Essential commodities are back

History does not repeat itself; man does.” — Prof Barbara Tuchmann, Harvard University, USA.

One man, who is currently repeating himself, to the sorrow of Fellow Nigerians, is President Mohammadu Buhari. History has already recorded that as Military Head of State from 1984 to August 1985, he led Nigeria to the first economic recession since independence. Recession by its nature is an economic monster destroying numerous public and private assets – ending up in increasing the Misery Index.

In 1984, inflation reached unprecedented heights; companies laid off workers and created record levels of unemployment; aggregate purchasing power declined precipitously. More Nigerians went below the poverty line in the twenty months of Buhari’s administration than ever before. Nigerians never had it so bad. And, all these were happening under a “corrective regime” which seized power on December 31, 1983.

To silence Nigerians, the junta resorted to draconian measures and repressive decrees making grumbling out loud a punishable offence. It was the period of “Suffering and Smiling” — as Fela Anikulapo rendered in his immortal music.

But, of all the calamities afflicting those alive then, none was worse than the emergence of “Essenco”, as essential commodities were called then. Those too young to be aware of the hardships Nigerians faced, as well as those unborn at the time will find it unbelievable that, at one time in Nigeria, housewives and grandmothers had to stand on queue for hours just to be allowed to buy two tins of milk, sardines, infant milk powder, a box of detergent, two cakes of bath soap and some bullion cubes. In truth that was what mothers and grandmothers went through under Buhari’s military government.

Brutality was an ever present aspect of the allocation of “Essencos”. Soldiers were in attendance at each allocation point; and the young thugs in uniform mercilessly whipped people old enough to be their grandmothers. I lived in Kaduna at the time, but my schedule of duties took me to all the Northern state capitals at least twice a month. Watching young soldiers whipping, slapping and kicking women with bestial abandon was an experience not to be forgotten – even in a thousand years. And, all the women wanted was the chance to buy these basic necessities for their families.

Get set for Round Two ofESSENCOwith Buhari

Those of us alive in 1985, when Buhari was overthrownheaved sighs of relief.

Nigerians, apparently are masochists. We love leaders who cause us great pain. So we elect as many of them as we can. Buhari returned to power in 2015 with our votes. Since then, the following disasters have also returned to Nigeria. Let me mention a few.

First is recession; and this is what Buhari’s government announced for 2020.“Nigeria’s GDP in the fourth quarter of 2020 grew by 0.11 per cent in real terms. This follows, if you will recall, two consecutive negative growth in the third quarter and second quarterof 2020, which saw the country going into recession. As a result of this fourth quarter positive growth, the total growth for the year 2020 is -1.92 per cent.”

Inflation rushed in after it. Here is proof.

“Pressure on food prices spikes inflation to 17.3%” – News Report.

“This marked the highest figure recorded in the country since 2017” – Another Report.

That was how we started in 1984. Hyper-inflation led the parade of unfavourable economic indices and at one time reached close to 30 per cent. That invariably resulted in lower purchasing power and decline in aggregate demand. Industrial capacity under-utilisation followed inevitably and retrenchment followed — like the last man in a parade of mourners.

As in 1984/5, we are not facing inflation caused by too much money chasing too few goods primarily. What we have on our hands is supply-side inflation. Producers of goods are now incapable of supplying what consumers want.

When Buhari ordered the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to stop providing foreign exchange to food processors and importers, he had in effect reduced aggregate production because not many in the Foods and Beverages Sector can survive without collecting foreign exchange at official rates. Parallel market rates automatically introduced inflation. Now supermarket shelves are becoming empty. Even Coca-colais now rationed to distributors. That is always a weather vane showing where the wind is blowing in the sector.

We are experiencing the same set of economic phenomenon in 2020/21.

Unemployment is rising in absolute and percentage terms. About 23 million Nigerians are now regarded as unemployed. Close to 30 million are not fully employed or engaged in jobs other than those for which they were trained. Altogether close to 60 million Nigerians are involved. An astonishing number of Uber drivers are university graduates forced to earn their living by driving taxis.

But, the greatest challenge Nigerians will face in the next two years will be the return of essential commodities. The longer it persists, the harder it will drive inflation. If care is not taken, we might be experiencing 30 per cent or more by the fourth quarter of this year. The worker’s take home pay which now cannot take them home, might not even get him to work if fuel scarcity kicks in.

Thank God, this is not another military government under Buhari. Otherwise, history might repeat itself again. Our women might again be horse-whipped by young soldier.