This year, 2020, will go down in the history as the worst year ever for many Nigerians. Not even during the country’s civil war years were the people subjected to as much hardship as it has happened this year. The agony of destitution is everywhere, pain of hunger has escalated, sting of deprivation is ubiquitous and the reality of poverty is now widespread.
In a season when governments across the globe are rolling out measures to cushion the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on their people, at a time when countries are giving hope to their citizens to see beyond what is happening and look forward to a brighter and better future, the Nigerian government has consistently tightened the noose around the citizens’ necks as if to strangulate them, making many to wonder if it is a sin to be a Nigerian.
The primary duty of those in leadership is to protect the vulnerable and make life and living better for them. But the reverse is the case in Nigeria as the government has abandoned welfare and has exposed the citizens to the harsh economic situation without batting an eyelid, thus leaving Nigerians to wonder if it is a crime to be a Nigerian.
This year, the government raised the Value Added Tax by 50 per cent. As the nation was just coming out of the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in massive job loss and extensive salary cut, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) approved a 50 per cent hike in electricity tariff. The following day, the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the NNPC, announced a hike in the ex-depot price of Premium Motor Spirit (petrol). These hikes have left many Nigerians wondering if the government actually cares whether they live or die.
Perhaps the government does not know, but the glaring reality is that not only will these hikes make life difficult for many Nigerians they will push many into extreme poverty because inflation rate will escalate, prices of food items will increase, transportation cost will skyrocket, rents will go up and quality of life will go down. Before the advent of COVID-19, more than 82million Nigerians lived below the poverty line, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The NBS, in a report published in May this year, had said, “In Nigeria, 40.1 per cent of total population were classified as poor. In other words, on average four out of 10 individuals in Nigeria have real per capita expenditures below 137,430 naira ($352) per year.” With the latest developments, the population of the poor must have risen considerably.
President Muhammadu Buhari last year said the government would lift 10million Nigerians out of poverty every year for the next 10 years. But how can that be a reality when the government through its policies makes it difficult for businesses to thrive? How would poverty be tackled in the country when the government has made citizen impoverishment a state policy? How can poverty be ended in this country when the government through its policies is shrinking the economy? How can poverty become history in Nigeria when the citizens’ productive capacity is incapacitated?
The government has ceaselessly tried to justify the upward review of the price of essential services and products, especially electricity and fuel, but the justification cannot stand any serious scrutiny. Let’s take PMS as an instance. The only reason Nigeria pays so much for petrol is because the product is imported, though we produce the crude in Nigeria. The high cost of PMS is due to freight and other aligned factors. If the crude we produce in Nigeria is refined locally, the price of crude would be much lower than it is. Now, for whatever reason, the government has failed to refine crude locally and has resorted to importing the products. The current administration, before taking over, promised to build new refineries. But not only has it failed to build new refineries, the ones that it inherited have gone comatose. Therefore, what Nigerians are paying for as high cost of petroleum products is nothing other than government failure.
So, it is a lie for the government to claim that it is subsidizing Nigerians. The fact is that by paying far above what should be the local price of petroleum products, Nigerians are subsidizing government’s failure and incompetence.
While it is bad enough that the government is passing the cost of its incompetence, corruption and failure to the people, it is worse that this is coming at a time when other countries are providing succor for their own people. Nigerians are at their lowest ebb ever. More Nigerians are poorer now than ever. Nigerians are more vulnerable now than they had ever been. So, Nigerians need more help now than they had ever needed. But the government is oblivious to this. The Nigerian government apparently operates from another planet so it does not feel the pains of the people. The Nigerian government does not see the teary eyes of millions who go to bed without food and wake up without hope. The Nigerian government does not hear the cries of the children wailing on the streets, neither is it aware of the frustration of millions of able-bodied young men and women whose youthful years are being lost to joblessness.
Pray, has the government lost its heart? Has it lost its sense of feeling? Can the government no longer hear? Can it not see the terrible state of the citizens? Can it not rescue the people? Why does the cry of the people fail to attract empathy? Why do Nigerians planted in an endowed country live like the wretched of the earth? The only plausible explanation is that those in charge have lost their hearts.
This certainly is the worst time to be a Nigerian!
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