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‘Pump price of petrol and cost of living’

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PHOTO: fueltek.co.uk

PHOTO: fueltek.co.uk

This is so sad. Poor Nigeria! Poor people! Providing subsidy is nothing new, it is not a will-o’-the- wisp especially to a suffering people who have yet to cross the Jordan.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to be a cuckoo in the government’s nest and engage in the attack of wind. But states are not built by only one political party but by all parties and the citizenry. It is expedient for government to listen or else hubris will meet its poetic nemesis.

It is the duty of the opposition to exploit the government’s difficulties but they cannot even make a decent job of that, neither has the labour movement. They run with the hare and hunt with the hound. They went in for a meeting with the government, said nothing but chose to hold a NEC meeting before making their stance known.

Nigerians would not care a hoot about the men who direct the affairs of the country so long as their daily needs are met. Those needs are legion and made worse with the hike in the pump price of petroleum products available in the country.

Save for a few, and I wonder how they manage to be above the threshold, most Nigerians are in desperate straits now – and for entrepreneurs, who do not draw salaries monthly, they are in Hades. But it shouldn’t be so. To live comfortably, one need not earn millions of NGN annually.‬ There should be alternatives for all classes of people.

Alternatives are what make the economy of a country, however harsh, tolerable. And people who have these alternatives can sacrifice for nationhood. Take countries beyond our shores where there are rent-controlled apartments, and the poor can have a roof over their heads. They have soup kitchens, while not enough of them, that still give people the chance to eat once a day. Others without jobs even volunteer their services to get the chance to be fed as volunteers.

In Australia for example, citizens apply to banks and finance companies for loans. They would not lend for rental/mortgage arrears. Only for property, cars, holidays etc., and they hold title to borrowers’ assets which they can sell to recover their money in the event of default.

Nigerians have to resort to asking friends or family for help to keep a roof over their family’s heads. That is heartbreaking to me. With some exceptions, no westerner would dream of trying to borrow privately, much less ask for financial help without the wherewithal for repayment.‬ Nigerians go through a lot to renew their leases or move apartment.

Why do people have to pay one or two years in advance? In Australia, rent is paid monthly. Citizens have to pay six weeks’ rental in advance as a bond which is held by a rental bond board. Part or all of that bond money can be paid to the landlord for any damage caused by tenants. If nothing is deducted it goes towards the bond for new accommodation for the tenants. The landlord pays for necessary repairs and maintenance to the property. It’s a system that seems to work fairly well.

In the United States some people working full-time jobs still need food stamps to get by. Food stamp is subsidy provided by the government to the browbeaten remember! Yet the U.S. is touted as the greatest country in the world, the land of the free.

It’s hard to reconcile the disproportionate wealth with overwhelming poverty in all countries. It would be hard to imagine people living in a so-called affluent country being broke.

My senior friend in the U.S. receives $1300 per month in welfare payments as her pension having retired from service. While Nigerians could live quite well on that sort of income. She tells me that her rentals/mortgage payments are exorbitantly high as is fuel, car registration, insurance, food, clothing, shoes, electricity, water, education, etc. Her son helps her with living expenses.

But the good thing is: she receives her cheque monthly on the stipulated day but some states in Nigeria have yet to pay retired workers 12 months pension. How do they hope to commute and feed?

This is the reason government must take the charge to take care of the weak. India for instance heavily taxes gasoline used by private vehicle owners but subsidises diesel which is used for the state’s public sector transportation services.

Recently in Ibadan, I needed to do over three hundred photocopies and at the business center the attendant told me N20 per copy because of the price of petrol. I was on a Spartan budget. I decided to go to the University of Ibadan where I photocopied for N5.

There are differences in living standard that location can entail. I commuted a lot in Ibadan (UI, Ojo, Mokola, Jericho, Apata, Dugbe, Egbeda, Ojo, Brewery, Airport, Queen Cinema, etc.) and saw people with so many alternatives. If you were asked to pay N100, you negotiated to N50 and got your way sometimes. If drivers refuse to budge, you entered a molue in good shape, not rickety which people civilly queued to enter for N30. I entered two of these and stood holding the rail to support myself. Look, there were taxis covering distances for N30, I mean distances that cost N100 elsewhere in other states.

Does this place the information in proper perspective? Many people in Nigeria do not have university degrees and have no access to specialised work to earn a fraction of six-figure incomes to be within a sane threshold. Many do not have a job. The cost of living has plateaued sky high and become unbearable. It is government’s responsibility to give alternatives to all those who just earn enough to get by.

Again I and my host went somewhere to eat away from the regular upbeat places you know, a break from the delicious meals of his significant-other. Amala in that restaurant cost N20, I asked for two and a big piece of meat as big as the one that goes for N100 in Port Harcourt is sold for N20. I ate Amala and two pieces of meat all for N80 and felt full. This was not a run of the mill restaurant mind you.  Most people I saw there dressed nicely and analysed affairs of state in a knowledgeable way.

Nigeria should move away from allowing her citizens to live in slums and to provide massive, rent-controlled apartments through which people could move away from abrasive rent increases by landlords. I am not even asking for 25-year house mortgage loans which aren’t available here in Nigeria.

People get jobs only to work for nothing because the jobs came with a poor salary and as much as they want to not bother with it, they can’t remain idle. Idleness would foreclose the opportunities to eat, commute and face the daily challenges of life. Shouldn’t the state look after their interests?

In movies, I don’t how true, I see people, homeless ones, illegally occupying vacant apartments. Imagine state-owned vacant apartments. The state must be resourceful enough to build homes, so that they can have vacant units. Homes are a right to be provided by government not a privilege.

Citizens in Nigeria have housing challenge, transportation and feeding problem on a scale unimaginable. In Port Harcourt, they assume you work in an oil-drilling company earning a six-figure income to get by. Even when less than 2 per cent of the populace are privileged to work there.

So long as we are willing to follow the rules of civilised society, Nigerians should be provided alternatives to housing, transportation arrangements and more, not a handout, but to have available to them exactly what their wages can buy, to live in a humanistic society.

So humanistic like in Australia where, some African refugees live in suburbs with large African communities and so many of them are unemployed. They gather outside coffee shops, train stations and shopping complexes day and night. Even though many can’t find jobs the welfare system meets their family needs.

I hear civil servants are owed salaries for months by states that impose hardship on us all.
• Abah, a teacher and writer, lives in Port Harcourt @abahsimon1 (08023792604;07035017922)


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