By Toyin Falola
For the past few years, I have taken to writing end-of-the-year messages. The end of the year is a reflective and celebratory period for many people all over the world. There is the Christmas celebration that is fast moving from being strictly a Christian affair to a pop culture holiday. Just a week after the Christmas celebrations, the New Year arrives. Perhaps Christmas is now enjoying a wider and beyond-Christianity audience because of its closeness to the end of each year and the start of a new one. This unique period puts most humans in a reflective and reminiscent mood, regardless of their religious faith.
For me, there is the ushering in of another milestone for the years I have spent as a sojourner on Earth. This period is, therefore, often filled with writing pieces from me — reflections, reviews, and personal notes. Similarly, I have considered all the general end-of-year pieces I have written in the past ten years and noticed that there is little celebratory or bubbly about them — no thanks to my home country, Nigeria.
There is no denying that Nigerians are a joyful and hopeful group of people. Even in the face of harsh economic conditions, many have still found their way to their hometowns and have engaged in elaborate celebrations. Markets are full, people are donning new attire, and livestock is selling at the highest price the country has ever recorded.
In all of these, I cannot help but think that Nigerians — being lovers of fun and events — are pulling through the festivities because they just must celebrate. The goings-on in the country has been nothing to write home about, drawing Nigerians closer to the precipice of the dysfunctional state abyss at a more accelerated rate than even the infamous Muhammadu Buhari-led government. The formative months of the Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led administration have culminated in a December full of issues.
Early in the month, there was a rave about fake products cutting across food, drinks, and medicine. This rave, which took off on social media, has refocused our attention on some salient issues: first, the regulatory body, NAFDAC, is lagging in its responsibilities and has too much to make up for. See https://www.newtimes.com.ng/fake-products/
There is no denying that regulatory bodies like NAFDAC do not exist in a vacuum. Their success or otherwise is largely dependent on the government in power, the appointment such government makes to oversee NAFDAC’s leadership, and the type of backing the NAFDAC boss and team must go about their business. The fight against counterfeit consumables is a full-blown war, one where the beneficiaries of the booming counterfeit industry would go to any length to thwart the work of the agency. Yet, in the outrage that tore across social media following widespread revelations about fake products, there has been no reassuring or concern-laden comment from the presidency on the issue. This dissonance from the plight and realities of citizens forms the foundation of ill-timed, ill-thought-out policies and interventions, which the Tinubu government, in its first few months, has been known for infamously.
On the heels of the fake-product outrage and the silence of the presidency has been the revelation of the country’s inflation rate hitting the highest figure ever from the past 18 years. Beyond the increasing general inflation rate is the increase in headline and food inflation. Already, Nigeria is facing severe food insecurity due to the farmer-herder crisis and the kidnappings and unrest happening in the country. This, coupled with the rising food inflation and the sharp drop in the purchasing power of citizens, does not spell well for the coming year.
As if the fast-rising inflation rate is not enough, there has been a subtle re-introduction of the artificial naira scarcity. This time around, there is no naira redesign policy to tie this scarcity to, which goes on to show that the high level of corruption in Nigeria has made many people in positions of direct influence profit off the misfortunes of the masses.
Perhaps the saddest news that has been out this month has been the gruesome killing of up to 150 persons on Christmas Eve in over 17 villages in Plateau State. This attack is one of many that highlight the targeted sufferings that people in the Northern part of the country have been suffering due to ethno-religious terrorism. In the face of the attacks, the Presidency’s commiseration came late, only when there was widespread outrage on social media, and even at that, one could tell that there would be no genuine and concerted efforts from the government to bring a definitive end to the malaise.
If anything, the attacks and the subsequent outrage have only led to divisive takes between the Christians and Muslims in the country. This divisiveness is not unconnected from the bigotry-laden squabbles that have been happening online in the past few days, especially among the Yoruba and Igbo. The root cause of these is not far-fetched: in the months leading up to the presidential and gubernatorial elections, political parties — especially the ruling All Progressives Congress — fanned the flames of ethnic bigotry and divisiveness to disrupt the oppositions’ ranks and seal its victory. It was a myopic and desperate move to win the elections without considering the long-term effects. Those effects are now rearing their heads, as Nigerians have hardly been as divisive and polarized as they currently are. It will be difficult to govern a polarized and divisive people easily triggered by the littlest of things. To what end is this? Was fanning the flames of bigotry a good price to pay for winning the elections?
As the new year draws nigh, there is no denying that there is hunger in the land. A few days ago, thousands of Lagosians flooded the president’s private residence in Ikoyi to receive what they could for the Christmas festivities. In a similar case, we have seen the government introduce palliatives and incentives. There were free train trips and a 50% discount on road fares via luxurious buses announced by the Minister of Solid Minerals, Dele Alake.
The discounts, which are expected to last till January 4, 2024, are one aspect of the throw-a-dog-a-bone moves the presidency has been making to address frivolities while conveniently avoiding the large elephants sitting rigidly in the room. These palliatives are, at best, a short-term placebo effect to distract Nigerians from the main issues — debt servicing insanely gulping the revenue, a false announcement of the resumption in services of the Port Harcourt Refinery, excess overhead expenditure, and a government that is spending foolishly in the face of inadequate funds and tough economic conditions while asking citizens to bear the brunt. There’s hunger and anger in the land. Is this the type of prosperity we should aspire to? One where the citizens are languishing in poverty and grovelling at the feet of the minute elite?
The headline campaign theme for the Tinubu government was “renewed hope”. To ask people to renew hope has an underlying understanding that they initially had hopes, hopes that were dashed. Truly, there were hopes of change in Buhari’s first assumption to office. That change came but in a negative sense. Tinubu has spent 6 months, and people often say we should spare the government one year or even a term of four years before we gauge its deeds and criticize. If the past 6 months are anything to go by, the Tinubu government is not one in which the people can put their hopes and aspirations. It is not a government that can be banked on. But then, past happenings can only serve to project likely future occurrences; they do not fully guarantee what the future will look like. The question remains: in the face of all these happenings and what is likely to happen, can Nigerians truly wish themselves a happy New Year?
By Toyin Falola