By Tope Adeboboye and Job Osazuwa
At 11.59pm on Thursday December 31, the final bell tolled for 2020, signalling the end of an extremely challenging year. Across the world, not a few are they that will let out a long sigh of relief while bidding farewell to a year of rage.
Indeed, the dying year has not offered many people much cause for cheer. It has been a year of uncertainties and anxiety, a year of distress, diseases and death. It is one year that evil visited millions across the world, with a strange disease that has not relented in harvesting souls from continent to continent.
In Nigeria, 2020 has been a year of unimaginable violence and chaos. From state to state, the precarious circumstances that characterised the outgoing year since January caused tremendous socio-economic crises for millions of families. Many were those that died, became ill, or lost their jobs. Many businesses collapsed. Insecurity and unimaginable crimes became a persistent feature in virtually all parts of the country. Kidnappers, insurgents and bandits roamed the land freely, spreading sorrow, tears and blood. Poverty and hardship became the lot of many homes from Abia to Zamfara.
For as long as possible, the history books will also remember 2020 as the year of Coronavirus, a year of curfews and lockdowns when the use of facemasks, hand sanitizers as well as social distancing and working away from the workplaces became the new normal.
Nigerians began the year with optimism. But it didn’t take long before evil started stalking the land.
On January 3, 23 people were gruesomely murdered by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen at Tawari community in Koton Karfe Local Government Area of Kogi State.
On January 6, about 5pm, a bomb exploded at a market in Gamboru, Borno State, killing 38 people and injuring more than 35 others. No group claimed responsibility for the carnage.
It was a pattern that would traverse the Nigerian space all through the year. On June 9, gunmen on motorcycles attacked a village in Gubio Local Government Area of Borno State. More than 80 people were massacred in the attack. In August, dozens of people were killed in Zango Kataf area of Southern Kaduna. It was alleged that 43 people were killed in the area between July 21 and 24, and that nearly 200 persons were killed in the area in the first seven months of the year.
On November 29, about 78 rice farmers were killed in their farms by Boko Haram insurgents in Zabarmari community in Borno State. On December 11, some assailants attacked the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, in Kankara Local Government Area of Katsina State and abducted over 300 students. The students were later released and reunited with their families.
On February 27, the dreaded Coronavirus, which was first reported in Wuhan, China in December last year, made its landfall in Nigeria, via Lagos. The case was an Italian citizen working in Nigeria and who was returning to the country from Milan. The index case would eventually recover after treatment. The virus has since continued to spread from state to state, causing deaths, in spite of efforts by the Federal and many of the state governments.
As at the last weekend of 2020, about 83, 000 Nigerians have tested positive for Coronavirus. And while more than 70, 000 have fully recovered from the disease, more than nearly 1, 300 of their compatriots have died of the Coronavirus disease of 2019, better known as COVID-19.
A year on lockdown
As the virus continued to move across Lagos, the Lagos State governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced measures to curtail the spread. On March 24, the governor ordered a lockdown of the state for two weeks. Open markets and stores not trading in food supplies and medicines were ordered to close. Schools were also shut down. Courts, public parks, swimming pools, beauty salons and the like were directed to shut down.
But less than a week later, on Sunday March 29, President Muhammadu Buhari, working on the recommendation of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 headed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, ordered the total lockdown of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun States starting from the following day in a bid to contain the virus spreading like a raging wildfire. He directed the cessation of all movements in the three areas, noting that only those on essential duties would be allowed to move around. The lockdown would eventually spread to other parts of the country, with business premises, schools, markets, religious houses and virtually everywhere under lock.
With the lockdown in place across Nigeria, it would not be long before Nigerians began feeling the painful pangs of an inconceivable socio-economic crisis. Millions of people were forced to stay home, totally unable to earn a living. Private and commercial vehicles and their operators were banned from the roads. Intra and interstate movements were prohibited. Entertainment and hospitality business ventures like event centres, hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and the like were locked down, and operators of such businesses and their workers had absolutely no means of making a living. Several other businesses suffered similar fates. The print media sector was not spared. With the harsh economic realities occasioned by the total lull in business, commercial and political activities, the print media also became an endangered species.
During the lockdown that lasted months before the gradual reopening of the economy, many businesses collapsed, while millions lost their jobs. Those that remained in operation could not meet their obligations to workers. Some could only pay between 10 and 25 per cent salaries to workers, while many could not even pay anything.
There were reports of those that died on the way to the hospital as they could not access the roads which were mostly barricaded by gun-wielding soldiers and police officers.
A lecturer at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and consultant psychiatrist, Dr. Peter Ogunnubi, explained that the hardship imposed by the lockdown could adversely affect people’s mental health.
“People are no longer sure of their jobs. We now have some companies telling their staff to stay at home, and the same companies are devising other means to get the job done. Even the post COVID-19, how many people can actually retain their jobs, because companies will surely downsize? Economic depression is already lurking around. These uncertainties can trigger acute stress, sleeplessness and depression,” he said.
In November, the country slumped into its second recession in five years. Earlier in February, the Federal Government had announced a new increase in the rate of Value-Added Tax (VAT) from five per cent to 7.5 per cent. There have also been multiple increments in the pump prices of petroleum products since the Federal Government announced the abolition of fuel subsidy regime in the country in April. In many homes and businesses in Nigeria, poverty spread like a wild fire in the harmattan in 2020
A year of deaths
Aside being a year of lockdowns and pulverising penury, 2020 would forever be remembered as the year that death turned Nigeria to its plantation, harvesting souls of prominent and not-so-prominent people without mercy.
Not all deaths that occurred in 2020 were COVID-19- related – there were so many people in the country that died of other ailments. But there were also many that met their demise after contracting the virus.
Some of the eminent Nigerians who passed on in the outgoing year include Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Abba Kyari; former governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi; renowned novelist Chukwuemeka Ike; an actor, Toyosi Arigbabuwo; basketball player, Peter Aluma; renowned highlife musician, Sir Victor Olaiya; first Catholic Bishop of Katsina-Ala, Peter Adoboh; popular actor, Kayode Odumosu (Pa Kasumu); power lifter and Paralympic champion, Ndidi Nwosu; former minister, Richard Akinjide; popular drummer, Tony Allen; renowned Reggae star, Majek Fashek; popular Yoruba actor Ogun Majek; Businessman Bode Akindele; Chief Judge of Kogi State, Nasir Ajanah; Nollywood actress Shafkat Bose Adewoyin; a medical doctor, Emeka Chugbo; a politician, Inuwa Abdulkadir; an actor, Jimmy Johnson; the first female combat helicopter pilot in the Nigerian Air Force, Tolulope Arotile; President Buhari’s close associate, Ismaila Isa Funtua; former Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Joseph Dawha; another ex-NNPC GMD, Maikanti Baru; businessman and former Senator Buruji Kashamu; former governor of old Gongola State, Wilberforce Juta; ex Nigerian international footballer, Ajibade Babalade; another footballer, John Felagha; University teacher, academic, artist and actor, Professor Ayo Akinwale; veteran actor, Pa Jimoh Aliu, as well as the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris.
Also dead in the course of the year were eminent literary giant, Professor JP Clark; publisher of Leadership newspapers, Sam Nda-Isaiah; former Catholic Archbishop of Kaduna, eminent businessman and billionaire, Harry Akande; Peter Yarikov Jatau, Sir Remi Omotosho, popular columnist, Gbolabo Ogunsanwo, another columnist, Dr Jimanze Ego Alowes, and professor of Criminology and member, Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC), Femi Odekunle, among others.
EndSARS and looted palliatives
By October, the lockdown had been eased across the country, and many people were convinced that life was gradually getting back to normal.
But shortly after, several parts of the country witnessed another ‘lockdown’, as thousands of youth embarked on what they tagged the EndSARS protest. The promoters of the protest were young Nigerians seeking the disbandment of the notorious police unit known as Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), as well as an immediate and lasting end to police brutality across the country.
Hoodlums soon hijacked the largely peaceful protest, following the alleged invasion of the Lekki venue of the protest by some soldiers. There were accusations of killings made against the soldiers, who denied shooting at protesters.
Shortly after the protests were hijacked, a regime of chaos and lawlessness was imposed upon the nation. Several public and private buildings were set on fire in many states and the belongings of occupants massively looted. Thousands of residents invaded state-owned warehouses where COVID-19 palliatives donated to the states by the Federal Government and the private sector were being kept, openly looting and carting away foodstuff and other items. In Lagos, more than 100 BRT buses were razed. Several police officers were also killed by the hoodlums.
Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu said about 102 persons, including 37 policemen, lost their lives in the aftermath of the EndSARS protests
The Lagos State government has said it would require about NI trillion to rebuild the state following the arson and looting.
A trader who deals in fairly used laptops, Mr. Boniface Unachkwu, said 2020 brought hardship in generous doses to his family, adding that he saw hell while the lockdown lasted. He said being the breadwinner of his family, every member of his household suffered untold hardship when his business was crippled.
“2020 is one year that brought suffering to my business and by extension to my family. It has not been easy. We spent the little we had and business was no longer there to fall back on because markets were shut down.
“I thought of different desperate but legitimate measures to survive the period but none was forthcoming. I just pray for 2021 to be far better because we cannot afford to endure what we endured in 2020.
“Considering the already harsh economic situation, I want the government to put plans in place to better the lots of the less-privileged and other Nigerians who were gravely affected by the crises that characterised 2021.
“Even before the lockdown, things were already bad. We were trapped for months with little or nothing to survive on. Thank God that we survived it, though we have not fully recovered from the impact.”
Another individual adversely affected by the events of 2020 is Mrs Esther Ekundayo who has been a teacher for eight years at a private school in Lagos. According to her, she had always received her salary without delay, until COVID-19 came and changed the situation.
Said she: “The school closure then really affected me in many ways. Staying home all day doing little or nothing was terrible, though I did online classes to keep body and soul together. I struggled to meet my financial obligations because my school stopped paying us. There were psychological implications for me.”
Also, a teacher at a private school in Upper Sakponba, Benin City, the capital of Edo State, Mr. Amieghe Idahosa Emmanuel, said that the closure of schools due to coronavirus taught him and his household a bitter lesson that he would not forget in a hurry.
“I hate to speak about 2020 because it brings back sad memories and tears to my face. It was totally hellish and more tormenting when nothing was being earned month in, month out. To make everything worse, the prices of food items in the market have skyrocketed.
“As a teacher, I have felt real suffering and setbacks. My plan was ruined. I had to go back to my table to plan afresh. With the stoppage of my meagre salary for months, I couldn’t even feed my family and myself.
“However, I have decided to learn new skills and seek other ways of making money. If the government refused not help, I have to support myself by learning and relearning. With the COVID-19 pandemic still on ground, I guess things will not go back to normal in a long while,” he said.
Mrs Glory O. Eghowanre said due to the lockdown and curfew in Edo State between April and June , her monthly salary was stopped, thereby making it extremely difficult for her to fend for herself.
She said that she had to resort to doing odds jobs to keep body and soul together. She needed to do so because she was not used to idleness and begging for food.
“I couldn’t bear a situation whereby family members and friends now look at you as a beggar any time they see your call. So I went into jobs that didn’t befit my status, but so long it put money in my pocket, I was okay with them,” Eghowanre said.
A car wash operator in Badagry area of Lagos, Mr Osakioya Edobor, told the reporter that he was completely out of business during the total lockdown in the state.
“I became jobless and hopeless. Everything collapsed before my very eyes. Vehicles were not permitted to ply the road, so, I was indoor for months. At a point, I began to see myself as a nuisance to my family because I couldn’t bring anything to the table.
“My wife’s business as a hairdresser was also affected. There were no parties and other outings anywhere. Women didn’t see any reason to plait their hair. It was a standstill, but thank God that we survived it,” Edobor said.
Elabor Tina is a hair stylist. And she is still lamenting what she lost in 2020. In her words, it might take her some months in 2021 to recover her loss in the coronavirus-ravaged year.
Speaking on the telephone, she said: “It started like a joke, but before we knew it I began to struggle for what I could eat which has not happened in years. It became more complicated for me because the landlord in my shop said I must pay all the rent even for the months we were not allowed to open shops.”
In spite of what happened in 2020, many Nigerians are imbued with some cautious expectations for the coming year, convinced that the worst might be over. In their words, 2021 would not don the garments of death, disease, distress and disappointment that became permanent features of the outgoing year.
“I am quite hopeful that things would change for the better in 2021. There is no way things would remain the way they were in 2020. No way. Otherwise, all of us will die. But I am hopeful that with vaccines already in place, a cure would be found for the disease and it will go back the way it came,” Mrs Janet Okoh said.