FG RELEASES GRAINS: FOR HOARDERS OR POLITICIANS? BY TONNIE IREDIA

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“It is therefore not enough to assume that goodies which have been officially provided would get to the ordinary Nigerian. This is why one wonders about the destination of the grains which government has reportedly released to cushion the effects of our poor economy”.

BY TONNIE IREDIA

Any analyst can with a high degree of accuracy confirm that many Nigerians are currently experiencing hard times far more than any difficult scenario of the nation’s history. Insecurity inherited by the Bola Tinubu led-government has been exacerbated by a debilitating economy. The severity of the suffering is virtually rubbishing whatever gains are accruable from ongoing reforms just as cheap propaganda is making the cronies of government assume a posture of jesters. In reality, Nigerians are suffering. Both the Christian Association of Nigeria in the 19 Northern states and the Jama’atu Nasril Islam have openly urged both the federal and state governments to intervene in the prevailing economic hardship which had forced Nigerians into street protests.

Last week, angry youths and women took to the streets of Minna, the Niger State capital, to protest what they described as the rising cost of living in the country. The protesters reportedly blocked the ever-busy Minna-Bida Road at the famous Kpakungu Roundabout while calling on government to address the challenge of ‘hunger in the land.’ To aptly depict the level of their dilemma, the demonstrators deflected attempts to quell the protest by security operatives who fired tear gas canisters into the crowd amidst arresting some people. Similar protests had also erupted in Kano as well as in Ondo State Southwest of the country. Many well-meaning Nigerians have since admonished the government to avoid the spread of protests to other parts of the country where citizens are no less aggrieved.

It is noteworthy that the federal government has taken immediate steps to ameliorate the situation. To start with, a Special Presidential Committee on Emergency Food Intervention was immediately convened to respond to the situation. After two days of meetings, Mohammed Idris, Minister of Information and National Orientation, announced that ‘as a temporary response to the nation’s growing food crisis and the rising prices of commodities, government had ordered the immediate release of more than 102,000 metric tons of various grain types from the Strategic Reserve and the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria’ which would hopefully ensure a respite in the next two months. He added that government would consider the importation of additional supplies to augment shortages observed after the release of the first phase of food items

The quick response of government is no doubt commendable but there is much that is yet to be done. To normalise the emergency arrangements, more efforts should be directed at curtailing the enormity of the high level of insecurity in the rural areas that is reducing productivity of food items. Many farmers are no longer able to go to their farms as a result of the activities of bandits and terrorists. Only last Sunday, the media reported that some insurgents waylaid a convoy of seven goods-laden vehicles, heading to Allawa from Pandogari, a town in Kagara, the headquarters of Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State. Some citizens were either kidnapped or killed leaving the area in suspense and tension.

The situation is the same in the southern part of the country. In Osun state, a group of youths last Friday staged a peaceful protest along the MDS road in Osogbo, decrying the rising cost of living, with a call on the government to immediately intervene. The day before, farmers in Oriire Local Government Area of Oyo state, staged a peaceful protest with an appeal to both the state government and the Soun of Ogbomosho, to come to their aid over incessant attacks on their farms by suspected herders. They lamented that two products, cassava and cashew which they usually relied upon to feed their families were always either eaten or destroyed by the herders in the last 4 years. Of course, it would be easier to sustain those communities if the people are allowed to farm than the sending to them some emergency relief supplies by government.

Again, providing an enabling environment for farming is not all that is required. A great menace lies in the extortion by law enforcement agencies and other officials in uniform who subject farmers to different taxes on the highway while bringing their produce to urban markets from the hinterland. In his days as Minister of agriculture, Audu Ogbeh had to publicly condemn the highway exploitation of farmers which automatically increases food prices as the illegal taxes on the highway have to be added to the cost of production in order for the farmers to make some profit. When will government clamp down on men in uniform whose exploitation of travellers has increased considerably in the last 8years?

It amounts to a wasted effort if government cannot design a modality for effective management of its policies. For example, a few years ago, government in a bid to ameliorate the pains of high electricity costs on Nigerians decided to provide free metres to consumers. But notwithstanding that the concessioners were fully briefed on this, they coerced people to pay for the metres. Their reaction to a government clarification which insisted that the metres must be free was to promise refunds in kind rather than by cash – an arrangement that was clearly subjected to extortion. In any case, in rented apartments where the metres were paid for by landlords, how will refund be done through services when consumption is by tenants? This exemplifies how officials/agents render nugatory, benefits intended to be gained from government subsidies and palliatives.

As the nation awaits the promised release of grains to assuage the impact of our harsh economy, there is need to ensure that the goodies would not be mismanaged as usual. The well-known strategy had always been for the distribution of the palliatives to be politicised. Can someone please help us beg the ruling party that the grains are for the benefit of all suffering Nigerians and not privileged APC stalwarts? If this is not done, no one can guarantee that the grains would not be handed over to ward leaders who would then proceed to use party membership registers to share them while hoarding a large chunk. This is not an allegation but a reality of history which Nigerians witnessed in several parts of the country especially Lagos during the recent distribution of COVID 19, palliatives.

There is nothing that Nigerians cannot hoard. Only two days ago when Yemi Cardoso governor of the Central bank was confidently announcing to federal legislators the gains his reforms would bring to the vexed forex regime in the country, he probably did not know that some of his audience are among hoarders of scarce forex allocations to our commercial banks. Indeed, some of the hoarders are owners of ATMs which always have cash that are unavailable in banks. Hoarding has become so prominent with our banks that customers often beg to be allowed to withdraw from deposits in their own domiciliary accounts. It is therefore not enough to assume that goodies which have been officially provided would get to the ordinary Nigerian. This is why one wonders about the destination of the grains which government has reportedly released to cushion the effects of our poor economy; will they get beyond hoarders and politicians?

If not, will food items ever become affordable? This question is relevant against the backdrop of the report credited to the National Union of Pensioners (NUP) that their members are exceedingly impoverished. Speaking last Thursday in Abuja, Godwin Abumisi, the president of the NUP, affirmed that many Nigerian pensioners especially those in the South East earn between N450 and N1000 a month. Neither these poor pensioners nor the least paid workers can buy even a discounted product because as of today, many states are yet to pay the old minimum wage – a breach that an Act has since criminalised. Yet, many of the offending states according to Comrade Joe Ajaero, the NLC president have been made members of the Tripartite Committee on Minimum Wage. Will such members not influence others to distort the emergence of a reasonable minimum wage?

If, however, the grains are to be distributed freely to Nigerians, President Tinubu must not be heard to have assigned the distribution to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs which has a notorious inclination of handing-over any goodies to themselves, their families and friends as well as the numerous ghosts in their registers of vulnerable Nigerians. Let the grains reach our people.

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