Nigerians are really angry. They are not just angry. Their anger is hunger- induced. This was why some Nigerians recently staged a protest in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, the seat of government, to demonstrate their anger against government policies which have brought hunger to the land.
The rich are groaning while the poor who are become poorer daily are crying. Living in Nigeria in the last couple of months has become rough and tough. Many states of the federation owe their workers between five and 10 months’ salary arrears.
In the midst of the recession, many manufacturing companies are folding up and therefore throwing more people into the breaming unemployed market. One of those companies, a tomato firm, Erisco, in early October announced its intention to pull its $150 million investment from Nigeria.
The President of the firm, Chief Eric Umeofia, said the relocation of the company would entail the sacking of 1,500 out of its 2,050 workforce. He cited unfavourable working environment for the decision to move the company, regarded as the largest tomato manufacturing firm in Africa and the fourth in the world, to another country.
The announcement triggered protests by workers of Erisco who called on the Federal Government to save local manufacturers. Also, about 3,000 maritime workers were said to have lost their jobs in the last one year while over 20 shipping companies have shut down. The President of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Mr. Anthony Nted, was quoted as saying that the job losses were a result of unfavourable government policies.
Nted added that about 2,000 others might soon lose their jobs because many of the shipping firms were only doing “patchy services”. On October 26, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) disclosed that 3,000 workers had been sacked in the nation’s oil industry because of the crippling effects of the economic recession. The unions called for a halt to the sack of their members by international oil companies in the country.
The NUPENG National President, Igwe Achese, told journalists that government must do something urgently to stop the mass retrenchment of its members to avoid grounding the industry. Achese disclosed that most of the companies – Chevron Nigeria Limited, Exxon- Mobil, Pan Ocean, Sapiem, and Hercules oil and gas limited, among others – have terminated the appointment of over 3,000 of their workers apparently over the current economic recession in the country.
He said: “More than 3,000 of our members are affected. Chevron alone is about 1,500; Mobil is about 1,000; the entire workers of Hercules Oil & Gas are being asked to go home; Pan Ocean have since closed shop and are gone. Industry-wide everybody is being asked to go”. Job losses cut across all the strata of Nigeria’s economy.
Many heads of families have been incapacitated because of the recession. Many breadwinners have no financial ability to ‘win bread’ again. In major towns and villages, several men and women have become beggars. From one bus stop to the other, even inside buses or cabs, many beg for money to feed.
Newspapers are awash daily with stories of people stealing pots of soup on the stove and other food items. It is difficult to explain the type of inflation in Nigeria now. If there is anything above hyperinflation, it still may not adequately define the situation in the country. Prices of food items in particular have gone more than 100 per cent up, in most cases. For instance, a bottle of groundnut oil, which was about N200 less than six months ago, is now more than N600.
The same goes for palm oil. A bag of rice, which was sold for about N9,000 six months ago, is now more than N20,000. Other food items are not exempted from this abnormality. Fortunately, President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly said he was aware that Nigerians are suffering.
It is gladdening on one hand but disheartening on the other. It is good the government knows that Nigerians are hungry. But not doing anything to assuage their suffering is painful. The Federal Government must, of necessity, do something urgently to make jobs available and immediately provide food for hungry Nigerians. We, as a nation, must not forget the root cause of the Arab Spring. This is a wakeup call. A hungry man is still an angry man.