The Frontlines By Joseph Ushigiale
The out gone year 2020 would go down in history as a year that has redefined humanity and the world in all ramifications. Given the huge expectations that heralded it’s coming in the twilight of 2019, the year turned out to reset the world. It broke and shattered conventions, taught humanity lessons on lifestyles, impacted global businesses in such ways that some went into outright extinction, other still standing had to remodel, while also opening new opportunities for newer businesses. The same also reflected in profit and loss. While some companies lost so much money forcing them to file for bankruptcies, others who remodeled and seized the new opportunities thrown up were smiling to their banks, ditto the fortunes of high net worth individuals like Elon Musk the promoter of Tesla brand whose net worth is now above precious holder Jeff Bezos of Amazon as the richest man globally.
In all this, year 2020 was completely defined by the outbreak of the Coronavirus also christened COVID-19. Although the source of the pandemic that is still sweeping across the world even as you read this piece is still a matter of conjecture, the World Health Organisation (WHO) traced the origin to Hubei and Wunan provinces all in China where the pandemic broke out in late 2019.
From the global point of view, 88.1m people have so far contracted the virus, 49m recovered while 1.9m have died with the United States alone leading with 365,000 deaths as at today. Nigeria has recorded 96,000 as number of people who contracted the virus today with 1330 deaths recorded so far.
According to the Global Finance quoting figures from the International Labour Organisation, (ILO) over 515m people lost their jobs globally. This means that over half a billion people have no means of livelihood, no housing, medicare and have lost the ability to fend for themselves due to the pandemic.
As a result of this, so many countries stepped forward to fill the gap created by the pandemic by announcing sweeping interventions to create safety nets for those hardest hit by COVID-19. Most notably, the United States congress this week approved a stimulus package that would guarantee a paycheck of $2000 to those out of work.
In Nigeria, despite the low percentage of recorded infections, the pandemic put a lie to past governments much touted ‘2020 Healthcare for All’ policies. It also exposed the present President Muhammadu Buhari’s messianic administration as merely paying lip service to bringing much needed change to the healthcare sector when apart from the general medical tourism engaged by Nigerians abroad, the President himself treats his ailments in London.
For instance, during the first wave, it began very clear that even the best government hospitals were ill equipped to handle patients. Even a basic essential like oxygen that is required in case a patients needs a ventilator is unavailable. In fact, five years into the Buhari administration, hospital are worst than consulting clinics to put it mildly.
Now that the second wave is here and the pandemic is spiraling out of control. Hospitals are overflowing with patients and some no longer taking patients because of lack of space. The unmotivated overworked hospital staff are overwhelmed. The government is largely responsible for why people failed to adhere to protocols announced to keep them safe.
Despite the loss of jobs and the lockdown ordered by the federal government, it was during the lockdown period which began late March that Nigerians saw the beast and height of insensitivity in the Buhari government. While other countries were giving their citizens food stamps and pay checks to cushion their hardships, our government officials were distributing four loaves of bread and a 10kg sack of rice to a whole street in Lagos.
Now, many of those who adhered to the lockdown order to quarantine at home belong to the informal sector meaning that they have no daily means of livelihood except they work. How did government expect them to stay home without concrete palliatives to fight off hunger and want? For people who have to work before they can eat and feed their families, staying home or being quarantined under the lockdown was a death penalty.
It is not even as if government had no money to distribute to these indigent people. Apart from grants from abroad, we are being told that the government spent over N3trillions to combat the pandemic. The question is how? No hospital was equipped, no PPEs, ventilators, oxygen and the very basic items the hospitals need to help the ordinary citizen combat the pandemic.
Even the private sector intervention through Cacovid was a disaster. The private sector comprising majorly of banks contributed over N10b. In the end, they decided to undertake direct intervention. In the end, the palliatives comprising thousands bags of rice, beans, garri and sundry items were distributed to states pan-Nigeria. Regrettably, these items were hoarded and became the source of massive protest in states like Cross River, Plateau, Lagos, Kogi etc.
The year also saw the Academic Staff Union of Universities and the federal government (ASUU) through the ministry of employment and productivity finally reach an agreement. This is a fresh breathe of air given that students have been home for the better part of the year. It is hoped that this agreement would stand the taste of time and permanently rest the vexed issue of ASUU strike.
While Nigerians were reeling from the hardship occassioned by the pandemic, the insensitive federal government increased the pump price of fuel. This has further reduced the purchasing power of the ordinary Nigerian, increased the cost of goods and services as well as spike inflation.
It was also during the year that the country slipped into its second recession with just five years. Although the world bank has projected Nigeria as one of the countries with great potential for growth listing it at 25 position, the reality on ground is that Nigerians are very poor and still live below the poverty line where households still live on a dollar a day.
The out gone year also saw Nigeria borrowing more to finance infrastructure. Today, Nigeria’s debts have escalated under the present government. Nigeria’s total debt profile rose to N31. 009 trillion ($85.897 billion) as of June 30, 2020, says the Debt Management Office (DMO). This is an increase of over $75b from the $10b left by the Goodluck Jonathan government when the handed over to Buhari in 2015.
Nigerians died more in 2020 through armed conflicts, kidnapping, banditry and insurgency. Over 2,700 lives were lost to violence in Nigeria in just three months. According to a report by Nigerian research group SBM Intelligence, 2,732 people were killed in 33 states and the federal capital Abuja between April and June alone. Nigeria under the Buhari regime was the most dangerous country to live in 2020.
It was also in 2020 that the EndSARS protest engulfed the country. Initially started to protest prolonged police brutality against innocent citizens, the peaceful protest soon took a dramatic twist when government through its law enforcement infiltrated the protesters with miscreants and hooligans who now started looting and burning down government and private property especially in the South.
Ibrahim Magu, acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) who was supposed to be the number anti-corruption crusader himself became a subject of a probe. He was arrested, detained and quizzed by a special probe panel investigating allegations of sleaze leveled against him by the Attorney General of the federation. The probe report has been submitted and awaiting a white paper by the presidency.
What’s the way forward in 2021? Nigeria has a great future going forward only if Buhari would tackle insurgency, rein in activities of Fulani herdsmen and kidnappers. Nigeria should stop borrowing and devise creative ways of attracting foreign direct investment in infrastructure and other areas yearning for development.
The federal government must diversify not solid minerals, agriculture and also develop its human capital development to enable the young employed graduate key into the lucrative knowledge economy to create wealth. Nigerians can do it, it is left for the federal government to create the enable environment for the creative industry too to thrive and absorb the teeming army of employed roaming the streets.