WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
2019, a high pitched year, was shrouded in challenges and intricacies; on the important matter of moving the country forward by competing political actors. It was a year filled with untold political hullabaloos, orchestrated unrest, insecurity and divisiveness. The year witnessed a continuation of the plays that denied the country its full share of the possible gains of 2019, the underground commencement of political intrigues ahead of 2023; much efforts to search for, concoct and popularise errors of government and the resultant polarisation that has further hurt the nation than any good, if any at all, are few of the unique points of the year.
During the year 2020, we faced a new and potent threat. Coronavirus came and spread violently across the globe with a high person-to-person and surface-to-person infection rates. The first recorded appearance of COVID-19 in humans occurred in WUHAN, China in December, 2019. Since then, the virus has infected over 83 millions across the globe, with a global mortality rate of about 3.5 percent but some nations have as high as 13.4 percent.
The world’s responses to the plague began with a gamble in the early days because of the limitations of the medical knowledge of the specific virus; but notwithstanding the limitations, authoritarian measures were put in place to control the virus human-to-human transmission. This further translated into the need to close down many public institutions, including schools and banning of public gatherings. Summarily, the pandemic wreaked havoc on every system and humanity as a whole in the year under review.
The year welcomed the COVID-19 pandemic with a whisper that became bloated with announcements of global lockdown and the consequential economic breakdown that dissipated most of the gains of the previous years and ultimately forced citizens to survive on aids and palliatives from government, the world over. The Wuhan virus, as was erroneously and unacceptably called by the American President, Donald Trump, shocked the very base of human existence, paralysing virtually all sectors of national and global dealings. The global transportation business, for instance, was totally halted with all international flights on hold and local transportations reduced to only essential movement of goods and persons.
The economic and societal disruptions precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic would remain a concern for humanity a long time in the course of the century. Absenteeism across multiple sectors related to forced lockdown of businesses, illness, fear of contagion and the public health measures to limit contact with others boldly threatened, and in many cases, disrupted the functioning of critical infrastructures, the movement of goods and services, and operations of institutions, particularly education. So, without exaggeration, the pandemic has exerted significant implications on the economy, national security, and the basic functioning of our lives and societies.
The fear and the panic that naturally accompanied the spread of the virus serves as the most potent weapon against our population – and directly in most cases, evolving into real risks to national and international economies and a threat to the survival of the human species.
The economic costs was more worrisome to the developing economies such as ours; we all saw the covid-19 pandemic causing marked decline in GDP projected growths with a massive decline coming from the effect on international trade of major commodities, complete shutdown of companies, trade and the service sectors for a prolonged period of time. Not limited to Nigeria, but the nation has to mark down its 2020 budget to accommodate the realities of the effects of the pandemic. In the same way, almost all the states of the federation had no alternative but to follow suit. Private incomes of individuals and small scale businesses were directly depleted as the lockdown prolonged and business funds had to be diverted for uneconomic usages. Jobs were lost in tens of thousands because small businesses and even a large number of large businesses could no longer meet salaries obligations
In the period beginning from the last week of March till the last quarters of the year 2020, the Nigeria government expenditure in the health sector increased monumentally as funds were mostly directed to containing the contagion and preventing its spread across the nation. But, beyond the increased expenditure in the Healthcare sector, is also the increase in its challenges in the country; having recorded as much as 91,351 infected persons and a 1,318 death according to NCDC data.
Social investment has become a major objective of the government at all levels; the vulnerable members of the society have to be supported after the hard economic implication of the pandemic; the self-employed citizens who had been forced to close shops had to be aided in some ways as well; the market women and peasant traders who could not go out for their daily incomes also had to be supported. Though, it was relatively below par with what was necessary, expected and normal, it was still a reality that huge funds that could have been used for other purposes were used to fund palliatives and to support a portion of adversely affected households and businesses in the form of covid-19 targeted loans during the period.
Our social lives were abruptly disrupted as mass gatherings became prohibited. Religious groups and gathering were stopped and citizens could no longer freely interact with each other without the fear of certain infection. People were forced to throw off civility, even in the perceived developed societies as cries for the lifting of the prolonged lockdown shook nations. Our lives have been impacted in ways we could not quantify immediately; and the return to normalcy has been a slow process till now; even though, there has been yet another round of lockdown in some Western countries.
Unfortunately, while the prospect of a vaccine has been medically concluded as the only way to defeat the raging virus, the anti-vaccine population has grown on the back conspiracies propounded and propagated by respected clergies and statesmen who are billed to become more popular on the back of the conspiracy. Bill Gates’ population control propaganda tops the rhetoric. Also, the social media’s negative trajectories on the dangers of submitting to vaccination, in reality has been so effective that it would take a miracle to have a successful vaccination regime in Nigeria against COVID-19. Unfortunately, bodies and organisations such as the Red Cross, Transparency International and even CDC that ought to be in the forefront of the crusade to dispel the unfounded conspiracies have been till now, usually quiet. We do hope that as soon as possible, this would change. The fact is that COVID-19 is real just as the impacts, including deaths are real. Despite the conspiracies in the USA, tens of thousands of American are dying daily; and here in Nigeria, the isolation centers are getting filled up and we are recording daily casualties. Europe is shutting down one more time, America is partly on lockdown and their leaders are volunteering televised vaccinations to prove both the safety and need for the vaccine. If we have doubt, of any sort, as regard the vaccine heading down to our continent, I think the appropriate thing to do is to subject it to normal clinical verification and not to show unfounded doubts that could turn to haunt the continent in a short while.
In the same year under review, politicking and the spreading of political biases overtook the reasoning of most Nigerians; our stands and responses to the biting pandemic and the consequences on the nation, the government responses to the multifaceted challenges and call for unity were more or less to serve personal interest and lay foundation for political relevances and for upturning and winning future elections. We more or less, willingly ignore facts and figures, and rather, troop to the media to spew and propagate propaganda, lies and conspiracies that further widen divisiveness between the people and the government and make fighting the necessary wars difficult.
PDP went all the way, using its foot soldiers, affiliated clergies across religious beliefs, and even its foreign allies to make delivery of services difficult for the government. At a season when the globe was seriously under tension and virtually every nation of the world was struggling not to crumble under the weight of the challenges, the opposition and enemies of government in Nigeria were careless, taking advantage of every opportunity to castigate the government and deepen mistrust among the citizenry.
This was mostly responsible for the Nigerian citizens’ blatant refusal to agree with the government’s health safety regulations and safety protocols against the COVID-19 pandemic. We failed at social distancing, we refused to agree with the national mask mandate, but much more, we spent all the time sowing the seed of doubt in Nigerians, claiming the virus is a scam, even when our isolation centers are filled up and we are recording deaths per day.
For the desire to record personal gains from the pandemic, we chose to close our senses to the fact that most challenges the country faced in 2020 were unavoidable giving the pandemic. Over the globe, 400 million jobs has been lost due to the pandemic, of this number, 89 million in Asia, 45 million in Africa, 34 million in Latin America and with recession hitting all nations of the world without exception. Only in the USA, about 1,000,000 businesses closed shops in the course of the pandemic in 2020, representing about 1500 closure per day. In the course of the years nations became increasingly insolvent, companies closed shops in troll with the insolvency figures increasing by as much as 57 percent in North America, 33 percent in Latin America, 32 percent in Western Europe, 31 percent in Asia and 34 percent in Eastern Europe. In what is mostly accepted by economists across the globe, the world lost about $60 trillion dollars in quantifiable cost alone as a result of the pandemic.
Most of the facts raised earlier should be enough to give any government a break from castigations but not from PDP and its minions. Despite conscious and visible efforts by the government to keep the country afloat despite the pandemic, by meeting workers salaries, and yet refusing to slow down on embarked developmental plans despite the drop in national revenues, devising all feasible ways to support and to sustain as many businesses and families as possible, the opposition had seen only what is chose to see in 2020; the few negatives and interventions that have not fully deliver the expected. The year round, the opposition rhetoric has been stage-managed around insecurity, and then inflation, without agreeing the later is a current global issue and reality.
The opposition does not care about the fact that Nigeria, in the course of the year and in the midst of the global economic downturn, rose from the 46th position to 25th performing economy in the word. That the country despite the challenges maintained a strong GDP that kept her on top of the continent as the best economy, and toppled the likes of America and others to midwive the best performing stock market for the year 2020. These are but indices affirmed by global watchdogs, not to mention the undeniable loads of positives developments that abound in the country over the same period.
Rather than recognising the criticality of the period and the need for united responses to the many challenges that tended to undermine the country in the year 2020, we prefer to navigate more on actions that pave way for personal, political goals; that is what the final analysis of the ENDSARS protests reveals. Coming out of a prolonged lockdown, efforts to begin the process of recovery by both the citizens and the nation was once again sabotaged by a month long personal ambitions of the forces behind the protest, which mostly hid behind the SARS brutality to deliver a gory wound on the country. I am sure that Nigerians would not forget in a hurry the revelation of the links between and among the arrow heads of the protest; Modupe Odele, Rinu Oduala and Mr Macaroni to the perennial contestant for the presidential seat, Atiku Abubakar. While claiming to be championing a needed reform in the nation’s police force, they were actually aiding the course of politicians who want to take hold of the streets for future elections support.
The ENDSARS protest in many ways defines the year 2020 for Nigeria. The casualties and destruction of properties; the further depreciation of the value of the media as a tool for the good of the nation and the wall created among major religions and tribes as a result of the polarisation created by the mindless protests. The attempt to give the nation bad name on the global scene was also bad enough; the involvement of CNN and other global media and the continued efforts to paint Nigeria badly in parliaments across Europe are sad moments of the year for Nigeria.
The contribution of clergies and prominent opposition figures to the instability of the country in the year is another factor worth recollecting. The era of letter writing by the ex-president, Chief Obasanjo seemed ended but was replaced by uncontrollable anger filled and unwarranted outburst from men of god who were supposed to be in the position of praying for the peace and unity of the country. The final outburst of Reverend Kukah in the final week of the year capped the unneeded negative for the country.
It is also of note that during the year under review, prices of staples consistently rose, and though the opposition does not want to admit the obvious, that the country was not in it alone; the pandemic dealt the same blow to the economy of almost all nations of the world. We are now seeing Americans on their knees begging for resources to pay rent and survive the pandemic induced inflation and scarcity. Saudi Arabia, for the first time in the history of the country has striped its citizens of their century long privileges for the country to survive; India has gone into the country first recession in over 80 years, just as many countries of the world are struggling to survive and outlive the consequences of the biting pandemic.
But we must also recognise the benefit of the Rice Revolution of the current Administration on the nation’s survival in the course of the year. At a time when all international trades came to an abrupt halt, the nation, which depends heavily on consuming rice, survived because local production has been massively supported by the present Administration.
Nigerians must equally recognise that we survives the year because the federal government was able to marshal a very strong response to the pandemic, while at the same time cushioning the effect on the survival of the citizens via palliatives and aids to businesses and families, while also not giving excuses for not paying workers salaries as at when due. If the government had had a problem with meeting the need to pay salary in the course of the year, it would have been a much worse scenario for the country.
We must always realise that the year 2020 witnessed unparallel infrastructural development and continuation of projects that beats the imagination of bookmakers. The non-stop work on the nation’s railway project, the second Niger Bridge, the roads and bridges construction across various regions, the social investment programs top the list of the many great works that we would take into account as positives in the pandemic laden year.
We are all as a country given another opportunity to grow better and do better for ourselves and our nation; it has become an imperative that we jettison the mistakes and the selfish ambitions that drove us to work against Nigeria in the year 2020. As we progress into 2021, let all in unison work to put the government on its toes to deliver the appropriate dividends of good governance to Nigerians as the issues of insecurity, unemployment, education and others are tackled head on.
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA!