There is hunger and anger in the land, worsened of course, by the sudden removal of fuel subsidy by the President Bola Tinubuled administration without a thorough thinking through, or putting meaningful palliatives in place to stem the rising tide of the economic dire strait and anguish being felt by the poor. The screaming headlines trending in many newspapers and some online media platforms paint the scary economic situation, currently ravaging the average Nigerian. One of them, reflecting the gross injustice between the political leaders and the led majority stated that: “Giving a bag of rice to 12 people, N100m to each lawmaker is insulting – Labour”.
The other one, on the negotiation incubus said that: “Govt has absconded from the negotiation table, fails to meet workers’ demands, says NLC”. And in response, the organised labour threatened to begin an indefinite strike should the Federal Government fail to meet its demands at the end of a 21-day ultimatum which will expire on September 20, 2023. The threat is coming barely one week after the NLC led a two-day nationwide warning strike. Giving reasons for the proposed strike, the NLC insisted that it was necessary, sequel to the failure of the Federal Government to provide adequate cushioning palliatives, to assuage the hardships of Nigerians as a result of the fuel subsidy removal. The industrial action which may commence any day soon would lead to an indefinite shutdown of commercial and economic activities across the country.
According to the National Assistant General Secretary of the NLC, Mr Christopher Onyeka, the FG was wrong to share a bag of rice to a dozen citizens while reportedly giving N100 million palliative to each member of the National Assembly. Such a brazen show of inequity, between the leaders and the people is unacceptable. If there is need to make sacrificesas Tinubu had stated, soon after the brash fuel subsidy removal – it has to begin with the leadership, exhibiting a worthy example. That is more so currently that Nigerians are getting poorer by the day. Indeed, such is the level of the struggle for survival at the individual and family levels, sparked by soaring inflation that some Nigerians have turned to begging to make ends meet. Annual inflation rate in Nigeria has since accelerated for a sixth month to 24.08% as at July 2023. That is the highest since September of 2005, compared to forecasts of 23.7%. It should be noted that Nigeria’s inflation rate for 2022 was 18.85%, a 1.89% increase from 2021.
Similarly worrisome is the figure provided by the World Poverty Clock reporting that there are 71 million extremely poor Nigerians, according to 2023 data. The World Poverty Clock is a tool used to track poverty progress worldwide. The HDI, published annually by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since 1990, measures long and healthy life and a decent standard of living. The factors include access to knowledge, nutritious food, safe drinking water, decent accommodation, as made available out of 191 countries. But Nigeria, which is considered as Africa’s biggest economy, was ranked 163rd in the United Nations’ (UN) HDI in 2022, for the second consecutive year, according to a report by the UNDP. In terms of the HDI score, Nigeria remained unchanged with 0.535. Its life expectancy reached 52.7 years in 2021, the expected years of schooling was 10.1 Unfortunately, Nigeria is the home of the global highest number of kids (at least 10.5 million) out of formal schooling, though formal primary education is officially free and compulsory.
Most of the victims live in the northern part of the country. The report cited the Boko Haram insurgency which had led to devastating effects on their mental well-being and human development paradigm at large. As if all these figures are not frightening enough, the Debt Management Office (DMO) published its quarterly debt report, stating that Nigeria’s total public debt — federal and state governments — hit N49.85 trillion at the end of the first quarter (Q1) of 2023. Against this dark backdrop of the sordid economic situation in the country, it stands logic on its head that the lawmakers are smiling to the bank each with reported humongous palliative payoffs. This certainly shows not only the wide disconnect between the leaders and the people but smirks of insensitivity and the absence of servant-leadership. The delay in the distribution of the meagre palliatives is an insult to the collective psyche of millions of Nigerians, currently stewing in preventable poverty. There is the need for wider consultations on the call for true fiscal federalism. It should be heeded now.
Considering the indisputable fact that most of them are already living a comfortable life with perquisites of office, this calls for a reappraisal of the manner of democracy we practice here in Nigeria that favours the rich against the poor masses. It is not sustainable. We, therefore, share in the NLC’s position that the government should act with promptitude, and call for negotiations to avert the looming danger of a long-drawn, nationwide strike.