by Reuben Abati
By this time next week, the year 2022 would have ended, and across the world people will speak of a new year with fresh expectations but when we look back on the year that is about to pass, in terms of achievements, high points, successes, failures and experiences, it would be recalled that the year 2022 was indeed more than ordinary. It was the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic which up-ended our lives, exposing us all to an international public health crisis, countless deaths, compulsory stay at homes, a redefinition of the world of work, and the depths of human resilience. The year began on a cautious note, as many countries while opening up their borders still insisted on proof of vaccination against COVID. The importance attached to this was most vividly demonstrated when Novak Djokovic, the tennis maestro was denied participation at the January 2022 Australian Open because of his blunt refusal to take the vaccine. He was slammed with a three-year ban from the Australian Open.
As the year progressed, the world opened up further, and whereas in 2022, China still reported cases of COVID in its major cities, and insisted on the zero COVID policy, by year-end, that zero-COVID policy had been significantly revised. It is a much more open world today than it was two years ago. Many international meetings including The African Development Bank (AfDB) conference in Mauritius, in May 2022, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda, June 2022, the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, in October 2022, Conference of Parties (COP 27) in Sharm El Sheik in Egypt in November 2022 as well as other international events were held in-person or through a hybrid of physical attendance and virtual participation. Airlines took to the skies again in large numbers, the world of tourism bounced back. In October 2022, Hong Kong promised to give away 500, 000 free flight tickets to attract tourists back to the city. In November 2022, one million foreign tourists visited Japan, one month after it fully re-opened. Hitherto, Hong Kong, the Chinese Special Administrative Region and Japan had some of the strictest COVID rules, forcing airlines- Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and American Airlines to suspend flights to the city-state. Wedding parties and events that were suspended in the full swing of COVID are now being held. In 2022, our world began to re-connect. Djokovic has now had his three-year ban from the Australian Open lifted, and hence, in January 2023, the nine-time Australian Open Champion has serious guarantee, without fear of ambiguity, that he will be welcomed back to Melbourne.
The world’s gradual recovery was however abbreviated, very early in the year, when Russia and its President Vladimir Putin declared a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February. It was not enough for Putin that he had annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and supported the seizure of territory by separatists in the Donbas region, the 2022 invasion was a direct assault on Ukraine’s right to exist. More than 300 days since the war began, over 14 million people have fled Ukraine as refugees, the largest refugee crisis since World War II, more than 300,000 Russians have also fled their country, Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has been damaged, a fifth of Ukraine’s territory is in Russian hands, thousands of people have died. The international community has imposed sanctions on Russia including putting a price cap on Russian oil, the mass exodus of Western companies from Russia including Volkswagen, Toyota, Pepsi, Daimler, LG, Adidas, Burger King, Sony, Siemens Visa, MasterCard Xerox, and many others that have either suspended operations in Russia or have left completely. Russia has also been kicked out of SWIFT, the international payment system, thus disconnecting its financial institutions from the global network. A US-backed global task force has frozen more than $330 billion of assets from Russian oligarchs and the country’s Central Bank. Members of the task force include Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and The European Commission. Affected Russian oligarchs include Suleiman Kerimov whose yacht was seized. Roman Abramovich, the former Russian owner of English football club, Chelsea FC was forced to sell it off without any direct profit. No other event has connected the world together more than the Russo-Ukrainian war.
But it is also a war of attrition that has inflicted much pain on the world. Russia supplies about 40% of the gas used in Europe. Russia decided to weaponize energy supply by shutting down the Nord stream 1, the biggest gas pipeline from Russia to Europe which has the capacity to deliver 55 billion cubic metres of gas a year, thus creating an energy crisis across Europe. Before then, Gazprom, the Russian energy giant had insisted on payment for supplies in rouble -the Russian currency – until Russia eventually shut down supplies, compelling European countries to seek alternative sources of supply and adopt the rationing of power. The cost of energy of course went up, throwing many households into panic. Power cuts is something developing countries in Africa are familiar with, but it is becoming a pattern in Europe due to the war in Ukraine.
The spot price of oil also spiked soon after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, up to about $92.81, resulting in higher revenues for oil producing companies which made huge profits, and also, the oil exporting countries. Sadly Nigeria, a member of OPEC could not take advantage of this, it could not even meet its OPEC production quota due to crude oil theft, collapse of infrastructure and general decay in the country’s oil and gas ecosystem. Russia in comparison profited from the war it started: within 100 days, it had earned about 93 billion Euros from exports of oil, gas and coal. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has continuously asked the world to stop trade completely with Russia. China, India and United Arab Emirates continue to buy from Russia. The bigger blow was the disruption of the global supply chain.
Between them, Russia and Ukraine control about a third of the world’s supply of wheat, 19% of the world’s supply of corn and 80% of the world’s trade in sunflower. Russia is also the third largest supplier of nickel, copper and platinum. In the course of the war this year, Russia blocked ships from carrying grain exports across the Black Sea. Over 300 ships were stopped from moving, and the effect was seen in terms of food supply crisis and food price inflation. The impact was felt all over the world, even more so in Africa where most of the countries including Nigeria and Ghana and 23 others that depend on wheat imports from Russia, lack spare capacity – the cost of basic items like bread skyrocketed. The IMF warned about a looming food crisis. The pandemic had made things bad enough, the Russo-Ukraine war worsened the people’s plight. In Europe, people complained about the cost of food, petrol, gas and the high cost of living.
Inflation was the big dilemma that many countries had to deal with resulting in hawkish i=tightening of rates in many countries with perhaps the notable exceptions of Japan with its insistence on negative interest rates, and Turkey’s unorthodox approach of cutting interest rates even with the country’s soaring inflation at 80%. In contrast, most countries followed the lead of the US Central bank. In the year 2022, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates seven times, pushing borrowing costs to a 15-year high in order to stabilize and stimulate the economy, and yet US inflation is at a 40-year high. In the UK, the Bank of England raised interest rates eight consecutive times in the face of rising unemployment, high energy prices, fiscal crisis, high mortgage rates and CPI inflation at 11%. Many people around the world found the cost of living so high that they simply took to the streets. In Ghana street protests have been witnessed, in the UK at the moment, nurses, border officials, paramedics, rail unions and paramedics have decided to stage walk-outs. In Sri Lanka where inflation is around 70%, the hardship can be best measured in the depth of the people’s suffering. Leaders are quick to blame the situation on the war in Ukraine but part of the problem is self-inflicted, especially in a country like Nigeria where inflation is at 21.47% (probably higher than that), fuel scarcity has added to the people’s woes, the cost of travel is not just expensive, the cost of living is high. It is Christmas season but many Nigerians don’t know it is Christmas.
In 2022, Queen Elizabeth II died after 70 years and 214 days on the throne, the longest reigning British monarch ever (February 1952 – September 2022). She was one of the most influential figures of the 20th and 21st centuries. The majesty, pomp and pageantry of her burial, and the outpouring of love for her by the British and across the world was an indication of the force of her impact and the dignity and decency in public life which she represented throughout her reign. Her departure was one of the most striking highlights of the year 2022, and the fact that this became an occasion for the reinvention of attitudes and perspectives about the legacy of the Empire which she inherited and which her throne symbolized was not entirely surprising. The baton has since passed in line with tradition to her son, the then Prince Charles II, Prince of Wales, who is now King Charles III.
This was also the year when Argentina won the World Cup a third time, after 36 years, and the star of the team’s sterling performance at the Doha FIFA World Cup 2022 was Lionel Messi. Marvellous Messi in the course of an 18-year glittering career had won 7 Ballon d’Or, 10 La Liga titles, 7 Copa del Rey, 4 UEFA Champions Leagues, 14 Argentina’s Footballer of the Year awards, 6 European Golden Shoe, 2 FIFA World Cup Golden Ball, and in Qatar, he won the trophy that had seemingly eluded him: the World Cup to put a seal to his all-round accomplishment as one of the greatest footballers in history. His story was a positive confirmation of his legend and personal triumph. This was indeed one World Cup in which history was made on all fronts, with Morocco finishing in the Fourth place, the first African country to go as far as the semi-final in the history of the World Cup. Nigeria did not qualify. We were spectators. The only saving grace was the appearance of Davido, the musician as part of the troika that sang the tournament’s theme song, “Haya Haya.” Many Nigerians would have loved to see the Super Eagles in action representing Nigeria and Africa. The country’s national team has since been downgraded from 32 to 35 in the latest FIFA rankings list, a reflection of the team’s indolence. The last match they played in 2022: they lost 0 -4 to Portugal.
At the beginning of the year, there was so much excitement about cryptocurrency, with the price of the leading tokens – Bitcoin and Ethereum hovering around $69, 000, but as the year ends, many cryptocurrencies have either collapsed or declared bankruptcy. Once touted as the future of money, the year 2022 turned out to be a really bad year for crypto with skeptics pointing to the fact that they had raised concerns about its volatility. Bitcoin is legal tender in El Salvador and the Central African Republic, but it has lost three-quarters of its value, that is more than 50% and there have been calls in many countries for strict regulation of the crypto market. This has been made more urgent with the scam perpetrated by Sam Bankman-Fried, the CEO of FTX, once hailed the younger version of Warren Buffet but has now been unmasked as “the king of fraud.” The epic collapse of FTX sent shock waves through the crypto sector, and affected exchanges like BlockFi and others which have similarly filed for bankruptcy.
It was in general a year of agony: floods in Pakistan, US and Nigeria, protests in Iran following the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16, following her arrest by Iran’s morality police for not wearing her hijab correctly. This ignited demonstrations in solidarity from Tehran to Stockholm, Washington DC, to Athens.
Nigeria had its own share of bad stories. On March 28 2022, Nigerians were shocked when an Abuja-Kaduna train was attacked by bandits in Katari, Kaduna State. Eight persons were killed, several were injured, 62 passengers were kidnapped. The kidnapped persons including the elderly, women, the sick, and infants were subjected to untold hardship by the bandits. The victims were eventually released in batches, the last batch on Thursday, September 6. In May 2022, David Imoh, a sound engineer who had gone to work at a social hub in Lekki was set ablaze by a group of commercial motorcyclists He had tried to intervene in a disagreement between a friend of his and an Okada rider over a sum of N100. He ended up being set ablaze. Also in May, Deborah Samuel Yakubu, a Christian student at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, was killed in a gruesome manner by her fellow students who accused her of insulting their religion.
In June, St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo was attacked while a Sunday service was going on. The attack led to the death of 40 people while 80 other persons sustained injuries. There have been many other cases of mindless killings and violence across the country – in the East, Southern Kaduna and elsewhere, accentuating the challenge of insecurity in Nigeria and the increasing contempt with which human lives are treated. In the various cases that were reported during the year, the most recent as the year ends being the murder of Mrs. Bolanle Raheem by a trigger-happy policeman in Lagos, on Christmas Day, Nigerians are used to expressing shock but the perpetrators of evil are never brought to book. All the persons who died or were abducted have one thing in common: “Nigeria happened to them”, which is so sad.
Many Nigerians will remember 2022 as the year of scarcity: the scarcity of money, petrol, aviation fuel, civility, and unity. In the course of the year, university teachers were on strike from February to October! The CBN redesigned the high currency denominations of N200, N500, and N1, 000. Even the new notes are scarce.