When I came across the news that telecom operators are hinting at a tariff increase, I felt a hint of fever, much like the same kind I felt when petrol prices exploded to a ridiculously high one we are all paying through our noses for. The news report I read went that the leadership of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) said the current tariff regime in the telecom sector is not sustainable. Many reasons were fingered, with rising operating cost being a major culprit. Telecom services have become one of the most important, cutting across all demographics. Now, it’s beginning to look like it will – sooner or later – join other essentials in stratospheric movement.
Speaking of upward speed, food prices are currently in the realm of the ridiculous. Anyone who eats knows that food now costs way more than it used to some months ago. Feeding costs for a family of five are so grossly unrealistic, that one wonders how Nigerians are coping, especially in an economic reality where security guards and drivers earn N30,000 or worse. Do not even get me started on the take-home pay of teachers in public or private schools. It’s a double-whammy wherein a super-pathetic earning power is met by a naira that is staggering. It’s no wonder that all around Abuja, in public places, the number of ‘decent-looking’ people begging for money seems to be on a steady rise.
Prices of literally everything have doubled, or even tripled. Heck, quadrupled in some case. That is why these days, everywhere one looks, all one would see are mostly sad, hungry, and tired faces. Drive down any major road, and you would notice a mad number of people trekking, most times long distances to go home in the outskirts of the city, from a poor-paying job that probably makes no economic sense to keep, if not for its use as a placebo. They then go home to overpriced lodgings whose rent landlords seem hell-bent on injecting steroids into, every cycle. At home, there is little or no food, and an abundance of hungry children. Do you see the vicious circle somewhere in all of this?
One other elephant in the room is healthcare. Yes, there is health insurance, but I could write a whole book about how – as well-organised as it is – it is not serving the vast majority of Nigerians. Many citizens walk around with resolvable ailments, but dare not step into a hospital because of the high cost of healthcare. Even the ‘free’ government clinics have stories about them that I cannot begin to share here, even though most Nigerians know those all too well. There’s nothing basic about the basics anymore, as they seem like luxuries at the moment. Even auxiliaries like clothing, car maintenance, and other markers of a decent life have become distant, mythical achievements. We cannot continue like this.
There are many ways to skin a cat, true. In our case, Nigeria has a clutter of proverbial cats. That is why a proper, well-chosen economic team, a think-tank if you will, should be as a matter of emergency be set up by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and given enough potency and powers to find solutions to this our complicated economic problem. Finding a lasting solution is akin to rocket science, I agree. But don’t we have an abundance of ‘rocket scientists’ in our financial sector? By all means, let’s use them. I know I said this earlier, but we cannot continue like this. Nigeria has no business experiencing the level of suffering being felt right now. Perhaps the saddest part of all this, is that it could all get worse. God forbid.
The question remains: At what point does an average hard-working Nigerian become able to live a decent life with even half of basic needs within reach? At this very moment, one would not be lying to say an answer does not seem forthcoming. President Tinubu needs to girdle up fast, and do the needful. You know, be the president? The cliché that the Nigerian economy is a dollar-based one is a cliché because it is true, and repeatedly so. Sure, the naira gained a bit of traction last week, even prompting praise from this very column. But it appears to be sliding back again, which we all know will only aggravate the prices of everything else. It is time to use a firm hand, and a decisive stance for the rescue of our economy, and our very existence.