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Editorial

Tackling Nigeria’s high food prices: Strategies for mitigating soaring inflation

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Amidst the vibrant composition of global commerce, Nigeria stands as a nation grappling with formidable challenges that threaten to stifle its economic aspirations.

The latest findings from Africa’s Pulse, a prestigious biannual survey conducted by a prominent global lending institution, cast a spotlight on Nigeria’s enduring struggle with exorbitant trade costs.

With trade expenses in Nigeria towering four to five times higher than those in the United States, the report paints a portrait of a nation hamstrung by systemic barriers to economic growth and development.

The primary culprits behind these exorbitant trade costs are identified as steep transportation expenses, inadequate road infrastructure, and pervasive insecurity. Addressing these entrenched issues demands urgent and concerted efforts from President Bola Tinubu, his economic team, and security authorities.

It’s worth noting that many of these challenges were inherited by Tinubu’s administration.

Insecurity, for instance, has long plagued the nation, with farmers abandoning their fields due to the threats posed by various forms of violence, including terrorism, banditry, and clashes with herdsmen.

The toll of this insecurity is staggering, with tens of thousands losing their lives and many more falling victim to kidnappings and displacement.

Coupled with Nigeria’s daunting infrastructure deficit, estimated at a staggering $100 billion annually over three decades, the consequences are dire, particularly reflected in soaring food prices.

Currently, food inflation stands at a staggering 37.2 percent, a sharp contrast to the modest 2.20 percent recorded in the United States during March.

Addressing these systemic challenges demands decisive action and innovative solutions to enhance Nigeria’s competitiveness on the global stage and unlock its full economic potential.

While grappling with longstanding trade challenges, President Bola Tinubu’s policies have inadvertently exacerbated the situation. Initiatives such as the removal of petrol subsidies and the floating of the naira, introduced shortly after his inauguration, have catapulted business costs, prices, and inflation to unprecedented heights.

The recent decision to eliminate subsidies for Band A electricity consumers further compounds the issue, with consumers facing a staggering increase from N68 to N225 per kilowatt hour, despite expectations of consistent power supply.

These policy shifts have cascading effects, significantly inflating the cost of production for both domestic and imported goods. Diesel prices, crucial for manufacturing due to unreliable electricity, have surged to an average of N1,600 per litre in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, the impending rise in petrol prices, post-subsidy removal, threatens to push costs even higher, amplifying the financial strain on businesses and consumers alike.

Compounding these challenges is the absence of a robust railway system to alleviate transportation burdens. Hindered by political constraints centralized at the federal level, the railway network remains underdeveloped, leaving a critical gap in Nigeria’s infrastructure landscape.

As the nation grapples with these complex dynamics, finding sustainable solutions demands a holistic approach that addresses both policy missteps and systemic deficiencies. Only through decisive action and strategic investment can Nigeria hope to chart a course towards economic resilience and prosperity.

In the intricate dance of trade dynamics in Nigeria, imported essentials like food, medicines, raw materials, petroleum products, and machinery have taken center stage, their prices soaring to astronomical heights. This relentless surge has dealt a heavy blow to countless organizations and small-to-medium enterprises, pushing many to the brink of closure.

At the heart of this economic opera lies the exorbitant lending rate, standing at a staggering 24.75 percent—a sharp contrast to the more modest 3.76 percent average witnessed in the Euro Area during the same period. This glaring imbalance in interest rates further amplifies the financial strain on businesses, stifling growth and innovation.

Yet, the cacophony of challenges doesn’t end there. Multiple taxation, sluggish port operations, and the stranglehold of government oversight on state-owned enterprises contribute to the symphony of woes plaguing Nigeria’s trade landscape.

Seaports have become bottlenecked corridors, with imported goods languishing in limbo as demurrage fees accumulate—a burden ultimately borne by consumers. Meanwhile, the choreography of trade is disrupted by a chorus of non-state actors, who levy tolls and extort fees from hapless owners seeking to unload their cargo.

In this tangled web of fiscal complexities, the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms, Taiwo Oyedele, has counted a staggering 200 taxes, a bewildering array that stifles economic vibrancy.

While the government officially collects 62 taxes—divided among federal, state, and local government authorities—another 108 informal or ‘nuisance’ taxes are levied daily by non-state entities, further entangling businesses in a web of financial burdens.

Oyedele center stage, poised to orchestrate a transformational shift towards simplicity and efficiency. With determination coursing through its veins, the committee sets its sights on streamlining the labyrinth of taxes, aiming to reduce the cacophony to a melodious single-digit harmony.

Yet, the fiscal symphony is not without its dissonance. State governments, echoing the Federal Government’s VAT collection efforts, persist in extracting consumption taxes from the same businesses—a redundant cacophony that stifles economic vibrancy.

Meanwhile, the haunting refrain of poorly managed State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) casts a shadow over Nigeria’s economic landscape. Despite being Africa’s largest crude exporter, Nigeria finds itself importing petroleum and steel products—a paradox born of SOEs mired in a state of dormancy.

To strike a harmonious chord and alleviate the burdens weighing down Nigeria’s trade, President Tinubu must take decisive action. Accelerating efforts to streamline taxation, privatizing SOEs, and embarking on a fervent quest to rebuild infrastructure stand as imperative measures on the path to economic revitalization.

Furthermore, the melody of progress demands a deepening of electricity supply and a symphonic collaboration with sub-national governments to realize the vision of state police—a harmonious fusion of security and governance.

Editorial

National anthem saga: A pointless distraction

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In the heat of untold hardship on Nigerians, what’s the significance of a National Anthem? On Thursday, a bill proposing that Nigeria revert to its old national anthem, ‘Nigeria, We Hail Thee,’ passed its third reading at the House of Representatives and its second reading in the Senate. It left many Nigerians pondering the importance of a National Anthem.

The old one, remembered fondly by some as “Nigeria We Hail Thee” was adopted in 1960 upon Nigeria’s independence. The anthem’s lyrics were written by Lillian Jean Williams, a British expatriate who lived in Nigeria when it achieved independence. While the music was composed by Frances Berda, it speaks to a country that though made up of different tribes, ethnic groups and religions, stands as one indivisible nation. Its reign lasted 18 years. In 1978, Nigeria changed its national anthem to “Arise, O Compatriots” under the military administration of General Olusgeun Obasanjo.

The anthem was originally written as a poem by five different writers, and a former police officer. Benedict Odiase, who served in the Nigeria Police Force from 1954 to 1992 was also the Music Director of the Nigerian Police Band. He was tasked with turning the poem into an anthem.

“Arise, O Compatriots” promotes national ownership, as the composer of the previous anthem was a British expatriate.

But those who support the old anthem argue that it carries a historical significance and a sense of nostalgia that could inspire a renewed sense of patriotism among Nigerians. They believe that reinstating the old anthem might rekindle a collective memory of the country’s foundational aspirations and unity.

However, critics are skeptical about the effectiveness of such a symbolic gesture in addressing the profound economic and social challenges currently facing the nation.

The speed with which the bill is racing through its readings at the National Assembly suggests it will be passed into law soon, but how many people can remember or even sing it.

Whichever way the decision goes, this is a discussion that has left many Nigerians pondering if reverting to an old national anthem can indeed translate to tangible improvements in their daily lives with the country facing rising unemployment, inflation, and insecurity.

That the old anthem is coming back, decades after, is proof that the work of the committee, made up of eminent and distinguished Nigerians, could not stand the test of time. Curiously, and in that frenzied haste, the critics of that song forgot that the same woman gave Nigeria the name she bears till date. They also did not take time to listen to the lyrics that, in our opinion, conveyed a grasping patriotic fervour that is clearly lacking in the one that is replacing it.

Media reports indicate that the House of Representatives have already passed the bill while it has passed the second reading in the Senate. As a newspaper, we commend the lawmakers for initiating the process of bringing back a beautiful song of a nation trashed, unnecessarily, on the basis of inexplicable emotion devoid of critical thinking. But that is where the commendation ought to end.

As the critics of the legislative move pointed out, this is not the time to indulge in such flights of fancy. Not at a time Nigerians are expecting their representatives to make laws that add value to their lives. They expect legislation that brings about, in practical terms, growth and development and, also, presents the country to the international community as a nation serious in its approach to governance with utmost interest in the welfare of the citizens.

The question on the lips of most Nigerians since the diversionary legislative process commenced is, what next? It is important to observe that on the scale of priority, national anthem, as important as it is, pales in relevance to a people bugged down by the hassles of daily survival, in a situation where the ruling elite preach austerity just as they indulge in mindless bohemian libertinage.

The 10th National Assembly is almost one year old. Since coming into office, and in terms of impartation on the life of the people, what is their record? Nigerians have the impression that it is about the worst since 1999. They point to the security situation in the country and the unbridled menace of bandits, kidnappers and terrorists. Progressively, agriculture, in the country, is locked in a deadly struggle with enemies of society as farmers cannot go to their farms for fear of being abducted or even killed. The sad effect of this development is that the prices of food items are hitting the roof as the prospect of mass hunger looms so large.

Nigerians also point out the high cost of living among the ordinary folks and the concupiscence that is the lifestyle of the political elite. When they are not buying exotic cars for themselves, they are embarking on frivolous holidays that question their commitment to the duty of making laws for good governance of the nation.

The National Assembly looks on as the average Nigerian is squeezed daily for one form of tariff or the other. They hide their heads in the sand as services, as essential as electricity and fuel, are recklessly taken out of the reach of the fabled common man. The lawmakers stand unperturbed as youths, the engine room of growth of any nation, wallow in disaster-laden unemployment. They feel nonplussed as foreign investors flee the country and local enterprises close shop because of the harsh business environment.

Our political leaders, in particular, the lawmakers should beam their lights in formulating laws and programmes that will grow the economy rather than contemplating on irrelevant things. There is still no headway to the national minimum wage as of today. It is very obvious that meditating on the national anthem now is a misplaced priority considering the severe hardship on Nigerians.

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Editorial

The unending insecurity nightmare: A call to action

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The recent spate of attacks and kidnappings across the country, particularly in the South-West, has once again brought to the fore the precarious state of security in Nigeria.

The gruesome account of Nurudeen Olaitan Salami, a survivor of a deadly herdsmen attack on April 17, is a chilling reminder of the horrors that many Nigerians face daily.

The fact that the attackers, armed with satellite phones and solar panels, could so brazenly carry out their nefarious activities, speaks volumes about the level of impunity that exists in our society.

The deliberate targeting of innocent citizens, including women and children, is a reminder of the depths of depravity to which these criminals have sunk.

Furthermore, the apparent complicity of some Fulani passengers and the bus driver, who were allowed to go scot-free, raises questions about the role of ethnicity and collusion in these crimes.

The fact that the security forces were unable to rescue the captives, despite engaging the attackers in a gun battle, is also a cause for concern.

This incident is not an isolated one. The renewed banditry in the South-West, the Enugu masquerades’ vicious attack, and the numerous other cases of kidnapping, terrorism, and bloodshed across the country, all point to a systemic failure of security and governance.

Despite the peace accord signed by farmers and herders, the violence has continued unabated, with Ogun, Ekiti, and Oyo states bearing the brunt of the attacks.

The payment of N31 million in ransom for three kidnapped individuals in Oyo State and the kidnapping of Alhaja Seliat Adeniji in Iseyin, Oyo State, are stark reminders of the escalating insecurity in the region.

The affected areas, including Otu, Igbeti, and Alaga in Oyo State, are witnessing a rise in banditry, armed robbery, and kidnapping, with major highways such as the Lagos-Ibadan, Ibadan-Ijebu-Ode, and Ore-Ijebu Ode-Lagos roads becoming hotspots for criminal activity.

The situation is further compounded by the kidnapping of eight cocoa farmers in Edo State and three students in Ovia South-West local government area.

The disregard for the peace accord signed by farmers and herders is a clear indication of the disdain for human life and the rule of law.

The crisis has not only worsened food insecurity in the region but also perpetuated violence against women farmers, who are easy targets for kidnappers, robbers, rapists, and killers.

It is imperative that security organisations take decisive action to address this crisis. Folding their arms while terrorists wreak havoc is unacceptable.

The government must work with stakeholders to implement effective security measures, prosecute perpetrators, and address the root causes of these crimes. The people of the South-West, and indeed Nigeria, deserve better. We demand action now!

 We deplore the upsurge in banditry, kidnapping and other criminal activities.

Given that some of the governors in the zone have demonstrated above average security interventions in their states, it is apposite to ask what the worsening security situation really signposts. First, it is sufficiently clear that the security agencies must shake off their seeming slumber.

The spate of banditry has been occasioned largely by failure of intelligence gathering on their part, and this suggests that the kind of synergy that should obtain between them and the people in the affected communities is not yet in place.

The security agencies should actively seek to build trust among the people in such a way that they would readily approach them with timely and relevant information.

That would go a long way in stemming bloodshed and creating a peaceful atmosphere in which democracy can thrive.

Besides, the South-West Nigeria Security Network, otherwise known as Amotekun, should ensure proper coordination of its activities across the zone.

It should, in addition, be equipped with the requisite arms. Confronting terrorists wielding sophisticated weapons with dane guns is fraught with dangers.

Then there is, of course, the overarching issue of the institutionalisation of state policing. We urge the South-West governors to seize the momentum in favour of state policing in the country, collaborate with the state assemblies, the National Assembly and the Presidency, and ensure that state policing takes off this year.

That way, they would be equipped with the wherewithal to tackle insecurity head on. In the meantime, the governors can show more affinity towards engaging local hunters and vigilance groups, and heads of communities, bringing them more frontally into the security loop and establishing lines of communication between them and the security agencies.

The murderous onslaughts of terrorists masquerading as herders pose grave danger to a people already famished by the effects of government policies and the pangs of inflation. The time to act is now.

It is time for the government to take decisive action to address this insecurity crisis.

The continued promises and rhetoric are no longer enough. We need concrete actions, including the deployment of effective security measures, the prosecution of perpetrators, and the addressing of the root causes of these crimes.

The Nigerian people deserve better. We deserve to live in a country where we can travel, work, and live without fear of being kidnapped, killed, or maimed.

It is time for our leaders to take responsibility and ensure that this basic right is guaranteed for all citizens. Enough is enough!

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Editorial

The NYSC paradox: A scheme in need of urgent reform

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The recent suggestion by the Minister of Youth Development, Jamila Ibrahim, to restructure the NYSC into a revenue-generating agency, while well-intentioned, may not be the most effective solution.

Instead, we argue that a radical review of the scheme is necessary to address its inherent challenges and ensure it remains a vital tool for national development.

The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme, introduced over 50 years ago, was designed to promote national unity, foster social cohesion, and provide young Nigerians with valuable skills and experiences.

However, over the years, the scheme has undergone significant transformations, and current realities have raised questions about its relevance, funding, and effectiveness.

But, it is very important to revisit its founding principles and re-evaluate its purpose. Established in 1973 by Yakubu Gowon, the NYSC was designed to promote national unity, reconciliation, and reconstruction in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War.

The scheme aimed to instill a culture of national service among youth, fostering integration and understanding through a year-long service period.

Over the years, the NYSC has made significant contributions to national development, providing essential services in areas such as healthcare, education, and social work.

Corps members have also had the opportunity to interact with diverse ethnic nationalities and communities, fostering national integration.

Some have even chosen to remain in their assigned communities after their service year, leading to inter-ethnic marriages and further solidifying national unity.

However, recent discussions have raised questions about the scheme’s relevance, with some calling for reform or abolition.

A former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega, has proposed a sensible solution: drastically reducing the number of participants and making participation voluntary.

This approach acknowledges the challenges facing the program, including the large number of qualified participants, security concerns, and the reluctance of states and private sector employers to utilise corps members’ services during the service year.

Rather than abandoning the NYSC or transforming it into a revenue-generating agency, we must refocus on its founding principles and reform the scheme to meet the needs of modern Nigeria.

Meanwhile, by streamlining the program and making participation voluntary, we can ensure that the NYSC remains a vital tool for national development, promoting national unity and social cohesion.

We must not lose sight of the NYSC’s original objectives, which were never about generating revenue but about fostering national unity and promoting social integration.

Let us reinvigorate the NYSC to meet the challenges of our time and ensure that it continues to serve as a beacon of national unity and progress for generations to come.

Regrettably, NYSC, once a beacon of national unity and progress, has lost its lustre. Corruption and nepotism have eroded its foundation, with many participants resorting to bribery or influence to secure preferred postings.

The scheme’s expansion, from 700 participants in 1973 to thousands today, has become unsustainable. With 170 universities producing 600,000 graduates annually, the NYSC’s original purpose is no longer viable.

The Nigerian state has evolved, and new priorities have emerged. Advances in communication, social mobility, and education have rendered the “national unity” mantra obsolete.

The Federal Government struggles to fund the scheme, while youth and their families bear the burden. Many have lost their lives on treacherous roads while commuting to service locations, while others have fallen victim to brutality, abuse, and killings.

The recent election cycle saw 21 reported cases of corps members being attacked.

It is time to re-evaluate the NYSC’s relevance and reform it to address modern challenges. We must acknowledge the scheme’s limitations and explore innovative solutions to harness the energy and potential of our youth.

The status quo is no longer tenable; we owe it to ourselves and future generations to revitalize the NYSC and make it a truly transformative experience for all participants.

In the riots that accompanied the 2011 presidential elections, corps members were deliberately targeted because they were non-indigenes.

As we navigate the complexities of national development, it is essential to ground our policies in realism and periodically reassess their effectiveness. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is a case in point.

Given the current realities, it is prudent to transition the NYSC to a strictly voluntary program, with a limited annual intake of 25,000-30,000 participants in a single batch.

This approach draws inspiration from successful models like Nigeria’s Technical Aid Corps and the United States Peace Corps, which have made significant contributions to global development over the past 62 years.

Also targeting participants with specialised skills and aligning them with the specific needs of federal and state governments, we can maximise the NYSC’s impact.

Voluntarism will not only ensure a more motivated and dedicated corps but also reduce the financial burden on the government.

Moreover, it will allow for a more focused and efficient deployment of resources, yielding greater benefits for the nation.

In a rapidly changing world, adapting and refining our policies to address emerging challenges is crucial.

Making the NYSC voluntary and more targeted can revitalise this iconic program, unlocking the full potential of our youth to drive national progress.

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