2016: Year of hardship, little cheer…
The year 2016 will not be forgotten in a hurry. Of all the high and low moments, two things stand out – the year of Recession and the year of the retort, ‘Is this the Change we voted for.’
Five years ago, when the then president Goodluck Jonathan decided to shock Nigerians with a bizarre New Year gift by removing the subsidy on petrol, Lagosians rejected the gift vehemently by staging a never-seen-before rally at Ojota.
Thousands gathered daily for the Nigerian version of Occupy Protest, which was fast spreading across the world in the wake of the Arab Spring. Occupy Nigeria, championed by a coalition of civil society organisations called Save Nigeria, took Ojota square by storm for a week, which was later renamed Freedom Park.
The movement, the biggest non-violent protest the country ever witnessed began spreading to other cities and eventually forced the Federal Government to rescind its decision and return to status quo.
While the ‘occupation’ lasted, citizens greeted each other ‘Save Nigeria’ and the standard response was ‘Enough is Enough’. The Yorubas brought it further home with ‘Eku Subsidy’ and the reply was ‘Reversal a ba wa laiye’ meaning we would live to enjoy subsidy reversal.
In the outgone year, the refrain was ‘Recession’ and ‘Change’. An exchange of pleasantries was incomplete without the word ‘Change’ in reference to the evocative slogan that brought the present administration of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to power.
The first half of the year was rough. In spite of government’s assurances, Nigerians weathered the storm, bracing the challenge of petroleum scarcity, epileptic power supply amid increase in electricity tariff, removal of subsidy on petrol, hike in cost of food, goods and services, unprecedented scarcity of tomatoes, skyrocketing exchange rate of the naira to a dollar, backlog of unpaid salaries and mass retrenchment of workers.
Government kept repeating that the tide would turn once the 2016 budget was passed and the second half of the year would be better for the country and its citizens. President Muhammadu Buhari eventually signed the budget on May 6, raising the hopes of turnaround with the injection of government funds across critical sectors of the economy.
However, as the year wound down, it was a stark reality of a depressed economy staring Nigerians in the face as strange things began to be reported daily.
Organized and petty crimes were on the increase, unsecured pots of soup became endangered species, sale of human blood and organs for economic reasons was rife, and frustrations gave rise to rampant cases of domestic violence, child abuse and suicide.
First it was petrol scarcity, when a litre sold for as high as N300 in April; that gave way to tomato scarcity and tomatoes became gold as a result of ‘Tuta Absoluta’, a ravaging insect pest which destroyed well over 40 per cent of harvest. Nigerians survived that and entered the rice shortage/hike season.
A bag which around this period last year sold for N10,000 was now selling for between N19,000 and N23,000. Rice still remains a scarce commodity despite the intervention of Ebonyi and Kebbi states that have painstakingly sustained a portion of the country with its harvest. The partnership between Lagos and Kebbi has produced the elusive and much sought after Lake Rice.
A public affairs commentator based in Kano State, Aminu Muhammad Ofs, once recounted his experience of the times, which went viral on social media. He said: “I was sitting with a guy who sells tea when an elderly man came and said ‘Give me ‘Buhari’s mixture’. Without saying anything more, the man was given some tea and small bread for a sum of N40.
“I was baffled, so I asked the seller what the man meant by ‘Buhari’s mixture’. He explained that it means tea without milk plus a small loaf of bread. Again the next day, I stopped by a small kiosk to get a battery for my wireless computer mouse. While I was leaving, a guy came who said: ‘Give me Buhari and Osinbajo. I waited to see what he meant and the seller handed him garri and groundnut.
“I inquired from the seller, who explained that garri is the street term for President Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is groundnut, while Senate President Bukola Saraki is sugar, slang for the staple foods the poor can afford.”
But beyond the depressing tales of hard times, 2016 also had its moments of cheer. The most inspirational, motivating and Cinderella-like story of 2016 was Olajumoke Orisaguwa’s rise to fame! A bread seller turned model and internet sensation, all thanks to Gospel singer cum photographer, TY Bello, who searched for the mystery lady, who had earlier photo-bombed her shoot.
In just two weeks, she soared above her painfully obscure background. Her fortunes have changed from a bread seller on the streets of Lagos to a model. In local parlance, God picked up and answered the call of Jumoke in relation to Adekunle Gold’s song entitled ‘Pick Up’. Pick Up, which is rendered in Yoruba, is a prayer asking for God’s blessings. Modeled after a telephone call, the musician in the song implores God to ‘pick up’ and answer his call.
Since Jumoke got her ‘pick up’, her life has never remained the same. The mother of two instantly became the face of online shopping brand, Payporte and Stanbic IBTC Bank. She is also the proud owner of a luxury apartment in Lagos.
This was followed by the release of 14-year-old Ese Rita Oruru by her abductors. The kidnapping of Ese, the youngest child of Charles Oruru and Rose Oruru, occurred on 12 August 2015 at her mother’s shop in Yenagoa local council of Bayelsa State.
Ese, who was 13 years old at the time, was abducted by a man named Yunusa Dahiru (alias Yellow) and taken to Kano, where she was raped, forcibly Islamized and married off without her parents consent. The conversion and marriage allegedly took place in the palace of the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. The internet went agog for over a month as the international communities beamed their light into the case after a newspaper report sparked national outrage. She was released in March.
The third cheering moments of the year was when the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg visited Nigeria. Mark made a surprise visit to the country in August. What was more endearing was that he took to the streets jugging without security operatives or any air of a VIP.
After surviving a very rough year, it was a tale of more woes for over three million Nigerians who had subscribed to the Ponzi moneymaking scheme, popularly known as Mavrodi Mundial Moneybox (MMM). Panic spread across the land as the country woke up to the sad announcement on December 12 of a one-month freeze on withdrawals from the scheme, sparking fears of a collapse.
Hopefully, the year 2017 will begin on a good note for the millions of subcribers, who are eagerly hoping against all odds that the scheme would bounce back and they would recover all their invested funds.