2021: A New Beginning?

Without any concrete data, I am inclined to think that 2020 was a year most persons on earth desperately wanted to end as quickly as possible. Its 366 days seemed so intensely packed with events and a decimation of whatever was thought “normal”, totally upending life as many persons knew it, and forcing us to accept things that in “saner” years would have been deemed unacceptable. However, while we are likely to eye the world’s famous billionaires whose wealth increased in leaps, not everyone had a bad year. Just like any other arbitrary time periods defined by humanity, 2020 had a mix of the good, bad, and ugly.

On a global scale, 2020 kicked off with the assassination of an Iranian general alleged to have masterminded a chunk of the chaos in the volatile Middle East, followed by the “accidental” downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet with 176 persons killed. While we feared that this could spiral into another World War, the Americans and their unconventional president continued with their reality TV show called “2020 Elections”. From nowhere, the year pulled off a stunner with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Wuhan, China, causing a disease that would be later called “coronavirus disease” (COVID-19). Scenes from Italy that showed military trucks conveying corpses because a town’s cemetery was overwhelmed made it clear that COVID-19 was out to cause as much devastation as possible. By the end of 2020, with over 80 million infections and 1.8 million deaths officially recorded across the world, newly developed vaccines offered a hope of redemption.

Segueing to Nigeria, 2020 could as well be written off as a year where “nothing really happened” except for protests brutally terminated by the authorities. Nigerians were minding their business until COVID-19 came calling, and in the surrounding uncertainties, the Federal Government locked down much of the country to restrict the little understood disease from spreading. However, in the earliest days of the lockdown, more Nigerians may have been killed by security forces enforcing movement restrictions than were killed by the disease itself. Despite fears about the risks of a COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, many Nigerians were more concerned with surviving an “economic pandemic”, which combined with a blend of ignorance and distrust of the government, made it difficult to keep Nigerians at home or get the population to obey guidelines on non-pharmaceutical interventions like social distancing and wearing face nose masks. We would later realise that for some yet unknown reason, COVID-19 in Nigeria was not as terrible as initially feared. Despite a largely demoralised health system, infections and deaths attributable to COVID-19 are way below experts’ expectations, and unexplained by poor data collection, low testing, youthful population, childhood vaccinations, Vitamin D, hot weather and any other hypothesis so far suggested by pundits.

For many Nigerians, the highlight of 2020 was the #EndSARS protests that rocked the country in October. Seething from years of blatant extortion by licenced armed robbers in the police force and extrajudicial murders that went unaddressed, Nigerian youths gathered, first in Lagos before spreading to other cities, to demand abolition of one of the most notorious police units (“Special Anti-Robbery Squad”), even though the despicable crimes for which SARS operatives were hated were common across several police units. The unwarranted murders at Lekki Toll Gate on October 20 abruptly ended the largely peaceful protests, and as the more educated protesters hid at home to mend their wounds and broken hearts, hoodlums took over and wreaked chaos across many cities with police stations burned, shops and warehouses looted.

Leaving Nigeria alone, let me quickly look at my 2020. For me, it was a good year. We started the year on a joyous note with a miraculous intervention at a hospital that signalled that regardless of what the year could throw at us, we would be fine. Expecting a baby, we moved houses to get some more space. Then the lockdown began and I had to work from home beginning in late March. By this time, I had decided to change my career path, so having accepted a new job, I tendered my resignation. Our baby came a day before I resumed at my new job, but the “work from home” regime turned out to be a blessing as I could be involved in caring for my wife and son. With apologies to families negatively impacted by COVID-19, over the next seven months that I was home, we would quip that the lockdown was designed to let us have time together as a family. Not even our baby getting admitted for ten days just few days after his birth, nor terrible rains that twice triggered flooding of our apartment could dampen our spirit. We looked 2020 in the face and proclaimed our victory.

What does 2021 hold for us, Nigeria and the world? I don’t know but I know we will be fine. As the wealthiest countries begin rolling out vaccines for COVID-19, we know it would be a while before Nigeria can procure vaccines for its citizens, and despite our ongoing successes with vaccinations for polio and other diseases, I am not so confident that Nigeria has the cold chain infrastructure and logistics in place to handle COVID-19 vaccination, nor I am confident that the government would be able to convince a majority of the population to submit themselves to receive vaccination for a disease that many still view as “oyibo [foreign] disease”. Whatever happens, the world’s economy needs to pick up, so the Nigerian economy can restart its engines. Maybe 2021 would deliver the redemption that we seek.

Happy New Year!

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