Midnight tomorrow, we will be saying ‘Bye bye’ to 2021 and will be welcoming the Year 2022. Given the blows the outgoing year has dealt with our world, and our environment, I dare say we are bidding 2021 goodbye with relief and throatful rendition of songs, clapping and dancing in heartfelt gratitude.
A cycle is closing and another is opening. Prophets of different hues will mount the pulpit and hit the airways. Some will speak from hilltops, saying to us: Hearken to the word of the ‘Lord:’ There will be prosperity in Nigeria in 2022. Coronavirus will bid mankind bye bye! Stargazers, not to be left out, will bring out their crystal balls. A great many they are, self-proclaimed prophets and not-so-clarified stargazers—most pretenders to the throne of Nostradamus!
Some years back, one prophet told us matter of factly, that our own WS, Prof. Wole Soyinka, was exiting from our midst for the great beyond that year. WS is still with us today! Those to whom the prophets say sweet things are given exaggerated hopes which get them overconfident and to let down their guards and in the process become careless. Those who receive negative news lose their alertness and defence mechanisms from fear; yet the enterprise goes on, booming every year! It is all ears! It is with great and restless expectation. The print and digital publications will be filled with prophecies, from the morning of Friday! There will be the accustomed New Year resolutions.
I cannot swear, except if her Christmas broadcast is a foretaste, but I will not be surprised if the Queen in her Speech from the Throne this year describes 2021 Annus Horribilis as she said of 1992. In her words about that year: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.” In the Christmas message, “And for me and my family, even with one familiar laugh missing this year, there will be joy in Christmas, as we have the chance to reminisce, and see anew the wonder of the festive season through the eyes of our young children…”
It will be recalled she described 2019 as “quite bumpy.” This year, her 61st on the throne, she has had to bear no less troubling challenges as was the case in 1992: the loss of her consort, Prince Phillip, and the disconcerting acrimony in the House of Windsor. That year, 29 years ago, she had said: “No institution—city, monarchy, whatever—should expect to be free from the scrutiny of those who give it their loyalty and support, not to mention those who don’t. This sort of questioning can also act, and it should do so, as an effective engine for change.”
It was a year filled with speculations about the collapsing marriage of the heir to the throne, Prince Charles and the would-be queen, Princess Diana. There was also bereavement in the House of Winsor.
The world’s Enemy No.1 today is coronavirus, holding nearly all nations by the jugular. Added to it in Nigeria is unprecedented insecurity. As I was preparing this column, marshalling my thoughts on Monday, The New York Times online reported cancellation of thousands of flights around the world, putting that of the United States alone at “more than 1,000…as Omicron variant of coronavirus sickened crews and disrupted travel plans.”
According to the newspaper, the cancellations occurred at a time many travelled for Christmas with families. “Roughly”, it says, “two million passed through screening checkpoints in the U.S. each day last week, and the numbers on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were nearly double the equivalent figures last year. As the Omicron variant spreads rapidly, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp rise in COVID cases, with the average daily caseload exceeding this summer’s peak, which was driven by the Delta variant.’’
Hospitalisation is rising too, predictably. TheNewsGuru, the online newspaper in Nigeria, reported FlightAware, air traffic website, as stating that “Globally, airlines cancelled more than 6,000 flights on Christmas Eve, Christmas and the day after Christmas. Lufthansa, the German airline had announced it would cancel 10 per cent of its winter flights, thus giving hint about how the flight chaos has been unsparing in Europe as well.
The British Daily Independent online reports rising cases of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom, putting the number of confirmed fresh cases last Monday, December 27 alone at the alarming rate of 98, 515 and deaths at 143. It was even worse on Christmas Day which recorded 113, 628 new cases and on Boxing Day, 108, 893. Bloomberg, the software and media company, tracking the exploits of the pathogen, put the figure of new cases worldwide as of Monday at 1,449, 269; with total deaths globally coming to 5, 410, 218 with the United States casualties totaling 512, 553. According to Bloomberg, vaccine doses administered came to over 9 billion (9, 042, 494,299) as of last Monday.
As we maul the ravages the pandemic has brought on our world, our attention is being drawn to what an online senior editor, David Knowles has described as the Next great Casualty of Climate Change. He writes: “In a year that has seen the disastrous effects of climate change unfold with frightening speed—from drought and famine to heat domes, wildfires and deadly flash flooding—another potential catastrophe has come into view: depleted oxygen levels in the world’s oceans and lakes that threaten marine life.” Knowles goes on to quote two researchers, Julie Pullen and Nathalie Goodkin who had written in Scientific American that “as ocean and atmospheric scientists focus on climate, we believe that oceanic oxygen levels are the next big casualty of global warming.”According to Knowles, increasing portions of the oceans have lost “10-40 per cent of their oxygen” to effects of global temperatures resulting from the proverbial climate change.
The researchers say when there is atmospheric increase of the amount of CO_2 not only are radiations entrapped consequently warming air, it warms water as well. Their studies show that oceans have lapped up 90 per cent of the excess heat created by climate change. The attendant depletion of oxygen has led in large measure to extensive die-offs of fish this year “in states such as Florida, California, Oregon, Montana, Louisiana, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, Missouri, Washington, Delaware and Minnesota.’’ Roughly, 1billion marine animals along the coast of Canada were also killed as a result of the heat wave, they say.
In this country, there was bothersome harvest of deaths. The country has witnessed an unusual spate of deaths which cut across classes and age brackets. A great number of stars have been plucked and taken away by the cold hands of death, as they say. What 2022 has in store for the nation, no one can say with some degree of certainty, not even the hordes of prophets can go beyond the frontiers of speculations. However, the baggage mankind is carrying into the New Year are unmistakable—whether we talk about the scourge of the pathogen or climate change. The world is encircled and mankind is entrapped. Yet, mankind sees, they cannot envision; they hear, they cannot grasp nor comprehend. And yet the Light of Creation Knowledge, the Light of Truth, beams its Rays to the whole world and to all mankind. It answers all questions of life and existence.
In the throe of all these, amidst the severe challenges the New Year promises to foreshadow the magic year, 2023, in Nigeria. Politicians jostling for positions are not giving thought to the entrapment of the world. They are busy crisscrossing the land under the cover of the night to have consultations with kingmakers, stakeholders and opinion makers. None has spoken publicly about his thoughts and reflections. In our country, it is power and office first, and reflections and visioning on uplifting the country and the citizens to the desired height, later.
As I scribbled down my reflections, I was reminded of Okonkwo and the seed yams. Chinua Achebe tells us: “The year that Okonkwo took eight hundred seed yams from Nwakibie was the worst year in living memory. Nothing happened at its proper time; it was either too early or too late. It seemed as if the world had gone to mad. The first rains were late and when they came, lasted only a brief moment…
“The drought continued for eight market weeks and the yams were killed. The year had gone mad. When the rains finally returned, they fell as it had never fallen before. Trees were uprooted and deep gorges appeared everywhere.
“That year, the harvest was sad, like a funeral and many farmers wept as they dug up the miserable and rotten yams. One man tied his cloth to a tree branch and hanged himself.
“Okonkwo remembered that tragic year with a cold shiver throughout the rest of his life. It always surprised him when he thought about it later that he did not sink under a load of despair. He knew he was a fierce fighter, but that year had been enough to break the heart of a lion.”
The outgoing year 2021 would pass as one year that broke not just hearts in our land but sent many a lion to premature deaths as bandits thundered up and down, killing and maiming with impunity; school children were kidnapped, the clergy and monarchs abducted and farmers when not killed were made to pay levies to enter their farms to plant yams, maize, millet and guinea corn. The ravages of the weather are there today as they occurred in Umuofia, the fictional village endowed with nature that gave the world Okonkwo; the farmer in Niger State or Igangan in Oyo State would certainly look at Okonkwo with envy. The people of Umuofia had only the elements to contend with and appease! And when there was occasional security infraction, a boy and a virgin are given as compensation by the offending clan!
Ladies and Gentlemen, wishing all readers of this column Happy New Year, good health and strength, and an earnest longing for new and victorious Knowledge. Our New Year resolution should be to make progress as individuals and as a people.