The year 2014 comes to an end in a few hours. Like previous years, the outgoing year has been dominated by a potpourri of good, bad and ugly issues in all facets of our individual and national lives. One particularly sad thing is that the year recorded a high number of avoidable deaths, especially those that were inflicted on helpless Nigerians through bombings and wholesale massacre masterminded by the senseless Boko Haram terrorists now on the rampage in the Northeast geo-political zone of the country. From a band of misguided youths roaming about and hunting for people to kill about five years ago, the Boko Haram terrorists have grown in strength and sophistication to a major terrorist organisation that now dominates front page headlines of newspapers within and outside the country.
This year, the terrorists added a worrisome dimension to their dastardly operations by using teenage girls as suicide bombers. This is happening at a time the whole world is agonizing over the fate of more than 200 innocent school girls who were abducted by the terrorists from their school compound in Chibok community, Borno State, on the night of April 14, 2014. The fear is that the terrorists may have converted the captured Chibok girls to suicide bombers. In fact, rather than release the girls, the terrorists have continued to embark on fresh kidnappings of vulnerable women and children whom they take along to their enclaves as spoils of war after each assault on isolated communities. And like a festering sore, the activities of the insurgents have continued unabated.
Earlier in the year, the nation was gripped by the unfortunate incident that has since been christened ‘Immigration Recruitment Scandal’. The term is used to describe the harvest of death recorded in March this year, when thousands of unemployed Nigerians, who had converged at different venues across the country to be interviewed for some job vacancies in the Nigeria Immigration Service, met their untimely death. The unfortunate Nigerians had been mandated to pay N1,000 each as application fee before they could be considered for employment. Thousands of them paid the fee and later converged at the venues of the exercise, mostly stadia. But in the melee that ensued due to poor organization, no fewer than 15 applicants, including some pregnant women, were trampled to death. However, what remains a big puzzle till date is that this incident has gone without anyone taking responsibility and no one has been sanctioned either for the avoidable deaths.
The year also witnessed a protracted upheaval in both the health and education sectors. The issue of doctors’ strike, which has become a perennial problem in the country, reared its ugly head. Preceded by a warning strike in January, the actual strike by the doctors finally commenced on July 1 and was only suspended after 55 days of sorrow and agony by Nigerians who could not access healthcare while the industrial action lasted. The action was finally called off on August 25 after the medical doctors extracted some commitments from the government.
While the doctors’ strike was on, a certain Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian-American diplomat sneaked into the country carrying along with him the deadly Ebola Virus Disease which is currently ravaging the three West African countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where no fewer than 7000 people are believed to have been so far despatched to their early graves. With the ‘importation’ of the deadly virus disease to Nigeria by Sawyer, Nigerians’ penchant for handshake almost became a taboo during this period. The disease claimed a few lives in both Lagos and Port Harcourt, even as the governments of Lagos and Rivers states, as well as the Federal Government, took concerted efforts to contain the spread. Relief finally came in October when the World Health Organisation declared the country free of the deadly virus after 60 days’ observation without any fresh case of infection.
In the trouble-prone education sector, polytechnic students remained at home for about 11months due to a nationwide strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, ASUP. The union embarked on the strike over, among other issues, the non-release of the white paper on issues in the polytechnic sector since 2012. This caused the students the loss of a whole session when students admitted into the first year of the National Diploma and the Higher National Diploma programmes respectively, for the 2013/2014 academic session, were unable to resume. The issue was finally resolved and normal academic calendar resumed in the polytechnics.
As almost always, the year also witnessed a lot of political activities, two of the more remarkable ones being the governorship elections that took place in Ekiti and Osun states. The polls in the two states had several similarities in terms of the political parties and the dramatis personae involved. Long before the elections, political permutations had predicted that the elections in the two states could be marred by violence. In anticipation of this, soldiers were deployed for the elections. Fortunately, both events did not record any major incidence of violence.
Furthermore, primary elections were recently held by the political parties at the state and national levels in preparation for the 2015 general elections. The elections saw many political Goliaths kissing the canvass and losing to political Lilliputians in their territories. In many instances, the primaries demystified the incumbency power of governors as many of them did not succeed in either imposing their surrogates to succeed them in office or set up their loyalists for other political positions. In all, the primaries paved the way for the emergence of new political gladiators. Of particular significance is the fact that no fewer than 50 of the sitting senators will not be returning to the chambers because they failed to pick their parties’ tickets. While many of them are crying blue murder, others seem to have resigned to fate as they lick their wounds in utter disbelief and amazement.
The outgoing year also recorded unprecedented jailbreaks as series of attacks were launched on prisons by some faceless bandits in various parts of the country. The Kirikiri Medium Security Prison in Lagos, the Koton Karfe Prison in Kogi State, the Federal Prisons, Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State and the Medium Security Prison in Minna, Niger State, were all turned into theatres of war. The attacks on detention facilities in the country have become worrisome in recent times as it has nearly turned into a routine. The problem could have been exacerbated by some criminal gangs particularly Boko Haram terrorists who may have capitalised on the trend to free their members from detention. Accusing fingers are also being pointed at the activities of fifth columnists within the prisons system itself because some of the attacks bore the full imprimatur of insiders’ connivance. These recurring incidents of jailbreak could escalate the already terrible security problem currently confronting the country as rapists, murderers, kidnappers, drug addicts and other dangerous criminals may have been let loose to roam freely thereby wreaking havoc on the society.
Perhaps, 2014 is closing with economic doom for those who rely so much on oil as the fall in the price of crude oil in the international market, is sending economic and political shock waves across the globe. Worse off are countries whose economies depend largely on oil for appreciable percentage of their foreign exchange earnings. In that bracket is Nigeria where crude oil accounts for about 95 of foreign exchange earnings. What this means is that in the New Year, 2015, the country would be tormented by the negative impact of the fall in global oil prices even harder. Already, the Federal Government is jittery. Now, Nigerians are again being inundated with the old, usual song – “tighten your belt”. This is suicidal because Nigerians have been tightening their belts since 1976, 38 years ago, without any respite in sight. The irony of this austerity regime is that while the poor man is often requested to tighten his belt, the rich are not wearing any at all, as their waists have doubled and even tripled in size over the years. May God help us, help Nigeria!