bad blood from frequent deadly clashes between security operatives and self-determination agitators in the Southeast. However, President Buhari the other day restated government’s commitment to dialogue. But the drawback for the stated armistice is the reported stakeholders’ scepticism of the administration’s seriousness to walk the talk on the subject. The government must disprove this in its renewed avowal.
With these pieces of good news closing out year 2016, Nigerians should rekindle hope that 2017 will be a more rewarding and fulfilling year, on the back of a government promise to turnaround the economy, and reset the cordial and peaceful relationships that once existed between the governing bodies and the governed, and among the peoples of this great Nation.
Written by Ehichioya Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant.