A panoramic view of Nigeria in 2020 – Punch Newspapers

What a year 2020 has been! It has been a turpsy-turvey leap year, an unusual year with lots of ups and downs.  Nothing best defined this outgoing year as the COVID-19 pandemic which has claimed over 1.7 million lives out of over 81 million infected persons globally as of Tuesday. At the end of every year, it is fit and proper to have an introspection and retrospection. This reflection is on my fatherland Nigeria and how we fared in four key areas of our national life, namely health, education, security and economy.

Starting with health, COVID–19 exposed the decadent nature of Nigeria’s health facilities. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, who is also the chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, said on Thursday, April 9, 2020 that he realised how bad it was, after he was appointed to head the team. He made this known during a meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly. It is not surprising that the SGF didn’t know that the rot in Nigeria’s healthcare delivery system is deep. The truth is that but for the pandemic and the global travel ban, many of Nigeria’s political elite prefer going on medical tourism to Europe, Asia and the Americas to treat their ailment.

Not many of us knew of the existence of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control until this year. Yet, this agency is the one that was set up for the containment and treatment of infectious diseases such as Lassa fever and yellow fever.  Unfortunately, poor funding has largely constrained its performance. In 2020, Nigerians suffered untold hardship accessing medicare because of fear of the spread of COVID-19. Many public and private hospitals were rejecting any patient that had symptoms of COVID-19 such as cough and fever. These hospitals did so because they lacked Personal Protective Equipment for their health workers’ use. Thus, many patients who suffered from more deadly diseases such as diabetes, High Blood Pressure, cancer, Lassa fever found it extremely difficult to access healthcare.

Quite unfortunately, Nigeria’s dream of having Universal Health Coverage by 2020 has remained a pipedream. According to the President, Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Francis Adedayo Faduyile, the National Health Insurance Scheme which was established in 1999 with the commencement of operation in 2005, has yet to deliver on its mandate and appears to be far from affecting a paradigm shift soonest. “It is no news to state that the performance of the scheme is largely abysmal with less than five per cent of the population covered. The poor performance has been attributed to many factors ranging from poor funding to lack of transparency in its administration.” In 2020, there have been a lot of restiveness in the country’s health sector with health workers across the country embarking on strikes to press home their demands for better working condition.

On education, Nigeria still has a long way to go. COVID-19 foisted on us a new normal way of studying via online classes and examinations. However, only the private schools were able to adapt to this new way of learning as most public schools from primary to the tertiary levels were shut down for about six months due to the pandemic. It wasn’t until September that Nigeria was ready to present students for 2020 West Africa Secondary School Examination. This was an examination meant to be held in May – June of every year.  Even the National Examinations Council-organised examination could not hold as scheduled due to the COVID-19 and the #EndSARS protests of October 2020.

This year, the Academic Staff Union of Universities embarked on a nine-month strike which it only suspended last week, December 23. Invariably, no new admission has been able to take place in any public university while old students have had to forfeit a whole session due to the strike. Right now, the Federal Government has ordered closure of all schools for five weeks, till January 18, 2021. The question is while it is desirable not to put our pupils and students in harm’s way due to the second wave of COVID-19, what is the level of preparation at all levels to ensure that these students will be safe when they are back to school? Globally, it has been advised that it is better to live with COVID-19 than shutting down the country because of it. As I said on Daybreak Show on Kapital 92.9 FM last Monday, the Ministry of Education, State Universal Basic Education Commission and National Universities Commission should use the opportunity of the closure of schools to put structures and procedures in place to ensure safety and security of children in schools.

Recall that on Friday, December 11, 2020, there was an abduction of 344 schoolboys at the Government Science Secondary School Kankara, Katsina State by bandits.  While the students were all rescued alive after six days in captivity, it is imperative for government to prevent a recurrence. Meanwhile, government at all levels is still battling with how to tackle the 13.5 million out-of-school children without much success.

Ranking second to public health crisis engendered by COVID-19 is the heartrending state of insecurity. The 2020 Global Terrorism Index put Nigeria as the third most impacted by terrorism country after Afghanistan and Iraq. Eminent Nigerians such as the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Sa’ad Abubakar, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto State, Matthew Hassan Kukah, socio-cultural rights groups like Afenifere and Ohaneze Ndigbo as well as the Middle Belt Forum have raised concerns about the worsening state of insecurity in Nigeria. Insurgency and general insecurity have continued to soar.

In fact, the South-West Security Network codenamed Amotekun Corps was inaugurated in the six states of South-West this year in order to help the Federal Government policing system to beef up security. Early this month, the House of Representatives was so concerned that it invited the President to have a tete-a-tete with the lawmakers. Unfortunately, the President failed to show up. Several resolutions for change of the security chiefs by the Senate have also been ignored even as there is reported deployment of military in 33 states for improved security. Unfortunately, this nagging problem of insecurity have impacted negatively on food security of the country as farmers are being randomly kidnapped and murdered by bandits and insurgents with the slaughtering of over 43 rice farmers in Zabarmari, in Jere Local Government of Borno State last month.

Expectedly, Nigeria’s economy went into the worst recession in over 30 years last month. This was occasioned by low revenue from crude oil sales as a result of the shutdown brought by COVID-19 pandemic. Even revenue from the non-oil sector such as taxes, tariffs and duties nosedived. The pandemic brought about lockdown of aviation, entertainment, hospitality, tourism, and sports sectors.  To cushion the negative effect of the lockdown Federal, State and Local Governments including the private sector rolled out stimulus packages and palliatives. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous elements in public service hoarded some of these palliatives thereby occasioning the wanton looting and destruction of many public and private warehouses during the October #EndSARS protests brought about by police brutality and extra-judicial killings.

In order to improve the economy, Federal Government launched the Economic Sustainability Plan. The Plan which was approved by the Federal Executive Council on June 24, 2020, was developed by the Economic Sustainability Committee established by President Muhammadu Buhari on March 30, 2020.

In spite of the gloom and doom, a cheering news came last Monday as the International Monetary Fund said that Nigeria maintained its lead as the biggest economy in Africa, in terms of the size of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Globally, the IMF, in its recently released World Economic Outlook ranked Nigeria the 26th largest economy, with an average GDP of $442.976 billion. It will be recalled that the country has aimed to be one of the largest 20 economies this year 2020 under the much touted Vision 2020. I am not interested in the statistical growth the country may have achieved but more interested in how to reduce poverty, unemployment and inflation which are the things that can bring about a higher standard of living for my compatriots.

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