I was very elated and proud when Mr. President made the speech during the 2020 annual budget submission to the National Assembly. Months ago, I wrote an article in my weekly column, titled “A hungry man is an angry man.” In it, I requested the office of the President or the Budget Office to publish the detailed plan so that some of us can make some input, because poverty is one of the biggest pandemics affecting over 100 million Nigerians. It may surprise you to know that in this poverty bracket we have scientists that cannot think anymore, teachers that can no longer teach, explorers that can no longer explore and innovate, writers and artists that can no longer visualise and farmers who can no longer find their way to the farm because of insecurity.
The first time I heard about this bold plan to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty was from the address given by the Vice President at the Emir of Gwandu’s Palace in Birnin Kebbi on September 12, 2019. This monumental pronouncement did not come in a policy speech from the President, his vice, or his economic minister. Till date, we are still waiting for the detailed plans of how this bold objective would be made to work. We are waiting to see how this objective is tied to the national electricity policy of Nigeria, the national transportation policy of Nigeria, the national education policy of Nigeria; how the TraderMoni, MarketMoni, and FarmerMoni schemes link up with this bold objective. We want to see how our industrialisation policy, our services sector, research and development strategies and outcomes tie into this laudable objective.
When the President set up this bold objective of his, he must have had in mind the achievable targets of these policies and schemes I have enumerated. The President must also be aware that these millions of Nigerians he rightly wants to lift out of poverty by 2030 all live in different states of the federation. Are the states keyed into this objective by way of a national legislation or set of legislations by way of buy-in, given that these states have different party affiliations? These questions and observations are not so much of a critique as they are mostly advices in the quest for a workable policy that will put Nigeria firmly on the path to economic glory. This bold objective is only a few months old. There is still time to flesh out the plans that will drive it.
And now this coronavirus that perhaps nature has thrown at Planet Earth has come at the worst of times; a big wrench in the works that are yet to start. Bad timing? No, worst timing. With the lockdowns announced by the President and the various states, farmers are unable to appropriately engage in the early stages of the new farming season. Students at all levels of our educational institutions have left their institutions and are now shuttered in their homes. Even motor park boys are now home as well. The previous stigma whereby most Nigerians will run away from the country when things are hard is no longer possible because there is nowhere to run to seeing as all countries are now impenetrable fortresses. So far, there seems to be no light at the end of the fuzzy tunnel because those countries we have been aspiring to emulate are yet to find out how best to fight this war, especially when leaders of the war, the health workers, emergency workers, and essential service providers, who are the foot soldiers, are being affected.
The poverty issue, therefore, is going to get worse and will not help Mr. President’s most important plan to fight corruption. Imagine what this will do to our teeming population that are living below the poverty line. Therefore, Poverty + Frustration + Anger + Idleness = Increased Mental Illness.
Most countries of the world we aspire to be like are engaging their citizens and governments in serious conversations on how to ease the sufferings of their citizens, prevent a free fall of their economies, and plans on how to stimulate their economies post-COVID-19 national shutdowns. We, in Nigeria, have yet to be told of any serious plans by our various governments on how to fight this war, win it, and not sink in it. We have heard about social loan deferments for three months; heard about the N100 billion health sector intervention for 10 years; heard about the suspension of cheque clearing by CBN (whatever that means); heard about the various donations from philanthropists, rich Nigerians, and corporations; heard about the N15 billion FGN intervention funds to NCDC and Lagos State. What is in it for the Nigerian workers and taxpayers? What is in it for Nigerian businesses, big and small? What is in it for the unemployed Nigerians who may die from inability to obtain any treatment? What is in it for the Nigerian farmer? Perhaps, these are early days yet, judging from the perspective of “African time.” After all, Africa is also having a delayed visit from this unwanted pandemic. There may still be time for the Big Government intervention that Nigerians deserve. But I doubt it.
I doubt it because this is a country in which the individuals, collectively, are richer than the state. The 2020 Federal Budget was predicated on an oil price of US$56/barrel. Today, thanks to Russia and Saudi Arabia, oil prices as of now are below US$22/barrel – the lowest ever in 18 years. Once again, our dependence on a single, monolithic product economy will bring us to our bruised and bleeding knees.
“‘Coro’ don kill us,” so said my plumber.
The novel coronavirus, the unseen enemy, has come from nowhere and everywhere, affecting the rich and the poor, the weak and the most powerful, the young and the elderly, farmers and gun-wielding herders, the hapless electorate and the lying, conniving politicians. If we are unable to farm and cannot sell our oil, cannot educate our students, cannot provide for the employed and unemployed who are all at home, we are doomed as a government and as a people. I cannot begin to think of what will happen to my dear country Nigeria if this continues for the next few months
Not surprisingly, the President has rather called for all Nigerians to look after each other. That is like the proverbial ‘everyman to himself.’ That is an abrogation of responsibility, which though did not start with him, but for 28 years he has been part of the leadership of this country.
I am writing these from my farm in Delta State, waiting for the first rains to signal the new planting season but, so far, we have had few and we are already into April. Can we, nay, can the world feed itself this year? Stay tuned for this one.