BENEATH the swirling wave of protests on the streets of the country is the oppressive and spiking cost-of-living crisis. From Niger to Osun, and Kano to Ondo, hungry Nigerians are trooping to the streets to express their anger over the escalating cost of food, medicine, rent, utilities, and basic services. Rather than blame the opposition and critics for the bursts of anger, the Bola Tinubu administration must accept the reality that its economic policies have aggravated the suffering of Nigerians.
In a country notorious for low wages, high unemployment and shabby social services, Nigerians are being pushed to the wall. The upsurge in prices is now almost a daily affair. From about N35,000 a year ago, a bag of 60kg of rice is currently about N75,000. Beans, garri, fruits and vegetables, cooking oil and seasonings are similarly expensive. Water and drinks are not left out. It does not matter whether these items are imported or produced locally.
On Thursday, the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria issued a 14-day strike ultimatum over the failure of the Federal Government to implement the agreements after the removal of petrol subsidy.
Before Tinubu, Nigeria had witnessed the 2012 petrol protests under Goodluck Jonathan and the #EndSARS protests in October 2020 under Muhammadu Buhari. The President should implement policies to stem the tide.
There has been an unusual upsurge in prices since Tinubu assumed office last May. In his first hour, he removed petrol subsidy. The delicate policy tripled the cost of the commodity. With the economy powered by cheap energy, transport costs gyrated upwards. Businesses found it difficult to cope.
Tinubu aggravated the crisis in June, prompting the Central Bank of Nigeria to float the naira. From less than N500 per $1 then, the naira is exchanging at around N1,500/$1 now. This is a staggering loss of value. Among 151 currencies it tracked, Bloomberg reckoned the naira as the worst-performing in the world in 2023.
The immediate impact is higher costs in every sector, though income is mostly stagnant. From the June 2023 rate of 22.79 per cent, inflation accelerated to 28.99 per cent in December. Food inflation inched to 33.93 per cent. A 21-year high, this is bad news for everybody. Plainly, citizens are not seeing the benefits of Tinubu’s reform. All they see is pains. The IMF, which encouraged Nigeria to embark on the twin-policies, said the inflation rate is creating hardship in the country.
In its defence, the President and his cabinet continue to beautify the policies, assuring that things will be better soon. Yemi Cardoso, the CBN Governor, said inflation will attenuate to 21 per cent by the end of 2024. That is a tall dream. It is only food on the table that can bring conviction to the masses.
Therefore, the Tinubu government must do more to make life more liveable for Nigerians. In the short term, it must strategically cut the cost of governance and prompt the National Assembly to do too. The reduction should be re-directed to critical sectors of the economy. This can enable the government to place a moratorium on borrowing. Nigeria’s debt is set to balloon beyond the N90 trillion mark soon.
Nigeria imported foods with $15 billion in 2023. In the medium and long terms, Tinubu should create policies that will boost domestic production. But domestic production is nearly impossible due to the pronounced security challenges – from Islamic terrorism to banditry, and kidnapping to Fulani herdsmen rampages. Oil theft denies Nigeria 400,000 barrels of oil per day; this is untenable.
Government must embark on transparent privatisation. The President should untie the electricity knot in which Africa’s largest economy depends absurdly on less than 5,000 megawatts. The governors should defuse the security threats by establishing their own forces so that farmers can return to the farms.