The tragic incident in Rumudara, Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, which left some people dead and several others injured, has brought to the fore the rising extreme poverty in the country. It has also underscored our seeming inability to apply workable crowd control measures in such emergencies. Officially, the police claimed that only two deaths were recorded when hundreds of customers besieged the office of a non-governmental organisation that fateful day for Christmas ‘palliatives’.
According to reports, the stampede ensued when the crowd, most of them registered customers of an online firm, struggled to enter the premises of the company for the said palliatives. Those invited for the palliatives were mainly registered members from some parts of Rivers State. The Port Harcourt incident is a sad reminder of the scramble for palliatives in some COVID-19 warehouses across the country following the EndSARS protests. These incidents are signs that the hunger situation has reached a worrisome dimension.
Therefore, the stampede in Rivers State should serve as a wake-up call on the government to urgently tackle increasing poverty and mass hunger in the land before it is too late. Although the government has embarked on social intervention programmes to address this problem, it appears that what the government has done is not enough to check rising poverty. That is why all tiers of government must come up with pragmatic measures to drastically reduce extreme poverty in the country. There is no doubt that the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and recession could push more people into poverty. The government must not allow this to happen in view of its dire consequences.
We believe that many organisations should draw useful lessons from the incident in Rivers State. In future, they should not invite many people for such an event without putting in place adequate crowd control measures. There is need for adequate compensation for the victims of the stampede, while the hospital bills of the injured will be paid. However, we urge government at all levels to tackle the problems of poverty and hunger with all seriousness. We say this because the number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty and hunger is deepening. The World Poverty Clock, which tracks poverty, predicts that at least 57 people have to leave extreme poverty every minute. But the reverse is the case in Nigeria because more people are trapped in poverty and hunger than those exiting. According to the World Bank, about 10 million Nigerians will be added to the poverty hole in 2021. The World Bank says that people living in extreme poverty are unable to meet their minimal needs for survival. That shows the danger poverty and hunger pose to the society. Already, about half of the population is said to be in the trap, growing by six people every minute.
It is unfortunate that the Federal Government is yet to fulfill its promise to lift millions of Nigerians out of mass poverty. President Muhammadu Buhari, had during his “Democracy Day” speech on June 12, 2020, promised “to lay the enduring foundations for taking 100 million Nigerians out of mass poverty over the next 10 years.” That commitment is far from being met more than 18 months after. Unfortunately, the government has not put in place concrete measures that will alleviate poverty and hunger in the country. Therefore, it is worth reminding the government that part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which it signed, is to ensure zero hunger, reduction of inequality, decent work and economic growth, affordable and clean energy, promoting peaceful and inclusive society, among other objectives. The government must ensure that Nigeria fulfils these UN goals.
The stampede over Christmas palliatives in Rivers State is largely due to mass poverty, hunger and social inequality. Government should endeavour to strengthen special poverty-alleviation projects that should give Nigerians access to decent living in an inclusive and people-oriented way. It is because many Nigerians feel disillusioned and alienated from government that some organisations are filling the gaps. We enjoin the federal and state governments to muster the financial and political will to tackle mass poverty and hunger in 2021.