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Editorial

Government playing politics with inflation

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With frantic efforts by the President Bola Tinubu administration to stabilise the economy, the inflation rate has continued to rise on a monthly basis without drastic measures.

Following the trends of inflation report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) one begins to feel that the government has been rather inactive in managing the inflation situation. We have been applying only the orthodox approach which is all about increasing monetary interest rates. As much as we have increased the monetary policy rates by 5.5 percent in the last 12 months, inflation has climbed rather steadily to 28.92 percent today, with a slight dip some months back, followed by steady rises.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has raised the monetary policy rate by 400 basis points to a record 22.75 percent from 18.5 percent. Members after the two-day meeting in Abuja increased the asymmetric corridor to +100 basis points /-700 basis points (Previously: +100 basis points /-300 basis points) while they also increased the Credit Reserve Ratio (CRR) to 45.0 per cent from  32.5 percent; and retain liquidity rate at 30 percent.

The CBN Governor, Olayemi Cardoso disclosed this at the 293rd Meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee in Abuja and said the increase of the anchor rate was to moderate the country’s soaring inflation rate, which stood at 29.90 per cent in January.

The decision of the MPC also coincided with the announcement by the CBN of the sale of foreign exchange to Bureau de Change (BDC) operators in the country at N1,301 per USD, according to a Tuesday memo signed by Hassan Mahmud, the director of the Trade and Exchange Department at the apex bank.

The resumption of the sale of forex to BDCs is happening more than two years after the former CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, stopped the sales to BDC operators in that segment of the forex market.

According to the memo, the move is part of CBN’s “strategic steps” to increase liquidity and strengthen the naira against “manipulators”.

However, the new aggressive stance of CBN in raising the anchor interest rate, which determines what the banks charge on facilities to customers, is being queried by Prof. Uche Uwaleke of the Department of Banking & Finance, Nasarawa State University, who said jerking up the MPR by 400 basis points in one fell swoop is simply overkill, suggesting that 200 basis points would have been better since they have another opportunity to meet next month to review impact

Precisely, a few weeks ago the NBS disclosed that the inflation rate in Nigeria gained 7.58 percentage points in 2023 when it increased to 28.92 percent in December 2023 from 21.34 percent reported in December 2022.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) reported by NBS showed that 28.92 percent in December 2023 is relative to the November 2023 headline inflation rate which was 28.20 per cent.

According to NBS, “Looking at the movement, the December 2023 headline inflation rate showed an increase of 0.72 per cent points when compared to the November 2023 headline inflation rate.

“On a year-on-year basis, the headline inflation rate was 7.58 percentage points higher compared to the rate recorded in December 2022, which was 21.34 per cent.

“This shows that the headline inflation rate (year-on-year basis) increased in December 2023 when compared to the same month in the preceding year (i.e., December 2022).

“Furthermore, on a month-on-month basis, the headline inflation rate in December 2023 was 2.29 percent, which was 0.20 percent higher than the rate recorded in November 2023 (2.09 percent).

“This means that in December 2023, the rate of increase in the average price level is more than the rate of increase in the average price level in November 2023.”

NBS stated that the percentage change in the average CPI for the 12-month ending December 2023 over the average of the CPI for the previous twelve-month period was 24.66 percent, showing a 5.81 percent increase compared to 18.85 percent recorded in December 2022.

On urban inflation, the NBS report stated that “On a year-on-year basis, in December 2023, the Urban inflation rate was 31.00 percent, this was 8.98 percentage points higher compared to the 22.01 percent recorded in December 2022.

“On a month-on-month basis, the Urban inflation rate was 2.42 percent in December 2023, this was 0.19 percent points higher compared to November 2023 (2.23 percent).

“The corresponding 12-month average for the Urban inflation rate was 26.22 percent in December 2023. This was 6.83 percentage points higher compared to the 19.38 percent reported in December 2022.”

For rural Inflation, it said, “The Rural inflation rate in December 2023 was 27.10 percent on a year-on-year basis; this was 6.38 percent higher compared to the 20.72 percent recorded in December 2022. On a month-on-month basis, the Rural inflation rate in December 2023 was 2.17 percent, up by 0.18percentage points compared to November 2023 (1.99 per cent).

“The corresponding 12-month average for the Rural inflation rate in December 2023 was 23.25 per cent. This was 4.91per cent higher compared to the 18.34 per cent recorded in December 202.”

Unfortunately, the Whereas 2 percent – 4 percent inflation is considered to be healthy inflation (for matured economies), and we may run up to say 6 percent – 8 percent in our economy without any sense of panic, the Central Bank of Nigeria has set its inflation target at anything below double-digit. Let’s call that 9 percent. We are thus 13 percent above this target.

How else can we force down inflation? And what latitude can we entertain especially because high rates of inflation also usually come with high GDP growth rates? The contention for me is that we should target much higher rates of growth in our GDP than the 2 percent -3 percent that we are doing and projected to do presently. It’s actually quite depressing when one sees such projections. Can we accommodate lower double-digit inflation as a price for much higher GDP growth rates? The new administration has gone all out to promise a GDP growth rate of between 8 percent to 10 percent. How can we achieve this without letting inflation run away any further?

I believe it is achievable though but that will require us discombobulating where our 22.22 percent inflation is coming from. First off, growing the economy much faster simply means getting rid of inefficiencies, ensuring that people actually get productive for whatever salaries they are paid, improving capacity utilisation in industries, getting companies to grow, encouraging new productive ventures, and generating considerable productive buzz in an economy.

We can look at other economies that have achieved this to be able to get an idea of what it takes. Many such countries – like China, India, and even other African nations which have grown at about 8 percent for some years, such as Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal, Egypt, and Ethiopia – saw real investments in infrastructure, evidencing healthy growth rates. A focused leadership, resolute in enforcing a level of discipline, punishing and rewarding promptly to signal its direction, and with adequate performance monitoring of all sectors and its targets can put Nigeria on this same track.

The Central Bank of Nigeria, through its monetary policy committee (MPC), has adopted an orthodox approach permanently by continually increasing interest rates. Perhaps that’s the best the CBN can do, or else it is accused of extra-monetarism. The textbooks say once general interest rates are increased, inflation will slow down because people are better incentivised to save money, and to borrow less, thus money in circulation reduces and inflation follows suit. If we consider where Nigeria’s inflation is coming from – with a major portion stemming from food inflation – we will most likely conclude that we have cost-push inflation. This means that sellers are passing on the higher cost of bringing goods to the market.

However, if we are honest, we will find that Nigeria’s inflation is a multi-variable phenomenon — cost-push, illegal money in the hands of many people, bad data as a result of a large informal economy, inflation from our import-intensive economy, and price gouging by those who can exploit consumers. We should understand that Nigeria’s economy is a very loose system where people get away with all sorts. So, is there any direct intervention that can be made in the agricultural sector to slow down food inflation? That will require a careful and deliberate walk-through of the entire value chain. It is not enough to throw money at the problem by way of intervention funds, a lot of which goes to waste.

A multi-sectoral approach is required, with strong executive leadership. We have no excuse for food inflation to be so high on a month-on-month basis. If we could intervene and begin to work down food and other inflation, this will have an immediate effect on our overall headline inflation numbers. We cannot afford to leave every sector to the shenanigans of players in such a growing economy. Perhaps direct government interventions to assuage the agonies of our farmers and transporters will help to tame general inflation.

Policies to increase the competitiveness and efficiency of the economy, putting downward pressure on long-term costs – At the end of the day, competitiveness and better regulation of sectors within the economy, are what guarantee the strength of an economy. Deregulation of markets is not the application of laissez-faire policies where anyone does what they like, but better, more transparent, and more scientific policies and regulatory approaches. This will then ensure that sellers in an economy think twice before playing games. Overall, too, the leaders in an economy have to be able to reduce the rat race by which people chase more money and more advantages for themselves no matter whose ox is gored. In most of Europe, people have since gotten to that level.

A higher rate of income tax could reduce spending, demand, and inflationary pressures. This is another approach to curbing inflation. Whereas Nigeria may not raise taxes at this point, what we propose we do is get serious about enforcing government revenue. The CBN is increasing interest rates in a desperate but thus far futile bid to slow down inflation, whereas the fiscal sector merely wrings its fingers at our low revenue-to-GDP ratio. The former minister of finance must have given up since no support came from a disinterested president.

There is a large room for tax compliance in Nigeria. And we are not talking about just taxes, but every revenue accruable to the government – rents, rates, duties, fees, fines, levies, and what have you. We cannot run such a slack society and expect glory to abound. Also, there is no basis for reducing government expenditure at this point. Our people’s standard of living is still so low, such that the government must have a mindset to spend more – on education, health, security, infrastructure, electricity, and rail networks. However, the efficiency of this spending is what matters.

Are we getting value for money? Is the spending getting to the people? Are we empowering Nigerians? If viewed this way, we will not be powering up unproductive inflation, but rather growing the economy (GDP). The real problem we have had in Nigeria is low growth and very high inflation. Growth must ramp up, while inflation goes down. As difficult as it may look, this is the only way forward that can be achieved through sincerity and deep thinking.

Ultimately, the government at the center should collaborate with the state governments to put to the lasting menace of insecurity so all farmers have access to their farming activities and transport their food produce into the market. Infrastructural challenge is another nightmare that must be given urgent attention to boost economic activities in the country.

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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