IN recent weeks, Nigerians have been lamenting the rising cost of food items. In March, inflation hit a four-year high by more than 18 per cent, with food prices up by almost 23 per cent. With most of the 36 state governments struggling to pay workers’ salaries, hunger has become a very potent, indeed palpable, problem. Workers in the private sector are not faring better: salaries go unpaid even as the cost of food items rise by the day. It has become atrociously expensive to even ride on a motorbike. The prices of staple food such as gari, beans, rice and wheat have gone through the roof. It takes a fortune to purchase vegetables, pepper, vegetable oil and palm oil. In a scary development, a piece of Titus fish costs above N1,000 in most parts of the country. As if to underscore the hunger and starvation in the land, a crowd recently invaded the palace of the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Sulu Gambari, shouting ebi n palu (the town is hungry) as the state governor, Mr Abdulrahman Abdulrazak, made his way into the palace to pay Sallah homage.
Inflation and rising joblessness have left the land in tears. And the verdict by statistical organs has been consistently negative. Nigeria is officially the global capital of poverty. According to the World Poverty Clock, a staggering 90 million people live below the poverty line, that is, on less than $1.90 per day. The United States Children’s Fund (UNICEF) ranks Nigeria as the country with the second highest burden of stunted children in the world. According to reports, an estimated two million Nigerian children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, and seven per cent of women of childbearing age also suffer from acute malnutrition, especially in northern Nigeria. How can these statistics be any surprise?
As the worsening cost of food items bites harder in the face of poor purchasing power, food and agricultural scientists are suggesting the construction of food storage facilities in every state and local government council in the country, as well as boosting farm mechanisation to increase productivity per hectare. They are also urging federal and state governments to declare a state of emergency in food production. In their view, the lack of farm support infrastructure and poor mechanisation of farm operations have been major causes of the current miasma.
As Nigerians literally starve, the government dawdles and dithers. And the Federal Government, the chief custodian of state resources, has become a big troubler of the land. It waxes more rhetorical as Boko Haram terrorists, nomadic herdsmen and bandits continue to send thousands of farmers to their early graves, making farming an extremely risky exercise. In particular, it has sought to provide constitutional cover for nomadic herders who, apart from virtually stripping the northern states completely of vegetation cover, have turned farmlands in the southern parts of the country into sites of wanton bloodshed, rape and bodily mutilations.
The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), took up arms against the governments of the six South-West states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo when they unfolded the Western Nigeria Security Network, codenamed Amotekun, to protect their citizens from killer herders and miscreants of all hues. He also lately lambasted the governors of the 17 southern states in the country for banning open grazing of cattle. The implication is that the Muhammadu Buhari administration wants the current situation whereby farmers watch in horror as felons destroy their farms and cut them down in cold blood to continue. That being the case, the proverbial trouble that Chinua Achebe of blessed memory spoke of has come to stay in the Nigerian homestead: if you say there is no seat, it has no qualms because it has brought his own stool.
For nearly 72 years, we have warned the country as danger loomed. Today, we sound yet another grave warning: Nigerians are starving. A Nigerian proverb says that when hunger penetrates a stomach, no other issue has the slightest chance to enter. That is an accurate representation of the situation in the country right now. The Nigerians in whose interest President Buhari and the 36 state governors claim that they are occupying office are starving; literally starving. They are no longer suffering and smiling, as Afrobeat king, the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, suggested years ago. In particular, we find the Federal Government severely wanting. It continues to borrow money to fund the extravagant lifestyles of its officials while the country unravels. It is borrowing away the future and leading the country downhill. It should change course.
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