By Rotimi Fasan
There are actually very concrete ways to measure the increasing cost of living in Nigeria which in turn explains why Nigerians are increasingly disenchanted with the Muhammadu Buhari administration. A simple way to go about this is to measure how the cost of common household goods and foodstuffs have either tripled or quadrupled in the last six months or thereabout.
An example is rice, a Nigerian staple that the country invariably imports from wherever it could be found. It isn’t that Nigeria does not produce rice at all. But as we’ve never really paid more than lip service to local production of rice, what we produce does not amount to much given our rate of consumption. In addition to that, the local varieties of rice available are of incredibly low grade even when we tend to make a fetish of one or two highly rated varieties that the people have to pay so much to buy owing to limited supply. And so we pay N19, 000 now for a 50kgs bag of rice that was N8, 000 last December.
Until about two months ago Nigerians couldn’t find tomatoes to buy in the market. Where they were available they were simply unaffordable to the average consumer. All kinds of excuses, ranging from the logical, the merely speculative to the outright stupid, were proffered for the scarcity. It was clear that we were in a state of emergency but we all soldiered on stoically until the situation gradually started turning around. While some said the problem was caused by the scarcity of dollars, or simply the incompetence of the Buhari administration and its inability to grapple with simple problems, others said the scarcity of tomato was the outcome of the despoliation of farmlands by Fulani herdsmen. But many settled for the tale of a virulent disease that had taken over our tomato farms in the last two years. What they did not and probably could not satisfactorily explain was why the tomato disease should suddenly become a problem at the time it did. Even less explainable is why tomato is again available in the market even when nobody has told us that the disease allegedly ravaging tomato farms has been contained.
As it is with rice and tomatoes, so it has been with other household goods and food items that have gone out of the reach of Nigerians. A people who have to pay more for electricity (never mind the baloney by the government ordering electricity companies to cut down their tariffs) even when they spend a sizeable chunk of their income to buy fuel to power their generators cannot but be disenchanted. Kerosene which the vast majority of Nigerians use costs a lot more today than at any time in the distant or recent past. Many have resorted to alternative means of procuring energy that are mostly harmful to their environment. Even when people continue to bear the pain in silence it does not look like there would be any respite any time soon. Businesses are down and profit is low. Companies are laying off workers and those in government employ are not being paid their salaries for many months at a time. More than 30 state governments in the country are unable to pay salaries in spite of bail-out from Abuja.
There is a clear link between the increasing cost of living and the steep drop in the price of oil in the international market. Even the unborn know that oil is the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. It is the be-all and end-all of our survival as a people, by far the main source of revenue for the country. But in the last one and half year the price of oil has continued to drop without anything in sight to suggest a serious improvement in the state of things. The little rise in the price of the commodity in the last few weeks has done nothing to raise hope in any meaningful way. If anything it is a timely reminder that our days of dependence on oil are at an end. Not with the complication that has been brought into the matter by mushrooming groups of militants in different parts of the Niger Delta. These mostly self-seeking groups causing mayhem in the name of fighting for the survival of the region have all but destroyed the country’s capacity to make even modest income from oil. Pipelines are being vandalized at a rate that has left our economy gasping for breath. With this state of social, economic and political insecurity can it be any surprise that Nigerians are increasingly impatient waiting for the change promised them by a Buhari government that anchored its campaign on the provision of security? Can the people be blamed for venting their anger at the failure or inability of government to ameliorate their pain?
But does the justifiable anger of the people mean that they made a mistake voting out the inept government led by Goodluck Jonathan in last year’s election? Or does the criticism of the Buhari administration by some of those who had supported it to victory mean an expression of national regret in kicking out the corrupt Jonathan administration? Where did any one of those supporters of the Jonathan administration now rearing their head to gloat foolishly at critics of the Buhari government hear that calling for the end of the Jonathan administration mean unquestioning acceptance of whatever is offered by the successor administration of Buhari, or a suspension of our right to criticize what could be wrong with the new administration? But that is the nonsense that the Jonathanphiles would want us to believe because it was the kind of blind allegiance that they demonstrated to that excuse of an administration.
For the avoidance of doubt, let those who have forgotten be reminded that the situation Nigeria finds itself today, a state of social and economic insecurity and political instability, was brought upon it by the Jonathan administration. The corrupt legacy of that administration would take a very long time to clear off and no amount of wishful thinking and false attempt at rehabilitating Jonathan can remove from the fact that his administration made so much money from oil sales but failed signally to save for the future of this country. In being disenchanted with this government and criticizing Buhari what Nigerians are saying is that the administration does not have eternity to bring about the change it promised them. What they are saying is that this government should double down to the immediate task of bringing economic and social relief to the people. Otherwise, they know the source of their trouble: that the rain started to beat them under Goodluck Jonathan.