Perspective

Desperate times: When will our political class act?

Anyone living in Nigeria knows that the nation is going through some very desperate times and like the saying goes only “desperate measures” will suffice in trying to stop the slide. But unfortunately there is no sign from those in positions of authority that they are ready to take such “desperate measures” in order to alleviate the sufferings of the people.

However, in enumerating some of the woes staring us in the face, where does one start from? In virtually all areas the situation is extremely dire for millions of people living in the world’s most populous black nation.

Let’s start with the exchange rate. On Thursday afternoon, one needed N480 to purchase a single dollar! Just 10 years ago, the figure was N150, which means one now needs N330 more to purchase the same solitary dollar – an increase of approximately 220 percent! And we are all living witnesses to the adverse effects of this – with the cost of virtually everything going through the roof. Gone are the days when the middle class could proudly boast of easily being able to afford imported items because the costs have just become so prohibitive.

Of course, one could argue that doing so meant that the locally produced variants suffered as many opted to shop for the imported brands because of their better quality. However, beyond the issue of consumables, the higher exchange rate has imparted on many other goods and services, which definitely cannot be tagged as luxury items. For instance the cost of buying cars – both tokunbo and brand new – has gone through the roof.

Thus even when one could not afford a brand new vehicle, one could save up to buy an imported one (tokunbo), but with the exchange rate going haywire, even this has become a tall dream for millions.

And for those lucky to already have four wheels, the cost of maintenance is also be-coming a big issue as the prices of tyres, batteries, engine oil etc. have all gone up too. One of the fallouts of this is that more people out of desperation will be willing to bend the rules in order to either raise enough money to buy a car (which in truth is not a luxury in this country considering the chaotic public transportation system) or to just maintain the one they are already managing.

And with cost of living generally spiralling upwards, it is only natural that more Nigerians will be willing to blur the thin line between remaining straight and bending the rules in order to make extra money in order to cover bills like feeding, school fees, medicals, house rent and so on. Unfortunately, those that have been saddled with the responsibility of handling the commonwealth of the citizens have not done a very good job, which has led us to this situation.

For instance, when the Fourth Republic kicked off in 1999 with President Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the helm of affairs, the official exchange rate was N21.89. However, at the parallel market it was N88–90. During the 16-year reign of the PDP the gap between the naira and dollar steadily widened so much that by the time they left in 2015 the official rate was N199 while at the parallel market it was about N300! However, in the five years the All Progressives Congress (APC) has been in power, it has fallen to N361 at the official rate, while on Friday at the parallel market, it was being sold for N480! The lack of the US currency, which has become the lifeblood of Nigeria’s existence, has also meant that many companies are gasping for survival as they cannot get the necessary dollars to keep their operations going either because they cannot import raw materials or the parts to keep their machines working. Sadly despite the dire situation in the country, which in no small part contributed to last month’s #EndSARS protests, which later turned violent, governments at all levels, are yet to show the seriousness needed to tackle the hydra-headed monster like I pointed out at the beginning of this piece.

For them, it is still business as usual even when it is crystal clear that the country is struggling to stay solvent. Rather than reducing the cost of governance in the country, the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government have increased. This has meant that personnel costs, pensions and gratuities account for 33% of the 2021 budget, i.e. N4.262 trillion, while only 29% or N3.85 trillion is for capital projects.

The same APC which promised to dispose of some of the planes in the Presidential fleet have not done so and are still voting humungous amounts on maintaining them. Incidentally, many countries which are much more buoyant than Nigeria do not have such a large fleet, which means that they have money to spend on more pressing needs. The Federal Government has not yet deemed it fit to implement other cost saving measures like reducing salaries and wages of public officials. Last week, a minister told the nation that his monthly salary is in the neighbourhood of N900, 000.

But in these climes, what stops the government from reducing the salaries since they are still enjoying other perks like free housing, cars and so on. Besides, we all know that such would not be possible in a privately run enterprise, which is struggling to stay afloat. Management of such a company would have implemented measures to keep it running and could include salary cuts, reduction in the number of official cars and other actions all with a view to reducing expenditure. Many banks and other companies no longer buy new cars for staff and instead rely on car hailing services to provide them transportation. Thus, though the government has tried to boost its revenue base through the increase in VAT from 5% to 7.5%, introduction of stamp duty and increase in the pump cost of fuel to N170/litre, the government is still struggling to meet its financial commitments. Members of the National Assembly have equally kept mum and are yet to indicate if they are willing to take a pay cut as part of their own contributions to the drastic measures needed to help the nation get back on an even keel. It is the same way and manner that governors are operating their states. In fact some governors have hundreds of assistants even though every month they struggle to pay wages and thus have no or very little money to plough into productive ventures. Until the time that government and politicians at all levels realise that we are in desperate times which call for desperate measures, the country will continue to flounder like a rudderless ship.

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