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"How Buhari’s Government Is Weaponizing Hunger" - @adekoyabee

When Feyisayo, a 36-year old trader and a single mother of three left her home in Imeri, a village in Ose local council area of Ondo State, to cast her ballot in the recently conducted governorship election in the State, it was not for the desire to vote in a government that will make her life better, rather, it was to get her cut in the widespread largesse going on across the state by the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) . As she later disclosed, she needed the ten thousand Naira being doled out by the ruling party to feed her family who have been starving for days. Ironically, the cash-for-vote scheme which requires potential voters to cast a vote for the party in exchange for the prize money was tagged “Dibo ko sebe”- vote to feed.

Similarly, at another recently conducted governorship election in Edo State, various international and local observers reported outright and carefree display of cash-for-vote across the polling units. Several reports by the media stated that the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), John Oyegun openly distributed ten thousand naira to voters to vote for his party's candidate.

Like Albert Einstein said, "an empty stomach is not a good political adviser", the outcry across Nigeria over the turn of a once economically glorious country into a shambolic entity that has triggered skyrocketing prices of food items, rendering wages valueless and owing millions of workers (in some cases up to six months of unpaid salaries) is enough to becloud the judgment of the people at the polls. Sadly, the Nigerian Government is exploiting the masses via the hunger it created.

The Governor of Ekiti, Peter Fayose, who has been very critical of the Buhari-led administration described the cash-for-vote inducement scheme thus: “to sustain the ‘see and buy’ strategy and legalise money politics, the APC-led federal government deliberately created poverty in the country so as to continue to enslave the minds of Nigerians with peanuts to get their votes on election day"

The dawn of hunger

In May, 2016 Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari announced an end to the three decades fuel subsidy regime- an intervention programme where the difference in the landing cost of fuel and eventual pump price is paid for by the government. Even though the fuel subsidy removal ought to end government control over the pricing of petroleum products, Buhari went further to regulate the market price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) increasing it by 69% as against leaving it to the forces of demand and supply. Analysts have criticized the move as illogical, coming at a time when the price of crude oil is low in the international market.

Buhari had pledged to reduce the cost of PMS by 50% during his campaign into office. In January 2015 before his emergence as President, Buhari while reacting to the pump price of petroleum in the country said: "it is disturbing that in spite of the fall in the global price of crude oil; Nigerians still buy petroleum products at pump prices as if the global price of crude oil had remained at $100 (USD) per barrel". The price of crude oil in the international market was $62 then.

Like most global food system, Nigeria food market is highly fuel-and transport-dependent. The increase in the pump price of PMS had a spiral effect on business operating cost. The major determinants of prices are the cost of transporting the items between regions and provision of electricity for production. An increased fuel price immediately interprets to an increased cost of transportation and more money spent on fuelling the power generating sets to keep the lights on.

With the minimum wage of the country standing at N18,000, purchasing power has drastically reduced as residents who are employed are forced to rationalize their consumption while the teeming unemployed and dependent ones face starvation. The social protection programmes promised by the government to cushion the effect of the increased fuel price were not implemented.

The implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) - a financial policy introduced to consolidate all inflows from the Nigeria's ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) by way of deposit into commercial banks, traceable into a single account at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in other to promote accountability, transparency in generated revenue and reduce looting by public officials has created more harm than good.

While the initiative has resulted into high turn of revenue into the consolidated account, many commercial banks who rely on the deposits made into the government accounts domiciled with them to do business have hit financial crisis which has resulted into thousands of Bank workers being laid off.

The policy has also failed to reduce corruption as top government officials and aides of President Buhari have been accused of conniving with the Central Bank Governor to withdraw unappropriated funds from the treasury. Recently, the Emir of Kano and immediate past Governor of the apex bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, berated the current CBN Governor of violating statutory financial regulations and undermining the independence of the bank through his alliance with the presidency calling it an “unhealthy relationship”

Another former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and visiting scholar at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Professor Charles Soludo stated that the policy lacks sound economics as concentrating cash at the CBN when the economy needs reviving is illogical.

According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report released in August, 4.85 million Nigerians have lost their jobs between 2015 and 2016 with 2.6 million becoming unemployed within the first and second quarter of 2016 alone.
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Boladale is on Twitter @adekoyabee
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