Nigerians sustain street rallies though sharply divided over the gains or pains so far recorded under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
For about three weeks Nigerians under different umbrellas have been on the streets to air their views on the situation in the country. One feature of the demonstrations is that they gave the impression that Nigerians are divided on the impact of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari on the economy, nay the lives of the people. While some groups insist that government has not been proactive enough to arrest the biting effect of the economic downturn, others lionise the President for his efforts in dealing with the nagging security crisis it inherited and the war on corruption. Just as they were trying to comprehend the reason President Buhari, who travelled to London on medical vacation did not return after the initial ten days as expected, some filed out to protest the unbearable cost of living and harmful economic policies of the government.
Barely four days after the February 6 mass protest against bad governance, organised by civil society groups in major cities – Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan and Port Harcourt, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, in collaboration with the Trade Union Congress, TUC, and popular musician, Charly Boy, marched the streets of Lagos and Abuja again to express the agony and deep pains Nigerians are passing through under the Buhari regime.
“This is a protest for all Nigerians and must be owned by the masses. We will troop out en masse to protest the state of the nation,” Charly Boy tweeted ahead of the protest. But after a long walk to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s office in Alausa, the protesters were barred from gaining entrance to deliver their message by heavily armed Policemen on guard.
At the National Assembly Complex in Abuja, organised labour led by NLC President, Ayuba Waba, declared that the workers were protesting the delay in the upward review of the minimum wage as the cost of living keeps increasing.“We are here to demand good governance and express our support in the fight against corruption. More importantly, we demand for respect for rule of law, greater accountability and transparency in governance. Today the exchange rate is N500 to one dollar and the salaries of Nigerian workers have remained the same. Therefore, we are here to urge the National Assembly to play an important role to ensure that life is made better for Nigerians,” Waba said, stressing that the living condition of workers is worsening because many of them are not being paid.
Bobboi Kaigama, president of TUC, while lamenting the difficult times Nigerians are facing, emphasised that “Nigerians are hungry, the cost of living is high, no houses, no light, and factories have gone comatose,” insisting that the economy must be reviewed.
Apparently touched by their plight, Bukola Saraki, president of the Senate, admitted that it was time to take action to address the numerous challenges confronting Nigerians. He said the time has come for the leaders to sit down and work out necessary adjustments, affirming that “It can’t continue this way, the exchange rate is high, the cost of things in the market have gone high, but only the workers’ salaries remain the same.”
Although they were not allowed to enter the Presidential Villa, a delegation of the labour leaders who later met with Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo demanded urgent attention to the economic problems facing Nigerians. The acting president was not in denial of the hardship in the land. That perhaps was comforting enough for the representatives of labour and civil society groups who met with him. Osinbajo assured the delegates led by TUC president that government would continue to work towards solving the economic problems facing the country by providing job opportunities for the unemployed and ensuring that corruption is checkmated. However, Osinbajo did not make any commitment for a short term solution to the worsening standard of living, leaving the impression that critical decisions on how to salvage the situation can only be taken by the President when he eventually returns from his medical vacation that has kept tongues wagging in Nigeria and beyond.
Just a day to the protest, Financial Times of London made a damning analysis of the Buhari regime, his absence and the economy. “His absence has sent the rumour mill of Africa’s most populous nation spinning with frequent erroneous reports that the president is dead. The tragedy for Nigeria is that policy making has been so ponderous during the 20 months since Mr Buhari took office that, dead or alive, it is not always easy to tell the difference,” Financial Times wrote. And in a couple of hours, the ever bubbling social media in Nigeria gave it the spread it deserved.
The organisers of the February 6 protests, tagged #IStandWithNigeria, had also deployed the social media to mobilise Nigerians to join the protest, mainly, out of frustration. They converged at various designated centres in some of the major cities. Not a few of the protesters and indeed, those who couldn’t join in the march were incensed by price list of foodstuff, daily needs and building materials that have increased astronomically, in some cases, beyond the reach of the ordinary Nigerian. But as the protest against hardship in the land gained ascendancy some other groups also sprang up to, as they said, stand with Buhari.
They enumerate the gains recorded by the Buhari administration in the ongoing war on corruption. They have a point, for the government has recovered billions of naira appropriated by people who served in various capacities before the advent of this administration. They also expressed hope that the series of discoveries and prosecution of suspects will deter people in the civil service and public office. The pro-Buhari campaigners also laud his administration for the strides in agriculture. But those who started the protest insist that good governance is lacking. They condemned the pains inflicted by the multiple exchange rates and the uncertain economy policy.
On the first day of the protest, private sector operators and others described as key stakeholders in the development process of the national economy plan were engaged by the federal government in what seemed to be a shower of genuine desire to rapidly grow the economy. Participants at the two-day summit on government’s National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, NERGP, pointed out that diligent implementation is key to achieving the set targets. At the federal executive council meeting held this week, the council approved the plan. It is due for launch later this month.
Business leaders and heads of various chambers of commerce and industry across the country, who gathered at the consultative forum, pointed out that past development plans were hampered by either lack of or poor implementation. They were of the view that if the plan of the federal government is to achieve the desired objective, structures must be put in place for implementation, effective monitoring and evaluation.
The acting president, who presided over the session, assured that government was determined to put back the Nigerian economy on a sound footing through the diligent implementation of the recovery and growth plan. While acknowledging that there is suffering in the land occasioned by the current economic downturn, he blamed the crisis on several years of deterioration and corruption.
He, however, acknowledged that it is the responsibility and duty of government to ensure that the economy is put back on a sound footing and the slide in economic fortunes arrested for the benefit of the people and the country. In the short term, the acting president said the government has intervened in several ways to mitigate the sufferings of the people, including giving bailouts to state governments to enable them to pay the backlog of workers’ salaries.
Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, said major emphasis will be on implementation, monitoring and evaluation of government’s plans to set up a specially staffed delivery unit to drive implementation.
Udoma said the plan being discussed is a medium-term plan, which is expected to drive Nigeria to a minimum GDP growth rate of seven per cent within the plan period. “Our goal is to have an economy with low inflation, stable exchange rates, and a diversified and inclusive growth,” he said.
He emphasised that the key to success lies in the seriousness of the execution aspect of the process, stating that the immediate execution priorities of the NERGP are agriculture and food security; energy (power and petroleum); small businesses and industrialisation as well as stabilising the macroeconomic environment. The Minister said the forum was in keeping with government’s promise to consult widely and harvest inputs from the relevant sectors and professionals to enrich the plan and make it all inclusive.
But why the government waited for Nigerians to begin to protest against bad governance and economic hardship before they rolled out an economic recovery plan beats the imagination of many. Within and outside the country, there is a strong feeling that the Buhari administration has a rudderless economic team and policies.
Price list of items: Why Nigerians Are On The Streets
12.5kg of gas from N2,500 to N5,300
A Litre of kerosene from N100 to N500
A Litre of petrol from N87 to N145
A Litre of diesel from N140 to N270
A Tin of milk from N140 to N200
10 kg of Semovita from N1,700 to N3000
A Congo of beans from N200 to N550
75cl of palm oil from 150 to N1000
A Congo of Guinea corn from N70 to N300
A Sachet of noodle from N35 to N100
A Congo of Sugar from N240 to N900
A Bundle of Aluminium roofing sheets from N13,000 to 30,000
A Bag of rice from N8,000 to 23,000
A bag of Cement from N1000 to N2,300
A Dollar from N170 to N518
A Bag of flour from N6,000 to N12,000
A Bongo of garri from N80 to N250
A Tube of motorcycle tyre from N1,500 to N5,000
A4 Printing papers from N650 to N1,500.
The Principles of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan as articulated by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning
Focus on tackling constraints to growth. Nigerian growth faces various supply constraints including fuel, power, foreign exchange, and even business unfriendly regulation. This Plan focuses on overcoming and resolving these input challenges.
Leverage the power of the private sector. Economic recovery and transformative growth cannot be achieved by the government alone. It is essential to harness the entrepreneurial nature of Nigerians, from the MSMEs to the large domestic and multinational corporations.
Promote national cohesion and social inclusion. The ultimate beneficiary of more inclusive growth is the average Nigerian man and woman. This Plan ensures social inclusion in its initiatives with the end goal of strengthening national cohesion.
Allow markets to function. We recognise the power of markets to drive optimal behaviour among market participants. The Plan prioritises the use of the market as a means of resource allocation where possible and supports a more business-friendly economic environment.
Uphold core values. The ERGP is rooted in the core values that define Nigerian society and are enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, notably discipline, integrity, the dignity of labour, social justice, religious tolerance, self-reliance and patriotism. It requires all citizens and stakeholders to adhere to these principles in the bid to reposition and grow the economy in a sustainable manner.