Welcome back from the Anti-Corruption meeting in the UK. How did it go? Did you nab any government money slipping away in some foreign accounts? It was a busy trip, considering the fiasco between David Cameron and Nigeria; with Dino Melaye somewhere on your delegation.
I was excited when I heard you were coming to Lagos. I’d planned to drop this letter by hand but that ear infection changed plans. I reckon you were so busy flying you missed my last letter. Thanks to the memory of the internet, you can read it here. Nothing has changed, except that things are harder.
It is two weeks now since the “fuel subsidy bomb” was dropped on Nigerians, it was louder than the IS bomb at the Borno State Secretariat. We all screamed. Why? Everyone understands the first law of Naijanomics—the higher the price of fuel, the higher the price of everything else.
Many have become political analysts — analysing how this entire fuel crisis thing has been a political gimmick all along. Some, economists — analysing the implications on the economy. Others, historians— taking us back to 2012 and the effects of the partial removal of the subsidy. My pepper grinder does not understand their big grammar; she understands the first law. The price of petrol has gone up hence the pepper grinding rate must follow it even without seeing the contents of my bowl. She is like many who do not understand this fuel subsidy drama yet are affected by it.
We are adjusting now — like true Nigerians. We are coping fine. The second law of Naijanomics says: the higher the price of goods, the more creative Nigerians get at adjusting. I-better-pass-my-neighbour is now the main gen; the big one, the assistant. We leave home earlier; trek to cover some distance before boarding a bus. We are getting used to the taste of tin tomato. We now buy half bag of rice rather than a full bag. If rice is not affordable, we buy beans. If your children purge after eating beans, we “shock” it with garri, or give them flagyl before the meal.
We may be coping but the noise still reverberates through many houses; its impact, shattering many — accounts, personal budgets and plans. The biggest thing it shattered? Trust. Our trust in you. You also know that was the horse on which you rode to become president; the same horse your predecessor fell from. Many are asking: Why does the subsidy have to be removed when he once said he would not remove it? Is he speaking from two sides of his mouth? This is also an issue of improper communication between the leadership and the masses. It is “our” subsidy. Tell us why or how it should be removed. Don’t just slap it away because some mosquitoes of corruption are using their straws to drain the blood of the economy.
You made some of those “blood sucking mosquitoes” wealthier overnight. Many of the petrol stations with previous stock immediately started selling at the new price. Who suffers? Average Nigerians. You are not average, so you may not know. By average Nigerians, I mean those of us who either fly buses, buy fuel for our generators, or do mathematics at the fuel station before each purchase. We do not only calculate how much the fuel costs; we also do opportunity costs, calculating what “this money” can buy.
Let us do a quick calculation. To run the generator in my house for the many times that NEPA throws us in darkness, it takes 20 litres. Now that is N2, 900 weekly; N11, 600 monthly. The average Nigerian thinks of the bag of rice, the tomato seeds, the pots of stew that can cook. How many Nigerians on your N18, 000 minimum wage can afford this?
NLC is at war with itself. It went on a protest. But Nigerians are tired—how does one protest without a stomach? This is not 2012; we had a stomach then. Those three days of pseudo-protests showed one thing: those who protest are not the ones who suffer. Let me tell you about those who suffer those protests.
The market women who live on daily profits; markets were partially shut. The drivers and conductors who live on wages; roads were not so busy. The daily income earners who cannot eat in a day without going out—the bricklayers, the barbers, the hawkers…These average Nigerians, sweating daily, to eke out a living are the ones who suffer. They do not make a living, they “eke” it out, like someone using an axe on a rock.
The third law of Naijanomics: the higher the price of products, the more salaries remain the same, the higher the crime rates. Have you noticed the increase in kidnaps recently? To be kidnapped now, you no longer have to be a millionaire. Anyone, anyone’s child can get kidnapped these days. When country is harder, more people will get “criminally fantastic”, cutting corners without traces. They will devise wiser ways to be “fantastically corrupt”— expect increase in crimes; otokoto-style kidnaps, money doubling schemes, drug trafficking, and more. Unpaid civil servants will get creative at creating more zeros. You also have to be “fantastically innovative” at fighting corruption.
I can predict where the next major “fantastically corrupt” news will come from: the Nigerian police. Its current recruitment exercise echoes the days of the Customs recruitment exercise. Abi is it the government trying to raise money again? Keep your eyes on that exercise. Applying comes with a warning: “This recruitment exercise is completely FREE. No Payment is required of you.” Over 800, 000 Nigerians have applied; I wonder: how will the screening exercise be coordinated without oiling the palms of a few?
So, dear president, there have been promises that if the price remains for some months, the price of fuel will stabilise. It is simple English but I do not understand. Will the price of other goods in the market return to their pre-fuel-subsidy-removal rate? They obey the fourth law of Naijanomics—even when the price of fuel drops, every other thing stays the same.
Sir, you need to understand these laws before making your next policy.
While you are at that, me, like a true Nigerian, I only continue to hope for the best.
PS: My last market visit, there was no tomato to buy again o! Not even the scrawny looking ones. Sighs.