What a frustrating and painful year 2020 has turned out to be. You may have a pretty hard time picking a single event among the cascade of events that may define 2020. There are still 30 days to go. But for me, hunger sticks out like a sore thumb in choosing a problem of immediate sort that defines the moment. It’s because when you are hungry, you feel like being denied the oxygen to survive for long. That’s the reason I was moved to tears recently. I wore my heart on my sleeve as I watched two young men fight over a loaf of bread in front of a kiosk close to my house in Lagos.
Passers-by also watched in disbelief, wondering what could be the cause of the disorderly fight. As they wrestled themselves to the ground, the bread was broken into pieces. None of them had a better share of it. It was like the classic case of a broken family whose members would rather destroy their father’s inheritance than share. On enquiry, these men were labourers working at a nearby building undergoing renovation. Think about that! We are at a tipping point right now in this country. We are getting close to that dreaded situation where the citizens could be fighting themselves on the street because of hunger. Hunger breeds anger and frustration. It has been enemies. The only friend it knows is the person who brings food to the table.
Are you still surprised that there’s extreme hunger and poverty in the land? No doubt. Here’s the statistics : According to a recent analysis results from the Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO), over 9.8 million people from 16 states and the Federal Capital Territory(FCT) are suffering from hunger, and 13.9 million people are expected to go hungry next year. Speakig at the presentation of the analysis, the FAO representative in Nigeria and the ECOWAS, Mr.Fred Kafeero said the results had exposed the need for urgent intervention by the federal government. The FAO report is also part of the important stage in determining the next action and effective response in ensuring food security and nutrition in the country.
The question is: Is government taking this report and other reports from the World Bank serious? Undoubtedly, there’s indeed a present danger of hunger in Nigeria unless the present situation of feeding the rich and starving the poor, is stopped. For clarity, according to the FAO, hunger refers to the distress associated with the lack of sufficient calories. It also defines “food deprivation or undernurishment, as the consumption of too few calories to provide minimum amount of dietary energy that each individual requires to live a healthy and productive life given that person’s sex, age, stature and physical activity level”. Across the states, many people, especially children, are dying of hunger and malnutrition.
There are over 2 million malnourished children in Nigeria In Kaduna, for instance, official statistics shows that no fewer than 124 children have died of malnutrition between January and September 2020 , with 15,329 cured of the diseases within the same period. In the 2020 Global Hunger Index(GHI), Nigeria ranked 98th out of the 107 countries with sufficient data to calculate 2020 GHI scores. With a score of 29.2 , Nigeria is said to have a level of hunger that is considered “very serious”. For the uninformed, GHI is designed to raise awareness and understanding of the struggle against hunger between countries and regions, and call attention to those areas of the world where hunger levels are highest and the need for additional efforts to contain or eliminate the problem. That’s exactly what this column is drawing attention to. Denying, as it has become the occupational disease of our governments and officials, is a lie against reality. Governments across the country have long been floating on this ocean of living in denial and falsehood that there’s no hunger in the land. It’s time to stop the falsehood and face the grim reality.
Make no mistake about it, hunger and poverty are like conjoined twins They are not spick- and-span. The truth is that Nigeria is sinking deeper into hunger and poverty, the World Bank, has repeatedly warned. The poverty rate in Nigeria, it warned recently, could become worse, with up to 30 million people falling into extreme poverty trap in the next 10 years. Nobody is saying that President Buhari’s has the magic wand to make Nigeria great overnight or eradicate poverty with the speed of light. But his administration has not done enough in this regard.
Recall President Buhari had, during his “Democracy Day” speech on June 12, 2019, promised “to lay the enduring foundations for taking a 100 million Nigerians out of mass poverty over the next 10 years”. Remind him how far he has gone with that commitment. As the World Bank advises, creating new opportunities for our rapidly increasing labour force will require a new economic model based on productivity growth. And without robust productivity growth, the World Bank warns, “the living standards of Nigerians will continue to deteriorate, and the number of people living in poverty will continue to rise, increasing by more than 30 million by 2030”.
This is a race against time, a race to tame hunger or be ready for the unpleasant consequences. My worry is that the APC administration appears to lack the vision to get Nigeria out of the challenges of immediate sort confronting us. A party without vision and coherent policies, lacks the oxygen to last the distance. That’s why we are still here, over five years of this government. You can’t be operating from a comfort zone that breeds over- confidence and appreciate the enormity of the nation’s problems.
However, it will be unfair to blame the President for all the problems, including hunger. The truth is that Nigeria has been in a high level of food insecurity in the past four decades. This has been made even worse by recent insurgents’ attacks on farmers. The worst perhaps is the massacre of scores of rice farmers in Borno state last weekend. All of this has resulted in the neglect of food production. However, government’s policymakers are not doing well enough in critical sectors that will produce optimal benefits to the people. It’s even worse at the state levels. Those in authority should bear this in mind: that they are in power as a matter of luck and courtesy rather than by any divine rights.
Again, one is not saying that the Buhari presidency is responsible for the hunger in the country. But, under this government, the level of hunger has grown progressively worse. We need concrete programmes of action to stop it from getting to the present, frightening level where people may resort to self-help. As statistics has shown, about 91.6 million Nigerians are reported to be living in poverty. That is about half of the population of the country, making the World Poverty Clock to place Nigeria as the “poverty capital of the world”. Inequality has widened to unacceptable level. A situation where less than 5 percent of the rich controls the wealth of the nation could hold grave implications for the country.