Cost Of Living Crisis: House Of Reps Wants Action To End Hunger

The House of Representatives yesterday called on the federal government to urgently take steps to tackle the rising cost of living with devastating effects on Nigerians.

The lawmakers made the call during the appearance of the Ministers of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Wale Edun; Budget and National Planning, Atiku Bagudu; the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Olayemi Cardoso and the Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Zacch Adedeji, before the House.

The session was part of the second edition of the Sectoral Debate/Dialogue, which was introduced by the House to interact with heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) on government policies.

The lawmakers demanded an explanation of the measures being taken by the CBN, FIRS and the ministries as regards the current economic situation in the country.

Earlier, they adopted a motion on matters of urgent public importance moved by Rep. Ayokunle Isiaka (APC, Ogun), asking the federal government to act fast and address the rising cost of living.

Speaking, Rep. Ahmed Jaha Babawo (APC, Borno) said nobody needed a soothsayer to conclude that Nigerians were hungry and angry.

He said the government must take action, especially in terms of security, to make things work better for Nigerians.

According to him, from 2020 to date, the prices of staple food and other items have risen by over 500%, placing Nigerians in a precarious situation.

Rep. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) said people were living in poverty, penury and pervasive insecurity.

He said, “The least we can do is to tell the truth to power.”

Other lawmakers questioned the ministers, CBN governor and FIRS chairman over their policies and their effects on Nigerians.

The officials later responded to the questions and shed more light on the policies being pursued, as well as the measures being put in place to address the challenges facing the nation.

Speaking, the CBN governor said the country was at a turning point. He said though the reforms across different segments of the economy were initially challenging, they were aimed at addressing the challenges sustainably.

He said, “I am confident that positive outcomes are already emerging and will become more apparent shortly. The dedicated and relentless efforts being made are certain to bring about significant and positive changes for our economy.

“Notably, recent reports from international rating agencies such as Fitch, Moody’s, S&P and commendations from multilateral banks like the World Bank reflect this positive trajectory, with upgrades to Nigeria’s ratings from stable to positive.

“These reports acknowledge the potential reversal of the deterioration in the country’s fiscal and external position due to the authorities’ reform efforts. While recognising the painful adjustments, they all point to a direction that will unlock much-needed growth and development for our economy in the medium to long term”, he added.

Cardoso, however, informed the lawmakers that despite the commendations, the concerns regarding the cost of living and currency exchange rates remained.

He said: “Indeed, this is the major topic of concern in our villages, our towns and our cities. The urgency of the matter is not lost on us at the Central Bank and I assure you, we are working tirelessly with colleagues from across government, including with the leadership of this House to bring lasting solutions.

“Broader escalation of conflicts could disrupt energy markets, trade routes, and financial markets, leading to a slowdown in growth and increased inflationary pressures. Additionally, rising trade barriers, protectionist policies, and global value chain restructuring could exacerbate uncertainties in global trade.

“In this challenging landscape, key policy priorities involve ensuring durable inflation reduction, addressing fiscal pressures, and fostering sustainable and inclusive growth.

“Inflationary pressures are expected to decline in 2024 due to the CBN’s inflation-targeting policy, aiming to rein in inflation to 21.4 per cent, aided by improved agricultural productivity and easing global supply chain pressures.

“The CBN’s inflation-targeting framework involves clear communication and collaboration with fiscal authorities to achieve price stability, potentially leading to lowered policy rates, stimulating investment, and creating job opportunities”, he added.

The CBN governor said the Nigerian foreign exchange market was facing increased demand pressures, causing a continuous decline in the value of the naira.

“Factors contributing to this situation include speculative forex demand, inadequate forex supply due to non-remittance of crude oil earnings to the CBN, increased capital outflows, and excess liquidity from fiscal activities.

“To address exchange rate volatility, a comprehensive strategy has been initiated to enhance liquidity in the FX markets. This includes unifying FX market segments, clearing outstanding FX obligations, introducing new operational mechanisms for BDCs, enforcing the Net Open Position limit, and adjusting the remunerable Standing Deposit Facility cap.

“Permit me to say that put simply, the exchange rate is determined by the dynamics of supply and demand for a product or service. In essence, similar to the pricing of cows or cars, the value of the US dollar in Nigeria is determined by the balance of US dollars entering the country and the demand for US dollars among Nigerians,” he added.

‘Nigeria better than before Tinubu took over’

In his address, the minister of finance said despite the challenges being faced, Nigeria is currently better than in 2023 when the present administration took over.

According to him, although inflation had increased while the cost of living had also risen astronomically, President Tinubu was ready to protect the poorest and vulnerable Nigerians through various positive policies.

“As things improve, there will be further intervention on behalf of the vulnerable to assist in the cost of living.

“Let us be confident, calm, and assured that Nigeria will change in terms of economic management and that there will be intervention in every sector”, Edun said.

The minister said inflation must be tackled head-on as it presently accounts for 33 per cent of the consumer price index.

According to him, there was a robust plan to put the country on the path to becoming a production economy as the president moves to address the challenges in the energy sector, especially the vested interests in the oil sector.

Similarly, Bagudu said the president was committed to national development.

On his part, Adedeji, said the FIRS was doing more to increase the nation’s revenue base through various positive reforms.

He said the revenue collection target for 2024 was N19.2 trillion, adding that while the agency is not collecting new taxes; it had strategised to bring more people into the tax net.

In his address earlier, the Deputy Speaker, Benjamin Kalu, who presided over the plenary, said the issue of the rising cost of living must be treated with the urgency and importance it deserves.

The House had earlier adopted a motion on matters of urgent public importance and appealed to the federal government and all critical stakeholders to open up the national food reserve and complement same by the importation of grains, poultry products, meats, beverages, healthcare and pharmaceutical products from top exporting countries in the world as a short-term measure.

It also urged the federal government to help increase food production and improve distribution, including by ensuring adequate access to fertilisers and crop diversification as part of measures to address the rising cost of living in the country.

Take quick action – Northern elders

The Northern Elders Forum (NEF), while expressing concern yesterday about the unchecked rise in inflation in Nigeria, which it said is posing a significant threat to the wellbeing of citizens, demanded urgent measures from the government to address this crisis before it plunges the nation into greater conflict and chaos.

NEF said in a statement signed by its Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, that: “The welfare of its citizens must be prioritised, and policies must be implemented to alleviate the burden of inflation.

“This includes increasing agricultural productivity, investing in infrastructure to reduce transportation costs, and implementing social safety nets to support the most vulnerable members of society.”

The NEF added that the government needed to take decisive steps to curb corruption and wasteful spending, adding that the mismanagement of public funds only exacerbates the inflationary pressure and erodes the trust of the people.

We’ll address food shortages — FG

Meanwhile, the federal government said it has taken measures to tackle food shortages in the country.

A special presidential committee met at the presidential villa yesterday to articulate actions necessary to stem the tide, including the release of available food in stock.

The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, who spoke to journalists after the meeting, said the government was concerned about the cost of living protests, particularly the one that occurred in Minna, Niger State, and wanted to ensure that there was relief for citizens.

He said that the meeting was the first in a series of planned sessions as he revealed that the government will make available the food in its storage facilities across the country.

He said the government is also in talks with private millers and major commodity dealers to see what they can provide.

The session was also attended by the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila; National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, and Ministers of Education, Dr Tahir Mamman; Agriculture, Abubakar Kyari; and the Minister of State for Agriculture, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi.

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