By Kalu Okoronkwo
There seems to exist a recurring narrative – one of grand promises; another, of profound disappointments over certain policies, especially geared towards poverty alleviation and improvement of the life of Nigerian citizens. This is in spite of the opportunities and prosperity that naturally abound in the country.
The economic asphyxiation of the masses is exacerbated by a government that often fails to harness its abundant resources effectively for the benefit of the people.
As at the last count, Nigeria has implemented various social intervention programmes intended to alleviate the suffering of the masses. However, the effectiveness of these programmes is often questionable. Trader Moni, N-Power, school feeding programme, COVID-19 palliative, and now, fuel subsidy removal palliative, among other initiatives, have faced allegations of corruption, politicisation, and mismanagement, leaving the intended beneficiaries in the lurch.
The Trader Moni of the past administration and palliatives associated with the recent fuel subsidy removal by the present administration which are promises of economic relief for the masses and positioned as lifelines for the most vulnerable citizens, have again, cast a mirage of hope.
These programmes are superficially positioned to uplift the masses from sufferings. However, as the dust settles and the realities emerge, the story is one of economic despair. The common thread that binds them is a pattern of waste, mismanagement, and questionable outcomes, reflecting a broader challenge in Nigeria’s approach to addressing the needs of its citizens.
Just like the now rested Trader Moni microcredit scheme of President Mohammed Buhari administration, the N3.27trn. subsidy removal palliatives announced by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration to cushion the economic hardship on Nigerians following the removal of fuel subsidy, may just be another phoney jamboree with no significance or impact on the common man, who are the primary target of the initiative.
These palliatives included N100bn to acquire 3,000 units of 20-seater CNG-fuelled buses; N200bn to boost agriculture production; N75bn for manufacturers; N125bn for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, and the informal sector, N185bn as palliatives for states; N1tn on student loans and other programmes.
Others included N315bn to pay federal workers’ N35,000 allowance for six months, N1.13trn to 15 million households at N25,000 per month for three months from October to December 2023; N70bn earmarked as palliative measures for lawmakers, and N75bn loan facility to 1.5m market women.
The fact is that Nigerians are always promised relief, but what they often receive are half-measures and misdirection.
The yearning for substantial change, always results in grand gestures without concrete actions.
The much touted Trader Moni initiative as at today have no testimony of a Nigerian who was impacted by the programme, who could stand before the world and really chronicle a story of transformation from grass to grace, neither could anyone vouch of the economic improvement as a result of the government palliatives since the fuel subsidy removal initiative was announced. What an irony!
This is in spite of the fact that over 50% of the funds have left government coffers, yet poverty looms large on a daily basis.
With the current hardship in the country, Nigeria needs policies and initiatives that go beyond the illusion of hope. It requires genuine empowerment, sustainable development, and social and economic justice. Rather than short-term fixes, the nation must move towards long-term, transformative solutions that improve the well-being of all citizens.
The economic strangulation of the masses cannot continue. Empowering ordinary Nigerians requires the government to prioritize policies that genuinely address the needs of the population. It involves a commitment to social and economic justice, investment in education, job creation, and the eradication of systemic corruption.
Accountability and transparency in governance are critical to mitigating waste and economic asphysixiation. These principles can help ensure that public resources are allocated efficiently and equitably.
Strengthening the rule of law and anti-corruption efforts is pivotal to restoring the faith of the masses in their government.
For instance, the Nigeria Trader Moni (NTM) programme launched in 2018, was touted as a microcredit initiative designed to provide small loans to traders and artisans across the country. With a promise of financial empowerment for the most vulnerable in society, it seemed like a ray of hope. However, what followed was a series of allegations and investigations, revealing that the programme had been marred by corruption, mismanagement, and politicisation. Funds meant for the masses allegedly found their way into the pockets of politicians and middlemen, leaving many genuine beneficiaries without the support they were promised.
The composulsory cash transfer of (N25,000.00), an initiative of the federal government, which is part of the general scheme to cushion the impact of the fuel subsidy removal, seems to have already suffered a setback owing to the mechanism the government is adopting in its implementation.
Just recently, the government said that disbursement of the cash transfer to the vulnerable will commence, adding that government will first update the social register, removing those without Voters Cards and NIN.
The question is how does possession of voters’ card or NIN relate to poverty? Does the possession of NIN or voters’ card make one poorer or richer?
The debate over fuel subsidy removal has remained a constant in Nigerian politics, with promises of palliatives intended to mitigate the impact on the masses. These palliatives are often introduced with grand assurances of improved public transportation, better infrastructure, and targeted social intervention programmes. Yet, when the rubber hits the road, the implementation and impact of these measures have often fallen short of expectations. Fuel price hikes, far from being a rare occurrence, have become a recurring burden for the average Nigerian.
The recurring strikes organized by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and other Trade Unions in response to fuel subsidy removal often presented as an opposition of the government’s economic goals and the masses’ demands for economic stability becomes another activity that weighs on the poor.
Labour strikes triggered by fuel subsidy removal impacts are multifaceted and affect various sectors of the Nigerian economy including disruption of economic activities, particularly in sectors like transportation, manufacturing, and education. Businesses suffer financial losses, and workers face wage reductions or job insecurity during strikes.
Also, increased cost of transportation and goods during strikes can have a cascading effect on prices, impacting the overall cost of living for Nigerians.
Truth be told, where a significant portion of the population grapples with poverty, unemployment, and a lack of access to basic services, social intervention programmes should ideally serve as lifeline for the masses.
The case in Nigeria is however, a sobering reality as these programmes have, in many instances, failed to address the pressing needs of the people.
Though the programmes are conceived with the noblest of intentions and there may be beneficiaries, the question remains: are the programmes genuinely making a substantial difference in the lives of the masses? A comprehensive impact assessment is often lacking, leaving the true impact unclear.
To mitigate some of the controversies that trail poverty alleviation programmes, Nigeria’s leaders should aim for lasting, sustainable solutions that genuinely address the needs of the population. The masses should be active participants in the design and execution of policies that affect their lives. True empowerment requires a shift from short-term, politically motivated palliatives to long-term, sustainable solutions that elevate the welfare of the nation.
To tip the balance of hope in favor of the masses, Nigeria must prioritize transparency, accountability, and inclusivity in its policy implementations. It is imperative to ensure that the intended beneficiaries receive the support they are promised. Oversight mechanisms must be strengthened to root out corruption and malpractice in the execution of these initiatives. The government must also embark on a sincere journey of effective communication, building trust with the masses through honest and open dialogue.
Government’s tendency to waste resources and economically strangle the masses is a stark contradiction to the nation’s potential. Nigeria should be a land of opportunity and prosperity for all its citizens. However, this vision can only be realized when the government shifts its priorities towards transparency, accountability, and policies that genuinely uplift the masses. The economic strangulation of the masses must end, and the government has a fundamental role to play in ensuring that Nigeria’s wealth benefits all its people.
Okoronkwo, a leadership and good governance advocate writes from Lagos. He can be reached via [email protected]