What a year – COVID-19, Buhari, #EndSars, Trump, Biden, Kankara Boys, 2023
At the cusp of its appearance, the American president was impeached. Once 2020 showed up, Australia began burning. Millions of hectares, a billion animals. Who would have known that a man was eating a rat in China when Australia burned to the ground? Some say he must have eaten it a couple of months before the Aussie fires. The Chinese are known for keeping secrets.
When this coronavirus disease started, it was underrated. The doctor who raised the alarm was arrested for spreading confusion. Then China shut itself down, and the world raised eyebrows. We didn’t know the horses had bolted. In February and March, while Trump was dithered and then promised a rosy Easter, the virus started devouring Italy and Europe. As the elderly tribe in Lombardy was being wiped out, the world froze and then panicked. Europe and America shuttered in; the world economy went comatose.
Some said it wouldn’t get to Africa. The coronavirus disease, COVD-19, became a pandemic. Africa and Nigeria came under the attack of the virus. But before the virus began mushrooming here, our economy had been knocked off the cliff by tumbling crude oil prices. Vessels were loitering the high seas, begging to be bought for free.
Hotels shut. Air travels, local and international, ceased. Countries came to halt. Sporting activities were banned. Church and mosque services were stopped. COVID-19 did everything unthinkable.
Most unthinkable was the death toll. About 83 million have suffered the disease worldwide; 86 thousand in Nigeria. Mind-boggling. 1,800,000 souls have been killed by the virus globally; 1,270 in Nigeria. Amongst the sufferers were the most powerful—presidents and prime ministers; no class was spared. In Nigeria, the chief of staff to the president succumbed to the disease. On the whole, many more of the poor, marginalized, weak, and old died.
COVID didn’t just bring disease, deaths, and misery. It brought innovation. The world has changed. Many meetings held physically are superfluous. We have learnt social distancing and learnt that virtual meetings save energy and cost.
2020 wasn’t just about COVID-19
The UK left the EU. Kobe Bryant and his daughter died in a helicopter crash. American killed an Iranian General, and the world teetered on the brink of war. In the trough, between the two peaks of the pandemic, a certain white American cop knelt for about 9 minutes on the neck of a black man, till he died.
The dying man’s calls to his dead mother to save him didn’t move the white cop, but it moved the world. A fit of worldwide anger against police brutality erupted in the United States after George Floyd’s death and spread around the world.
Sometime in October, that wave hit Nigeria afresh. As the EndSars protests gathered strength, the rot in the Nigerian police was laid bare. In Nigeria, the protests revealed many things. The youths can organize and force a change in our body politics. But they need thoughtfulness and mental stamina. The protests died after hoodlumism crept in from all sides. All sides.
The Lekki Tollgate shooting, which is being investigated, and the widespread blood-letting, arson, and looting that followed, stained the process and truncated an opportunity for a real national re-awakening. The process was hijacked by bias, ambition, greed, and desperation. From all sides. The story of that uprising can’t be told without mentioning Obigbo. Police officers were brutally killed, and security forces moved in to comb the area. The story is gory.
When 2020 was mesmerizing the wise, some prophets who didn’t see the elephant in the room rose to re-write their prophecies. One of them then said the pandemic would end in March. Another said COVID would go away in a few months. But those were the law-abiding prophets. One rascally one came out with conspiracy theories that made 2020 seem made in the laboratory by the devil.
He said the pandemic was a ruse crafted by the Illuminati to bring down a child of God in Donald Trump and enthrone a new satanic world order. He wasn’t alone in habouring those fantastical ideas dished as spiritual insights. One of them said we were asked to stay home in Lagos because the government wanted us to stay indoors while they laid 5G cables. They are a little quieter now. They advised us not to take the COVID vaccines when they became available so we won’t become robots controlled by demonic chips inserted into our bodies.
Verily verily, amid the agony and tears, there was an abundance of tomfoolery and clowning.
One governor knocked down two hotels in a Nigeria where many are homeless. He knocked them down for flouting COVID restrictions on a Sunday and lifted the restrictions the next day, Monday.
The chairman of the EFCC was arrested by a truckload of police officers as a drug lord should be arrested. Many months after feeding the public with sensation and tales about how he had laundered money through a certain pastor and bought properties in Dubai, Magu is still awaiting his fate.
One thing the world needed was a new American president. 2020 seemed designed to force that change. And it didn’t disappoint; Donald Trump is history. He survived COVID but didn’t survive the election. Some think that for yanking off Donald Trump off the world stage and bringing in a black woman as vice president of America, 2020 has partly redeemed itself.
Someone asked the other day how old 2020 was. Many have lamented that the year breezed past. They lost perhaps 11 months. Others said it left a wound on them that won’t heal in 10 years. Hotels left in ruin. Airlines floundered. Millions, thrown out of jobs into panhandling, everywhere.
In Nigeria, insecurity multiplied. Banditry has spread. Added to that, since October, is a mob mentality that now loiters in the public space. After the EndSars protests and after the looting of public warehouses, there is a feeling that the poor are straining on the leash to upturn the cart. Will that birth a new kind, a more sensitive kind, of governance and politics. Time will tell.
True to its naughtiness, 2020 spurned the Kankara abduction. Over 300 youths taken from a secondary school in Katisna and hauled to a forest in Zamfara . Thankfully, it didn’t end another Chibok. The boys have been recovered. But the impact of the trend on the quality of life and future of education and agriculture in the north has to be assessed.
2020 dealt a blow to the global economy and left the Nigerian economy in the ditch of another recession. With a second wave of the pandemic blowing across the world and threatening to freeze the West, the outlook for 2021 looks sadly bleak.
But there is hope
Two vaccines have been licensed in the United States. Vaccine production is being ramped up all over the world. If social distancing protocols are used more widely to limit disease spread and impact before vaccine penetration deepens quickly enough to limit devastation, then 2021 might not be as bleak as 2020. But if significant damage is done to lives and businesses before the vaccine can build a protection wall for society, 2021 could be buried in the rubble of the ruins caused by 2020.
In Nigeria, while fighting COVID and seeking immunity for everyone, the government must find ways to cushion the poor from the hunger and joblessness the pandemic has brought. One way to do this is to finance food production. But funding food production aggressively in the middle belt and north would yield nothing if the containment of banditry is not a priority.
The Nigerian police of today cannot contain bandits
The police force is poorly resourced. Many of the officers lack the required bearing needed to maintain law and order. The use of the military for policing duties cannot be sustained. And in truth, it hasn’t worked.
We need to fund our police. We need a third force – a national guard.
While we need a standing national guard of about 3000-5000 in each state; we must engage in a new national orientation exercise to find national cohesion. Our politics is too shortsighted, too superficial, too sectional. We must tinker with our politics. Then with governance.
There are two things we can do. They could be more than two. We can allow the six regions to become the federating units and devolve powers of resource control and policing to the regions. If we strip the center of power then we would be giving the sectionalism that has ruled our political life an opportunity to morph into political vigilantism, which would yield answerability.
There is something else we can do. We can interrogate democracy itself. It hasn’t worked in Africa; it hasn’t worked in Nigeria. Democracy, like many other things, has basic minimum requirements for optimum function. Without a social security net, democracy is a joke. With 95% of the electorate poor, jobless, illiterate, and disillusioned, democracy is a romantic idea.
The idea that INEC could yet spend over 400 billion in 2023 and politicians would take in excess of 600 billion from government coffers to organize and prosecute a charade called national elections that would yield leaders who would be more interested in the retention of power and privilege than governance is a disaster.
Nigerian 2021 has a unique problem. The mad race called 2023 will begin in 2021. Complicated by 2020 and coronavirus, it’s difficult to hedge bets. Not even the prophets will try.