The year 2020 will not be forgotten for so many reasons, chief among them was that it was a year replete with disasters and catastrophes, most importantly, it was a year many lost their loved ones. In this piece, CONSTAINCIA URUAKPA chronicles events of the outgone year.
Abule Ado Explosion
The out gone year, 2020 will remain a year for Nigerians to always remember, especially as the year started on a catastrophic note, with the massive destruction on residents of Abule Ado, a suburb in Lagos. Massive explosion alleged to have emanated from a gas pipeline greeted residents of the area early that morning as they prepare to go for Sunday service at their various Churches. The worst hit was Bethlehem Girls College, located close to the epicenter of the explosion, as most of the building located inside the school were destroyed. Beginning from the classrooms to the dormitory, to the chapel, up to the grotto, everything came crumbling following the explosion. The students were taken unawares, but none was killed, thanks to the effort of the school administrator, Rev. Sr.Henrietta Alokha, who paid with her life. At the end of the rescue exercise by men of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) over 20 persons were said to have died in the destruction which also left many injured.
The discovery of a strange disease identified as Coronavirus and the numerous death occasioned by the disease, year 2020 sends jitters down the spine of many families as the disease spread gradually to all corners of the country. Indeed, if you call the year 2020 , the year of Coronavirus, you won’t be wrong, as the disease spread from Wuhan in China to other parts of the world, with many countries caught in the valley of decision on how to tackle the disease which spread like wildfire and decimated Europe, United States, Asian continent, Africa and the Australia. At the last count, over 80million persons were infected with the deadly virus worldwide, while over one million persons, including several prominent persons and the ordinary people, died as a result of complications from the disease. In Nigeria, many thought that it would not reach this part of the world, but by February 2020, the first known case of Coronavirus was reported, while the index case ‘carrier’ was arrested and quarantined and more other persons tested positive for the disease, despite quarantine .
The deaths which followed the spread of the disease was shocking as most prominent citizens of the country, including Mallam Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, former governors and some former government functionaries fell in the heat of the pandemic. The Federal Ministry of Health had confirmed the first coronavirus disease (COVID-19) case in Lagos State, Nigeria on February 27, 2020. The case was that of an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos, Nigeria on February 25, 2020. He was confirmed to have the disease by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. The patient was clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and was managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos. The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Health strengthened measures to ensure an outbreak in Nigeria is controlled and contained quickly. The multi-sectoral Coronavirus Preparedness Group led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) immediately activated its national Emergency Operations Centre to respond to this case and implement firm control measures.
On March 30, 2020, Nigeria in a bid to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, implemented a sweeping quarantine for three major states that are home to almost 30 million people in the country. The lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun kicks in at 11pm local time on the said day and will stay in place for at least two weeks, President Muhammadu Buhari announced barely a month after Nigeria confirmed its first case. “All citizens in these areas are to stay in their homes. Travel to or from other states should be postponed. All businesses and offices within these locations should be fully closed during this period,” Buhari said in an address to the nation. Home to an estimated 20 million people, Lagos is Africa’s most populous city and Nigeria’s financial hub. Abuja is the capital of the country and the seat of its government. Oil-rich Rivers state in the South and Kaduna state in the north earlier imposed similar lockdown measures. The restrictions announced do not apply to hospitals and stores selling essential items such as groceries and medicine. “We will use this containment period to identify, trace and isolate all individuals that have come into contact with confirmed cases,” Buhari said. The announcement of the lockdown triggered panic among many in Lagos, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, as residents flooded markets and stores to stock up food and other essential. Days after the lockdown was imposed, security operatives used brutal force to enforce the lockdown, killing more persons than the disease. Evidence of the killings came from members of the public who rang their hotline and sent in videos to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
The Commission said that law enforcers have killed 18 people in Nigeria since lockdowns began on 30 March, more than the number the virus had killed since it was discovered in Lagos. Coronavirus as at that time killed 12 people. This report was not a surprise to Nigerians, especially as the Nigeria police have a reputation for brutality, extortion and harassment of the country’s citizens, even before the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown imposed to contain it. What is more interesting, however, is the fact that the latest damning report did not first come from their usual fierce critics like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Instead it came from a Nigerian government agency. The Nigerian police authorities say they are doing their best in bringing erring officers to justice. During the current lockdown, the police in Lagos arrested an officer who was seen in a video extorting about $110 (£90) from a motorist.
Locking down places of worship
As part of attempts to limit the spread of COVID-19, governments imposed lockdown measures and banned public gatherings. Beyond banning public gathering, the government also imposed a ban on religious gathering, warning religious leaders to adhere strictly to the ban or be shut. The decision places the government against the might of religion as some religious organisation queries the decision of government to come down heavily on the Churches and Mosques. Lagos is home to some of the country’s most attended mega-churches with hundreds of branches that welcome millions in congregation every Sunday. At enforcing a ban on religious gatherings, the state government was put at odds with powerful religious leaders whose co-operation is fundamental, given their influence. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) says a ban on religious gatherings was not necessary, especially as “We believe we will never get to the point of having to ban all services and Churches will be grounded.” The locking down of Churches and Mosques however brought a more innovative way for people to worship God. The Catholic Church in Lagos however commenced a live transmission of Sunday Masses on its Lumen Christi TV Channel to cater for the vast Catholic population residing in Lagos.
Managing the Lockdown
While many Nigerians residing in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun state were quarantined in their homes, the government promised the distribution of palliatives, to cushion the effect of the lockdown and prevent the spread of the disease. However, the distribution of palliatives was lopsided, as most residents who were locked down complained that the distribution by government officials were uncoordinated. For instance, Kunle Badmus, a Lagos resident complained that in his estate of more than 30 buildings and over a thousand families, a bag of government palliative, containing a loaf of bread, a cup of beans, a cup of garri and a cup of rice, was given to them to share, wondering how these 1000 families will share a loaf of bread. Despite complaints from the people, government failed to address the situation as families were forced out of the lockdown, in search of their daily bread. The first phase of palliative distribution is targeted at 100,000 poor and vulnerable households in each of the six council areas in the FCT, given a total of 600,000 poor and vulnerable households.
However, residents complain that the distribution of palliatives in FCT, Abuja is to say the least chaotic and uncoordinated. The first phase of the distribution of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown palliatives that is supposed to be concluded by April 14, 2020 is still ongoing. This is not unexpected because there is no verifiable digital data base in Nigerian which captures poor and vulnerable persons. Nigeria’s lack of good and systematic database has in small measure affected effective distribution of COVID-19 lockdown palliatives. This has led to the allegation that the process is being politicized. The federal government has been unable to utilize clear strategy of reaching the vulnerable and poor in the distribution of palliatives. It is not surprising to see throngs of people struggling for food as shown in the pictures below. It is no news that many people out of frustration of the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic lockdown openly complain against the government: is it possible to obey the lockdown? On April 1, 2020, the government announced that it will make transfers of 20,000 Naira ($52) to poor and vulnerable households registered in the National Social Register (NSR). Currently, the NSR has only 2.6 million households (about 11 million people) registered on its platform.
The government hopes to increase this to 3.6 million households during the COVID-19 crisis. However, 87 million Nigerians live on less than $1.90 a day. Therefore, the cash payments by the federal government will reach only a fraction of poor. Besides, Nigeria does not have a robust national information management system, making electronic payments difficult. This has resulted in many people in the NSR not receiving the money promised by the government. An immediate solution the government can explore is to provide prepaid debit cards to the poor. This can be done at the community/ward level to ensure that the cards reach the poorest. Of course, this is a stopgap solution, and more effective measures like direct bank transfers need be strengthened. But people need a Bank Verification Number (BVN) to open a bank account, and obtaining a BVN requires a valid national ID or international passport, which many Nigerians do not have. Currently, only about 40 percent of the Nigerian population have bank accounts.
Prominent Nigerians killed by Coronavirus
Beginning from Mallam Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, many prominent Nigerians have died as a result of Coronavirus disease. A sociologist and lawyer, with degrees from the University of Warwick, the University of Cambridge and Harvard Business School, to name a few, Kyari was widely regarded as an intellectual; therefore one who would know and do better than the military men the country has grown accustomed to as leaders. At the end of June, the former Governor of Nigeria’s Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, passed away due to complications from COVID-19. His death is one of the many victims from the global pandemic that is increasingly making its way into the echelons of the political elite.
Unlocking the country
By September 2020, the Federal Government took steps to ease the lockdown it imposed on Nigerians, calling on schools, both secondary and primary to prepare to resume. The decision was part of the process by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to further unlock the country for more economic and social activities after it announced the unlocking of interstate boundaries in June. Parents and most especially teachers welcomed the development and gradually economic activities resumed again.
Increase in electricity tariff and fuel price
Just as situation was returning to normal and economic activities picking up, the Federal Government increased the price of petroleum product and electricity tariff, making citizens of the country just returning from a lockdown of business activities to pay more for fuel and electricity. That singular act had reverberating effect on the economy, as prices of food stuff, transportation and other life amenities increased, making life unbearable for the people. The Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, the umbrella body of all workers in Nigeria entered a negotiation with government trying to force it to return to the old price regime. The discussion between government and the NLC failed and the NLC planned a total shutdown of the country. The NLC had mobilized all its affiliate union to begin the strike on September 28, 2020, but before the strike will commence on September 28, the NLC called off the strike on the premise that it has been able to pressure the government to reduce the price of electricity, while negotiation is still on.
The inability of the government to address the socio-economic problems within the society and lessen hardship and the constant use of state apparatus to torment citizens, particularly youths led the youths in Nigerian to embark on a protest they tagged #EndSARS. The protest which started in Lagos, like a small fire, soon snowboiled into a wild fire, with many police stations and government offices torched. Reports say that the Federal Government inflamed the crisis, by allegedly inviting thugs to dislodge legitimate protesters. The thugs were also invited by some state government and before night, the protest which was once peaceful and coordinated was taken over by hoodlums who cashed in the absence of security agencies to do mayhem. Many police stations were burnt and many policemen killed. The burning of police stations and brutal killing of policemen forced the government, especially in Lagos to impose a 24 hours curfew. Government alleged insincerity in imposing the curfew and deployment of troops to quell legitimate protest, rather than go for the actual looters and arsonists led to what was today known as the killing of Lekki #EndSARS protesters and the setting up of a panel of inquiry to look into the alleged brutality and the killing.
As Nigeria was emerging from the #EndSARS protest, the country slides again into recession with many Economists indicating that this recession is the worst in the history of the country