By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“As of April 2021, the inflation rate was the highest in four years. Food prices accounted for over 60 per cent of the total increase in inflation. Nigeria’s economic growth is being hindered by food inflation, heightened insecurity, unemployment and stalled reforms”.
– World Bank Report.
Talk is cheap. But walking that talk is what truly matters for effective leadership. For instance, Nigerians have over the recent years discovered that some of our top political leaders are far removed from the harsh economic realities on the ground. They make fanciful promises during electioneering campaigns only to disregard or jettison them soon after mounting the pedestal of political power.
It is most painful therefore, that some 22 years after the return of democratic governance Nigerians have found themselves enmeshed in the quagmire of escalating insecurity, dire unemployment situation and massive job losses. Yet, those entrusted with the destiny of millions of the citizen wear other shoes than that of the people they claim to lead and cannot feel where they pinch them!
It is disheartening that contrary to the recent claim by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari during his Speech on Democracy Day that: “In the last two years we lifted 10.5 million people out of poverty – farmers, small-scale traders, artisans, market women and the like” the World Bank has refuted his statement with empirical evidences. That was barely three days after he made that speech.
In fact, a research carried out by yours truly over the past week has revealed astronomical jump in the cost price of raw food items compared to what they were as at 2015. That was when former President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration handed over the baton of leadership to Buhari and his acolytes. For instance, while a plastic paint bucket of garri cost N250 then it now goes for N1,200. A 50 kg of the same garri that sold for N4,000 now sells for N35,000. In a similar vein, a 50kg of rice has since moved fromN7,000 to N25,000.A basket of tomato that cost between N2,000 to N3,000 back in 2015 now sells for N28,000. Yes, you read that correctly. Meanwhile, the price of a small basket pepper has leapfrogged fromN4, 500 to N17,000 over the past six years. Similarly, a 50kg of beans that took N12,000 from the home maker’s purse now sells forN17,000.And a 50 kg of onion bulbs that sold for N5,000 now go for N35,000. And perhaps, if you are still in the dark a tuber of yam has jumped in price from N250 to N2,500 even as they are being cut into pieces since the average housewife cannot afford a tuber. Four pieces of sliced yam sell for N200! In fact, while listening to a related issue being discussed on Cool FM on Thursday the 17th of June, 2021 several family heads confessed that the hunger has become so real that they are compelled to remove some items such as chicken, turkey, even rice from their daily meals. That is the excruciating economic mess Nigerians have found themselves caught in. Yet, our government is more worried about gagging free speech under a democratic dispensation than doing all it could to rein in the hyenas and jackals of insurgency, banditry and kidnapping for ransom!
Not a few farmers in Zamfara, Niger, Bornu, Benue, Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu states and even Katsina, the president’s home state are unable to access their farmlands due to all manners of insecurity ravaging their lands. So, we do not need rocket science to tell us that food prices and related inflation will continue to haunt Nigerians for some time. This is well captured with regards to the World Bank Report that gave a GDP growth forecast for Nigeria of 1.9% in 2021 and 2.1% in 2022, compared with 3.4% this year and 4.0% next year for sub-Saharan Africa. It also warned that in 2020 the Nigerian economy experienced a shallower contraction of -1.8% than had been projected at the beginning of the pandemic (-3.2%). Earlier in February, a World Bank report had projected that an additional 20 million Nigerians could be impoverished by 2022. Gloria Joseph-Raji, a senior economist at the Washington-based financial institution, predicts an astronomical surge by about 15 to 20 million people by 2022 from the about 83 million people in 2019 according to Ms. Joseph-Raji. This remains a timely warning signal to be taken seriously.What with agricultural imports exceeding exports by about N503bn in Q1 of 2021.
So, whether the president likes to hear this or not, the bitter truth is that we are currently confronted not only with hunger but the critical issues of extreme poverty and food/ nutrition insecurity. The national poverty line has increased from 69 million in 2004 to 112 in 2010, equivalent to 69% of the population. In the same period, the number of millionaires increased by approximately 44%. Income inequality, as measured by the Gini Index, grew from 40% in 2003 to 43% in 2009.
So, what is the way out of the wood? The federal government should be more decisive in confronting insecurity. It should proscribe the fully armed Fulani herdsmen that kill, rape and maim innocent indigenes across the states; to clip their wings in their ill-fated land-grabbing, malevolent mission. Since the president says that the state governors should play their part, he should allow for retooling of the 1999 constitution as the APC promised Nigerians in 2015. Doing so means giving ample room for the states to control their resources through a holistic restructuring, with true fiscal federalism. And of course, have their police as the chief security officers of their states. These will certainly boost local production of raw food items as the defunct Northern Region boasted of cotton, groundnut, hides and skin in the ‘60s. Back then the Western Region survived with revenues from cocoa and coffee and the East of rubber, fish and the root crops. The other significant issue is that of bridging the rich-poor gap that has worsened over the years. The Nigerian Living Standards Survey (NLSS) is the official survey that is the basis for measuring poverty and living standards in the country and is used to estimate a wide range of socio-economic indicators including benchmarking of the Sustainable Development Goals.
According to Oxfam’s calculations, lifting all Nigerian people living below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 out of poverty for one year will cost about $24 billion. This amount of money is just lower than the total wealth owned overall by the five richest Nigerians in 2016, which was equal to $29.9 billion.
Similarly, the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) should drastically reduce the huge pay package of political appointees and place them on equivalent civil salary scale in tandem with the tough economic situation as at this day. The time to act is now!
Baje writes from Lagos