Nigeria Confronts Its Worst Economic Crisis In A Generation – New York Times


Nigeria is facing its worst economic crisis in decades, with skyrocketing inflation, a national currency in freefall and millions of people struggling to buy food. Only two years ago Africa’s biggest economy, Nigeria is projected to drop to fourth place this year. The pain is widespread. Unions strike to protest salaries of around $20 a month.

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People die in stampedes, desperate for free sacks of rice. Hospitals are overrun with women wracked by spasms from calcium deficiencies. The crisis is largely believed to be rooted in two major changes implemented by a president elected 15 months ago: the partial removal of fuel subsidies and the floating of the currency, which together have caused major price rises.

A nation of entrepreneurs, Nigeria’s more than 200 million citizens are skilled at managing in tough circumstances, without the services states usually provide. They generate their own electricity and source their own water. They take up arms and defend their communities when the armed forces cannot.

They negotiate with kidnappers when family members are abducted. But right now, their resourcefulness is being stretched to the limit. On a recent morning in a corner of the biggest emergency room in northern Nigeria, three women were convulsing in painful spasms, unable to speak. Each year, the E.R. at Murtala Muhammed Specialist Hospital in Kano, Nigeria’s second-largest city, received one or two cases of hypocalcemia caused by malnutrition, said Salisu Garba, a kindly health worker who hurried from bed to bed, ward to ward.

Now, with many unable to afford food, the hospital sees multiple cases every day. Mr. Garba was sizing up the women’s husbands. Which source of nutrition he recommended depended on what he thought they could afford. Baobab leaves or tiger nuts for the poor; boiled-up bones for the slightly better off.

He laughed at the suggestion that anyone could afford milk. Salisu Garba, a community health worker, treating patients at a hospital in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city, last month. More than 87 million people in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, live below the poverty line — the world’s second-largest poor population after India, a country seven times its size.

And punishing inflation means poverty rates are expected to rise still further this year and next, according to the World Bank. Last week, unions shut down hospitals, courts, schools, airports and even the country’s Parliament, striking in an attempt to force the government to increase the monthly salary of $20 it pays its lowest workers.

But over 92 per cent of working-age Nigerians are in the informal sector, where there are no wages, and no unions to fight for them. For the Afolabi family in Ibadan, in South-western Nigeria, the descent into poverty started in January with the loss of an electric tuk-tuk taxi. Forced to sell the taxi to pay his wife’s hospital bills after the difficult birth of their second child, Babatunde Afolabi turned to occasional construction work. It paid badly, but the family managed.

“We had no thoughts about starvation,” he said. Patients wait to be seen at the Murtala Muhammad General Hospital. The crowds are thinner than they used to be, as many can no longer afford the bus fare. But then, he said, cassava — the cheapest staple in many parts of Nigeria — tripled in price. All they can afford now, he said, is a few biscuits, a little bread, and for their 6-year-old, 20 peanuts a day.

A country built on gas Nigeria is a country heavily dependent on imported petroleum products, despite being a major oil producer. After years of underinvestment and mismanagement, its state refineries produce hardly any gasoline. For decades, the national soundtrack has been the hum of small generators, fired up during daily power outages.

Petroleum products move goods and people around the country. Until recently, the government subsidised that petroleum, to the tune of billions of dollars a year. Many Nigerians said the subsidy was the only useful contribution from a neglectful and predatory government. Successive presidents have pledged to remove the subsidy, which drains a hefty chunk of government revenue — and later backtracked fearing mass unrest.

Nigeria is a country that runs on imported gasoline, which the government has long subsidised to the tune of billions of dollars a year. Bola Tinubu, who was elected Nigeria’s president last year, initially followed through. “It was a necessary action for my country not to go bankrupt,” Mr. Tinubu said in April, at a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Saudi Arabia.

By Naija247news
By Naija247news
Naija247news is an investigative news platform that tracks news on Nigerian Economy, Business, Politics, Financial and Africa and Global Economy.

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