Kenya’s Finance Bill and Riot: Lessons for Nigeria

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The recent unrest in Kenya following the introduction of the Finance Bill 2024 offers critical lessons for Nigeria. The horrific scenes of police shooting at protesters in Nairobi, who were rallying against what they deemed draconian fiscal legislation, serve as a stark reminder of the potential consequences of government actions that do not consider the immediate and long-term welfare of citizens.

The Finance Bill 2024, which was passed by the Kenyan parliament and awaited President William Ruto’s signature, proposed significant tax increases on essential items ranging from bread to motor vehicles. The government’s intention was to raise an additional $2.7 billion to address the budget deficit and reduce state borrowing. However, the response from Kenyans was swift and fierce, culminating in violent protests that saw several people killed and parts of the parliament building set on fire.

In Kenya, finance bills are typically presented before the start of the financial year, which runs from July to June, outlining the government’s fiscal plans. The 2024/2025 bill, however, sparked nationwide protests, leading to a total shutdown and violent clashes with police. The government’s initial response, which included scrapping the 16 percent VAT on bread and taxes on motor vehicles, vegetable oil, and mobile money transfers, did little to quell the unrest.

Eventually, President Ruto addressed the nation, condemning the riots and labeling the protesters as criminals. But faced with escalating violence and potential national security threats, he ultimately announced that he would not sign the bill into law and would consult with Kenyans on the way forward.

This situation in Kenya has significant parallels with Nigeria’s own economic challenges. Both nations grapple with severe debt burdens and high public spending that far exceeds their revenues. Nigeria, with a total public debt exceeding N121.67 trillion (over $800 billion), spends all its revenue on debt servicing, necessitating further borrowing to run the government, pay salaries, and fund social services. Rising inflation and the cost of living crisis have further exacerbated poverty, with food, medicines, and basic necessities becoming increasingly unaffordable.

The key takeaway for Nigeria from Kenya’s experience is the importance of inclusive and transparent fiscal policies. The Nigerian government must prioritize the welfare of its citizens and avoid imposing harsh economic measures without broad consultation and support. The public outrage in Kenya, reminiscent of Nigeria’s own historical protests such as the 1989 SAP riots and the 2020 anti-police brutality riots, underscores the volatility that can result from ignoring the people’s plight.

Furthermore, the ostentatious lifestyle of Nigeria’s political class amid widespread poverty only fuels public anger. The government’s expenditure on luxury items and extensive delegations for presidential travels contrasts sharply with the daily struggles of ordinary Nigerians. This disconnect must be addressed to prevent similar unrest.

Nigeria must learn from Kenya’s turmoil. It is essential to engage in meaningful dialogue with citizens, ensure fiscal policies are equitable, and prioritize transparency and accountability in governance. Addressing these issues head-on can help mitigate the risk of unrest and promote a more stable and prosperous society.

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