Text of Press Briefing on State of the Nation addressed by Comrade Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED) held on Thursday, November 9, 2023 at TopRank Galaxy Hotel, Jabi, FCT Abuja.
Distinguished invited guests, fellow Comrades from civil society organizations, ladies and gentlemen of the Press.
Thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedule to participate in today’s briefing. The existence of millions of Nigerians, and thus the fate of our country, is at stake. As an organization working for democracy, human rights and accountable governance, silence at this point would imply consenting to the suffering and misery being inflicted on the Nigerian people at all levels. As a result, it has become a matter of utmost necessity and urgency for courageous entities and individuals to find their voices at this vital juncture and speak out on behalf of this country’s longsuffering people. As usual, our responsibility is not to agonize indefinitely, but to organize within the limitations of existing laws to ensure that the government’s policies and programs respond to the needs of the vast majority of citizens. Nigerians must not remain mute in the face of economic and political challenges that threaten their rights and dignity as a people.
State of the economy
At the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), we believe that the most pertinent and crucial point to begin this briefing is to focus on the terrible economic hardships that the people of this country face daily. Contrary to what government officials would have us believe, the people of this country are reeling from the severe pains and anguish of the administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s many harsh, unkind, and economically draining policies. So far, nothing has changed to ameliorate the utter disaster of the former President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime, which Tinubu’s government is an extension. And it appears to us that the incumbent President and his team have been hell bent on using Nigerians as guinea pigs for experimentation in voodoo economics since taking office on May 29, 2023.
This approach of experimenting with the lives of millions of Nigerians has led to worsening poverty. It has also multiplied the misery all over the land. Even where some stakeholders may concede that some policies are necessary to address the deep seated issues in the economy, the manner of implementation and the lack of commitment to consultation have left much to be desired. We saw this play out in the removal of petrol subsidy, where no consultations were made to prepare citizens for what was to come. The government put the cart before the horse by hastily removing the subsidy, only to start sourcing for solutions, after the effects of the policy began to bite and impoverish the citizens. The result is that the rug was pulled off the feet of most Nigerians, leading to the skyrocketing inflationary trends, which has further accentuated the poverty and destitution in the land.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, as of September 2023, empirical evidence substantiates the long-standing experiences of Nigerians. Based on the data provided, it can be observed that the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a metric used to gauge fluctuations in the costs of goods and services, experienced an increase from 25.80 percent in the previous month to 26.72 percent in September. Little wonder, the prices of basic and essential commodities are off the roof. The ready example now is the fact that a bag of 50kg rice is now costing between N55,000 and N65,000 and this is way above affordability by the ordinary citizens of Nigeria. This reality is not just about statistics or numbers; it is about the lived realities of families that can no longer afford to feed because of the economic difficulties that are obviously felt throughout the country. Contrary to the rosy and sugar-coated tales provided by government officials who live off the public treasury, the Nigerian people’s objective realities are dismal and challenging. The government must not wait until people are dying of hunger dying of hunger in droves before it puts on its thinking cap.
The Tinubu’s Subsidy Palliatives
CHRICED frowns at the administration’s lack of inventiveness and critical thinking in implementing a palliative program in which it handed over N5 billion in grants and loans to each state government of the federation to be distributed to citizens in their respective states. There is no denying that state governments’ track record in managing such initiatives in the past has been, to put it mildly, terrible. Previous Buhari government efforts, in which states were given bailouts to pay workers, had terrible results, with no actual tangible benefits reaching the people. We noticed several instances where entire communities were given one 25kg sack of rice to distribute as a palliative.
In the case of the 2023 palliatives, reports from the states indicate a disorderly and disorganized process that is not guided by the essential principles of fairness and distributive justice. In the search for palliative items, vulnerable groups such as the elderly and persons with disabilities had to compete with everyone else. As a result, Nigerians witnessed humiliating sights of citizens fighting and shoving one another for their portion of palliatives that cannot even assuage for a day. This inhumane treatment of Nigerians is too cruel and must be denounced. We want the federal government to show leadership and organizational capacity in executing programs, so that states can follow a template that leads to appropriate implementation and efficient use of resources. Nigerians deserve better than what they are getting. CHRICED once again urges the people to reject all forms of dehumanization and to insist on the respect of their fundamental rights.
Continuation of culture of waste and endless borrowing
As Nigerians grapple with these harsh economic realities, the government at all levels have continued to operate with the least concern about the need to prudently manage public resources. CHRICED strongly condemns, the lavish, ungodly and opulent consumption patterns that governments have continued to exhibit, while Nigerians groan in hardships. Both the executive and legislative arms of the government at the federal level continue to exhibit profligate tastes, which do not reflect Nigeria’s current dire economic realities. CHRICED joins other Nigerians in expressing outrage about the National Assembly’s infamous and insensitive decision to vote the sum of N68.52 billion for the purchase of Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV). Even more self-indicting is the excuse of bad roads, which the lawmakers have given as the reason they need such expensive vehicles. The National Assembly by this position has admitted that it has not been playing its role in terms of making laws for the good governance of the country because if it was, it would have properly supervised the ministries, agencies and departments responsible for road projects. CHRICED is also aware that the executive is also deeply enmeshed in the culture of wasteful spending of public resources. Therefore, we similarly condemn the recent unjustifiable provisions in the supplementary budget, which approved N7bn to renovate President and Vice President residences in Lagos, and another N1.5bn for official vehicle for the unconstitutional office of the First Lady office. It’s unfortunate that the supplementary budget has devoted billions to fund the tastes and luxuries of top officials in the executive, while the Nigerian people are abandoned.
As the politicians engage in the destructive venture of frittering away scarce public resources, another reality that stares the country in the face is the fact that Nigeria’s foreign debt is being projected to rise further to about $51 billion. This comes as recent reports make it clear that President Tinubu has again requested approval to borrow additional $7.8 billion and €100million, as part of his 2022-2024 borrowing plan. The dependence on borrowing, while failing to rein in the culture of waste, which pervades governance at all levels makes it apparent that the current decision-makers in Nigeria do not mean well. Not only are the Nigerian people not involved in these borrowing plans, it is also unclear how these monies will be used to make the lives of citizens better.
CHRICED believes that only sustained citizen pressure and accountability demands can compel the decision makers to do what is right. By what is right, we mean the government must first bring an end to the profligate spending, which characterizes its expenditures, consult widely with citizens on priorities to drive whatever loans it seeks, and put in place a framework for these reaching the project milestones as agreed with Nigerians. The current approach of borrowing and spending like drunken sailors will lead the country nowhere.
Human rights abuse and the shrinking civic space
In the face of these challenges, the role of courageous and patriotic defenders of human rights and civil liberties advocates cannot be over emphasized. In the current context, the space has become too risky and unfriendly for the work of those who insist on speaking truth to power and who make the case that the rights of citizens should be respected in line with all known principles of democracy and the rule of law. The savage assault and severe beating meted out to the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Joe Ajaero, in Imo State last week while attempting to address a rally against the non-payment of workers’ salaries is a tragic manifestation of this reality.
CHRICED unequivocally condemns this descent into anarchy and stone age behavior in a bid to silence civic actors who insist on standing up for the rights and welfare of the poor and downtrodden. CHRICED supports the ongoing workers action, which should send a clear message to the perpetrators of such inhumane acts that they will be held accountable for their actions. CHRICED also calls on the labour leaders not to leave the quest for justice in the hands of the law enforcement institutions alone. Workers must collect all available evidence and proceed to courts within and outside Nigeria to ensure those involved in the assault on the NLC President are held accountable. For those partisan actors who have been attempting to justify and rationalize the savage assault on Comrade Ajaero in Imo State, our message is clear: those who condone violence because it serves their purposes will someday taste their own medicine. However, the most important lesson from the assault on Comrade Ajaero is that labour leaders, human rights advocates, and defenders should henceforth take responsibility for their own security. Long gone are the days in which people should put their expectations solely on the government for security. The activities of shadowy non-state actors, which are acting on behalf of certain figures in government is now one of the biggest threats to civil liberties. The civil society must be wary of these clear and ever-present threats in the country. CHRICED uses this medium to wish Comrade Ajaero speedy recovery.
Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi Polls And the Way Forward
CHRICED has also been closely monitoring events in the run-up to the November 11, 2023 off-cycle elections in Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi States. As usual, political actors have demonstrated a lack of willingness to learn and reset the democratic system by urgently changing their mindset, which is motivated only by a desire for political power and primitive accumulation. From the federal to state levels, actors have failed to prioritize the people of Nigeria and the country. It is still all about grabbing and snatching power at any cost, even if it means putting citizens’ lives in danger. This is the mindset behind the fights, peddling of fake news, misinformation, and disinformation that has characterized the pre-election period in off-cycle election states. CHRICED urges President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to display statesmanship and leadership by instituting an immediate comprehensive process for reforming and cleaning up Nigeria’s electoral process. To say the least, nominating politicians for the office of Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) negates the spirits of fair play, falls short of international standards for election administration, and creates the space for violent electoral conflict.
As we urge the citizens of Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi States to exercise their democratic rights en-masse on November 11, CHRICED urges voters to vote wisely in favor of integrity, capacity, and competence, and not to sell their votes. We urge the voters to defend and safeguard their ballots by ensuring that each vote is tallied. We also demand that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) operate in a professional manner in allowing every ballot to count, and call on the security agencies to ensure the safety of the electoral environment so that voters can freely exercise their right to vote.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.