Our Romance With Hunger

Former President Goodluck Jonatan and President Muhammadu Buhari Photo
Former President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari

In Nigeria, we make light of serious issues, including those that bother on our existence as a people. Most of the time, we allow partisan politics and ethnic affiliations to becloud our judgements; but when things go bad, we result to blame games. That is why we believe that a politician is corrupt only if he does not come from our constituency and we have not benefited from his appropriated wealth.

Our political leaders too readily play to the gallery to covet our support. Recently when some people promoted the act of food blockade from the northern part of the country to the south, they thought the action would hurt people in the south the most. True, there would be a shortage of those items in the south. But what they failed to realise is that even where such shortage creates high cost of the commodities in the south, and a likely hunger for the consumers, such would be temporary. And for whatever time the shortage and the effects would last, the effect would not be one-sided. It is unfortunate that the poor farmers who bought into the campaign did not foresee the consequences. The result is the glut of those commodities and the drastic fall in prices in the north. I doubt if the farmers and traders will get any support from the patrons of the campaign for blockade. That is the fate of farmers and small entrepreneurs in this country. Those who escaped the onslaught of criminal herdsmen get tricked into some dubious nationalism campaign, because as the campaigners said, it was to protest the killing of herdsmen in the south. That sounds ridiculous. Imagine people protesting for the rights of aggressors who should have been whipped into line in the first instance. The poor farmers and traders did not see through the so-called leaders who were merely covering up their failure to protect the citizenry, or perhaps maybe they saw in it some favourable expansionist agenda. What is certain, however, is that when leaders lead tribal wars, the victims are always the masses, those from whom the opportunists take the cannon fodders.

The champions of food blockade would not reason that the same people who appear today like sworn enemies, have lived together for decades with little or no rancour. Rather than play the role of leaders by investigating the root of the recent conflicts and truthfully address same, the urge to be popular or perhaps settle jejune political scores drives them to play the hard ball game. The hunger card did not serve the common man, either in the north or the south, any good. Rather, it has further exposed the hypocrisy of the Nigerian political leader about governance. There are people in government, despite the noise about the administration’s war against corruption, who are focused only on personal aggrandizement, instead of general good, will not remember that the major challenge for this country is poverty, and not the tribe that takes the upper hand in the control of resources. They would rather we forget that we carry a big banner on our neck as a nation regarded as the world poverty capital. So, they would not want us to talk about poverty, even when the discourse is about how to tackle the menace.

Therefore, if the political leaders get it whispered into their ears that the number of people affected by hunger globally since 2014 has been on the rise, and that COVID-19, the pandemic that has held the world by the jugular since 2019 will further compound that problem, they will feign ignorance. Yet the World Bank has warned that global poverty extreme will rise as a result of the pandemic. The bank said that the pandemic, which has erased the gains of one billion reduction of poverty in the last two decades, is threatening the projection for the year 2030, when the world is expected to have dealt a big blow on poverty. Now, the World Bank report said that the effect of the pandemic will push up the tally of poverty by at least 88 million. Wait for this: many of that 88 million new poor will come from “countries that already have high poverty rates.” What that means is that Nigeria, the chief host of poverty in the world, will sink further with the unenviable crown of the world poverty capital.

But the World Bank did not assume that we may not be able to come out of the quagmire. Its president , David Malpass said, “Countries will need to prepare for a different economy post-covid, by allowing capital, labour, skills and innovation to move into new businesses and sectors.” The Nigerian government being hard of hearing, will not subscribe to such admonition. Our leaders would still play politics with the lives of the people, as if the world has been static. The problem with us is that before COVID-19, we had been challenged; during the lockdown, our weaknesses came to the fore, and sadly after the lockdown, we continue to live in the past. The way we are going, the world, as it has been our custom, will leave us behind once again. With the lethargy with which we have handled issues of security, the chances that we may not win the race for food security is starring us in the face.

During the lockdown, scores of members of Small Scale Women Farmers Organisation of Nigeria, SWOFON complained that the COVID-19 lockdown prevented them from accessing their farms. By the time the lockdown was lifted, herdsmen had taken advantage of the long absence of farmers to feed their farm produce to their cattle. Before then farmers had to form groups and engage security men as they work in their respective farms, in order to ward off the herdsmen who they accused of raping and killing farmers with reckless abandon. The effect of the lockdown has further impaired efforts of the farmers, a larger number of who had not been lucky enough to get government support.

Farmers tell tales of kidnapping of fellow farmers, rape, and the non-availability of the support that government and its agencies advertise on the pages of newspapers and agency websites. With the rage of bandits now, the nightmare of the farmers has just begun. And so is the dwindling number of people in the farms. Bandits, using motorcycles, invade schools, abducting hundreds of school children in a region with abysmal low school enrollment. The fear of criminals holding courts in the jungle has driven fear into farmers, including those who bear wounds from previous attacks. Majority of farmers, among them those who are still paying for debts from destruction by the gunmen, are too scared to return to the farm. The government, at the federal and state levels, have shown that they are incapable of protecting the poor. The other day, Boko Haram, the insurgent group that has been making life unbearable for people of the northeast geo-political zone, particularly Borno State, slaughtered farmers who went to harvest. All the federal government did was to issue statement commiserating with families of the dead and making vile promises that it will deal with the insurgents. Boko Haram still reigns in Borno, leaving Professor Babagana Zulum, the compassionate governor of the state, to bear the headache in frustration. At the internally-displaced persons, IDP camps, are scores of people who before they were rendered homeless, contributed in one way or the other to the economy of their respective states. A greater percentage of these people were farmers. Today, they depend on the tokens sent by government, and that after corrupt officials have tampered with their entitlements. Those who should be assisted to feed the nation have been turned to mendicants, lucky that they had not been dispatched to their early graves.
What baffles me is that President Muhammadu Buhari who started the anchor borrowers programme in 2015, did not see a sabotage of a programme through which he had planned to support about 1.6 million farmers. The criminals have realised that the government has lost the battle to make the country peaceful. So, as a result of this, farmers have become the most endangered specie in Nigeria. The consequences of this will not be limited to the pains of loss of investment by the farmers, increase of unemployment and poverty, we will also live with hunger, because even if we could import food from outside the country, the increasing loss of purchasing power will also make that a difficult venture.

By the time hunger comes in full force, this government should not blame COVID-19. We should remember that the pandemic was just one of the myriads of factors that brought it about; and that we had control over the other factors, but the government failed to act.

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