Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Nigeria: Living In Troubled Times

WE  are, indeed, living in troubled times. Nobody can say for sure if this is the perilous times that the Christian Holy Book predicted long time ago. Nigerians are really passing through a hellish period in the history of the country. Nigerians are no longer a ‘suffering and smiling’ people. They complain a lot these days. They do so openly as well as in the confines of their homes.

Listen to telephone programmes on radio and television and hear and see the anger of these Nigerians as they lampoon the government for their misfortunes. Go to the newsstands and hear them vent their anger on our rulers and politicians, especially those in Abuja. They also have solutions to the nation’s woes apart from fighting corruption. If those in government can come out and listen to ordinary Nigerians, they would know what they are passing through now.
They would probably be in a better position to solve the nation’s many problems. Leaders should, once in a while, disguise and mix up with the masses to have a feel of what they go through as citizens of this great country.
Go to the markets and hear them abuse our politicians to no end over their misery and calamity. Go to the buka joints and beer parlours and feel the anger and frustrations of Nigerians on the economic recession. On what government said it would do but now refused to do. All Nigerians are hit by the harsh times but low-income earners are the worst hit.
The poor are already down and therefore are not favoured at all. They also bear the brunt of the hard times as prices of goods, especially food items are going up at astronomical rates with each passing day. The irony is that the rich and the poor buy from the same market. The Nigerian market does not discriminate the poor from the rich.
And there is no refuge in sight that all will be well within a short time. Nigerians are not happy the way things are going in the country now. Not even the prayer warriors among them are optimistic that things will soon get better. A bag of rice now sells for between N18,500 and N19,500 while 5-litre of vegetable oil is N3,500. Palm oil is also out of the reach of the poor as 5-litre of it sells for between N3,800 and N4,000.
The prices of other food items have also gone up. Many Nigerians are finding it difficult to feed. As things stand now, the prospect of famine looms large. The government has even warned of imminent famine should farmers continue to export their farm products.
Nigeria’s economy is in its worst shape now. Renowned economists have alarmed us of the dire situation we are in and made some useful suggestions. Even former President Olusegun Obasanjo has added his voice on what the present leadership can do to salvage the situation. We shall return to the ex-leader’s recommendations later in the article.

Even the deaf and blind are aware that Nigeria’s economic situation is no longer normal. It has passed from being a laughing matter to a weeping one. All Nigerians, be they workers or traders, feel the pains of the harsh economic climate.
With inflation at 18.3 percent, prominent Nigerians have advised that government should urgently review its economic policies. This is why the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) urged the Federal Government to critically evaluate the level of domestic debts and map out plans to offset them immediately. The committee observed that huge government debts have slowed down business activities in the country. The situation, according to the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, has comprised the integrity of the financial system.
Buhari’s economic team is yet to get it right on the economy. Nigerians no longer accept the government’s blame on immediate past administration for its poor showing on the economy. The exchange rate is about N465 to one US dollar in the parallel market. Even the government’s plan to borrow $30 billion has been greeted with criticisms.
Apart from the fact that the entire South-East was reportedly excluded from the projects the loan will be used to execute, the Senate has not seen the need for the loan. It says that the government has not made enough explanations on what to do with the loan and the repayment plans as well.
Obasanjo, recently, warned the government about taking the loan. Speaking at the First Akintola Williams Annual Lecture in Lagos on Wednesday, Obasanjo made it clear that taking such soft option would hurt the country in future. Some of his postulations at the lecture are germane to getting the economy right and they are worth quoting in full.
According to him, “We immediately need loans to stabilize our foreign reserve and embark on some infrastructure development but surely not $30 billion over a period of less than three years. That was about the magnitude of the cumulative debt of Nigeria which we worked and wiped out 10 years ago.”
The ex-leader went further, “Before that debt relief, we were spending almost $3bn to service our debt annually and the quantum of the debt was not going down. Rather, if we defaulted, we paid penalty which was added on. Economy neither obeys orders nor does it work according to wishes. It must be worked upon with all factors considered and most stakeholders involved.”
He also said “The investors, domestic and foreign, are no fools and they know what is going on with the management of the economy including the foreign exchange and they are not amused. The Central Bank must be restored to its independence and integrity. We must be careful and watchful of the danger of short-termism. Short-term may be the enemy of medium and long term.”
No doubt, Obasanjo has spoken very well on the economy. His views should not be dismissed. Therefore, Buhari and his team should listen to him attentively and see how they can implement some of his recommendations. Getting the economy out of its woes is a debt this administration owes all Nigerians. The earlier it gets it right, the better.
*Mr. Obioha is a commentator on public issues (robobioha@yahoo.com)

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