<i>Nigeria's grim socio-economic situation has seen many plunged into poverty as prices continue to surge and basic utilities such as power and fuel remain scarce.</sub>
The female attendant finally threw her hands into the air in helplessness, a sign that the filling station would no longer sell petroleum products for its crowd of rowdy customers. Her gestures confirmed the fears of many who had besieged the station, waiting with bated breath in chaos-riddled queues sprawling into the road linking Maryland to Ikeja, the capital of Lagos.
"This is sad," Jide Ajiboye, a commercial bus driver, muttered under his breath. He told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview that he had spent several hours at the filling station and was worried that he might not get fuel due to the chaos. His fears were confirmed by the abrupt manner the fuel station stopped dispensing petrol around noon on Monday.
"For over six hours, I have been here. It's almost getting to my turn and they said they no longer have fuel. This is frustrating."
Since last month, Nigerians have faced the worst petrol crisis the country has seen in recent years. Filling stations across the country have either closed or have been operating intermittent schedules, selling at higher prices.
In February, the Nigerian government said the scarcity was due to an off-spec product imported into the country, which reportedly damaged vehicles and generating sets.
Since the crisis broke out, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) that operates as a major importer of petrol blamed five other oil companies for the off-spec product, including MRS, Emadeb, Brittania-U, Oando and Duke Oil.
The government also promised to address the scarcity and ensure regular supply of petrol, but over a month since the crisis broke out, it has failed to address the issues and stabilise supply.
Mr Ajiboye told this newspaper that since the fuel scarcity hit the nation, he has struggled to feed his family due to the disruption and uncertainty.
"I work and earn money to survive on a daily basis," he began, anger and frustration written on his tired face.
"If we don't work on some days, feeding will become a problem at home. The scarcity is just too bad. They started selling for N200 and above and we aren't even complaining; let's just have the fuel. But look at what's happening: they are not even selling at all now."
An airline passenger, Chris Igwe, lamented the high cost of flight tickets, which many airlines have attributed to the high cost of aviation fuel. He also complained about the troubles associated with alternative means of transport by road.
He said: "The fear of kidnappers and armed robbers was what worried many of us in the past; now even road transport is very expensive due to fuel scarcity. It's crazy."
Nigerians have faced unprecedented hardship in recent years, suffering the most in the two areas President Muhammadu Buhari promised to address after taking office: economy and security.
Mr Buhari, a former military head of state, told members of his party in 2014 at the Adokiye Amasiemeka Stadium in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State, that he would pick competent hands to run the nation's economy, which he said was in poor shape.
"The fundamental issue facing this country is insecurity and the problem of economy which was being made worse by corruption. I assure you that we are going to finally assemble a competent team of Nigerians to efficiently manage the country," he said.
"I am appealing to you, the damage done to this country is great. The level of unemployment, level of insecurity is intolerable. The journey has begun. It will take time, it will take patience, it will take support from you to make sure that we succeed.
"Let us make sure that our votes count. The problem we are facing today is the problem of security and economy. We have gathered competent hands to manage the economy and tackle insecurity."
By May 29, the president will have exactly one year to complete his full two terms of four years each. His seven-year reign has seen the nation endure deteriorating security and economic challenges, with inflation and unemployment at worse levels than he met them. The grim socio-economic situation has had a devastating effect on the people's standard of living, plunging many millions into poverty.
The Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics said in 2020 that 40 per cent or 83 million Nigerians lived in poverty. The <a target="_blank" href="https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/nigeria/publication/nigeria-economic-report-improved-economic-outlook-in-2014-and-prospects-for-continued-growth-look-good">World Bank</a> estimated that 33.1 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line in 2012/2013 before the president took office. Experts say the current situation is bound to be more dire.
"Since the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on peoples' means of livelihood across the world, it is estimated that the number of poor people in Nigeria must have increased to at least 90 million in 2022," said Banji Olatoye, a development analyst.
Although the Nigerian government claimed to have lifted millions of Nigerians out of poverty, a <a target="_blank" href="https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/467708-fact-check-buharis-claim-on-lifting-10-5-million-people-out-of-poverty-misleading.html">PREMIUM TIMES analysis</a> found that the claim was not supported by data.
In the midst of the current fuel scarcity conundrum and its biting effects, the nation has equally continued to battle with the ripple effects of poor electricity supply.
In recent weeks, electricity consumers across Nigeria have experienced extremely poor supply in some areas and total blackout in most places across Nigeria.
The Nigerian government in its response last week blamed the poor power supply in Abuja and other parts of the country on low water levels in hydro dams in the country.
With Nigeria's electricity supply challenge, many business owners who depend on petrol for their daily operations have had to shut down or operate on a skeletal basis.
"I asked one of my staff to go home temporarily until things normalise," says Christiana Johnson, an entrepreneur operating out of Alagbole-Akute area of Ogun State.
"We have not been producing due to fuel scarcity and poor electricity and I have to pay them daily. It's not sustainable."
Another entrepreneur based in Ojodu area of Lagos, who declined to have her name in print, lamented the high electricity bills incurred despite the poor state of power in the country.
"The alternative for many of us was a generator but now that there is no fuel, it's a case of double Wahala (double jeopardy)," she said.
Last week, the Minister of Power, Abubakar Aliyu, who spoke on the Presidential Power Initiatives (PPI) being driven by Siemens, said government was doing everything to ensure optimum supply of gas to ensure quick restoration of power supply to consumers.
However, since the minister assured Nigerians of improved electricity supply, the power situation has worsened in many parts of the nation.
Amid the poor state of power and fuel scarcity, both of which are central to economic productivity, Nigerians have continued to face numerous other challenges that impede growth.
Last December, the National Bureau of Statistics said that Nigeria's annual inflation rate rose the first time in eight months after recording a consecutive fall for that long. Inflation rose to 15.63 per cent in December 2021 compared to 15.40 per cent in November.
But in January, the consumer price inflation rate fell to 15.60 per cent from 15.63 per cent recorded in December 2021, yet food prices continued to surge.
The bureau said the composite food index rose by 17.13 per cent in January 2022 compared to 20.57 per cent in January 2021. According to the NBS, the rise in the food index was caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, food products potatoes, yam and other tubers, soft drinks, oils and fats and fruit.
Apart from increase in domestic prices, many Nigerians struggling to operate and create businesses even beyond the nation's borders are affected by the value of the nation's currency.
Last month, the International Monetary Fund said that the long-term rate of the depreciation of the naira equates to a loss of 10.6 per cent of its value annually since 1973. According to the IMF, the rate is 1.5 times higher than the long-term rate of the currencies of other emerging markets and developing economies outside of sub-saharan Africa, at 7.2 per cent.
According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Naira on Monday, the naira exchanged at the interbank market at N416.34 to a dollar. At the black market, it sold against the greenback at N575.
Mr Olatoye argued that the general state of the economy was depressing, adding that the nation cannot progress when the fundamentals are poor and abysmal. He expressed worry on how the nation has also failed to put its growing youth population in meaningful engagements, leading to crimes, social unrest and widespread insecurity in parts of the country.
According to the NBS Labour Force Report, unemployment among young Nigerians (15-34 years) stood at 21.72 million or 42.5 per cent of the estimated 29.94 million young Nigerians in the labour force.
The NBS in its last report said that the national unemployment rate stood at 33.3 per cent as at December 2020, and is estimated to have reached 45 per cent since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. With youth population estimated at 60 per cent of Nigeria's total population of about 215 million, it means that about 45 million Nigerian youths are jobless.
Mr Olatoye described the situation as a 'time bomb' that must be addressed urgently to forestall a major disaster in the nearest future. He enjoined the government to create incentives and the enabling policy environment for private entities to create jobs and engage young people.
The president of African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina, recently deplored the high rate of unemployment in the country, especially among the youths, whom he said "are discouraged, angry and restless".
Speaking at a lecture in Lagos, he explained that the future of Nigeria depends on what it does today with its dynamic youth population, adding that the nation must prioritize investment in young people.
"As a way out of the economic quagmire, much has been said about the need for restructuring. I know the discussions are often emotive. Restructuring should not be driven by political expediency, but by economic and financial viability – the necessary and sufficient conditions for political viability," Mr Adesina said.