Nigeria’s Badge of Nationality is OYO (On Your Own), by Ngozi Emedolibe

Let’s not mince words. Let’s call a spade by its name. This is probably the worst time to be called a Nigerian.

Official data from the government-owned agency, National Bureau of Statistics paint a very gory picture: unemployment is projected at 33.5% by the end of 2020; inflation rate is 12.4%; Hanke’s Misery Index already ranks Nigeria seventh on its scale.

Brookings Institute’s World Poverty Clock had ranked Nigeria as the world’s capital of poverty, taking over from India, yet the country has earned about $236b in the past 5 years according to OPEC’s Revenue Fact Sheet.

This has hardly rubbed off on the masses.
The corona virus pandemic has in more ways than one, proven, that the Nigerian badge of nationality has a hidden emblem: OYO…’On Your Own’. You need not look critically to see it. As a Nigerian, you are born to find a way around your situations. That is why everyone has become a government to his household. You create your special kingdom, contribute to build your roads, contribute to buy facilities for electricity, contribute to bribe officials to be linked to the grid, after which you are ‘rewarded’ with over-billing in the name of estimated bills, with a possibility of losing those facilities for defaulting in payment. Most of all, you spend your money to provide security for your household and neighbourhood.

We all saw how neighbourhoods in Lagos and Ogun, during the lockdown, formed ‘militia groups’ to protect themselves from the ‘One Million Boys’, whether real or contrived, as if the official security apparatus had collapsed. That is the regrettable reality of our times and existence.

While nationals of other countries were cashing out their palliatives given by their governments as support during the lockdown, we debated for weeks unending what our imaginary palliative should look like. From people who had less than 5k in their ‘akkant’ (as people on the streets describe depleted bank balances), it came down to people who had never recharged above N100 on their phones, until we started hearing that trillions had already been expended on the initiative. Up till today, everyone is asking someone to point at a known beneficiary. I pray to meet one someday.

So many suggestions came to the fore as ways of alleviating the suffering of Nigerians, who were locked down without incomes for months. Some suggested that each account holder should be given 30k. It never came; rather account holders are today being debited for stamp duties. Some suggested that electricity bills for three months should be borne by the FG. That did not happen; rather the DISCOs are sharpening their cutlasses, angling for higher tariffs. A new tariff regime almost kicked off this week if not for the national outcry. At the moment, majority of Nigerians working in the private sector, have had the jobs tossed aside, while a lucky few have to endure huge pay cuts. Teachers in private schools are the worst hit and it is obvious that no respite is in sight for them.

A few days ago, the government further proved its insensitivity to the masses, when the price of petrol rose to N144 per litre at a time the citizens are groaning under higher costs of transportation, occasioned by the COVID-19 operational guideline, which stipulates fewer loading capacity for commercial vehicles. The implication of this is a further hike in the price of transiting between points.

Of course, the people had heaved a sigh of relief, when the FG announced earlier in the year that it was planning to recruit 774,000 unemployed youth-one thousand per LGA in the country. The expectation was that it would help appreciably in providing incomes for some youths. The job, which is temporary, scheduled to last a few months, would have paid the beneficiaries between 20k and 30K, but today, it has been suspended as the legislators bicker with the Minster of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo, over ‘who should handle what’. In all these, nobody has factored the impact of the fighting elephants on the grasses.

These economic woes have triggered a new high in the country’s suicide rate, especially amongst the youths, who are at the receiving end, with the newspapers and social media awash with such stories too often. A recent report by Obiora Jude Uchendu, published by the Faculty of Pathology, National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, attributes the trend to depression, but the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, was quick to ban the open sale of Sniper, a brand of household insecticide which has constantly been implicated in most of the suicide cases in recent times. At the National Assembly, Rochas Okorocha, the immediate past Governor of Imo State, had ironically suggested the creation of a Federal Ministry of Happiness as the solution! A similar ministry was functional under him in Imo for 8 years, yet there was no proof of Imo citizens being happier with backlogs of salaries and pensions.

Let us continue to hide behind a finger. Let us continue to play the ostrich.

Ngozi Emedolibe, a seasoned journalist writes from Lagos.

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