Youths and women took to the streets in Niger State on Monday in protest of what they called the biting hardship and the rising cost of living in the country.
The protest started when a group of women blocked the Minna-Bida Road at the popular Kpakungu Roundabout to lament what they termed the sufferings under the Bola Tinubu government.
They were later joined by men and youths who barricaded the road and halted vehicular traffic.
The economic situation in the country had become unbearable following the removal of the fuel subsidy by President Tinubu on May 29, 2023
The policy triggered a surge in food inflation and a hike in costs of transportation, goods, and services, resulting in a higher cost of living.
Also, the decision of the Central Bank of Nigeria in June 2023 to float the naira, which allows buyers and sellers to set their exchange rates in the FX market, has led to a depreciation of the national currency which has continued to lose its value against the greenback.
As of Monday, the naira exchanged for N1,440 to the US dollar on the black market while the CBN rate was pegged at N905/$1.
In reaction to the economic distress, the protesting youths and women halted commercial activities as they lamented how the economy was getting worse under Tinubu’s leadership.
A youth, who gave his name as Ibrahim Gana, said, “A measure of rice was sold for N2,000 in Minna markets while maize was N1,000 per measure. The Federal Government needs to take action to reduce the hardship faced by poor Nigerians. Things are becoming unbearable.”
The protesters defied a team of police operatives deployed to disperse them.
Attempts by the operatives to quell the protest and arrest the youths failed as they chased the officers.
The police operatives fired teargas canisters but the protesters were unmoved as they stood their ground.
The Niger State Police command spokesman, Wasiu Abiodun, explained that the police applied minimum force to disperse the protesters.
He added, “I woke up this morning with information that a large number of people protesting blocked Bida Road, obstructing motorists and people were unable to go about their work. So, we had to deploy there this morning.
“After so much persuasion, they refused to open the road, even the deputy governor was there to address them. As a result of that, we had to use minimum force to disperse the protesters; the road was opened and there is free flow of traffic now.”
Meanwhile, the First Lady, Sen. Oluremi Tinubu, has assured that the hard times being faced by Nigerians would soon come to an end with the right policies of the Federal Government.
The President’s wife gave the assurance on Monday at the State House during a meeting with the Governors Wives on her pet project, Renewed Hope Initiative.
She assured that the year 2024 is loaded with “peace, progress, prosperity and greater achievements’’ to the advantage of all Nigerians.
Mrs Tinubu commended the governors’ wives for their efforts and support in 2023, urging them not to relent in addressing the needs of the vulnerable in their states.
“Times like this call for sober reflection, hence, all hands must be on deck. Moreover, the hardship situation is temporary, it will soon fade away.
“The mission of the RHI is driven by my office to complement the Renewed Hope Agenda of the administration of President Tinubu,’’ she said, the News Agency of Nigeria reports.
She said the Women Agricultural Support Programme under the RHI, would empower 20 farmers each, from five states in the South East Zone.
“These farmers will get N500,000 each and a total draft of N10m will be given to five RHI states’ coordinators as the case may be.
“The National Agricultural Land Development Authority in partnership with the RHI will support an additional 80 female farmers from each state with the provision of training and capacity building and agricultural inputs. “We will buy off all produce from the farms after harvest,’’ she said.
The former Lagos senator announced that she would soon launch the ‘Young Farmers Club in public schools across the nation to encourage farming among the young population.
She said schools with the best farms would be identified, and prizes would be given to them, ranging from school renovations, equipping of school science laboratories, provision of ICT equipment, and upgrading of school libraries.
On the program, “Every Home a Garden’’ competition, the first lady said the overall best garden owner would win the sum of N20m by December.
Commenting on the demonstration in Minna, the Executive Director of the Rule of Law, Advocacy and Accountability Centre, Okechukwu Nwaguma, said he expected the protest to spread across the country “to send a message to the President to sit up or step down,” emphasising the hardship under Tinubu’s leadership.
On his part, the Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Rafsanjani, said the Minna protest could escalate if the government did not take quick measures to reduce the people’s sufferings by minimising waste and corruption.
“This protest against poverty, hunger, and hardship in Nigeria is something that if the government does not take measures to ameliorate the suffering of Nigerians may escalate everywhere because right now, living conditions are very hard and difficult for many Nigerians who are even employed, not to talk of people who are not even earning any means of livelihood.
“So, the government must ensure it has a package that could minimise waste, diversion of taxpayers’ money, extravagancy, and outright embezzlement of funds by public officials. This is the only way the government could douse the tension”, he suggested.
The Country Director of ActionAid Nigeria, Andrew Mamedu, said the protest in Niger State reflected Nigerians’ growing frustration with the government, adding that the people must unite to demand an improvement in their standard of living.
“The protest in Niger State is indicative of broader socio-economic challenges that Nigerians are facing. While we cannot predict the trajectory of the protest, it is evident that there is growing frustration among the Nigerians concerning the economic hardships they are experiencing.
‘’The hardships faced by Nigerians are not isolated to one region, and now is the time for citizens to unite, speak up against the prevailing hardships, and demand the social justice they rightfully desire,’’ he counselled.
While calling on the Federal Government to address the current economic challenges, Mamedu encouraged the citizens to conduct peaceful and purposeful protests.
“However, we encourage peaceful and purposeful protests during these trying times and ActionAid joins its voice with other Nigerians to call on the Federal Government to listen attentively to the voices of the people and take decisive actions to address the root causes of the economic challenges. Indeed, enough is enough,” he stated.