Bianca Audu, a 32-year-old woman from Jalingo, is just back from the market and sorting out the goods she bought. This time she had to leave a lot of essential items off her usual shopping list, because the prices of the basics she needs to feed her family have recently doubled since the removal of the fuel subsidy. As if that wasn’t enough, she has just learnt that electricity tariff all over the country will be increased on 1st June.
“I just don’t know how we will manage”, Bianca says despairing. “I receive a daily income of less than N200 from my home-run photocopying business and the pof-pof I sell. We can’t cope with the price increase of anything else…Unless government wants to create a system where we go to the market and do trade by barter not by money, they should understand that we are human and our lives are ‘un-BARTable’!” says Bianca, a mother of three, whose husband is paralysed and unemployed.
Bianca is correct, Nigerians are humans and their lives are un-bartable! Bianca is not alone in her plight. She can be sure to be in the company of millions of Nigerians whose struggle for survival can barely endure a further price increase of anything from any quarter. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, poverty keeps rising in Nigeria, with over 100 million people living on less than a $1 a day. Almost 70% of the Nigerian population cannot make ends meet and are living in "absolute poverty". And by absolute poverty, I mean they have absolutely nothing to survive on, absolutely nothing to feed on, absolutely nothing to do, absolutely nothing at all! It really is shocking that even with the challenges to the economy and development that the government is tackling, this administration would think that it is justifiable to implement policies that undermine prosperity and worsen the people’s extreme poverty level.
Only a few months ago, government gave a heavy blow to the populace by thrusting Nigerians in the colliery of despair by removing fuel subsidy. To come with another severe policy at a time when the country is yet to recover from the recent pains seems ridiculous.
We are told that the increase of electricity tariff is necessary for efficient services, for the encouragement of investments in the power sector and the creation of jobs, but Nigerians feel sceptical. And who can blame them? When accounts of how the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of State for Finance aledgedly abetted $1.1 billion in the Malabu Oil Block Deal are leaked, people become wary of governments’ motive with every decision. When disclosures of how N2.6 trillion has been stolen by the fuel subsidy gang of very-wealthy-merry-men and revelations of how the surveillance and control of Nigeria’s territorial waters has been ceded to a commander of a criminal, terrorist vigilante army in a multi-million naira deal, Nigerians read ‘hugger-mugger’ between the lines of such policies.
In 2008, it was revealed that since 1999, a whopping $10 billion had been spent on the power sector. At that time people were astounded that such a mind-boggling amount could be spent in a sector that yielded no results and saw no improvement of power generation. Despite all the funds that have been sunk into the sector in the past, Nigerians today live in darkness, still victims to the non-power supply, still existing in an atmosphere that looks more like the stone-age than it does the 21st century. And in the midst of that, consumers have had to pay for a service that just wasn’t there. If, in the face of the billions of dollars that was spent in the past, Nigeria still has no stable power, why should anyone have faith that this new initiative to burden the Nigerian people would result in steady power?
Over the years, we have witnessed the transfiguration that our power sector has gone through; from NEPA, to PHCN, to an organization of subsidiaries all in a bid to rectify the dyslexic state of our power supply. And as Nigerians continue to grope in the dark for lack of light, alas, it seems to have all been for nothing!
If the champions of the electricity price increase were truly candid in their bid to reform the sector, they need to first establish where the money spent in the power sector in the past went. They need to address this before doing anything because Nigerians have a God-given and constitutional right to know ‘how’ and ‘who’ mismanaged and stole the billions of dollars that was spent on the power sector in the past. Nigerians have a right to see these people either pay back their ill-gotten, stolen wealth or pay for their offense with their freedom. If government were focused on recovering the billions that was stolen from this sector, there wouldn’t be a need to impose on the predominantly poverty stricken people of Nigeria to balance the incongruity of a few callous businessmen and government officials.
Apart from the blatant misappropriation of the funds, government should educate Nigerians on all the reasons previous governments failed to successfully solve the electricity impasse. This is very important so that, as we move forward everyone would be knowledgeable on the snares that need to be avoided. This way, when government proposes necessary draconian policies in the future, it will be easier for Nigerians to understand and accept.
“The government should take pity on us, I beg”, says Bianca Audu while preparing some pap for her husband.
She does not know where to turn for help. “I don’t trust the government anymore, they keep lying and suffering us all the time, and I am tired of living like this”, she says while feeding her husband.
“The government should take measures on power and fuel subsidy without asking us to pay for their carelessness… Already, I don’t have enough to pay for electricity…even the light is not always available and my photocopying relies on light… Let the government take pity on us”, she cries.
Bianca, who has just finished feeding her husband with pap that is now more precious than ever, has little hope for a better future. “Government should understand that we are human and our lives are ‘un-BARTable’…If today I can’t fulfil my family’s basic needs, what am I going to do in the near future”, she asks… Bianca is still looking for someone who can answer her question.
From all indication, there is a high probability that the rapid fall in living standards likely to be triggered by the increase in electricity price could mean a social crisis is just one step away. With extreme poverty and unemployment reaching an all-time high on the one hand, and with the government’s apparent total indifference toward the plight of the majority in Nigerian, the increase in the electricity tariff might lead to the kind of social turmoil we saw with the removal of fuel subsidy.
I doubt there was anyone more excited than myself when Dr. Bart Nnaji emerged the Minister of Power. Knowing of his brilliance, achievements and pedigree, I have never believed that there was anybody more suited for that position more than him. And as I write this, I urge Dr. BART Nnaji to make the necessary reforms in the power sector while considering the plight of over 100 million Nigerians that cannot afford any hike in electricity tariff. After all, to impose on our people in this way, at this time would be like BARTending our suffering in a BARTer of sorts where the BARTizan of each Nigerian household would be under the miscoloured BARTracery of government misrule... And as Bianca Audu would say, Nigerians are human Sir and our lives are ‘un-BARTable!'
Article Written by Hannatu Musawa