POLITICS

Is This The Worst Time To Be A Nigerian?

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Find out what statistics, predictions and unfolding everyday realities in the country mean to Nigerian citizens after 60 years self-rule.

NGOZI EMEDOLIBE

Citizens who are in their mid-70s in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation are quick to refer to the favourable conditions of life before and shortly after Britain handed Independence to the oil-producing nation in 1960. But today, things are a direct opposite of what the expectations were, as the Nigerian flag got hoisted to herald Independence 60 years ago; incidentally, on almost all premises. After a prolonged military incursion in the polity, the birth of the country’s ‘modern democracy’ in mid-1999 had renewed hopes of a better life for the over 200 million people.

However, hopes keep thinning with every succeeding government appearing to have been out-performed by its predecessor. Most disappointing, it appears, is the present, headed by Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a retired army general from the northern Fulani tribe, who came to power in 2015, under the mantra of ‘change’, an electoral campaign slogan that overwhelmingly centred on the ouster of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP, which had held power from 1999.

After his first four-year term, his many promises of fighting corruption, insecurity, unemployment, fixing economy (including bringing the country’s currency, naira at par with the US dollar like his campaign handlers claimed) are now appearing bogus. Today, Nigerians pay more for basic utilities. From food, cooking gas, petrol, to the rationed electricity, which is non-existent in some areas for upwards of one month, Nigerians pay more, despite earning less than they did at Independence.

Late last year, President Buhari ordered that only workers who are earning less than thirty thousand naira ($83 then) per month would for the meantime ‘enjoy’ the enhanced national minimum wage signed into law for all categories of workers in January 2019, ahead of the Presidential election in February 2019. But the prevailing exchange rate of N470 (at the parallel market) to the dollar today, has since creamed off the value of that gesture to a paltry $63 per month as minimum wage. Official data from even the government-owned agency, National Bureau of Statistics paint a gory picture: unemployment is projected above 33.5% by the end of 2020; inflation rate is 18.5%; Hanke’s Misery Index already ranks Nigeria sixth on its scale. Brookings Institute’s World Poverty Clock had recently ranked Nigeria as the world’s capital of poverty, taking over from India, in spite of its enormous oil earnings conservatively put at $26bn between October 2019 and March 2020 according to OPEC’s Revenue Fact Sheet. A sizeable chunk of these earnings goes back to the political class, who constitute less than 4% of the population. Although, issues about remunerations of politicians have been a discreet affair, it is believed that Nigeria has some of the best-paid political office holders in the world with senators receiving N36m, while some governors are entitled to ‘security vote’ worth, in some instances over N800m in a month.

These economic woes have triggered a new high in the country’s suicide rate, especially amongst the youths, who appear more at the receiving end, with the newspapers and social media awash with such stories too often. But while a report by Jude Uchendu, published by the Faculty of Pathology, National Postgraduate Medical College blames it on depression, the National Agency for Food Drug Administration, NAFDAC, had swiftly banned the open sale of Sniper, an insecticide often used by youths to terminate their lives.

At the National Assembly, Senator Rochas Okorocha, the former governor of Imo State, whose 8-year long tenure left years of arrears of pensions and salaries in his state, ironically suggested the creation of a Federal Ministry of Happiness as the solution to soaring suicide figures!

The youths are however designing alternatives for themselves. Some of them who are courageous and, of course, financially buoyant to afford costs of foreign trips have sought to escape these calamities by migrating to other countries. Where Europe (via dangerous voyages) and America appear a Herculean task, some opt for neighbouring Ghana or South Africa, where they are often subjected to xenophobic attacks. Nigerian officials are aware of this mistreatment and have been warning other African nations on the need to treat Nigerians in their countries with respect. “We in the Parliament must speak and prevent any further killings. These killings must stop. This is the era of social media where corpse of a victim may spark violence that may go beyond the control of government”, said Sen. Ahmad Lawan, the President of the Senate in Nigeria while hosting South Africa’s High Commissioner to Nigeria in his office at the height of the last xenophobic attack on Nigerians in South Africa.

Ghana, whose citizens had thronged Nigeria some three decades ago in search of menial jobs as cobblers, tailors and tillers are now kings, dictating how Nigerians would coexist with them in their country. At the moment, resolutions are still ongoing, with the Ghanaian authorities dragging their feet, over the imposition of $1m on Nigerians wishing to pursue trading in Ghana.

For Nigerians, young and old, the rising insecurity is just another nightmare, only comparable to their economic misery. Aside armed robbery, kidnapping and rape, unprovoked killings go on unabated and fingers are pointing at herders from the Fulani ethnic stock whose activities have neither been reprimanded nor punished. In 2019, the killing touched the fine fault line drawn by tribal sentiments, when Funke Olakunri, the daughter of a prominent southwest politician, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, was shot dead, exacerbating issues, with threats of tribal strife. On the strength of this, Nigeria’s former military and civilian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, penned President Buhari a long and disturbing letter which partially reads: ‘To be explicit and without equivocation, Mr. President and General, I am deeply worried about four avoidable calamities: abandoning Nigeria into the hands of criminals who are all being suspected, rightly or wrongly, as Fulanis and terrorists of Boko Haram type’.

To counter such invasions, regions are resorting to organised militia outfits to protect her people. In the southwest, Amotekun, has been formed in response to this development and many respected dignitaries are seeing this as cracks in the sovereignty of the nation. Ahead of the 60th Independence Anniversary, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, while representing the Vice President at a function hinted that urgent steps need to be taken to bring the country back from the brinks of corporate collapse. Many others have spoken up, including the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Enoch Adeboye.

In the middle belt, the food-producing basin of the country, the growing conflict between the herders and farmers have left productivity at about 25% , resulting in soaring food prices. According to a report by Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, of the Landmark University, in Kwara State titled: National Insecurity and the Challenges of Food Security in Nigeria: “The major threat to the agricultural sector is insecurity from both the Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen. In the northeast of Nigeria, the sustained terrorist activities of the Boko Haram have had negative impact on agricultural activities. Not only are farming activities incapable of being carried out under an insecure environment, domestic agricultural production is stifled, farming communities are displaced and access to regional market is blocked. In addition to the Boko Haram group, the Fulani herdsmen have become a major threat to farming communities due to incessant attacks on these communities with attendant fatalities”.

Data from Global Conflict Tracker marked the Boko Haram crisis as ‘unchanging’ with 37,500 fatalities and 2.5million displaced persons. However, in spite of the fact that Global Terrorism Index has classified the herders in Nigeria as the fourth most-deadly terrorist group in the world, the government often sees them as ‘harmless pastoralists defending their cows from marauding cattle thieves’.

At the moment, the herders are pitched in conflicts with so many communities around the country, especially in the southern and north-central regions.