Living has been made hell on earth for poor working-class people in Nigeria by the rich few and the capitalist system they represent. Despite the empty promises and lies of Maj Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).’s APC government, this terrible situation has worsened.
In June, the World Bank pointed out that at least 7 million more people were pushed into grinding poverty because of rising food inflation, heightened insecurity, and unemployment in 2020. The imperialist financial institution’s latest Nigeria Development Update report series was titled Resilience through Reforms.
The report further noted, food prices kept rising between September 2019 and March 2021. This accounted for 63% of the total increase in inflation during the period. The impact of this was visible in the hunger that stalks the homes of many poor people.
About 56% of the households reported that adults had regularly skipped meals because they did not have money to feed properly. “0-1-0” and “1-0-1” have now become typical feeding features in working-class people’s homes.
This situation that the World Bank captured is bad enough; it is just the tip of the iceberg. The problem has gone from terrible to much worse since the period covered by that report. A more recent survey carried out by the Daily Trust shows how alarming the situation is.
Reporters from the national daily went across several states in Nigeria to investigate how the poor masses are faring in the face of astronomic increases in living costs and generalized insecurity of life.
States covered included Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Kano, Katsina, Ogun, Ekiti, Abia, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Bayelsa, Bauchi, Yobe, Nasarawa, and Abuja. Their survey, published in the last week of June, was aptly titled Tough Times Ahead as Food Prices Soar.
The story was the same everywhere. The prices of basic foodstuffs have risen beyond the wildest dreams of poor people. And families now complain that “we can no longer afford 3-square meals”.
A special report published by Premium Times in the third week of July shows an average increase of between 59% and 60.5% in the prices of some food items. But the situation is much more devastating.
For example, a mudu of garri, which is probably the number one foodstuff in most homes, used to cost N300 in January in Ogun and most states in the south-west. By June, the cost had increased by over 130% to N700.
The tale is the same in the north. In Katsina, Malama Na’aimatu Abdullahi cried out that “what we used to buy at the rate of N20 in the past has risen to N50”. And she added an attendant fear of working people; “the worry is that the price is still on the rise.”
Many workers in different parts of the country said they were “crying silently,” as mothers and fathers because things were so tough that their children have to go hungry. Some residents in the south-eastern Imo state said the situation is worse than it was during the civil war over fifty years ago.
The newspaper, which is not in any way a socialist paper, lamented that the soaring prices of food items are happening simultaneously as job losses and salary cuts are making working-class people poorer. It highlighted Kaduna as a state where the heightened insecurity and job losses have taken a tremendous toll on the purchasing power of working people.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna has fought with the trade unions over his sack of thousands of workers. The state has also been an epicenter of kidnappings and wanton killings of poor citizens. But the phenomena of mass sacks and cuts in salaries are not limited to Kaduna state. In almost all the states, governments have cut workers’ wages.
Even though the national minimum wage is a terrible joke, it was not enough to live on in the first place. And we should also not forget that one-third of the states never even paid this miserable “increase” in salaries in the first place.
Workers employed in both the public and private sectors have been badly hit by these attacks on their income on the one hand and the erosion of whatever little they had as income by inflation. Workers in the informal economy are, however, also not sparred.
They rely on workers in the formal sector to be able to pay for the goods they sell. But these formal sector workers are now broke. Many small-scale traders say that they now sell to break even and be able to eat. They have given up on making even a tiny fraction of the profit they would have generally made on top of their sales. Yet, they still find it hard to make sales.
The hard times have also hit poor small-scale farmers. The costs of farming materials have drastically increased. They have to pay through their noses to purchase fertilizer, chemicals, and seedlings. The unending spate of insecurity is a significant reason for this.
We now have a spiral of burdens on different sections of working-class people. Farmers can hardly produce because of costs. And prices of what they get to produce has increased partly because of this. The naira price of food imports has also risen, compounding an already terrible situation.
Workers who have either been sacked in their thousands or had their wages cut by private firms in the wake of COVID-19 and last year’s economic recession, as well as in the public sector, can hardly feed. And the traders in the informal economy who sell food and other commodities can hardly sell because workers cannot afford to buy.
Instead of owning up to the fact that it cannot find a way out of this crisis of the capitalist system, the APC regime has resorted to lies. Nigeria became the country with the most significant number of people living in extreme poverty, in the whole wide world, in 2018. Tongue-in-cheek, the APC regime said then that this was not true.
Again, while local news outlets and the World Bank highlight increasing poverty in the land, the regime claims that it is rolling back poverty. While delivering his so-called “democracy day” speech on 12 June, Maj Gen Muhammadu Buhari declared that the APC government has “lifted 10.5 million Nigerians out of poverty” over the last two years.
These ghosts that they have lifted out of poverty, according to him, include “farmers, small-scale traders, artisans, market women and the like.” But as we have seen, virtually all of these people and workers in the formal sector are finding it difficult even to eat! The living standards of the people are collapsing, and the evil regime is building a castle of lies on these.
The World Poverty Clock, a tool for monitoring progress against poverty globally, shows that instead of lifting 10 million people out of poverty since 2019, 10 million more people have been thrown into extreme poverty. As of today, at least 86.6 million Nigerians are finding it difficult to feed, clothe and house themselves.
But, while the poor continue to wallow in abject poverty, the rich keep getting richer. We cannot live with this situation. It is only through struggle that we can change this anti-poor people’s reality. The trade unions have to lead a fightback against the poor masses.
As worker-activists in our unions and workplaces, we need to pressure the trade unions to fight for living wages for us as workers. The trade unions also need to build bridges with the poor farmers and bring their demands on board.
If we fight, we can win some concessions and make the government improve our living standards, at least a little. But even that is not enough. Before long, the whip of inflation will be brought back to beat out any gains we make as increased wages.
Our overarching aim must be to smash the system which makes the poor poorer and the rich richer. This system is capitalism. We must mobilize and organize our class, the poor toilers, to overthrow this decadent system. And on its ruins, with a revolutionary government of the working people, we can build a socialist society, where the development of the masses is safeguarded by us, the masses ourselves.
by Nnamdi IKEAGU