Food is a basic requirement for human existence. Any threat to its availability or affordability is, therefore, a threat to human existence. When people experience either of these two threats, the first casualty is naturally the peace that is subsisting among the people. It, therefore, did not come as a surprise when women in Kpakungu area of Minna, Niger State, blocked the Minna-Bida road to peacefully protest the high cost of living; the same reason spontaneously prompted their men who accused government of turning deaf years to their plight to join the non-violent protest.
Another peaceful protest of a small group of people reportedly took place in Kano the same day Monday, February 5, 2024, also, for the same reason. But probably dissatisfied with the impact of their Monday outing, a larger group of Kano residents trooped out again on Thursday, February 8, 2024, around Kurna, Rijiyar Lemo, and Bachirawa areas along Katsina road in Fagge and Ungogo local government areas of Kano State, to bemoan the worsening economic situation in the country. One of them who spoke to newsmen said they staged the protest because they had been pushed to the wall. Before the second protest in Kano, a second one metamorphosed in Suleja in Niger State, two days after the first one in Minna; also, to decry the record-rising inflation on food items and essential commodities.
Since then, the protest over the high cost of living has continued to spread passively. On Friday, February 9, 2024 for instance, youths in their numbers carried placards and stormed the MDS Street in Osobgo, Osun State, to lament the unceasing hardship, poverty, and insecurity of lives bedeviling residents of the state. In Yobe State, residents of Potiskum, under the auspices of the United Marketers Association Potiskum (UMAPO) on Friday, February 9, 2024 offered special prayers to seek divine relief over the soaring cost of living plaguing the country.
In a press statement signed and released on February 8, 2024 by the Secretary-General of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), Dr Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, JNI lamented the spate of poverty amidst inflation regime; calling on the federal and state governments to urgently intervene before the situation worsens. On the other hand, the Catholic Bishops of Ibadan Ecclesiastical Province decried the precarious socio-economic situation in the country and called for immediate interventions to lessen the sufferings of Nigerians.
Speaking before the Senate Committee on Banking and Finance to explain the current inflation crisis, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Senator Abubakar Kyari, identified smuggling of food by Nigerians to neighbouring countries as one of the factors affecting food supply. The minister added that devaluation of the naira, which had made food in Nigeria the cheapest across the West African sub-region, accounts for the huge smuggling of grains. This explanation is not tenable because government, not citizens, is in charge of the borders and has a mandate to check activities of smugglers.
The repeated hope-raising assertions by government that citizens would soon forget the pains of the current hardship is not helping to comfort hungry and angry Nigerians who are now running out of patience. The recent threat by organised Labour (the Nigeria Labour Congress-NLC and the Trade Union Congress-TUC) to embark on strike at the expiration of a 14-day ultimatum cannot be isolated from lip-service paid by government to the welfare of Nigerians. Had it been its promises to Labour were fulfilled, the economic situation in the country would not have worsened to the current level.
Sadly, while all Nigerians are looking towards the federal government for solution, the state governors appear to have isolated themselves from it all. This inaction by state governments further complicates Nigeria’s economic crisis. By now, we expected that governors would have rolled out measures at addressing the situation while waiting for the federal government to act. All state governors must begin to look inwards and seek solution to the problem. At the moment states are receiving more allocation than before, and so, there is no reason why there should be no changes in the living conditions of their people.
Nigerians were living witnesses of how the billions earlier released to states in lieu of palliatives failed to make any concrete impact on the life of citizens. With a boost in the revenue that accrue to states from the Federation Account, workers and pensioners are still being owed entitlements, in addition to the non-implementation of the national minimum wage by many states. All these reasonably explain why nothing significant has changed in the life of citizens across the 36 states of the federation.
Although, the federal government ordered the immediate release of 102 metric tonnes of grains, which experts say is a drop in the ocean, no state has through its ministry of agriculture, taken practical measures to impact positively on their respective food supply chain. They lack measures to check the alleged smuggling of grains and the activities of middlemen who mop up cereals from markets after harvest.
With the large span of arable lands across states, it is unfortunate that none appears to conspicuously have strategic agricultural initiatives planned to meet the economic interests, as well as the survival needs of its own people.
Perhaps, due to over-reliance on the federal government, states have not only failed to explore and develop the natural resources in their domains, but abysmally failed to bring development closer to their people. If they did, such efforts would have tamed the present endemic rate of poverty and unemployment in the country. It is difficult to say what value agencies of the federal government replicated in the states have added to national programmes designed to reduce poverty and unemployment. State governors must rise to the occasion by reducing cost of governance with a view to pragmatically supporting and promoting the development of the country’s agricultural potentials. The future of developing countries lies in their resolve to become suppliers of skills and commodities, not consumers.
While these protests must not be taken for granted, the federal and state governments must act quickly, individually and collectively, fashion out practical measures that will take Nigerians out of the despair. Specifically, we call on state governors to do their part. The time to act is now.