Headaches. That’s all I got from all the smart economists who tried hard to break down the desirability or otherwise of fuel’s new price for the rest of us mortals last week. Suddenly, every one became an economist in the mould of Adam Smith and all the other gurus. There were long talks of forex sourcing, the international dimensions, and all the other indices that made the increase necessary. I tried making sense out of it all and, since I’m no economist and don’t pretend to be one, I came out more confused. And when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said there was no subsidy removal, after we all thought that was what happened, I became more befuddled. Right now, I don’t know if I should be hailing the decision or flailing it. May be someday we shall understand it better by and by. But now, I have new worries: the inevitable rise of goods and services prices. I don’t go to the market often but when my people came back the other day to tell me that even tomatoes are now hard to come by, I got more worried. A bag of rice, I discovered is inching towards the twenty thousand naira mark. Transportation probably responded to the increase first in a fast and furious manner with motorists hiking their fares. Soon, health care, school fees, and rents are sure to follow.
Everyone would find a clever way to reflect the new reality in the price of whatever they are selling. And, if we are supposed to be at the mercy of marketers, only heaven knows where we are would be soon. My heart goes out to the unemployed or half employed folks like yours sincerely. I’m also thinking of the student who has to find a magic around the stipend he or she gets. My heart goes to all indigent people back in the country side who can’t even find explanations to what is hitting them. I’m sure they would now intensify prayers in their churches and mosques, believing something spiritual has gone wrong.
They won’t have the benefit of knowing that a scientific reality is assailing them. I’m thinking of the millions that would soon be laid off; the struggling single mother who has children to take care of; of course the charlatans would now weigh in asking their flocks to pay more money for spiritual interventions. Or like Rev Father Mbaka said last week that God would soon sort out all the suffering. The priest said that the hardship would soon be over and we shall start to enjoy a glorious day in the future. He has been accurate in the past in predicting this government would happen.
May be he would be right again this time to predict away the hardship. But even the most ardent supporter of the current regime, believes it is down the hill from now on. Marketers are going to source for forex in the black market and get us to pay for their trouble. In that case, it means, even the proverbial N145 is just the tip of the iceberg. Prices would go higher and the market would respond accordingly. So it is possible to wake up each day with a new price for goods and services. And even if one is not an economist, one thing I know is that prices don’t ever come down. From the first day the first increase debut, prices of essential commodities have continued to sky rocket. They don’t ever come down. I remember when bread used to be ten naira. Some people remember when bread used to be three kobo. When bread eventually became one hundred naira, many people were alarmed. Today, the stuff goes for nothing less than three hundred naira. And we are still paying.
That brings me to an attitude I find amazing in Nigerians: the super human ability to absorb anything, roll with the punches and move on. And so many Nigerians would soon adjust to the new day. A bag of rice would crown up to twenty thousand naira; so what? Nigerians would still buy the thing with a smile. After all, a bag of rice came from somewhere when it used to be two thousand or thereabout as far as I can recall. As a people we don’t ever say no. well, in 2012, we rose up to resist attempts to put extra burden on us. We marched out and shut down the country with our #occupyNigeria. I’m told now that we should not do the same thing in the current dispensation. Why? I’m informed that the new managers of the economy have better intentions than the last ones. And so they would use the subsidy funds more judiciously. Poor NLC! They don’t seem to be finding their groove. I’m writing this on a cool Monday evening and it is doubtful if they would be able to pull off any form of industrial action. Like the whole confusion on whether there was a subsidy removal or not, NLC is torn between two dominant views. One says there is no need for the labour unions to picket anything considering that the move to increase fuel price is a desirable surgery. Those holding the view have even accused NLC of working with beneficiaries of the subsidy funds, wondering why NLC wasn’t fighting for other welfare packages
. NLC too has been blackmailed almost into submission with some big businesses querying the body and challenging it to come up with better solutions. I don’t know how NLC is going to respond to that but when it mobilised Nigerians in 2012 to resist the removal of subsidy, was it also protecting subsidy thieves then? If so, why was the movement so popular then? Personally, I don’t want any industrial action as it may only compound the anguish of the ordinary citizen.
So, what do we do? Well, let us just hope government would do something about prices of goods and services by forcing prices down. But in the absence of that I would give the following advice. First, everyone should start a garden and poultry behind their houses. That way, you can get all the tomatoes and other soup ingredients you need (sorry, you still have to go get maggi and oil, whose price may go up too). Secondly, sell off all your cars and keep just one that is fuel-able. Three, no more frivolity in spending: all owambes and night life should disappear. Four, no need to buy any fancy clothes henceforth. Mend the ones that are torn and dress sparingly. In the times we live in, a poor look is not such a bad thing.
Also, reduce the rate of dependency. I’m sorry but those pesky country folks have to watch it. If you are a family man, you may have to worry only about the immediate family. Move to cheaper neighbourhood. In Abuja, life does not start and end in Maitama and Garki. Why live in a house whose rent scares you and makes you sleepless. Move to our good old Nyanya and Mararaba and get some good rent. You don’t have to worry about traffic. After all, there won’t be plenty cars on the road soon. Learn to eat from your kitchen. Expensive lunches and dinners are out of the window. In the new era we found ourselves, frugality and reticence have become a must. If we all do this and follow them religiously, I assure you, it shall be well.
Emmanuel Bello is with The Sun newspaper