Hardship and the Orgy of Buckpassing

Hardship and the Orgy of Buckpassing

The severity of the current level of hardship in Nigeria is a clarion call for an urgent solution instead of  buckpassing, writes Wale Igbintade

Following the mass protests that rocked some major cities across the country last week, the All Progressives Congress (APC) was quick to accuse the opposition political parties of instigating the unrest to undermine the administration of President Bola Tinubu. In a statement by APC National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, these demonstrations were the manifestation of a ‘devious’ and ‘unpatriotic plot’ to present the federal government as under-performing.

The allegation came barely 24 hours after angry youths and women took to the streets of Minna, the Niger State capital, and Kano to protest what they described as the rising cost of living in the country.

During the protests, the mob, including women and youths blocked major roads to register their displeasure over the rising cost of living. They said the rising cost of food items and poor government efforts to address the situation influenced their actions.

Attempts by security operatives to disperse the protesters by firing tear gas canisters into the crowd and arresting a few of them were rebuffed by the mob.

A similar protest where hundreds of women, including local bread producers popularly known as “Gurasa” also took place in Kano. 

In Kano, the protesters marched through the streets of the ancient city, decrying the high cost of living, especially the hike in the price of flour used largely for the production of the staple food.

“Everything is expensive, especially flour and grains; Tinubu, come to our aid; we cannot feed our families; most of us are widows and people are dying of hunger,” they lamented.

Speaking with journalists shortly after the protest, the leader of the group, Fatima Auwal, demanded better living conditions, saying that inflation is making it even tougher for people to make ends meet. She urged the authorities and those concerned to look into this matter as businesses are dying and families are affected.

In Oyo, Ogun, Jigawa and Taraba and other states, similar protests were organised as residents bemoaned the rising prices of sugar and other essential commodities ahead of the Ramadan fast.

They called for the government’s quick intervention. Within a month, the price of a 50kg bag of sugar rose to N73,000 from N46,000 while a bag of rice rose to N70,000.

Since President Bola Tinubu assumed office on May 29, 2023, Nigerians have yet to experience a remarkable change in the economy. Not only has the fuel subsidy removal increased the suffering and hunger in the country, the rate of unemployment has equally soared.

Though the government promised to give palliatives to cushion the effects of the fuel subsidy removal, many are yet to receive them. 

Even those who got palliatives said they made little or no import.

Yet humongous amounts were rather set aside to purchase official cars for the political class. The level of insensitivity and nonchalance and show of extravagance and affluence on the part of government officials have shown the government is not headed in the direction of making life comfortable for the people.

Besides, late last year, the World Bank predicted that in 2024, Nigeria is expected to see about 26.5 million people grappling with high levels of food insecurity.

It added that approximately nine million children are at risk of suffering from acute malnutrition or wasting, and an alarming 2.6 million children could face Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and require critical nutrition treatment.

Also, the 2023 Global Hunger Index report ranked Nigeria as one of the nations grappling with a high incidence of hunger globally. The country holds the 109th position among 125 countries, narrowly surpassing India at 111th and Zambia at 110th. The ranking reflects a deterioration in the hunger situation compared to its 2022 GHI ranking, where Nigeria stood at 103rd out of 121 countries.

Added to these woes is the insecurity challenge. In some parts of the North regarded as the food basket of the country, insecurity has worsened the prices of foodstuffs as farmers can no longer go to their farms due to the activities of herdsmen, and kidnappers. This has caused the country’s inflation rate to rise to 28.9 per cent in December 2023 — up from 28.20 per cent in the previous month.

Rather than act decisively on all the data by these bodies, the federal government either dismissed them or looked the other way until the situation got to a boiling point for the people.

 While the APC was trying to deflect from the issues, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mr. Olawale Edun, admitted that the rising prices of food and commodities in the country had become increasingly worrisome for the federal government.

He added that the situation, which was creating growing discontent among the citizenry, was triggered by demand and supply forces.

 Speaking in Abuja during a bilateral meeting with a visiting German delegation, led by that country’s Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Ms. Svenja, alongside the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Doris Uzoka-Anite, Edun noted that, “the issue of rising prices is of concern to the government and everybody in Nigeria,” adding that some major steps were being taken to address the situation.

 On many occasions, President Tinubu himself had appealed to Nigerians for patience, saying that though the policies of his administration seem difficult but will produce positive outcomes.

 Last month, at the convocation ceremony of the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaira, the president had also called for the patience and understanding of Nigerians, particularly the youths, assuring them that the hardships of the moment will eventually give way for a more prosperous, equitable and inclusive economy.

 It was not until last Tuesday that the federal government finally convened an emergency meeting to address the spate of protests in some parts of the country following the rising cost of food nationwide.

The meeting yielded result when it directed the immediate release of 102,000 metric tonnes of rice, maize, millet, and garri from government reserves and stores of rice millers to the Nigerian market. It added that as last resort it may import commodities in efforts to address the current shortages or clampdown on hoarders of food items in the country.

Many feel that 102,000 metric tonnes of grains for the population of those who are hungry is grossly inadequate and called on the government to open up the borders for foods to come in before the situation gets out of hand. They also asked the government to remove tariffs on wheat and other essentials to cushion the effect hunger.

Despite all the admissions by these leaders and the reality starring the nation in the face, the APC and the Special Adviser to the President on Communication, Mr. Bayo Onanuga do not appear to believe that anything has gone wrong.

They have politicised the issues as if the country is still on election mood, claiming that the protests that happened simultaneously in both cities were not coincidental but a manifestation of a devious and unpatriotic plot that bore a bold stamp of an orchestrated and coordinated effort to instigate unrest and undermine the government.

Onanuga and the APC should know that the period of campaign is over. This is not the time to distract Nigerians by pointing fingers at the opposition. The masses are hungry and angry.  This is the time for governance and time for the APC to deliver on their promises.

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