Two months into the administration of President Bola Tinubu, with its renewed hope mantra, Nigerians are groaning following the soaring high cost of living.
The hope of survival for many is dimming as the days go by. The situation has become so alarming that even the rich are beginning to feel the heat.
When the World Bank released a report towards the end of last month that about four million Nigerians have been thrown into the poverty class between January and June this year, and even warned that another 7.1 million were expected to join the league if the subsidy removal was not properly managed, many did not take it seriously. Many Nigerians, particularly those sympathetic to the fuel subsidy removal, dismissed the report with a wave of the hand.
Today, the reality of the World Bank’s warning has dawned on Nigerians as the effect of the subsidy removal on fuel is spreading agony and pain across all sectors of the country’s national life. In fact, the belief in some quarters is that the people’s lives do not matter as long as the elite and the political class are comfortable.
Only last week, hordes of women took to the streets in some parts of the north to protest what they called the unbearable high cost of living. The protesting women whose pictures trended on social media space on Sunday said they were protesting against the rising cost of living.
As they marched through the major roads, they chanted, “Komi yayi sadar,” meaning everything is expensive, especially grains. The women’s predicament in the north is worsened by the activities of the Boko Haram Islamist sect, bandits and kidnappers, who have prevented farmers from going to farm.
This precarious security situation has affected food production and thrown many subsistence farmers into acute shortage of food.
Their situation is also worsened by the fuel subsidy removal which has shot up the prices of most essential commodities, including food beyond the rooftop.
Again, some civil society groups under the aegis of the Edo Civil Society Organisations, on Monday, equally took to the streets of Benin City, the state capital, to protest against the hardship brought upon Nigerians by the recent hike in fuel prices following the subsidy removal.
The protesters, who marched through some major streets also condemned the fuel price increase and the high cost of governance in Nigeria.
They carried placards with such inscription as, “Say no to continuous hike in fuel price,” “FG, allow the poor to breathe,” and “Stop choking us,” among others, while they chorused the late Afro-beat legend, Fella Anikulapo Kuti’s song, “Nigerian government, animal talk be that.”
They lamented that the new National Assembly members were made to share huge sums of money running into billions of naira to improve their working conditions, while the downtrodden groaned under the new fuel regime with its attendant astronomical rise in prices of food and other essential commodities.
They equally rejected the proposed N8000 palliative to 12 million households by the federal government.
According to one of the protesters, Olu Martins, the Federal Government should have put the necessary palliatives in place before going ahead with the new policies, now taking a serious toll on Nigerians.
The Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly, Blessing Agbebaku, who addressed the protesters at the Assembly complex, called for patience, even as he stressed that he was on the same page with the protesters over the proposed palliatives.
The Edo protest by the civil society organisations and the one in the north by disillusioned women are coming less than two months after President Tinubu declared that the subsidy era was gone. Since that singular announcement, Nigerians have not been the same. The price of fuel has risen from N164 per litre to between N567 and N700 per litre depending on the part of the country one is buying the product from.
While the Federal Government insisted that the move was in the best interest of the country, analysts argued that it would plunge the country into crisis.
Another Northern group, the Arewa Citizens Watch for Good Governance (ACWGG) has threatened to mobilise its members and civil society organisation for a mass protest against hunger, and rising cost of living.
The group lamented that the hunger and prevailing high cost of living in the country was officially induced, and warned that if the federal government failed to address its demands within 10 days, it would embark on a mass peaceful protest.
Some of the group’s demands include urgently rolling out palliatives to cushion the effect of the subsidy removal, putting in place adequate security measures so that farmers can go to farm as well as the immediate removal of the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL), Mele Kyari, for misleading President Tinubu into removing petrol subsidy without provision of palliative measures among others.
It lamented that millions of voiceless Nigerians were suffering following escalating prices of foodstuff and high cost of living in the country, and called for a comprehensive investigation into the subsidy regime and the corruption allegations within the oil and gas sector, as evidenced by the suspicious drop in daily consumption of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) and the astronomic rise in the general revenue of the country.
“The recent increase in NNPCL’s output, without corresponding investment in the company, has instead exposed the pervasive corruption within the sector. We find it alarming that the company was declaring paltry production volume, which falls short of our OPEC quota even though the country has not recorded any major disaster.
“The criminals in the oil and gas sector are only responding to the body language of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed’s zero tolerance to bad governance, hence, the magical performance by people desperate to keep their offices. This raises serious doubts about the integrity and competence of the current leadership at NNPCL,” the group stated.
Responding to the protest in the north, a former gubernatorial candidate in Lagos, Babatunde Gbadamosi, said it was sparked by rising living costs as a result of fuel subsidy removal, even as he advised President Tinubu to prepare to vacate the office as Nigeria’s president.
He noted that change was on the horizon.
“Small small, it will start. Let us see if soldiers and police will dare to shoot these ones. Tinubu, start packing,” he said.
He further stressed that the protest is a clear demonstration of the growing frustration among citizens regarding cost of living.
“The protesters’ demands for better economic conditions and affordable necessities are resoundingly loud across the nation, sparking concerns for the stability of the region,” he added.
His message seems to emphasise the need for peaceful demonstrations, while at the same time expressing his belief in the inevitability of change, suggesting that even the most powerful figures, such as Tinubu, may have to face the consequences of popular discontent.
“The call for restraints and dialogue is becoming more urgent as tensions and the demand for change resonate beyond northern Nigeria’s borders,” he noted.
The pan Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere has also raised the alarm over the current high cost of living in Nigeria.
Afenifere complained about the impact of the rise in fuel price, which has worsened the economic woes of Nigerians. The group accused the government officials of living in affluence while they tell the common people to make sacrifices.
Speaking on the current hardship that Nigerians are passing through as a result of subsidy removal on fuel, the president of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Pogu Bitrus could not agree less with the Yoruba group.
He noted that Nigerians were really suffering because of the hike in fuel price and wondered why the current government and even the previous ones have remained adamant about fixing the country’s refineries.
He agreed that the debate around the subsidy and its removal has been a contentious issue from one government to the other, but expressed doubt about the reality of the term subsidy.
He noted that even if there was anything like a subsidy, the removal was ill timed.
“Today, we are told that the subsidy has been removed and that we are going to pay for the cost of fuel at international price. The question is: where are we getting the fuel from? Is it not our own fuel? Why can’t the government instead be committed to building refineries and ensuring that they work? To me, it is all deceit.
“Secondly, is it the right time to remove subsidy if at all there is anything called subsidy, because the rationale is still being queried all over the place?
“If indeed there is subsidy, is it the right time for its removal right? I don’t think so because nothing has been put in place to take care of it and the government has not told us that there is anything being done to put the refinery in place.
“We have the petroleum products, why can’t we refine it. Which kind of government is this? One government after the other, the same game is being played. Why is it so?
“It means there is something; maybe this subsidy thing is a conduit pipe where governments at different levels find ways of syphoning Nigeria’s money into their pocket, otherwise why is it the same problem every time,” he stated.
Standing with the Afenifere, he said: “As far as I am concerned, Nigerians are suffering and if anybody feels otherwise, it is up to the person, but Nigerians are suffering.
“So, if we have a government that is caring, then there is a need to revisit the subsidy, unless it is a government of the rich by the rich and for the rich.
“In that case, it is not a democracy because democracy is the government of the people by the people and for the people, but from what is going on now, it is the government of the rich by the rich and for the rich.”
In his contribution, president of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima said the government must be responsible enough to know that Nigerians are suffering because the essence of government is to make life easier for the people.
He advised the government to look inward and see how the leaders could cut the cost of governance.
“To that extent, all hands must be on deck; everybody must have to face the reality. When we talk about sacrifice, it is not just about the people, the government or the leaders on their part must do something.
“Leaders must cut costs. This madness about convoy and allowances of all sorts, including cars, wardrope, furniture and domestic staff must be stopped. The long convoy must be reduced.
“So many things must be reduced so that the money will be properly used for the welfare of the people; that is how it is done in other parts of the world,” he said.
He decried a situation where only the citizens are urged to make sacrifices, saying, “You can’t ask citizens to make sacrifices while you continue to enjoy all the luxuries of this life, packing money from everywhere, moving with all kinds of convoys and putting security all over yourself and your friends. This madness must stop. The leaders must make sacrifices.”
He further stated: “The citizens know that they are already dead; it is just for them to be buried. The fact still remains that you can’t govern people who are dead; you can only govern people who are alive and it is the responsibility of the government to provide for them.
“So, leaders must make sacrifices so that at the end of the day, we can move on, pending when things will be clearer.
“Already, they know that there is suffering in the land and people are dying on a daily basis. This must stop because if we all die, they would have no one to govern.”