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Editorial

Can food price regulation work against fuel hike, Naira depreciation?

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Policies and programmes introduced by the Federal Government is one thing that has become the order of the day in each of the governments in this democratic dispensation, but policy implementation is always a bone of contention. The pronouncement by President Bola Tinubu Administration to regulate food price in the market will become another white elephant project that will not see the light of the day. This solely because of lack of adequate preparation and surveys by the government before taking decisions. Fixing and working of our refineries would have been a drastic solution to fuel prices hike but the chameleonic approach in test running the refineries cannot provide immediate effect to the hunger in the land.

Just the way the fuel subsidy removal was done without providing an alternative means to cushion the suffering of Nigerians. The government has failed to understand that there are so many challenges or factors affecting the downturn economy. For instance, the issue of forex regarding Dollar incessant rise against the dollars as a result of high demands on imported Goods must be addressed, fuel Subsidy is still having direct impact on transportation of these foods commodities from the rural to urban settlement, poor workers wages and salaries, insecurity, high rate of unemployment among teeming youths, corruption in the system and general poverty will have a bouncing effect once the government should focus on regulating prices without settling all these factors.

Just last week at a conference in Abuja  on climate change, food systems and resource mobilisation, the Vice President, Kashim Shettima said the NCB would have the authority to “continually assess and regulate food prices, maintaining a strategic food reserve for stabilising prices of crucial grains and other food items.” This is another artificial policy.

But the Tinubu government should be wary of creating another cost centre, which will deepen bureaucracy. Already, the Federal Government has redundant Ministries, Departments and Agencies and is spending 98 per cent of its revenue to service debt.

Indeed, food prices are exorbitantly high these days. The National Bureau of Statistics lists the December food inflation at 33.93 percent, up from the 23.75 percent in December 2022. Reports say the prices of staples like rice, beans, oils, plantain, grains, fish, poultry, and meat have surged by 50 percent. There have been protests in Niger, Osun, Lagos and Kano states against the harsh development.

In bringing relief, the government wants to regulate prices. This is a contradiction in part because the Tinubu government professes to be laissez-faire in outlook. The President demonstrated this during his inauguration last May when he allowed market forces to determine the cost of petrol. This has a huge impact on transportation, and on the prices of food.

The following month, with his prompting, the Central Bank of Nigeria merged the multiple rates of the naira. From N460.70 per $1 then, the naira is exchanging for around N1,600/$ currently is worrisome.

Since those twin policies, prices have taken on a life of their own. But what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander: if Tinubu abolishes the regulation of the petrol  prices because he subscribed to economic reforms he can’t turn around to fix food prices in the market.

Other causes are insecurity, shabby road infrastructure, advancing desertification, climate change, crop diseases, ‘nuisance taxes,’ rudimentary farming system and poor political will.

Without firmly addressing these factors, the prices of food are not likely to diminish.

Rather than trigger another round of confusion in the system by fixing food prices, the Tinubu administration should try other means. According to the CBN, Nigeria’s annual food import bill is $15 billion. With the depreciation of the naira, the impact of this is devastating on food prices. So, the government should rebuild the value of the naira.

Through domestic refining, there should be genuine efforts to reduce the prices of diesel and petrol, the major fuels for transportation. If the cost of transportation reduces, food prices will contract.

ActionAid Nigeria says Nigeria suffers 50 percent post-harvest losses, amounting to N3.5 trillion annually. The federal, state and local governments should build storage facilities to accommodate the excess foods during harvest. Perishable items like tomatoes and fruits should be processed to keep them edible.

But all these plans will falter without significantly improving the security system. This has nearly destroyed food production in Nigeria in which agriculture, at 21.01 per cent in 2023, is the largest contributor to the GDP. In many states, farmers have abandoned their farms. So, Tinubu must stop paying lip service to state police to reduce the security breaches.

State governments should prioritise the construction of rural roads to ease the transportation of farm produce to the urban centres.

The recent clampdown of some business entities, malls in Abuja by the Federal Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC)  with the notion that they are selling above the stipulated prices and extorting customers will not hold water because the government should address the foundation of the problems that has brought us to this stage not peripheral approach to draw media attention.

It is important that the president as a matter of urgency deploy means of reducing the level of hardship on the citizens before it’s too late. The mass protest that kicked off in Niger state, Kogi, Kano, and two days ago in Oyo state, in the name of high cost living, hunger impediment will lead insecurity should the government fail to find lasting measures to the problem.

Editorial

Addressing the socioeconomic factors contributing to suicide rates in Nigeria

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The tragic incident that unfolded in the Magboro area of Ogun State, where Victoria Idowu, a 49-year-old woman, took her own life by hanging herself on a ceiling fan, is a poignant reminder of the deep-rooted issues surrounding mental health in our society.

The discovery of her lifeless body by her son upon his return from a church service emphasises the devastating impact of such actions on loved ones and communities at large.

This unfortunate event, coupled with the recent case of Deputy Commissioner of Police Gbolaha Oyedemi, who also tragically ended his own life, sends shockwaves across the nation. Oyedemi’s untimely demise, particularly given his position within the Force Criminal and Investigation Department in Lagos State, raises questions about the unseen burdens individuals may carry, even in seemingly successful and accomplished lives.

These incidents compel us to confront the pressing need for enhanced mental health awareness, support systems, and destigmatisation efforts within our society.

While the reasons behind such tragic decisions may remain elusive, it is imperative that we foster an environment where individuals feel empowered to seek help without fear of judgment or ostracisation.

As a nation, we must prioritise mental health initiatives, invest in accessible counseling services, and promote open dialogue about mental well-being in homes, workplaces, and communities. Only through collective action and compassion can we hope to prevent further loss and support those struggling with mental health challenges.

The intertwined tales of Victoria Idowu and Deputy Commissioner Gbolaha Oyedemi paint a harrowing portrait of despair echoing across Nigeria’s landscape.

Idowu’s final act, discovered by her son amidst the echoes of church hymns, and Oyedemi’s perplexing departure, once the trusted aide to a former governor, unveil a somber truth: suicide’s haunting grip knows no bounds.

Their stories, etched with the weight of societal expectations and personal demons, illuminate a troubling trend veiling Nigeria in sorrow.

From the seasoned to the youthful, lives are lost to the silent whispers of despair, leaving behind unanswered questions and shattered hearts.

In the shadows of these tragedies, Nigeria grapples with a growing epidemic, where the specter of suicide looms larger with each passing day. The reasons, as diverse as the nation itself, intertwine threads of societal strain, economic woes, mental anguish, and a dearth of solace in the face of adversity.

Yet, amid this darkness, one truth shines unwaveringly: suicide, however tempting, is not an adequate solution. It is a plea for help lost in the silence, a cry for understanding drowned in the noise. In the face of despair, let us extend hands of compassion, build bridges of support, and shatter the silence with voices of hope. For in unity, in empathy, lies the beacon of light guiding us through the darkest of nights.

In 2019, the tragic loss of a university student in Lagos to suicide, amid the weight of academic pressures and depression, stirred conversations about mental health awareness within educational institutions.

The following year, the untimely demise of a renowned Nigerian musician, who was discovered dead by suicide in his Lagos home, cast a spotlight on the silent struggles faced by celebrities and public figures battling mental health issues.

Similarly, in 2020, the distressing case of a young woman in Abuja, who took her own life after sharing troubling messages on social media, underscored the crucial need for accessible support systems for individuals grappling with mental health crises.

Then, in 2021, the heartbreaking loss of a teenager in Kano, driven to suicide by the torment of bullying and harassment at school, sparked urgent calls for concerted action to address both bullying and mental health concerns among students.

These poignant examples serve as reminders of the pressing imperative for heightened awareness, robust support networks, and adequate resources to combat mental health challenges and stem the tide of suicide across Nigeria.

Nigeria faces a sobering reality according to the World Health Organization, grappling with one of Africa’s highest suicide rates, with a notable portion of victims being young people. Worse, the ratio of psychiatrists to population is 1:800,000.

However, there’s a beacon of hope: fostering mental health awareness and education emerges as one of the most potent tools in combating this crisis. Despite prevailing stigmas branding mental health issues as taboo or indicative of weakness, dispelling these misconceptions can pave the way for a more compassionate and supportive society. By shedding light on mental health challenges, we can dismantle barriers to seeking help and foster understanding for those battling depression and suicidal thoughts.

Moreover, addressing the recurring tide of suicides demands an overhaul of mental health services accessibility nationwide. Presently, many Nigerians, particularly in rural areas, face insurmountable hurdles in accessing vital care and support. By bridging this gap and ensuring equitable access to mental health services, we can extend a lifeline to those in dire need, fostering a nation where every individual’s well-being is prioritized and safeguarded.

Governments, healthcare providers, and non-governmental organisations could work together to expand mental health services, train healthcare professionals, and integrate mental health into primary healthcare systems.

To effectively combat the pervasive issue of suicide in Nigeria, collaboration between governments, healthcare providers, and non-governmental organisations is paramount. Together, they can expand mental health services, equip healthcare professionals with necessary training, and integrate mental health into primary healthcare systems.

Establishing robust support networks is crucial for individuals grappling with mental health challenges and suicidal ideation. This entails offering accessible avenues for seeking help, such as helplines, support groups, and online forums. Education initiatives should empower friends, family, and communities to recognize signs of depression and suicidal behavior, fostering environments of support and understanding.

Furthermore, advocating self-care practices like exercise, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques equips individuals with tools to manage their mental well-being and mitigate the risk of suicidal tendencies.

Addressing the persistent scourge of suicide demands a holistic approach that delves into its root causes while providing effective interventions and support for those in crisis. Through concerted efforts to promote mental health awareness, improve access to services, foster support networks, and empower individuals, Nigeria can forge a path towards suicide prevention and cultivate a healthier society for all.

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Editorial

Nigeria’s National Identity Card initiative: A misguided venture

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The recent announcement by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) regarding the launch of a new national identity card with payment functionality epitomises folly.

While touted as a solution to streamline identification and financial services, the collaboration between NIMC, the Central Bank of Nigeria, and the Nigeria Inter-bank Settlement System appears to be a misaligned endeavour.

In a nation burdened by limited resources and an array of urgent challenges, Nigeria’s pursuit of grandiose projects with questionable benefits is a luxury it cannot afford.

Despite its surface appeal, closer scrutiny reveals a troubling trend of duplication, bureaucratic inefficiency, and a glaring gap between governmental aspirations and citizens’ realities.

This venture echoes previous attempts to overhaul the national identification system, notably the ill-fated 2006 concession awarded to Chams.

That endeavour, marred by allegations of collusion and technical sabotage, squandered over $100 million, leaving a bitter legacy of failure. In light of this history, skepticism abounds regarding the prospects of the current initiative.

As Nigeria grapples with pressing socio-economic issues, including poverty, insecurity, and inadequate infrastructure, it is imperative that resources be directed towards initiatives with tangible benefits for the populace.

The proposed national identity card, with its payment functionality, appears to be a misplaced priority in this context.

Rather than embarking on ventures with dubious returns, Nigerian authorities must prioritise accountability, transparency, and citizen-centric policies. The nation cannot afford to repeat past mistakes at the expense of its long-suffering populace.

Furthermore, the purported justification for the new card – facilitating access to “multiple government intervention programs” for the financially marginalised – falls short when juxtaposed with the formidable hurdles Nigerians encounter in simply linking their National Identification Number (NIN) to vital services like mobile phone accounts or bank facilities.

The pandemonium and exasperation prevalent in these endeavours, resulting in citizens squandering valuable time and resources, should stand as a stark warning regarding the government’s competence in executing such extensive identity management schemes.

Moreover, if the concern is the proliferation of identification documents in Nigeria – from international passports and driver’s licenses to voter cards and the existing national ID card – this newspaper holds that this mosaic of identification systems not only spawns unnecessary confusion and bureaucratic headaches for citizens but also casts doubt on the government’s capacity to efficiently orchestrate and amalgamate these diverse platforms.

Instead of tackling these persistent issues head-on, the introduction of yet another identity card appears to be an ill-conceived effort to reinvent the wheel, with scant consideration for the practical challenges confronting Nigerians in their daily lives.

In a nation grappling with limited resources and a plethora of pressing needs, the decision to allocate billions of naira to this new card project is both confounding and deeply concerning. Many would argue that the government’s time and financial resources could be more effectively directed towards enhancing existing infrastructure, fortifying public services, and confronting the numerous socioeconomic challenges plaguing the country.

From the dire state of the healthcare system to the ongoing insecurity that has resulted in significant loss of life, there exist far more urgent issues warranting the government’s attention and, critically, its constrained financial resources.

Moreover, the assertion that the new card will facilitate access to “government intervention programs” for the financially marginalised raises concerns about introducing yet another bureaucratic barrier for vulnerable Nigerians.

Instead of introducing a new identification system, the government’s focus should be on refining and strengthening existing social welfare programs, ensuring they are accessible, efficient, and tailored to meet the needs of the populace.

The government’s ambition to distribute the new card to approximately 104 million citizens is cause for concern. Undertaking such a monumental task without a clear and comprehensive plan is likely to result in further delays, logistical complexities, and a considerable squandering of public funds – resources that could have been channeled towards making tangible improvements in the lives of Nigerians.

In essence, the rollout of the new national identity card with payment functionality reflects a recurring pattern in Nigerian governance: the inclination towards grand, top-down initiatives that often fall short of addressing the underlying issues fueling the country’s challenges.

Instead of pursuing this dubious venture, the government’s focus should shift towards strengthening existing identification systems, fostering better coordination among government agencies, and prioritising investments in areas directly impacting the lives of Nigerians.

As a nation, we must resist the temptation of embracing flashy new projects that promise quick fixes to complex problems.

Achieving genuine progress demands a nuanced, collaborative, and evidence-based approach that acknowledges the distinct needs and challenges of diverse communities.

It’s high time for the government to abandon this latest identity card scheme and redirect its efforts towards more impactful and sustainable initiatives that truly serve the citizens it is sworn to uplift.

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Editorial

Articulated vehicles and the scourge of avoidable deaths

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Nigerians across the country continue to die utterly preventable deaths thanks to a lack of political will on the part of its leaders. It is an ugly fate thrust upon its citizens to live in a country whose economy is built upon the blood of the ordinary people, not out of sacrifice, but nonchalance. Articulated vehicles wipe out families, dreams, and human capital in one fell swoop. Press statements from the leaders are not enough. We need the May 2024 immediacy of the Tinubu administration in this sector too.

Last week, a falling container killed a woman in the Ogudu area of Lagos. The woman was inside a car when the fully loaded 40ft Mack articulated truck fell on it, leading to her instant death, according to the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA).

In October 2023, a businessman identified as Akuma Kalu, was crushed to death by a 40-feet container that fell on his car along the failed portion of Etche-Ngokpala road in Etche Local Government Area of Rivers state.

In September 2023, five women died in a fatal accident that occurred in the early hours of Friday at Odumodu Junction, Nteje, Oyi Local Government Area along Awka Road, Anambra State. As usual, the container of the truck fell upon the bus carrying these people, killing them. We could go on and on. The story remains the same: tragedy upon tragedy.

Every year, the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, does sensitisation with little result to show for it because the arm of the law is too short to punish offenders at the root of the problem. The constant assault on the senses has led to a desensitisation on the part of the populace. Month after month, another story of a truck that erases a family, or multiple families because its brakes fail, or its container is overturned. The combination of the death of empathy on the part of leaders and the emotional exhaustion of the citizens will lead Nigeria down the path of a dystopia.

The governors of each state have a responsibility to institute laws to protect the indigenes. This, the Federal Government must also do nationwide. The FRSC has rules and regulations for trucks. The Government needs to only enforce these rules. Enough of blaming the trucks themselves because they are not the evil entities. The lack of accountability and a weak system perpetuates the dilemma.

The political class should not wait until Nigeria happens to one of their own before acting as is usually the case. Most cases bear the mark of immediate fatality. By the time a family member experiences it, it would have already been too late. We have hope that this administration will do what it takes to restore hope to the common man. Time to act is now.

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