Three takeaways from 2020

With the end of the unusual year 2020, it is appropriate to reflect on some issues that would make the year linger in the memory of millions of people across the world. Apart from serving the purpose of reflection, these issues have implications for education and being at peace with oneself and the world.

Three of these issues, which are significant takeaways and their core lessons, are the Coronavirus pandemic, the US presidential election and the strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria, the world’s most populous Black country.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

A deadly disease caused by a novel coronavirus called “severe acute respiratory syndrome corona virus 2  (SARS-CoV-2; formally called 2019-nCoV)”, COVID-19 hit the world like a cluster bomb shortly after it was first identified during an outbreak of respiratory illness cases in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, late 2019. Reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) exactly a year ago on December 31, 2019, it was declared a global health emergency on January 30, 2020 before WHO further proclaimed it a global health pandemic on March 11, 2020. At the time, it had spread across many parts of the world.

This is a disease that penetrates the body through the nose, the mouth or the eyes and attaches itself to cells in the respiratory tract or airways from the nose to the vocal chords. The most common of the symptoms of this number one global enemy are fever, dry cough and tiredness with the less common ones being aches and pains, sore through, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, headache, loss of taste or smell, a rash on skin, or discoloration of fingers or toes, etc. The disease can easily spread to the lungs, make breathing acutely difficult and lead to a painful death. The disease has been contracted by 81.2 million people, resulting in 1.77 million deaths and 45.9 million recoveries around the world as at the 28th of December, 2020. While the world continues to struggle with the vaccines, the second wave of the pandemic has started, with fresh infections being recorded and the world experiencing new rounds of lockdowns and restrictions.

It is amazing that despite the remarkable advancement that human beings have recorded in science and technology, the world was caught napping and the search for solution is still a trial-and-error affair. A single disease that has defied solution, forcing people indoors and altering global systems while imposing its own inconvenient protocols, is a signal to one thing: we know little and we have to be humble. In other words, no matter how much you know, your knowledge is still infinitesimal when compared with the unknown. Even the crystal balls of the garrulous clergymen who make exotic prophesies at the beginning of each year failed to reveal the impending pandemic!

Basically, Coronavirus has taught the world to be humble. It is in this respect that everyone has to be humble because everyone we meet knows something we don’t know and there is no end to learning. While Socrates, the Greek philosopher, told us that true knowledge is knowing that you know nothing, Leo Tolstoy, the Russian writer, once said, “Perfection is impossible without humility. Why should I strive for perfection if I am already good enough?” COVID-19 is an important lesson in humility to all those who believe they have all the answers. It is also a lesson to those who value education that it is inelastic and we should keep pursuing it diligently as we know so little, regardless of anywhere we go or whoever we think we are.

The US Presidential Election

Due to the remarkable influence America exerts on the rest of the world, whatever happens in the US is often of global interest. Indeed, whenever the US sneezes, the world catches cold. So, the American politics always holds global appeal and when the outgoing US President, Donald Trump, was elected four years ago, everyone was utterly disappointed because imagining a President Trump was just unthinkable to those who followed the campaigns. However, he won the elections and succeeded at belittling his office and Americans in the eyes of the world, to the consternation of those who even supported him initially.

So, the world waited with bated breath if the most unpresidential president in the US history would be rewarded with a second term. The election day came with its drama before and after elections; by the time the results were counted and announced, former Vice President Joe Biden of the opposition Democratic Party carried the day. President Trump characteristically attempted to discredit the elections but the American system made him a loner. His legal fireworks serially failed until he realized that his end in the White House is very near and President-elect Biden is the next occupant.

In a political system where it is almost taken for granted that a leader would win a second term, the important lesson in President Trump’s electoral failure in 2020 is that people should never be taken for granted. People will always remember how you made them feel and many people felt the short fuse of President Trump as no race or institution was too much or sacred for him to denigrate and attack. He would actually win a gold prize at dressing others down as his Twitter tantrums show. From the Speaker of the Congress, Nancy Pelosi, to the fallen heroes, from political adversaries to reporters, from nationalities to religious groups, President Trump is unhinged when it comes to verbal attacks. Americans were justifiably disgusted and the results showed it.

The lesson is that we should mind our words in order to be at peace with the world. Everyone is important and rather than descend low as to throw verbal punches, a conscionable person should deploy silence or just walk away gracefully. A leader does not have to react to everything. President Trump used his unconventional verbal engagements to devalue himself and the result came in the verdict at the end of the presidential polls. The year 2020 was the year a President was electorally kicked in the ass for his garrulous indiscretions as a communicator.

Nigeria’s ASUU strike

Shortly before the general lockdown imposed as part of the measures to control the spread of COVID-19, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria declared a total, comprehensive and indefinite strike to compel government to save university education. The strike was declared mainly to make government honor its own agreements by saving the public university system from imminent collapse due largely to underfunding.

On the basis of disagreement on payment platforms and sundry issues, lecturers’ salaries were withheld for many months and the strike declared in March was not given any serious attention until when announcements were made for schools to resume class in mid-October. With the pressure on government and the devastating consequences of the #EndSARS protests against police brutality in which many students, who would have been in school if there was no strike, participated, meetings gained more momentum and in late December, the strike was conditionally suspended when the government bowed to the legitimate demands of the union.

The implication of the strike is that sacrifice is the making of a man. ASUU was patient and forbearing and it achieved symbolically all what it declared its 2020 strike for. But in a situation whereby people want to achieve success or greatness without going through challenges, problems and hunger, nothing serious can be achieved.

Indeed, as Tai Solarin wrote on January 1 1964, “All that was noble and laudable was achievable only through difficulties and trials and tears and dangers.” So, no pain, no gain!