The Anguish in Our land is Becoming Unbearable

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RingTrue

with Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 07013940521 (text only)

Everybody seems to have forgotten about kerosene, poor man’s main source of energy for cooking. This fuel is currently selling for between N170 and N200 per litre, depending on the part of the country you are. This is the same kerosene government said should not sell above N87 per litre. This is just one of several items whose prices have been skyrocketing in the last 12 months. The working class is mainly being thumped by this unprecedented inflation in our nation. This has been compounded by the hike in the price of petrol. Now, getting a meal a day is fast becoming herculean for the masses of this nation. Statistics from even government agencies confirm this raging inflation. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which measures inflation rose further to 13.7 per cent in April compared to 12.8 per cent in March and 11.4 per cent in February. The NBS blamed the 0.9 per cent rise in the headline index on the lingering structural constraints which had continued to manifest in electricity rates, petrol and kerosene prices.

So many homes have been destabilised by this raging inflation and sliding economy. Let’s look at the prices of those basic foods the masses consume in practical terms. A bag of rice is now N15,000. This was selling for about N10,000 as at last December. Tomatoes are fast disappearing from the markets. If you are lucky to get them, you will pay N100 per fruit. A paint-bucket measure of garri is now N500. A Derica measure of beans is selling for N250. Only few people can now go near fish and meat in the market. Creative housewives now cook their soup and stew without fish and meat. The price of a loaf of bread has risen by about 30%. There is hardly any household item whose price is not rising steeply.
The hike in the price of petrol has also led to the rise in the cost of transportation. Commuting to and from work now cost about 50% more without a corresponding increase in salaries. As a result, many junior workers have resorted to trudging to work. There is also the problem of epileptic electricity supply that has seen many households spending more on petrol for their generators. A family that uses just 10-litre of fuel daily, will need about N45, 000 monthly to sustain this. The next battle ground for the stressed masses will be in the area of house rent and school fees. Some landlords have given notices of increase in rents. Fees will definitely go up when schools resume for a new session in September.

While the prices of these basic food items are rising, thousands of Nigerians are being thrown out of jobs daily. First Bank is the latest to announce that it would sack 1000 workers. Other banks have been quietly sacking workers. According to the NBS, the unemployment rate climbed to 12.1 per cent in the first quarter of last year (Q1 2016) compared to 10.4 per cent in Q4 215 and 9.9 per cent in the Q3 2015. The number of unemployed in the labour force increased by about 1.449 million persons between Q4 of 2015 and Q1 of 2016. The situation in the manufacturing sector is most precarious. Industries are being shut down on a daily basis and workers sacked. This is why our GDP growth rate declined to an unprecedented -0.36 per cent in the first quarter of this year. Our economy requires one more negative growth rate in the next quarter to enter into recession.
Just as the founder and President of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) and National Chairman of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Dr. Frederick Fasehun noted, “Since the coming of the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria has degenerated. He added: “The change the APC government promised is having a negative effect. If truth be told, the last one year of the regime of Buhari and the APC has witnessed unprecedented change, in line with the Change mantra of the current ruling party that used to be the opposition party. Unfortunately, the change so far has headed downhill.”

This is the whole truth about the 12 months of the APC government in Nigeria. Unfortunately, there are no signs that the problems Nigerians are facing will abate very soon. There is so much confusion in the government. There is no clear policy on how to tackle the forex crisis, rising unemployment, epileptic power supply, sliding economy, poverty and hunger ravaging the nation. Just as some critics put it, this administration has no economic direction. I have consistently challenged the government to make public any blueprint it has for turning around any sector of our economy. There is nothing. Even the so-called diversification programme is just by word of mouth.
Those who have been defending this administration and blaming the suffering across the nation on dwindling crude oil price/external reserves should note that when Olusegun Obasanjo assumed office in 1999, he inherited $3.7 billion in reserve, while Buhari met $30 billion, almost 10 times of what Obasanjo met then. They should also be reminded that the price of crude oil was $9 per barrel when Obasanjo assumed duties. Instead of complaining, Baba Iyabo simply went to work.
Under Buhari, crude oil never went below $20 per barrel. As at yesterday, crude oil was selling for $46 per barrel. Those blaming crude oil prices for our woes should look for another story to tell us. Our dear president should get down to work and remove these chains on our hands. This suffering is rising daily.

Kachikwu, It’s Time to Step Aside
Ibe Kachikwu, the junior minister for petroleum is one man that has brought maximum opprobrium to the Buhari administration. His management of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation has brought unprecedented misery to Nigerians. All the “gigantic” strides of this tetchy minister in the petroleum sector have all collapsed before our eyes. For example, he is the only one seeing progress being made by his warped restructuring of the NNPC. This cosmetic action has failed to solve a single problem at the corporation. The fundamental problems of this firm are still very much around. This state oil corporation remains inefficient and corrupt. NNPC has been losing billions of Naira monthly, despite the restructuring. According to the latest financial report released by the NNPC, it lost over N18 billion during its operation in March this year.  If NNPC were to be Kachikwu’s private company, will he be celebrating this fabulous losses?

This minister is consistently economical with the truth. His incongruous pronouncements and propaganda are legendary. At one point, he told us that fuel subsidy had been removed through his inventiveness and that Nigeria was saving billions of USD monthly in subsidy removal on fuel importation. The next moment, he was talking about government paying N12 subsidy per litre of imported fuel. The next thing, he was talking about full deregulation, yet fixing price. Kachikwu is consistently regaling us with stories of refineries, deports and pipelines that have roared back to life, yet, we still import virtually all the fuel consumed in this country. Suddenly, he told us that he would need $500 million to turn around the refineries. We were still digesting this, when he increased the figure to $700 million. Haba! Which turnaround? We can build brand new refineries with these figures being bandied by Kachikwu.

It is a shame that nobody is ready to tell Kachikwu that everything he is doing in the oil industry is not working. His actions and inactions, coupled with his superciliousness have made things worse. Anything built on deceit will always fail. Under his watch, we experienced four months of unparalleled excruciating fuel scarcity. The next round of scarcity is imminent with the newly introduced regulated-deregulation. When the N145 per litre price was announced, Naira was exchanging at N321/$. Now, it is almost N370/$. The already deregulated diesel and kerosene importers will also be sourcing their forex from the secondary market. So, Naira will go down further. With this further depreciation of the Naira, will any importer still be able to sell at the regulated price? What will happen if crude prices go up? This was also not considered before announcing this regulated-deregulation. With the way things are going, we may end up buying petrol at N400 per litre. Our haughty Kachikwu is clearly not on top of this game. His mentors at Mobil Oil must be disappointed. He should be courageous enough to step aside and allow somebody else to carry this cross. We need a breath of fresh air in this crucial sector.