Feature

A country threatened by hunger, insecurity

Nigeria is currently threatened by hunger and insecurity and many believe that the government is not doing enough to tame these monsters, reports ISIOMA MADIKE

A few days ago, there were reports everywhere on how the banditry situation in the North West had assumed a new dimension. The reports listed Katsina, Zamfara and neighbouring states’ residents, who have continued to come under terrorise attack. In an interview with BBC Hausa, Dr. Bashir Kurfi, a community leader, was quoted to have said that villages of Batsari, Dutsinma, Kankiya, Chiranci, Funtua, Safana, among others in Katsina, were under siege.

Kurfi said bandits and terrorists were occupying some villages, while the inhabitants were seeking refuge elsewhere. He had said: “In so many villages the bandits also called households and asked them to send to them their wives, daughters or sisters to sleep with them. Apart from the incessant attacks and killings of innocent people, they also raped the women. I know of a woman who was gang raped by over 40 bandits.

“So many schools closed because of banditry, are now home to bandits, and in some other villages people are already living together with the bandits at their homes. They (bandits) forcefully collected peoples’ farms, turned the people into slaves and forced them to farm for them, and also raped their daughters.”

Kurfi alleged that the government does not make any provision for the victims or assist them to reduce their agony and misery. He said that insecurity in the region has changed the situation of things, stating that in the past, between 20 and 50 vehicles go to Kano from Sokoto or neighbouring countries on a daily basis, but that, according to him, no longer happens because of the danger on the roads. Earlier on April 24, 2021, it was also reported that Ajimaka Village was attacked, leading to the loss of several lives, destruction and displacement of survivors. Ajimaka is said to be a farming community located in Doma Local Government Area of Nasarawa State. April, the report stated, is usually the beginning of a new farming season.

But as the rainy season of that year wetted and nurtured the fertile soil around Nasarawa State, Ajimaka’s people found themselves unable to take advantage of the planting season. Due to the attack, many people in the village and neighbouring villages fled to seek refuge in other communities around including Doma and Rukubi where they had limited or no access to their farmlands. Others lost their property including their seeds and farming equipment that are essential to farming. A community leader of Ajimaka, Hon. Joseph Koko, spoke to journalists on the suffering his people were faced with since the April attack.

While speaking to the team of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), almost a year after the attack, Koko recalled the impact of the attack with profound sadness. Besides the death and destruction of houses and property, the inability of his people to farm brought them face to face with hunger. He had added: “Many who used to grow more than enough food for their families and to sell started looking desperately for means of feeding their families. Many resorted to going to the bush to cut down trees for sale. Some of us had to withdraw our children from school so that we could save the school fees to feed the family. It was a difficult thing to do but we had to prioritise.”

However, the story of Ajimaka Village is sadly not an isolated one. The North-Central region has, for some time now, been gripped by a wave of farmer-herder conflict over the past few years. Across the region, hundreds have reportedly been killed while tens of thousands have been displaced. The region, from Benue to Nasarawa, from Kogi to Plateau, is considered a major food basket for the nation. Many of the communities responsible for the farm produce millions rely on across the country and beyond are finding it difficult to farm due to the crisis.

The Boko Haram terrorists in the North East have also not helped matters in this regard. With the inflation rate in the country galloping steadily over the years, many people are struggling to survive. This, sadly, has pauperised many Nigerians in which food has become a scarce community. Mrs. Oluwatosin Adewale, who lives in Mushin area of Lagos State, is the sole breadwinner fending for a family of eight: six children, her retrenched husband and herself. So, life has been tough for her and the family. In the morning, the children take akamu (pap) without sugar. Nothing in the afternoon! Their next meal is eba at night. The soup is virtually bare, save for a miserable iced fish, crayfish and vegetables in it.

“It is tasteless. My children are dying of hunger,” Oluwatosin lamented. At Apapa, also in Lagos State, Mrs. Chigozie Okolo, and her family living at 41 Malu Road, now eat twice daily: garri in the morning, yam at night. She looks thin, anaemic and exhausted. It has been a long time since they cooked rice or beans. The case of Chukwu Ogbodo, a car washer at Ishaga, a Lagos suburb, is no different. He now feeds once daily on groundnut and bread. After that, “I don’t eat again except God intervenes.” For Sunday Oyiso, also of Ishaga, manna has not fallen from heaven yet.

The hair of the nine-year-old is wry and brown; his stomach is like a balloon. With tired steps, he weaves his way through noisy and garrulous customers. He lifts a grimy calabash and dips it into the brownish contents of a pot balanced on the earthen tripod of the traditional fireplace. As he gulps down the substance, there is a twinkle of relief in his sunken eyes. Sunday’s family – five children, his father, a retired railway worker, his mother, a caterer of sorts, subsists virtually on the food his mother sells and burukutu, a traditional alcoholic drink brewed from fermented guinea corn and patronised mostly by workers and peasant families.

It is the breakfast, lunch and dinner, supplemented by tuwo, made from guinea corn also or maize flour, and an occasional Pete (local corn porridge). At Mowe in Ogun State, a lot of families are also desperate. Last week, a mother actually pawned her child for food in that neighbourhood. Indeed, across the nation, hunger is growing, and putting food on the table is a nagging problem for most houses. A land of luscious vegetation and rich loamy soil is barely able to feed its sons and daughters. The food crunch has been severe. And the tales of starvation are grim.

In the Government Reservation Area (GRA), Ikeja-Lagos, children of lower class parents are going about scavenging the left-overs of the more privileged residents. Other places frequented by these human scavengers include hospitals, schools and restaurants. For many in the city, roasted maize and sugarcane have taken the place of regular cooked meals.

Those that are luckier take garri (soaked), coco-yam or cooked cassava. Black amala and Pomo (cattle skin), once frowned upon by most people in the South are becoming popular. So is eba, previously a food hardly patronised by northerners. Undoubtedly, for most families, the daily meal has come down to garri, (soaked) and gulped like that without sugar or salt or prepared as eba. Nwafor Maduako, a wheel-barrow pusher at the popular mile 12 market in Ketu, told Saturday Telegraph he now eats once daily. His meal is akpu (pounded cassava). Akpu is a heavy food and Maduako said when he takes it in the afternoon, it is usually enough to “hold” his stomach for the rest of the day. Like Maduako, Felix Ehiweme, a driver, agonises that “by the time you don buy fuel, pay garage fees, pay school fees and levies, na small moni go remain to take do other things.

If you go market, meat dear; no be say food no dey, but e dey dear.” But, they are not the only ones bemoaning their fate under the crushing weight of poverty in the country. In these harshening times, they are lucky to even eat at all. A growing number of people beg for arms. In the last couple of months, a number of women have appeared on major streets to plead for arms. One of such people, a mother of triplets claims her husband absconded, leaving the family in penury. Before her pathetic story, she had not eaten in two days. In Lagos, nursing mothers accost passers-by for as little as N10 to buy ogi (corn pap).

More shocking are stories of mothers abandoning kids in market places in lieu of paying for items bought. A roadside garri seller at Ojodu- Berger, Mama Sumbo recalled that sometime in April, a young woman with a child came to buy N200 worth of garri. She left the kid with mama Sumbo, promising to pay after purchasing other items. One hour, two hours, three, four, five-she was nowhere to be seen. Mama Sumbo raised an alarm, “because the pickin dey cry and since ‘im mama say she dey come, I begin fear make people no come say I steal the pickin.” As people gathered, it was not long before the mother was identified, and the child given back to her.

Mama Sumbo said she lost interest in the money owed her. “Everybodi no say tins dey hard nowadays. So, e fit be say the woman never eat, and instead to go thief, she do wetin she do that time.” However, if these tales were to come from a drought-stricken country, they would have made a lot of sense. But Nigeria, a country in the tropical region, invites description as a large food basin. The sky opens up for much of the year to water the land with mostly heavy rain. Plants and crops grow easily anywhere untended. Yet, for well over a decade, the land of potential bounty has been in the throes of spiraling prices.

In most cases, prices gallop by month, even weekly. There is hardly any government effort to combat the problem. And of course, when prices go up in Nigeria, they rarely come down. In short, prices of commodities in the country are more likely to jump higher once they go up than fall again. While this has been the situation for a long time, wages have not been rising. As a matter of fact, there has been a general freeze since the last labour strike. At the same time, some companies even slashed wages, citing the foreign exchange crunch.

Stagnant wage scales in the face of steadily rising prices mean a sharp reduction in the purchasing power of the average Nigerian and a subsequent decline in the ability to feed at all, not to talk of feeding well. Yet, those are just a few of the millions of Nigerians whose present situation eloquently demonstrates that poverty, with all its manifestations and dimensions, has been in the increase in the country. In all major parameters used for measuring poverty, Nigeria has constantly maintained an unenviable low profile despite its rich endowment in human and natural resources.

In the last 62 years, the country has scooped several billion dollars from crude oil alone. But while average per capita income in most oil-producing countries of the world like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, United Arab Emirate, Kuwait, Algeria and others stands at over $3000, Nigeria’s per capita income remains at about $250 for over a decade now, according to reports. By United Nations rating, Nigeria is one of the poorest nations on earth. Also, findings by the World Bank reveal that 75 per cent out of the estimated over 200 million Nigerians live below the poverty line. This means that they live on less than $1 or a little over N600 per day.

Behind the grim statistics, however, acute poverty and its manifestations have continued to stare the country in the face. There is a lack of basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity and adequate water: no access to social services such as healthcare, housing, employment, education among others. And it is the same deprivations that have spurred such other problems as the rising wave of crime, hunger, prostitution, struggle for power and even social restiveness. Civil servants who spoke with this reporter say that the national minimum wage can no longer sustain a minimum standard of living for the ordinary Nigerians.

All these are compounded by the fact that thousands of people are daily thrown into the labour market. The private sector has had cause to lay off workers due to what they attribute to rising production cost and low sales, arising from low purchasing power of the consumers. Already, employment level is rising daily; as at last year, the figures in both public and private sector hovers between 65 and 70 per cent respectively, levels which observers believe could rise to between 80 and 90 per cent if drastic measures are not taken to arrest the situation.

The health sector has not fared well either as many Nigerians are increasingly finding it difficult to access healthcare facilities due to poverty. According to health statistics, only about 10 per cent of the population has access to essential drugs while there are less than 30 physicians per 100,000 people.

The implication of this is that diseases and untimely deaths have been on the increase. For many other professionals like estate valuers, especially those who live on the proceeds they make from collecting house rent for their clients, the situation is simply despairing. Many of them who spoke with this reporter said they have so many undecided cases in courts about rent defaulters. Even access to safe drinking water remains a luxury to many Nigerians. At present, only about half the population has access to potable water.

Perhaps, more worrisome is the declining rate of school enrolment and outright dropout. Rather than go to school, millions of school-age children whose parents cannot afford to feed let alone pay their school fees, have taken to the streets where they hawk and sometimes engage in teenage prostitution all in a bid to survive and supplement family income. Many of these children were also victims of both terrorism and banditry attacks in the North East, North West and North Central parts of the country. Kidnapping and robbery have also added to the crisis in the Southern part of Nigeria. Because of all these, the focus on growing agriculture as a business aimed at turning the nation into a global agricultural powerhouse could not be achieved either. The country has, for long, remained a food-deficit country that on occasions has been dangerously dependent on food imports for the welfare of its people. Its agricultural sector has, over the years, ceased to be an important contributor to foreign exchange earnings, with its contribution to employment also declining by the day.

 

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