Nigerians struggle with cost of living as elections approach

Like millions NigeriansRotimi Bankole says he wants to use Saturday’s presidential election to push for a better life in his oil-rich but crisis-ridden country.

Double-digit inflation, weak economic growth and growing insecurity are the main concerns for voters on Feb. 25 as they choose the successor to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, who is due to step down after two legal deadlines.

“Nigeria was so difficult to cope with and live in,” Bankole said. “Survival was difficult.”

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For years, the 54-year-old has struggled to take care of his family of five while working two jobs.

He recently took a third job as a taxi driver, but it could still bring in an extra 5,000 naira ($11) — hardly enough in a country where the cost of living has reached record levels.

Resources and wealth of Nigeria

Africa’s largest economy and the continent’s largest oil producer, Nigeria has resources and wealth, but the global pandemic and the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine hit the country hard in Buhari’s deadline.

Inflation is at 21.8 percent, the naira currency has weakened, and more Nigerians are now living below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Adding to the economic hardship, the country faced a shortage of fuel as well as a shortage of cash after the central bank began exchanging old naira banknotes for new ones.

Chronic cash shortages have created queues at banks and sparked protests in some cities, even as the central bank says policies are needed to limit the amount of cash outside the banking system.

Bankole started driving taxis two months ago, but a recent shortage of fuel and cash has added to his misery.

He spends long hours queuing at gas stations, paying up to 330 naira per liter, up from 165 before.

Even running his school has been difficult as parents struggle to pay fees while his print shop struggles.

“We cannot continue in the same spirit as the people,” he said.

– Business acumen –

Saturday’s election has turned into a tense three-way race for the presidency, with all leaders touting their past government experience and business acumen for the nation’s top job.

Former Lagos Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressive Congress or APC faces former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labor Party, a surprise third party candidate with high youth appeal.

While Nigeria’s economy has rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic, expanding by three percent in 2022, critics say the recovery has not improved conditions for most Nigerians.

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Falling oil revenues, growing exposure to criminal gangs, severe flooding hitting farmland, and the aftermath of the war in Ukraine have combined to worsen the situation.

The unemployment rate in Nigeria is about 33 percent, and the number of Nigerians living in poverty has risen to 133 million, or 63 percent of the population, in 2022, according to the World Bank.

Youth unemployment now stands at 43 percent, down from 10 percent before the first Buhari administration came to power in 2015.

The naira currency has fallen from an average of 200 naira per dollar in 2015 to about 750 naira in the parallel market.

According to Sola Oni of Sofunix Investment, “Nigeria’s unfavorable operating environment, characterized in particular by inflationary pressures, low purchasing power, will continue to increase poverty.”

Nigerian producers recently warned that they would face a 25 percent production shortfall if gasoline and cash shortages were not addressed soon.

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“This situation does not benefit anyone: the industry, the government and ordinary citizens,” said Shogun Ajayi-Kabir, leader of the country’s manufacturers’ association.

“You will have a growing lack of patronage for the domestic producer; denial of government revenues that would have come from taxes on consumption, and disruption of the daily life and needs of the average Nigerian.”

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