Spectre of Hunger in Nigeria: Enough of grandstanding by the political class!

Feb 29, 2024 | Press Releases

The declaration by the Secretary-General of Nigerian Red Cross Society, (NRCS), Dr Abubakar Ahmed Kende that an estimated “26.5 million Nigerians including women and children currently face acute hunger” and the stampede during the sale of seized 25kg bags of rice by Nigeria Customs Service at its office in Yaba which led to the death of seven persons, underlines the precarious economic situation in Nigeria. The multifaceted economic tribulations have been compounded by insecurity in several states including Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, Taraba, Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina, Ekiti, Kwara, Kaduna among others. This has forced many farmers to flee their farms over attacks by bandits and kidnappers and other violent marauders.

A devastating effect of this has been the pervasive food inflation which the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) puts at 35.41%. It is therefore not surprising that some Nigerians unable to bear the biting harsh economic conditions have taken to the streets in Niger, Osun, Ondo, Lagos, Kano, Ogun, and Oyo states calling on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the state governors to save them from acute hunger and economic hardship. The Nigerian Labour Congress and its affiliates unions have also protested against economic hardship across the country.

The National Association of Seadogs, Pyrates Confraternity, NAS/PC stands shoulder to shoulder with Nigerians at this period of national emergency. We sympathise with our compatriots who have been at the receiving end of the economic decisions of the President Tinubu administration and the several rudderless policies and programmes of the 36 states governors which has not been of any benefit to the people and have plunged several of our compatriots into penury.

In a poignant 2023 October 1st Independence Day open letter addressed to President Tinubu, NAS/PC underscored the deleterious impact of insecurity and the adverse ripple effects of the twin policies of oil subsidy removal and exchange rates unification. Our view on the hurried implementation of these policies has not changed. Without equivocation, these two polices championed by the two Bretton Wood twins – International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have only succeeded in pushing more Nigerians into hunger and destitution.

We acknowledge the high-level meeting held between President Tinubu and the 36 states governors on finding a solution to the insecurity stalking the land and soaring high prices of goods and consumable commodities. The Federal Government decision to set up an economic advisory committee ‘’as additional efforts in stabilising the economy’’ is also a welcome development.  We have also taken note of recent efforts of our military to tackle insurgents, banditry and kidnapping. We salute the bravery and courage of our military and we appreciate their timeless sacrifices.

However, we need to point out that the political class with President Tinubu at the apex needs to move swiftly to ameliorate the sufferings of Nigerians.  This time calls for honest, pragmatic and responsible leadership from Nigeria’s political class in dousing tension over economic shocks being faced by several Nigerians.

Disappointingly, the recent push by the political class through the House of Representatives to subsidise religious pilgrimages is one of the irresponsible actions that shows insensitivity to the plight of suffering Nigerians and a myopic conception of the role of government in private affairs. This unwise suggestion by the lawmakers which definitely will add to the pressure on a Naira gasping for breath is not only reckless and a misplaced priority but also a vivid manifestation of dearth of rational thinking in government circles.

Democracy is about the people thus the expectation it would lead to improved lives for the people without hindrance.  Section 14 (2) (b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 declares that security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. A government that cannot tame insecurity and which for the past few months has been unable to improve the lives of its citizens through its policies and programmes calls to question its capability both at the central and the sub-national levels to preside over the affairs of the citizens.

We believe the government should move fast to work out strategies for the implementation of State Police as part of efforts to curb insecurity. It needs to demonstrate urgency to put all machinery in motion to make this happen and end the reign of terror enthroned by bandits’ insurgents and kidnappers and which has greatly stymied Nigeria’s food sufficiency efforts. The recent discussion on ways towards State Police in the long run and Agro-Rangers in the short term at the meeting between President Tinubu and the 36 state governors should not be another political gimmick. We expect the executive and legislative arms to take concrete steps towards the realisation of the State Police, the same way they attend to issues that have to do with their welfare and interests.

In July 2023, President Tinubu declared a state of emergency on food insecurity which involves cultivation of 500,000 hectares of land, distribution of 225,000 metric tons of fertilisers to farmers, N200 billion to farmers to cultivate rice, cassava, wheat and maize, and 200,000 metric tons of grains to households.  Since then, Nigerians are yet to see the Federal Government commitment to this plan. Now is the time for President Tinubu to walk the talk. His promise to further boost food production through aggressive mechanisation should not just be empty talk. Nigerians expect him to pursue governance with the same vigour he deployed in the realisation of his presidential ambition.

Agricultural initiatives like the Anchor Borrowers Programme that has been fraught by loan repayment hiccups and official corruption should be reviewed for efficiency. The complaints by All Farmers Association of Nigeria that several beneficiaries of the scheme are not farmers should be addressed. Nigeria can no longer afford laudable schemes being sabotaged by supervisory government officials and the political class.

As commendable as the release of 42,000 metric tons of grains from the strategic reserves to be distributed to poor Nigerians is, such policy pronouncements expose lack of strategy on the part of the government to solve Nigeria’s hunger crisis. The grains, if distributed equally, are estimated at 22, 703 bags per state. In a country where 133 million Nigerians are multidimensionally poor, how much can these grains solve the hunger problem?

The Nigerian government should be told in plain terms that Nigerians are not clamouring for handouts which in the first place cannot be sustained. What Nigerians want is the ability to go to the market and find foods of their choice at an affordable price. This is where the collective effort of government at all levels is needed to enhance the productivity of farmers through improved seedlings, access to finance, and use of technology in food production.

Aside from insecurity which has actually affected states known for agriculture, many of the state governments lack creativity in designing local agricultural initiatives to boost food production. Most of the state governments having crippled the local government system rely wholly on the Federal Government agricultural policy.

Sadly, increased revenue to states as a result of subsidy removal has not translated to improved lives for the people. This is a manifestation of the underperformance of several state governments which has greatly exacerbated the economic crisis in the country.   According to the Federation Account Allocation Committee Report, states governments have shared N5.108trn in eight months between July 2023 and February 2024 while the Federal Government also gave N2 billion each to the states. But the people are yet to see any meaningful policy and programme designed to alleviate poverty and stimulate growth of the local economy.

Unfortunately the lack of vision of most of the state governors  is unhelpful and a recipe for acute shortage of food we are witnessing now. The various subnational governments should shake off their complacency in public policy formulation and work for the people. They can take a cue from the Lagos State Government which recently introduced some measures to ease the pains of its citizens.

Nigerians have suffered enough waiting endlessly for a turnaround. They demand immediate and urgent response. Now is the time to act!

Abiola Owoaje
NAS Capoon


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