• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Hunger: Lamentation spreads across Nigeria

Senegal Africa Hunger Returns

Lamentation has become widespread in Nigeria over increasing hardship. Citizens seem to have been pushed to the wall, and they are crying out.

From the protest in Minna, Niger State, a mini one at Ota in Ogun State, and to many others probably in the pipeline over the acute hunger in the land, all is truly not well with the touted “African giant.”

Last Friday, a yam merchant lost a truck load of yam to hungry Lagosians who looted the food item near the Central Mosque on Lagos Island.

There are many of such incidents happening across the country in reflection of the bad shape of the economy as the cost of food items skyrockets, many families hardly eat, and more people slide into poverty daily.

While the masses had witnessed hardship across the eight years of Muhammadu Buhari, the former president, the level seems much higher in the eight months of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

With the free fall of naira against foreign currencies amid unbearable exchange rates, high cost of all items, high inflation, soaring unemployment and new dimensions of the escalating insecurity situation, hardship is prominent in the land with no respite in sight.

Many are blaming the bad situation on the policy flip flop of the new administration and the inability of Mr. President and his team to undo what they did wrong on May 29th and the weeks following the inauguration of the President.

Our major problem started with Tinubu’s utterances at inauguration – Umelahi

As Chijioke Umelahi, a lawyer, observed, the braggadocio and even the confidence with which President Bola Tinubu came into office is waning due to the magnitude of the bad situation he is supposed to fix and which seems to have no solutions, and rather, increasing daily.

According to the lawyer, one policy flip flop of the president is the removal of fuel subsidy without a proper plan for the post-removal era and impact on the masses.

“At least, Nigeria still had one month from May 29th to end fuel subsidy, but the announcement that the subsidy was gone was not appropriate on the inauguration day as many expected Mr. President to take his time on the issue bearing in mind an already battered economy,” Umelahi decried.

The subsidy issue, according to Mathieu Iyala, an economist and university lecturer, is a big policy somersault because subsidy is back through the back door.

“I read in the newspapers that petrol subsidy is nearing N1trillion monthly and the amount is now bigger than what it was before Tinubu came in. So, the best would have been to keep quiet over it until the country is ready. See where we are today because of the rush. Where are the advisers? We need their magic to get out of this situation,” he noted.

He is also angry that the present administration, which never supported the removal of the subsidy by a previous administration, at a time it was safer for the economy, is now facing the reality.

“If we had supported subsidy removal under Goodluck Jonathan, the country would have long adjusted, moved on and would not have been in this deep crisis we are facing now. As you blame the government, also blame the masses for allowing ethnicity and regional politics of selfish politicians to becloud their sense of judgment on the subsidy issue,” he noted.

For him, even with the reversing, the policy will not yield good results now because of where Nigeria was before May 29th and the depth it has fallen into now.

“We already had a very bad situation at hand before May 29th, the least the new government would have done was to cushion the impact of the harsh economy and not to compound it with rushed policies,” the economist said.

He is also said that the unification of the exchange rates has not yielded good results, rather it has witnessed unimaginable low levels of Naira against major foreign currencies, almost on a daily basis.

“The managers of our economy are not doing well; it seems they are doing trial and error in fixing the economy and sadly none of their permutations has worked.

“Imagine the media reporting that the Naira recorded an all-time low today, and tomorrow they report that today’s low level supersedes yesterday’s low. What is really happening, is there no solution, where are our economists and experts? he said.

But while the trial and error continues, Samuel Onikoyi, a Nigerian academic, thinks that the government is not doing enough to remedy the situation.

According to him, though many were of the opinion that the government should be given a chance in the first few months, and now it is going to be nine months and one year soon since their inauguration.

“Our house is burning and we need immediate solutions. The hunger protests are increasing and may be out of hand if nothing is done now. But what will you do in the face of globally priced crude oil, because Nigeria is a mono-economy?

“The government failed to diversify the economy, it failed to invest the oil money in other areas and you wake up to expect dollars to fall from heaven. In sane societies the government plans ahead, some 20 to 30 years ahead. Nigeria needs to wake up now or keep declining to an irredeemable level,” he said.

On the part of the government, there have been measures in place to address the crisis, though Nigerians are yet to feel the impact.

As a temporary response to the growing food crisis and the rising cost of commodities, President Bola Tinubu recently ordered the immediate release of more than 42,000 metric tons of various grain types from the National Food Reserve and the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria.

According to Mohammed Idris, Minister of Information and National Orientation, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has been directed to release about 42,000 metric tons of maize, millet, garri, and other commodities in their strategic reserve so that these items will be made available to Nigerians.

“We have held meetings with the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria. Those who are responsible for producing this rice and we have asked them to open up their stores,” the minister said.

Another measure, according to the minister, is punitive measures against food hoarders.

But observers noted that emptying the national grain reserves or giving fund support to a few will not solve the problem, but tackling it from the root.

“By now, the beneficiaries of the palliatives must have finished eating the bags of rice shared by the federal government across the states and are hungry again. So, implementing policies that will spur SMEs, stabilise prices, check exchange rate and encourage local production is what we need now. There are long term policies, but there are also low hanging fruits the government can implement to spur the economy in the immediate. Price control, going after those who hoard dollars, those who dollarise the economy, the local bureau de change operators will help,” Iyala suggested.

While many suggested price control mechanism, President Bola Tinubu said that he would not set up any board to regulate prices of food commodities in the country or approve the importation of food during a meeting with the 36 state governors and some of his executives.

While Mr. President preferred zero tolerance for incompetence, support local farmers to boost food production and remove rent seekers, many think that the situation on ground requires a proactive measure as insecurity has kept many farmers away from their farms.

“The North Central geopolitical zone, which is the food basket of the country is boiling. Farmers/herdsmen clashes are still claiming lives on daily basis, farming communities are being sacked every day by bandits and cost of transporting the food items from the farm has tripled. How do you support local farmers to boost food production in this situation? It is not practicable,” Tor Zaki, a Benue State indigene said.

Considering the above, many are of the view that the government is not doing enough and also do not know how to tackle the crisis.

They foresee trouble as the hungry masses are becoming angrier.

Governor Zulum also laments

Decrying the increasing poverty rate and general hardship faced by the people of Borno State, in a statewide broadcast, Governor Babagana Zulum said that he had engaged with business stakeholders in Borno to mitigate the rising price of commodities with a view to bringing succor to the suffering masses.

“I understand the burden that this places on families and individuals. Our government is focusing on reviving agriculture in the state, intending to increase food production and reduce our reliance on food palliatives.

“We are investing in modern farming techniques, providing support to local farmers, and creating incentives for agricultural innovation.

By doing so, we hope to not only lower the cost of food items but also to create sustainable livelihoods for our people.

“It is for this reason that I have extensively engaged with stakeholders, particularly those in the business of essential commodities that include all forms of grains and building materials

“I want to assure you that we are working tirelessly with security forces to rid our roads of these deadly devices and to ensure the safety of all those who travel within our state.

“I believe there are forces behind sabotaging the gains recorded so far. However, we are working to ensure the perpetrators are fished out and dealt with accordingly,” he said.