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  • Bridgette Bennis

The Cost-of-Living Crisis in Nigeria

Nigeria is entering election season with much at stake. While the COVID-19 pandemic and supply-chain issues have damaged economies globally, Nigeria has been marred by a staggering 21.82% inflation rate as of January 2023, and many have found the conditions impossible. As a consequence of crippling inflation, political instability, and doubling food prices, many Nigerians have begun to emigrate to escape the economic crisis.

Nigeria first noticed concerning inflation last year, in tandem with the global trend as the war in Ukraine progressed. By June 2022, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced a rise in interest rates for the first time in 6 years. Despite this, inflation rose, and the cost of living outgrew the average Nigerian’s salary. As of October 2022, the average Nigerian salary was 4,060,000 Naira, equivalent to 8,831.56 USD as of February 2023. In stark contrast, the average American salary is 53,490 USD. When combined with severe inflation, the low salaries many Nigerians earn isn’t enough to get by. Many fail to meet basic needs– and that’s often with multiple jobs.

Even basic food staples and ingredients have become too expensive for the average person to afford. To understand the drastic increase in the price of food, SBM Intel has created the Jollof Index. Jollof rice is a West African dish made of rice, tomatoes, onions, spices, and various meats and vegetables and is considered a staple across many West African countries. The Jollof Index accounts for how many Naira it would take to feed a family of five. It now costs roughly 10,000 Naira or 22 USD to make a pot of jollof rice for five people. A 50 kg bag of rice is at least 36,000 Naira (roughly 78 USD), and a single egg is over 100 Naira (22 cents in USD). When the average Nigerian makes 8,832 USD a year, 78 dollars for staples such as rice is a staggering price that many can’t pay.

As the economy degrades, many Nigerians have been attempting to immigrate to other nations. While Nigerian emigration has, in fact decreased in the past five years, the country still continues to lose more residents than gain. The BBC spoke with Kunle Ibisola, a Nigerian national who had expected to spend the rest of his life living and working in his homeland, has now transferred to work for the Scottish division of the NHS (National Health Service). For Ibisola, “The main reason I left is salary and the cost of living. In the UK, if I work six to eight hours of locum work [overtime] and I convert that to naira, it will be the equivalent of my monthly salary in Nigeria.” He simply couldn’t afford to work long, tiring hours and still struggle to feed him and his family.

Historically, regimes in a nation become most likely to change in times of duress, economic struggle, and societal anger. Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa and has the seventh largest population in the world, with over 219.5 million people. The country gained independence from the U.K. in 1960 before experiencing military rule through 1999. This means that democracy in Nigeria is less than 30 years old– and young democracy is a fragile thing. As Nigeria holds elections on February 25, it’s been necessary to look at economic strife and staggering inflation will contribute to election results.

This year’s elections determined that Bola Tinubu, of the All Progressives Congress, would be the next President of Nigeria. The other prime candidates, Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party and Peter Obi of the Labour Party were also committed to lowering inflation and bringing a new age to the Nigerian economy. However, no candidates gave specific remarks or a plan for what combating inflation would look like. Once the results of the elections were tallied after a week-long wait, Obi challenged the results, claiming that the election wasn't free nor fair. However, Tinubu’s election has been certified, and it has been accepted that Bola Tinubu will be stepping into presidential office on May 29, 2023.

Emigration remains a primary concern. Many skilled workers are looking for career opportunities outside of Nigeria, leaving the Nigerian workforce even more overworked. While emigration is not a crisis yet, many Nigerians state that between inflation and unpreventable events such as floods, they’re looking at their opportunities to leave. The amount of work and student visas given by the U.K. government to skilled Nigerian workers has increased dramatically over the past 4 years. A term for this sudden migration has been coined– “japa” – meaning to run or flee in Yoruba. Inflation has exacerbated all prior problems, and unable to make ends meet, many Nigerians are forced to emigrate in the face of a cost-of-living crisis. President-Elect Tinubu will be facing many issues as he enters office.

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