Let the people breathe
There is suffering in the land and that is saying it mildly. Hard times are staring Nigerians in their frowning faces. The cost of living has gone up astronomically and it is getting difficult surviving in this land. The young experts are exiting Nigeria in droves, all due to the harsh economic conditions in the country.
Without doubt, the primary purpose of any government is the greater good of the people. This is stated plainly in section 14 (2) of the Constitution that the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people. The two are intrinsically linked together as security is key to welfare.
You cannot be prosperous in a land filled with criminals who are on the lookout for you and your wealth. What I see daily on the faces of our people speak of pain, poverty and agony, which are all associated with the current economic policies of the government, since May 29, 2023. It will take a totally insensitive leader to pretend that all is well in our land.
What do we really mean by the cost of living? The battle for survival in Nigeria is so tough and intense that it will drain all of your capacity and strength. Let me break it down to the basics. How do you eat daily? Unless you are a farmer and you produce practically everything, you have to go to the market to buy food stuffs and groceries.
The price of rice keeps jumping up daily, so too that of garri, yam, beans, bread, corn, meat and fish. To prepare a meal in present-day Nigeria has become a herculean task in terms of the resources to buy the food materials. The minimum wage is N30,000 on the average, which cannot sustain any family. The grim consequence of this is that the average monthly salary of a Nigerian worker may not be enough to feed him and his family in a month.
But he must live in a house, however bad the situation and he has to pay for house rent on a monthly or yearly basis. He needs electricity to survive either by paying the estimated bills of the discos or running his own generator. And that is not a joke at all, given the cost of petrol and diesel. It is possible that he or his family may have some health challenges once in a while so he has to contend with the issue of paying hospital bills, buying expensive medications and generally keeping his family healthy. Death is not an option because it takes a lot to conduct a successful funeral in Nigeria.
The average Nigerian wants his children to be well educated so he has to come to grips with the issue of school fees. The student must necessarily pay tuition fees, buy expensive books, wear decent clothes and pay for accommodation, even in the public institutions. Some families have more than one ward in school. How do you do all these with N30,000 or even N100,000 monthly? In his inaugural address when he was taking his oath of office, President Bola Tinubu made some bold declarations for the removal of fuel subsidy and the unification of the foreign exchange regimes. I personally do not see how these policies can be effective in the hands of the old order.
There has to be a total overhaul of the system that previously operated these critical sectors namely the NNPCL and the Central Bank of Nigeria. The President has to go the whole hug in sanitizing these sectors in order to achieve the vision of change.
I honestly do not believe that fuel subsidy will go totally, given what we have heard so far about the corruption in that line and how people are feeding fat on us by doing nothing other than to cook up figures and thereafter receive huge credits in their bank accounts. Ditto for the NNPCL. There has to be system change for the new policies to work as I verily believe that the old order is part of the rot.
Then there is the issue of security. The Constitution links them together, in stating that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. Farmers are said to have left their farms. In Benue State for instance, we now have IDP camps for people who have been displaced from their homes and farmlands. Even in mechanized farming, a lot of investors have since closed down their factories for fear of kidnapping, murder and endless invasions by bandits and terrorists. It is my humble view that the present government is treating security issues with kid gloves.
The crisis in the North East, the sit at home in the South East and the crude oil theft in the South South have all conspired to cripple the economy of Nigeria. I do not consider the administration of President Bola Tinubu as new in any way at all because he was part and parcel of the last regime. Indeed, he earned himself the uncommon title of National Leader of the APC, whatever that meant, at the time. And I have it on good authority that the infamous Manifesto of the APC had the input of the President who was the central figure around the opposition. Except for the new power mongers who have defected to the APC since the emergence of the President, there are no new surprises amongst those working with the President.
The irony of this situation is that those who are in authority offer no example of the sacrifices that they preach to the followers. The appointments have remained bloated to accommodate more loyalists of the ruling party, both in the States and at the Federal levels. In one particularly embarrassing case, a governor employed about 42 aides to take on the media on his behalf. Nigerians are not asking for anything unusual other than transparent leadership, accountability and investment in things that are common to all.
There has to be a drastic cut in the cost of governance to save the scarce resources that we all need desperately to fix our country. This should start with the President, down to all the executive positions, then move over to the National Assembly and finally the private sector. Those in authority must show good examples of selflessness in order to galvanize the people into sacrifice.
It is estimated that in the coming quarter of the year, there will be job losses as many factories and companies will shut down their operations. In one of the news headlines for this week, it was reported that some companies borrowed in order to pay workers and stay in business. And these are big businesses now indebted to the banks to the tune of about N1.6 trillion.
Without fixing the power sector to guarantee constant electricity supply, no viable economic policy can be successfully piloted. A lot in Nigeria depends on stable electricity. A proper audit of the discos should reveal that they are not in a position to guarantee electricity supply, even if we take our generation level to 10,000 megawatts.
The distribution chain is as weak as the transmission chain, if not weaker indeed. Electricity consumers are still in the business of buying transformers, cables, fuses and other accessories for them to have power supply. It is commendable that the President has already signed the Electricity Bill into law. Let the governors of the States swing into full action by investing in electricity. They can reduce the security votes, cut their bloated executive and then deploy funds to common infrastructure such as health care, housing and electricity supply.
Take the case of the late Dr. Vware Diaso who could not be rescued in one of the best public medical facilities in the land. It is most embarrassing to learn that the General Hospital was short of blood on the day that one of their own needed it most. If a doctor working in a hospital could not receive the best treatment, what then is the fate of the ordinary man, you may ask? This is just one example of the rot that has permeated our system.
When we say let the people breathe, we talk of formulating and implementing economic policies with human face, we talk of huge investment in critical infrastructure, selflessness in governance and a drastic cut in the cost of governance. We want to be able to send our wards to school, we want to pay for constant electricity supply, we want to visit the hospitals and meet them in functional conditions, we want to be able to go back to our farms and also to sleep with both eyes closed. We do not seek to enjoy the same luxuries that our leaders wantonly display all the time, we do not seek to fly business class with all our children at the expense of the State, neither do we seek to train all our children in highbrow universities in the UK and the USA or to ride in armoured jeeps.
What we seek are the basic necessities of life and they should not be difficult to achieve.
The President needs to go back to the drawing board. The revelations coming from the South South about crude oil theft are very agonizing, to see huge vessels immersed in corruption to steal our common wealth, to see that houses are built on oil reserves and that almost all the security agencies are involved in this heist. Once the house is leaking, it will be difficult for those residing in it to enjoy peace and comfort. There is an urgent need for a holistic review of the economic policies announced by the President, as we still have a great disparity between the official exchange rate and the black market rate. That the black market still exists is in itself a confirmation of the failure of that policy. If there is the will on the part of the President, then there will certainly be a way.
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
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