By Dickson Okafor

Hon. Nwachukwu Tobinson Alakwe, former West Africa coordinator of defunct National Support for Jonathan/Sambo Presidency, has warned that hunger protests across the country may lead to national uprising if the Federal Government fails to end fast the hardship staring citizens in the face.

He said that it is baseless for the government to accuse the opposition as the main sponsors of protests against hardship and hunger in the country, saying that nobody can sponsor an hungry people to be angry, noting that Nigerians can no longer bear the effects of fuel subsidy removal.

He called on President Bola Tinubu and his economic team to go back to the drawing board and find a solution to the economic quagmire, which has caused rise in the prices of essential commodities, thereby making life unbearable for the people.

He blamed the country for falling into the IMF hands that led to further depreciation of the naira, but expressed confidence that gradually Tinubu will fix the country as the problem of the country cannot be solved over night.

Alakwe commended the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) for suspending its nationwide strike, but called on the government to meet the demands of workers and urged Nigerians to be patient with President Tinubu to fix the country, saying that the problems cannot be solved over night.

He speaks about insecurity and other issues.  Excerpt:

Nigerians have expressed disappointment over the inability of the government to give them succour over the hardship they face, what would you say is responsible of the poor state of Nigeria’s economy?

I will attribute the state of Nigeria’s economy to global inflation which is not peculiar to the country, but to the whole world. It’s just that developed nations have mapped out measures to cushion the effect of global economic meltdown. In the case of Nigeria all measures to curtail hardship in the country have failed. Meanwhile, on assumption of office the new administration inherited poor economy, which President Ahmed Bola Tinubu is trying to fix. For instance, things were so bad and Nigerians are engulfed by hardship to the extent the new government has no option than to take the bull by the horns by removing fuel subsidy without looking back. It is a good step taken by the new administration to save Nigeria from economic collapse. Unfortunately, there was no measures put in place to cushion the effects. Considering the GDP of the country, the government has subsidized some sectors and palliatives are given to the vulnerable Nigerians, but I doubt if the palliatives got to the people. Despite, the campaign promises made by all the political parties, which were empty promises because they knew that the economy is already battered and cannot be fixed overnight. So, Nigerians have to be patient with the government to conclude internal mechanism going on in order to stabilize the economy.

It was expected that the palliatives and other measures dished out by the government would have cushioned the effects of fuel subsidy removal and reduced hardship faced by the people, are you saying the palliatives and other interventions by government did not get to the vulnerable people?

Yes, as I said earlier the palliatives and other measures introduced by the government to cushion the effects of hardship Nigerians are facing as a result of fuel subsidy removal did not get to the people. The hardship we are facing now was the reason previous government did not agree to remove fuel subsidy when Nigerians demanded it should be removed except former President Goodluck Jonathan who attempted to remove the subsidy. President Tinubu and notable Nigerian leaders and politicians were all against fuel subsidy removal. Those who were against subsidy removal held rally at Ojoka and stationed themselves there for over two weeks, insisting that fuel subsidy should not be removed by President Jonathan. So, Tinubu had no option, but to remove fuel subsidy having realized that fuel subsidy was removed from the 2023 budget by former President Muhammadu Buhari; he had to comply and that is the cause of hardship we are facing today and the rise in foreign exchange. Nigerians should be patient while the government is taking a gradual step to find a lasting solution to the economic problem. The first step is to fix the nation’s refineries because only Dangote refinery cannot supply enough fuel that can reduce prices of goods and services. The earlier we realized this, the better for us as a nation. The high cost of petroleum products has affected prices of essential goods and that is the cause of the present economic hardship in the country. However, the Tinubu administration is expected to think out of the box because as it stands, Nigerians can’t continue suffering to feed themselves and families. The economic challenge is not peculiar to Nigeria, but it is a global thing. There should be new strategy by the economic team even though they are doing their best to find solution to the economic problem. Notwithstanding, there are a great deal of sabotage by some notable individuals.

What would you say is spurring waves of kidnapping and banditry in the country especially in FCT since the emergence of this administration?

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Insurgence and insecurity have not rested since 2014 because those behind it have continued to renew their activities hence this time they come out in full force as you try to portray. Yes, since the new administration took over kidnappers, bandits and Boko Haram have come out in high dimension and have re-strategized. But one thing is clear; with the level of hardship in the country many who are hungry and angry are now willing tools in the hands of sponsors of insecurity. Today, the rate of unemployment is high, many are running away from the country and multinational companies are relocating to the neighbouring countries. As it stands, high rate of corruption and unaffordable school fees have engineered youths to take to crime. In a country where young men and women would graduate and after five years or more they could not secure a job to take care of themselves and support their families and you expect them to stay unemployed forever? That is the major cause of insecurity in the country. That does not make crime as an alternative because there are patriotic Nigerians who did not find things easy while growing up and after leaving school, but became successful by engaging in genuine and meaningful ventures and did not take to crime. But those, who cannot endure or perceiver, are the ones who took to crime. In all of these, the government on its part has a role to play, which is to create employment opportunities for our teeming youths and the military should be well funded and equipped to be on ground to confront and combat insurgency across board. Even in Abuja, which is not safe as I speak with you.

Recently, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Ola Olukoyede declared that the commission has discovered a religious body that is laundering money for terrorists, but he did not mention the name of the religious organization, do you share the idea that insecurity is being sponsored?

The EFCC as an anti-graft agency knows how best to detect crime and its sponsors, but it will be unwise for Olukoyede to mention the name of the religious organization that is laundering money for terrorists. Because the matter is still being investigated, he won’t mention the name until the investigation is completed. So, for security reasons the EFCC won’t do that now. Frankly, there should be some elements that are funding terrorism and other crimes in the country that is inducing them to gear up to the present level. You can see the magnitude of weapons the terrorists use to counter the federal troops. They even kidnap people close to military barracks across the country, which shows that they are in full force hence there are elements behind them from within the government in carrying out evil. EFCC must go after the orchestrators of this man inhumanity to human’s act that is empowering these miscreants tormenting and killing innocent Nigerians.

The NLC defied threats by the FG and embarked on indefinite nationwide strike because of hunger and non-implementation of minimum wage, do you see the committee set up by President Tinubu to harmonize the salary structure of the Nigerian workers coming up with a solution?

The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Federal Government are in discussion on the new minimum wage and will continue to romance until they arrive at a figure which will be acceptable to the NLC and both parties will go home smiling. That Labour went on strike defying threats from the government does not mean they won’t reach agreement with the government in few hours from now. The important question is, are both parties into negotiation? Yes they are talking towards harmonization of minimum wage of Nigeria workers to meet the present standard of living in the country. And the government is sensitive to the demand of NLC and I’m sure they will reach a compromise with labour, which is the reason NLC suspended the strike.

The decision by the FG to relocate FAAN and some departments of the CBN from Abuja to Lagos has been opposed by some northern leaders, who claimed that it is geared towards marginalization of the region and they threatened not re-elect President Tinubu in 2027 should government go ahead with the decision, do you see that as a weighty threat?

Politicians especially in Nigeria are selfish because most of them play tribal and self-interest politics which is the reason some leaders in the North are opposed to the decision of the government to relocate some economic vital institutions to where they will yield more revenue to the country. Government in its plan to reposition the economy has decided to relocate these institutions and some northern politicians and leaders because of their selfish interest and tribal egoism have faulted this noble decision of the government. The expenditure that is being incurred because of distance has been killed. Nigeria attracts economic expenses by citing the headquarters of NNPC in Abuja instead of stationing it in the Niger Delta. The Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos is the busiest International Airport not only in Nigeria, but in Africa and the headquarters of all the banks are in Lagos. So, it is a wise economic decision by the government to cut cost by relocating these government institutions to Lagos. Like I said earlier, some politicians are politicizing the decision and also bring tribal sentiment into it. Nigerians did not vote President Bola Ahmed Tinubu because he is from Southern part of the country, he was voted into power because his experience and capability to deliver the dividends of democracy to them is assured. The task before the government is to tame insecurity and revive the nation’s economy and if these are achieved, definitely in spite of the other challenges I can assure you come 2027 Nigerians will re-elect President Tinubu.

So far the ability of Tinubu to confront numerous challenges facing the country, especially insecurity and hardship in the country, many are in doubt of Tinubu’s capacity to tackle corruption and allegations of misappropriation of public funds by some of his appointees, do you see Tinubu being able to reform the economy and curb insecurity in Nigeria?

During his official visit to Lagos for the inauguration of the second phase of the Lagos Rail Mass Transit (LRMT), the Red Line rail project, President Tinubu vowed to continue with reforms and fight against corruption. Corruption is a virus and doesn’t mind the pedigree of your education and exposure or how best you can deliver if given federal or state appointment, rather being corrupt or not is a matter of choice. There are good, genuine ministers appointed by President Tinubu who are not corrupt that can help the government overcome economic and security challenges. For those who have corruption allegation such as the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Beta Edu, she is still innocent until she is found guilty by the investigative committee and the anti-corruption agencies. No doubt, there was and still government officials who misappropriated and are misappropriating public funds. Therefore, for this act you cannot say President Tinubu administration did not or have not chosen a viable cabinet or team to pilot the affairs of this country. Again, President Tinubu didn’t look at whose ox is gored to have suspended Beta Edu with immediate effect even as the investigation is ongoing. The president acted swiftly and should be commended because of his prompt action against corruption. Yes, Tinubu has the capacity and experience to reform the nation’s economy and curb insecurity if all hands are on deck. On insecurity, this has been a national challenge since 2014 and the battle to restore security in Nigeria is on course.

FG has accused the opposition as sponsors of protests against hardship and hunger across the country even though we can all feel the same pain, is this enough reason for the opposition to call for Tinubu’s resignation?

Hardship is not only in Nigeria, but all over the world due to global economic recession. The increase in the prices of goods and services in Nigeria is the consequence of fuel subsidy removal. This has nothing to do with President Tinubu’s capacity to fix the economy. He is an administrator tested and trusted. Don’t forget that this is only government that is running the country without fuel subsidy since oil was discovered in Nigeria and that is the reason for the present challenges we are facing. If any other candidate has been elected he will also face the same challenge because we were all here when former President Muhammadu Buhari removed fuel subsidy from last year’s budget, which started in June while he left office on May 29. So, those pointing accusing fingers on the opposition parties are practical jokers. Our representatives at the National Assembly who said there is nothing wrong with the economy are also practical jokers because they failed to be sincere to Nigerians. The economy is bad and for that reason there is hunger in the land and a great deal of inflation. A hungry man is an angry man. Therefore, how can the opposition sponsor hungry men and women to become angry and protest? It is an over statement. That is why I said that the people we elected or selected to represent us at the National Assembly are practical jokers and opportunists who under normal circumstance some of them are not supposed to be there. They are living big at the detriment of Nigerians that is why they have the gut to say nothing is wrong with the country thereby accusing the opposition political parties as sponsors of hardship and hunger protests across the country when Nigeria is sinking. These are men and women who borrowed huge sums of money to buy SUVs.  So, there is hunger in the land and nobody or group can sponsor a hungry man to become angry. If government is pointing accusing finger on the main opposition for sponsoring hardship and hunger protest it is mere speculation and baseless and it is not acceptable. It is unfortunate that Nigerians are hungry in a country that is well blessed with numerous mineral and human resources. The major cause of hunger in Nigeria is corruption.  Nigeria’s economy since independence has been mismanaged from successive administration, treasury looted and funds misappropriated by the people Nigerians elected to govern them. All these put together are the cause of hardship and hunger in the land. And until this administration demonstrates that it has political will to check corruption and jail those found guilty there will be no remedy to economic problem in Nigeria.