By Oludare Mayowa
Egypt has always been an attraction to many in ancient times, especially during periods of hardship, famine, and confusion, when the country served as a place of refuge. Evidence abounds in the scriptures that the progenitors of Israel often got attracted to Egypt in times of famine, and when they faced challenges, they usually turned to the place as a place of refuge from whatever afflicted them.
For instance, it was Egypt that the children of Jacob went to when they faced hunger that threatened their existence. Before that experience, Isaac, who was the father of Jacob was to head to Egypt when his means of livelihood was threatened by ravaging famine until he was cautioned by God not to follow his instinct.
It could also be recalled that when Moses liberated the children of Israel from the clutches of the oppressive Egyptians and was leading them to the Promised Land, it was not long after that they faced the challenge of finding suitable drinking water in the desert on their way after crossing the Red Sea.
They did not hesitate before they suggested to Moses that he take them back to Egypt, where they claimed that there were enough graves to bury them even if they had to die.
In the New Testament, Jesus, as a baby, was taken to Egypt by Joseph, his earthly ‘father,’ so that he would not be killed by King Herod, who sought to kill him. There are many examples of progenitors of Israel who found the land of Egypt a place of refuge when confronted with difficult times.
Though I have heard many Christians chorus that “the Egyptians they used to see, they shall see no more,” the lure to run to Egypt whenever they face life-threatening challenges has never weaned.
To many religious people, Egypt represents a place of oppression, bondage, and affliction, as depicted by the treatment of the children of Israel after the demise of Joseph and the ascendancy of a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph’s role in preserving the land from drought and famine. That was the reason many of them would rather chorus in prayer that ”there is no going back to Egypt.”
In their ignorance, however, they quickly forgot that Egypt had in the past offered succor to even the father of faith, Abraham, and others through his linage, down to Jesus, who took refuge in the land with his parents when His life was in danger from King Herod’s evil intentions.
However, it must be clearly noted that the decision to resort to Egypt always arises when the people are hungry or experience life-threatening hardship, such as famine, in the case of Abraham and Isaac, while in the case of Jesus, it was as a result of a threat to His life.
What this simply means is that whenever the going is good, people don’t remember the land of Egypt, but Egypt becomes an option for them whenever they can no longer endure the pain and hardship confronting them in their own land.
Nigerians since becoming independent from their colonial masters have gone through many forms of government, right from the post-independence government formed by the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), headed by Tafawa Balewa as Prime Minister, to the first Military junta headed by Agunyi Ironsi, and up to the last one led by Abdusalam Abubakar before the emergence of democracy in 1999.
Even after the years of military jackboot rule and the birth of democracy from Olusegun Obasanjo and down to the present President Bola Tinubu, the lives, and fortunes of Nigerians have consistently suffered a downward trend.
Notwithstanding the changes in governments since independence in 1960, the story of Nigerians has always been the same. It has always been from frying pan to fire at each transition from one government to another, either by coup or by the ballots.
Like the late legendary afrobeat king, Fela Anikulapo sang, “Dem leave sorry tears and blood, their regular trademark.” None of the governments have ever worked for the good of the masses; what we have witnessed is the looting of the commonwealth by the ruling elites, either in ‘Kaki or Agbada.’
Today, many Nigerians are taking refuge in ‘Egypt’ as a result of the economic hardship unleashed on the people by successive governments. Nigerians could be in ‘Egypt’, in the United Kingdom, the land of our colonial masters, the United States, where our forebears were carried as slaves to farm their land, or other parts of the world; even African countries have become attractive places of refuge for Nigerians.
The allure of traveling out of the country has never been this strong until the government of the immediate past President, Mohammadu Buhari, who was regarded as the worst face of bad government in the annals of Nigerian history.
Apart from his lack of capacity to govern, his clannishness and fulanization agenda further drew a wedge between the major ethnic nationalities in the country. His economic program promoted corruption, despite his pretense of fighting corruption as part of his agenda.
His eight years in government represented the worst period of hardship visited upon the geographical location called Nigeria, and he left behind a fractured nation with huge suspicion among the ethnic nationalities.
The story of Buhari’s eight years of horror is for another day; however, it is worth noting that the effects of his mismanagement have been passed on to his successor, putting enormous pressure on governance.
As part of their inheritance, many Nigerian youth have consistently settled for the japa syndrome as their own way of escaping to ‘Egypt.’ Japa simply means run for your life and is a case of the mass exodus of young and talented Nigerians from the country abroad for greener pastures.
Nigerian’s exodus to foreign countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, the US, etc. in the last couple of years, especially in the last four years of the Buhari administration, has been unprecedented.
With the 2023 general election, many Nigerians were hopeful of a better Nigeria after Buhari. It was a general consensus that whoever among the candidates vying to replace Buhari—Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, and Peter Obi—would be a better option than the disastrous performance of the immediate past president.
Despite the outcome of the election, which was widely disputed by other contestants, some people, believed that President Bola Tinubu would make a difference that would relieve Nigerians of the hardship of the past eight years.
Disappointedly, right from the get-go, Tinubu announced at his inauguration the removal of the costly fuel subsidy, which immediately resulted in a hike in pump prices of over 200 percent. He also followed it with the devaluation of the nation’s currency with his abolition of the multiple foreign exchange rates, leading to a major depreciation in the value of the currency.
The naira has since weakened to N870 to the dollar on the parallel market while trading at N756.94 to the greenback on the official Investors and Exporters (I&E) forex window as of Monday, July 31, 2023.
While many economists and analysts have applauded the reforms in the downstream oil sector and foreign exchange market as bold and necessary to eliminate rent in the economy, nonetheless, the effect of the two policies has had a devastating impact on the standard of living of Nigerians across the board.
For instance, two multinationals, Guinness Nigeria and Unilever, and a local conglomerate, Dangote Cement, recorded huge losses arising from the devaluation of the naira by the government in their second-quarter financials.
The two major reforms have had a significant impact on the lives of Nigerians simply because petrol and the dollar have oiled the wheels of the Nigerian economy. The movement of goods and people depends largely on transportation, while the country is import-dependent on industry raw materials, machinery, and even basic needs, which are funded by foreign exchange.
Undoubtedly, the two major reforms were carried out without consideration, or rather, assessment, of their full impact on the majority of Nigerians, and there was no immediate policy or program response from the government to mitigate the impact of the reforms on the people’s economy.
What we are currently witnessing in the country today is citizens disenchanted by the outcome of government policies, and if care is not taken, the pressure point would soon boil over, with the resultant consequence that cannot be predicted by anyone.
Though the president on Monday addressed the nation on plans to mitigate the impact of the hardship brought about by his government’s policy, to many, the mitigating measures seem too little to ameliorate the suffering of the people.
First, the planned release of grains from strategic reserve, conditional cash transfer, and massive production of food are farfetched because the country does not have a reliable and credible register of its citizens, which could facilitate the distribution of palliatives to the targeted population.
Equally, the structure of the government is skewed in favor of the rich, and many believed that whatever plans the government is putting in place to cushion the effect of its policies would never get to the masses, who really need the support. They believed that the politicians and their stooges are already well-positioned to hijack whatever is being prepared for the masses by the government.
What the government needs to do urgently is to start the process of fortifying the local government structure to ensure that governance at the grass-roots level is effective and touches the lives of the people. The local government administration should be extricated from the grip of state governors and granted the autonomy required to make them accountable and effective.
The government should ease the burden of tax on the poor and push for cost-cutting measures at the government level, reduce the number of political appointees, slash budget allocation to the parliament, and ensure that ministries and parastatals are rationalized to ensure efficiency rather than being seen as opportunities or avenue to provide jobs for the boys.
It’s time for the leadership at various levels to demonstrate commitment and sincerity of purpose by leading by example. They must show the people that they truly care by blocking all the leakages in public finance, demonstrating austere living, and confronting those who are hell-bent on running the country aground with their corrupt tendencies.
If the government fails to put in place people-oriented policies that will assuage the suffering of the masses, then the people may be forced to look up to ‘Egypt’ as a promising alternative to the present system.
The recent coup in Niger should rather be a warning signal to the political leaders that no matter the evil of military rule, people will always look at and embrace the options available to them in times of suffering.
(Edited by Oludare Mayowa; firstname.lastname@example.org; Newsroom: +234 8033 964 138)