Nigerians take to the streets as hardship bites harder

Mon, Feb 26, 2024
By editor

Economy, Featured

Nigerians are daily protesting against the ravaging impacts of the high cost of transportation, unaffordable prices of food and other commodities, job losses, insecurity and the general atmosphere of despair and despondency caused by anti-people policies of the government. Perhaps, a quick review of the reforms and policies as well as the reopening of the land borders may provide the salutary effect for millions of angry Nigerians.

By Goddy Ikeh

AS the wave of disenchantment grows over high transportation costs and high food prices.  across the country, many Nigerians have resorted to protesting and calling on the government to review its policies and the ongoing reforms that have resulted in excruciating hardships in the country.

Already, large crowds of protesters against high prices of foods and insecurity were witnessed in Kwara, Oyo, Niger, Osun, Sokoto, Lagos, Kano, Kogi and Benue states.

In addition to these protests in some states of the country, the Organised Labour has announced a two-day nationwide protests over the hardship and worsening insecurity in the country. The Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, had on February 8, 2024 gave a two-week ultimatum to the federal government to meet the demands of the organized labour or face industrial action. 

According to the officials of the NLC, the organized Labour will hold a two-day nationwide protest over the hardship being experienced by Nigerians as well as the deteriorating security situation in the country.

The NLC President, Joe Ajaero, told a news conference in Abuja after an emergency meeting of the National Executive Council, NEC, of the union that the protest would begin a week after the expiration of the 14-day ultimatum it issued to the federal government, which expired on February 23 and the planned days for the nationwide protest are February 27 and 28.

“To this end, NEC unanimously noted its deep disappointment and condemned the actions of the federal government in refusing to implement the agreements and reached the following decisions: That it reaffirms the 14 days notice issued the federal government within which to implement the agreement and address the mounting crisis of survival in Nigeria.

“That the Notice expires on the midnight of Thursday, the 22nd of February, 2024. If on expiration, Congress is not satisfied with the level of government’s compliance with the conditions of the notice, it will be at liberty to take action that will compel government to implement the agreement.

“Declares a 2-day National Protest on 27th and 28th of February to demonstrate outrage on the mounting hardship and insecurity around the nation.

“If demands are not met after the nationwide protests to issue a seven-day notice that will expire on the 2nd day of March, 2024 to the federal government after which an indefinite nationwide strike will ensue.

“That Nigerian workers and people are not interested in empty talk now but action so, calls on all of affiliates, state councils and Civil Society allies to start mobilizing across the nation for effective action as the deadline approaches,” Ajaero said.

He said the federal government should not flout the deadline of the 14-day ultimatum. The organised labour lamented that millions of Nigerian workers are facing hunger, erosion of purchasing power and insecurity due to reforms that drove up inflation.

Reacting to the current economic hardship in the country, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, says that a Nigerian professor currently earns the equivalent of $210 per month.

The union lamented the current harrowing economic condition of Nigerians and called on the federal government to accelerate the process of arriving at a minimum living wage as demanded by the NLC.

The Bauchi zone of the ASUU led by its Zonal Coordinator, Prof. Naumwa Voncir, told a news conference in Jos that the free fall in the value of the Naira against international currencies, the distortion in the petroleum sector corruptly called “subsidy removal”, “have ushered in a regime of high cost of transportation, unaffordable prices of commodities, job losses and ballooning joblessness, insecurity and general atmosphere of despair and despondency in the country.”

According to him, the failure of government to provide effective measures that would cushion the effect of its anti-poor policies has further pushed the Nigerian masses down the abyss of “abject poverty and hardships”.

Apart from the reactions the unions, traditional rulers and religious organisations have lent their voices to the daily worries and cries of millions of Nigerians who are the victims of these anti-people policies and reforms of the federal government.

Recently, the Northern Traditional rulers have told the federal government that “We can’t pacify the people anymore” as the people groan daily due to high cost of transportation, food prices and insecurity in northern Nigeria and other regions of the country.

The monarchs from the North under the umbrella of Northern Traditional Council led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar told the federal government that unless necessary action is taken, insecurity, poverty and unemployment in Nigeria and North in particular, have made Nigeria sit on a keg of gunpowder, ready to explode.

Speaking at the Arewa House, Kaduna during the 6th executive Northern Traditional Council committee meeting, the Sultan said that the traditional rulers, religious leaders as well as State governors had been pacifying the masses and the jobless youth from revolting against political leaders at the helm of affairs.

“It is getting to a level that traditional leaders could no longer pacify the people from revolting against government and political leaders that supposed to find solutions to their lingering socio-economic plight,” local media reports quoted the Sultan as saying.

And for the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, and the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, the hardship is paralysing socioeconomic lives in communities and that hunger is causing a serious humanitarian crisis. According to the Catholic Bishops, Nigeria is in her worst times in terms of insecurity, economy, and corruption and called for sincere, accountable, and collective effort to halt the current slide and steer the nation towards a more secure and prosperous future.

Specifically, the CBCN President, Archbishop Lucius Ugorji, issued a stark assessment of the current situation in the country, describing it as the ‘worst of times,’ particularly with regard to security and the economy, and described the state of affairs in the nation as tumultuous. The Archbishop drew attention to the stark realities facing Nigerians, emphasizing the persistent insecurity and economic turmoil, despite substantial security votes. “If we cast a cursory glance at the present state of our nation, we are inclined to conclude that this seems to be the worst of times for our country in the areas of security and the economy,” he said. According to him, kidnappings for ransom, senseless killings, and the rise of banditry have left communities across Nigeria in the grip of fear and paralysis.

The Archbishop criticized the government’s reform agenda, which has led to the withdrawal of fuel subsidies and a steep decline in naira’s value. His words: “The reform agenda of the present government has added to the plight of Nigerians. With the withdrawal of fuel subsidies and the unification of the foreign exchange market, there has been a sharp increase in the pump price of petroleum products and a steep decline in the value of the naira. “Indeed, there is a free fall of the national currency. High, spiralling inflation has made it difficult for the average Nigerian to access basic commodities, including food items and medication.

 “As a result of the government’s reform agenda, millions of Nigerians have been reduced to a life of grinding poverty, wanton suffering, and untold hardship as never before in our national history. In a bid to survive, an increasing number of the poor have resorted to begging.”

“Regrettably, an extensive brain drain continues in this way in our nation, where manpower is needed to revamp the ailing economy and foster national development. In the midst of the frenzy to Japa abroad for better job opportunities, many young Nigerians fall easy prey to human traffickers, who traffic them abroad for sexual exploitation, cheap labour or organ harvesting.” The Catholic Bishops were equally critical of government’s efforts to address these issues, calling the reform agenda ‘counterproductive’ and a ‘therapy worse than the disease.’

The Bishops also called for sincerity, accountability, and a collective effort to steer Nigeria away from its current trajectory towards a more secure and prosperous future.

In the same vein, the President of CAN, His Eminence Archbishop Daniel Okoh, commended Archbishop Ugorji for his unwavering commitment to addressing issues such as bad governance, insecurity, injustice, and economic hardship. Okoh said Ugorji’s “consistency in providing insight and guidance on issues that border on bad governance, insecurity (including food insecurity), injustice and extreme economic conditions is an inspiration to us all.”

Okoh expressed intrigue and support for the Catholic Church’s efforts to foster inclusivity and dialogue. Archbishop Okoh also acknowledged the daunting challenges faced by churches in Nigeria, from constant attacks on clergy to the struggle for the right to worship places. “As members of the Nigerian Christian community, we acknowledge the multi-faceted challenges faced by our churches on a daily basis. “From a deliberate attempt to edge out Christianity in certain parts of the country through denial of Right of Occupancy for churches that want to erect their worship places to targeted serial attacks, arson and kidnapping of clergymen for ransom that has now become a daily occurrence. The high level of insecurity, runaway inflation and hunger are areas of serious concern as well.”

The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the leading opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, were not let out of the dialogue. For instance, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka, said that the protests were unpatriotic and coordinated to instigate unrest in the country.  

According to Morka, the protests in Minna and Kano were “the manifestation of this devious and unpatriotic plot”.

“That the protests happened simultaneously in both cities is not coincidental. It bears the bold stamp of an orchestrated and coordinated effort to instigate unrest and undermine the government. This mercenary opposition tactic is a clear and present threat to public peace and national security,” he said.

Reacting to Morka’s claim, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, described APC’s action as insensitive, just as it accused President Bola Tinubu of politicising economic hardship and worsening insecurity in the country.

“The action of the APC in threatening Nigerians for exercising their democratic and Constitutional right to protest in the face of misrule, agonising poverty, hunger, killings, and other harrowing experiences under the Tinubu administration shows that the APC is insensitive and relishes the life-discounting situation in the country,” he said.

The statement partly read: “It is an assault on the sensibility of the people that rather than providing answers to how the Tinubu-led APC government in the space of nine months, turned the nation’s economy upside down leading to terrifying food scarcity and catastrophic high cost of living, the APC is seeking to label and clamp down on the suffering masses.”

And for the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammad Idris, it is speculators, unscrupulous individuals sabotaging Nigeria’s reform efforts.

The minister stressed that relevant regulatory and security agencies had been placed on the red alert to ensure that malpractices capable of undermining the Naira were averted and that those engaged in such acts were brought to book, adding that the federal government would not allow its efforts to be jeopardised.

“Sadly, as with any effort to reform and sanitise a system entrenched in long-term malpractice, the CBN’s efforts have been met with ferocious resistance from speculators and other unscrupulous players within and outside our country, who profit from dysfunction and opacity.

“To tackle this, regulatory and enforcement agencies of the government have been working round the clock in the past few days, joining forces to address these efforts at undermining the reforms. That strategic alliance has led to the intelligence-led identification, investigation and sanctioning of individuals and organisations involved in illegal activities and sabotage within the forex market.

 “Relevant regulatory and security agencies have been directed to remain vigilant to ensure that malpractices capable of undermining our currency are averted and that those engaged in these acts are brought to book,” Idris said.

He, however, assured the public that the ongoing reforms to address the raging economic volatility had started to yield results as the Naira had begun to gain stability against other currencies.

But despite the protests and appeals by traditional rulers and religious groups, President Bola Tinubu said that his administration would remain steadfast in implementing necessary economic reforms to facilitate business growth and create investment opportunities that support the nation’s growing population.

Speaking while receiving a delegation from the Corporate Council on Africa, CCA, led by its President and Chief Executive Officer, Florizelle Liser in Abuja, on Thursday, February 22, 2024, Tinubu reiterated his unwavering commitment to Nigeria’s economic growth and stability, emphasizing that he was not relenting until his vision for Nigeria was achieved.

”We are challenged, and we believe we will overcome the challenges. I have a can-do attitude that must be translated into a must-do attitude. We have a good team, and we must remain focused to get the goal accomplished”.

The President reaffirmed his commitment to creating an enabling environment for business to thrive, emphasizing that his administration’s focus on investing in key sectors, such as agriculture, solid minerals, energy, health, physical infrastructure, trade promotion, financial services, digital enterprise, and the creative economy is underpinned by the need to ensure the welfare and prosperity of citizens.

”We are going to do more on security and investing in education, as we believe that education is the greatest weapon against poverty. We welcome partners like CCA, and we will strengthen our partnership to achieve our goals,” he said.

Speaking on measures to mitigate effects of the policies of the federal government and reduce the hardship in the country, the Director, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, CPPE, Muda Yusuf, urged the federal government and the Organised Labour to come up with affordable national minimum wage for the country.

Yusuf suggested the immediate review of the current policies and reforms by adopting mitigating measures that are holistic and inclusive and driven by a combination of direct interventions, fiscal policy measures and monetary policy actions.

In addition, the lifting of economic sanctions imposed by ECOWAS on neighbouring Niger and Mali and the reopening of the country’s borders, the high food crisis may be addressed soon through food importation, while the issue of national minimum wage being addressed by the government and the Organised Labour should be urgently resolved to avoid protests and strike actions that will further worsen the nation’s weak and struggling economy.

26th February, 2024.