Of all the efforts intended to cushion the effect of subsidy removal on the people of Oyo state by the government; only the recently announced six-month wage award seems the most consequential. Others such as food relief package, health insurance, extended bus service, and inputs distribution among others have largely recorded muted outcomes. And the reasons are not far-fetched.
Take the food relief package. Most beneficiaries of that program are still recovering from the shock and chaos that accompanied the initiative. For the most part, it was an exercise that ended up adding more to people’s plight than solving it albeit temporarily. In most places where that exercise was carried out, it either ended up in chaos or turned into high decibel-slanging match between officials in charge the beneficiaries. As a matter of fact, there were also heart-wrenching reports about how partisan politics played a significant role in the distribution of that relief package. And when you look at what was penned for distribution as a relief package to the 200,000 poorest households, you will marvel at the way people in power think about the pains, agonies, and plights of the people they supposedly rule over: 10kg of rice, 5kg of beans, garri, and a bottle of groundnut oil.
What relief would that meager food package bring in an economy that has thrown more people into the belly of multidimensional poverty? Certainly, the counterproductive outcome of the SAfER program must have prompted the government to think out of the box. The result of which is the awarding of 6 months’ wages to the workers and pensioners. Of course, other items of the program must have benefitted some people. Consequently, beneficiaries of health insurance, expanded bus service, and input distribution to farmers will not mince words in praising the government. But when you place the list of beneficiaries side by side with the rest of the populace, you will discover such efforts are more like a stone-thrown stone inside the ocean. Whatever the government had in mind with the SAfER program has nearly hit the brick wall. Plus, the majority of Oyo people are back at square one, facing grueling socioeconomic hardship as inflation and naira devaluation devastatingly affect not just their livelihoods but their lives.
Interestingly, the idea behind the six-month wage reward is itself not novel. We know it was the Federal Government’s initiative to reach a compromise with the labor unions. In essence, domesticating it in the state is actually not a bad idea. Backdated to October, the wage reward will help workers and pensioners augment their spending and probably improve their standard of living. In an economy where prices of commodities have judo-flipped, this award will assist in increasing the purchasing power parity of government workers. Essentially, the ripple-down economic gains of this intervention cannot be overemphasized. But as usual, this development has also left many wondering what awaits the common men on the street: the Okada riders, the petty traders, the food vendors, and so on. For a fact, this recurrent phenomenon has always evoked mixed feelings and emotions whenever governments decide to either increase salaries or award more wages.
Candidly, it is always difficult to measure the various government interventions on the common folks. In part because these are people for whom the social safety net is a mirage. Neither captured by the system nor integrated into the formal structure, most people in this category often feel excluded and neglected by the system that promised to cater to them. Apparently, the idea behind the food relief package for instance must have been geared toward reaching this set of people.
Quite unfortunate that the lack of effective planning in addition to the dearth of honest personnel hampered the success of such a program. For those on the street, the government may increase the wages of the workers from now till the end of time, so far, they are not considered and captured, such exercise makes little sense to them. If well-coordinated, Makinde’s SAfER program could have helped people feel the presence of government across the state’s nook and cranny. Quite amusingly, there were also reports that part of the food relief package for the subsidy removal belonged to the COVID-19 palliatives. The six-month wage award for workers and pensioners is good though still cosmetic, thinking about curative ideas such as how to significantly reduce the pains of the subsidy removal is the only guarantee that people will not revolt against the establishment.
In my column of 26th August 2023 entitled Makinde’s SAfER program – More Noise, Less Substance, I noted that once government handouts run out (in this case the wages award), the reality of daily life will set in again. Giving out food relief packages is good (six-month award wages) but not great. What is great is to create an enabling environment where people can feed themselves without waiting for the government to come to their rescue. And one sure way to do this is to rethink the economic model that has thrown more people into the den of poverty. “People are poor not because all of them are lazy”, I submitted, “The same model that has made politics and crimes lucrative and attractive cannot be trusted to share prosperity with the downtrodden. Makinde’s SAfER (wages award) is simply a scratch at the surface of the deep-rooted socioeconomic challenges confronting people. It’s a palliative dressed in the robe of a serious economic program.
The bitter truth, as I concluded then was that most of the items on the Governor’s SAfER program including this wages award will definitely help some people but in the long run, it is still federal government economic policy that will change a lot of most people.
OYO101 is Muftau Gbadegesin’s opinion about issues affecting Oyo state and is published every Saturday. He can be reached via @muftaugbade on X, email@example.com and 09065176850.