• Monday, April 15, 2024
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Hunger: Two urgent steps Tinubu must take to avert anarchy – Agbakoba

Agbakoba emphasises importance of private sector in governance

Olisa Agbakoba, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), has outlined two steps President Bola Ahmed Tinubu must take urgently to avert anarchy in Nigeria.

Agbakoba, who noted that the frustration and anger in the country were palpable as a result of the worsening cost-of-living crisis, accused the government of not communicating hope to Nigerians.

He made the call in an exclusive interview with BusinessDay.

“It is clear that things are no longer at ease and there is a growing discontent in the country. We have had many challenges in Nigeria but the present discontent is remarkable as it concerns the growing inability of millions of Nigerians to cope with the completely unaffordable cost of living in the country. As the saying goes – a hungry man is an angry man,” he said.

The Maritime lawyer urged the Tinubu administration to make two quick interventions and solutions that may address what has the possibility to descend into an unrest.

“First, the government, as a matter of urgency, must stand on the bridge and communicate empathy and understanding, immediately.

“Second, government across Nigeria must devise emergency measures to address the hunger and lack being experienced by millions. Institutional support is of utmost importance,” he said.

Explaining the form the interventions should take, Agbakoba said: “Absolutely, free access for kids in school is vital. This must be followed by completely free health care and public transportation, massive cash transfers to the most needy is overdue. These are only stop gap measures.”

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According to him, “Policy decisions that enable manufacturers produce and give value to the Naira is of utmost importance. Staccato of circulars coming out of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), is largely unhelpful. Massive devolution of powers to the 36 states and 774 local governments is paramount and an emergency. The Federal Government cannot resolve the sufferings of 200 million Nigerians, by itself. People need to feel that the governments in Nigeria give empathy.”

He noted that “Lagos State has set an example, but more is needed. At the end of the day, measures that begin to resolve the tough choices in removal of petrol subsidy and floating the naira against the dollar is imperative. It is unclear how government proposes to support the new policy environment with strong action.

“Last but not the least is that government must not accept the prescriptions of multilateral institutions – especially the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, that subsidies are not a viable and workable policy. It is indeed, a good policy. The United States (US) spends half of its budget on subsidies and benefits which we call palliatives.

Read also: Economic crunch: More Nigerians still vulnerable despite palliatives

“The United Kingdom (UK) subsidises health care by spending billions. Public schools are free in the UK. France has announced a major electricity subsidy. The president has to lead the process to engage Nigerians and give them renewed hope that, at the turn of the corner inroad lay opportunities.”

Agbakoba, who expressed fears about the future of Nigeria, noted that there was a rapidly growing revolt across the country owing to the high cost of living and called on the government to take action to address the discontent being expressed by the people.

“I agree with those saying the Presidency is not leading by example by moderating their lifestyles and cutting down on the cost of governance. It is very clear. The empathy of the government is not apparent.

“There is something that former US President, Franklin Roosevelt said in the Great Depression years of America in the 1930s. The thing to do about making people happy is not to give them a job, you first give them hope. So, the government ought to be communicating hope. They ought to be saying ‘we are going through this difficult period but there is light at the end of the tunnel.’ This government is not communicating that at all, which I think is a big error.”

He pointed out that the failure of government to give the citizens reassuring words was worsening the situation in the country.

“Failing to communicate hope makes Nigerians depressed. It is not that Nigerians cannot live with high food prices. They will always find ways to manage difficult situations. Even IBB (Babangida) said he doesn’t know why Nigeria has not collapsed,” he said.

“The problem we have is that the government is not communicating hope. If you communicate hope and say to a person who has malaria that ‘don’t worry, in two weeks’ time you will be well’, that will lift the person’s spirits because he has that hope.

“But right now, the government is not telling us that in two or three months, we are likely to be in a better state. That is the biggest problem that the government is not communicating properly.

“The second one is that the government is not even telling us how we can come out of this problem. That is why as we are beginning to see, there is a slow revolt around the country, pointing to a protest of costs of living. It is everywhere.”