• Friday, June 21, 2024
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BusinessDay

Economic royalists and dawn of the working poor

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It was Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States of America, who said that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. As Nigeria battles many evil forces in different fronts, the citizens have become afraid. And some have said, in the fashion of Donald Trump, the presumptive presidential candidate of the Republican Party to his fellow Americans, that we should actually be very afraid. Some say there is nothing to fear because much of what we see now have happened before. Perhaps yes, but there is genuine fear among the working class that sooner or later, they may be unable to make ends meet.

Nigeria may not have been the ideal motherland it promised at independence, but relative to her neighbours it has provided safety and economic security to her citizens and all that dwell in it. Today, workers across the country are owed salaries for several months in arrears. The country has also entered one of the most difficult economic patches ever. The national currency has lost over 30 percent of its value. While it might be too early to judge the policy of devaluation just implemented, it is yet to make positive impact and the parallel market is still funding most trade transactions, and feeding inflation.

The dollar has become more unavailable than ever before. Those who applied for foreign exchange since the introduction of the new regime are still being told by their banks that there is no foreign currency to sell. People are liquidating their life-savings to pay school fees to enable children, especially those in final years abroad complete their degrees. Many Nigerian parents with kids in higher institutions both at home and abroad are now hypertensive.Those in the markets are not selling and those in employment are either laid off or owed salaries.

As a result, the economy has contracted significantly and the forecast growth figures for the year will be widely missed. Consumer spending has tumbled beyond measure as purchasing power drops in response to devaluation and job losses. While jobs are nowhere to be found, those who have it are not faring much better. As living costs rise in response to devaluation, the working class is heading for mass poverty. Certain things hitherto taken for granted are now a luxury. Take for instance, car loans and advances, which most high end employers granted staff have left the menu.

The purchase of new cars is now the preserve of government officials and perhaps the banks. Very few individuals can afford to buy anything of value now from current income. As more people get structured to the periphery of the economy and into the informal sector the demand for microfinance is rising. So also are the risks. Microfinance banks should be careful. This new crop of poor people is anything but active. They are not used to their new status and will not understand the value of microfinance in a hurry. They need to be reoriented into the active poor mentality to be good microfinance clients. This compounds their situation.

Our journey to this point was a process, beginning with the activities of the British prior to independence. They made sure Nigeria was programmed to fail. And this ought to be a rallying point for us to unite and say never. Then we complemented them by grooming a generation of audacious, brazen and ruthless conmen, with love for neither God nor country, and put them in charge of our treasuries. They became too rich and untouchable, and now have nothing for us but utter disdain. These are the plutocrats who took control of the country. Today, the Nigerian economy works for some but not all the citizens. It works for the plutocrats and their wards.

America had its version of this kind of men and Franklin Roosevelt, in his first inaugural in 1933, described them as the failed “rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods”. He later called them economic royalists – plunderers of the economy. In his speech, delivered at Philadelphia on June 27, 1936, accepting the Democratic nomination for a second term, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “I come not only as a leader of a party, not only as a candidate for high office, but as one upon whom many critical hours have imposed and still impose a grave responsibility.” He worked America substantially out of the clutches of the plunderers.

Indeed, many critical hours have imposed very great challenges not only on all of us in Nigeria, but more particularly on President Buhari to truly bring the change we voted for. Economic rentiers in Nigeria – the modern day economic royalists, made up mainly of political office-holders and some privileged few, have only one common objective, it appears – to use mass poverty as an instrument of control over the citizens.

In an effort to wrestle the nation off the cliff at which it had arrived over the years and ready to flip, the CBN seems to have pushed it into a tail-spin. The national currency has begun a journey, akin to that of the Biblical man from Jerusalem to Jericho – a dangerous route full of robbers – who got attacked and was saved by a Good Samaritan. Nigeria’s case appears to be even worse. The traveller in the Bible had only one adversary, the robbers but Nigeria has many. Apart from the robbers who manifest as oil thieves, corrupt civil servants, armed robbers and terrorist, there are many people who no longer see themselves as Nigerians. And we need to hear their story to be sure we have not given them reason to so feel.

Most of us watched the news on Channels Television, where children in Benue state carried placards begging the federal government to recover their primary school from herdsmen, who had turned it into a grazing reserve for cattle, killed and chased their parents into the bush. One wonders how much Nigerian is left in these communities after being left to their own devices.This is a fearful state of affairs.

Another source of fear is the damage our current economic state is doing to the social fabrics of our society. The general decline in the purchasing power of the people has far-reaching implications for the survival of our social system. Our communal way of life has come under attack. The working poor are no longer able to provide sustenance to the extended family – a major dent on social security system. If this system dies due to mass poverty, we lose one of the things that make us Africans.

 

Emeka Osuji