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Unlimited suffering as energy crises, soaring prices of staples unsettle nation

By Eno-Abasi Sunday, Wole Oyebade, Gbenga Akinfenwa (Lagos) Lawrence Njoku (Enugu) Seye Olumide (Ibadan) Joke Falaju (Abuja)
20 March 2022   |   4:15 am
Nothing mirrors the pathetic state that the nation has found itself in, than the plunging index of sustainable development. Apart from becoming glaring and finding expression in the number of Nigerians that are living below poverty lines and unable to cater...

(Photo by Benson Ibeabuchi / AFP)

Nothing mirrors the pathetic state that the nation has found itself in, than the plunging index of sustainable development. Apart from becoming glaring and finding expression in the number of Nigerians that are living below poverty lines and unable to cater for life’s necessities, including food, shelter, and clothing, evidence of rising citizens’ woes and sheer governance apathy is glaring.

As these economic conditions continue to hit the red helplessly, and more Nigerians are incapable of meeting standard social and economic obligations, they are further imperiled by the alleged lack of know-how displayed by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government in ensuring/maintaining economic stability, or radically improving upon the conditions that the All Progressives Congress (APC) government met in 2015.

Indeed, events of the last couple of months point to the fact that a lot more than what the Federal Government was offering was needed to steer the country out of the woods and revive a post-COVID-19 economy where income has remained unchanged, and living conditions unbearable.

Specifically, the last two months have been particularly horrendous, especially for those who thought that the Buhari-led government was coming to offer anything extra-ordinary given all that it promised, as well as the massive goodwill with which it rode to power.

Apart from last week’s very disturbing collapse of the national (grid twice in 48 hours), the inability of the government to improve electricity supply, which it promised during electioneering, has led many to question when it would stop taking Nigerians for granted.

And as the effect of the darkness foisted on the country continues to burrow into the finances of individuals and organisations, the importation of poor quality petrol into the country, and its attendant consequences only succeeded in compounding the suffering.

Over the years, the poor management of the oil sector has done more damage than good to the country, prominent among which, is the non-functioning of all refineries in the country. This has had a debilitating impact on livelihoods, businesses, and the movement of Nigerians.

While a litre of kerosene going for N400, that of diesel, which has a direct impact on production sells for N720. As the high cost of diesel contributes to killing businesses thereby helping to cripple the economy, Jet A1 better known as aviation fuel has gone from N500 to N630, a development that is threatening to grind aviation in the country to a stop.

It was indeed, a combination of days of power outage, difficulty in buying petrol, soaring prices of diesel, kerosene, and staple foods that have triggered the recent national outrage.

Looming Food Insecurity Indicative Of Worsening Economic Hardship 
IN the build-up to the national outcry, a series of reports had warned that the acute food insecurity faced across the world could get into an extreme phase if concerned authorities fail to do the needful, and in record time.

But what was more frightening, however, is the fact that prominent world bodies, including the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Food Programme (WFP) also listed Nigeria as one of the countries where the looming food crisis could spell doom for the populace.

For instance, the Cadre Harmonise Analysis Report conducted by the FAO, and other partners in 21 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), recently revealed that over 14 million Nigerians are facing critical food and nutrition crisis.

The food security analysis was conducted in 21 states including Abia, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Edo, Enugu, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Lagos, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe, Zamfara, and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), revealed that of the 158 million people analysed, about 14 million of them were in different stages of the food security situation.

The CH analysis, however, projected that the number of people in critical phases may increase to 18 million by May if conscious and intensive efforts are not made to sustain humanitarian support, and other government intervention schemes targeted at households for recovery and resilience in their livelihoods.

According to the report, factors precipitating the food and nutrition insecurity include insurgency in North East states, and armed banditry in some North West states.

Others are high inflation rate as evidenced in soaring food commodity prices, which could be associated with the economic downturn; loss of employment and reduction in household income due to the long-term effect of COVID-19 pandemic, and displacements arising from conflict and armed banditry as evident in the crisis-emergency livelihood coping strategies adopted by most households.

Barely two weeks before this report, the FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) had warned that hunger and food insecurity may worsen in the country in the next few months if urgent steps were not taken to forestall the malaise.

The FAO and the WFP in giving the warning, also identified Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Yemen as the other countries that would experience starvation and death as a result of the impending food crisis.

According to the Nigeria Food Insecurity Fact sheet released by Oxfam, one in five people (282 million) is now under-nourished and 93 million in 36 African countries are suffering extreme levels of hunger, with women and children the major victims.

The report showed that in Sub-Saharan Africa, one in three children under five is stunted by chronic undernutrition, while two out of five women of childbearing age are anaemic because of poor diets.

While some populations in conflict-affected areas in the North East are now projected to slide into catastrophic food insecurity from June 2022 onwards, it was learnt that some of the states might start experiencing food crisis even earlier than June, with the fear that the intensity may be deeper than what the projections anticipate.
Effect Of Energy Crisis On Food Prices

FOR the Chairman of the Lagos State Chapter, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Otunba Femi Oke: “With the way things are going on, the country’s food security is already threatened. Most harvested produce are transported from the farms to markets in the cities, and the rising price of fuel has inadvertently increased the price of these commodities astronomically. It has been a difficult task for us to go to our farms, especially some of us that are into fishing and have to travel long distances, and those whose plantations are located in remote areas.

Refuelling of aircraft at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos

“The issue of insecurity has also debarred many from going to their farms because of fear. The levies on imported equipment and agriculture machineries by the government are still on the high side. With all these, there is no way that the country will not experience food insecurity.”

Giving his perspective, the head of farmers (Baale Agbe) of Imeko, Ogun State, Chief Abdulazeez Ismail Abolore, said: “Farmers are currently struggling to meet up with their daily farming activities, as prices of almost everything has doubled. Even the cost of labour has doubled. The diesel we usually buy at the rate of N350 has increased to N720. So, things have become hard for farmers.”

He continued: “There is no doubt that the country may gradually go into famine if urgent solutions are not provided to arrest the situation. Even the prices of poultry, fish, and other livestock feeds have all increased by about 100 per cent. This is actually a tough time for farmers and the country at large.”

To avert further degeneration of the current problem, Abolore stressed: “We are also appealing to the government and private organisations to do something urgent to address the lingering fuel crisis because a majority of the farms rely on fuel for their daily undertakings, transportation of goods, etc. which have all gone up.

“Unless the government and well-meaning Nigerians intervene to arrest the challenge, the country may experience the worst food crisis in the coming months.”

Unwelcomed Presidential Apology 
AMID the severe national emergency energy crisis occasioned by fuel scarcity, rising food prices, poor electricity supply, as well as unimaginable sufferings, many had accused political leaders of not being compassionate enough with Nigerians.

They also accuse them of perennially ensuring that the system remains flawed, unworkable while they pursue personal interests to the detriment of the masses.

And as the disenchantment grew louder, Buhari, who last Friday, returned from a medical leave in the United Kingdom, last Wednesday, apologised to the nation for the inconvenience caused by petrol, and electricity shortage.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President, Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, who relayed the president’s apology said: “The administration knows the fuel shortage has placed a strain on Nigerian citizens and businesses, but relief is on the way. I especially apologise to all sections of society for this.

“The government is working round the clock to attend to this issue. An action plan agreed upon earlier this month is being implemented to address the scarcity. Working together with the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) and the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), this plan is now bearing fruit. Sufficient fuel supply has returned to a handful of states, with the queues at stations falling. In the coming days, we expect this to be the case across the rest of the country.

“Looking to the longer term, funds are being targeted toward keeping fuel availability affordable for the country. The international energy markets have surged drastically in recent months, the government will however ensure that consumers are protected against these price spikes,” the president stated.

This is one of the first times that the Buhari administration would be showing its human side, by acknowledging the sufferings of the citizenry.

After reflecting on all the promises that Buhari and his party made in the build-up to the 2015 and 2019 elections, Ugonna Alisigwe, an accountant, vehemently rejects the apology, stressing that the country has since endured a reign of blackout contrary to what the APC promised.

“Of what use is the apology when we have lived with power outage all through the life of this administration? More than 90 per cent of what the administration promised have not been achieved with barely one year for it to go? This administration promised so much, but it is obvious that it did all that to get the Goodluck Jonathan-led administration out of the way. Nearly everything, I mean everything has doubled in price since Buhari came into office. He should just go so that the repairing this country can commence. The truth is, his apology is not needed,” Alisigwe stated.

Afenifere Knew Buhari Had Nothing To Offer Nigeria
THE Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, said it has never been in doubt that the Buhari-led government had nothing to offer ab initio, just as it said that “the country has never had it this bad!”

According to its national publicity secretary Comrade Jare Ajayi: “Virtually, all the inspiring promises made that encouraged many Nigerians to vote the present administration into power have been completely breached. The then-candidate Muhammadu Buhari, and his political party, the APC, raised our hopes. Not only did they dash these hopes, we are being flagellated as well.”

The Afenifere spokesman said that the situation that is on the ground, brings to mind, the view expressed by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who, in 1986, said that “when we imagine that the new order is here, we would be disappointed. In 2014/2015, Nigerians thought that the ‘Change’ mantra that they were hearing was to herald a better deal for them. Unfortunately, rather than experiencing an uplift in their lives, progressive deterioration in their living standards and serious threats to their lives are what they have been getting. These could be seen in the collapsing economy, unprecedented insecurity, tensed political atmosphere that has also been monetised, high-level corruption and nepotism, etc.”

On the way out of the present predicament, the group said that the prognosis is ominous “because of the way many of us have allowed materialism and the devil to dominate our hearts.”

He regretted that the situation would remain and perhaps worsen unless the evils, which now dominate the hearts of many of us, particularly those in government “at all levels and in all sectors of our political, business and governmental activities are exorcised” to quote Chief Awolowo again.

For the Yoruba Ronu Leadership Forum: “The rising cost of foods, energy, insecurity and poor understanding of what economic development entails, by the Buhari-led administration, has become an albatross, which has further pushed the nation back to an ‘underdeveloped country,”

According to the president of the forum, Akin Malaolu rather than Nigeria coming up, “it has continued to go down and with most economic policies of the government nearing, or already at the stage of collapsing uncontrollably. Looking at the agricultural policies of the government, the worsening insecurity in the land, the total sum borrowed, which is in the region of $7b between 2016 and 2021 to fund the two sectors, we can say authoritatively that monies are either disappearing or being looted wantonly in an unrestrained manner and the president has no clue of what to do.”

The forum added: “Nigeria is simply reaping the rewards of lack of planning, bad policies, and failure to implement policies. All these will point to the quality of people in the public space. Nigeria has simply failed to take advantage of its strength. The country is endowed with large agricultural land, solid minerals, a youthful educated population, and hydrocarbon assets. We have failed in all parameters to take advantage of agricultural production, processing, industrialisation, and production for local consumption and export. This is the bane of our current challenges.

“Going forward, we need to address the fundamentals of agricultural production, by moving away from subsistence farming and embracing commercial agricultural production. Security should be uppermost in the mind of any government that wants to guarantee the safety of lives and property across Nigeria. We also need to get the hydrocarbon assets rights; we need to invest in hydrocarbons especially now that the IOCs are divesting. We need to privatise the refineries and invest in gas production, and we can’t move forward with import-driven deregulation, it has to be production-driven deregulation to create jobs and drive skill acquisitions.

“We need to get energy right, and the present concept of the national grid should be reviewed. It is either we make the appropriate investment to get the transmission right, or break up the grid. We also need to embrace alternative sources of energy. So, to move forward we need to set up solar panel productions plants,” Malaolu said.

Equally bothered by the scenario playing out in the country, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo insists that the current economic, power, and security challenges are serious signs that the Presidency may have been overwhelmed.

According to the national publicity secretary of the group, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, present happenings offer little or no hope for the survival of the country going forward.

Responding to the growing insecurity, food, and energy crisis threatening the country, Ogbonnia told The Guardian: “These are demonstrations that the ruling party and government may have been overwhelmed … It is not what they promised Nigerians that we are seeing at the moment. Look at the price of kerosene, aviation fuel, petrol, gas among others. Fares from one location to another keep rising daily. There is nothing new again. What we are witnessing in the country is that commodity prices keep rising every day. There is no deliberate effort to address them. It is sad,” he said, adding, “it has become common knowledge that the government is facing difficulties, and this is being compounded by the level of injustice within the party…”

Tough Choices For Air Travellers 
AS the price of Jet A1 also soars, air travellers, like their land counterparts are facing tough choices as airlines operators jerked airfares to cope with the soaring cost of operation.

Even though the airfares doubled about three weeks ago, the fresh challenges posed by aviation fuel have forced these operators to further push prices further up.

A fact check by The Guardian showed that a one-way economy class ticket, last week climbed to N70, 000 average for Lagos-Abuja flights (less than an hour). Less busy routes nationwide sold for about N90, 000 as of last Thursday, as operators reduced the number of frequencies available on erstwhile busy routes.

A passenger, Banjo Emmanuel, who was billed N85, 260 for his Lagos-Akure trip resolved to go by road.

“It is shocking that air transport has become this unaffordable. That is the same ticket I bought for N32, 000 less than six months ago…I have been avoiding road trips since I saw a terrible accident about 10 years ago. Now, I have to travel through the countryside. It is a serious situation,” Emannuel said.

A travel agent, Kehinde Akinsiku, confirmed that more customers were seeking alternatives to air travel, as sales have crashed by about 40 per cent.

“I’m sometimes ashamed to mention the current rates to some old customers of mine. Today alone, about eight out of 11 potential travellers have pulled back over high airfares. Except for those that have urgent, important trips and can be guaranteed of schedule reliability, a lot of people are cancelling their trips, or going by road,” Akinsiku said.

The situation on the ground notwithstanding, the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) said that airfares risk hitting N120, 000 per economy class ticket without the government’s intervention to scale down the price of aviation fuel from the N620/litre.

The airlines, last week raised another alarm over a massive spike at the price of aviation fuel that sold for an average of N650/litre at some airports nationwide.

The operators said that the “unbearable” spike and attendant disruption have made efficient air transport and affordable airfares unsustainable.

Following an emergency meeting at the behest of the National Assembly (NASS), the operators, aviation fuel marketers, the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Ltd, and other stakeholders agreed on an interim price of N500 for aviation fuel. The price was to run for three days pending the determination of a substantive price.

Chairman of Airlines and Passengers’ Joint Committee (APJC) of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Bankole Bernard, said greed, selfish interest of the business community, and laid-back regulatory mechanism should be blamed for the crisis rocking the aviation sector.

Bernard said that even though the development was not peculiar to the air transport sector, “but several stakeholders exploiting an already bad situation and unprotected consumers was most disturbing.”

“Aviation fuel that has become so expensive is still the old stock that was bought at the old rate. So, why are we desperately wicked to ourselves? The moneybags in the aviation sector are also creating an oligopoly just to further exploit the sector. They are not bothered about the plight of poor Nigerians, but in all of these, where are the regulator and the consumer protection council? We are just in a mess and it is most unfortunate,” Bernard said.