By BEN LAWRENCE
Nigerians have not taken stock of casualties of the New Year Day Greek gift called “no oil subsidy.” They are many and the situation now is grimmer than as at last New Year eve. Three billings, for example, used to be the admirable model of what kids of the underclass should represent, not unruly miscreants. Humble and simple with no grudge written on their faces, the children attend a public primary school and live with their family in a one-bedroom apartment in Iju, Lagos.
Their artisan father struggle to meet their needs though they pay no fees at school. The oldest of the kids (two girls and a boy) Shade, took the others by hand to school and kept them in line and out of mischief before last New Year Day. But oil subsidy removal has punctured that calm and brought in its place gloom for the children. Two weeks ago, Shade was returning from school alone and one of the middle-class admirers of the children asked of the other two. Shade’s reply was stunning and revealing of how much water has passed under the bridge since January 1. “My dad cannot afford to provide lunch money for three of us every day at school. We now alternate. We go to school in turns every other day twice a week,” she said. How much was the lunch money he gave to the children before the arrival of the ultra-capitalistic, no fuel subsidy? It was a meagre N100. But Shade’s father’s resources have been hit by inflation and his means have dried up because of lack of patronage caused by increased cost of materials since January 1.
People are now careful with spending what they have because the economy is not predictable. Though Nigeria earns heavily from oil, she has been declining in industrial growth and agriculture steadily for the past 13 years. The only game in town now is “politics,” a euphemism for the hustle for the rents paid to the federal government from oil. It is a do-or-die battle of brawn and no brains.
Gerald, a graduate, lost his job late last year. His expectant wife was delivered of a boy two weeks ago. The hospital where the wife had the baby billed him for N8,000. He had no money. Gerald pawned the two GSM handsets – his and his wife’s – after unsuccessfully trying to borrow the fees charged by the hospital. He could only raise N4,000, just half of the fees. Downcast, he went to an old friend far from his area for help. His friend, also a graduate but of privileged parentage, gave him N8,000 after he narrated his ordeal to him. They recovered the two handsets valued at about N38,000. Gerald’s problems are now multiple because he has to provide post-natal care for his wife and son. Since prices of baby foods and all other necessities have doubled because of the “no subsidy” policy, he is in a fix on how to meet those demands. He is desperate and could be a ready recruit for insurgency.
As it seems today, it would have been better if the pump price of petrol was left at N140 a litre because the reduction to N97 a litre has not resulted in the desired drops to pre-New Year Day’s levels. Transport fares have doubled their pre-2012 rates. House rents have risen by 100 per cent and landlords are threatening eviction of recalcitrant tenants. Food prices rose astronomically, especially prices of grains, fruits and vegetables. Root crops like yams, potatoes, cassava are all affected by the increase. In the middle of this gloom we have bombings, maiming, murders and armed robberies. The government cannot put a finger on the crisis. And nobody seems to be providing the necessary leadership to chart our way out of the woods. Pro-government agents are arranging all sorts of bogus national summits without a meaning.
Nigeria’s problems, today, are economic and political. At their summits, they talk of mundane issues like setting up committees without sound agenda, stressing more base ethnic problems instead of attacking the faulty economic programme forced on Nigeria in 1986 and from which General Ibrahim B. Babangida withdrew. One saw only a few credible persons at the so-called summit recently at Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Ikeja. The people who sounded trustworthy there usually were Balarabe Musa, Tunji Braithwaite, Ben Nwabueze and a few others. The organisers used them as decorations for their purposes. What Nigeria faces today is a change from the blind economic course we have been forced to adopt by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, IMF. Musa sensibly raised this issue that has crippled our manufacturing and agriculture, among other havocs it has caused Nigeria.
Nigeria needs a revolutionary change from this staid economic and political atmosphere. Nigerians from 1960 to 1999 used to understand and question defects in national policy. That ended with former president Olusegun Obasanjo jettisoning his party’s programme to invite Bretton Woods to take over Nigeria. All that could be seen are pretenders applying one medicine to cure all diseases. Nigeria needs her own original economic programme and a return to the spirit of 1960. Nigeria had self-assured persons, who were inward-looking, before Olu Falae sold her to the World Bank and IMF.
This is why the contribution of Professor Sam Aluko to Nigeria’s economic development cannot be forgotten. He now belongs to the yonder but his selfless services to Nigeria, not only in the academic but also in political economics, will be evergreen. The new persons who reaped what they did not sow kept people like Aluko out of the scene. But “truth must out” as the Romans would say when they ruled the world. The opposition of Aluko, Pius Okigbo, Allison Ayida, Musa and a few others to devaluation of the naira in 1986 has been proved right. At last, the chickens are returning to roost. The National Bureau of Statistics has now confirmed the pervading poverty in Nigeria. It can only be solved with practical, local approach, not IMF or World Bank’s prescriptions that have mired our progress.