Thursday, 8 September 2016

WHAT THIS RECESSION MEANS

President Muhammadu Buhari

I am not even going to pretend that I understand all the dynamics of the current state Nigeria nor am I going to explain what some of the economic terms are. In truth, many Nigerians do not care about or understand what all of those words mean. This piece will attempt to explain what this recession means for middle and lower class Nigerians.

I started on this road when this woman, let us call her Mama Success, came to my house. I have known Mama Success for close to ten years now.

Mama Success is an illiterate petty trader. She is married to a mechanic and they have three children. Since I have known her, she has always been in the lower class, struggling daily to keep her family. She sells whatever is in season. When there was tomato, she sells that. If it is groundnut, that is what she sells. As at the time of this post, she is shuttling between hawking cooked corn and boiled groundnuts.

I had not seen her in two, maybe three, years and when she came to my house, we spent time catching up. She was in my place barely 30 minutes when she started complaining bitterly about the state of the economy.

‘Ramat, you know I eat corn ONLY because it is cheap but now, even that corn is expensive oh!’

That was how she launched into her tirade.

She told me that corn that she used to buy for ₦50/tier had gone up to ₦220/tier. She talked about Garri, Nigeria’s ‘food for the poor’ as most people call it and the price increase was shocking. I listened to her moan about all manner of things and what really broke me was when she spoke of her first son.

She obviously couldn’t send him to school on what she earned but somehow, a benefactor took up his education and sent him to one of the Unity Schools. Her joy was short lived when barely two years in, the government proposed an increase of about 300% on school fees, asking that parents pay ₦75, 000 from what used to be ₦20, 000. The benefactor announced that he could no longer pay Success’s fees and wished them well in their endeavors. Mama Success worries about her children's education and she worries that they may end up like their father and her; illiterate, poor, unhappy.

When she left my house, her complaints stayed with me. I kept thinking about her and her children and other families like them. So I decided to do some recce myself.

I went to the market a couple of times to get a sense of the price of things. Here is a list of the price of a couple of things in the market.

S/No
ITEM
PRICE (₦)
2015
PRICE (₦)
2016
1.
Vegetable Oil
250/bottle
450/bottle
2.
Palm Oil
220/bottle
400/bottle
3.
Beans
300/tier
450/tier
4.
Garri
120/tier
220/tier
5.
Rice (foreign)
550/tier
700/tier
6.
Seasoning (Maggi)
250/pack
300/pack
7.
Beef
1000/kg
1200/kg
8.
Kerosene
750/gallon
950/gallon
9.
Peak Milk
35/sachet
45/sachet
10.
Dudu Osun soap
130/bar
170/bar

Vegetables are cheap but that may be because this is rainy reason. The list above is just so we can get a semblance of things.

I used small measures and not wholesale measures so you can see how hard things are. People who have steady incomes and even basic salaries are feeling the brunt of this recession. Every additional ₦10 is something someone in the lower class feels deeply. But thing is, it is not just people in the lower class complaining. Middle class Nigerians are unhappy too. They might not feel the bite as much as people in the lower class, but they are feeling it.

This brings me to the next point; employment or the lack of it.

Millions of Nigerians want to work but there are no jobs. Okay, let me be fair. There ARE jobs but in most cases, they are not worth it. Companies across board no longer give full employment. Everyone one is toting the magical word; internship. This means that companies can’t afford to pay people commensurate salaries but since they still want the jobs done, they hire people for the barest minimum with promises of full employment after about six months. I have been to a couple of interviews where prospective employers want you to do a ₦200,000 job for nothing more than ₦50,000. And because there aren’t that many plush jobs readily available, people take these slavery internships and hope that things get better for them.

I don’t even want to mention clothes and transportation because in the light of other things, they seem trivial. Anyone who has been buying fuel, paying for public transport or buying clothes know that things are a bit more expensive than they were last year.

The news is filled with companies downsizing and even salaries being slashed. This is coupled with the fact that some parastatals and state governments cannot even pay salaries.

What does this all mean?

This means that even with the hike in the price of things, fewer and fewer people have the purchasing power to get basic necessities. As a result, the markets aren’t as full as they used to be. I spent time talking to market men and women, okada riders and bus drivers, petty traders, hawkers, masons, tailors and small food vendors and the general feeling amongst them is ‘the country is hard.’

That Nigerians are suffering because of the policies of this government, or the lack of it thereof, is no longer news. What is however surprising is the government’s callous dismissal of the suffering of Nigerians. Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, said that the ‘recession in Nigeria is exaggerated’. Exaggerated? EXAGGERATED?! I want him to tell that to Mama Success as she reduces her daily meals from two to one. I want him to tell that to the okada rider who is worried about school fees for his children. I want him to tell that to the civil servant who is earning minimum wage and whose salary cannot buy a bag of rice today. I really want him to tell that to young Nigerians who are unemployed or who have recently been sacked because the government’s policy sucks. Yes Mr. Special Assistant! The recession is exaggerated!

The All Progressives Congress (APC), with the governing body led by President Muhammadu Buhari, spend all their time blaming the previous administration for the problems we are facing now. Raise your hand if you are tired of hearing that rhetoric. Come on! These same people spent the entire campaign period telling us how bad the previous administration was! They promised to fix EVERTHING and when Nigerians demand that they KEEP THEIR PROMISE, they tell us they are not magicians. Suddenly they are not magicians?! But they made promises that were nothing short of magic! I don’t understand why we are expected to expect less from a group of people who promised more. If you were given an employment letter saying you would earn ₦200, 000/month and your employer pays you ₦10, 000/month, are you supposed to be happy and just bask in their ‘body language’? I didn’t think so.

It is sad that this government that delighted in calling former President Goodluck Jonathan clueless is very much the same with the economy. The only difference between them is that Nigerians are suffering more with this administration. This then reminds me that there is a HUGE DIFFERENCE between ‘rulers’ and ‘leaders’ and I am sad to say, President Buhari and his team are no leaders.

Again I need to reiterate. I am not a fan of President Muhammadu Buhari; I have never been. That been said, I WANT NIGERIA to work because this is the only home I have. This is the only home most of us have. This means that, as much as I dislike President Buhari, I want him to work! I NEED him to work! I need him to formulate policies that will revive this economy and that is why I wrote a really long letter to him when he settled into Aso rock. It is terrible that the salient points I raised in that letter are the major problems we are STILL facing as a country today.

There is a widening gap between the rich and poor; as if the gap wasn’t wide enough already. Soon enough, we may not have a middle class in this country. People would either be rich or poor. And since there are usually more poor people than the rich, the widening gap will create more disillusionment in the society.

The government needs to stop the blame-game and get to work. Leaders accept responsibility and run with it. When they don’t, the people are forced to revolt and trust me, this revolution will be televised!

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