- Costs of foodstuff, drugs, others soar
By HENRY UMAHI ([email protected])
MR Femi Animashaun, an electrician living in Idimu area of Lagos, painted a pathetic picture Thursday last week as tears streamed down his cheeks while walking home with his two children. The man cried because his children were driven away from school over outstanding bills.
In an emotion-laden voice, Animashaun told this reporter: “I have never been so embarrassed in my life. My children were sent away from school because their school fees have not been paid. I paid half of last term’s fee and yet to pay for the new term because there is no money. There are people I worked for but they have not paid me because, according to them, they have not been paid for the work they did for government. It has not been easy at all. Things are tight everywhere. I’ve been begging the school authority to allow the children remain in school pending when I get money to pay whatever I’m owing them but they said that they cannot allow that anymore. This is the first time that I was not up-to-date in paying their school fees but they don’t want to know. Imagine the shame of having your children sent away from school because you cannot pay their school fees. Even to feed is not easy because of the condition of the country.”
Animashaun is not walking alone in the valley of distress and despondency. Valentine Itodo, a graduate okada rider, also lamented that putting food on the table is no longer a piece of cake. He said: “It appears that things get worse with each new government. I read accountancy at Idah Polytechnic but after looking for white-collar job for years without success, I started riding okada. At least, I was managing to take care of my family but surviving these days is not easy. You hardly get enough money to feed your family because of the high cost of fuel and endless harassment from policemen and touts. With the resumption of school, my heart is always beating faster because of the school fees and other things to be paid for.
“To make things more difficult, my landlord has increased the rent by N40,000 per annum and he said that anybody who cannot afford it should pack out within two months. I just live in a room and parlour apartment with my wife and three children. Everything has gone haywire; it is as if there is no government in Nigeria now. The price of rice has jumped from N8,000 to N15,000 per bag. Prices of virtually everything have gone up. This government is bad business; it does not favour us at all.”
Indeed, Nigerians are wearing the garment of hardship across the country. Investigation revealed that most Nigerians, irrespective of status are feeling the pinch one way or another. It is the same story from the North to the South. No section of the country is marginalised in this.
The soaring fuel prices are destroying family budgets and its devastating effect is that putting food on the table is becoming g increasingly difficult. Unemployment and retrenchment are rising because the economy is taking a plunge, sinking deeper by the day or so it seems. And peace has become elusive as the blood of Nigerians flow freely like a river. In all of this, it seems like government appears confused, not knowing what to do. Evangelist Elishama Ideh, founder Partnership For a New Nigeria (PFANN), puts the situation succinctly: “The hardship Nigerians are facing is unprecedented. Though I personally agree with the fight against corruption but any fight a government embarks upon without first alleviating the sufferings of the people will be an effort in futility; the people will no longer understand the reason for the campaign because their lives are not being impacted directly. Right now, the yoke on the people is unbearable. Electricity supply is zero percent, so people have to now carry their generators on their heads or shoulders to the filling stations where they queue for the whole day. I don’t even have the conscience to ask anybody to go and queue for me for that long anymore. So, we have resorted to buying from the black market but what about the people that cannot afford it? The thing happening in country is unheard of. It is as if there is a deliberate effort to place more sufferings on the people. The economy is in a shambles and businesses are packing up. The government has to do something fast before there will be an uprising.”
Inflation in overdrive
Lagos lawyer and public affairs analyst, Sir Chukwuanugo Ejikeme opined that virtually all the indices of governance are in the negative even as inflation has moved into overdrive. His words: “No doubt, Nigerians are exposed to severe hardship in these times. The rate of inflation is so high that Nigerians are not able to buy what they want and the quantity they want. Again, those whose children are schooling abroad cannot raise the foreign exchange to pay the fees thereby putting the future of the children in jeopardy. There are also such issues as fuel scarcity, power outage and insecurity. In a nutshell, we are exposed to very serious hardship. In fact, to say we are suffering is to put it mildly. Nigerians are living in hell. Nigerians sleep at filling stations where they are exposed to attack by hoodlums. And by the time you spend hours in filling stations, you are losing man-hours as well as subjecting your health to risks.
“To compound the situation, there is no money in the pockets of Nigerians. Only very few Nigerians can boast of being comfortable or feeding well now. The cost of fuel is killing, particularly in the South East where it is sold for anything from N200. The implication is that the money one would have spent on food will be used to buy fuel thereby creating much more insecurity than we had in the past. Talking about power is another kettle of fish entirely. For example, in my office in Surulere, Lagos, we have had light for a few hours in the last three weeks; it is the same thing. Worst still, filling stations are refusing to sell fuel in gallons or kegs. You have neither electricity nor fuel to power your generator. So, Nigerians are living in darkness and this has debilitating consequences both on the health of the people and the economy as the cost of production is shooting almost daily. What I am saying is that there is problem in Nigeria.”
Ejikeme further said: “The people in Nigeria who cannot talk about hardship are those being sustained by government. I don’t think this is the change Nigerians yearned for. The fragrance of change is fast losing its appeal. Nigerians need to be alive to enjoy whatever goodies government has in stock for them. Government must do something to alleviate the suffering of the common people who voted it into power. They should provide fuel and stop playing politics with the budget because the fact that that there is no budget in place tends to suggest that there is no direction.”
Unemployment has hit an all time high. According to Yinka Adeosun, “in a bid to weather the storm in the ailing economy, companies are forced to retrench and downsize, hence workers that were once gainfully employed have been thrown back into the labour market in search of jobs that are not available.”
The Ikeja Distribution Company (IKDC) recently retrenched about 400 workers and some groups have been trying to force the power distributors to recall the sacked workers by picketing its headquarters.
Mary Japhet paints a graphic picture of unemployment. “My family is serious hit because my husband and I lost our jobs almost at the same time and we have five young children to take care of. It is really difficult; we are living on charity, as where the next meal will come from,” she said with a shaky voice.
For Regina Ogboso, the situation of things in country has denied the opportunity of settling down. She volunteered:“ My fiancé and I wanted to do our traditional marriage and wedding last Easter but it was postponed indefinitely because there was no money to do it. I even wanted assist financially but the person I am working for has changed the rule of engagement, as it were. He used to pay me salary at the end of the month but he said that because of the way things are, he can only pay me commission on goods sold. So, what I make can hardly cover the cost of transport, which has gone up. I am only going out to avoid staying at home idle.”
Not the change we expected
For Dr Gbenga Adedeji, who sells herbal products, this is not the change Nigerians expected. “Nigeria is not okay now because of the fuel scarcity and non-passage or signing of the budget. Honestly, we have not seen the change they promised us. Everything is just standstill and no one can say with any degree of certainty what will happen the next day. Businesses are suffering even as civil servants are not being paid regularly. If government can provide regular power supply, things will improve remarkably. The scarcity of fuel has contributed to the rising cost of goods and services. Like Fela would say, Nigerians are suffering and smiling and it appears that the smiles are diminishing. During the Goodluck Jonathan administration, things were better in terms of power supply and availability of petroleum products. The Jonathan government is far better than what we are experiencing now,” he said.
Similarly, a media strategist, Nnamdi Cos-Ukwuoma noted: “That Nigerians are going through harrowing circumstances is an understatement. Never in the history of this country have Nigerians been so despondent, confused and hopeless as it is today. But I consider it a necessary price to pay except that the hardship and frustration seem to be of unimaginable proportions, given the fact that almost all sectors of the economy are affected.
“Prices of commodities, especially food items and drugs have skyrocketed. Fuel queues and alarming pump prices, particularly in the South East, occasioned by scarcity, severely weak local currency, delay in passing the budget by the National Assembly, non-payment and irregular salaries have all contributed in making the situation more complex than ever.
“More Nigerians are dying of hardship than from diseases and old age. Recently, a young man went to a pharmacy to check his blood pressure. His blood pressure was said to be dangerously high that the attendant offered to give him some drugs and advised him to see a doctor. He politely turned it down. Unknown to the attendant that he turned down her offer not because he felt that he did not need them but because he had no money to pay for the drugs even as he had not eaten. That same night, he had a stroke and died.”
Cos-Ukwuoma added: “Pensioners are dying from avoidable conditions. Government policies and programmes in this dispensation have visited hardship of unimaginable proportion on Nigerians. They should try to restore the confidence of Nigerians in the change agenda by making life less difficult for them. In Imo where I reside, the economy is mindlessly stifled and strangulated that there seems to be a deliberate policy to impoverish the people, keeping them malleable and in servile fearfulness. Government has become practically personalized, with strange new definitions. In fact, there exists a pervading gloom in Imo.”
Many states in the country pave not paid their workers for many months. This has resulted in aggravated hardship across the country. In fact, only about nine states are up to date in terms of payment of salaries to their staff. Civil servants described the situation tough.
Mohammed Ayuba, a businessman, attributed the sufferings of Nigerians to Buhari’s “backward and conservative approach to governance.” According to him, “the government has been tentative rather than assertive in its approach. If the budget is not padded by ghosts, it is missing or certain projects smuggled into. In fact, the president appears to be overwhelmed by the challenge of office. And all these uncertainties have contributed to the sufferings of Nigerians. Government is slumbering and, generally, people are disgruntled.”
Mazi Chris Odi said: “The truth is that the hardship Nigerians are passing through is becoming unbearable. Where do we start from? Is it power or the fuel scarcity that has lingered endlessly? The APC government has failed in all ramifications. They have denied all their campaign promises such as rescuing the Chibok girls, making Naira equal to the Dollar, stabilizing power in the country and free flow of fuel. We all know what is happening in the country.”
The reporter asked a trader, who identified herself simply as Iya Seyi at Ikotun market, why prices of commodities are rising. Her answer: “It is because dollar has gone up. That is what they said. When we go to buy goods, they will tell us that dollar has gone up. We are praying that dollar should come down because people are not buying things as they were doing before.”
Children withdrawn from schools
Investigations revealed that some parents whose children and wards attend private schools are still keeping them at home even though schools have resumed in some places. A school proprietor, who did not want her name in print said: “We resumed over two weeks ago but some of our pupils are yet to turn up this term. Maybe it is because of the state of things in the country. You know, we encourage parents to pay the school fees of their children and wards before resumption because we have zero-tolerance for debt. We run our schools professionally so that the pupils and staff are happy.”