The government must do more to lighten the burden of living. It is urgent

In the past few weeks, Nigerians have been groaning under the harsh economic conditions arising from some recent policies of the federal government. Specifically, the removal of fuel subsidy and floating of the naira have brought untold hardship on the people. To worsen matters, insecurity in many of the rural communities has restricted the activities of  farmers, thus affecting productivity and causing market disruptions with attendant food price shocks. Since food is needed for survival and well-being, there is an urgent need for meaningful intervention to avert a human catastrophe in the country.

The despair has spilled into social media as angry citizens express their frustration with the daily hikes of staple foods, transportation costs, school fees, house rent and other inescapable expenses that are becoming impossible to finance due to paucity of resources and escalating inflation. Supermarket staples have either disappeared from the shelves or have become simply unaffordable with scarce disposable income. For those with medical issues and limited means, it has become a stark choice between taking care of basic expenses and attending to their health needs, between a decent meal and worsening health and even demise. For besieged citizens, the current state of the economy has become a dark roulette, with poverty, suffering and death taking the place of bullets.

Inflation figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) confirm the seriousness of the problem. The latest figures from the agency indicate that the country’s annual inflation rate (January 2023 – January 2024) is at 29.90%. Food costs and the forex crisis are at the heart of the inflationary crisis that is depleting incomes and savings, fuelling the suffering and despair that has overtaken the country. The message which President Bola Tinubu will do well to heed is loud and clear: we are getting to the end of the rope and things cannot go on like this. 

The United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) has warned repeatedly that millions of Nigerians are at the risk of hunger as prices of foodstuff skyrocket. As of December 2023, a World Bank report showed that Nigeria’s poverty level had taken a notch higher. Recent data compiled by an international e-commerce organisation also revealed that the average Nigerian household spends about 60 per cent of its income on food, the highest in the world. In contrast, residents of the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Singapore spend less than 10 per cent of income on food.

Living in extreme poverty, going by the parameters set by the World Bank, means living on less than $1.90 (now almost N3000) per day. Only few Nigerians can now afford that amount which represents 10 per cent of the current minimum wage. A World Bank report ‘A Better Future for All Nigerians: Nigeria Poverty Assessment 2022’ released in March last year revealed that “as many as four in 10 Nigerians live below the national poverty line.” That was before recent measures that have further dislocated the lives of more Nigerians. “Households have adopted dangerous coping strategies, including reducing education and scaling back food consumption, which could have negative long-run consequences for their human capital,” the report stated.

Using a ‘cost of food basics’ analysis that compares the monthly minimum recommended spend on food per adult and average wage in 107 countries, a United Kingdom-based Institute of Development Studies last year placed Nigeria as the second poorest country in the world in terms of food affordability. In the 2023 Global Hunger Index, Nigeria is ranked 105th out of 125 countries, chalking up a level of hunger described as “serious.” Besides, a recent and more comprehensive report on poverty by the NBS estimated that 133 million Nigerians were multidimensionally poor using four indicators: food security, healthcare, education, and work.  

Tough times are of course not uncommon in this part of the world as human development indices (HDIs) and other indicators have shown over time. Despite the much-lauded human and material riches of the country, the lived experience of the majority of citizens over the decades has generally fallen short of minimum measurements of well-being, characterised by poverty and lack. But even from that low base, the ongoing hardship is significant. The sheer scale of the suffering and deprivation is pushing the country to the edge as frustrated citizens with nowhere to turn are reaching the limits of endurance. The federal government and authorities in the 36 states of the federation must wake up to the reality of the seeming hopelessness for a vast majority of our people in a nation blessed with enormous natural and human resources, but which has consistently been held down by poor governance at virtually all levels.

While it is true, as various representatives of the Tinubu administration have asserted, that the government inherited a battered and serially mismanaged economy, there is no doubt that the situation is getting worse. There must be immediate, medium-and long-term solutions. The immediate ones could include targeted importation of basic items, and reduction of tariffs on essential drugs. The administration should avoid the temptation to take refuge in convenient platitudes or the blame-game strategy of its predecessor which did not serve the nation well. It is time to listen and act with compassion and a sense of urgency.

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