The news is trending that a thirty two year old beautiful Miss Amarachi Ugochukwu, a bank’s marketing girl in Ikorodu Lagos of Globus Bank, was reportedly found dead inside the toilet of that branch of the bank. She allegedly drank a bottle of killer insecticide to end it all but not without a suicide note in which she highlighted what in her thinking are the reasons for taking her life. Amongst her reasons, is the underlying economic hardships that millions of Nigerians are also going through especially since the current administration removed the subsidy payments on Petroleum products which automatically made the costs of petrol more than three hundred percent higher than a liter of fuel was prior to the assumption of office of the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s government on May 29th 2023.
Before we proceed, I must emphatically state that suicide by any Nigerian is not a rational or logical solution to the biting economic hardships in the country. This is because of the ideological fact that suicidal death is not an answer to the situation that a living being faces but what is key for anyone is to find ways and means of liberating himself or herself from the adverse consequences of the bad economic decisions made by those who are wielding political powers at the moment and then as a citizen, to attempt to associate with other like minded people to agitate vigourously through legitimate means for positive improvements to be made by those who are in authority politically.
This is because, constitutionally, the people of Nigeria are the real owners of the Sovereignty of Nigeria because the politicians and other technocrats they pick to head public offices, hold their offices at the behest of the people of Nigeria. The people of Nigeria are those who periodically donate the legitimacy to the political office holders to exercise authority for a given period of time. These basic facts are constitutionally grounded and guaranteed.
A second leg of the reasons to dismiss suicide as inconsequential and unhelpful is that by law, the government of Nigeria can’t impose policies, economic or otherwise, whose outcomes result in the impoverishment of the majority of Nigerians. Were our courts independent, the best bet is to challenge perceived bad economic policies by government in court of law to get them overturned. But the fact is that, legally can’t make policies whose effects result in the impoverishment of the citizens.
We will go to the constitution in Chapter two to therefore argue forcefully and persuasively that President Tinubu is deliberately punishing Nigerians and going against the constitution by the imposition of two toxic economic policies that have seen the costs of living for millions of Nigerians triple in terms of the purchasing power of the National currency. The first of the twin toxic policies is the withdrawal of the payment of subsidy on petrol which has led to the ballooning costs of goods and services in Nigeria.
The second and perhaps the most egregious category is the failure of the government to defend the national legal tender against the vagaries of the so-called market forces which automatically rubbished the exchange rates of the Naira vis-a-vis other foreign monetary notes such as the dollars and Pounds, Euro.
The second of these toxic economic policies is also illegal if we go by the functions apportioned to the Central Bank of Nigeria by the enabling Act that set it up. Specifically, the law setting up the CBN prescribe the legal function of the banking industry regulator to be as follows: issue legal tender currency in Nigeria;
maintain external reserves to safeguard the international value of the legal tender currency; promote a sound financial system in Nigeria; and. act as Banker and provide economic and financial advice to the Federal Government.
Now, let us assess what the Nigerian Constitution say about the government’s deliberate policies that impoverish and pauperise the clear majority of the citizenry.
Section 16 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states thus:
(1) The State shall, within the context of the ideals and objectives for which provisions are made in this Constitution.
(a) harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient, a dynamic and self-reliant economy;
(b) control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity;
(c) without prejudice to its right to operate or participate in areas of the economy, other than the major sectors of the economy, manage and operate the major sectors of the economy;
(d) without prejudice to the right of any person to participate in areas of the economy within the major sector of the economy, protect the right of every citizen to engage in any economic activities outside the major sectors of the economy.
(2) The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring:
(a) the promotion of a planned and balanced economic development;
(b) that the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good;
(c) that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group; and
(d) that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.
(3) A body shall be set up by an Act of the National Assembly which shall have power;
(a) to review, from time to time, the ownership and control of business enterprises operating in Nigeria and make recommendations to the President on same; and
(b) to administer any law for the regulation of the ownership and control of such enterprises.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section –
(a) the reference to the “major sectors of the economy” shall be construed as a reference to such economic activities as may, from time to time, be declared by a resolution of each House of the National Assembly to be managed and operated exclusively by the Government of the Federation, and until a resolution to the contrary is made by the National Assembly, economic activities being operated exclusively by the Government of the Federation on the date immediately preceding the day when this section comes into force, whether directly or through the agencies of a statutory or other corporation or company, shall be deemed to be major sectors of the economy;
(b) “economic activities” includes activities directly concerned with the production, distribution and exchange of weather or of goods and services; and
(c) “participate” includes the rendering of services and supplying of goods.
On Oct 27 last year, Reuters, a foreign news agency published a piece that attempted an official explanation of why Naira is on a free fall. It wrote that the Nigeria’s naira is on the brink of breaching 1,000 per dollar after falling to an official record low of 999 last week, Refinitiv data showed, tracing its weakness on the unofficial market where it trades freely.
President Bola Tinubu removed Nigeria’s foreign currency controls in June in a bid to get transactions flowing through the official market again to help unify the naira’s exchange rates.
But that has only fuelled the currency’s weakness and added to inflationary pressures.
Reuters then asked why the Naira is falling in value to other foreign legal tender notes of Western nations and answered that the central bank has a backlog of accumulated forex demand on the official market, which effectively forces individuals and businesses to head to the black market if they need dollars.
But dollar flows to Nigeria have been falling in the last few years due to declining investment and lower exports of crude oil, which account for more than 90% of the country’s export income.
Investors cheered when Tinubu lifted the currency controls, hoping a unified exchange rate would make it easier to access foreign currency, but that is yet to happen, Reuters asserted.
Even as the value of the Naira notes plummet, the Naira notes are becoming scarce and unavailable for circulation compelling banks to give out just few notes to account holder. This angle of the incapacity of the CBN to boost the volumes of cash in circulation is also destroying domestic businesses. Whilst all these are going on, attempts are made to provide official justification for these dangerous economic policies.
Also, some politicians in the ruling party say that the justification for the withdrawal of petrol subsidy is because of a lack of accountability and transparency in the administration of the payment of the subsidy by the Central government. Some of these politicians like Adams Oshiomhole who became very wealthy as soon as he became the head if the Nigerian Labour Congress and then got railroaded to becoming Edo state’s governor for 8 years and now a Senator, went as low as stating that the withdrawal of petrol subsidy has stopped the era of overnight billionaires in the crude oil sector emerging.
Some of these arguments like that of Oshiomhole are mere sophistry and without logical backup, is silent on why the government of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu did not provide any workable economic relief programmes and ensure that these initiatives are actually useful to the overwhelming majority of poor Nigerians before going ahead with withdrawing subsidy on Petroleum but not before a thorough forensic and Financial audits are done to ascertain what happened with the administration of petrol subsidy in the last 10 years and then pencil down, arrest and prosecute those rogue businesses that defrauded Nigerians of the actual subsidy payments.
The relevant section of the constitution cited above supports the argument that the government has the obligation not to drive the majority of the people into absolute poverty or to become beggary.
To compound the economic situation of the majority of Nigerians running into 133 million Nigerian households that are officially in multidimensional poverty, the government’s social investment programmes including the school feeding components of the initiatives to provide reliefs to poor Nigerians has had a chequered history of deep rooted corruption mainly because the politicians in the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, see these billions of Naira kept for poverty relief initiatives as their own POS or ATM machines whereby they siphon what belongs to the poor in the name of some bogus consultancy jobs they allocate to their own companies and those of wives of ministers in this government.
Few days ago, the massive corruption and endemic wrongs unravelled in the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation leading to widespread public angst that forced President Tinubu to suspend the minister Miss Betta Edu accused of paying over half a billion Naira of public fund into private account and of allocating over N400 million consultancy contract to ta company with suspected links to the minister of interior.
Pope Benedict XVI captured it clearly when he wrote that: “that no individual can refuse to shoulder his share of the responsibility for a matter on which the existence of mankind depends… in reality, however, there exists no professional competence that could confer the right to kill people or to allow them to be killed. The denial of a shared human capability to understand that which concerns man as man creates a new class system and thereby degrades everyone, since man as such is no longer permitted to exist. The denial of the ethical principle, the denial of the capacity for insight that is antecedent to every specialisation- that capacity for insight which we call “conscience”- is a denial of man.” [Values in a Time of Upheaval by Pope Benedict XVI].
So, reading through the above profound philosophical thoughts of Pope Benedict XVI and then looking at the suffocating economic policies being churned out by the Central government in Nigeria now, it is clear that what the Holy Father said is actually at play in Nigeria and looking at the fundamental objectives of State policy as enunciated in Chapter two of the Nigerian Constitution, it is unconstitutional for government to focus on forcing through the throats of Nigerians, policies that will push many into absolute poverty and others into committing suicide.
The national economy should be balanced so those who have no connection to the powers-that-be, are not crushed to death through suicidal policies such as the constant and galloping costs of living and high unemployment. Nigeria is not alone in the area of high costs of living but other nations have realistic economic relefs for the most impoverished in their societies unlike in Nigeria whereby every poor person is virtually left alone to their cruel fate.
Even in a capitalist society like Great Britain, www.bbc.com published a news article on the 16 the of August 2023 in which it reflected on how British government has intervened in the costs of living crisis in Britain.
It reports that the inflation rate, measuring price changes over time, fell to 6.8% in the year to July, down from 7.9% in June.
Lower electricity and gas prices drove the drop, but price rises in other areas have led to expectations that interest rates will be raised further.
The cost of eating out has risen, along with alcohol and tobacco prices.
Flight prices continued to rise, jumping almost 30% compared to July last year, according to the official figures, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Inflation is much lower than it was at its peak of 11.1% in October, but it still remains high compared to historical rates and much higher than the Bank of England’s 2% target.
When the rate of inflation falls, it does not mean that prices are coming down, but that they are rising less quickly.
Wages have been failing to keep up with rising prices for some time, but there are potential signs of change after figures on Tuesday revealed wages rose 7.8% annually between April and June.
Alongside reductions in energy bills, price rises for staple food items like milk, butter, bread, eggs, cereal and fish eased. But overall, food still costs almost 15% more than one year ago.
If Great Britain can subsidise the costs of living for their poor citizens, why are certain persons including the IMF, World Bank criticising subsidy on petrol that should be transparently administered to make life worth living for millions of Nigerians?
Will the president do the needful to stop desperately poor Nigerians from dying from hunger and suicides? Only time will tell.
Emmanuel Onwubiko is the head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.