By Dr Sarah Chidiebere Joe
Although each year is distinguished by a few to many events, many will agree that 2020 is a striking year. This is owing to the many life-changing and paradigm-challenging events that happened within the period. This year in review article takes a step back to examine two defining occurrences and moments in the Nigerian socio-political space – COVID-19 and ENDSARS. In addition, projections are made regarding how these events may shape Nigeria’s 2021 and beyond.
In January 2020, while Nigerians were yet celebrating the New Year, confronted by recurrent instances of insecurity in many parts of the country, amused by Cardi B’s intent to seek Nigerian citizenship, and make sense of President Donald Trump’s travel ban; something dangerous was rising in the East.
This thing, which was later labelled COVID-19, a deadly respiratory virus quickly evolved into a deadly pandemic. The coronavirus has now claimed the lives of more than 1.6 million persons around the globe. In Nigeria, over a thousand persons have so far, died from the coronavirus or its complications. Yet, this number is far less than what was projected by many health and humanitarian experts.
While conspiracy theories linking the pandemic to 5G technology raged, the immediate response to COVID-19 from the scientific community was a global call for social distancing, lockdowns, frequent washing of hands and wearing of masks. But these temporary solutions were not without physical and psychological challenges as people were confined to their homes for extended periods.
In the Nigerian context, for instance, social distancing and lockdowns meant that many who depend on daily hustle to survive had to stay home for many weeks without basic supplies. Unemployment numbers soared following loss of jobs as some employers could not commit to paying stay-at-home workers.
Although the state and federal governments offered palliatives to citizens, access to these items were limited due to various factors including lack of transparency in the distibution process. Additionally, it was later discovered that a lot of the food supplies and monies meant to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 had been hijacked by politicians. In the end, virtually all sectors of the economy took major hits, further exposing the country’s many flaws.
Staying behind closed doors for extended periods also yielded some benefits as it got the creative juice of many flowing. This is evidenced, for instance, in the number of artistic/music albums that were released this year including critically acclaimed projects by Burna Boy (Twice as Tall), Omah Lay (Get Layd), Wizkid (Made in Lagos), Tiwa Savage (Celia), The Cavemen (Roots), Davido (A Better Time), Tems (For Broken Ears), Simi (Restless), and Yemi Alade (Empress).
Apart from flooding the media space with their ingenuity, artistes also sought innovative ways to keep their teeming fans engaged. Fans rewarded artistes by streaming and critically analysing content in inventive ways.
Technologies such as Zoom and Microsoft Meeting came to the rescue during the lockdown season. Although many events across sectors were cancelled, people could at least meet online. A classic example is Nigeria’s biggest gospel music concert, The Experience, which typically attracts artistes from all over the world to an on-ground Christian-fest. This year’s The Experience held online and featured even a larger collection of global gospel musicians who performed from locations around the world. The success of The Experience 2020 is a pointer to the shifts in worship experience.
But then, these technologies are not available to all Nigerians owing primarily to a yawning poverty gap. Thus, while those who are tech-aware and can afford these technologies have quickly adjusted, others have and may continue to struggle to catch up.
When Pfizer, the American multinational pharmaceutical company announced in November that they had developed a COVID-19 vaccine, in partnership with another pharma firm, BioNTech, the world heaved some sigh of relief. The emergence of several COVID-19 variants in parts of the world is, however, raising doubts regarding previous claims that we are nearing the end of the pandemic.
EndSARS is the leaderless social movement and anti-police brutality mass demonstrations that boiled over from Twitter. In 2017, many Nigerians rallied around the addressivity marker, #EndSARS to call for the disbandment of an arm of the Nigerian Police, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The unit had overtime acquired notoriety for targeting mostly young Nigerian men and allegedly engaging in many unsavory practices including theft, robbery, and kidnapping.
This year, the online #EndSARS protests resurged on Twitter. Tweeters using the hashtag and other variants like #EndSARSNOW and #EndSARSImmediately, again asked the authorities to disband the unit and by October 8, streets all across the country were flooded with on-ground protesters. The government responded on the 11th, with a statement banning the group. But, since this was not the first time the government had verbally disbanded the unit, Nigerians continued to protest, expanding their demands to calls for good governance. #EndSARS within a short period went viral attracting the attention of many global figures, who soon joined the campaign to end SARS.
On the 20th of October, non-violent EndSARS protesters who assembled at the Lekki toll gate, Lagos State, were allegedly shot at with live ammunition. Many are said to have died or injured in the process. The Lagos State government has set up a panel of inquiry, looking into the events that took place in what is now regarded as a massacre of unarmed civilians. Other state governments including Rivers State, have commissioned panels of inquiry to investigate allegations of Police brutality and human rights abuse. Initial findings by these panels are quite disturbing.
Following the Lekki Massacre, violent protests broke out in many parts of the country. Looters took over, invaded many government and private residences, until the military stepped in. In the course of the rampage, many warehouses and homes filled with COVID-19 palliatives were discovered. Nigerians took to social media to not only share these images but express their shock at how palliatives meant for the poor were hoarded by some government officials.
Elanhub defines COVID-19 and the #ENDSARS protests as deep cuts in the discourse of Nigeria in the year in review. and beyond. On the one hand, these events have revealed the resilence of the Nigerian spirit. On the other hand, however, they have exposed the weakenesses and flaws of the Nigerian state. The key question, thus is, what has the Nigerian government and more generally, Nigerians learnt from these events?
While the country may not have witnessed COVID-19 cases on the scale of those seen in the US, UK or Italy, the fact remains that the country’s health infrastructure is in dire need of fixing. Numeracy, literacy, and digital literacy indices are still significantly low spelling future doom if not urgently addressed. For many months, students who attend public schools stayed at home while their counterparts in some private schools were able to continue learning. This to a very large extent is a key metric of Nigeria’s rich-poor divide. How with the leadership address this very dangerous knowledge-gap?
While a smaller fraction of Nigeria’s educated populace took to peaceful online and on-ground protests, a larger selection made up of the unemployed, uneducated, criminals and political thugs took to looting and unprecedented violent outbursts resulting in a near collapse of the economy. Is Nigeria ready to rise to these realities and the role of social media platforms? Has the leadership weighed the capacity and power of a largely youthful population? Does it understand the danger posed by poverty and lack of quality education? Elanhub judges that failure to address these shortfalls may spell nothing but doom for Nigeria in 2021 and in the coming years!
Year In Review – 2020