The Monsters Called Hunger, Poverty and Unemployment

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Ring True

with Yemi Adebowale; yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 07013940521 (text only)
I have spent the last few days reflecting on the speech of businessman, Aliko Dangote, delivered before participants of the Executive Course No. 38, of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Plateau State. The poverty ravaging our nation was one of the emphases of the lecture. Dangote remarked that more than 100 million out of the country’s estimated population of 187 million are wallowing in poverty. This, he said, was unacceptable to him, considering Nigeria’s abundant resources. “It is a curious paradox that Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, and the largest economy on the continent, also has one of the highest level of poverty. It is estimated that more than 100 million out of a population of 187 million live below the poverty line,” remarked the billionaire.
Quoting a United Nations report, Dangote said youth unemployment had risen to 42 per cent this year, with many graduates roaming the streets of major cities such as Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Port Harcourt in search of elusive white-collar jobs, “while for some who are employed, their situation could best be described as underemployment, as they are being underutilised and poorly paid.” This development, according to Dangote, has serious security implications, as evidenced by the high rate of social ills plaguing the nation. His paper was titled: “Promotion of local manufacturing and poverty reduction in Nigeria: The private sector experience and policy options.”

I decided to focus on his paper today, not because Dangote said anything new about the bane of our nation. I am only hoping that, because it is coming from a big fish like Dangote, it may awaken the current managers of our dear nation to focus attention on the real problems facing Nigeria. For almost 18 months now, I have been hammering on the need for the Buhari administration to focus its energy and resources on tackling hunger, disease, poverty and unemployment. These are bigger monsters than the so-called anti-corruption war. The anti-corruption drama is a diversion from the more serious monsters devastating our nation. We have had enough of this drama. The poverty level in our dear nation is unprecedented. Rural poverty is also fast rearing its ugly head. Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics are chilling.

This monster called unemployment is being treated with kid gloves. There is hardly any home in this country today, without an unemployed graduate. According to the NBS, the total number of Nigerians who became unemployed within the first and second quarter of 2016 was 2.6 million. The NBS said further that the country’s unemployment rate grew from 12.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2016 to a record high of 13.3 per cent in the second quarter. The figures for the 3rd quarter of 2016 are expected to be horrible. Last week, we were told that the workforce in Nigeria’s oil industry had again been depleted by 3,000 employees following the sack of personnel by firms in the industry. Over 100,000 people must have lost their jobs in this industry in the last 17 months of this administration. Some of the companies had also slashed workers’ salaries by 50 per cent.
The National President of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, Igwe Achese disclosed that most of the companies – Chevron Nigeria Ltd, ExxonMobil, Pan Ocean, Sapiem, and Hercules Oil and Gas Ltd, among others – had terminated the appointment of over 3,000 of their workers.
Achese added: “Chevron alone sacked about 1,500; Mobil about 1000; the entire workers of Hercules Oil & Gas are being asked to go home; Pan Ocean has since closed shop and gone. Industry-wide, everybody is being asked to go. It is painful. As I address you, Chevron has wound down in the East and their offices closed. As we speak, many companies have left and many others are winding down.”

Our putrefying primary and secondary health institutions are also monsters bigger than corruption. The level of decay in both federal and state health institutions is terrifying. Few days back, doctors, civil society organisations and other stakeholders in the health sector marched on the Presidential Villa, Abuja to demand increased funding for the health sector. Though the Department of State Services stopped the protesters at the entrance of the Villa, but they submitted their petition for transmission to Buhari. The President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Mike Ogirima, who was part of the protest called on government to pay greater attention to the good health of its citizens and the swift implementation of the Health Act.
Another gory statistics recently came from the U.S. Consul General, Mr. John Bray, who disclosed in Cross River State at a four-day “Saving Mothers, Giving Life Country Team Building,” meeting, that every day, 90 women die from childbirth in Nigeria.

Some will say that all these problems I highlighted have been with us before the Buhari administration. I agree. However, the truth is that most of these problems have been compounded by the warped policies of this government and slipshod leadership. Inactions in several areas have compounded our woes. For example, as at press time, there was still no clear framework for the implementation of the administration’s N500 billion Social Intervention Fund. It just exists on paper. Some others may also say that all these problems were caused by corruption. This is just to some extent. The bane of our nation is largely failure of leadership. There is also the issue of a large number of followers being substandard humans; people who lack courage to challenge this cold-blooded leadership. This morning, I urge the Buhari administration to redirect its energy and resources towards poverty alleviation. It must fiercely tackle hunger, disease and unemployment. It is sad to note that nothing is happening about the pledge to create thousands of jobs. I will urge Buhari to focus on creating an enabling environment for the private sector to create jobs. To attain this, we must put our power, security and infrastructure in order. The pledge to reduce hunger and poverty has remained a figment of their imaginations. This nation is experiencing unprecedented poverty. The so-called recovered loot should be used to tackle hunger, disease and poverty. The talk that recovered loot can’t be spent because forfeiture had not been obtained from the court is ludicrous. Paying back the money should not be a problem for the Nigerian nation, assuming all the forfeiture bids are rejected by the courts.
Still on Fani-Kayode’s Detention
Former aviation minister and spokesman of the Jonathan Presidential Campaign Organisation, Femi Fani-Kayode is spending his 16th day in detention today. I still can’t fathom why he is being held by the EFCC. He was arrested at the Federal High Court premises in Lagos, where a case of money laundering is on against him. The arrest was done after the presiding judge had warned that it would be unwise to re-arrest a man who had honoured their invitations, had been on bail from both EFCC and the courts, had never been declared wanted and had appeared in court willingly. With the so-called fresh revelations, all the EFCC needed to do was to apply to amend the charges against him at the Lagos court. Rather, the anti-graft agency chose to file fresh charges against him at an Abuja court and plans to hold him until November 10 when hearing commences. This is a clear case of persecution and not prosecution. I am surprised that the human rights community has been silent on this abuse.
Governor Aregbesola’s Prickly School Fees
Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State has mischievously introduced school fees in the state’s public schools. He calls it “maintenance levy”, and says it is applicable to pupils in renovated schools. This governor won election on a dubious promise to implement free education at all levels. The pledge was made without financial due diligence. Aregbesola just wanted power. Virtually all public schools in the state are in tatters. Now, reality dawns. The story from Osun State now is that pupils in elementary schools will pay N2000 per session while those in middle schools will pay N3000. Those in secondary schools will pay N6000. Parents who are being owed salaries running into over 12 months by Aregbesola are now being told to start paying school fees in public schools. I wonder where he expects them to get the money. Aregbesola can’t feel the pains of the traumatised families in Osun. No wonder he still goes about gyrating to the Fuji music of Saheed Osupa and King Wasiu Marshal. The people of Osun State are in a one-chance bus.
Boko Haram Attack in Damboa
The kind of equipment the military often recovers from the Boko Haram terrorists regularly leaves me befuddled. Just this week, after these bastards ambushed Nigerian troops in Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State, the military issued a statement that it recovered two anti-Aircraft guns, two spare Gun barrels, one General Purpose Machine Gun, one Rocket Propelled Grenade and one AK-47 Rifle. A gun truck was also destroyed. So, a bunch of terrorists that had been decimated since last year still has equipment as sophisticated as anti-aircraft guns and gun trucks in their arsenal? No wonder these heartless people successfully ambushed our troops in Damboa, killing five soldiers, three vigilantes and one civilian JTF member. Just two weeks ago, they sacked officers and men of the 223 Tank Battalion in Ghashghar, Borno State. We are yet to get the official figures of the dead soldiers in this attack. The military has since pulled out of Ghashghar. In the last two weeks, there were four deadly suicide attacks in Maiduguri. I often cried profusely whenever these bastards attack. The day after the attack in Ghashghar, I woke up with my pillow soaked in tears; tears for the families of our gallant soldiers. Many often forget that these soldiers have families.  This war is far from over. This is the reality we have to face and tackle these terrorists appropriately. The propaganda that the war had since been won should stop. I was appalled when I read a statement this week that two hundred and forty Boko Haram members “have caved in to the superior fire power of allied forces under the auspices of the Multinational Joint Task Force and surrendered to the force.” This is too sweet a story to believe. So, we still have such a large number of terrorists roaming our country? The military is still battling for control despite making gains against the terrorists. For me, we have to bring in experienced mercenaries, with their equipment, to truly decimate these terrorists. There is nothing wrong with a legitimate government doing this. It is pertinent to urgently clear Mobbar, Abadam and Chibok local government areas of Borno State.  May Allah continue to protect our gallant soldiers.
Sack of Labour Leaders in Ogun State
I expect the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress at the national level to take stern measures against Governor Ibikunle Amosun’s tyranny. The Ogun State governor, who has been pummeling labour leaders for calling workers out on strike over his illegal and draconian anti-labour practices has finally sacked leaders of the striking workers. The state’s Chairmen of the NLC, Akeem Ambali and that of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Dare Ilekoya, with 14 other labour leaders were dismissed from the state’s civil service for daring to lead a strike against Amosun. The government has been using its propaganda machinery to justify the sack, saying that the affected civil servants got involved in partisan politics. This is preposterous. The fact is that workers’ co-operative and pension deductions from the salaries of the Ogun civil servants have remained unremitted for years. This is the crux of the matter. When did it become a crime to fight for one’s entitlements? The NLC must mobilise against Amosun’s despotism. Ogun State’s civil servants must be liberated from this totalitarian leader.