Feature: How economic hardship is pressing Nigerians harder

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These are not the best times for the ordinary Nigerian as economic hardship is almost crushing them but the government seems not to have an answer to the predicament.

For instance, Helen Reuben, a mother of four who resides in the Dutsen Alhaji area of Abuja, is struggling to come to terms with the rising prices of commodities in the market.

For Helen and many Nigerians, the economic situation is frustrating because most times, when she goes to the market with a budget to stock up the house, she spends more on just a little.

“Even when you manage to buy something from the market, if you go back in two hours, don’t be surprised if the price has increased,” she said.

She fears that prices of food items could soar higher during the yuletide and that many households may not be able to celebrate the festive period.

“I don’t know how I’ll celebrate Christmas with my family because foodstuff prices keep rising, and we can barely feed.”

Similarly, Vivian Okorie, a housewife, said she only came to the market to buy an item or two and was “merely being hopeful” for the situation to turn around positively.

“You see, this Christmas, if it’s garri we see to drink, my family and I will not mind since the government does not care about what Nigerians are going through.”

If care is not taken, Nigeria, the most populous and supposedly the biggest African economy, may be heading to a total economic collapse.

The country’s precarious situation is indicated by the current 33 per cent unemployment rate, over 21 per cent inflation rate, the sharp decline of the value of the naira, the weakening of the nation’s foreign reserve, the rising cost of living, especially the soaring food prices among other negative economic indicators.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently released the Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which revealed that about 63 per cent of the nation’s population, which is about 133 million people, is living in multi-dimensional poverty. This revelation painted a bad situation of the country to a level of emergency.

Despite global uncertainties, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its World Economic Outlook (WEO) for July 2022, retained a projected economic growth of 3.4 per cent for Nigeria in 2022.

But the country’s economic policies have also been a blaze of absurdities and ironies.

Over the years, the government has made little or no attempts to conceive and implement actionable short-term or long-term development plans.

The current national economic plan for 2021 to 2025, which harps on taking about 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, deals more with absolute numbers rather than realities.

The government has traditionally set up economic teams at all levels to advise the government on the best economic policies.

However, in most instances, these teams comprise economic theorists who are more concerned with propagating macro-economic theories which do not reflect the realities on the ground.

The outcome is that the micro and informal sectors, the economy’s engine room, are neglected.

There has also been much emphasis on building infrastructures and less on human capital development.

Economic experts have opined that infrastructural development is good, but it should be tailored towards economic sustainability rather than political expediency (advantage).

A looming food crisis

With its growing population, Nigeria faces a severe food crisis due to insecurity in many parts of the country that has affected cultivation in the last three years. With growing inflation and the declining value of the naira, the situation requires an urgent turnaround to save the country from a total economic collapse.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s inflation rate rose to 20.77 per cent in September 2022, up from 20.52 per cent in the previous month. This represents the highest rate since September 2005, according to data tracked by Nairalytics, a web portal that publishes Nigeria’s historical macroeconomic data.

A recent IMF report projected that Nigeria might slide into a severe food crisis due to the recent flood.  The flood across 33 states, the worst in 10 years, affected many commercial and subsistence farms, raising concerns that a food crisis is imminent in the country.

The IMF predicted that since recent floods have affected agricultural productivity, food prices would worsen in 2023, adding that the volatility in the value of the naira, the Federal Government’s continued dependence on the Central Bank of Nigeria for financing its budget deficit, and climate change were also risk factors.

The Washington-based lender disclosed this in its ‘Nigeria: Staff Concluding Statement of the 2022 Article IV Mission’ report.

Still, the federal government has quickly disclaimed the report, assuring Nigerians that measures have been put in place to mitigate any food crises in the country.

However, Nigeria is already deep in a food crisis as the rising cost of food items did not just happen; it has been a long time in the making.

Chris Ogonna, a rice retailer, is worried that a bag of rice that is sold for N33,000 may go for as much as N50,000 at the end of the year.

Also, Inusa Mustapha, who sells onions, potatoes and some other perishables at the popular Dutsen Alhaji market, said he was initially going to the core northern states to purchase his goods directly from the farmers until insecurity made travelling along many highways a suicide mission. Mustapha now relies on middlemen who have seized the opportunity to inflate the prices.

Similarly, a woman, identified as mama Nkem, a frozen foods dealer, says she has no option than to increase the prices of her stock, despite complaints by her customers.

According to her, she is out to “make profits, no matter how little.”

“As Christmas is approaching, the prices will still go up. We only pray that we will be able to make some sales because we know that the situation will not be a funny one.”

What must be done?

Some economic experts believe that the country can still come out of the looming crisis if the government does the right things quickly.

Mathew Adefemi, a business economist, urged the government to implement actionable short and long-term economic plans that must be subjected to post-mortems, reviews and readjustments.

He added that all the economic plans must be beneficial to the people else it should be discarded for a better option.

Adefemi further suggested that economic planners should encourage the development of the non-oil sector, which contributes more to the GDP than the oil, adding that the micro, medium and small enterprises MSMEs should be supported as they are the engine room of the economy.

On his part, Paul Sandas, a business economist, also advised the government to “ensure that economic plans which project absolute numbers should be discarded in favour of real-time economic plans that would deal with realities.”

He says, “The plan which states that 100 million Nigerians will be taken out of poverty over some time is not workable.”

“The focus should rather be on the percentage of Nigerians who will exit poverty over a period and the workable modalities to achieving that.”

He also advised that all the stopgap economic measures captured under the national social intervention programs, such as trader money, and market money, among others, should be dropped in favour of a better all-inclusive plan that will not only be beneficial to Nigerians but also have the resilience to withstand the test of time.

Speaking on the rising cost of food, Frank Okafor, an agricultural economist, insisted that the government must invest heavily on agriculture.

He also advised that access to land must be made easy and affordable to prospective farmers, the same as access to fertiliser, loans and access to markets.

He says, “To boost food for the teeming populace and export, the government should encourage investments in mechanised farming.”

“Government should also tackle the problem of insecurity in Nigeria generally and specifically in the food producing belts.”

“Overall, with a stable environment for agricultural activities, food availability will increase and prices will decrease naturally. “

“Once a country can feed itself, all other matters would fall in place.”

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