By Afolabi Aribigbola
That the people of Nigeria are exposed to untold hardship and suffering is an incontrovertible fact whose effect is manifestly visible in all parts and spheres of the country’s socio-economic landscape. Of course, that the present unenviable and pitiable conditions of Nigerians is a product of bad governance over the years, poor government policies and corruption is also not strange to discerning and lovers of Nigeria.
What is perhaps news and trending is the economic doldrums that has reached its crescendo as a result of the recent sudden fuel subsidy removal and merging of the existing two parallel foreign exchange markets resulting in the free fall of the naira value and unprecedented hike in prices of goods and services in the country. In response to the economic crisis and worsening living condition of Nigerians, the federal government proposed to expend N500 billion on palliatives to assuage and ameliorate the harsh and very difficult living conditions of the people. Consequently, following the leading of the federal government, some governments announced payment of N10,000 monthly for public sector workers, some allowances for medical personnel and occasional distribution of food to the poor and most vulnerable households as well as free bus rides for students of tertiary institutions. Others set up committees to fashion out ways by which they could cushion the effects of the escalating cost of living in the country in their own states. Some organisations in the private sector including banks have increased the salaries of their workers so that they can cope with economic vagaries of the time.
Although, while some people have applauded the initiative as a welcome one and the right thing to do this very difficult time, others have vehemently criticized it as grossly inadequate and inappropriate. Therefore, some individuals and groups have opined that it was a hoax or rip-off because the Federal Government should have put in place a proper plan before getting rid of fuel subsidy and other policies that instigated the crisis in the first place. And that all the so called palliative measures cannot go a long way to addressing the suffering of the people due to government insincerity, corruption and government long term of betrayal and lack of data to ensure the most vulnerable persons are reached in the proposed programmes to assistance. And that the major ingredient of the palliatives of given out N10, 000 or N8, 000 will not be able to be meet the needs of an average Nigerian this very difficult time?
Indeed, I have been musing over whether the government at this critical time should just be talking of palliatives or not. What is the purpose of this so called palliatives and its components and whether it will be capable of addressing the hydra headed problem confronting the people of the country of course, the term palliatives is used to describe an action that is intended to make the effects of a problem less severe but does no actually solve the problem. In economic context it is a scheme offered as a palliative for economic pain not to harm the intended beneficiary. Before we begin to look at the desirability or otherwise of the palliative initiative of the present administration, a germane question requiring answer is, does the government seeks to make the effects of its policies less painful instead of finding lasting solution to the economic quagmire to which the country has been thrown over the years? I asked this question because the present approach may not go far enough to solve the currentproblem.
The proposed palliative by the federal government is supposed to be a response to emergency created by the fuel subsidy removal and the crash of the national currency in response to the merging of the autonomous and official foreign exchange markets. The way forward for the country is to move further than immediate response to problems that may not be sustainable to creating more realistic and enduring social policies hinged on good support system to cater for the needs of the poor and vulnerable members of Nigerian society. Such system will incorporate mechanisms for handling ups and downs in the economic milieu instead of reactionary approach that the current palliative offers. This is not to suggest or conclude that the current regime of palliatives are not necessary but the government should go beyond it to more sustainable programmes that can always support the people especially the poor and distressed people.
It should be pointed out that many Nigerians including groups have faulted the palliative measures put in place by some state governments and federal government to bolster the consequence of the removal of fuel subsidy on the people, saying it was a wrong an inappropriate strategy. I subscribe to this position and hence our discussion on palliatives versus enduring robust social support system. This position is hinged on the fact that the measures been introduced are very temporary and not far reaching enough to solve the humongous problems created by subsidy removal and the merging of the two foreign exchange markets that has instigated the unprecedented free fall in the value of the naira, the country’s national currency. Again a temporary measure to address deep-rooted and long problems will be inadequate to solve the problems.
Also, these measures being introduced now have been introduced in the past in the country without results. It is a case of introducing or recycling the same old measures that failed woefully to solve problems bedeviling the country.
From the above, it is evident that palliatives as being packaged and implemented by some state and federal government of Nigeria are conceived as temporary or stop gap programmes or measures to ease pain associated with the sudden and unprogrammed removal of fuel subsidy, I said unprogrammed because there is no evidence of solid preparation to counter the negative consequences and outcome of the government action. Beside lack of sufficient or comprehensive preparation by the government, one can conclude that what Nigeria needs at this critical period in her checkered history is not palliatives that are temporary in nature but enduring robust and well thought out social support systems and institutions that can continue to address the issue of poverty and sufferings of Nigerians in a holistic way and not disjointed incremental programmes that the country has deployed without success over the years in the country. Palliatives as being conceived in different part of the country can only achieve it purpose where specific policies brought about drastic unanticipated negative change on the welfare of the people.
In Nigeria the problem at hand is a cumulative effects of bad governance and corruption. Such a cankerworm can only be solved by well thought out programme of actions and not the one created by emotions of leaders. Indeed, to solve the present economic crisis and despondent in Nigeria, we need more than palliative to begin to seek ways of creative enduring support policies and systems for the weak, the poor and the vulnerable members of the Nigerian society. The palliatives will end supporting and enriching the privilege members of Nigerian society like past ameliorative programmes.