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Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Coping with austerity measures and insecurity
It’s the Yuletide season again when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus and everyone thereafter rejoices at the grace of seeing the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. While the world celebrates, I am sure the number of Nigerians who will roll out the drums has shrunk significantly, no thanks to the current high cost of living and the ceaseless acts of insecurity across the country, especially in the North-East.
Many a time, I’ve been tempted not to listen to news or read newspapers again simply because of the large dose of negative heart-rending news Nigerians are daily being fed with by the media. But how will I be informed of happenings around me if I shut down on news? I know for a fact that this is the dilemma of many Nigerians. A majority of us are tired of the sad new stories we get every morning. This is not the breadth of fresh air this government promised us in 2011 before the elections. What we were told was that we would not need to buy or fuel generators within a year of the coming of this administration because epileptic power supply would have become a thing of the past. We were promised good transport networks, quality education, world class health care delivery, employment, security of lives and property, mass housing, industrialisation, and generally, high standard of living. Today, three and a half years after those noble promises were made, what do we see? High cost of living. Once again, it’s a de ja vu!
All levels of government are culpable for our unenviable status as a miserable nation. It is not only the Federal Government that has disappointed Nigerians. The state and local governments have not fared any better. The other day, I learnt Benue State had not paid workers’ salaries for four months plus now. Governor Gabriel Suswam claimed he could no longer pay the minimum wage he negotiated with the workers not too long ago due to the dwindling revenue from the Federal Government. Talk of “feeding bottle federalism” a la Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. Suswam lamented on Channels Television recently that he gets little or nothing from internally generated revenue as Benue State is an agrarian state with a huge dose of groceries stores which cannot be taxed. But in the midst of all this dearth of resources, Suswam loudly celebrated his 50th birthday with live telecast on major television networks. I do hope he used his personal funds for that gig. Before the recent industrial action by Benue civil servants, teachers in the state had embarked on strike for about eight months over welfare issues.
The Benue story is replicated in many more states and local governments. By the time ex-Governor Kayode Fayemi was leaving Ekiti State on October 16, 2014 he was owing workers’ salaries. Yet, billions of naira were spent building a new Governor’s Lodge in the state. Talk of misplaced priorities.
A few weeks ago, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, officially declared austerity measures in Nigeria. This is reminiscent of the administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari who in 1980 declared austerity measures. This was later followed by the 1986 Structural Adjustment Programme of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Both measures bore the same inhuman face as the current one being rolled out by the Jonathan government. There was currency devaluation, high interest rate, inflation, downsizing of workers, closure of industries, etc. Those governments, like the current one, asked Nigerians to tighten their belts.
I recall that Juju music maestro, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey released a chart-bursting album to commemorate the time with the title, “Austerity”. There, he sang of a coping eating formula devised by Nigerians: Formula 0-0-1, 0-1-0, 1-0-1, etc, in which citizens skipped some of the daily meals and embarked on compulsory fasting. Then, as it is now, a major lacuna is the insincerity of government. While the masses were at the receiving end, the leaders took turns to rape the economy, looting and embarking on a spending spree to the bewilderment of the populace.
What worsens our current situation is that Nigerians are not only faced with compulsory austerity measures, their lives are further endangered by the ongoing acts of internal insurrections by gangster insurgents. In the 80s during the austerity period, people had hopes of a better tomorrow and they lived for it. Not now, hapless Nigerians are cut down in their primes by blood sucking terrorists who daily bomb the innocents eking out a living into smithereens. What a life! Government’s response to curb these fiendish acts has been at best tardy. Citizens are now resorting to self-help to protect themselves. Millions of Nigerians have been displaced from their homes and livelihoods and are forced to live beggarly lives in refugee camps in and out of the country.
While the average Nigerians are left at the mercy of undesirable elements, political leaders and high government officials live large. They build themselves fortresses in major state and country capitals and spare no cost in buying themselves bomb and bulletproof vehicles. On top of these, there is a battalion of soldiers and other security agents keeping guard on them and their household. Much as I do not begrudge them for securing their lives, they should not do so at the expense of the suffering majority. Quite unfortunately, it’s also a campaign season for the 2015 general elections and the spate of violence has escalated as politicians arm and engage the services of thugs to deal with political opponents. Is this how to serve the people? Must you kill and maim to get to political office under the guise of offering yourself for national or state service?
How do we cope in this season of anomie? We need to pray for divine provision and protection. Additionally, we need to devise means of living. This is not the time for the average Nigerian to lose their heads in celebration. It’s a time for sober reflection. It is a time of adjustment to realities of life. It’s an era of saving for a rainy day and being careful in crowded environment. As you go shopping at those markets and malls, keep safe distance from the crowds. Train your children on security tips. Let them imbibe basic safety precautions. We as adults too should avoid late nights. We should not buy or encourage our children to buy and use fireworks (bangers, “knockouts”, etc). As we celebrate Christmas and New Year festivities, let us make provision for the children’s school fees which beckon immediately after. Above all, let us show love by caring and supporting the needy and the less privileged.