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Grappling with hardship, rising cost of living

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With worsening insecurity, alarming unemployment, inclement economic conditions, skyrocketing prices of good and services, and the absence of proven economic drivers, many Nigerians, though with vast and varied opinions, seem to agree that getting on with their daily lives has been pretty difficult and, indeed, that the country is teetering dangerously on the edge of the abyss.

As the nation flounders aimlessly, concerned stakeholders have sent a clarion call to the federal government to halt the hardship afflicting Nigerians or risk catastrophic consequences that could cost the nation dearly. They stressed the need for a thorough scrutiny of growth drivers and national policies in order to rejuvenate the economy and save it from total collapse.

Painting the gloomy picture of the how dire the situation confronting the average Nigerian is at the moment, a communication and public relations expert at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi, Dr. Ande Iheme, said it cannot be controverted that country was facing an existential problem occasioned by the worsening economic situation.

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According to him, a good indication of this is seen in how Nigerians dare to flee the hardship by attempting to travel through the Sahara desert, which is said to be about 700miles just to get to Europe. He noted that for many Nigerians to think they can walk through it, face the very hard conditions in places like Libya, before being able to cross through the Mediterranean Sea in the boats, is a sad commentary about the situation they are running away from. 

“For somebody to dare to walk into the desert that has no tracks, with extreme weather, what must be pursuing that person from his home state must be greater than the consequences that he is facing in the desert and the Mediterranean Sea and that is the testament to what is happening in this country,” he said.

Iheme said that the youths were taking very daring steps to survive, noting that a lot of people taking that route to escape hardship were ordinarily good people. “Their backs are against the brick wall, and what you see them doing now is a reaction to the situation. The #EndSARS protests was another indicator. For the youth to be so mobilised, speaking with one voice on a matter, it means the situation is very difficult for them. The earlier the country begins to address the issues, the better because Nigeria is just at the tipping point. When youths that constitute the larger population expresses that kind of anger in their nation, then there is a problem. 

“If you station a slave boat and ask Nigerian youths to enter the same slave boat that exported their forefathers to Brazil, Portugal and rest of them, a lot of them will voluntarily enter the boat to go and be slaves rather than continue to persevere what they are going through now. This is worsened by massive unemployment and the discrimination about who gets which job. Employment is now no longer a matter of merit. As such, a lot of youths are not interested in working hard because it looks as if hard work does not pay in this country. What pays is one’s ability to short change the country, cut corners and ability to be involve in crime,” he said.

Mr. Ishola Michael, a public affairs analyst, also re-echoed Iheme’s views on the state of the economy, saying that the situation was terrible. “Money is not in circulation the way it ought to be. A few people are in possession of the legal tender; industries are moribund, the banking industry is challenged, just as the financial sector has completely collapsed. The reason is simply bad management of the economic sector by the powers-that-be; wrong managers were installed to do the bidding of the few in power. The environment created by the government is not conducive for doing business. The debt burden on the country is huge. Simply put, bad governance brought us to where we are now.”

Michael also decried the insecurity across the country, saying it has also affected the availability of food. “Insurgency is the major factor for food scarcity because farmers can no longer go to the farms for fear of attack by bandits. The few farmers who go, return with just a little quantity of produce, leaving the majority of the population to struggle for the limited available items. Meanwhile, many people, especially civil servants can no longer afford basic living because they don’t earn a living wage. The experience of an average Nigerian is bitter. My conclusion is that, ‘There was a country,”

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Another respondent, Comrade Abdullahi Yelwa, a lecturer at the Abubakar Tatari Ali Polytechnic, Bauchi also identified the insecurity in different parts of the country has partly responsible for the hardship the country is facing. He opined that aside from the farmers that re threatened, many Nigerians have been forced to sell some of their property to get what will keep sustaining them while buying also them at the expensive prices.

FOR residents of southeast region, coping with current realities in the country as a result of spiraling economic situation has been tough. Day after day, the pains of living stare them in the face. This is further compounded by increasing insecurity and disruption in economic and social activities by the agitations from the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which craves to restore the Republic of Biafra.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic that brought various economies to their knee, last year, the southeast region is yet to recover from the development. While some thriving businesses and industries either closed shop or operate at their lowest ebb, several jobs were also lost as cost of goods and services continues to rise on daily basis.

According to checks by The Guardian, cost of services have tripled, just as incomes have remained stagnant, making it difficult for salary earners to cope as well as meet their daily demands. For instance, Mrs Uju Uzochukwu, told The Guardian that she withdrew her three children from a private Primary school and registered them at a public Primary School, after it dawned on her that she could no longer continue to pay their school fees from her meagre salary, among other issues.

She stated that late last year when schools resumed, she was forced to pay school fees even when she was placed on half salary in her place of work. “Two or three weeks after, the schools closed for the session and the children returned home. Now, the next activity that faced us was the Christmas celebration. I was in the village for the Christmas celebrations when I received a call from my landlord, insisting that I pay the yearly rent as he needed money to take care of emergencies. I transferred half of the yearly rent to him. It was a difficult one for me but I had to do it.

“The schools resumed again on the first week of the new year. As at then, the half salary my office was paying had not come. I needed money to pay their fees to enable them return to school. I had to go to their school to plead that I be given little time to sort it out. But I discovered that while trying to save to pay the fees, pressure of how to feed became unbearable. I had to pull them out of the school and fix them in a government school where I could pay less,” she said.

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Uzochukwu, who said her husband died four years ago, leaving her with the responsibility of raising the family, added that “though my office has restored my full monthly pay since February this year, it is not easy to return my children to their former school because, apart from the N25,000 I pay for each of them per term, I will cloth, feed and take care of their medical expenses.”

She continued: “It is more painful when you discover that in the school, you are made to buy every text book, exercise book and other items they may asked to provide from time to time. These are different from the school fees that you pay. But it is cheaper for me to do it in government school but that only challenge is their standard that is too low.”

Ikechukwu Onoh, a teacher in one of the public Schools in Enugu state, noted that cost of items are being placed beyond the reach of the ordinary Nigerian, stressing that, “in the last two months, the price of commodities like bread, rice, beans, garri, red oil have increased for more than three times.

“It is too difficult to continue to cope with the monthly salary. I took out time after school hours to do other minor jobs to compliment whatever I receive as salary in a month. The truth is that government has not done much to improve standard of living for the ordinary Nigerian. People no longer go to the hospitals because of the huge bills charged in them. Even when you try to pay the bill, the abysmal services you get ordinarily will discourage you from coming again. That is the situation we have found ourselves. Nobody cares anymore because of the difficulty we have found ourselves.

“The other day, I took my wife to the hospital, I paid as much as N2500 to get an admission card. Before we could see a doctor, we paid the consultation fee and we finally met one and he recommended drugs, the hospital was unable to provide the drugs. Yet, we are talking about one of the best health facilities in the state. It took us almost the entire day to get the attention of a medical doctor. Every staff member wants you to put something in his/her hand for your file to move to the next table,” he said.

A public affairs analyst, Dr Uche Ugonna, insisted that the government’s inability to enforce regulation in prices and thorough implementation of its economic policies have continued to affect the wellbeing of the masses, stressing that the long term effect was an increase in social vices.

Speaking with The Guardian, he said: “We are not lacking in ideas that could make our economy thrive better. What we lack is how to put those ideas into practical realities to enable us to have a better society – a society that caters for the low and high income earners. For instance, look at the diversification policy of the federal government, if you open the books to see how much that has gone into this venture and how it has benefited the country, you may be pushed to ask them to discontinue with it. That policy, as much as I know, is being implemented but has it been impacted every region? The answer is no. It is one sided. That is why the people cannot feel it. The same energy they spend in ensuring that certain areas of the country should benefit from it should be spent to ensure it goes around.”

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He stated that sundry taxes, created by artificial middlemen in the chain of supply and services have added to the exorbitant cost of items, adding that “it takes a determined businessman to move items from the north to the southern part of the country, because, several security checkpoints must be settled; there are local and state governments revenue agencies, coupled with the bad state of the roads. When all these combine they tend to make the cost of services very high.

“But I should think that more efforts should be spared so as to improve infrastructure, improve security and provide a conducive atmosphere for some of these services to thrive. The environment is too hostile for economic activities to thrive and this is something the government must check to make meaningful and positive impact on the citizenry,” he added

IN Rivers State, residents who spoke with The Guardian decried the high cost of living. According to some of the residents, income has continued to dwindle while some have no earnings due to job loss, yet, cost of items in the market have continued to surge.  

A visit to some major markets in the State like Mile one, Mile three and Rumokoro markets revealed that the price of commodities have increased by over 50 per cent.

A Civil Servant with the State Ministry of Finance, who simply gave his name as Frank, said, “The current minimum wage is not able to feed a family for two days going following the high cost of commodities.”

A resident of Afikpo Street in Mile One Diobu, Port Harcourt, Mrs. Fidelis Amah, said, “I lost my job last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic woes, my husband earns about N50,000 monthly. So, presently, life has become very unbearable for us because we can’t use the money to feed for two weeks.”

Speaking on the sad development, Prof. Okey Onuchukwu, Professor of Economics, University of Port Harcourt, said there is no rocket science to the current situation in Nigeria because the nation is not a productive economy.

He explained, “Any economy that is not productive will definitely have this kind of issue where cost of living will be very high. Nigeria is a mono-economy that depends on oil. There is no value addition to the oil, we just dig out crude oil and sell at the international market.  

“So in this kind of economy when you are not producing, products will not be available for people to buy at cheaper rate and that’s why you have high cost of living and that also affects our exchange rate because the exchange rate depends on what you can produce and sell to the rest of the world. When you are not producing and not selling to the rest of the world, we are buying from them and whatever that they have in terms of inflation in those country will be imported into our country.”

The Varsity don advised government to embark on policies that will encourage production, stressing that it is very important. “So, one basic thing we must do as a people is to make policies that will encourage production to ensure that we have adequate security in the country. The components of food security is high because insecurity is not allowing people to go to farm.”

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Prof. Onuchukwu charged government to be very sincere in fighting insecurity to enable the people go back to farm to at least produce what Nigerians can eat in and also make policies that can encourage investment in manufacturing.
Economists Seek New Policy Direction

HOWEVER, economic experts spoke on the situation of the country. A management expert and business analyst, Joseph Aseda said the economic situation in the country is dire and really a result of poor judgment and decisions by the Federal Government. 

Aseda said: “The economy managers distracted and constrained their solution  options with other factors other than economic and social factors. Any administration would have struggled with economic problems arising from both external and internal issues, but current administration looks as if the well-being of the people is of little or no concern at all. This problem with the management of this economy is misplaced priority and objectives rather than technical know-how.”

According to the renowned business analyst, inflation data from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the realities on the streets shows one of the worst situations anywhere in the world. But its expected given the way the economy is being managed.

“Poor management of the economy couple with seemingly misplaced FG priorities and objectives”, he said while advising that: “The Federal Government must put the well-being of the people first. This should get them to start thinking of ways to sort the economy out.

“That said, technically, FG in collaboration with the State govt should focus on the simple things first for example, ensuring local sufficiency in food production. This is double edged as it makes food available and boosting local Economy around farmers. To do this, we must look towards a different model of farming operations and value appropriation and capturing. 

“Secondly, do everything possible to have maximum local petroleum refining this should strengthen the naira and arrest inflation resulting from weakening Naira. FG must ensure that every refineries in the works are completed ASAP no matter what it will take. FG must demystify exporting such that SMEs in the country could export like moving goods from one town to another. Lastly, power supply must be improved and should be predictable if not 24hr a day. This are not new suggesting, the FG only needed single-minded determination to deliver them.”

AN Ibadan-based financial analyst and lecturer Babcock University, Ilisan-Remo, Ogun State, Dr. Yinka Akintunde said: “The economic situation of Nigeria is in chaos. The prices are highly exorbitant and beyond the affordability limits of an average Nigerian. The major cause is inflation. The price of oil in the market low and that’s the mainstay of the economy. Small and medium scale enterprises struggling to survive while some have gone underneath. Major focus should be on the development of small and medium scale enterprises, microcredit, major focus on agriculture, urgent attention on power and security.”

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Other economists called for more thorough scrutiny of growth drivers and national policies to get the economy working again and save the country from total collapse. 
   
The call came as capital inflows nosedive and local investments stagnate, worsening the employment crisis, which was estimated at 33.3 per cent as of last December. 
   
Capital importation, indeed, heads towards a historical loan. According to data supplied by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the figure tumbled from $22.9 billion in 2019 to $9.9 billion last year. While it improved to a recently, hitting $1.9 billion in the first quarter, the renewed uncertainty triggered by a resurging COVID-19 has pulled it down to $.9 billion in the second quarter, less than half of the Q1 inflow.
   
Reading the positive correlation between foreign investment and the capacity of the economy to create jobs, experts said the declining capital importation does not bode well for an effort to grow an inclusive economy. 
   
The inflation rate is also not decelerating as fast as expected. In May, it stood at 17.75 per cent, and experts said insecurity would necessarily have to be tackled head-on to increase agriculture performance and crash prices of food items. The shock in the supply of food is a major trigger of the country’s inflation, making insecurity a major variable in the inflation puzzle. 
   
Sadly, activists balked at government’ effort to tackle insecurity. A rising unemployment alongside escalating inflation means a higher misery index, which currently stands at about 51 per cent. 
   
To reverse these sour trends and turn on the engine of sustainable growth, economists and finance experts charged the government to stop the de-industrialisation, retool policies and make governance responsive. 

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