President Muhammadu Buhari last week blamed middlemen for the soaring food prices in the country.
The president said that despite the good measure of rains and the expected bumper harvest by farmers, the prices of food in the country has continued to soar to the disadvantage of the greater population of Nigerians. He said that middlemen and traders who serve as links between farmers and consumers in the value chain were responsible for the surge in prices.
The President was rightly worried that the rising prices of foodstuffs was at a time the economy was mired in a slowdown occasioned by the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). He also assured Nigerians that the situation was transient and that his administration had already begun looking and putting in place measures to ameliorate the situation.
His words: “This year has indeed tested us in ways that globalization has never been tested since the turn of the century. These challenges have disrupted lives and supply chains all over the world, and Nigeria has not been spared.
“…But of all these problems, the most worrisome are the activities of “corrupt” middlemen (with many of them discovered to be foreigners) and other food traders who serve as the link between farmers and consumers found to be systematically creating an artificial scarcity so that they can sell at higher prices.”
We commend the president for his rightful observation that Nigerians are suffering the pangs of escalating food prices, in this period of pandemic. He was right on point.
Incidentally, however, the president’s observation came in the same week the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) and electricity tariff, two commodities that are dear to Nigerians went up. There is no doubt that the increase in price of petrol and hike in electricity tariff, which are generally used by Nigerians directly affect food prices.
The Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMS) on Wednesday fixed petrol ex-depot price at N151.56 per litre for the month of September. The latest announcement, which was conveyed through a memo signed by D.O Abalaka and sent to all depot owners, stated that the new price was “effective 2nd of September, 2020.”
Since then, the prices of petrol have oscillated between N159 and N161 across different filling stations in Lagos and Ogun states. There is no doubt that in other parts of the country, the prices could be higher. In the South-East and South-South, for instance, there is the story that price of the product could be as high as N170. Added to that is the increment in electricity tariffs, which took effect from September 1.
In some cases, the cost of electricity was tripled while in some areas, it quadrupled. When added to the loss of millions of jobs, salary cuts, shutdown of businesses that followed the Coronavirus pandemic across the country and all over the world, the answer to the president’s worries are not far-fetched. The simple sum is that Nigerians are burdened and continue to be burdened by the high cost of living.
There is also the continuous fall of the Naira against major currencies of the world. We don’t expect things to be cheaper for Nigerians. We recall that the National Assembly had earlier this year placed a moratorium on the increase in electricity charges.
The bid by controllers of electricity to increase the tariff was resisted, hence the new cost regime could not take off in July this year, when it was first mooted. But by September 1, both electricity charges and fuel prices increased at the same time.
We, therefore, believe that rather than looking at and blaming middlemen, the president ought to have looked at some of the agencies of his government, whose major task is the increment and advised them appropriately. Already, transport fares have been increased in many parts of the country.
That also includes transporters, who transport the food the president is worried about across the country. With the electricity charges increased, all points to a further increment in the prices of foodstuffs in the country. That is if it is assumed that the Coronavirus would not affect harvest this year. But we know that for sure, the impact of the virus is deeper than being expressed.
We are worried that rather than find means to assuage the sufferings of Nigerians, the government is piling up more burden on the citizens, while the president laments increment in food prices. It is not magic, neither does it need clairvoyance to know the source of the suffering of Nigerians. We had thought that with the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, government should have found a way to cushion the pangs on Nigerians.
But that is not so. Rather, an average Nigerian continues to pay, pay and pay higher. Meanwhile, most states of the federation have stopped paying the minimum wage. Would we be surprised if the Labour unions and workers troop out in protest against the increasing sufferings?
We believe that they have good reasons should they think so. Governments exist for the good of the people. But currently, Nigerians are holding the very short end of the stick in their bargain with the government. We, therefore, think that rather than lament on food prices, the president should act on measures that could reduce it, for the sake of ordinary Nigerian.