The misery in the land

THE prevalence of poverty and hunger in Nigeria requires no rigorous  verification. It is very obvious for every dispassionate observer to see. The lamentation is everywhere, from state  and local government workers being owed arrears of salaries to artisans who are witnessing unprecedentedly low customer patronage.  Traders who cannot sell their wares whose prices have gone up astronomically abound. They cannot even lower the prices to attract effective demand because the upsurge in prices simply reflects production or acquisition costs. The 2016 quarters one and two performance results of many corporations have been poor.  The list of woes is endless. It is so bad that reported cases of suicide arising from deprivation-induced frustration are on ascendance. There was even a reported case of a father who surreptitiously pledged his son in exchange for food items. Things have never been this bad since the return to civil rule in 1999. The suffering in the land is appalling.

Not surprisingly, the otherwise reticent and docile Nigerians have started to speak up, against the backrop of the virtual absence of virile opposition political parties to keep the governing party on its toes.  From elder statesmen to the pulpit and the ordinary Nigerians on social media platforms, there has been a deluge of calls on the government to fix the economy and reduce the suffering of the masses. Recently,  a  former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon,  known  for  his   conservative  disposition to the establishment, pointedly called on President Mohammadu Buhari to fix the economy. Even the neighbouring countries which depend on Nigeria have been lamenting.

But the real worry is that this misery may remain for a while because the Federal Government seems  to  have  no  clue  about what to do to ameliorate the deplorable condition of the economy in the immediate period. The economy is in recession, as admitted by the  Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun,  but no giant steps have been taken to launch a veritable recovery bid except the seeming wholesale recourse to market forces to correct the anomalies in the economy. And until the market regulates itself, the suffering continues. Yet there are other routes to take. For instance, rather than embarking on an unending lamentation about the near comatose economy that George Bush (Jnr) bequeathed to him, Barack Obama, the US President, immediately after assumption of office, pursued aggressive revival strategies. A fiscal stimulus package was put together to help sick and dying corporations, many of which have since paid back the public funds and are doing very well in terms of profitability and job absorptive capacity.

However, in Nigeria today, the quantum and speed of fiscal spending are painfully low and incapable of stimulating the economy. Sadly, too, the disbursement of the half a trillion naira specific social protection fund in the approved national budget of year 2016 has yet to commence. The delay in the implementation of this poverty alleviation programme is worrisome and smacks of insensitivity. Economic activities are awfully slow. There is paucity of fund everywhere, many people cannot buy enough or buy at all, yet the prices of basic necessities, especially food items, have soared to the rooftops, which is emblematic of cost rather than demand-pull inflation.

To reverse this ugly trend quickly, emphasis should be on interventionist strategies while the market mechanism plays its role in the medium to long terms. In this connection, the Federal Government must begin the implementation of its poverty alleviation programme in earnest while granting more loans to the state governments to offset the salary arrears owed civil servants and pensioners. That way, the workers would be able to pay their creditors and the entire system will enjoy the liquidity it badly needs in the immediate period.

Ultimately, however, with the low international prices of crude oil and even in the unlikely event that they fully rebound, the revenue allocation formula which seems to impoverish the states has to be revisited in addition to devolution of power to the federating units. There is a lot of duplicity of functions at the centre which only serves to bloat the cost of governance. This is very crucial because as long as the states and local governments which are closer to the people remain financially unviable, poverty, hunger, suffering and their attendant consequences will be hard to curtail in the land.