Counting the cost of Nigeria’s Arab Spring

Nigeria is still counting the cost of the carnage, looting and arson that terminated the spontaneous #ENDSARS protest. It was Nigeria’s Arab Spring.
By Saturday Lagos was relatively calm but the looting and arson was just beginning  in other parts of the federation.

Lekki Circle Mall, an expansive retail outlet owned by South Africa’s Shoprite was still on fire in the afternoon of Thursday, October 22, several hours after it was looted and set ablaze on Wednesday. The looting, arson and killings were so effective as the hoodlums successfully inhibited the movements of security agents and fire service men.

Five fire trucks and three stations were burnt. The hoodlums successfully beat back any fire service team heading out to fight the flames in different directions in the state.

Eighty-four (84) brand new Marcopolo luxury BRT buses estimated at N3.9 billion were reduced to ashes. Nothing of this gravity has happened in the past in Lagos or any other part of Nigeria. The destruction was massive, reprehensible and incomprehensible. The killings were ruthless, unprovoked, merciless and brutal.

Ironically, no one knows how to keep the protesters permanently out of the streets to prevent a replay of the mayhem by notorious criminals  hijacking the peaceful protests.

As usual, the federal government expected the protest to wither out with time. It was a disastrous miscalculation. President Muhammadu Buhari grudgingly addressed the nation two days after the mayhem.

The president’s speech was too little, too late. It maintained a deafening silence on the catastrophic killings at Lekki Toll Plaza. The carnage of last week escalated when men in army uniform opened fire on peaceful protesters and mowed down several innocent people.
The New BRT buses that were set on fire are a big minus for the poor who pay lower fares for maximum comfort of the air conditioned buses. With  84 of them destroyed by the hoodlums, commuters would have to wait much longer at the terminals.
Danfo (mini bus) drivers are the only ones who would reap bountifully from the arson on BRT buses. The luxury buses had taken 60 per cent of their business. There are fears in some circles that the embitered drivers might have instigated the arson. Government should investigate the allegation.

Ironically, the hoodlums who destroyed the buses use them too. The public property destroyed by the hoodlums were built with tax payers money. They would only be replaced with tax payers’ money that could be used to rehabilitate decaying infrastructure. It is like cutting one’s nose to spite the face.

The hoodlums, most of whom are jobless have shot themselves on the foot. Their action would drive away foreign investors and keep them perpetually jobless and poor.

The major casualty of last week’s carnage, arson and looting is Nigeria’s investment environment. The mayhem is happening too often. In the last 10 years nothing like that has happened in Ghana or any of the banana republics to Nigeria’s western border. Ironically Nigeria is competing with them for scarce foreign investments. They are winning.

The message from last week’s mayhem is that Nigeria cannot protect foreign or even domestic investments. That message is being sent out at a time of unprecedented unemployment. It is also coming at a time when Ghana has become the center of attraction for foreign investment as a result of unrivalled security and regular power supply.

Volkswagen of Germany, a leading global automaker, is building an assembly plant in Ghana with capacity for 300, 000 vehicles annually. Ghana does not have the market for that level of production. The Germans are targeting Nigeria as a major market for their Ghanaian plant.

The one they built in Nigeria in 1975 was killed by government policy somersaults and Nigeria’s eternal darkness. Now insecurity has driven even more foreign investors from Nigeria. That explains why Volkswagen would be producing in Ghana for Nigerian market.

Ironically, the mayhem of last week has its roots in Nigeria’s intractable unemployment and surging poverty rate. The looting of COVID-19 relief materials hoarded by politicians testifies to the level of poverty and hunger in the land.
The economy has been depleting jobs rapidly in the last five years while the population is surging alarmingly.

In 2015, there were 5.1 million jobless people in Nigeria. By August, 2020 the figure had crossed the 21 million mark.

Those who blame the surging unemployment on the decline in oil export revenue might have ignored the fact that the federal government in the last five years has effortlessly pushed Nigeria’s national debt profile from N12.5 trillion to a record N32 trillion.

It could therefore be argued that what the federal government lost in lower oil revenue, it has disproportionately compensated for in the massive debts. The worsening unemployment in the economy could therefore be blamed on uninhibited corruption, alarmingly high cost of governance, economic mismanagement and inconsistent policies that has worsened insecurity and enthroned epileptic power supply.

To get the protesters off the roads and pre-empt the hijacking of their peaceful protests by criminals, the federal government must provide the environment for massive job creation. Buhari’s speech was empty on such prospects.

The #ENDSARS protest is more about the economic mismanagement that has pushed youth unemployment above 50 per cent. The World Poverty Clock claims that Nigeria pushes about six people into abject poverty every minute.

From a modest 86.7 million in June 2018 when Nigeria replaced India as the country with the highest number of people in abject poverty, the figure rose to 102 million in June 2020.

The rising poverty tally emanates from massive unemployment now standing menacingly at 27.1 per cent. Last week’s mayhem would simply worsen the unemployment problem. It would drive away foreign investors and escalate production cost for the few resilient investors willing to brave the hostile environment.

The losses to looting and arson recorded last week would be levied on consumers by way of higher cost of goods and services that would further escalate inflation rate. The federal government must intervene by providing the social infrastructure essential for the protection of lives and property.

The Islamic terrorism in the north-east must end to free the land for farmers to cultivate. Banditry, kidnapping and armed robbery must be tamed to reduce the cost of doing business. Mindless killings by Fulani hersmen’s must stop.

If Ghana could produce a suitable environment for foreign investments, Nigeria with more natural and human resources has no reason to offer excuses. 

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