By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“Suffer, suffer, suffer, suffer for world/Na your fault be that./Me I say: na your fault be that…. /E dey happen to all of us every day…./Suffering and smiling! …/Them dey faint, them dey wake like cock/“Them go reach house, water no dey/ Them go reach bed, power no dey/ Them go reach road, go-slow go come/ Them go reach road, police go slap/ Them go look pocket, money no dey/ Every day na the same thing (5 times)”
– Fela Anikulapo Kuti (‘Suffering and Smiling’, 1978)
“No money, no food, no fuel, no electric power supply, no justice, no equity, yet all our politicians are concerned about now is how to grab and retain power through the forthcoming general elections! Nigerians now queue for fuel, queue for their own money and queue for PVC in our fatherland. “Mister Baje, for how long are we going to go on like this?” That came from Andrew, my long-term friend, stating it as it is, point blank! “Andy, I am as concerned as you are. I do put myself in other citizens’ shoes and wonder just how they are still surviving against many economic odds, virtually on daily basis. “Worse still, the current currency redesign has drastically reduced the much-needed cash flow, putting millions of Nigerians in the pit of acute hunger and desperation.” Yours truly stated and asked another question. ”Did you watch the video of the lady who stripped herself half-naked inside a banking hall to express her outrage at their services, that went viral on social media?”
“Yes, I did. It is despicable. Imagine the sad situation that you cannot withdraw your own money, old or new currency from the bank or the ATM ”. He responded. And that took my mind to Andrew’s pertinent question-for how long are we going to keep suffering as we are doing? The answer of course, is as obvious as the daily sunrise.Indeed, that brought to mind the timeless song, ‘Suffering and Smiling’ as released by the late Afro-beat music icon, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. If the situation was as terrible as painted in the hit song back in 1978 and Nigerians are still battling with similar challenges 45 years on ,something must be wrong with the type of democracy we operate; the type of leaders we have had, and still have, as well as the mindset of Nigerians, in the face of harrowing hunger and preventable poverty. According to the World Bank Report: “As of April 2021, the inflation rate was the highest in four years. Food prices accounted for over 60 per cent of the total increase in inflation. Nigeria’s economic growth is being hindered by food inflation, heightened insecurity, unemployment and stalled reforms”. Such warning inspired yours truly’s opinion essay titled: ‘Mister President, there is hunger in the land! “’ on 19th May 2022. But over a month into the new year, 2023 the situation has worsened. Despite the forecast by FocusEconomics Consensus Forecast panelists expecting inflation to average 18.5% in 2023 it has already galloped to 21.23%. Not left out is that of the ever soaring food inflation.For instance, while a 50kg of rice moved from N7,000 in 2015 to N25,000 in 2022, it currently sells for N36,000.A basket of tomato that cost between N2,000 to N3,000 back in 2015 now sells for N28,000.
Similarly, a tuber of yam that sold forN500 back then now goes forN1,500. A bag of garri that cost N400 sells for N1,100. A bottle of vegetable oil that used to sell for N400 then now goes forN1,000. A bag of pure water that sold for N80 now goes for N250. All these are in one way or the other traceable to the huge jump in the cost of premium motor spirit that sold at N87 per litre in 2015 but with the hardship costs between N270 to N350 per litre, depending on which part of the country you are buying it from. The exchange rate of the Naira has since risen from N128 to a Dollar to some N680 to N700, depending also on the source one is getting it from either the bank or the black market. Perhaps, from the ubiquitous Aboki-currency changer. As reflected in 2022, whether the president likes to hear this or not, the bitter truth is that we are currently confronted not only with hunger but the critical issues of extreme poverty and food/ nutrition insecurity. As at November, 2022 the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) stated that 63% of persons living within Nigeria (133 million people) are multi-dimensionally poor. The National MPI is 0.257, indicating that poor people in Nigeria experience just over one-quarter of all possible deprivations. 65% of the poor (86 million people) live in the North, while 35% (nearly 47 million) live in the South. The other significant issue is that of bridging the rich-poor gap that has worsened over the years. The Nigerian Living Standards Survey (NLSS) is the official survey that is the basis for measuring poverty and living standards in the country and is used to estimate a wide range of socio-economic indicators including benchmarking of the Sustainable Development Goals.
According to Oxfam’s calculations, lifting all Nigerian people living below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 out of poverty for one year will cost about $24 billion. This amount of money is just lower than the total wealth owned overall by the five richest Nigerians in 2016, which was equal to $29.9 billion. So, what is the best way out of the current sorry situation? In all honestly, this is the right time to redesign the type of democracy we run. We have to go back to identify and learn from history, as it happened in Athens, in ancient Greece, back in 510 B.C.
The pendulum has to swing from the equivalents of the tyrant, Hippias who was expelled from the city, ending fifty years of oppression that began with his father, Pisistratus. We need our own Cleisthenes, who earned the title “Father of Democracy” for his radical reforms to the Athenian government, which later Athenians saw as the beginning of their democracy. Nigerians must come to the bitter truth that power belongs to them and not their self-serving, overtly greedy and power-poaching politicians latching on the structure of high cost of getting into power and huge pay packages of elected and appointed politicians, that has widened the gap between the very few rich and the millions of poor citizens. Apart from a holistic restructuring of the polity, for the states to control their resources, we have to do away with the Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) that approves the huge pay package of political appointees. Instead, we need Volunteers in Government, made up of people with vision, who are ready to sacrifice their energy, time and resources to rebuild the nation-state. They should be placed on equivalent civil salary scale in tandem with the tough economic situation as at this day. The time for self-deception has come and gone for good!
Baje writes from Lagos