President Bola Tinubu should be back in the country this week to take charge of governance. Our Commander-In-Chief left Nigeria a few days back for France on a private visit. His penchant for travelling out of the country for sundry issues made former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, to give him a new title – ‘Tourist-In-Chief’.
In his absence, the nation’s economy swiftly headed south, with Nigerians complaining of the hardships they have to endure every day.
Our Naira is taking a humiliating beating against major world currencies and many opine that this is not a period for Mr. President to be out of the country. With his expected return this week, President Tinubu, hopefully, would wave his magic wand to have the Naira develop balls among other world currencies. In case he is not aware, he should be told that in his absence, the Naira has been on a free fall, presently standing at above N1,400 to a dollar at the parallel market. Seven months ago, when he assumed office, the same naira exchanged for a dollar to N770.
Nigerians were told during his campaign for the number one office in the land that Mr. President is a first-class brain and Accounting Major from the Chicago State University. In his resume, we also found out that he worked for several years at Mobil as Auditor before resigning to contest for the Governorship election in Lagos state in 1999.
These and other credentials made him a perfect fit for the job, and over eight million Nigerians trusted him by casting their ballots for him. But seven months down the line, many of those voters are beginning to ask questions about the anticipated turn-around in their already shaky fortunes and livelihoods. Although Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka said that it would be better to wait till after a year before a proper assessment of his government could be done, waiting till May 29 may be too late if we do not intend to start picking dead bodies from hunger from the streets.
The situation in the country is so tough that many Nigerians are finding it hard to cope and continue living. They have simply lost hope. And hope is an essential ingredient that must be present in the life of any human being. It is the tonic that keeps people going.
Committing suicide is not part of our culture in Africa. In Nigeria, we enjoy life and live it to the fullest. But that is no longer the situation of things in the country presently. Some Nigerians are now taking the easy way out of their miseries by suicide, which is becoming rampant. A case in point is that of a young woman that took her life by ingesting a poisonous chemical called sniper while at work. She left a suicide note to the effect that she was tired of the suffering she was going through.
There are many others who are contemplating the same option as it stands. The video of a Soldier went viral last week in which he bemoaned the worsening state of the economy. After one year fighting Boko Haram sect and other insurgent groups in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, he was paid his one-month salary of N50,000 and issued with a pass to travel back home to see his family. But he got a rude shock when he got to the park and the cost of transportation down south was a tidy sum of N35,000. In essence, he would need to cough out N70,000 for both legs of his journey. He had no other choice than to abort the trip and return to the barracks. You and I can best imagine the state of mind of such military personnel. With dire straits getting home to see his family after many months of absence, what hope does he have to meet up with waiting responsibilities back home?
The high cost of transportation, foodstuff and practically everything in Nigeria arose from the pronouncement of Mr. President on the date he was sworn in: ‘Fuel Subsidy is Gone’. That four-worded phrase would define his presidency for several years to come. In spite of wise counsel from his team, President Tinubu threw everybody under the bus right at his inauguration venue. Yet, he had a window of one month to study the books, look at the figures closely before taking such a major decision.
With his pronouncement, fuel price has risen by more than 300 per cent. In fact, if there is no form of back-end subsidy now, fuel should be selling above N1000 per litre. The price of crude oil in the international market and the cost of refined crude coupled with the fallen value of the Naira would have pushed the price of fuel far above N1000. While the Federal Government and the NNPC Limited keeps telling Nigerians that there is no more subsidy, marketers and most Nigerians believe otherwise. The downstream sector of the oil industry has been turned to a case of “the more you look, the less you see” by the government. But no matter how long falsehood travels, truth would eventually catch up with it.
Another major policy that the Tinubu’s government was very keen on when it came on board was the abolition of the dual exchange of the major international currencies to the naira. Then, the naira exchanged at N480/ $ at the FX window and N770/$ at the parallel market. The government believes and rightly too, that the wide gap between the two exchange rates gives room for shady deals and felt that it should be merged. It then floated the Naira. Good idea, but wrong timing, as there was nothing to back the naira with. We are not a producing nation, but rather a consuming one. Standard of education has fallen significantly and the rich as well as the middle class now struggle to send their wards to universities outside the country. Through that alone, billions of dollars are pumped into the economy of several foreign countries at our own detriment. We are not making enough dollars from world trade (supply side) and we need billions of dollars (demand side) to take care of our new found lifestyle.
So, seven months down the line, the gaps, rather than closing, keep widening. It has now pushed the Naira to N1400/$ at the parallel market and beyond N1000/$ at the FX window. As stated above, we do not have what we could sell in the international market to earn dollars. Even the crude oil that we have, we are using the little dollars we earn from its sale to import refined petroleum products back into the country. There could be a breather here if Dangote Refinery begins sale of refined petrol into the Nigerian market. This, we expect in the next few weeks. Again, Port Harcourt refinery, also expected to come on stream soon, would eliminate spending scarce dollars on the importation of fuel but I doubt if there would be a major drop in the price of fuel to consumers.
Dangote sources for crude oil from the international market and I don’t expect him to sell refined fuel to Nigeria cheaply. He is a businessman doing business, and not a father Christmas. If Port Harcourt refinery and others fully come on board, perhaps there would be healthy competition in refining that could record a marginal drop in the price of fuel.
Added to the miseries many Nigerians are going through is the fear of the unknown in terms of safety. Nobody and nowhere is safe in the country anymore. As scary as it sounds, it is apparent that we have now liberalised and commercialised kidnapping such that it is happening all over the country daily and with recklessness. Nigerians are no longer sleeping with their two eyes closed. Even if you refuse to travel for the fear of being kidnapped on the road, what about those who were actually kidnapped from their homes?
The family of Nabeeha Al-Kadriyah will forever deal with the trauma from the unfortunate incident of the kidnapping of their family compromising of a father and his six children from their home, as well as the subsequent killing of the eldest sister, Nabeeha, by the kidnappers to show that they meant business before Nigerians rallied round the family to raise money to secure the eventual release of the rest of the traumatized family.
In Ekiti State, citizens are yet to come to terms with the gruesome murder of two traditional rulers by bandits and terrorists in that axis while another set of school children and their teachers enroute their school were cornered and taken into the bush. Soon after, we were greeted with the news of another traditional ruler murdered right inside his palace in Kwara State. He was a retired Army General before assuming the throne.
There is hunger in the land. And anger is also gradually settling in. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress, (TUC) have been on the neck of the government to give workers a living wage. Last year, they proposed N200,000 as salary for the least paid workers but they are now saying that the figure is no longer realistic due to inflation in the country. Now, labour is thinking of asking the Federal Government, State and even Local Government to fix minimum wage at N400,000. I laugh in French. Even some state governors are yet to pay N30,000 minimum wage to some of their workers. The government has set a 37-member committee to come up with a new national minimum wage for the nation. I wish them luck, while urging them to remember that less than 20 percent of the entire workforce are government workers.
How will manufacturers and those in the private sector be able to key into the new minimum wage being demanded by labour? One thing that is quite clear is that there will be massive job loss this year. No one has to be a Nostradamus to be able to predict the poor economic outlook for the country this year. The manufacturing sector is already comatose with poor electricity generation and the high cost of diesel which has almost forced many companies to go under. It was not unexpected when Procter and Gamble as well as GSK packed their bags and left the shores of the country last year. More may head in the same direction this year.
Although President Tinubu has done a yeoman’s job selling the country’s potentials to international businessmen and women, and inviting them to set up shop in the country, they would continue to stay away from Nigeria until we begin to put in place, policies that would create enabling environment for their businesses to grow.
However, I believe that no matter how bad the situation, Nigeria’s situation is not totally irredeemable. What the President has to do is to ensure that farmers return to the farms. But that would only be possible if the spate of insecurity in the country is vigorously tackled. The food basket belt in the country comprising of Benue, Taraba, Niger, Bauchi, Kaduna, Sokoto, and other states up north are currently at the mercy of kidnappers, bandits and terrorists. We need to uproot them so that farming activities can resume unhindered.
It will not be too much if the federal government organizes a summit on how we can wriggle out of the unforced errors this administration committed last year so that experts can chart a new way forward.
Whilst ensuring the arrest in the slide in the value of the Naira, government must also ensure that foodstuff is more affordable in the market, tackle security challenges facing the nation, and most importantly, give hope of a better tomorrow to millions of Nigerians.
President Tinubu must effectively take charge and ease the sufferings people are going through now before it’s too late. I wish him luck.
See you next week.