By Ajuma Edwina Ameh
2020 was indeed one of the toughest and most harrowing and challenging year not only for Nigeria, but the rest of the world. The year started with the deadly outbreak of the coronavirus 2019 codenamed COVID-19 to the dreadful lockdown, to #EndSARS protest, economic recession, and insecurity among others. This is one year that will remain unforgettable in the annals of our nation and the world.
Below are some of the landmark events that made 2020 an unforgettable year.
When the coronavirus (COVID-19) broke out in November/December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned that it was only a matter of time before the virus spreads to other parts of the world. The virus which was reported from Wuhan, the capital and major business city of Hubei province, China, shocked the world and overwhelmed the health systems of even developed and high-income countries.
Due to the exponential increase in morbidity and mortality, the disease has continued to be a serious emergency across the globe. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, having met the epidemiological criteria of having infected more than 100,000 people in at least 100 countries. The symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, respiratory symptoms, shortness of breath and difficulties in breathing with complications more pronounced in patients with underlying health conditions, WHO revealed.
Palpable panic and fear gripped Nigerians when the first index case was recorded in Nigeria’s busy commercial hub, Lagos. It all started on February 27, 2020, when an Italian national working in the country tested positive for the virus after arriving in Lagos on a return flight from Milan. The state and federal government knowing the possible impact of mass spread among the population, sprung into action and kept him in an isolation centre in Yaba, Lagos. But by then, it was already late as he had already had contact with people. To curtail further spread of the virus, a lockdown was imposed.
Since recording the first case, Lagos has been in an unassailable lead relative to the virus statistics in the country.
At the end of the year 2020, a total of 938,602 tests were carried out, with a total of 86,576 case confirmed, 73,322 cases discharged and 1,278 deaths recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) revealed in its statistics.
The virus claimed the lives of notable people in Nigeria, such as the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Malam Abba Kyari; a former two-term governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi; Senator Buruji Kashamu; the Emir of Rano, Dr Abubakar Tafida Il; Dan Foster among others.
In a bid to curb the spread of the virus, which was already moving like wildfire, the first lockdown was imposed in March 30, 2020, a measure that affected Lagos, Abuja and Ogun state. The federal government shut down all international flights, schools, religious centers for months and also restricted gatherings in a string of regions. There were also restrictions on inter-state travels throughout the country. The year witnessed untold hardship because of the lockdown that accompanied the pandemic. The aviation, transport, manufacturing, oil sector, hospitality industry and the financial sector were the hardest hit.
A relaxed lockdown later began on May 4, 2020, replacing the total lockdown with a curfew from 8 pm to 6 am, while the interstate travel ban was still in place. Both the lockdown and curfew exempted health workers and security personnel, including those in the movement of essential commodities such as food and drugs.
The lockdown and curfew was put in place to make people adhere to the basic safety guidelines of social distancing, hand washing, and the use of facemasks in public places. However, Nigeria recorded a 52 percent increase in the number of positive cases, according to NCDC, during the relaxed lockdown.
According to a 2020 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), while the lockdown was critical for disease containment, it undermines the economic and social foundations for survival and the resilience structures of Nigeria’s most vulnerable population. The report projected that millions of Nigerians will be pushed into poverty, and temporary and permanent unemployment, which will further expose them to the “hunger-virus.” It further added that lockdown-induced poverty and unemployment might, therefore, trigger an increase in other social problems, including general insecurity, kidnapping, and gender-based violence. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), disclosed that 21.7 million persons were out of job, adding that 13.9 million of them youths. Underemployment hit 28.6 per cent for a combined 55.7 per cent jobless rate.
UNDP advised that the economy can be reactivated through sound economic stimuli, and recovery policies, since the country obtained COVID-19 recovery loans of US $288.5 million and US $3.4 billion from the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), respectively.
The COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the collapse of oil prices plunged the country into a severe economic recession, the worst in 40 years. According to official data released by the National Bureau of Statistics, the country’s gross domestic product contracted for the second consecutive quarter.
Before the pandemic, the Nigerian economy was expected to grow by 2.1% in 2020, which means that the pandemic led to a reduction in growth by more than five percentage points. The pandemic led to a fall in private investment due to greater uncertainty, and reduced remittances to Nigerian households, which in recent years have been larger than the combined amount of foreign direct investment and overseas development assistance.
Nigeria normally accounts for an average output of two million barrels per day. But the effects of the pandemic and low oil prices cut production to approximately 1.4 million barrels.
“Q3 2020 Real GDP contracted for second consecutive quarter by -3.62 percent. Cumulative GDP for the first nine months of 2020 therefore stood at -2.48 percent,” the statistician general, Yemi Kale, disclosed via Twitter.
Also, Naira exchanged for as low as N500 per dollar in December in the parallel market, despite the billions the Central Bank of Nigeria poured in to defend the national currency.
As Nigerians were still grappling with the hardship incurred from the long lockdown, a movement to stop police brutality in Nigeria; #EndSARS, took over the streets and all social media platforms, thereby making both local and international headlines. It was dubbed Africa’s most sustained protests of 2020. The hashtag #EndSARS accompanying the protest, gained global traction as many top personalities including celebrities all over the world drummed their support for the movement. Nigeria celebrities such as Davido, WizKid, Mr. P, Rudeboy, Yemi Alade, Falz, DJ Switch to mention a few, threw their weight behind the demonstrators. International personalities such as the Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, Hillary ClitonLewis Hamilton, Rihanna, Beyonce, John Boyega all tweeted in support.
The protest was triggered on October 3, 2020, when a video surfaced online allegedly showing a Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) officer shooting a young man in Delta state. The video which got over 10,000 retweets, was just one of many of such horrifying videos linked to the SARS brutality. SARS is a tactical unit of the Nigerian Police, whose members were accused of grievous atrocities including extortion, rape, abduction, torture and extrajudicial killings. Thousands of Nigerian youths poured onto the streets demanding the disbandment of SARS. Beyond disbanding SARS, they had other demands which included Immediate release of all arrested protesters; Justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensations for their families; Setting up an independent body to oversee the investigation and prosecution of all reported police misconduct within a period of 10 days.
Others include carrying out psychological evaluation and retaining of all disbanded SARS operatives before they are deployed, and increment in police salary and they should be adequately compensated for protecting lives and property of the citizens.
Due to the pressure of the online and street demonstrations, the federal government announced the disbandment of the SARS on October 11, 2020. However, when the president ordered the disbandment of SARS, police were tasked with constituting a new unit. On October 14, 2020, the Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu, announced that a new Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) squad has been established to “fill the gaps” left by the defunct SARS. Nigerians were outraged by the unveiling of the new police unit, as they saw the changes as not enough to reform the police. They resorted to using the hashtag #EndSWAT on Twitter to oppose the new unit and continued with the protest. Lagos was the epicenter of the protest.
Unfortunately, the protest which started off as peaceful, turned violent as it was hijacked by hoodlums, who burnt police stations, public buildings, looted public and private properties including shops and malls as well as killed policemen. In Lagos, more than 300 buses in the fleet of BRT and LAGBUS were burnt by the hoodlums. Lagos Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu disclosed that about one trillion naira will be needed to rebuild the state. A Presidential delegation and that of the 36 state governors had visited Lagos to assess the level of destruction unleashed on the state’s facilities and private businesses.
An unforgettable tragedy that struck in the course of the protests which put an end to it was the Lekki tollgate massacre. On October 20, 2020, at about 6:50 p.m, members of the Nigerian Army opened fire on peaceful EndSARs protesters at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos. According to Amnesty International, at least 12 protesters were killed during the shooting, even though the number is said to be higher, as there have been complaints of some missing persons.
After denials, accusations and counter-accusations from the Lagos state governor, the federal government and the Nigeria army, about the Lekki toll gate shooting, the reaffirmed their position in the shooting.
The day after the shootings, Nigeria’s Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to conduct a prompt investigation into reports of the Nigerian government’s intimidation and killings of EndSARS protesters. In response, the ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said she was “keeping a close eye on developments”.
A livestream video by DJ switch on her Instagram account, showed footages of the shooting of peaceful protesters by the Nigerian army and armed police officers. In a video made on October 23, she clarified that she witnessed the shooting of seven people at the time she was live-streaming on Instagram.
On November 18, 2020, a month after the incident, CNN aired a six-minute on the shooting. The independent investigation showed geolocated photographs of victims and eyewitness accounts, as well as the families of victims, alongside verified trended videos of the shooting using timestamps and data from video files. CNN was able to establish that several of the bullet casings from the Lekki Toll Gate, originated from Serbia, from where Nigeria had imported bullets every year between 2005 and 2016.
In response, the Nigerian army insisted that its members were ‘professional in their conduct’ and did not breach rules of engagement. The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, however accused CNN of ‘irresponsible journalism’ and described the documentary as fake news and disinformation.
Nigeria was racked by a high-level of insecurity in 2020. Banditry and kidnapping escalated in most parts of the country, especially the North. Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna turned were the hub of these activities. The Abuja-Kaduna road became a major kidnapping field, thereby making people resort to using train for fear of being kidnapped. The peak of the insecurity was on December 11, when Boko haram abducted 344 pupils of the Government Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, and the massacre of 110 rice farmers in Zabarmari, near Maiduguri in November.
In the North-Central and South, Fulani herdsmen continued to ravage and kill people in various communities. The South-West has also suffered high levels of kidnappings.
Emir Sanusi Dethronement
Another high point of 2020 was the controversial and political dethronement of the former Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, as the Emir of Kano on March 9, 2020, following a “resolution’’ of the State Executive Council led by Gov. Abdullahi Ganduje.
Governor Ganduje removed Sanusi on the grounds of alleged “insubordination to the state’s political authority”, a justification which generated public outcry across the country and on the social media platforms in Nigeria.
Sanusi accepted his dethronement as a divine act and urged his supporters to remain calm and avoid bloodshed. He was later informed of his exile from Kano to Awe, Nasarawa State, and was escorted out of the palace under heavy guard to a military airbase.
On March 13, a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered his release, and he subsequently left Awe together with Governor Nasir El-Rufai to Lagos.
The education sector cannot be left out, as it was also submerged in a strike which lasted for 10 months. The Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU) embarked on strike alleging the federal government’s neglect of tertiary education, at the beginning of the national lockdown in March. The students in public universities lost three semesters of study to the strike.
The strike was as a result of series of disagreements between the federal government and the union over unpaid salaries and allowances, and the refusal of ASUU members to enroll in the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS), among other issues.
After series of meetings with the federal government which ended deadlock, ASUU National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, announced they have reached an agreement with the Federal Government over major issues and called off the strike on December 23, 2020.
This is on a lighter note, even though it wasn’t a funny experience. No one envisaged a once common and cheap food item like onions will someday become the “new gold” in Nigeria. The persistent increase and scarcity of onions in major markets became a constant topic on the lips of most Nigerians, with Nigerians even making memes out of the topic on various social media.
A vegetable seller in Kubwa, a suburb in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Bala Idris, told Persecondnews in an exclusive interview that he stopped selling onions that period because the price became so high and he was not making much profit from it.
“The price of onions is not supposed to increase during harvest. It’s the season of onions, so I wasn’t expecting the increase; rather it is supposed to reduce.
He blamed the increment on insecurity in Katsina and Sokoto States as those are the states where they get onions from. According to him, most farmers abandoned their farms for fear of being killed by bandits.
“We were buying a bag of onions between N12,000 and N15,000. The price suddenly increase to N75,000. As it is now, there are no onions of N100 again and you will get only three of very small sizes of onions for N200,” he explained.
That period, Nigerians who had onions hoarded them while those who had plenty onions in their house were seen as “rich” people.
Persecondnews recalls that at a time, a bag of onions was going for as much as N4,000 in Borno State.