Starvation in Nigeria

The Nigerian political leadership has to do much more to wrestle starvation to the ground because many citizens are now desperately hungry and hopeless.
 Extreme hunger or starvation is a monstrous enemy of mankind and by extension, progress in many senses. Therefore, it must be defeated or substantially tamed at all costs. The Nigerian political leadership has to do much more to wrestle starvation to the ground because many citizens are now desperately hungry and hopeless. This scenario has implications for the corporate existence of Nigeria as unprecedented insecurity reigns supreme. As a Nigerian, I’m pained that our country is now one of the hungriest in the world despite the fact that we stand upon a huge mountain of mineral and agricultural resources. The government can only politicise the issue of food production at the peril of the Nigerian masses. Merely mouthing empty slogans about food productions is a disservice to the country. Thus, for example, the President, Rice Farmers’ Association of Nigeria, Aminu Goronyo said recently that annual rice production in the country had increased from 5.5 million tonnes in 2015 to 5.8 million tonnes in 2017. But this rice can hardly be found in the local markets or other related outlets. This reality underscores the reason why a lot of Nigerians go for foreign rice which in my own opinion, is less delicious and yet more expensive. Now that the government has banned food especially rice imports from abroad, a disequilibrium has been created between demand and supply. This imbalance leads to a higher price. I do not think that one needs to be a professor of economics to know this elementary economic theory. While it is a truism, that agriculture and industries must be domesticated and protected from the influxes of foreign goods and services through the lens of tariffs and quotas among others, caution should not be thrown to the winds.

Reduction in imports has to be critical and/or gradual until local productions are enough for Nigerian consumers and also exports. Currently, the prices of food items especially rice have gone up astronomically, thereby further reducing the purchasing power of an average Nigerian. Most Nigerians (except the political class and its business associates) are experiencing unprecedented hunger. This is very instructive because, in our geo-polity, workers’ salaries are never revised upward even in the face of hyperinflation. The political leaders imbued with hedonistic, primordial mentality look the other way, as the ordinary people groan under the weight of economic hardships arising among other things, from poorly managed inflation. This is at variance with what obtains in saner climes and cultures where workers’ salaries are automatically revised upward in the face of rising inflation.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Nigerian Customs Service among other bodies, Nigerians as of 2018 consumed an average of $4.5 billion worth of parboiled rice annually. Indeed, Nigeria is the largest importer of rice in the world. This country also doubles as the highest producer of rice in the West African sub-region. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has started facilitating a N250 billion intervention fund for the Bank of Agriculture (BOA). This is being disbursed through the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme. But despite all these attempts to save monies for other developmental projects, it is too early to completely stop rice importation. Rice is Nigeria’s most staple food.

A bag of locally produced rice which was formerly about N10,000 or thereabouts is now N22,000. The available imported rice is becoming too costly for an average Nigerian to buy. A full bag of this rice is now between N28,000 and N30,000. This is a serious problem especially as we approach the Christmas season. Many Nigerians are fast losing facets of their humanity as a result of monumental material poverty. Consequently, our age-old culture of fellow feeling and/or sharing is almost totally gone. Our indigenous ideology of communalism has been sacrificed shamelessly on the altar of rugged individualism coupled with hedonism and self-indulgence. Although there has been a steady decline in the Nigerian values and value-systems right from the colonial period, the situation has reached epidemic proportions in the last 4 or 5 years.

Many local farmers have either been killed or displaced from their settlements by the Boko Haram insurgents, bandits, ritualists and kidnappers. As a result of this, agricultural productions have fallen to near zero in the northeastern region of Nigeria. This is in addition to Tivland in Benue State, where farming activities are coming to a grinding halt due to incessant security challenges. Nigeria, a notoriously blood-stained country has over 8.5 million people in dire need of humanitarian help. According to Action Against Hunger (AAH) about 400,000 children under-5 in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states would face starvation in a couple of months from now. Aside from these young children, nursing mothers, as well as pregnant women, are also experiencing malnutrition or starvation.

Fears and insecurities have led to the abandonment of many farms even as far afield as southern Nigeria. Starvation is rapidly spreading throughout the country. This situation encourages all kinds of unorthodox coping strategies. There would be less need to buy almost on a weekly basis arm and ammunition as well as fighter jets with Nigeria’s scarce resources, once the level of hunger is reduced to the barest minimum. The crime rate would necessarily come down in the face of more employment opportunities, more security and more food for the citizens. Hungry people easily become morally bad and evil in order to survive. The recent upsurge in crime rate in Nigeria is symptomatic of the poor state of the economy and stone age-like politics of the belly. It seems to me that the government is losing its critical edge with respect to economic development.

The Buhari administration would be doing posterity a great deal of honour by widening its vision of social, economic and political engineering. The leaders need to appreciate the fact that they are also for the future. They should create greater growth opportunities on a sustainable scale instead of trying to run Nigeria aground. This country is sinking fast into the swamp of hopelessness and facelessness. Therefore, a rescue operation is most desirable now. African leaders who once ruled their countries within the framework of despotism and other forms of recklessness have been finally consigned to oblivion. Our political leaders today must begin to learn from history otherwise they risk the charge of eternal damnation.

Most of the numerous palatial mansions illegally acquired by Mr Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire in his heyday have become the abode of reptiles and other animals. These scenarios are a warning signal to other African leaders who refuse to govern their countries with the fear of God. Hunger and security among others cannot be glossed over by any political leader even with the faintest idea of fairness and responsiveness. Nigerians are not interested in the rhetoric of political slogans but positive action on a sustainable scale. This underscores the reason why a huge budget is allocated to the Aso Rock Villa for the comfort of the president and his nuclear family among others. An arrangement is a social contract between the central leader and the ordinary people. Therefore, the former has to be strong-hearted and clear-minded, while the latter also must not be a bunch of imbeciles. Such a scenario paves the way for a balance that necessarily promotes a healthy society where political infantilism coupled with reactionary complexes has no place to stand.

Professor Ogundele is of Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Ibadan.