The Anglican Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province (Anglican Communion) and Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Most Rev. Emmanuel Chukwuma, recently painted a grim picture of the worsening poverty in Nigeria. According to him, Nigerians have endured enough hardship and suffering and warned that the situation might lead to social unrest. The cleric noted that the time had come to stamp out corruption, banditry and terrorism in Nigeria.
The bishop’s worry is quite legitimate. In 2018, the World Poverty Clock adjudged Nigeria the poverty capital of the world. Then, an estimated 86.9 million Nigerians lived in extremely poverty. Since it is estimated that every minute, almost six people join the poverty rank, the figure would have risen astronomically by now. And judging from the World Bank’s prediction last year that 15 to 20 million more Nigerians might join the poverty rank this year, it is possible that over 100 million people may have been trapped by extreme poverty.
Also, in the 2020 Global Hunger Index, Nigeria ranked 98th out of 107 countries surveyed, placing her among the top 10 hunger-ravaged countries in the world. COVID-19 pandemic worsened the situation that year with the Nigerian economy witnessing its deepest recession since the 1980s. Many companies were forced to shut down and many people lost their jobs. The rate of unemployment and inflation is so high now that it has left many people despondent and hopeless.
Last year, a United Kingdom-based think tank, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), placed Nigeria as the second poorest country in food affordability in the world. The number one country is Syria. The North-East is the worst hit region by the hunger pandemic. Recently, the United Nations (UN) raised the alarm that 4.1 million people in that region were at the severe risk of food insecurity and starvation. According to the UN, people in that region are vulnerable after struggling through 12 years of conflict. This is the crux of the matter. Long-term conflict or insecurity is the major cause of hunger anywhere in the world. Afghanistan, for instance, is the most terrorised country in the world and it is also one of the countries ravaged by acute hunger. The same thing goes for Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.
In Nigeria’s North-East, Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) have continued to terrorise and make life unbearable for the people. In the late 2020, some Boko Haram elements invaded a farm near Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, and slaughtered over 60 farm workers.
Elsewhere in the country, bandits and herdsmen chase farmers out of their farms. The unlucky ones get killed. On many of our major expressways, especially in the North, bandits and terrorists waylay and kidnap travellers. Those who are lucky to escape being killed usually part with huge ransom.
This scenario has seriously affected investment in the country. And when there is little or no investment, the result is unemployment and, invariably, hunger and starvation. As has been observed by Archbishop Chukwuma, this can lead to social unrest and other catastrophic consequences. The immediate spark that triggered the French revolution of 1789 was the cost of bread. Even the Arab Spring that started in Tunisia in December 2010 was also caused by hunger and poverty. The country is losing its best personnel to foreign countries. The masses are getting very restive and if care is not taken, something worse than EndSARS protests may happen. We are in a desperate situation and need desperate solutions.
Government should begin to listen to voices of reason and stop seeing critics as enemies of the state. It must do everything possible to stem the tide of hunger and poverty. The pledge by the present government to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by 2030 appears to be a mirage. Economic managers of the country should sit up. There is need for more jobs and more foreign direct investments to create employment. Corporate bodies should also come to the aid of the country. They can assist the government by engaging in poverty alleviation programmes that will lift people out of poverty. North-East Development Commission (NEDC) should also buckle up. Let it redouble its efforts in tackling poverty in the region.
We wonder what has happened to the five-year nutrition action plan titled, ‘National Multi-Sectoral Plan of Action for Food and Nutrition (NMPFAN) 2021 – 2025’, which the National Council on Nutrition approved in 2020 to reduce hunger and malnutrition in Nigeria by 50 per cent. We also wonder why we don’t place much premium on education and agriculture which are paramount in tackling hunger in Nigeria. While good education opens up different opportunities for people, agriculture makes sure that food is never lacked on the tables of many Nigerians. Government should encourage private sector partnerships in biotechnology and use of genetically engineered seeds that will improve crop yields.
Nigerians should play their part by going for honest leaders in the 2023 general election. They must avoid selling their votes, which will ultimately lead to undermining the future of the country and that of their children.