February 10, (THEWILL) – Comical as it sounds, last week’s protest by a group of women in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, complaining that lack of electricity was making their soup go sour and that the attendant heat would not even let their husbands make love to them, has a metaphorical ring to it.
According to a recent World Bank report, Nigeria has the world’s largest absolute electricity access deficit in the world. “Lack of access to the electricity grid affects 45 percent of the population (90 million people), making Nigeria the country with the largest number of people not connected to electricity,” the report said.
At 4.594 megawatts and frequent collapse of the national grid, the lack of electricity causes, “decay and collapse infrastructure, closure of industries as well as a rapid decline in the availability of social amenities like potable drinking water, improved health care services,” for majority of 200 million Nigerians, government in, government out.
Add this underlying huge power deficit to the prevailing hardship following the removal of petrol subsidy and runaway forex market, the picture becomes clearer about the ongoing protests that started in Minna, the Niger State capital and Kano last Tuesday before it rippled through Suleja, also in Niger, and Osogbo in Osun state with fearful chain reactions across other states in the coming weeks.
The situation is compounded by worsening insecurity and armed conflicts across many states in northeastern and northwestern Nigeria, according to the World Bank in its global Food Security Report
In its latest Food Security report issued last week, the bank highlighted that significant portions of West and Central Africa are expected to remain minimally food insecure until May 2024. However, Nigeria, specifically the far north regions of Adamawa, Borno, Kaduna, Katsina, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara States, are projected to experience crisis-level food insecurity, largely attributed to the ongoing insecurity and dwindling livelihood of the residents of these states, it said, adding that despite government initiatives to cultivate 323,000 hectares of farmland for cultivation of wheat, rice, maize and cassava during the 2024 farming season, the situation remains precarious in the states.
In statistical terms, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) report from the National Bureau of Statistics indicated over 33 percent increase in food inflation.
The Nigeria Customs Service recently adjusted the rate for collection of duties from $951 to $1,365, with all the implications of increased cost of imports which will be passed to the Nigerian consumer in an import dependent economy.
Even the Federal Government knows what is pinching most Nigerians and it admits that there is a dire situation.
“I think the issue of rising prices is of concern to the Federal Government and everybody in Nigeria. Some major steps are being taken to address the situation,” Mr Wale Edu, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, acknowledged a day after protests.
Edun, who made this admission during a visit by a German delegation led by that country’s Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Ms Svenja Shulze, added, “It is the issue of demand and supply and a lot of emphasis has been placed on increasing agricultural production, in particular.
“The president has intervened in that sector to provide grain, fertilisers to farmers and to bring additional acreage, rice, wheat, maize and cassava to increase the output and thereby bring down prices and that will in turn help to bring down inflation.”
Dr Ike Okonta, Executive Director, New Centre for Social Research, Abuja, thinks otherwise. Government, he told THEWILL, is not driven by development needs of Nigerians, but by political calculations. He said, “Except for a very few appointees, many others are those who will deliver for the president in 2027. This is what in political science is called machine politics.”
LEGAL, CIVIL ACTIONS TO COMPEL GOVERNMENT
Persuaded that the dire situation needed a broader approach to make the Federal Government see the reason to act, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, went to court to seek enforcement of relevant Acts to compel official compliance. In an originating summons, which he filed at the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State, last Tuesday, the human rights activist got a judgement from the court directing the government to fix prices of goods and petroleum products within seven days. Explaining his reasons for his court action, Falana stated that he approached the court to enforce the provisions of the Price Control Act, which was enacted in 1977.
The Price Control Act, according to him, is an existing law that regulates and controls the prices of certain goods in Nigeria. Its main purpose is to ensure that the prices of goods and services remain affordable and accessible to the general public. It aims to prevent price exploitation and to promote fair pricing practices. For this purpose, the government set up the Price Control Board, an agency under the Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry, as well as the Federal Consumer Protection Commission.
Goods that the court listed for price control are flour, milk, matches, milk, motorcycles, major motor vehicles and spare parts, salt, sugar and petroleum products, including diesel and kerosene.
Even Fuji music exponent and ‘official’ campaign musician to President Tinubu since his days as governor of Lagos State, Wasiu Ayinde appealed to his principal in a video, saying diplomatically that though Tinubu’s government was taking some lasting steps to make the country great, something drastic has to be done fast to solve the prevailing hunger in the land.
In their renewed efforts to press government to commit to previous agreements on workers welfare and address social and economic pressures caused by bad policies, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, last week issued a 14-day strike notice to serves as a final appeal to the government to address the grievances of the labour sector and fulfil its commitments to ensure industrial peace and economic stability.
Labour stated that the agreements reached with the Federal Government were focused on addressing the massive suffering and the general harsh socio-economic consequences of the ill-conceived and ill-executed IMF/World Bank induced hike in the price of PMS and the devaluation of the Naira.
These dual policies, it further stated, have had as predicted, dire economic consequences for the masses and workers of Nigeria.
Labour also observed that widespread hunger was ravishing millions of Nigerians, with the workers’ purchasing power significantly eroded, while insecurity had assumed an increasing dimension and Nigerians were left wondering “where their next meals will come from and what tomorrow might bring.”
The National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, is also spoiling for war with Tinubu’s government over the hardship facing Nigerians.
National Zonal Coordinator, Comrade Alao John, the Zonal Secretary, Comrade Sanni Olamide, and the Zonal Public Relations Officer, Comrade Bamigboye Oluwadamilola, last week issued a seven-day ultimatum to the government to show clear measures to tackle what it called “a myriad of economic challenges, including inflation, unemployment and a weakening currency, which have significantly contributed to the rising cost of living across the nation,” failing which it shall “mobilise mass protests, if necessary.”
TAKING POLITICS OUT OF IT
The protests had hardly subsided in Minna and Kano before it resurfaced in Suleja, before the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, accused the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the Labour Party of being behind them. According to the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka, the protest bore the bold stamp of an orchestrated and coordinated effort by “the mercenary opposition to instigate unrest and undermine the government, “ and “promote social strife by its incendiary rhetoric and manipulative plots.”
Reacting, Morka’s counterpart in the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, told THEWILL that the All Progressives Congress-dominated Federal Government should be honest enough to admit that its policies in the last nine months have pauperised the majority of Nigerians.
He said, “Any government that has an idea of macro-economic policy management ought to have recognised that the suffocating policies of abrupt increase in the pump price of petroleum products, high cost of electricity and arbitrary floating of the Naira as executed by the government without due consultations, would have excruciating consequences to the economy as being witnessed today.”
National Publicity Secretary of the LP, Mr Obiora Ifoh, reminded his APC counterpart that Niger State is an APC controlled state, so the accusation of opposition as being sponsors of the protest was disingenuous.
He said, among others, that “those who took to the streets in Minna, Niger State, a state controlled by the APC, went to the streets not as members of opposition parties, but as citizens bearing the brunt of the present administration’s ineptitude and lack of preparation for governance.”
The Federal Government heeded the appeal from stakeholders, particularly the resolution of the House of Representatives, to open the country’s grain reserves and distribute grains to the needy citizens and stop the growing hunger in the land.
Accordingly, President Bola Tinubu ordered the immediate release of more than 102,000 metric tons of various grain types from the National Food Reserve and the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria.
During their appearance before the joint Senate Committee on Finance, Banking and Other Financial Institutions and National Planning at the weekend, the quartet of Yemi Cardoso, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; Wale Edun, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy; Bagudu Atiku, Minister of Budget and Economic Planning and Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Abubakar Kyari, unveil their interim and long term plans to remedy the prevailing situation.
The agenda of the meeting was on the efforts that the CBN has put in place to solve the free fall of the Naira and when government policies will start to positively impact Nigerians.
Giving the assurance that the exchange rate would soon stabilise, Cardoso said, “In terms of volatility of the exchange rate, we are using various tools to ensure the stability of the exchange rate sooner than later.
“I really can’t tell other than to say that I do believe that once all the measures kick in, there will be price discovery that will indeed make sense for everybody. We all have a responsibility to ensure demand and supply. We are working on supply, but on the demand side, we all have to moderate our various interests on that.
The Agriculture Minister stated that though Nigeria was yet to meet the African Union target of 10 per cent budget for agriculture like Rwanda has done to achieve some measure of food sustainability, the nation has put plans in place to turn things around, particularly in the area of dry-season farming and provision of storage facility to increase the capacity of reserves.
Edun who led the Economic Team to the meeting summed up: “For the medium term, be assured that the monetary and the fiscal policies being implemented are going to increase production and funding and the government will play its own role.”
Author of Powered By Poverty and the immediate past Pro-Chancellor, Governing Council Chairman of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Chief Lawson Omokhodion, has urged government to embrace a long term look to grow the economy, failing which the country may be eclipsed by bankruptcy. In an article titled, Exchange Rate Unification: President Tinubu’s Poisoned Chalice, he called on the CBN to allow the exchange rate to be determined by the interplay of monetary and fiscal policies and monetary policies, “where the weight of importance does not tilt in favour of any side.”
According to him, the World Bank and IMF sponsored Structural Adjustment Policy, SAP, which ruined Nigeria’s economy 37 years ago, should not be allowed to return through the backdoor, arguing that government with major accruable resources should discard the idea that, “only the private sector can develop the economy and therefore all commercial public enterprises must be privatised,” because experience has showed that most of the privatised companies were mismanaged by their owners, whereas stories from countries like China, Russia, Malaysia, France, Indonesia and Bangladesh contradict this statement.
He argued that “the sole reliance on the private sector as the Nigerian engine of economic growth is unconstitutional. In Article 16 (1)(a) to (d); (2)a, b, c, and d; (3)a and b; and (4)a, b and c; of the 1999 Nigerian constitution, as amended, the role of government in the economic life of the country is clearly defined.
“The constitution prescribes the involvement of government in all aspects of ownership, production, distribution and control of “economic activities.” So why is the State, at federal, state and local government levels shying away from their fiscal responsibilities?
Falana, SAN, contends that “If the government could grant duty waivers of N16 trillion to Dangote, Honeywell and Co in five years, why is it difficult to control the prices of goods imported into the country by the captains of industry?”
“If President Tinubu can recall how he became President, he should ensure that suffering stops in Nigeria, that is all I will say,” Chief Willie Ezeugwu, General Secretary of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, told THEWILL in an interview.