Most Nigerians are tense and not at ease. The reasons are plausible. The scourge of hunger, spiralling inflation, insecurity, and a sense that the country is in distress stares us all. The cumulative effect of these is anger in the land. A combination of hunger and anger is a time bomb. It is the emotional underpinning of every populist revolt.
There is absolutely nothing a hungry and angry man or woman cannot do. The signs are self-evident that the product of hunger and anger is upheaval. Ask the residents of Minna, Suleja, Kano and most recently Osogbo. They took to the streets last week to register their frustrations and distress on the level of hunger in Nigeria. Other cities may follow suit if the government does not respond promptly and concretely.
Government officials’ narratives and distractions like AFCON have temporarily pacified the nation, but with the tournament over, urgent action is needed to address rising tension.
Nigerian workers represented by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have already given the federal government two weeks to implement policies that will reduce the impact of the government’s economic policies on citizens.
The NLC and TUC express concern over the Federal Government’s failure to implement the 16-point agreement made on October 2, 2023, aimed at alleviating socio-economic hardships. They note widespread hunger and diminished purchasing power among Nigerian workers, alongside escalating insecurity, emphasising the urgent need for action.
These harsh economic realities have widespread social implications, including increased crime rates and social unrest. We have increased poverty levels, making it difficult for individuals and families to meet their basic needs. Many people struggle to afford necessities such as food, shelter, healthcare, and education.
Nigeria’s economic hardship exacerbates existing social disparities. Vulnerable groups, such as women, children, and older people, are disproportionately affected.
Economic challenges exacerbate psychological distress, leading to rising anxiety, stress, and mental health issues among affected demographics. This strain on individuals and communities weakens social cohesion, escalating tensions and potentially fueling social unrest or conflict. Traditional support networks are overwhelmed as they struggle to meet the growing demand for assistance amid economic hardships.
This economic uncertainty is negatively affecting investor confidence. We are experiencing one of the worst exchange rate fluctuations in our history. Within one year, the exchange rate has increased by about 200%, which has devastated businesses. Small businesses, which often form the backbone of many economies, face closure or reduced operations due to economic challenges.
It may not have occurred to the leadership that the just concluded AFCON football tournament may have been the pause to a potential national upheaval. The emotional attachment of citizens to the game of football resonates. By the last count, as a country, we have lost not less than six persons during the Nigeria-South Africa semi-final clash. Citizens may have channelled their emotional reaction to the economic hardship to their passion for football.
It has been proven elsewhere that sports, in general, and football in particular, can relieve people in distress. It has put a pause in wars. It happened during World War One (1914), the Nigerian-Biafra Civil War (1968), and Côte d’Ivoire (2005). Although there is no consensus or empirical evidence yet, the love and passion for football have been an antidote to the potentially provocative reaction of Nigerian citizens to misery, anger, and hopelessness.
Psychologists have told us that football triggers a chemical known as endorphins, responsible for happiness and a relaxed mood. It promotes social bonding, community spirit, and a sense of patriotism that can help our anxiety. Football also acts as a distractor and relieves us from stress, the type most Nigerians are going through. In fact, “Football is the ballet of the masses”, as posited by Dmitri Shostakovich.
Football is more than just a game. It’s about life, struggle, and the beautiful moments that relieve us from our daily concerns. To the average Nigerian, football brings out 90 minutes of pure nationalism in us. In economic challenges, sports, especially football, provide a sense of unity and joy that transcends financial worries. The beautiful football game lifts spirits, creates camaraderie, and offers respite from economic anxieties. Football tournaments unite communities, fostering a sense of pride and joy that transcends economic challenges.
Government officials’ narratives and distractions like AFCON have temporarily pacified the nation, but with the tournament over, urgent action is needed to address rising tension. Economic woes, exacerbated by hunger and poverty, will dominate public attention. Ignoring this could spark widespread anger and unrest, as seen elsewhere. Both ordinary citizens and elites are affected, signalling the potential for widespread revolt against government inaction.
The signs that danger lurks can only be ignored by all at significant risk to the country’s existence.
Combating economic hardship demands transparency, collaboration, and creative approaches from both government and private sectors. Policy reforms, anti-corruption measures, economic diversification, and investments in education and infrastructure are essential for recovery and stability. Additionally, targeted interventions in social welfare, education, healthcare, and community development are vital for improving well-being and resilience.
The government must create an enabling environment to confront hardship and poverty. Franklin Roosevelt aptly posits, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
AFCON was the opium of the Nigerian masses. It has come and gone with its glory, impact on our collective psyche, and the emotional relief it gave us during these harsh economic times. The emotional excitement about the nation is a passing mass phenomenon.
It can only last long and linger afterwards if the populace feels the government has given them so much. The excitement of a football tournament turns into heightened anger soon after the excitement blows over if there is no realistic solution to the misery.
The danger lies in the government assuming that post-AFCON if nothing realistic is done to ameliorate the economic hardship millions of Nigerians face, things will continue as normal. That may be a pipe dream. With the opium effect of AFCON gone, many Nigerians will focus on demanding an improvement in their quality and standard of living. This demand may come in ways we never anticipated, as demonstrated by the uprising in a few flashpoint areas across the country. We must not allow this to happen, for it may not portend well for Nigeria.