The Poor Are Suffering as the Corrupt Elite Fight Each Other


By Alex Batubo

WE are all suffering because the tiny corrupt elite are fighting amongst themselves. The Central Bank created the scarcity of naira notes in a vain attempt to stop vote buying. The fuel marketeers are refusing to supply enough fuel because of disputes over subsidy and the price of petrol.

This is the second time that Buhari has inflicted untold suffering on the working people. In March 2020, he imposed the lockdown as a reaction to the Covid outbreak. As a result, widespread poverty changed to hunger. Half of households reduced food consumption between July and December 2020.

Resulting directly from this catastrophe, we all suffered a huge increase in crimes and all forms of insecurity. What will be the outcome of the current economic slow-down caused by the currency restrictions?

In April 2020, Mallam Abba Kyari, President Buhari’s Chief of Staff, died as a result of Covid. This led to panic by the corrupt elite and they imposed drastic restrictions on us to save themselves from the pandemic. But they still do nothing to protect us from the common diseases of poverty.

For many years now, the poor majority have been suffering a major health disaster. In 2018 the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that there were perhaps 20,000 deaths each week in Nigeria which could have been avoided if the necessary medical care had been provided. These included the following estimated weekly deaths:

Lower respiratory infections – 5,500
Neonatal conditions – 4,000
Diarrhoeal diseases – 3,000
Tuberculosis – 2,000
Malaria – 2,000
Maternal conditions – 1,000.

In comparison, during the whole of 2020, less than 1,300 people died from Covid in Nigeria. This compares to perhaps 100,000 for each of malaria and tuberculosis over the same period. The Covid lockdown devested poor communities to protect the rich. The government still does almost nothing to protect us from the common diseases that we suffer.

The current state of healthcare delivery in Africa is poor, in Nigeria it is a disaster. Nigeria has one of the lowest levels of healthy life expectancy in Africa and is the world capital for both maternal mortality and child mortality. This is due to the low level of public health funding in Nigeria. In addition, Nigeria has one of the highest levels of out-of-pocket health expenditure in Africa. This means that most of the 60% of multi-dimensionally poor people in Nigeria are excluded from access to modern health care.

The in-fighting within the ruling class appears to be real and deep. The governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) failed to become the APC presidential candidate. In revenge he and others are now trying to stop vote buying in the coming elections. When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.

The president is giving false excuses for rushing the currency swap. He claims that returning massive hordes of currency notes to the banks will revive the economy. But what difference does it make to the economy if currency notes are hidden in soakaways or held in bank vaults? The important factors are the cost and easy availability of credit to small and medium businesses. Interest rates are usually more than 30% and stringent guarantees have to be provided.

This is the real problem. A competent Central Bank should be able to take account of the hoarding of money and just issue additional currency to balance the demands of the economy.

The other false argument is that the currency restrictions will encourage the move to a cashless society. This will only take place overtime and when everyone has the necessary facilities and equipment. Currently, at least 100 million Nigerians do not have bank accounts and so are unable to utilise bank transfers. In addition, the bandwidth for bank transfers is not adequate to cater for the increased demand. As a result, we are all suffering an increase in the frequency of the failure of such transfers.

Whatever the claimed objectives of the currency swap it is not worth the mass suffering of the common people. How many market women, okada and keke drivers have lost or face reduced livelihoods? How many POS sellers have had to close up their businesses?

Have you noticed how few passengers there are now in the kekes? They are only half full, at best. Can you imagine what this means for the driver’s income? Look at how many POS kiosks are now shut. This business used to employ nearly 1.5 million people. If only one in a hundred market women, keke or okada drivers or POS operators now turn to crime or worse we are in big trouble!

Hungry people can no longer buy food and so they are in more danger of dying from common diseases. People cannot afford to travel to hospital. If they get there, they do not have the money to take the tests. If they take the tests, they cannot afford the medicines.

The petrol shortage has now continued for four months. Prices have been up to twice the official price. Transport costs have sky-rocketed. How can we afford to travel to work? It is clear that the petrol marketeers are on a go-slow protest. And yet the government does not enforce the law.

Any competent government should be able solve both of these problems in a matter of days. Currency management and regulation of fuel are core government services. But the corrupt elite are more interested in fighting over who will be able to loot from the public purse for the next four years or more.

The CBN could announce that the old currency is valid until the end of the year and insist that the old notes are accepted by the banks until the end of next year. This would give confidence to everyone to accept the old currency for the next few months.

Extending the life of the old N200 notes will do nothing to end the crisis. These notes provided only around 7% of the currency before the change. So, extending the life of these notes will still mean that well over 90% of the cash shortage will continue. Extending their life for only two months will not give confidence to market women and others that they will not be left with only valueless bits of paper in their hands.

We need firm action NOW by the NLC and TUC! They have both warned the government to take the necessary actions. But we are dying now. We cannot politely wait for the government to take the necessary action. Buhari asked us to give him seven days to make a decision – he spent nearly two weeks dreaming up a useless response. Similarly, Peter Obi has just asked the public to bear with the CBN and the government. That does not put food on their tables.

A vibrant labour movement will also put off anti-democratic elements and give confidence to the masses that change is possible. Without a resolute united response from the trade unions, the current sporadic outbursts of violence could spread across the country.

The elections start next week. The usual election violence multiplied by the anger from the current suffering is a frightening prospect. We need firm action by the trade unions within the next few days to address one of the worst economic crises the poor have ever faced.

The government enforced “No-Work-No-Pay” on the lecturers of ASUU. We must say “No money/fuel–NO WORK!” The NLC and TUC have to provide inspirational leadership so that we can fight against the corrupt elite now, and after the elections.

Comrade Batubo, a member of Socialist Labour, writes from Abuja



Adadainfo is an online newspaper reporting Nigerian news. Email: Phone: 08071790941

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