By Cosmas Omegoh
It is no longer in doubt that a large number of Nigerians today live in fear of the unknown, which is fueled by the dwindling economic fortunes in the land and the adverse effects.
Much of this fear stemmed from expected hike in tariffs of the various utilities, which the people hang on to survive. The rapidity and sequence with which these increases threaten to come, many believe, are neither helping businesses to grow nor building hope and the people’s standard of living.
Nigerians, it was learnt, now also fear the adverse effect of the fall power of the Naira on the economy. This is sending individuals’ standard of living cascading to the plains; many businesses are finding it hard to survive; inflation and unemployment are galloping up. This mosaic of economic challenges is eliciting worries in many people.
Every now and then, corporate organisations and government agencies whose activities have direct impact on people’s livelihood spread fear of increases in tariff that is to come, leaving everything coming in a circle.
Looming fuel pump price hike
Like most economies, Nigeria depends largely on fossil fuel to drive its economy. Petroleum products mostly Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) otherwise known fuel is key to the economy. Increases in the prices of fuel both at the local and international markets have corresponding effects on the Nigerian economy. They affect everything – transportation cost, goods and services, among others.
Over the past years, increases in the price of fuel had followed a tradition. Each one brought corresponding hardship on the people.
Since the current administration came to power in 2015, for instance, increases in fuel pump prices have been commonplace.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) claim that such moves are necessary to reflect the current reality in the international oil market. The agencies claim that government spends a whopping N744 billion annually to subsidise fuel, an amount that it says is not sustainable. The Federal Government also contends that it could use such money to effectively finance its budget and build infrastructure.
In May 2016, the price of petrol went up to N145 per litre. The then Minister of State for Petroleum, Mr. Ibe Kachikwu, said the increase was to balance the different prices Nigerians were paying to buy fuel from the marketers because of fuel scarcity.
Going forward, various increases in pump prices were effected; the price of fuel went up from N145 to N151.56 per a litre. At some point, government caused a reduction in prices, before finally driving the figure to N159 per a litre.
A further increase that followed drove the pump price to the current N162 per litre.
Early this year, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva told Nigerians to prepare to pay higher prices for fuel.
But on March 12, 2021, he issued an apology when he claimed the PPPRA in its website indicated that it arbitrarily announced an increment in prices.
Sylva said, “any distress and inconvenience” was regrettable, adding that the government wouldn’t “unilaterally abandon” talks with the organised labour on the right prices of fuel.
Sylva had announced that government would retain pump price of petrol at N162 per litre for June, as it forged ahead with its talks with labour, while leaving hints that after June, fuel price would go up again.
A recent Nigerian Governors Forum committee recommendation on the price of fuel leaves nothing to cheer about. It recommended that the price of fuel should be fixed somewhere between N408.5/litre and N380/litre and also called for the immediate removal of the existing government subsidy on fuel.
As it stands, whatever reprieve the people seem to be enjoying at the moment is clearly temporary. The proverbial Sword of Damocles is still dangling dangerously and the nations teeming poor are the obvious victims.
Our reporter learnt it is clear that very soon the government would return to push for what it calls full and final removal of the subsidy it earlier claimed was non-existent.
The fear of this new price regime to come and its attendant implication for the people unarguably is a source of worry, more so as it would touch the soul of everything.
Impending increase in electricity tariff
Nigerians depend as much as they can on power supply to drive the economy. But regrettably, power supply across the land is epileptic and has remained so for ages.
Many Nigerians have had to depend on their personal power generating sets for much of their power needs.
But even when the power supply regime across the country remains unenviable, Nigerians are being slammed with power tariff increases that are to say the least arbitrary. Sadly, each time the opportunity arises, the power distribution companies ask for increases to meet up their cost.
Many Nigerians have continued to lament that unfortunately things have not changed in the power sector. Many power consumers believe that they are merely paying for having service lines connected to their homes, yet the distribution companies continue to slam them with estimated bills.
In 2020, for instance, the government increased electricity tariffs by more than 100 per cent with effect from September of that year.
Sunday Sun gathered that even with that, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) had contended that the new hike was not cost reflective enough.
What that meant for many was that more increases were well on the way, which has increased the fear of many.
Early this year, NERC denied the rumour that the Federal Government had effected an increase in tariff by 50 per cent.
In a statement, NERC said no approval had been given for tariff increase in the Tariff Order for electricity distribution companies that took effect on January 1, 2021.
It said: “On the contrary, the tariff for customers on service bands D and E (for customers that is given less than an average of 12hrs of supply per day over a period of one month) remains frozen and subsidised in line with the policy direction of the Federal Government.
“We only adjusted the rates for service bands A, B, C, D and E from NGN2.00 to NGN4.00 per kWhr to reflect the partial impact of inflation and movement in forex and this is according to the provisions of the EPSR Act and the nation’s tariff methodology for biannual minor review.”
Even after that, the distributions companies have not had their fingers off the trigger as they continue to push for increases in tariff, grumbling that Nigerians do not pay the right price for power.
Inflation surges on
According to the Consumer Price Index report, recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on April 15, 2021, “Nigeria’s inflation rate for the month of March 2021, rose to 18.17 per cent from 17.33 per cent recorded in February 2021.”
This, the body said, “represents 0.82 per cent points higher than the February.”
And what that means is that with inflation rate at two digits, gains earlier made will continue to be wiped off, leaving everyone doubting the future.
A financial expert, Ben Kpaduwa, says “looking at today’s inflationary rate, one will say that it portends danger. But we must also add that this is COVID-19 induced.
He was optimistic that “as the economy recovers, the inflationary rate will go down, but for now, it is not too good.”
Then he touched where it matters for the people. “But what that means is the purchasing power of the average Nigerian has gone down. What you hitherto bought for N1, we are no longer buying at the same price.”
He lamented that “the inflationary rate is not supposed to be more than one digit figure.
“What that tells us is that the Nigerian economy is still very fragile and risks not recovering as it should. It means that inflation might still go up. The economy is still crawling. It can tumble again. Any little pressure on it will further crash it.”
That leaves some people who understand the language of inflation in a panic mode of some sort.
Over the past year, the country’s currency, the Naira, has been on a free fall. From N187 in 2015, the currency exchanged N411.25 with the dollar. At the moment, the fate of the Naira at the parallel market is as unstable as it is uncertain, with some saying it is pushing beyond the N500 threshold.
Kpaduwa recalled that “sometime last week the CBN harmonined their exchange rate by using its licenced window to make the Naira N410 to one dollar.
“So, what that means is that the nation’s currency has been devalued officially to N410 per dollar; that will further push up the cost of goods and services. It is not looking good.”
“The depreciation of the Naira means the people should be ready to pay more for goods and services,” he said.
Indeed, no one can determine what comes next.
What the people say
Mr Best Aigboiole¸a veteran journalist, described the dilemma of the ordinary Nigerian as “helpless and hopeless.
“That is the lot of the people right now.
“Things are getting to the state of despair. Remember a poet once said: ‘Despair and die.’ Everybody is crying.
“When you add Wole Sonyika’s ‘state of anomie’ to it – the killings, insecurity and bad governance – one is at a loss to say what is happening right now.
“To borrow from Ayekwe Arma, the writer, ‘why are we so blessed’ in this country?
A private school principal, Adeyemo Adeyinka said that further arbitrary increases in utilities and essential goods “would have adverse side effect at a time like this.
“At the moment, we are paying particularly for the power we do not use. This will badly affect the standard of living of everyone and the economy too.
“In my apartment, I pay N5,000 as power bill every month, up from N2,000 I was earlier paying.
“As I talk to you, this is seriously telling on my economy. It affects my other expenses in the house. That is a big issue. I have had to cut down on my expenses because things have all gone up. Look at the prices of food stuff, for instance; even sachet water prices have skyrocketed.”
Mr Anthony Ibe, a trader on Lagos Island, wondered what the situation would be if the government decided to raise the pump price of fuel as was being speculated.
“That will be disastrous. That means I would be paying up to N2,000 as transport from Itire to Lagos Island and back if fuel price goes above N300.
“How much would I make a day if I pay that much?” he queried.
A commercial motorcycle rider who identified himself as Adamu from Jigawa State said that if the government decided to further increase fuel price, it means that it “is denying us of the sleep we ought to rightly enjoy.
“I hope they don’t mean what you are saying. But if that is true, it means I will have to pay through the nose to return to Dutse. That will be bad for me and everyone indeed.”
An unemployed graduate from University of Benin who identified himself as Osaro, told our reporter that further arbitrary increases in power and fuel prices might be a death knell for the economy.
“If they do that, how do they want some of us to survive?
“Such moves should not be contemplated now and even in the nearest future. Have they forgotten in a hurry that the economy is emerging from the stress of COVID-19? That the Naira is depreciating everyday? What do they expect the citizens to do particularly those of us who are not working? That indeed would be too bad to bear,” he said.
Let govt shelve further price hikes?
Agbobiole insisted that “the state governors do not mean well for this country by recommending that fuel should sell above N300. They are the problem of this nation, I tell you.
“If they govern their state well, that will have domino effect on this country.
“But they simply corner the local government funds, and live large and tell the rest of us to ‘go to hell and die’. That is where we are now.”
Adeyinka warned that: “If the government now decides to further increase fuel pump price, “we should be ready to bury hundreds of people every day.
“It is sad that the people we are having as leaders are selfish by miles. They are after their pockets; they are not there for anyone one except themselves and their associates.”
Ibe reasoned that the impending fuel price and electricity tariff increases would add more stress to the economy.
“People don’t have jobs; many are underemployed, yet our government mulls adding severe pain on us. Do they reason about the attendant upsurge in crime? Do they reason that their action would further worsen the plight of the people?
“I seriously weep for this country.”
Osaro said that if the government of the day is pro-people, it should be there for the citizenry.
“What is the government for if not to minister to the needs of its people?
“Let the government absorb the so- called subsidy on fuel; let it be our own palliative,” he said.
Words of courage
However, a man who identified himself as Olatinka Emuwa told Nigerians not to lose sleep.
Waxing philosophical he said: “In all of the challenges, let not forget that there is always a new horizon for the forward looking.
“I leave you with the lines of Eleanor Roosevelt who once said: ‘You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”