Nigerian Masses And The Biting Economy

The economic difficulties as currently experienced in the country have continued to hit harder on the Nigerians masses. This is obviously not the best of times for most Nigerians who struggle every day to manage to keep body and soul together. The general mood of the Nigerian masses at present is that of gloom, lamentation and resentment as hunger seems to have pervaded everywhere in the country.

The Governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, recently told newsmen in Lagos that, “Even the civil war (between 1967 and 1970) was not as biting as what we are facing in Nigeria now. Because they did not declare economic state of emergency in Nigeria does not mean that Nigeria is not near to that.” This statement by Aregbesola tends to explain the true situation we are faced with at the moment. It tells you that the pain Nigerians are passing through now is unimaginable.

Workers in most states of the federation are being owed for months, despite the bailout funds released to state governors by the Federal Government to clear the backlog of salaries. Only about 9 states out of 36 are reportedly up to date in the payment of staff salaries. Allocations from the federation account to state governments have since reduced and the governors, as rightly observed by their colleague, Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, are not thinking outside the box to find other means of generating money to run their respective states.

The prices of goods and services have skyrocketed without any increase in the income of workers, thereby leaving the citizens with lesser purchasing power. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) measuring inflation in the Nigerian economy as at June 2016 rose to its highest point of 16.5 per cent since 2005 according to report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Some private organisations and industries including banks have resorted to mass sack to stay afloat in the midst of the dwindling economy, which has taken a heavy toll on business activities in the country.

In a vox pop done by Encomium Weekly to hear the voices of some members of the public on the biting economy, one Ramon Alabi said: “Even a mad man on the street is feeling the heat of the economic situation of the country right now. We keep hoping every day, but it seems the hope is not even near at all. I have chosen not to eat thrice again; I only eat two times in a day. But if I could do that, will I ask my little children not to eat thrice, even more? This is the period that some men are losing their headships. Many families have been set apart because of the poor economic situation of the country. May God help us!”

The unusually high exchange rate, the sharp fall in oil prices at the international market together with the long-time endemic corruption in government circle as well as bad leadership and mismanagement of the country’s resources by our past leaders have all combined to put us in this economic quagmire that we find ourselves as a nation. And when we talk of corruption, bad leadership and mismanagement, it is not just in the 16 years of the government of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The unfortunate truth is that since we attained Independence in 1960, we have never had leaders that placed the interest of the country first. The major concern of our leaders had always been personal aggrandizement and self-enrichment.

Today, the Nigerian masses are the once bearing the brunt of the leadership failure that is largely responsible for the biting economy. Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790), an author, political theorist and one of the founding fathers of the United States once said: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” We are in this state of underdevelopment where majority of Nigerians are wallowing in abject poverty and starvation as a consequence of our failure to plan for the rainy days from the many thriving periods we have had in the country’s economy since we joined the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1971.

In a piece captioned “Nigeria and Oil: Looking Beyond Price Collapse Towards Post Recovery Savings”, Austin Okere, Founder CWG Plc and Entrepreneur in Residence, Columbia Business School, New York, noted that “The recurrent mistake we keep making as a Nation is failing to anticipate and plan for our oil windfalls… Oil prices increased by 400% in six short months after the Yom Kippur War following the Arab Oil Embargo. Crude prices doubled from $14 in 1978 to $35 per barrel in 1981 following the Iran/Iraq war. The price of crude oil spiked in 1990 with the uncertainties associated with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing Gulf War – the so called ‘Gulf War windfall’ under then Head of State Ibrahim Babangida. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that the latest windfall happened between February 2011 and August 2014, under the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, when oil prices were much in excess of $100 per barrel. Another golden opportunity was squandered, characterised by organised kleptocracy of epic proportions as has now come to light.”

Continuing, Okere said, “During this same period Saudi Arabia has amassed a whopping $593b in foreign exchange reserves and has recently announced that it is creating a $2 trillion mega-sovereign wealth fund, funded by sales of current petroleum industry assets, to prepare itself for an age when oil no longer dominates the global economy. Coming closer home, Algeria, the second biggest African oil producer, with 1.9mbpd has accumulated foreign reserves of $156b and a sovereign wealth fund of $50b. Nigeria, by far the biggest producer in Africa with 2.5mbpd has only managed foreign reserves of $28b and a sovereign wealth fund of a paltry $2.9b – about 5% that of Algeria. The major difference being that while the Algerians saved for a rainy day during the boom years, Nigeria was busy squandering her wealth, with nothing to show by way of infrastructure or any solid investments.”

President Muhammadu Buhari must rise up to the daunting challenges that are leading our economy to the point of collapse. The government must come out with strategic policies that will bring lasting remedy to our current economic woes. Effort must be intensified towards the government drive to diversify the economy. It should be clear to us by now that the best way to go is diversification. We cannot continue to run a monolithic economy with total dependence on oil revenues which have now shrunk due to the crash in oil prices at the global market.

The Nigerian masses do not deserve to continue to go through untold hardship amidst abundant natural resources that we have been blessed with in this country. Are we not ashamed that after almost 56 years of self-governance, the supposed ‘Giant of Africa’ is still crawling like a baby? If we work with strong determination, commitment and sincerity to galvanize the non-oil sector and make it the major driver of our economy, such a global fall in oil price would not have brought us down to this present state of economic stagnation.

Assessing the economic situation of the country during a debate on the motion “Need to Address the Excruciating Hunger, Hardship and Depreciating Welfare of the Masses and the Nigerian People” moved by a member from Kogi State, Hon. Karimi Sunday, the House of Representatives called on the federal Government to robustly fund the manufacturing sector through the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and establish a commodities and exchange commission/farm produce board to promote the export of Nigerian agricultural products. Really, it has become absolutely imperative that we channel all our energy towards revamping agriculture which played a significant role in the nation’s economy as our main source of earnings before the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in 1956.

This is the time for us to set a premium on the issue of industrialization. It is time to ensure the full operation of the National Iron Ore Mining Company, NIOMCO and Ajaokuta Steel, the largest integrated steel complex in the sub-Saharan Africa.

I wonder why such a national treasure that is capable of placing Nigeria prominently on the world map of steel production and serve as an alternative source of revenue for the country in addition to creating jobs for millions of Nigerians could be recklessly abandoned by successive governments.

This is a project that was awarded almost four decades ago and reached 98% completion as at 1994 before work on it was stopped after a whopping $7 billion has been expended and less than $1 billion needed for it to become fully operational.

In any case, this is not the time for pointing accusing fingers or apportioning blames. The important thing now is for all hands to be on deck to seek out ways of getting out of this current recession. It is equally fundamental that we totally support the fight against corruption championed by the President to bring about the needed change.

If we don’t kill this hydra-headed monster that has eaten deep into fabrics of our society and entrench transparency, prudence and accountability in the system, no matter the good policies and laudable programmes put in place by the government, we may still not achieve anything meaningful to better the lots of the Nigerian masses.

Notwithstanding the enormity of the problems we are faced with now, I am quite optimistic that surely we will surmount them and things will get better. Nigeria is destined to be great. And so shall it be!

Michael Jegede, a journalist and public affairs commentator writes from Abuja 07065574368

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Articles by Michael Jegede