PERVASIVE HARDSHIP IN NIGERIA: GOVERNANCE AND POLICIES MUST HAVE A HUMAN FACE
BISHOP EMMANUEL ADETOYESE BADEJO
CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF OYO
Government policies and action must ideally serve the citizenry. Especially in a democracy, government policies and actions, no matter how good they are, should be targeted at the public good and should make life more liveable for the people. This is true simply because government officials and public servants are mere custodians of the power which belongs to the people. Therefore, in executing even the best and most urgent policies, the people’s interest, not party ego or selfish plans must be at the centre of honest governance. Government and public officials in a democracy are public servants, not slave drivers. That is what it means for governance to have a human face.
The ongoing currency redesign and the sloppy way in which it is being inflicted on Nigerians is causing untold hardship for most of the Nigerian people. A policy which sucks up the hard-earned old currency notes which majority of the people depend on, with little guarantee of getting new currency notes to them to spend is tantamount to squeezing life out of millions. I heard a teacher who had been to the banks and ATMs 4 times in a futile search for new notes saying, perhaps he would try what he called the “Bandits Bank of Nigeria” to get some. After all, as he said, the high and mighty are already freely spending the new notes. That shows the level of frustration of millions of Nigerians on the financial policy and the low level of confidence they have in the system.
The Central Bank governor’s grandstanding about not shifting his January 31 deadline for turning in the old notes can only make justifiable sense if his office had done everything possible and necessary to make the new notes available to the largest percentage of Nigerians 100 days ago. It is now common knowledge that this is not the case. Why then should the general public suffer for the institution’s failure? The reported appeal to subsidiary banks by the Central Bank to collect and disburse the redesigned notes when it should have made them do it is simply laughable and indicative of the nature of governance in Nigeria. The story is even more dire in large swathes of the country where there is no banking service whatsoever within kilometres. Are those living there not Nigerians too?
The whole scenario is of course complicated by the paralysing fuel scarcity which has now raised the price of petrol to 400 naira or more in some places. Now President Buhari has raised something of a task force to make petrol available. This typically Nigerian style of throwing stones at a charging lion is hardly surprising! What about those whose job it was to make petrol available in the first place? Now we have a committee that will spend more money to redress our already monumental loss of money. To paraphrase William Shakespeare, it is so much gone with the thief and so much to find the thief! President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration that 100 day-period is more than sufficient for the public to change the old currencies to new ones is easy to make when you live in Aso Rock and get bales of new notes thrown at you at your beck and call. He simply does not seem to know anything about the alarming incompetence and insensitivity which the banking system has shown in getting those new notes to members of the public who wish to get them. All these are coming on top of skyrocketing price of goods and services sending the anger and frustration of the struggling masses through the roof with the 2023 general elections only weeks away. How then will the elections be free and fair? Is there a sinister plan hidden somewhere behind all this?
The Nigerian government and its officials must react quickly to the current hard times to avoid public revolt and chaos. A hungry man, they say is an angry, destructive man and a hungry woman is even worse. If the monetary policy is hurting the same people which it is intended to serve, why can’t some modification be made to its timing and execution, cf. the BVN, NIN policies? Do our leaders need to be reminded that the power of the people will always outlast the people in power? A day of judgment will surely come!