Nigeria is one of Africa’s wealthiest, most populous nations; it has also been described as its fastest-growing economy. By all accounts, I have just described a thriving nation full of resources, innovation and potentials. Yet as stated in my last article, Nigeria is all of these things and none of it. Despite the ‘potentials’, more than half of the country lives below the poverty line, and over a quarter of it suffers the world’s third-highest level of chronic under nutrition among children. Nigeria, with its estimated current population of 200 million, ranks top as the nation with the world’s highest number of poor people, just over 91 million – higher than former reigning champion, India whose total population of 1.3 billion more than triples Nigeria’s. Nigerians are not only poor, but we are also hungry.
In 2018, it was revealed that there were about 113 million people experiencing high levels of food insecurity in the world. Interestingly, it was further disclosed that two thirds of the 113 million people facing acute food insecurity – amounting to nearly 72 million people lived in just eight countries, namely: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Once again, Nigerians are met with the harsh reality that our abundant resources have not made us richer in wealth or in food.
In a recent address, President Muhammadu Buhari informed the nation that the federal government’s under its National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) had in three years, lifted no fewer than five million Nigerians out of extreme poverty. Before we rejoice over mere figures, may I remind you that the number of poor people has increased by 4 million in less than a year. If 5 million people have been rescued from poverty, it is alarming to then note that almost double that number have fallen before the poverty line. I am left wondering what kind of programme brings people out of poverty but enables many more to become poorer than ever. This is a curious case indeed.
Hungry people are angry people. There have been calls of a revolution on the horizon and with many cities that have experienced rue revolution, at the root of it; people got fed up of paying more for bread or gas. We saw this in Tunisia as protesters poured out in the streets with handwritten signs saying “WE WANT bread and water and no Ben Ali.” The link between food and revolution can be seen all over the world as people become hungrier, they become angrier – from Turkey to Brazil to Venezuela, the examples abound. The case of hunger is not only an absence of food. In addition to the revelation of the number of people out of poverty, Mr President also announced that he had directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stop providing foreign exchange for importation of food into the country, with the “steady improvement in agricultural production, and attainment of full food security.” It is important to point out that food insecurity does not necessarily always mean there is not enough food to feed our population–the problem is that the poor don’t have enough money to buy it. Until we can also bring down the cost of purchasing the most basic staples like grains, meat and more; we are not close to tackling food insecurity.
And if poverty and hunger are not enough, Nigerians have to battle natural disasters that are really human disasters because nature is only reacting to the numerous anthropogenic activities we have subjected her to like poor waste management; poor water channels as a result of building structures on flood plains, canals and more; and non-existent disaster and relief management. Come September, it has been predicted by the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) who has subsequently issued an alert warning Nigerians of imminent increased flooding. As we are no strangers to flooding, the impending damage and losses that will be recorded when the expected floods arrive would be devastating. How is our dear nation preparing? We are issuing warnings without proper details of where to go and what to do to people who have nowhere else to go to and no idea of what to do while continuing with business as usual.
This will not be the first time I am talking about this matter nor as experience has shown, would it be the last. Learning from our mistakes is a skill our leaders have yet to master or even shown signs of a willingness to master. In my sixtieth article of this column, I wrote that the rains were coming and once again, we may suffer for it. I also included an excerpt from a previous article that addressed the disaster of Cyclone Idia to reiterate my warning. I was clear that for Nigerians who empathize but feel safe in their homes, it was worth remembering that a number of our states were on the coast so we were not immune to that kind of disaster. Africa, particularly Nigeria with its population size and dense area, is heading for an unprecedented disaster if we don’t urgently attend to our environment. We are not only ill-equipped to handle disasters, but we are also ill-prepared to even equip ourselves.
In the last three decades, the impacts of flooding have increasingly grown from significant to threatening proportions, resulting in losses sustained by the urban dwellers and flood victims, it is obvious from the available records that irreparable havocs have been sustained by the citizen of Nigeria due to what has become perennial natural disaster in our cities.
We cannot afford a hungry, poor nation on the brink of a natural disaster. Yet, we do not seem motivated to do anything about it. I am left wondering if my words get to the ears of those who need to hear it. Or maybe they chose not to listen. I may not be hungry yet but I see hunger everywhere especially in the North and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp but I am angry because those in authorities seem not to have been reading my articles because I warned the country many years ago and proffered solutions.
Whichever it is, Nigerians –myself included- need to understand that the ills our leaders commit and we let them get away with, in some cases, even celebrate them for it, will only lead to our total destruction; sooner than later.