Beyond outright cases of corruption, certain economic policies created more difficulties that contributed the hard times being experienced by Nigerians across the country.
Enyeribe Ejiogu (Lagos), Noah Ebije (Kaduna), Laide Raheem (Abeokuta), Emmanuel Adeyemi (Lokoja), Olanrewaju Lawal (Birnin-Kebbi), Tony John, (Port Harcourt), Layi Olanrewaju (Ilorin), Paul Orude (Bauchi), Clement Adeyi (Osogbo), Georfrey Anyanwu (Awka), Gyang Bere (Jos), Rose Ejembi (Makurdi), Jeff Amechi Agbodo (Onitsha)
Many families are now in the grip of the worsening hardship in the country. Across the country, the groans of people in the states exemplify the present poor socio-economic situation of Nigerians. Among the groups of Nigerians caught in the swelling sea of people emasculated by the bad economy are pensioners, workers, traders, artisans and even professionals in different fields.
It is noteworthy that some months after President Muhammadu Buhari took office on May 29, 2015, he granted a special approval for the payment of bailout funds to state governments, to enable them pay off the backlog of unpaid salaries to civil servants and pensioners. He also directed the Federal Ministry of Finance to liaise with the relevant ministries, agencies and departments to determine the actual indebtedness of the government to contractors and expedite processes, to ensure prompt payment of the assessed and confirmed bills.
These steps taken by the president as well as the regular release of statutory allocations to the states from the Federation Account were all geared towards providing states with resources to meet their obligations to workers in the civil service and local contractors. It was naturally expected that these funds would eventually trickle down to traders and other businesses in those states as civil servants but products and services with their income. But curiously this was not to be as some state governors used all manner gimmicks and underhand methods to divert and launder the funds through various spurious means. Beyond outright cases of corruption, certain economic policies created more difficulties that contributed the hard times being experienced by Nigerians across the country.
A pensioner in Kaduna State, Mr. John Fwah, who retired from the defunct New Nigerian newspaper, paints a picture of the effect of the hard times on his health and family. His situation has been compounded by the non-payment of his pensions. Fwah is scared that he might not be able to survive if a health challenge befell him as he has no money to pay for healthcare services.
Fwah, who is a grandfather said: “Never in my life have I experienced this type of hardship, one goes to bed everyday almost without food, and prices of food have skyrocketed in the market. Our naira has lost value, you see people buying few items with much money, and the items will not last more than a few days.
“My own case is even worsened by the fact that as a pensioner I have not been paid my entitlements. I keep hoping against hope for the payment; only God knows when this pension will be paid. I can no longer take care of medical bills of my family. Things have gone terribly bad. The government must do something to save us from this ugly situation.”
Mr. Isaac Jonacy, who runs a laundry and dry cleaning business, said: “The economic hardship is having serious effect on my dry-cleaning business and indeed other businesses. On the general level I discovered that customers have become more concerned about the stability of their jobs and have become more cautious with their expenditure. This invariably leads to their cutting down on some expenses and making do with some other cheaper alternatives. The result is decreased patronage and revenue for some businesses like mine. Whereas my cost of running the business keeps increasing, like utility bills, raw materials, logistics and indeed sometimes labour, the overall effect of the slow profit stream can make it difficult for a small business like mine to repay creditors, which can negatively impact its long-term viability.
“For my dry cleaning business, I am now forced to downsize my workforce. This limits my ability to serve customers and consequently it contributes to the unemployment rate, which further slows the economy in the long run. So in essence this economic hardship has retrogressive consequences on individual living standards.”
Abdul Sani, 28, who hawks kitchen utensils, told Sunday Sun: “Well, I don’t sell like I used to sell in those years, like four to five years ago, but I give thanks to God for seeing me through till now. It is my hope that everything will get better one day.”
A restaurant operator who simply gave her name as Mama Jummai said that food sales have dropped considerably compared to the time past, adding that prices of food items have rocketed up.
“We used to buy a measure (mudu) of egusi (melon) for N500, but it now costs N1,500 per measure, while a measure of crayfish has gone up to N2,000 from N800. A bag of beans is more than N40,000, which is double the former price of N20,000, while a bag of rice goes for N15,000 to N17,000 as against N9,000 to N10,000 per bag under the past administration.
“So tell me how I can make profit in this food business. Apart from this, customers will be accusing you for serving them small food. Some customers will even eat on credit, and when the time to pay on the promised day, it becomes a problem.
Chieftain of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mohammed Abdulrahman, advised President Muhammadu Buhari to regulate food prices as one of the measures to cushion the effect of the hardship. He argued that if the measure is not taken, the entire country might be hit by famine.
“Let him (President Buhari) attempt to crash the market price of food commodities, to prevent famine from afflicting Nigerians. I am pleased that the government is working hard to recover all the funds taken from the budget through corrupt acts.
The National Bureau of Statistics in its 2018 report listed Bauchi State among the 10 poorest states in Nigeria. The poverty rate is estimated at 70 percent. As you move through the state capital, and from urban towns like Azare, Misau, Ningi and Toro, beggars soliciting for arms are almost everywhere. Children who ought to be in school are seen begging. You see young boys scavenging in dustbins or begging for food to eat while girls hawk to augment family incomes. The school enrollment, particularly for girls is poor with most girls becoming child brides.
Bauchi State is generally regarded as a civil service state, which draws 95 percent of its budget from statutory allocations from the Federation Account. The over-bloated civil service population estimated at 105,000 is a big drain on the available resources. The hard times in Bauchi State is reflected in the inability of most households to afford three meals a day and other basic household needs. From Kusu, Yelwa Kagadama, Gwallaga, Bakaro and Kandahara areas in the state capital, to other towns like Azare, Ningi, Toro, the effect of the hard times is evident. It has become more pronounced as the 2019 general election draw near. Idle youths who are jobless have become ready and willing tools for politicians who use them to do dirty work.
Against the background of the 2019 election, it worrisome that hardship is pushing people to sell their PVCs for as little as N200 and up to N1000 to eat food.
In a place called Nasarawa, which is an old residential part of Birnin-Kebbi, the capital of Kebbi State, and in the rural areas too, poverty is a very stark picture that defies description. Women, children and the ubiquitous almajiri throng the major streets begging for alms and handouts.
A troubling development is that male adults have joined the army of beggars who besiege bank customers, hang around the secretariat and other government offices and business premises, seeking for cash gift gifts to enable them eat for the day.
Chairman of Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Kebbi State chapter, Alhaji Usman Abubakar told Sunday Sun that the level of poverty among the people in the state since the inception of the present administration was caused by inability of the government to utilise huge funds allocated to it by the Federal Government.
Incensed by the state of affairs and the pitiable situation of the hardest hit poor, Abubakar said: “The government must to be ready to account for all the funds that accrued to Kebbi State from the Federation Account in the last three and a half years. CNPP is not satisfied with the current fiscal trend in the affairs of the state.”
Echoing the position of CNPP, Kebbi Development Forum (KDF) attributed the level of poverty and hardship in the state to poor governance, which the group claimed had left the state underdeveloped.
The Secretary General of the Forum and CNPP state chairman, Abubakar, explained the cause of the situation this way: “One of the problems of leadership in Kebbi State, over the years has been in the area of recruitment of leaders.
“Another challenge of democratic dispensation in Kebbi State is the poor leadership examples and capacity, occasioned by serious lack of accountability on the part of the successive governments. Thus, in spite of its incredibly vast human and natural resources, Kebbi State has some of the worst indices in human development, with an alarming and dangerously high level of poverty. Its educational sector is in shambles, so is the health sector and indeed most of the sectors.”
People in Ogun State have been spared the hardship that has gripped other Nigerians despite the efforts of the administration of Governor Ibikunle Amosun to attract investors to the state. With the recession biting harder, the number of children out of school increased and street begging skyrocketed. Social gatherings and religious centres have become havens for people to beg for alms and handouts. Also, the number of children who scavenge for discarded aluminum and other metals for survival has quadrupled.
The failure of the government to pay several contractors for contracts handled by them for the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), before 2015, has added to the bad situation and placed a heavy toll on contractors who took bank loans to execute the contracts. As Sunday Sun learnt from one of the contractors, who requested not to be mentioned in print, at least two contractors died as a result of pressure on them by the banks.
The contractor, who is also an engineer, painted a picture of how he went through hell during the period. He said he had to relocate to Ibadan, Oyo State capital, to escape the embarrassment his inability to meet up with his financial obligations, was causing him.
“It got so bad that I had to relocate to Ibadan. I almost disposed all my properties because of the problem. It was indeed one of the hardest periods of his life,” the contractor said.
Following the decision of President Muhammadu to authorize payment of special grants to states, Kogi State received billions in bailout funds, Paris club refunds and statutory allocations from the Federal Account from January 2016 till date. Notwithstanding all these available resources, Kogi State civil servants have been practically reduced to penury by the government, which has not paid their salaries and allowances for months on end. Equally traumatised are pensioners who have not received their pensions. Both the civil servants and pensioners regard the All Progressives Congress administration in the state as a blight and scourge.
Hundreds of workers have died as a result of non-payment of salary arrears. Many families are enduring hunger while their children have dropped out of school. Kogi State is a civil service state, which is the basic driver of economic activities. Salaries of workers and payments to contractors circulate within the state’s economy, such that the prolonged non-payment of these obligations is the primary cause of the hardship in the state.
Today civil servants, schoolteachers and local government workers are pining in agony and want as a result of the non-payment of 13-32 months of salary and pension arrears. Even when the government condescends and pays workers in the ministries at all, teachers and local government workers get 20-30 percent of the remunerations or not paid at all.
Recently, local government workers and primary school teachers were despicably excluded when the government paid three-four months arrears without any explanation. Mrs Abigail (surname withheld) is a teacher in one of the primary schools in Kabba, she is diabetic and suffers from hypertension. She lost her husband, who was a pensioner in February this year in a road crash last year while returning from Lokoja on one of the many screening exercises. Abigail is owed 13 months salary arrears, and unable to afford her drugs nor cater for the four children the husband left behind.
Three of the children have consequently dropped out of school and the fourth one is yet to start school. Her case is so pathetic that family and friends who normally extended some kind gestures to her are no longer forthcoming.
Also, Mrs Anjorin, another widow and a primary school teacher collapsed and died last December on hearing that her only daughter was robbed and raped along Okene-Adogo highway while returning to Kogi State University, Ayingba, for her exams.
The mother who was reportedly owed over 12 months salaries had struggled to borrow money for the child to go and write her last papers in the school having stayed at home for the larger part of the semester owing to lack of funds. The frail looking woman could not absorb the shock from the news of her daughter’s death. She collapsed and died.
In Ibaji Local Government, a certain man working in one of the primary schools in Onyedeaga was said to have taken his six-year-old boy to Idah General Hospital, after a commercial motorcyclist knocked down the little boy and as the man could not afford to pay the hospital bill of the child, he was left to bleed to death.
At Trinity Primary School, Lokoja, the state capital, a class three mistress broke down and wept profusely when she discovered that she was paid N300 out of the N45,000 she should normally earn in the month. Her pain was that some certain account personnel at the Lokoja LGEA had shortchanged some of them, paying far less than the 20 percent the state government approved for payment, and they couldn’t complain, else their names would be added to uncleared list of workers.
These are few of the many sad cases that now routinely in Kogi State as result of non-payment of salaries. It was learnt that the case of the primary school teachers in the state came to this sorry state because some of union leaders were said to have compromised with the state government.
The new chairman of the Nigeria Union of teachers in the state, NUT, Comrade Thomas Ayodele, in an interview described the issue of salary underpayments, salary omissions and payments of salaries in percentages to his members since the local councils took over teachers’ payments as “painfully ridiculous.”
“My members have been severely pauperized by the state government. They only got 20 and 30 percent of their salaries for the months of January and February, 2018, respectively while names of more than 40 percent of his members were completely omitted from the payment vouchers.
Ayodele who described the development as worrisome, called on the government to pay all salary arrears owed teachers without further delay and return the payments of teachers’ salaries to the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB.)
The past four years have been one long period of trauma for people in Plateau State, particularly women. The menace of killer herdsmen, which led to the sacking of several farming communities, has unleashed hardship in the state and caused persons to commit suicide due to inability to fend for their families. Mrs. Juliet Paul, a young widow in Dadin Kowo community in Jos South Local Givernment Area of the state is battling for the survival of her four children after the husband, Paul Majai killed himself in a mysterious manner due to hardship.
The 31-year-old Paul committed suicide in July 2018 after a squabble with his wife over children’s school fees and some other family needs.
He was said to have hung himself in his room that same night after complaining of hardship and lack of money to take proper care of the family, leaving the jobless woman in agony.
As Sunday Sun learnt from the Plateau Police Command, hardship has been adduced as the reason for the upsurge in money ritual cases and rape.
In a recent case, the culprits, Abubakar Sani and Abubakar Mohammed, who were arrested by the police, abducted a police sergeant, Yunana Ishaya, who they killed and plucked out his eyes for money rituals. In their confessional statement, they blamed untold hardship, which is taking a heavy toll on Nigerians for their action.
Investigation revealed that state has also witnessed high number of divorce cases due to family squabbles as a result of financial disagreement and other issues as some of the families could not afford to have two meals a day.
Also on the increase is the incidence of some widows and even married women indulging in prostitution to support their families. President of Berom Women Development Association (BWEDA), Ngo Florence Jambol told Sunday Sun that displaced women and young girls in Barkin-Ladi and Riyom local government areas of the state have embraced prostitution to enable them feed their families.
She blamed the government for negligence and not being proactive in addressing the plight of the women who bear the brunt of crisis, hardship, poverty and any other social vises.
Though the Federal Government launched a social intervention programme, Trader Moni, to ameliorate the problem, the coverage is abysmally low, leading to most women in the state to complain that they have not benefited from the scheme, noting that it is being done to favour beneficiaries known to the local administrators and those affiliated to the ruling party.
For many seconds, Mr. Augustine Terhemba (not real name) was lost in thought, completely oblivious of the fact that his wife, Tina, had entered the room and had even greeted him.
It was not until Tina touched him that Terhemba, a father of seven young children, was jolted back to reality. Terhemba can be forgiven for being so lost in thought. Life was going on well with Terhemba and his family until he suddenly lost his banking job in 2015 as a result of the economic recession that hit the country.
And to add to his plight, Tina, his wife who works with the state government as a teacher in one of the secondary schools in town is being owed several months salary.
This paints the picture of the plight of many in Benue State as the non-payment of salaries has left many families financially stranded and unable to pay their rents, children’s school fees or settle other bills.
Pensioners who are similarly arrears for several months cannot afford their drugs, a development that has led many of them to die too early.
A pensioner who spoke with our correspondent on the condition of anonymity asked why the government he served meritoriously before retiring would treat him badly by not giving him the monthly stipend he is entitled to.
He said: “Is it now a crime to retire after serving for 35 years? Why is government refusing to give us the peanut they have promised to give us? Why have they chosen to continually punish retirees in this manner?
“Let me tell you, as small as this pension is, that is what many of us depend on to feed, buy our drugs and take care of our family the much we can do. Many of my fellow retirees are suffering in silence as they can no longer procure their drugs. In fact, some have even died as a result of this.
“I hear they say they cannot pay because of economic down turn but I say that our government should learn to prioritize the issue of the aged and pensioners because that is what everyone who aspires to grow old should do.”
The economic crunch has also adversely affected business activities in the state; people no longer have money to patronize or buy things they need. A trip to some markets in the state capital including the Makurdi Modern Market, Wadata Market and the popular Wurukum Market tells the story of the hardship being faced by people of the state better. You see traders sitting with very few people or no one patronizing them.
“You can see how my boys and I are all sitting down in the shop. We are sitting down because there are no customers to attend to. In fact, I had to reduce the number of boys because business is very slow these days,” said Mr. Victor who owns about five provision shops in Modern Market.
Victor who attributed the palpable poverty in the state to the several months of non-payment of salary occasioned by the economic recession said at a point, he had to put two of his five shops up for sale so that he could maintain the remaining three and stay afloat.
In Anambra State the drive to generate revenue and the resulting multiple taxation has contributed to the hardship in the state.
Mr. Tony Okafor, a public affairs analyst who explained the connection between the government’s revenue drive and hardship said: “Since 2015 the hardship particularly in Anambra is due to over taxation of citizens. This is apparently because of efforts to battle recession in the country. In the process of doing that the state government overtaxed people, you pay all manner of taxes. This is more so because politicians are given revenue windows as political patronage, so ordinary wheelbarrow pushers, somebody has it as revenue window and is charging those children high levies.”
Elder Eloka Okafor, the State Programme Manager, Community Empowerment Network (COMEN), on his part said, “From 2015 and just before the end of Governor Obiano’s first tenure, it appears there was an economic palliative measure by the state government to mitigate the effect of the recession experienced within the country. Now that measure seems to have included some tax holidays and some reduction in other levies and fees to the state government by petty traders in the state.
“However, presently the whole scenario has changed, the state is now under a heavy burden of all kinds levies, collections and government revenue collection agents. It is interesting to also note that some of the revenue agents don’t seem be approved by the government, yet they are operating.
“In spite of the heavy burden, the state government doesn’t have inclusive and sustainable programmes to affect the lives of the citizens of the state positively in other to reduce the present hardship and poverty in the land, and it is a big problem. The priority of the administration presently is actually difficult to decipher.
In Onitsha, Anambra state, hunger and suffering have been biting hard to the people occasioned by the economic hardship for the three years.
The situation has made many people to lose their source of income and forced some people to do menial jobs to make both ends meet.
Some bankers lost their jobs and took up sales of GSM recharge cards and vouchers. The hardship has made some retired teachers, civil servants, traders to become commercial tricycle drivers in order to feed their families.
An insurance consultant, Mr. Emeka Okeke, said: “In 2015 we were saying that was a bad year but progressing to 2016 up to this moment the level of hardship is so monumental that it is unbearable to every Dick, Tom and Harry. Nobody can claim that the issue of economic recession and hardship is not affecting him or her.”
“The economic situation in the country has forced at least 80 percent of the citizenry penury in the sense that people are struggling to earn a living, people are struggling to have three meals a day.
“People are struggling to pay their children’s school fees. The price of everything is going higher and higher everyday,” Okeke said.
From 2015 till date, the people of the state have been hit by poverty and attendant hardship in different magnitudes. Across the state several citizens live below poverty line. The people most affected are civil servants in federal and state government parastatals as well as in private organisations who earn poor salaries that cannot sustain them and their families.
Pensioners are another set of victims of hardship in the state. A highly embittered 62-year-old man who preferred anonymity told Sunday Sun that two of his children had been sent out of school over inability to pay their school fees.
Another 65-year old retiree lamented that his landlord had given him notice to pack out of his two-room apartment in Isale-Aro area of Osogbo the state capital, over inability to pay outstanding rent of one year and three months.
“I suffered to send my son to school. After graduation, he got a job with the state government. Our hope was that he would be the breadwinner of the family. But his salary is about N45,000 naira. It is sad that the salary was not regular. Even so, after deducting tax and cooperative loan from it, his take home is barely N25,000, which cannot take care us for the month. How can he settle down with that little amount and get married?” she queried.
Also seriously affected by hardship are artisans, farmers and market women. Reason is that they lack appreciable patronage because of low cash flow in the economy, following irregular salaries and pensions.