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Bye bye, 2021 of sit-at-home, killings, Omicron, feats

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FOR many Nigerians, year 2021 will end with a whimper, unremarkably bleak. In most respects, especially security, economy, national stability, tertiary education, health and social life still under COVID-19 stranglehold, 2021was sour grapes denoted by misery on many people, particularly the masses. But there were also moments of reprieve or what is called catharsis in literary art.

 Yes, Nigeria was tormented by ‘familiar’ tailspins of insecurity or what is better called killing sprees across the federation, distortion of commercial and social order through weekly and ‘special’ sit-at-home in South-East, low oil prices, official inflation markers at odds with marketplace prices toxifying an economy plunging in and out of its worst recession in 40 years. What about prominent deaths, including flamboyant televangelist, Pastor Temitope Balogun Joshua? And, just when World Health Organisation was laying wreaths on its tomb, the pandemic stealthily mutated to its Omicron variant stampeding panic travel directory and retaliatory responses that sparked diplomatic tit for tat among UK, Nigeria, UAE and Canada before activating fourth wave of the virus on an already wallowing world. But some strands, however, splashed fine fettle on this otherwise eerie narrative when some Nigerians’ day in the sun came through global posts and feats. Nigeria also won global accolades with the gubernatorial election held in Anambra State.

  This is why, in summary, 2021 turned out one year really like no other in Nigeria.

  Despite uncertainty in national and international atmosphere as nations ponder on what turn the pandemic may take in its second year, 2021 was still heavily defined by COVID-19 due to emergence of multiple strands.     Although Nigeria resisted another lockdown, footprints of the pandemic were noticeable in everything awry in the country, in both public and organised private sectors. Major global vaccine rollouts continued while on the international scene, poster card events postponed in 2020 were hosted in 2021, including Eurovision Song Contest and 26th United   Nations Climate Change Conference, Expo 2020, as well as sporting events such as UEFA Euro 2020, Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics and 2021 Copa America that was won by Argentina after a pulsating grand finale with archrivals, Brazil. There have been 158,042 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 1,954 deaths.

  It was business as usual elsewhere on the social service sector, particularly public health and tertiary education. While condition of service pitched unions and federal government on warpath, for greater part of the year now winding down rapidly – leading to protracted industrial action by resident doctors and university lecturers as well as their counterparts in colleges of education and polytechnics – Nigerians depending on public healthcare delivery got trapped in the crossfire. 

  The infrastructure deficit keeps widening. Most federal roads became more impassable leading to endless traffic gridlocks along Amansea – Ugwuoba axis of Onitsha –Enugu expressway, for instance. Scenes like these forced empathetic and financially feasible states such as Anambra to roll out palliative schemes on worse-hit segments to enhance free movement. But Second Niger Bridge project remained in pipeline, in a way, becoming a metaphor of everything wrong with Nigeria.

   Yet, nothing tells Nigeria’s fragile underbellies in same pitch as insecurity orgy circling the country in the evanescing year. Banditry and abductions escalated across the federation. Sokoto, Zamfara, Niger, Katsina Kaduna and parts of Southern Nigeria, especially South-East became killing fields, apart from sit-at-home mass action of non-state actors bent on shutting down the geopolitical zone on Mondays to press home their agitation for Biafra and unconditional release of their leader from detention. Apart from dispiriting death toll figures arising from these attacks, another high point was killing of Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau by his estranged foot soldiers who found new haven in Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

  11 armed forces personnel were killed in an attack in Benue State on April 8, before a military plane was shot down by bandits on July 7. Yet, bullying Sylvester Oromoni to death in December by cultists in their school was not only a national shame that sparked umbrage among Nigerians in a predictable way but also showed how deep cultism has eaten into the country’s education system.

   An attempt by activists to mark one year memorial of #EndSARS and controversial Lekki Tollgate shooting of 2020 ended in anticlimax as government matched stood its ground by deploying security agents around targeted spaces.

  There was an attack on Owerri Prisons and neighbouring Imo Police Command Headquarters by unknown gunmen on April 5.   Many inmates escaped but with time prison breaks occurred in Osun and some other correctional facilities nationwide.

  Many households grappled with heightened economic hardship, this time not because of anti-pandemic lockdown but on other indices, for instance, fluctuating oil prices. Although crude price went bearish for greater part of 2021, Nigeria does not appear to be in trouble as the country has for months been earning about $40per barrel above its oil benchmark of $40 in its 2021 budget rallying at $87 in October. But pump price of refined petroleum products was also increasing, particularly cooking gas and kerosene to keep them out of poor man’s reach. While this was going on, inflation in prices of essential commodities was putting a lie to official figures from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Again, Naira somersaulted from nearly N510 per $1 in Bureau de Change windows (BDCs) in January to N575 in December, bespeaking characteristic turmoil in national economy throughout 2021. Even Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s reversal initial policy withdrawal of Diaspora remittances in the currencies in which they were sent home did not help Naira’s clay feet in foreign exchange market. Nobody needs to be a policy wonk to see the slide.

  There were some timelines on the political front, but the flagship event was Anambra State gubernatorial election that took place on November 6 in which All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA)’s  Prof. Charles Soludo won in 19 out of 21 local government areas. Three dynamics headlined the historic event: Gov. Willie Obiano’s political sagacity despite distractions, APGA remains credible platform for ndi Anambra with a performing governor and democracy still has no alternative even if irredentists are promising Alice in Wonderland. Another big event in the political calendar was latest amendment of the Electoral Act and controversy trailing its passage by National Assembly and withholding of assent by President Buhari.

  But 2021 was not only tales of woe and blights in the country. Many feats were posted by Nigerians who were elected or appointed into positions of global influence. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became Director-General of World Trade Organisation (WTO) on February 15, while a Nigerian cleric from Catholic Diocese of Aba, Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu bagged three appointments as Vatican’s Permanent Representative to United Nations and International Migrations Organisation as well as Holy See’s Observer to WTO. This happened long after Twitter deleted one of Buhari’s tweets and temporarily suspended his account on June 2 in a policy federal government retaliated by banning the social media outlet on Nigeria’s internet space.

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