It has been the received wisdom in Nigeria that poverty is worsened by hunger. In other words, if or when hunger is removed from poverty, poverty becomes more tolerable. Last week, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme raised the alarm on the likelihood of severe food insecurity in Nigeria and why it should worry Nigerians that even the poor African countries seem to be doing better than Nigeria in that regard.
Only very few would be surprised by this pessimistic observation. Since Boko Haram became a permanent affliction, it has become obvious that the North Eastern region of Nigeria, which was before then an invaluable breadbasket for Nigeria, would be taken out of Nigeria’s productive territories. Indeed, the region has ever since been a net recipient of all kinds of external assistance from Nigerians and well-wishers from abroad.
Three states in the region, Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, are considered to be the epicentre of the conflict. Indeed, for many months in 2014, significant parts of Borno State came under effective Boko Haram occupation, complete with jihadi flags and sharia local administration which forced at least 2.5 million people in the North East to flee their homes and had to be accommodated in make-shift camps known as Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. Thus, it is not merely that the North East region of Nigeria can no longer engage in productive pursuits, including farming and fishing (it was the biggest fish supplier to the nation), it has now become a dependent region, living on the assistance and donations of their neighbours and charities abroad.
Compounding the above problem is the preventable lawlessness of the killer herdsmen who tend to be utterly insensitive to farmers’ crops and armed, as they are, with assault weapons they have not hesitated to burn down towns and villages and create atmosphere of terror which had the effect of scaring farmers away from their farms. The herders have become acknowledged as the third deadliest group in the world’s Terrorism Index and in 2019 they are held responsible for killing at least 2,539 Nigerians in 654 attacks.
These are separate from their kidnappings, rapes of women all over the country and sundry lawlessness. The herdsmen violence is intractable as a problem because there is a visible unwillingness of the government to subject them to any kind of prosecution no matter what they did. The result is that they are feared. Nigerians find them very dangerous to confront and have virtually deserted the farms out of fear of the herdsmen. The newly appointed service chiefs have received a presidential order to secure the country and ensure the farms are safe for farmers. President Muhammadu Buhari issued these orders four weeks ago. No one is sure if the orders are going to be effective, since he had issued similar orders in the past which did not have the desired effect.
The ambience of insecurity beclouding the country makes food production very difficult indeed and the result is apparent in the market. The average Nigerian uses the price of food as the benchmark to judge how benevolent or providential a government has been. Nigerians tend to fondly remember that by 2014 a 50 kilogram bag of rice cost N7,000. Today it sells for N25,000. Indeed, in a recent report by the Central Bank of Nigeria and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), it now costs Nigerians twice the average amount spent on food five years ago to purchase the same today. That’s after food prices rose to the highest level in more than 12 years according to the inflation data published last week by the NBS.
Nor can it be said that the government and its officials are unaware of the situation. Indeed, the Central Bank was touting the fact that it has boosted agricultural production by granting concessional loans worth N1.487 trillion given to 548,109 farmers between the fourth quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021 to boost dry season farming. In spite of these efforts, the country’s food insecurity remains in such a parlous state. And no one is in doubt that greater effort needs to be made in getting Nigerians to farm all year round and to quit thinking of farming as a seasonal occupation. But because of our seasons and the pattern of rainfall, more dams need to bebuilt.
Above all, our rural areas need to be opened. Indeed the inaccessibility of our rural areas is largely responsible for the fact that kidnappers have turned the rural farms into detention centres for their abductees. And as long as those rural areas remain impenetrable and inaccessible without roads or means of reaching them quickly, so long will kidnapping subsist in the country.