Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Nigeria: 2014 in retrospect

It’s the last day of 2014 and preparations are in top gear as Nigerians join the rest of the world to usher in the New Year 2015. Quite interestingly, it won’t come simultaneously as places like Australia and New Zealand that are hours ahead of the rest of the world would be the first to have a taste of the New Year. While New Zealand is some 12 hours ahead of Nigeria, Australia is +10 hours ahead of us. Well, it’s been a year of mixed grill in Nigeria. Whichever sector one picks to analyse, it’s a guarantee to find three things – the good, the bad and the ugly.
The year opened with celebrations for Nigeria. We rolled out the drums and celebrated our centenary anniversary with pomp and pageantry. There were symposia, home and abroad, on the 100th anniversary of Nigeria’s amalgamation. There were photo exhibitions, gala and award nights where 100 eminent Nigerians were honoured, there was the N100 commemorative note and in Abuja, a Centenary Estate is being built in remembrance of the epochal event. Indeed, it was one of Nigeria’s finest moments.
In sport, the Super Eagles may not have qualified for the African Cup of Nations coming up in January 2015 in Equatorial Guinea, however, our ladies did us proud. The Super Falcons in October won the African Women Championship for a record seventh time by beating their perpetual rival, the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon 2-0 in the final played in Namibia. At the 20th Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow, Scotland in 2014, Team Nigeria won a total of 36 medals, comprising 11 gold, 11 silver and 14 bronze, to emerge eighth on the overall medals’ table and second best among the Commonwealth countries in Africa, after South Africa.
In 2014, Blessing Okagbare remained Nigeria’s queen of track and field. She shone like a million stars in the 2014 Commonwealth Games. She won in both the 100m and 200m events in which she participated. At the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai, China, Okagbare won in both the 200m as well as the Long Jump. She’s indeed a blessing to Nigerian sports. On August 20, the headquarters of the Nigerian Football Federation in Abuja were razed by suspected arsonists just as leadership crisis rocked the football house for the better part of the outgoing year though Nigeria managed to avoid FIFA ban.
In the education sector, it’s another mixed grill as the country is still plagued with ceaseless industrial crises. Polytechnics and Colleges of Education academic unions were on strike for months while teachers in Unity Schools also embarked on industrial actions over welfare matters. Perpetual attacks carried out by the insurgent group, Boko Haram, on schools particularly in North-Eastern Nigeria, especially the kidnapping of over 200 girls in Chibok, Borno State on April 14 gave birth to the worldwide campaign for the release of the girls under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. This also led to the launch of the Safe School Initiative by the Federal Government.
It is noteworthy that the relentless attacks on schools by the insurgents have weakened the attainment of the Education for All and Millennium Development Goals for Nigeria as many parents are afraid to enroll their children and wards in schools. Though poor funding is one of the major challenges faced by Nigeria’s education sector given the less than 10 per cent of national budget earmarked for the sector, ironically, a large pool of unaccessed funds from two main interventionist agencies remains a source of concern.
The Universal Basic Education Commission was set up to assist with the goal of free and compulsory basic education through provision of funding support. Quite unfortunately, over N44bn is lying fallow, unclaimed by benefiting states that have simply refused to comply with basic accessing requirement which is the provision of matching grants or counterpart funds by the benefiting states. The same obtains at the tertiary education level. The Federal Government established the Tertiary Education Trust Fund formerly known as the Education Tax Fund to provide some financial succour to colleges of education, polytechnics and universities (federal and states). Unfortunately, in the outgoing year, an estimated N60bn has not been accessed by the benefiting tertiary institutions who have not complied with basic requirements for drawing such funds. In the year under review, an uninspiring 30 per cent of students who sat for the November/December West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination passed with five credits; a mere one per cent improvement on last year’s performance.
The bitter-sweet story of Nigeria’s health sector is that the country faced and overcame an epidemic of gargantuan proportion when an infamous Liberian-American named Patrick Sawyer imported Ebola Virus Disease into the country on July 20, 2014. Within 93 days, Nigeria successfully contained the virus. In the end, the country confirmed a total of 19 cases, of whom seven died and 12 survived, giving the country an enviable case fatality rate of 40 per cent–much lower than the 70 per cent and higher seen elsewhere . As noted by Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO Director-General, “If a country like Nigeria, hampered by serious security problems, can do this – that is, make significant progress towards interrupting polio transmission, eradicate guinea-worm disease and contain Ebola, all at the same time – any country in the world experiencing an imported case can hold onward transmission to just a handful of cases.”
Another heartwarming news from the health sector is the signing into law of the National Health Bill on December 9, 2014 by President Goodluck Jonathan. Some of the accruing benefits of the new Act include the provision of free basic health care services for children under age five, pregnant women, the elderly and persons with disabilities. On the flip side however, the sector is still crisis-ridden. As of the time Nigeria was fighting to contain the EVD, Nigerian doctors were on strike. Weeks after suspending their industrial action, other federal health workers took over and have since remained on a work-to-rule as I write. We still face issues of under-staffing, misdiagnosis and fake and contaminated drugs to mention a few.
The Nigerian economy remains in the doldrums with the Federal Government having to roll out austerity measures owing largely to dwindling crude oil revenues from the international market. There are still huge infrastructural deficits with the much touted power sector reforms offering little or no comfort even as the country peaks at production of about 4,600MW of electricity, much of which is wasted due to weak transmission lines. The sector is also plagued with lack of gas to power the turbines, pipeline vandalism, corruption and incompetence. On the whole, Nigerians are worse off economically in 2014 than they were in previous years as the federal and some state governments are owing backlog of worker’s salaries and the costs of doing business in the country remains exorbitant.
As the country prepares for the fifth general elections in this Fourth Republic, a large cloud of doubt envelops it going by the bestial attitude of the political class. The party primaries held last month through December leave much to be desired. All manner of sharp-practices and malpractices were recorded. Violence, manipulation, imposition of candidates, over-voting, and general lack of internal democracy were the hallmark of the nomination process. The Independent National Electoral Commission also needs to redouble its effort to enhance the confidence of the electorates as its level of preparations for the next polls is at present dissatisfactory. By far the ugliest development in 2014 is the heightened state of insecurity as the country has lost some territories to Boko Haram leaving over three million Nigerians as Internally Displaced Persons.
All the same, I wish you all Happy New Year!
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