By Amir Abdulazeez
Some weeks ago, I was caught up in a debate involving some people trying to justify the Federal Government of Nigeria’s ban on Twitter and those who opposed it. If I am to be fair to both groups, every side had some very good points, strong enough to sway a neutral person to their side. However, one thing remains fundamental and clear even to the debaters; the Twitter ban will not solve any of our short and long-term problems, including the very ones for which the Federal Government used to justify the ban.
It will not be difficult for any critical observer to note that the Buhari administration had not taken lightly any action that will or can undermine official state authority or that of the President since its coming in 2015. This is perhaps why over 1000 Shiites were allegedly killed in the administration’s early days for blocking the way of the Chief of Army Staff, among other things. It may also be why IPOB and End SARS protesters were not treated with the kid gloves with which bandits and mass murderers of ordinary citizens are apparently treated. Twitter had not offended ordinary Nigerians as much as it had offended the Presidency and hence the ban. Regardless, at least the ban is a strong message that not everything can be tolerated by Nigeria, especially the sort of highhanded arbitrariness on the part of the social media tech giant.
A few hours before the ban came into effect, I was surfing the platform to catch up with the day’s national and international news when I came across an interesting statement credited to ex-Senator Dino Melaye. Melaye was reported to have said that any Nigerian that survived this APC’s administration to its end alive deserves a certificate of survival. I don’t know whether he actually said that or not, but the statement is typical of him. Besides, the truth is that ordinary Nigerians are currently receiving the suffering of their lives.
According to the Consumer Price Index report, recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s inflation rate for May 2021 stands at 17.93%, a slight drop from April 2021, which was 18.12%. Food which is the most critical item, recorded an inflation rate of 22.28% in May. This is the highest since April of 2017. Nigeria ranks 13th in the global inflation table and 7th in Africa, making it among the worst worldwide. At less than $80 per month, Nigeria’s minimum wage is one of the poorest in the world. A substantial percentage of the Nigerian population has been reduced to begging. The crime rate in almost every state of the federation is on the increase; income is static, expenditure is growing, no jobs and opportunities.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures the change over time in the prices of 740 goods and services consumed by people for day-to-day living. The index weights are based on expenditures of both urban and rural households in the 36 states. How good a measure it is to quantify our real suffering from this hyperinflation is another question of its own.
Our real problem is that these figures only give us an idea but not an accurate picture of the cost of living in the country. We all know that these figures are mainly hypothetical; we have essential goods and services that have recorded a 100% increase in prices within weeks. Another concern is that other countries facing inflation are somehow doing well relatively. For example, the twelve countries worse than Nigeria in the global inflation ranking are better off in terms of peace and security (except maybe Syria) and prosperity (except perhaps Sudan and South Sudan).
The country faces multiple, unprecedented and overwhelming security challenges from all fronts. With no clear end in sight, many people in some parts of the country live every day in uncertainty while helplessly waiting for the worst. In parts of Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and Niger States, people live to tell the daily stories of tragedy while hopelessly waiting to be consumed like their brethren. Survival has become a privilege these days.
The government is overwhelmed and had resorted to foreign debts to keep the collapsing economy working. Nigeria’s External Debt has reached $32.9 billion US Dollars as of March 2021. Roughly, each Nigerian is indebted to the tune of 65,000 to 70,000 Naira at the official exchange rate of dollar to Naira. We have not stopped borrowing; a substantial amount of our current and future budgets still depends on external borrowing. We are not talking of internal debt.
Ordinary Nigerians are finding life unbearable. Are these sufferings temporary? What are we doing to stop this? Why is every previous year better? How does the future look like for ourselves and our children? How many of us will survive this? Is survival our emerging national culture and priority? People are employing any available means to stay alive, thereby gradually turning societies into jungles where everyone wants to thrive even at the expense of others.
What is the overall implication of all these? Now here comes the real danger. When a greater majority of a country’s citizens are preoccupied with how to survive, no one will be left to create and add the value that will take the country to the promised land. When most people spend 75% of their time trying to fetch their families amidst rising costs and harsh conditions, they can only spend the remaining 25% to rest against the subsequent struggle, leaving them with zero time to think and create anything. When almost everyone lives to attain Dino Melaye’s survival certificate, we will have no other aspirations other than food and shelter. The result will be a backward nation that will remain static for only God knows when.
We cannot say that the current government is doing nothing about all these challenges, but they are doing nothing revolutionary. Measures like N-power, Conditional Cash Transfer and the likes are cosmetic, inadequate and unsustainable. Even their effects in the short term are too minimal to reflect on the general quality of national life. First and foremost, the country must have a comprehensive and exhaustive national development plan with inputs from local, state and federal stakeholders. This plan must be well developed, implemented and not politicized. If needs be, it should be backed by legislation. Government appointees at any time must be people that understand and can implement that plan religiously irrespective of their demography and political affiliations.
The development plan should strengthen sectors like manufacturing, power, infrastructure, security, and justice because such sectors can automatically create and consolidate direct and indirect development. For example, if there is adequate security and power supply, independent businesses would run for 24 hours. When some people who conduct businesses during the day are asleep, some others resting during the day will operate businesses during the night. Nigerian companies will work for 24 hours with no valuable time to waste, thereby hugely increasing productivity. We should be able to produce most of the goods we import.
When power is available, thousands of jobs would be created both directly and indirectly. Therefore, rather than investing in providing direct jobs that cannot satisfy all, let the government strengthen security and power. We have seen what the telecommunication and entertainment industries have done to our economy through direct and indirect jobs creation with ripple effects. I think that success can be replicated in many other sectors. When this is done, governments will rely on happy and self-employed citizens for taxes rather than the other way round.
Unfortunately, we cannot implement essential solutions now and then because politics has been our number one national priority since 1999. This has made many people lose interest in providing any meaningful input to the Nigerian development discourse. I have received countless messages over the last eight months, including from some newspaper editors over my long break from analytical writing with some enquiring on what must be responsible. I usually didn’t have any consistent answer; sometimes, I’ll only compose any reply that comes to mind.
Whatever will be said has been said many times before. We just lack the will as a nation to take the bull by the horn. Just some days ago, a reader reminded me that it had been a year since I wrote an opinion piece asking why. I doubted and quickly went to my personal online blog only to confirm what he said was indeed true. I was surprised myself; the reader didn’t know that I am currently battling to obtain my own Certificate of Survival.