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Cost of living protests rattle President Tinubu’s govt

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We regret voting for you, Northern Elders tell Tinubu

In desperate move, reminiscent of the Buhari military regime era, the federal government , through the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), on Friday, sealed Sahad Store, a popular supermarket in the Garki area of Abuja.

The decision which comes a day after President Bola Tinubu unveiled plans to tackle factors responsible for food crisis, had led to many wondering how going after private businesses could be a solution to the prevailing crisis.

The management of the supermarket was accused of shortchanging customers by charging prices other than the price tag at the shelves.

The enforcement was led by FCCPC Acting Executive Vice Chairman, Adamu Ahmed Abdullahi.

Briefing journalists on the sidelines of the event, Abdullahi said the commission’s preliminary investigation confirmed that the management of the supermarket were short changing customers.

He said the store would remain sealed until the completion of the further investigation.

From blaming opposition parties for instigating the sporadic cost of living protests that defined much of last week, the federal government on had on Thursday last week, announced frantic steps aimed at ameliorating the crisis. A sudden realisation, perhaps, that the protests were borne out of genuine frustration of millions of Nigerians, who are no longer able to afford food amid galloping inflation, and with the danger it portends clear for all to see.

“The first one is that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has been directed to release about 42,000 metric tons of maize, millet, garri and other commodities from its strategic reserves so that these items will be made available to Nigerians immediately,” Mohammed Idris, the minister of information and national orientation, announced after a meeting of the presidential committee on emergency food intervention on Thursday.

“The second one is that we’ve held meetings with the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria; those, who are responsible for producing this rice, and we’ve asked them to open up their stores. They have told us that they can guarantee about 60,000 metric tons of rice.

“They will bring that to the market so that food will be made available. The whole idea is to crash the cost of these food items. And these are measures that will happen immediately. If it becomes necessary, in the short run, we will also import some of these commodities immediately so that these commodities can be made available to Nigerians within the next couple of weeks. All these are emergency measures.

“There’s also a directive to the ministry to invest massively, in conjunction with Nigerian farmers and other producers, so we can have better season coming shortly.”

Shortly after the announcement by the minister, Nigerian governors, under the umbrella of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), held an emergency meeting of their own as protests rocked some states, and afterwards, called for urgent discussion among stakeholders to address food inflation, naira depreciation, and rising insecurity across parts of the country.

In a communiqué issued on Thursday by their chairman, Gov. AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara, after their emergency virtual meeting, members of the forum, “all agreed that it is important to address the connection between food inflation, naira depreciation, and rising insecurity across parts of the country from a systemic perspective.”

According to the Kwara governor, ”The governors also agreed on immediate actions, including reduction of foreign exchange demand by use of moral persuasion to reduce dependence on foreign exchange, imported goods, and services.”

AbdulRazaq reiterated the governors’ commitment to deploy emergency food interventions, including incentives, food production, and the release of food items from strategic reserves.

He also said that the governors agreed to collaborate with food millers and commodity traders in their various states to boost food availability as an immediate short-term action.

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The frantic measures came as a response to protests in Minna, Niger State capital, which quickly spread to Kano, Suleja, Osogbo, among other cities, as well a 14-day ultimatum issued to the government by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), amid the unprecedented spike in prices of food items triggered by the removal of petrol subsidies and the floating of the naira by the Bola Tinubu administration.

Prices of bags of rice, which hovered around N45,000 to N55,000 few months ago, have spiked to N68,000 and above in most cases. And so have the prices of everything in-between, from noodles to spaghetti, garri, beans among others.

The critical question for many observers remains how far the measures can go in reversing a simmering challenge that gradually threatens the country’s very foundation, and could stretch the Bola Tinubu government as perhaps never seen before? And the easy answer, for many is simply, not very far.

“You want to send 42,000 metric tonnes of grains for 200 million people,” noted @Harmless12345, a popular commentators on X. “Something that won’t even reach two weeks. And then we’ll meet another bigger food inflation. Who’s actually recommending these cut and join economics to Tinubu?”

President Tunubu’s decision to withdraw fuel subsidy on his inauguration day, coupled with the decision to float the Naira, had been hailed by a number of analysts as bold. But as inflation grew wings and hunger spread across the land, it soon became clear that the government had no immediate plans to ameliorate its impact, leading to questions about the level of preparedness the president had coming into office.

“Tinubu’s policies are fantastic policies,” said Mr. Ayokunle Olubunmi, a financial analyst and head of Financial Institutions Ratings at Agusto & Co. “But the problem has been with the implementation. We all agree that fuel subsidy needed to go, but the way he went about it is wrong. It is not what you withdraw suddenly, with no plans to cushion its impact.”

Subsidy withdrawal sent pump price of fuel to over N600, from N180, while the floating of the naira has sent the local currency on a depreciation spiral, collapsing to over N1,400 at the official market and over N1,500 at the parallel market last week, as uncertainty continues to keep foreign investors at bay. Inflation spiked to 28.9% in December, up from 28.20 percent in the previous month of November, with food inflation, the big elephant in the room, climbing to 33.9%, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.

January, in Ideal scenario would normally see food inflation reducing considerably as people try to recuperate from Christmas spending. But this year has been different. Prices have continued to spike amid withering disposable income. Cries of hunger are growing louder, even in President Tinubu’s Lagos backyard. The sighting of his convoy at Lagos Island, where he had gone to observe prayers recently was greeted by cries of ‘ebin pa wa,’ (We’re hungry) by onlookers, who 10 months earlier, would have hailed him all the way to the mosque.

Tensions are building as economic outcomes get more dire. Earlier on Thursday last week, organised labour issued a 14-day ultimatum to the federal government over the rising cost of living in the country. The NLC and TUC, in a joint statement, said the government has failed to honour the 16-point agreement that was reached on October 2, 2023, with them.

They accused the government of neglecting the welfare of Nigerians and the workers, warning that “everything must be done within the two weeks to avoid a situation, where we may be compelled to take appropriate steps to protect Nigerian workers and masses”.

According to the unions, “These agreements which were reached with the federal government were focused on addressing the massive suffering and the general harsh socioeconomic consequences of the ill-conceived and ill-executed IMF/World Bank induced hike in the price of PMS and the Devaluation of the Naira.

The bulk of the challenges Tinubu is

confronting, it must be conceded, were caused by his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari. This, many have pointed out. Buhari’s inability to reign in on bandits, who grew wings under his watch, chasing farmers away from their farms and abducting travellers and villagers for ransom; as well as his thoughtless decision to close the country’s borders for several months, are the two most critical factors in the food crisis facing the country today.

But as terrible as the Katsina State born former general was as president, he enjoyed cult following in his Muslim North, and was defended all through his eight years of his nearly disastrous reign. This is a luxury Tinubu, who came to power on the back of a highly contentious presidential election, doesn’t enjoy, even in his native Southwest. And as things get worse and hunger bites harder, fear of the pockets of protests escalating into a massive upheaval is not unfounded.

“The spontaneous, hunger-induced eruption of seething communal anger in Minna over hunger in the land a few days ago, which inspired a massive protest by market women in Lokoja and smaller but nonetheless consequential protests by distraught citizens in Suleja, Kano, Osogbo—and counting— is a warning sign,” wrote Farooq Kperogi, a columnist and U.S based professor of journalism at the weekend.

“Had the current president been Muhammadu Buhari and not Bola Ahmed Tinubu, chances are that the worst that would happen amid the adversity people are going through now would be suppressed, barely audible murmurs. It’s because Buhari is a political cult leader with a firm grip on his followers, who worship him and surrender responsibility for their lives over to him. Tinubu has no such appeal.

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“Buhari is lucky to benefit from abdication syndrome in Muslim northern Nigeria, broadly conceived, which explains why he got away with murder for eight years. When he increased petrol prices by a steep margin in 2016, for instance, there were protests in Kano, Bauchi, and other places in SUPPORT of the increase and AGAINST people, who planned to protest the increase. Nigeria had never seen anything like that before.

“Even protests against the unabating descent of northern Nigeria into a theater of bloodshed and abduction on Buhari’s watch provoked counter protests from people, who have abdicated the use of their brains in the service of Buhari.

“Tinubu not only does not have the benefit of abdication syndrome anywhere in Nigeria, but he also has the misfortune of having to contend with a peculiar character of Muslim northern Nigeria: we feel the pain of, and react violently to, bad policies only when the policies are hatched and executed by people, who have no filiation with our natal region.

“It’s no surprise that the hunger protests against the Tinubu administration started from and spread in the North.

“A powerful indication of Tinubu’s lack of firm emotional support base emerged, when Osun, his state of birth, where he lost the last presidential election to PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, became the first southern state to join the hunger protests. Should the resistance to his punishing heartless neoliberal economic policies ignite a nationwide convulsion, the Southwest is unlikely to constitute itself as his bulwark.

“In fact, I hazard a guess that should Tinubu’s unfeeling policies activate the sort of destabilizing national upheaval that we saw in 2012 during Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, the Southwest won’t be aloof. It is likely to join in.

“The truth is that Nigeria can’t survive a total withdrawal of petroleum subsidies without an adequate, systematic, well-planned public transportation system. To do away with petrol subsidies, the government must first create conditions, where car ownership and patronage of commercial transportation are a luxury.”

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