By Abdulyassar Abdulhamid
Life in Nigeria today is devastatingly difficult. No doubt Coronavirus has disrupted the status quo, rubbing salt into the wounds the people have been nursing overtime.
The masses are bending so hard with the changing circumstances. They dance, stalk, wriggle and oftentimes stand still with it.
Although the menace of price hike especially of the poor’s staple food has bitten so hard, it is not something new. Nigeria’s brinkmanship is out of this world. In this country, things are only addressed when they reach to the point of collapse.
Whether among public officers or the masses, the rich or the poor, there are two types of man on this geographical location called Nigeria: that who wants to build a protective walls around the country to depend against any scourge and the other who wants mar, bring suffering. The latter does not care if the country were to explode.
Discerning minds must have seen it coming. A report conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), from September 2018 to October 2019 about poverty and inequality indicated that “40 percent of people in the continent’s most populous country lived below its poverty line of 137,430 naira ($381.75) a year”. Isn’t it sad for one to live by a river and wash his hands with spittle?
Simply put, even before the emergence of Covid-19 more than 82.9 million people in the country were, and still are, living in abject poverty.
Now Coronavirus has come biting hard not only in Nigeria but the world over. Many economies have come under the virus’ heavy boots and the impact is disastrous.
Right now, the world’s mind has split into two: one, to nurse the fatal injuries the virus has inflicted upon the economy and two, to search, though not in a haste, for a cure for the virus.
In Nigeria things have gone beyond the pale. Nigerians, especially the poor, are on short rations. For many families once the current rations run out they will face absolute hunger and starvation. God forbid!
The rich may understand the ‘new normal” but not feel its full force until they see the sleepy sunken eyes of the gardener at their backyard or arthritically frail hands of their drivers.
For how long? Just a year away the Muhammadu Buhari administration opted for “border drill” meant, largely, to curb smuggling, boost food production and, also, to in particular fast-track the country’s quest for rice self-sufficiency.
Tens of rice milling factories and clusters have sprung up. One needs not to be told of job creation and revenue generation. To quote the Rice Millers Association, previously “over 200,000 bags of rice were occupying spaces in the warehouses of virtually every integrated rice miller before the border drill started in August, while many small scale rice holders or rice clusters had to abandon their small scale but valuable means of livelihood.”
So they told the Federal delegation, led by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, which was on tour to Kano State sometime in 2019.
The story has miraculously changed. In August last year, the association told the delegation the border drill has drastically reduced the influx of smuggled rice, giving the entire rice production value chain a new lease of life.
Within a week of the drill, every integrated rice miller exhausted the milled rice in their warehouses, recalled laid-off staff and resumed production. The existing 34 rice mills resumed production at maximum capacity, 24/7.
Has the policy paid up? The answer is “not yet”. The gain (perhaps loss) hasn’t been commensurate with the resources and the energy the federal government has invested and the patience the citizens have exercised.
One, there is an enormous tripodal structure of price hike in the country. The prices of foodstuffs, meat, fish, vegetables, fruits and other essential items have skyrocketed beyond the reach of the poor.
Two, there is a hike in the price of flour. Foreigners still manipulate the market in Nigeria and increase prices at will. The implication is that the hike will definitely affect the prices of products sourced from flour. Hasn’t the price of semolina, paste and wheat offal shot up?
The foreigners’ industries have incomparable production capacity. This threatens local industries as many are out of market.
Third, farmers are left at the mercy of fertilizer scarcity and hike. The bag of 50kg NPK that was formerly sold at N5,000 is now sold at N7,900 to N13,000. The increase is by 70%. Is this practicable in other climes where machineries are always on alert to regulate the market?
The saddest part of this mire Nigerians have found themselves in is that the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) is aware of the “price range” not only in flour but other commodities, so the management said. (read a report by the Daily Trust entitled Foreigners manipulate flour market in Nigeria, published August 31, 2020).
Perhaps it is strategizing. Isn’t it another brinkmanship stunt? Rimin Gado is the only way to go. And the Nigerian Government should employ the strategy.
Bullies understand only the language of resistance. They fear that person who stands his ground and says no to their excesses.
What the government needs is a Johnny-on- the-spot ready to work within the law and address the issue. This may not be a one-off thing; but it will surely bring succor to the masses.
Example of Muhuyi Magaji Rimin Gado!
When Kano State found itself in the jaw of stinging food commodity price hike during the Covid-19, lockdown, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje directed the no-nonsense chairman of the state anti-graft commission to swing into action. The price of food commodities then had soared by 100%. The governor’s concern was that if the situation was left unrestrained it would turn into a permanent scenario.
Immediately Muhuyi Magaji Rimin Gado jumped into action. There was he oscillating from one market, supermarket, warehouses to another. The commission had received a series of complaints on unnecessary hike of commodity prices by retailers.
He met with market leaders and associations, dealers, supermarket owners and the Rice Processors Association (RIPAN).
An investigation was instantly launched by the agency. Hours later there were warehouses where essential commodities were being hoarded sealed and some items confiscated. In no time the marketers were dismounting their bully horse.
Sugar that was sold at N26,000 before the commission’s intervention reverted to its former price of N16,000 per bag and even the made-in-Nigeria rice that had reached up to N26,000 was reduced to N16,000.
I have learnt that farmers and the masses are blaming the federal government and the government on its part is blaming other forces for the hike. Enough of passing the buck! Let the government take responsibility, take its cue from the Government of Kano State and mould its own Muhuyi Magaji to save Nigerians. And the time is now.
Abdulhamid wrote via firstname.lastname@example.org