Renewed Hope Exchanging for Renewed Anger

Protests by citizens in the streets of Minna, Niger State

Salihu Moh. Lukman

Media reports on Monday, February 5, 2024 presented protests by citizens in the streets of Minna, Niger State and Kano, Kano State against the increasingly rising cost of living in the country. Happening in less than a year of the President Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration, calls for an urgent response by the government. Such a response must as a matter of necessity address the existing reality whereby prices of goods and services, especially food items are astronomically going up, almost on an hourly basis. There are gory tales of Nigerians going to the same markets within short intervals of less than 24 hours and encountering higher prices for the same quantity of products. These are predictable realities triggered by conscious decisions taken by the government of President Asiwaju Tinubu.

Recall that as far back as August 2023, about four months into the tenure of the current government, I had cause to draw attention to some disturbing signals in an open letter to President Asiwaju Tinubu. Specifically, one of the disturbing signals was the management of policy process’, based on which petroleum subsidy was withdrawn without clearly defined initiatives to guarantee local production. Related to that was the decision to float the exchange rate of the Naira, which turned out to be an isolated decision without the corresponding clearly defined economic policy. At the time, the caution was raised that the ‘consequence is that the Naira is on a downward swing. Combined with the rising cost of transport because of the withdrawal of subsidy the inflationary pressure on the economy is very high. As a result, living conditions are getting worse. At this rate, poverty incidence will be terribly high, beyond any rational expectations.’

The protests in Minna and Kano confirms the validity of the concerns raised as far back as August 2023. Sadly, six months after those concerns were raised, the situation is only getting worse as prices of food items are beyond reach of most Nigerians. If the truth must be told, there is hunger in the land! As a committed member of APC, it is very depressing that this is happening under the leadership of our party. Even more depressing was the statement issued by Mr. Felix Morka, our National Publicity Secretary alleging that opposition parties are behind the protests. For Mr. Morka to issue such a very dishonest statement points to only one thing that the leadership of our party have completely lost it and at this rate their political utility value is zero. This clearly suggest that even the old pretences about being progressive has been thrown to the dogs.

How can we be talking of opposition sponsoring protests in the strongholds of the APC? Both Minna and Kano are strong holds of APC. In the case of Minna, Niger State, APC is the ruling party. Kano is the home state of Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, the APC National Chairman. To suggest that any opposition party could mobilise citizens to protests our government is already defeatist. The hard reality is that these protests are logical responses to the realities facing Nigerians. If these realities continue unattended to, these protests will spread like bush fire across every part of the country within a very short period. No one should be deceived, these are justifiable protests, which tests the responsiveness of our party, our leaders and above all our democracy. APC and President Asiwaju Tinubu may wish to ignore them at their own peril.

Good enough, report from the Presidency suggests that the Federal Government is not ignoring the protests. The worrisome reality however is whether the government will decisively respond by coming out with a clearly defined economic policy, which should once and for all resolve the challenge of subsidy withdrawal and floating the exchange rate. Withdrawal of subsidy and floating the Naira against other major currencies are very necessary decisions, which should have been integral part of broader economic plans. Withdrawing subsidy without addressing the question of what needs to be done to guarantee local production of petroleum products is bound to have the current mess of skyrocketed increase in prices of petroleum products. Similarly, floating the Naira against other major currencies without taking the needed steps to reduce imports will also produce what we have today whereby the value of the Naira is permanently on a downward slide.

Once government is unable to settle these issues, it is predictable that cost of living will continue to go up. Once prices of necessities are beyond the reach of ordinary Nigerians, citizens will respond in the streets to compel our leaders to do the needful. This is the value of democracy. Instead of blaming some imaginary opposition parties, our party’s leadership and our government should simply take responsibility. It is quite heartbreaking that we appear to be almost back in the old politics that characterises military dictatorship. Instead of calling meetings of organs of the party to initiate strategies of mobilising all governments controlled by the APC to coordinate responses to democratic demands of citizens, all we want to do is to criminalise the protests.

We must appeal to our leaders, especially President Asiwaju Tinubu not to submit to the temptation of criminalising the legitimate grievances of Nigerians. Under no circumstances must our leaders imagine that because they are today’s rulers, unacceptably harsh living conditions caused by clear policy choices of our government should be tolerated. These were the same issues we rose against under the military and during the tenure of PDP between 1999 and 2015. Perhaps, if the truth must be told, if it were during the tenure of former President Muhammadu Buhari, many would rationalise it given his military background. But coming during the tenure of President Asiwaju Tinubu who was indisputably a committed democrat, makes it even more compelling for Nigerians to protest. Maybe it is only the loud protests of citizens that will compel President Asiwaju Tinubu to have more listening ears and opens his government for citizens to engage it and influence its policy directions.

As it is now, the renewed hope agenda of our party has been floated. Like the Naira exchange rate, Renewed Hope is being exchanged for Renewed Anger. The value is becoming more and more provocative to citizens. At this rate, all appeals for patience may be simple waste of time given the challenge of survival. Already complicated by worsening security situation in the country so much that Abuja, the Federal Capital has also become unsecure, it is in our enlightened interest both as a party and as Nigerians to put pressure on President Asiwaju Tinubu to do the needful by putting in place immediately a clearly defined economic policy to resolve the situation. May God Almighty unite Nigerians in the struggle to make Nigerian democracy functionally responsive! Amin.

Salihu Moh. Lukman