By Wisdom Deji-Folutile
2021 is some sort of bumpy year for Nigeria, especially in light of widespread insecurity and incessant loss of lives. Hardly a week went by without recording gut-wrenching reports of gunmen attacks in the Southeast, banditry attacks in the North, kidnappings, and killings.
A student bullied to death in a highbrow Lagos school, the arrest of separatists leading large numbers of followers in the Southeast and Southwest, Nigeria’s shameful outing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and many more, AF24News has compiled some of the events that shook the country in 2021 – in no particular order of timeline or magnitude:
1. Zamfara schoolgirls kidnapping
In a campaign that began shortly before the end of 2020, bandits continued their assault on educational institutions, particularly in the North. In multiple cases, reports of students being whisked away from their places of study were on par with the infamous mass abduction of schoolgirls from the Chibok community in Borno state on April 14, 2014.
The actions of the bandits garnered national interest again when on February 26, less than three months after bandits kidnapped over 300 schoolboys from a school in Kankara, Katsina state, bandits mass-abducted 279 schoolgirls from Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara.
The government secured the girls’ release a week later, after outrage by Nigerians. Zamfara state government was also criticised by security analysts for being unable to rein in bandits after reportedly granting amnesty to the criminals.
2. Twitter ban
The Nigerian government has been persistent in its numerous attempts to regulate social media. Less than two years ago, the Senate attempted to pass the Anti-Social Media Bill, which however failed to sail through after it was resisted by the people.
Part of the arguments by the government has been the proliferation of fake news on social media. Particularly targeted by the government was Twitter, a microblogging platform helping young people to express their opinions in real time.
Fast-forward to June 5, the government banned Twitter, citing as reason “the persistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
The federal government’s move came after Twitter deleted some tweets by the President, which violated the social media platform’s policy.
The government denied it banned Twitter as a matter of retaliation and has since stated that the ban would be lifted once Twitter submits to local licensing, registration and conditions.
The ban was faulted by the citizens, national and international civil rights organisations, as well as the United States government and European Union.
3. Greenfield University students murder
On April 20, the country boiled over again due to the kidnapping of at least 20 students and two staff members of privately-owned Greenfield University, located in Kasarami village in the Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna state. The bandits killed one worker during the operation, and later killed five students after ransom payment was delayed.
The bandits eventually began to release the students on May 1, and by May 29, the last of the students regained freedom. After negotiations on the initial N800 million demanded by the bandits, it was reported that the parents ended up paying N150 million, along with eight brand new motorcycles.
On April 12, Nigerians woke up to the news that the country’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, was on a watch list of America’s Intelligence Service and was being probed for connections to terrorism.
Amid calls for the minister’s resignation and trial, old videos resurfaced of the minister endorsing the actions of terrorist groups al-Qaeda and Taliban.
However, Pantami apologised for some his past pro-terrorism comments and said they didn’t reflect who he was now as he was now mature and better enlightened.
Surprisingly, the Presidency stood behind the minister, telling Nigerians his apology should suffice. However, Nigerians drew a reference to the former Minister of Finance Mrs Kemi Adeosun who resigned after an alleged National Youth Service Corps certificate forgery scandal. In July, a federal high court in Abuja ruled that Adeosun had no obligation to produce an NYSC certificate to enable her to hold public office in Nigeria.
5. Pandora Papers
In October, about 11.9 million documents leaked from offshore service providers were released. Considerably more extensive than the Panama and Paradise Papers before it, the 2.9 Terabytes large repository of the Pandora Papers was the biggest leak of information on offshore accounts in history.
The persons found to have offshore wealth included world leaders, celebrities, billionaires and religious leaders. Although offshore accounts are legal, it is illegal for elected government officials to hold undisclosed assets.
Found among the list of past public office holders in Nigeria with offshore accounts were former Anambra state governor, Peter Obi; a senator and former aviation minister, Mrs Stella Oduah; the acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Mohammed Bello-Koko; Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun state, and his Kebbi state counterpart, Atiku Bagudu.
Obi immediately appeared on air to say that he had not violated the law in any way. The ex-governor claimed that he had not declared some offshore accounts because he could not disclose assets or companies jointly owned with other people.
6. #EndSARS White Paper Release
On November 30, the much-awaited White Paper on the EndSARS panel that probed the events of the Lekki tollgate incident of October 20, 2020 was released.
The Lagos State Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Restitution for Victims of SARS-related Abuses and Other Matters had on November 15, 2021 submitted its report, after which Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu set up a White Paper committee.
According to the leaked report of the judicial panel, at least nine #EndSARS protesters were killed at the Lekki tollgate on the day. The report also listed 48 names as casualties of the incident.
However, in the White Paper released, the state government faulted the panel’s report, stating that the claim that nine persons were killed at the incident was based on “assumptions and speculations”. This was after the federal government and the Nigerian Army also dismissed the panel’s report.
Sanwo-Olu then announced plans to hold a peace walk to herald a new beginning for the state. The governor invited celebrities including popular comedian Debo Adebayo (Mr Macaroni), rapper Folarin Falana (Falz), musician Seun Kuti, and other civil society groups to join in on the walk. Many invitees rejected the governor’s invite, and the peace walk was heavily criticised by the public, who thought the government failed to pursue justice before peace.
The governor later cancelled the peace walk, citing as reason a resurgence of the COVID-19 in the state.
7. Dowen College and Sylvester Oromoni Jnr’s death
In late November/December, Nigeria was thrown into another tweetstorm in the wake of yet another tragedy involving a student of an educational institution in the country.
Sylvester Oromoni Jnr, a Junior Secondary School 2 student of Dowen College, Lagos, died after nursing injuries allegedly sustained in an encounter with bullies in the school. Videos circulating on social media showed the 12-year-old writhing in pain in the days preceding his death. His body was severely swollen, his lips were chipping, leaving behind what looked like very painful scabs, and he finally succumbed to his injuries by the end of November, dying in the presence of his family members.
The entire situation was enough to throw everyone into fits of rage. Nigerians were especially incensed when the school authorities finally spoke on the issue, saying that the young Sylvester had sustained his mortal injuries during a football game.
The Lagos State government sealed off the school pending an investigation into the case even as the police have arrested five students suspected to have bullied Sylvester to death.
Sylvester’s death sparked widespread conversations on the bully culture in many boarding schools in the country, with many Nigerians taking to social media to share details of brutality wrought by their schoolmates in the past.
8. Arrest of separatists Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho
Separatist agitations reached a boiling point by mid-year, with various self-determination groups calling for a referendum. And this was for many reasons. Most significantly, the country’s security situation had fast dilapidated the country’s sense of shared unity.
The militant wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra, the Eastern Security Network, was being accused of perpetrating several prison breaks and killings in the southeast. Among the other cases of insecurity were incessant killings and kidnappings in the northern region of the country, the farmer-herder crisis in the southwest, and the insecurity plaguing many of the country’s educational institutions.
Outspoken Yoruba rights activist, Sunday “Igboho” Adeyemo, had begun holding peaceful rallies across several states in the southwest with large turnouts of supporters of the separatist movement. The Indigenous People of Biafra were also going strong in the southeast. The Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB had already begun openly displaying solidarity with Ilana Omo Oodua, the umbrella group for Yoruba self-determination bodies.
It seemed like the country was on the brink of a revolution by many estimations. However, this all ground to a halt when the federal government orchestrated a swift clampdown on who many believed to be the two most significant threats to the country’s continued corporate existence.
On July 1, Igboho’s residence in Ibadan was raided by agents of the Department of State Services, an operation during which two of his Igboho’s aides were killed. Twelve other aides were arrested but released months after. Igboho, who escaped during the invasion, was later arrested at an airport in the Benin Republic while fleeing to Germany with his wife. Igboho has remained in prison in Cotonou ever since.
In a similar vein, Nnamdi Kanu was arrested in Kenya in late June 2021 and extradited to Nigeria. The operation was less dramatic than Igboho’s but was nonetheless as elaborate. In released photos following his arrest, a dishevelled Kanu looked beat as he stood handcuffed, donning a Fendi outfit. Kanu has remained in DSS custody since his arrest. His trial on counts of terrorism and more is still ongoing.
9. Team Nigeria Tokyo Olympics debacle
The Olympics 2020 hosted in August 2021 in Tokyo, Japan was not without a moment of shame for Nigerian athletes and the people as a whole.
First, the country was forced to endure the embarrassment of a falling out with global sports apparel brand Puma in a scandal that saw some athletes miss out on significant bonuses. Some athletes were even seen arriving in Tokyo with off-brand sports jerseys, while athletes from other countries were adorned in choice spandex.
Days later, 10 of the country’s 23 track and field athletes were disqualified for not meeting the minimum testing requirements under Rule 15 of the Anti-Doping Rules. The athletes did not receive the minimum amount of out-of-competition testing leading up to the Games to compete. The news of the mass disqualification added insult to injury for many Nigerians who were still seething from medal hopeful Blessing Okagbare’s abrupt exit from the qualification process of the Olympics after testing positive for using a human growth hormone in an out-of-competition test.
Then, just as many Nigerians thought things couldn’t get more mortifying, shot-put finalist Chukwuebuka Enekwechi uploaded a video of himself washing his jersey ahead of his final game at the Olympics. The athlete had to wash and dry his only set of sports clothing for the final event.
Nigeria eventually ended the campaign in 74th place, winning two medals: Ese Brume’s bronze from the Women’s Long Jump and Blessing Oborududu’s silver in Women’s freestyle wrestling 68kg category. While these were massive victories for the Olympians themselves, they were nominal in the grand scheme of national image.
10. ’Super cop’ Abba Kyari disgraced
Nigeria’s law enforcement trended for all the wrong reasons in 2021. Still, none would be as jarring and discomfiting as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report exposing celebrity ‘super cop’ Abba Kyari for his connections with notorious alleged internet fraudster Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi.
In court documents released by the United States Department of Justice, titled: ‘Six Indicted in International Scheme to Defraud Qatari School Founder and then Launder over $1 Million in Illicit Proceeds’, Kyari was said to have been bribed by Hushpuppi to arrest one Kelly Chibuzor Vincent, 40, in Nigeria.
Following the report, Kyari was suspended by the Inspector General of Police, Ahmed Baba, and investigations are ongoing.
11. Plane crash involving senior military officers
In May, Nigerians were greeted by the rude shock of the death of 12 military personnel in a plane crash at the Kaduna International Airport. Among the generals who met their untimely demise was the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Ibrahim Attahiru.
The COAS, who was just appointed in January, was travelling on an official assignment when the aircraft exploded and burnt in its entirety when it hit the ground.
12. Bandits shoot down NAF jet
In a genuinely unfathomable twist, bandits in Nigeria went from being ‘petty’ criminals to fully armed mercenaries in possession of artillery capable enough to go toe-to-toe with a fighter jet deployed by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF).
On July 18, NAF confirmed that at about 12.45 pm, an Alpha Jet aircraft, returning from a successful air interdiction mission between the boundaries of Zamfara and Kaduna states, came under intense enemy fire.
NAF said there was no casualty as the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo, managed to escape after successfully ejecting from the craft before it went down.
Dairo later narrated his ordeal, saying he walked for over 30km in the forest to reach the nearest village.
13. NDA attacked by bandits
In late August, Nigerians would again be forced to watch news headlines with their mouths agape as in another audacious attack, bandits ambushed the foremost Defence institute in the country, the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), killing two officers and abducting another senior officer.
For many Nigerians, the intrepidity displayed by the bandits represented a nail in the coffin for any perceivable fear of military might that any dangerously armed criminal in the country may have had left.
Aside from the officers killed and kidnapped, some others sustained gunshot injuries needed to receive treatment at the NDA hospital.
The question on the lips of many Nigerians was decipherable without the need for speech: If the foremost defence academy in the country, with officers prowling the ground day and night, could be compromised, what hope could the common person have against the audacity of the cold, undaunted bandits?