Major events that dazzled the national power base in 2018
By Cyril Mbah, Abuja
Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of government and power, played host to several activities that made bold headlines and caught national attention during the year 2018.
In summary, the renewed attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents on soldiers and civilian population in the northeast created tension within the Presidency just as the increasing wave of banditry in the form of kidnapping and highway robbery on the Kaduna-Abuja express road and environs, coupled with conflicts occasioned by the activities of well-armed, so-called “foreign” herdsmen, jolted officials within government circles in Abuja. This is especially because the attacks came with the death of many soldiers and civilians.
The Boko Haram insurgents continued to wreak havoc despite the purported delivery of sophisticated weapons from the United States of America, said to be valued at US $593 million. The weapon sale was initially delayed by President Obama’s administration due to human rights concerns. The new weapons included 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack air-crafts, laser guided rockets, unguided rockets and other equipment.
There were also cases of communal violence that were not related to the pastoralist/farmers clashes in Nasarawa and Niger states, resolute protests by the Shiite Muslim sect, the blockade of the National Assembly and the homes of some of its principal officers, an action that led to the sack of the powerful former Director General of the Department of State Services, [DSS], Lawal Musa Daura. These formed the high points of events that headlined the activities in Abuja and environs in 2018.
In the course of all those events, the human rights record of the nation’s security agencies took a serious battering within the year under review as all of the police, the army and the DSS were accused of using too much force in riot control situations and not doing enough in the far northeast states where determined force was required to curb insurgency and the death of military and civilian population.
Peace Corps saga:
Early in the year, specifically January, the Nigeria Police took a resolute stand to permanently seal off the National Headquarters of the Peace Corps of Nigeria (PCN) located at Jabi District of Abuja in the Federal Capital Territory, and refused to vacate the building despite series of court actions urging the security agency to leave the premises. The standoff between the police and the Peace Corps of Nigeria had actually started in February 28, 2017 but deteriorated in 2018 when the police occupied the PCN headquarters located at number 57, Iya Abubakar Crescent, off Alex Ekwueme Way, Opposite Jabi Lake, arrested the National Commandant of the Corps, Mr. Dickson Akoh, and some 49 of his officers who were later charged to court on the grounds of allegedly operating an illegal security outfit.
Infuriated by the police occupation, several peace corps officials engaged the occupying cops in verbal war with each group throwing unprintable invectives and accusing each other of being overzealousness. The confrontation ended when the president rejected the Peace Corps bill sent to him for assent by the National Assembly. The Assembly threatened, thereafter, in February, to invoke the relevant sections of the 1999 constitution and override the executive powers of President Muhammadu Buhari on the bill.
PMB medical vacation:
The absence of President Muhammadu Buhari, who travelled overseas on two extended medical leaves for an undisclosed illness, also continued in 2018. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo acted as interim president on each occasion.
Before flying out, President Muhammadu Buhari ratified the compulsory retirement of Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, Abuja and the dismissal of Justice O. O. Tokode of the Benin Division of the Federal High Court on allegations of corruption.
The president’s Senior Special Assistant, Garba Shehu, confirmed the presidential directive in a statement which followed a recommendation by the National Judicial Council [NJC].
Shehu said: “The disciplinary actions on the two justices are in pursuance of section 292 (1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
“Justice O. O. Tokode was also directed to refund all salaries and allowances earned illegally from December 2, 2015, when he was sworn in as a judge of the Federal High Court up till the date of his dismissal. The president urges judicial officers to be alive to their responsibilities and to eschew corruption in the discharge of their duties.”
By February, it was discovered that the University of Abuja and some youths desperate for admission into the institution had lost millions of Naira, meant as school fees and other sundry payments, thought to have been made to the school by innocent applicants but which turned out to be an illegal bank account operated by a syndicate in connivance with unpatriotic officials.
Impeccable sources at the university disclosed that some unscrupulous employees at the accounts section connived with outsiders and opened bogus payment platforms into which school fees, carryover charges, examination card fees, on-line transcript fees, post-JAMB examination form fees, online collection of results and Remita payments were made without the knowledge of the university. The affected officials and the account operators simply vanished when the fraud was discovered.
Crackdown on illegal structures:
The same month, the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) embarked on massive pull-down of illegal structures, billboards and posters after warning FCT residents to desist from defacing the city or risk prosecution apart from being forced to pay charges for the demolition of such structures and removal of posters.
Director of AEPB, Alhaji Baba Lawan, who gave the warning while speaking with newsmen in Abuja during the “clean-up operation,” said that the FCT was designed as a model city and that the original development plan could not be distorted but, rather, must be preserved at all costs.
The director said the erection of illegal structures in Abuja negated the master plan for the nation’s capital thereby defacing the city and distorting its development patterns. He expressed concern over the growing number of illegal carwash centres, recreational parks, building block industries, roadside mechanic workshops, churches and campaign billboards/posters across the city.
In March, a civil rights group known as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) raised alarm and produced a damning report revealing how several malpractices perpetrated by unscrupulous staff members in federal government-owned universities had neither been thoroughly investigated nor punished.
The SERAP report came within the period when notable environmentalists and experts on clean cities gathered in Abuja to discuss Niger Delta cleanup challenges at a summit especially the challenges militating against the proper cleanup of the Niger Delta region. The theme of the conference titled “Achieving a Healthy and Sustainable Environment in the Niger Delta” was thoroughly canvassed at the National Summit by environmentalists and stakeholders in the oil industry.
El Zakzaky incarceration:
Federal government authorities continued in 2018 to ignore a December 2016 court order for the release of Ibrahim El Zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, [IMN], a Shiite sect.
El-Zakzaky, his wife Zeenat as well as hundreds of IMN members, have been in detention without trial since December 2015, when soldiers allegedly killed 347 IMN members in Zaria, Kaduna state.
Controversial arms seizure:
In March, 2018, the Inspector General of Police, IGP Ibrahim K. Idris directed the 36 state commissioners of police and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and their supervising Assistant Inspectors General of Police [AIGP] in the 12 zonal commands nationwide to immediately commence simultaneous disarmament of the civilian population and the recovery of prohibited firearms, ammunition and weapons from vigilante groups and rampaging herdsmen.
According to Force Public Relations Officer, Force Headquarters, Abuja, CSP Jimoh Moshood, the recovery also affected weapons in the hands of suspected militias, bandits, neighbourhood watch members and other armed groups, individuals or bodies bearing prohibited firearms and ammunitions. Others, he said, included people in possession of licensed lethal weapons like improvised explosive devices, IEDs, and other banned devices, whether locally fabricated, modified or otherwise fashioned to kill, cause harm or injury, panic, fear and apprehension to persons, cause breach of peace and security anywhere in the country.
The categories of the prohibited/illegal firearms and ammunition specified under Chapter F.28 LFN 2004 Fire Arms Act as prohibited firearms to be mopped up included artillery, apparatus for the discharge of any explosives of gas diffusing projectiles, rocket weapons. It also included bombs and grenades, machines guns, and machines pistols, military rifles, namely; those of calibers 7.62mm, 9mm, .300 inches, revolvers and pistols whether rifled or unrifled (including flint-lock pistols and cap pistols), firearms such as pump action guns of all categories and any other firearms/lethal weapons fabricated to kill.
Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige, came under intense criticism from members of the National Union of Local Government Employees [NULGE], Kuje branch for not quickening the process of implementing new minimum wage for workers and for suggesting September timeline, or the third quarter of the 2018 year, as the effective date to commence discussion on the matter.
Rising from its monthly meeting, the local government workers said the alleged review of the minimum wage toward the end of the year had serious political undertones since it would come barely one year to the 2019 general elections.
The Industrial Training Fund (ITF) initiated a partnership agreement with the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCRIP) to train and equip returning Nigerian migrants from Libya and other parts of the world with life skills for sustainable livelihood.
The director general of the ITF, Sir Joseph Ari, said the training would commence as soon as ongoing profiling and needs assessments of the returnees were concluded to ensure their smooth readmission and reintegration into the society.
Abduction of Dapchi girls
In March, a coalition of civil society groups, in company of some parents of the abducted Government Science and Technical College Dapchi, Yobe state school girls, resolved to continue picketing the National Assembly until the school girls abducted by Boko Haram terrorists were released. The civil society groups organised successful protest match to the National Assembly to lend their voice to the call for the release of the abducted students. The girls were later released although one Christian girl, Leah Sharibu, said to have refused to renounce her religion, still remains in captivity.
Ohanaeze leadership crisis
The prolonged leadership crisis among the Igbo community in the Federal Capital Territory [FCT], which started in 2013, worsened with the eventual expulsion of Chief Ibeh Nwosu, the Eze Igbo of Abuja. The Igbo Community Assembly [ICA] and Ohanaeze Ndigbo, [Abuja chapters] both ratified the suspension which was announced in Abuja by members of the ethnic group in four area councils, operating under a faction of the Igbo Community Assembly.
Before the Nwosu suspension was announced, however, the group had obtained judgement in suit No.FCT/HC/CV/1960/17 on November 3, 2017 from an Abuja High Court restraining Eze Ibeh Nwosu and Chief Leonard Ebo, president of a faction of the Igbo Community Assembly [ICA] from parading themselves as Igbo leaders in the Federal Capital Territory.
Hate speech controversy
In April 2018, a group of northern clergymen, under the aegis of Arewa Pastors Peace Initiative of Nigeria (APPIN), vocally alleged that churches were being used to promote hate speech and violence in Nigeria. The pastors, who visited President Muhammadu Buhari at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, sought to be included in the nation’s security architecture to serve as “watchdogs of society” to enable them tackle their colleagues who, they alleged, were being used to promote hate speech and violence in churches.
National chairman of the group, Bishop John Abu Richard, in a prepared speech, requested the permission and support of the president for five thousand members of the group to hold prayer conference at the Eagle Square on 26th April 2018 to cleanse Nigeria. The pastors, who defended President Muhammadu Buhari against allegations of promoting the Islamisation of Nigeria, accused the opposition of being behind the propaganda to tarnish the APC administration’s image.
On Wednesday, April 18, 2018, a plenary session of the Senate, presided over by the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, was invaded by thugs allegedly led by suspended Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (APC, Delta Central). In a Rambo-like operation, the intruders went away with the mace, the legislative symbol of authority, an act that drew condemnation from various quarters. The mace was recovered by the police four days after the incident under a bridge somewhere in the Federal Capital Territory.
Also in April, five members of a notorious gang, which included a sacked corporal and Air Force men, were arrested and paraded by the police. They had raided the farm of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu killing a police sergeant on guard duty before robbing the farm.
The suspects were named as Inalegwu Omikpa, 36, gang leader, Francis Ochife, 38, dismissed NAF L/CPL Vincent Michael with number 12/26972 and two other Air Force personnel already facing disciplinary action with the Nigeria Air Force.
That same month of April, Abuja residents panicked when 92 armed herdsmen were apprehended at two army check-points manned near Abuja and this caused apprehension, suspicion and shock among residents who feared that the territory could become the next target of attacks by marauding hostile cattle merchants and herdsmen.
The soldiers arrested the first batch of 36 armed herdsmen at Auta village along the Abuja-Keffi highway as the group headed towards Abuja in a convoy of trucks.
Another group of 56 herdsmen were arrested at the Dantata military check-point between Kuje Area Council and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport after sneaking through police checkpoints.
During a thorough check of the vehicles used by the first group, the troops said they discovered some pump-action guns, 19 Dane guns with cartridges, 118 ammunition cartridges, 28 cutlasses, three military jack-knives, 14 sticks decorated with six-inch nails, seven torches, assorted charms and hard drugs. Items recovered from the second group, included 26 Dane guns, several cartridges, 49 cutlasses and knives. The first suspects claimed they were looking for cattle rustlers who stole their cows while the second group told soldiers they were going for a hunting competition.
Controversial Senator Dino Melaye, a serving senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District, was charged to court in Abuja with attempted suicide to prevent others from repeating the politician’s reckless adventure.
Dino Melaye allegedly jumped out of a moving police van while being conveyed to Lokoja to face criminal allegations.
The senator, who was wheeled into the dock in the court in a stretcher, pleaded not guilty to the charges and was promptly granted bail to the tune of N90 million.
In May, health minister, Professor Isaac Adewole, accused people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria of blackmailing President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for cheap publicity. Adewole, who made the remark in response to a letter endorsed by at least 13 civil society organisations (CSOs), regarding the inaction of the government to end the strike by the Joint Health Workers Union (JOHESU) despite the effect the industrial action was having on the public, said the letter amounted to “sheer blackmail of government.”
In the same month, the Programme Director, Development Communications Network, Mr. Akin Jimoh, has said that about 500,000 Nigerian women lived with obstetric fistula annually without reporting such illness for adequate treatment.
The programme director urged women to avail themselves with regular medical check-ups to prevent treatable health complications, including fistula that could lead to death of pregnant and nursing mothers.
Police salary delay
In June also, some personnel of the Nigeria Police who were experiencing daunting challenges from the migration of the NPF payroll into the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) protested late payment of salaries and the Inspector General of Police [IGP} Ibrahim K. Idris, was compelled to direct the AIG Accounts and Budget to immediately liaise with the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and the IPPIS Unit to rectify the persistent salary shortage and non-payment of salaries of Police personnel across the country.
There was jailbreak at the Minna Medium Security Prison in Tunga area of Niger state on June 3, 2018 and the Nigeria Prisons Service complained vehemently by early July that 149 inmates out of a total number of 210 prisoners who escaped from the prison were still missing.
Spokesman of the Nigeria Prison Service (NPS), Francis Enobore, told newsmen in Abuja that efforts to track the runaway detainees had not yielded the desired result but that further search operations were being extended to larger areas beyond Niger state to arrest the remaining 149 escapees.
Bwari town riot
Mid-June, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) and the FCT Police Command imposed a 6pm to 6am indefinite curfew on Bwari Area Council, one of the six area councils in the territory, after riots broke out in Bwari town over the recognition of a traditional ruler.
Special assistant to the FCT minister on media, Mallam Abubakar Sani, said the Police Command was notified of the development and directed to take every measure necessary to restore peace in the area.
The FCT administration expressed deep concern over attempts by “some miscreants to reincarnate the December 25th 2017 crisis in Bwari Area Council,” and recalled that “Reports reaching the administration indicated that some of the miscreants took advantage of the Eid-eil-Fitr celebrations to launch attacks on innocent residents of the town on Saturday, June 16.
“Fortunately, the security agencies immediately swung into action and brought the situation under control. For the avoidance of doubt, the FCT Administration shall not condone any attempts by any group of persons to precipitate the breakdown of law and order in Bwari Area Council or indeed any part of the Federal Territory.”
The Nigeria Police, after repeated pressure, released, through its Twitter handle @PoliceNG, a few phone numbers for complaints bordering on the excesses of SARS operatives after many people used the [#EndSARS hashtag] to expose attacks and brutality in the hands of SARS, a police unit created several years ago specifically to fight armed robbery. The vice president, as acting president, later in the year, directed the Inspector General of Police [IGP] Ibrahim K. Idris, to reform the SARS.
APC National Convention
In June, more than 3500 delegates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the 36 states of the federation and the FCT converged in Abuja for a grand national convention, the first large-scale political gathering by the partly in more than three years, which was however marred by dashed expectations and bitter memories.
Supporters of the party had trooped to the Federal Capital Territory [FCT] with high hopes and lofty expectations that the convention would, among other things, improve the lot of the party as well as its chances of remaining in office as the ruling political party after the 2019 general elections. Former Edo state governor, Adams Oshiomhole, emerged as national chairman of the party from the convention but the gathering could not resolve the deep divisions in the APC and the party later split with the emergence of R-APC (Reformed-All Progressives Congress) led by Alhaji Buba Galadima. Another convention was held later in the year also in Abuja to ratify the candidature of President Muhammadu Buhari as the sole presidential aspirant of the party.
In early July, Muhammadu Buhari signed into law an executive order that targets the seizure of assets belonging to people considered as corrupt in the society and this prompted the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to assemble a team of senior advocates to prepare grounds to challenge the order in the court.
National publicity secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan said: “the PDP has briefed our lawyers and we are considering legal action against the federal government on the illegality of Mr. President’s action in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.”
Crackdown on criminals
Also in July, the Federal Capital Territory [FCT] police command launched a massive crackdown on areas considered as flashpoints in the territory to flush out dangerous elements and search for criminals who killed seven policemen on duty at Galadimawa Roundabout, a satellite town outside the city.
The operation coincided with the directive from the Inspector General of Police [IGP] Ibrahim K. Idris, to state commissioners of police and their supervising Assistant Inspectors General of Police to beef up security in their areas of responsibilities through extensive raids of criminal hideouts and flashpoints across the country.
As a follow-up to the suspension of the traditional ruler, Chief Nwosu Ibeh, [Igbo 1], the Igbo community on July 16, 2018 elected a new ruler to replace, the first monarch, who was suspended in March 25, 2018 after a protracted leadership tussle which started in 2013.
An enlarged meeting of the Igbo Community Assembly [ICA] elected Dr. Uche Egenti, a businessman and publisher of Paragon International Magazine to replace Chief Nwosu Ibeh as the new ruler. The election, which took the form of a unanimous voice vote, followed a motion moved by Mazi Obed Umezurike, Chairman ICA, Garki Ward for the adoption of recommendations made by the committee set-up to investigate allegations leveled against Chief Nwosu Ibeh.
Cop killer manhunt
Inspector General of Police, [IGP] Ibrahim K. Idris, offered a reward of N5 million for information leading to the arrest of killers of eleven policemen within one week in Galadimawa, Abuja and Sabon Gida, Ora in Edo state where four policemen were also killed on July 14th, 2018 in an ambush. Automatic rifles belonging to the cops were carted away by the assailants in the two incidents.
The IGP also detailed a team of specialized crack investigation detectives, Police scene of crime experts and technical intelligence units of the Force to expedite action in tracking down the bandits.
Saraki quizzed over Offa robbery
Toward the end of July, the police formally invited senate president, Bukola Saraki to Police Headquarters for questioning in connection with the Offa robbery in Kwara state in which he was allegedly implicated by some suspects.
A letter which the IGP personally signed and forwarded to Senator Saraki, requested that he should appear at the investigation section of the Intelligence Response Team at Guzape Junction, Asokoro Extension, Abuja, July 24 to clarify certain issues relating to the investigation going on regarding the armed robbery. Bukola did not honour the invitation but went to court and obtained an order restraining the police from restricting his freedom of movement.
The same day, despite the early morning siege on his residence and that of his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, by armed operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad [SARS] and the DSS who blocked the road near the residence of the senate president, Saraki reportedly sneaked out and drove himself into the National Assembly in a rickety private car and stalled plans by some senators to replace the leadership of the upper legislature.
At plenary on that day, Saraki announced the defection of 15 senators whose names were given as Senator Lanre Tejuoso, Sen. Shaaba Lafiagi, Sen. Barnabas Gemade, Sen. Dino Melaye, Sen. Adesoji Akanbi, Sen. Rafiu Ibrahim, Sen. Shitu Ubali, Sen. Isa Misau, Sen. Sulaimon Hunkuyi, Sen. Monsurat Sunmonu,Sen. Mohammed Danbaba, Sen. Bayern Nafada, Sen. Suleiman Nazif, Sen. Rabiu Kwankwaso and Sen. Abdulazeez Murtala-Nyako to PDP.
A credentials verification exercise of federal civil servants commissioned by the federal government started sitting in July and unearthed a startling number of retired and dead former employees who had continued to reflect on payrolls of various ministries and parastatals.
It was gathered that the ghost workers continued to draw salaries for upward of two or more years with the connivance of powerful relations who are heads of accounts departments and other top departmental sections in the affected government agencies.
Uncertainty gripped the nation and the National Assembly as more than 20 lawmakers of the People’s Democratic Party [PDP] kept vigil at the legislature to prevent alleged attempts by All Progressives Congress [APC] members from reconvening to impeach the leadership of the senate with the active connivance of the former DSS Director General, Lawal Musa Daura, who was promptly fired by acting president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo after the DSS was accused of blocking the National Assembly without permission.
Senators Adamu Abdullahi [Nasarawa], Alli Ndume and Ovie Omo-Agege were accused of spear-heading the impeachment process even though the National Assembly was on recess and billed to resume in September.
The Police was alleged to have dismissed 121 officers for absconding from deployment against Boko Haram but two days after the report was published in major national dailies and online media platforms, the police high command denied the allegation declaring that, “No Police officer was dismissed by the Force among the 2000 police personnel deployed to the North East.”
While describing the reports as “purely fake news,” it stated that “Police personnel found wanting in any way in the discharge of their statutory duties go through internal disciplinary procedures and if found guilty are either dismissed from the Force or given commensurate punishment(s).”
Just before Christmas, a team of police men surrounded the residence of Senator Dino Melaye and in a statement signed by Force Public Relations Officer Force Headquarters, Abuja, Ag. DCP Jimoh Moshood, the police said:
“The police operatives currently in the residence of Senator Dino Melaye are there to effect his arrest to answer to the case of attempted culpable homicide on the shooting of a Police Officer, Sgt Danjuma Saliu, attached to 37 Police Mobile Force (PMF) while on duty at a stop and search point along Aiyetoro Gbede, Mopa Road in Kogi State.
“The police investigators have written the Clerk of the National Assembly for Senator Dino Melaye to report at Kogi state police command, CIID, Lokoja for him to answer to these offences against him under investigation in Kogi state police command but he has bluntly refused to report himself to the police.
“The police operatives will continue to be in wait at the residence of Senator Dino Melaye until he surrenders himself for arrest. The offence for which Senator Dino Melaye is being investigated is capital in nature and not compoundable.”