There seems to be an atmosphere of uncertainty in the country as citizens are running out of patience over the hardship and hunger they have found themselves in which have been orchestrated by soaring prices of essential and non-essential commodities in the country.
An investigation by Peoples Daily Weekend revealed that it is no longer easy in the country as tempers have flared over the hardship in the land.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu when taking over the mantle of leadership of the country declared a national emergency on food security as record inflation has made basic foods unaffordable for many. This had renewed hopes in many Nigerians, but it seems that hope is gradually dwindling as hunger abounds in the land.
There is no gainsaying that food prices jumped up atronomically after Nigeria controversially removed a long-held, costly fuel subsidy. It is now obvious that there are no quick and easy fixes for Nigeria’s food crisis.
According to Mr. Leo Atakpu, the Acting Executive Director of the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) the hardship is unfortunate and it is a product of poorly conceived policies and poor implementation of the same policies by the government of the day.
He said President Bola Tinubu cannot jump into the removal of fuel subsidy on the day of inauguration without putting machinery in place to control its effect on the poor and then, make another policy of merging the parallel market and the official rate of the Dollar. All of these according to him have severe consequences, for the people
“You cannot increase the price of petroleum products, PMS in particular, without it having equal multiplier effects on the economy by over a thousand per cent increase; from 160 Naira to what people are buying for 670 Naira, where in the world do you have such?
“We expected that the new government would have taken time to study what the previous government did, have a good understanding and come up with an arrangement that is benefiting to all.
“Every day, you find that Nigerians are crying about increasing poverty and hardship, people are committing suicide, people are selling their children to feed themselves and the government is still not taking any step to improve the economic condition of the people even after promising to put measures in place and what we’ve seen so far is that they were Sharing money to state governors to take the lead in managing the impact of the increase in the price of petrol across the country.
“And we know what these governors do with these funds because how many governors are truly transparent and accountable in the monthly allocation given to them? Some even use it to campaign during elections, they do free rides for citizens so that when it is election day, they will vote for them. It simply means that the federal government did not think about the policies they formulated before executing them.
“Now the effects are biting and the government still has no solution to it. Then you go to the foreign exchange, you merge the markets and you have people whose eyes and interest in the market, they did not take time to study what these interests are and how to deal with them.
“Some of them are even more powerful than the State, and how do you deal with someone more powerful than the State? This is why you find that the value of the Naira against the Dollar is just on the upward swing and the government is helpless about it.
“You also have a group of people that have been employed as the Economic Team but the kind of explanation they give falls short of the basic economic analysis that anyone can give while they are called upon and that is the reason these things are happening.
“What Nigerians need is the solution, people want the basic needs of life —food, clothing and shelter, they do not want the government to build houses for them or give them money in their bedrooms.
“People just want access to transportation because, with the high cost of transportation, every other thing is affected like the prices of foodstuffs which is always on the increase with inflation on the others which is becoming unstoppable by the government,” he said.
Mr. Atakpu argued that
some of these policies are foreign-induced. According to him, over the years, the World Bank and IMF have pressurized the Nigerian government to remove subsidies, the price of petroleum products and even their overhead costs but in doing that, the government needed to sit down and think through.
He explained that during the pandemic, the IMF had cause to release some Special Drawing Rights (SDRs ) to its members of which Nigeria got her share of 3.4 billion dollar equivalent of the SDR allocation in August 2021 and It is the CBN and the Finance Ministry that manages the SDR funds but as we speak, they have no information of the fund you can trace or find anywhere on how Nigeria spent this fund.
“The IMF on its part also has the responsibility of monitoring the use of the SDR by member nations but as we speak, the information they have on their website does not detail information as to how Nigeria used its allocation of the SDR.
“So citizens are asking the basic questions that the sum of 3.4 billion dollars is enough to curb the effect of the pandemic and prevent the economic crisis that came as a result of COVID-19 but until now, we can’t find any document of the Federal government of Nigeria that relates with the use of the SDR with the national budget anywhere and even when you write or speak to them, the CBN and finance ministry keeps mum, the National Assembly does not even know what SDR means which is wrong cause by constitutional provision, they are supposed to oversight all incomes and expenditures of the government,” according to him.
Similarly, an Academic and public policy analyst based in Abuja, Dr Tarfa Ibrahim, was frank in accepting that the hardship in Nigeria is something that cannot be denied.
According to him, the cost of food has gone up, the cost of living has gone up, and school fees and house rent have gone up. Those who have jobs are finding it increasingly difficult to transport themselves to work cause transport alone eats most of their pay.
“The sick can’t afford medical bills because the price of medicine and treatment has gone up. Poverty has become the lot of many, and dependency on family members is now the order of the day.
“Some you find that only one person has a good job so other members of the family turn to that one person for survival, which is frustrating as the income is not enough for that person,” he said.
Tarfa Ibrahim noted that the current hardship is not something Nigerians can pretend about. The exchange rate as viewed by the CBN is bad with high inflation on the prices of goods and services and for a country that has very low exports and high imports, then you know it’s the worst. “They keep transferring the cost of the burden on the people and the poor suffer for it.”
The Analyst advised that the first way of response by the government is for them to provide palliatives that can help reduce the effect of the hardship on the masses.
“But in recent years, it has been discovered that the palliative being given through the social investment programs is not properly managed. So the government should reform these social investment programme so that the burden caused by the hardship can be reduced.
:Also, the government should use the funds that are obtained from partnerships with the International communities, transparently and efficiently.
“And talking about the source of funds, an example is the special drawing right that the country got in August 2021 when the International Monetary Fund (IMF,) released funds to countries that were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic which can be used to implement programs that can help in cushioning the effects of the Covid19. Nigeria received the Special Drawing Right which when converted to money, is equivalent to 3.35 billion dollars and in naira worth 4.2 trillion naira.
“It is not a loan, it is money that is given to only members of the IMF of which, Nigeria is a beneficiary. So the government can access this fund and create an enabling framework that will guide them on the use of this fund for positive development in the country.
“The idea of declaring an emergency by Mr President is so that the people can understand that the issue of food scarcity and insecurity is not a joke.
“ He did it as a call to all stakeholders to sit up and address the challenges of the food sector, which can lead to crisis if nothing is done, and as a president, that was the best he could do so it is up to the heads of these Ministries Departments and Agencies, responsible for Agriculture and other economic development to go into action and help farmers become more productive but there are other existing challenges that needs to be addressed.
“The long-experienced challenge of climate change, the insecurity in rural areas that is affecting farmers, all these need to be addressed because if the farmers don’t go to the farm, there will be no food harvest and it will lead to scarcity of food, so this issues must be addressed.
“Nigerians should seek to harness their hidden potentials, they should put their skills to use and ultimately, we have to stand for ourselves, the government has a responsibility of protecting the lives and properties of the citizens as well as providing for them but executing this task is also an issue for them.
“So I advise Nigerians to not give up but motivate themselves. Find something to sustain you and your family and at the same time, the government should make efforts to fulfil its constitutional duties to citizens by protecting lives and properties, providing food, security, water, light and other basic amenities so that we can have a good environment to implement our visions and ideas for the good of the country.”
Also, Mallam Muhammad Yusuf Musa of Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) Katsina State opined that the way to solve the food crisis and hardship in Nigeria is through sound economic policies that make agriculture attractive (particularly to the youth), as well as institutional reforms that protect land tenure, raise farmers’ productivity, boost supply, and lower prices to consumers, while also ensuring good returns for agricultural investment.
He added that it is doubtful that the mere declaration of a national emergency, with a long wish list, will succeed in ensuring food security in Nigeria as more Nigerians are going to bed with empty stomachs and there is an atmosphere of uncertainty in the land.
Corroborating this the Acting Executive Director of Legal Awareness for Nigeria Women ( LAWN) Mrs Hanatu Ahuwan said in June 2023, barely after being sworn in as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu sought the collaboration of the state governors to reduce the hardship brought upon the nation by the removal of fuel subsidy and tackle poverty as a whole.
The interventions according to her were to be beneficial to the common man. Eight months down the line, the common man is worse off.
“We have heard of interventions that include palliatives which the majority of those considered as ‘common man’ are yet to see or touch.
“The prices of fuel, foodstuffs and general cost of living keep skyrocketing virtually daily. Families are suffering, even those considered as ‘middle class’, much more than the common man.
“ The worst hit are women and children. Most low-income families are headed by women whose burden of providing for the family has increased. Families can barely afford three square meals. School attendance is affected by the cost of transportation and the ability to pay for other educational needs.
“The ability to provide healthcare services for family members is also affected which has a great impact on maternal and child mortality.
“The Tinubu-led administration needs to proffer realistic strategies to solving Nigeria’s issues and how to quickly alleviate the suffering the nation has been plunged into through the removal of fuel subsidy.
“The elected and appointed officials need to walk the talk not only talk the walk. Their policies and interventions need to be people-friendly. The President may also need to look into including more capable technocrats in his appointments not only those being compensated for their campaign contributions who might not necessarily be fully equipped to bring solutions. They should also look into how to crash the prices of fuel, food and the exchange rate.” She said
An Activist Mr Ishaku Yusuf Goje premised that Nigeria is in a dire strait and that poverty, hunger and frustration are now permanent residents in many households.
Goje added that household income and consumption have been hard hit by inflation, especially food inflation, the persistent fall in the value of the naira. Insecurity has also not helped matters. The renewed hope promised to Nigerians by President Tinubu during the campaigns seems to be pushing many into hopelessness.
The activist opined that government must wake up to their responsibility as encapsulated in Section 14, sub-section 2 b of the 1999 constitution of the FRN (as amended). So far all the fiscal and monetary policy decisions of the government have added to the woes of Nigerians. Especially the removal of fuel subsidies and unification of the exchange rate.
“If the government does not do the needful to detonate the ticking time bomb then we will be in for a widespread social unrest that will shake the foundation of our fragile nation.
“The Tinubu administration must also review its communication strategy. It is important to ensure that they explain why Nigerians are suffering, what they are doing and for how long they will have to suffer before reaping the benefits of the policy choices of the administration.
“All eyes should also be on the governors and local government council Chairmen. The President can only do so much without the governors and chairmen playing their part. Civil society and media need to also up their game as watch-dogs in holding the government accountable. All hands must be on deck.” Goje stressed
The Government policies have always been questioned by the organised labour comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) who have given the Federal government a two-week ultimatum to implement the October 2, 2023 agreement on palliative packages to cushion fuel subsidy removal or face a strike action.
Both Labour Centres expressed concern over the federal government’s failure to implement the 16-point agreement reached by all parties as measures to cushion the effect of petrol subsidy removal on Nigerians.
The Organised Labour said Nigerians have continued to suffer widespread hunger with the workers’ purchasing power significantly eroded, while insecurity on the other hand has assumed an increasing dimension.
They further stated that Nigerians were left to wonder where their next meals would come from and what tomorrow might bring.
NLC and TUC also stated that the level of panic and anxiety among the populace has become nightmarish and that the government was bereft of appropriate measures to ameliorate the huge burden it has foisted on the citizenry.
“The issues include wage awards, palliative adjustments, improved access to public utilities, and respect for the autonomy of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN).
“The Labour Centres described the federal government’s failure to uphold its end of the bargain as deeply regrettable and unacceptable to the working people and the citizenry.”