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Nigeria is Century 21 Book of Lamentations

By Rose Moses

The Nigerian story today may well pass for the modern-day version of the Hebrew jeremiad. Almost every news item from here points to that fact.  There is wailing and gnashing of teeth almost everywhere you turn to in the land.

Nigerians are either dying by the installment due to harsh economic policies of the government or are instantly having the life snuffed out of them by terrorist groups that seem to have taken the country hostage.

In the holy book, Book of Lamentations is partly a traditional “city lament” mourning the desertion of the city by God, its destruction, and the ultimate return of divinity. It is also partly a dirge in which the bereaved bewails and addresses the dead.

According to Wikipedia, the tone is bleak: God does not speak, the degree of suffering is presented as overwhelming, and expectations of future redemption are minimal.

The author, Prophet Jeremiah, repeatedly makes clear that the city (and even the author himself) greatly sinned against God, to which God has strongly responded.

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And in doing so the author does not blame God but rather presents him as righteous, just and sometimes even as merciful.

Lamentations of even higher magnitude and proportion, some say, have become the order of the day in Nigeria. There is no need for the now popular phrase: Who did we offend? For we have offended everyone, including ourselves.

With clear eyes and in broad daylight, we brought the problem upon ourselves. As the French philosopher, lawyer, diplomat and writer, Joseph de Maistre, had said, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

We are merely suffering what, if you like, we brought upon ourselves for, in a democracy, we have the right and duty to choose our leaders, who direct our affairs and pave the way for the rest to follow in our endeavours.

If the cardinal responsibility of any government is the protection of life and property, how much life and property are so protected in Nigeria today? The answer to the question, my dear readers, is blowing in the wind. I cannot, in clear conscience, attempt a positive answer. But I can clearly say that the suffering in the land, today, has no Part II.

Cost of living has gone way beyond the ordinary man’s reach; something as basic as onions is now compared to gold. Practically every commodity has its prices rise like Ijebu garri when soaked in water.

As a result, so many homes can hardly afford to feed their families even twice a day. Prices of basic items have skyrocketed in addition to the reduction in quantity. And this is happening alongside mass unemployment, loads of job losses and cuts in salaries and wages of mostly the average workers earning peanuts as minimum wage. Inflation is hitting all time high.

The challenges facing the average Nigerian homes are myriad. They range from unemployment, limited access to education, lack of economic opportunities, lack of access to basic education and healthcare, high HIV prevalence to abject poverty.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), for instance, reveals that 13.9 million Nigerian youths are unemployed. Nigeria’s unemployment rate as in the second quarter of 2020 is 27.1 per cent, indicating that about 21.7 million Nigerians remain unemployed.

Key highlights of the 2020 NBS report indicate that the highest unemployment rate recorded for youths between 15 and 24 years was 40.8 per cent. This is followed by ages 25 to 34 years at 30.7 per cent, among others.

What this means is that out of about the 40 million youth population eligible to work, only about 14.7 million are fully employed while another 11.2 million are unemployed.  Experts would argue that Nigeria’s unemployed youth of 13.1 million is more than the population of Rwanda and several other African countries.

The youth population is also about 64 per cent of the total unemployed Nigerians, suggesting that the most agile working-class population remains unemployed.

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Then came the Covid-19 pandemic, which worsened an already sick economic situation, making it even harder for employers to create more jobs. So, it has been more job cuts in the guise of downsizing and right-sizing by the private sectors to reduce overheads and stay afloat.

In the middle of all of these and the hardship that follows, a very insensitive government would increase tariffs in practically every aspect of national life. Ranging from an increase in taxes to an upward review of electricity bills and pump prices of petroleum products to increase in levies and duties you can think of. Nigerians have, indeed, never had it so bad.

As has been said before, the only time Nigerians lived close to the hardship they are going through today was in 1984 when the same man, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, was the head of State of the ruling military junta.

More than 30 years later, Nigerians under the leadership of President Buhari, self-styled as a transformed democrat, seems to have been packed into the same bus of severe hardship reminiscent of 1984, if not worse.

In claiming to deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, for instance, the same government has been solely responsible for importing refined fuels, instead of fixing the refineries so that the products can be refined locally and possibly sold to the people at lower prices.

The same government also has been responsible for fixing prices. What an upward fixing of prices they have been adopting instead of allowing the market forces to determine prices if they truly are deregulating the sector.

Today, the same government that met the pump price of petrol at N87 now sells the product for over N160. Do you wonder what the proceeds from the strangulating policies are used for, considering that most public infrastructures are mostly shadows of what they ought to be?

If you are in doubt, an attempt at finding out which public schools the children of most government officials attend, or the public hospitals their families seek medical attention from in the country, may likely clear your doubt.

Our leaders and a few privileged Nigerians register tops in the book of medical tourists of foreign nations, where they also send their children for studies after running down the public schools and hospitals back home, thus depleting a very large scale of our foreign reserve.

As such, those that can find their way out of the country are leaving en masse. Very soon, it appears, only the helpless and praise singers to the politicians may constitute the bulk of those left in the country, an ugly, if you like, and tragic development. You will weep at how some people you expect to be of sound minds seem to be willing to sell the future of their children for just a plate of porridge.

Little wonder the rate Nigerians, most of them highly skilled, are seeking greener pastures outside the country.

In 2019, for instance, about 12,600 Nigerians were said to have gained permanent residency in Canada, thus helping the country to become the fourth-leading source country of new immigrants to Canada, behind India, China, and the Philippines.

Nigeria also ranks third in the rating of countries with the highest number of Express Entry invitations to Canada in 2018, according to a 2018 report released by the Canadian government. The report indicates that 6,025 Nigerian citizens received invitations to apply (ITAs) for Canadian Express Entry in 2018, just behind China with 6,248.

The major reason these young Nigerians are taking this route is that there are no jobs for them back home. Worse still, those who have are paid peanuts, except for politicians and their cronies.

It is not rocket science that a high youth unemployment rate, especially in a country like Nigeria whose youth population is predominantly high, is synonymous with increased insecurity and poverty. It is also a ticking time bomb if the challenges facing them are not addressed.

A country with about 65 per cent of the population falling in this category cannot for too long be immune to the explosive repercussion of such tendency.

And so today, the nation is at war against insurgency. Too much blood flows in the land and the nation seems to know no peace. She remains in the news on the world stage mainly for all the wrong reasons.

Nigeria, for instance, has been ranked third on the latest global terrorism index, a report that measured the impact of terrorism on countries across the world.

Only Afghanistan and Iraq were adjudged to have been more badly affected by terrorism than Nigeria, according to the report published by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), a think tank that receives support from the US government.

Life seems to have become worthless in Nigeria today and it would seem people are no longer moved by the tens and hundreds of lives often taken at will, either by members of the Boko Haram sect, Fulani herdsmen or the ones they call bandits, kidnappers, and even some misplaced members of the Nigeria Police Force.

The worst part is that most times these men from the pit of hell get away with such heinous crimes. Victims and their families hardly get justice.

Where do we start from in trying to address the issues of killings in Nigeria? Is it the slaughtering of farmers in Zabarmari community of Borno State, northeast Nigeria? Or the mayhem perpetrated by bandits in Zamfara? Or the recurring shedding of blood in southern Kaduna? Or the consistent sliding of the Naira, among numerous other ills that have all combined to define Nigeria as one of the most painful and worst places to live?

How do we stop these lamentations, if close to a month since the slaughtering of the rice farmers, for example, the government cannot categorically say which group was responsible talk less of apprehending anyone?

The argument has, instead, been on the number of people that were slaughtered in the violence, which centred on the village of Koshobe near the Borno capital, Maiduguri, with assailants targeting farm workers harvesting rice fields.  Yet, this is a government that was sold to Nigerians as the Messiah!

Shouldn’t, or rather, when will every single life in Nigeria matter?